Karl Krist – Zutsy

Karl became a photographer specializing in capturing horticultural images through his career in computer programming. He also takes awesome pictures of his daughter’s Barbies. Check him out below.

Say hello to Karl Krist:


Where are you from?  Where have you been?

I grew up in Orange County in the 70s.  I still love the look and feel of that place and era.  Classic southern California beaches, surfing, and skateboards.  I carry that with me now even though I don’t try to copy it.  I have 35 more years of experience to add to that mix in my head but what I saw in my childhood is still a big influence.

I lived in Germany for almost 4 years.  Absolutely loved it – every day was an adventure.  I shot on a Pentax K1000 that had a broken light meter.  I’d shoot a roll of film and send it back to the US – a month later I’d get my pictures and then I’d see my exposure.  Sometimes, I’d go back to the same spots, make some adjustments and shoot again.

Now I’m in Northern California, and this is the best place I’ve ever lived.  My most recent few shoots have been in the Sierras – it’s awesome to live near so many great backdrops – mountains, forests, rivers, and cities.  I work with beautiful natural people in beautiful natural environments.

What’s your favorite place in the world and why?  Do you have a photo from that place?

My favorite place is San Francisco.  You can walk through the entire city in a day and experience so many wonderful things.  The greatest food on earth is on every corner.  I’ve spent so many days walking in that city – it is amazing, and I’m still not bored.  So much to do, see and eat.  But please, if you visit, move away from the touristy areas.  That part of the city is so bad, you may as well be in LA.


Recent shoot in San Francisco near Union Square.  The light on her face is a reflection from buildings a few blocks away.

Tell us about your career. 

My job is shooting plants – mostly roses, grapes and fruit trees.  Seriously, I get paid to shoot flowers and fruit. I go into orchards, eat fruit and take pictures.  On a good day, I sample 25 different types of peaches. I photograph grapes and eat them straight from the vine.  I shoot vineyards in Napa and next week, I am going to Louisiana to shoot roses.  This is a killer job, but I didn’t come in through photography.

I’m really a computer programmer.  A few years ago, I got a job to create a database to catalog different plants.  I asked where the pictures were.  “We don’t have pictures.”  Wait…you want me to create a database of information about roses, and you don’t have pictures?  Three days later, I was out in the field with my new camera taking pictures of roses and I haven’t stopped since.

I could not have gotten this job strictly as a photographer because the need was not yet defined.  I can’t tell if I’m a programmer with added photography skills, or a photographer with added programming skills.  But I show up to work every day, and they keep paying me – so it’s all good.

What types of photography do you do?  What’s your favorite and why?

I shoot plants and people.  I only shoot things I like.  The people are my favorite, because they talk back.

I don’t shoot kids and families because I want to keep photography fun – and kids are part of my “real life.”  My goal is to get into the world of fashion so I can work with models every chance I get.  I like to collaborate with others to try to do cool things.

When shooting models,  I like her to bring her own style to the shoot.  It’s awesome to see them walk up to a shoot with a bag of clothes.  Most of the models I work with have awesome wardrobes and they surprise me with something amazing every single time we’re together.  For my shoot yesterday, I wanted to work with wedding dresses.  The model went out and bought a few dresses at the thrift store, and she looked killer.  It’s amazing that I get to work with people who are really interested in what we’re doing.  I ask, “Hey…do you have anything that looks like a wedding dress?” and three days later, she shows up with three incredible dresses.

Plants are also great.  It’s slow, relaxing and interesting.  Plants have so many cool patterns, textures and colors.  I talk to the plants, they just don’t talk back.  People are a lot more fun.


What’s your favorite piece of equipment and why?

Ha!  My favorite piece of equipment is my Felco pruners.  Yes..like for pruning plants.  I am a “plant person” and I love the fact that my photography requires me to interact with plants.  I get to go in and hack away at plants to get good pictures.  Lots of fun.

My favorite piece of photographic equipment is my Sigma 50mm ART lens.  Somehow, I get the results I want.  I also use a 100mm macro which is cool, but 85% of the time, it’s the 50 on my camera.

What are some lighting tips you have?

Dude – check out my Barbie pictures.

I was in my daughter’s room and I saw a Barbie and the lighting was perfect.  So I took a shot..moved Barbie around and took a few more shots.  Pretty soon I realized I really liked it!  I did an entire series where I shot Barbie in different styles – based on different models.  Each of these was really a lighting test.

I love to take these pictures because they let me try out different ideas quickly, in my own office.  I try different lighting techniques to see what I like, and what I don’t like.  My work with Barbie has really improved my backlighting, my reflected lighting, and just generally making the lighting more interesting.  Find a subject you can easily manipulate and practice with.  Something where you can try a dozen different lighting techniques in an hour.  Do this a few times and you’ll learn what you like, and what you don’t like.


Do you have any tips for post-processing?  

My #1 tip would be to get rid of that mountain of photos you are hanging on to.  When I am done with a shoot, I DELETE everything I don’t want.  When I deliver final pics, I deliver 15-45…and the rest are GONE.  Nobody has complained and it’s simplified my life.  My workflow is an absolute breeze when I’m only dealing with 30 pictures at a time.

I also print a lot of my pictures.  It really makes the whole process worthwhile to me when I end up with something on my wall.  My pictures are spreading throughout the house.  I keep finding new holes to fill, and keep hanging pictures.

By making printing the final destination, my entire workflow is changed.  When I’m going through pictures I’m thinking, “Would I print this?”  If not, I delete it.  I process fewer images, I save fewer images.  If I lost all of my digital files, I’d be thrilled to have my prints and I wouldn’t feel that my time was wasted.

My workflow is designed to do as little workflow as possible.  Delete images I don’t like.  Print the ones I do.

What was your most memorable photography-related experience?

My very first shoot was amazing and it pretty much laid the groundwork for everything else I do.


When I decided I wanted to get into photography, I started answering ads on Craigslist.  I answered every single ad I saw – no matter what it was for.  Architecture, products, families, models.  Whatever.  I just wanted to shoot something.  I answered about 15 ads before I finally got a reply.  It was an actual paid gig to shoot models.

I was told to meet two models at a creek.  I got there and none of us really knew what we were doing, but we just hung out for about 4 hours at the creek taking photos.  We had a great time.  They were totally cool, absolutely fun, and we all had a blast.  I probably shot 1,200 images, and I ended up getting some stuff that I really liked – along with about 1,175 shots that were horrible.  The client (who I never met) was thrilled with my work and hired me two more times.

But most importantly, I found out that these girls were really on the ball.  They were outgoing, friendly and smart.  They were students who just wanted to check out modeling and have a good time.  From that experience, I describe most of my models in this way:  “They aren’t models because they have nothing going on – they are models because they have EVERYTHING going on.”  And pretty much that has held true with all the models I worked with.  Great people.

But that Friday, I stood in the creek and laughed for hours with two other people who were also having a blast.  I thought about all the people I knew who were in an office, working at a computer and I realized that this was a much, much better way to spend my afternoon.  Every shoot I’ve had since then was patterned after that afternoon…and every shoot has been a surreal mix of photography and fun.  Great locations, great people.

I was so lucky that the first paid gig I got was an amazing opportunity.  If I’d ended up shooting mobile homes for sale (I replied to that ad twice), my photography experience would be very different.

What are the top three tips you have for aspiring photographers?

Shoot what you love.  I go on great shoots and have fun.  I go to really cool places – rivers, waterfalls, and big cities.  I go with really cool people which makes it easy to get out and shoot.  The worst thing you can do is lose your incentive to shoot.  The best incentive you can have is that you really enjoy what you do.  On the day of a shoot, I don’t wake up and think, “Oh crap, I gotta go to work.”  I think, “Oh my god, today is going to be a ton of fun.”

Quality matters – but it doesn’t.   Don’t rely on technology to create great photos. If you do that, then the equipment matters more than the photographer.  People were making great pics 20 years ago – your equipment is better than what they used.  So use what you have and be happy with it.  Once I dropped the idea of having sharp, well-lit images – my photography got a whole lot better.  In my world, nobody cares how far to the edge the lens stay sharp – they just want to know if the image portrays the right feeling.

Understand your purpose.  Who is the audience for your pictures?  Understand what they are looking for.  My scientific audience is looking for something very different than the people who like my Barbie pictures.  I’d be a fool to approach both shoots in the same way – they have an entirely different purpose.

What qualities do you think a good photographer must possess?

Creativity and vision.  The ability to come up with ideas and put those into place is really cool.  I’m working with a model right now who is different from most that I’ve worked with.  She likes my fashion work, but we both realize that it just won’t match her body type.  She’s curvier and has a completely different look.  I’m planning a barbecue shoot.  I’m going to buy a new grill, we’ll have burgers, corn, watermelon, etc…  Remember – I want my shoots to be fun…how about hanging out and having a BBQ with a cool model?  Sounds like fun to me!  But it took some work to develop the idea for the shoot – the model is different, the purpose is different.  But this is going to be a lot of fun.  As I told the model, “I can’t have you stand in front of a wall posing…let’s do something better.”  BBQ.  Hell yes.

Organized and professional.  Each shoot takes a lot of prep work and communication.  Do that work and the shoot will be successful.  Choosing locations, organizing times, bringing snacks.  It takes work!  I keep my models informed, and communicate with them a lot before the shoot.  I want to keep them involved and interested, and get their input.  If I showed up confused on a poorly planned shoot, the model knows it and things won’t go well.  On my shoots, I have all of my stuff together.  The model shows up with her wardrobe, and we can really do some cool stuff.  The more I have my shit together, the more likely the model will respond the same way.  I love it.

Understanding and communication.  Whether I am shooting plants or people, I need to have others involved.  Neither a gardener nor a model want to hear anything negative during a shoot.  If there are lemons out there – do your best to make something good.  Shoot tighter to avoid the bad stuff.  Change your angle and focus to get the best out of what you have.  And most of all, talk to them and tell them what you are doing!  “Hey, I want to try over here to get this light.  Oh wow, I really like the way your chin looks here.”  Seriously, if the model knows that everything is going great, she’ll do better.  I will talk for three hours straight and let her know what is going on.  The feedback I get from that is very positive.

How about good models?

I love it when a model has the same goals I have – great pictures.  I’m not looking for the girl who “will do anything for the shot” because that’s not how I work.  I don’t like the cold, uncomfortable, or dangerous situations.  I just want a model who understands that the happier they are, the better the shot will be.

I like models who will throw their preconceived ideas out the window in a second.  If I see that her wardrobe isn’t working, let’s change it.  Yes, I know you love those boots..but it just isn’t working.  Yes, I know you really want a backlit shot – but please, let’s go with this other look because your face is gorgeous.  Trying to force a shot that isn’t working is a recipe for crappy photos.  If a model wants to copy something else they’ve seen, it won’t work.  Let’s take advantage of what we have here – not try to copy that picture from Instagram.

Of course I like models who want to have fun.  We’re out there for a purpose, but this is my LIFE.  Right now, right here – this is my life and I want it to be good.  My life continues 24 hours a day – it’s not on hold while I’m working…it keeps going.  My favorite place in the world is where I am.  And my favorite time is now.  Make the most of it.  Laugh, enjoy yourself.  If things are going poorly, let’s change our plans.  Be flexible, be interesting, tell me your ideas.  Be cool. When I look back on my day, I want to think, “yeah, that was good.”

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I have goals of being a creative photographer working with a designer to really develop the look for their creations.  Doing an ad campaign at any scale would be awesome.  Running a really good Instagram for someone, who wants things to go to the next level, and have a coherent plan that is executed well.  Designing photos that give the look the designer wants, and provide inspiration to other photographers.

I want to work with people who come to me for my ideas – not my understanding of the exposure triangle.  I want to have my own artistic expression integrated into other people’s work and have them say, “I have an amazing photographer.”

For anyone that wants to get in touch with Karl, here is some of his information:

FStop: Profile

Personal:  Link

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Karl.  Can’t wait to see the results of the BBQ shoot!

If any artists out there want to collaborate with FStop, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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