Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Karl Shakur, a travel adventure photographer. Fueled by an innate passion for adventure, he has traveled across the globe with his camera in tow, capturing the beauty of the natural world wherever I go.
He specializes in travel, lifestyle, and aerial photography — as well as influencer work with a growing online audience of over 180,000 helping brands big and small, tell their story through content creation.
Karl shares how he went from planning all his life around architecture to becoming a photographer, and making it into that difficult world of Instagram and travel photography.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With some episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Welcome to the Pierre T. Lambert Podcast where Pierre interviews the best creatives in the world to share their tips and stories.
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Pierre T. Lambert is a travel & adventure photographer & YouTuber followed by over 600,000 people.
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Karl Shakur is a travel and adventure photographer that I've always admired for his sense of aesthetic when it comes to consistency in tones for Instagram. His work is followed by over 400,000+ people worldwide.
Karl shares in this episode his creative process during the lock-down, how he edits for consistent tones, how he decided to leave being an Architect to pursue travel photography and how he plans for trips! Enjoy!
🔥Karl's video on editing for the right tones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RWw-o5w524c&t=418s
🔥Karl's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV_8Y0UpV9uTd0Mh1Nio18A
🔥Karl on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karl_shakur/?hl=en
I hope you learned something out of that episode! Now go crush it out there and remember to be nice with our planet – we only got one!
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This interview was transcribed by Descript.com.
Pierre Lambert: Good morning podcast, and welcome to the Pierre T. Lambert show. I hope you are having an amazing day, and if not, I hope this episode will make it better. I know those times are weird and difficult but, today I have an amazing guest. That is going to put a smile on your face. His name is Karl Shakur. Karl is a travel adventure photographer that I have been following for quite some time because I have always been impressed by the beautiful tones he has on Instagram.
His feed is very consistent and takes you on the eye-candy journey. I do not know if you can say that, but that is what I feel when I look at it. Karl is going to share with us his process, how he thinks about his images, how he approaches keeping tones, and keeping themes together even though, he might not be in the perfect location for it, and on top of that, he is going to share his struggles right now as a photographer, because being in lockdown, not being able to travel for a travel photographer is difficult, right? He will share with us how he deals with it creatively, and what he does to work around it, and last but not least, we are going to talk about history, how he went from planning all his life around architecture to becoming a photographer, and making it into that difficult world of Instagram and travel photography.
I think you will all love that episode called Keep Sharing Gems for creativity and pushing our boundaries and our creators when we want something. Please enjoy that episode, and let us welcome Karl to the podcast. Welcome to the podcast, Karl.
Karl Shakur: Thank you, man. Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Pierre Lambert: It is a pleasure to have you. I feel that this is a great time to chat because we cannot go anywhere.
Karl Shakur: Yes. We are all stuck at home doing nothing. Everyone at home is doing nothing as well, so let us do nothing together.
Pierre Lambert: I love it. Karl, I found out about your work. I would say maybe a year ago. Do not ask me how, but probably through recommendations of recommendations. The one thing that struck me with your work is how consistent it is. One, you're going through a theme of colors, and that's something that I've never been able to do, so it's something that I'm always impressed with and before we dive into your story, how do you think about it?
Karl Shakur: Yes. After shooting for a couple of years, a lot of our friends, a lot of our peers. It comes a little bit too easy in a sense, it becomes like clockwork, and you know what looks good. I like to place a creative limitation on myself, so that I can find myself struggling a little bit or hustling harder to get the photo, and that is when I feel that the photographs come out nicer, so over the last three, four months, five months, I've been limiting what color I shoot. If I'm shooting blue for that month, I shoot it for 30 days. If I'm shooting blue for that month, even if I have the most magical sunrise in front of me, I'll take it, but I don't post-process it. I don't think about it until I'm focusing on yellow, so I put myself in the whole blue, creative mind space, and that forces me to stay consistent. If you'll look at my Instagram feed last February and March or the beginning of the year, I focused on blue, and I shot. I went to my archives for all my best blue photos, and I looked for them. I curated all the photographs together and started making a blue feed, and then, I'll go through that for not 30 days, but 30 posts. However long it takes me to create 30 images on Instagram. I'll be in the mind space of blue, and then I'll switch to another tonal palette. That'll help me to create, and stay on my toes, and to stay creative. That's what I do, and what I do is I get reference images from the internet or my favorite creators and compile them into a collage on Photoshop. I have that by my side every time I'm editing a photo and I use that for colors, and that's how I create my tonal palette to be consistent.
Pierre Lambert: That works out. I like that. You're very truthful in the sense that even if you see a beautiful sunrise, you'll say, okay, I'm not going to touch that one. That's personally my problem. It is like you go to different locations and you are in Iceland, and maybe you can have cold tones, but suddenly you go to another country, and it does not necessarily go through my feet properly. Especially now with the quarantine. I have indoor photos.
Karl Shakur: Yes. I have been struggling with that a lot during this time. I found what has helped me the most. I am going to send you. I may send you a video, a short video that I have been working on. It is 10 seconds or so. I have been forcing myself to create stuff I have, which I bought a fog machine. I bought lights that I could use here, and that has been the catalyst. Obviously, I am stuck in this warm color palette. If I am stuck in white or gray, it would be easy to create white or grey images at home, but I am stuck in a warm color palette so, it has been quite a challenge, but it has been interesting to use it, has been fun.
Pierre Lambert: I got the video.
Karl Shakur: Yes. I am just trying to make sure that I am staying true to myself.
Pierre Lambert: Yes.
Karl Shakur: I think that it is easy for that to come across to my audience. Like on Instagram, they see that I'm hustlin, I'm struggling a little bit, and that is interesting to people. People receive satisfaction from seeing someone work, because with all these influencers and photographers online, it is easy. It seems like it's effortless. They're professionals, I put myself out of my comfort zone, and it helps me get better images in my eye.
Pierre Lambert: That's awesome. Well, if people think it's easy, we're talking about Sorelle Amor. It probably shows that you have some mastery because of the moment someone masters something. It looks like it's natural, and then you try it.
Karl Shakur: Yes, it's good at self-portraits. That's another thing as well that I have started doing. If you go to my feed, you'll see that every 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, every six images are a close-up portrait of myself. I'm not comfortable in front of the camera. I don't like being a model, but I am trying to take photos of myself. It gets me out of my comfort zone. It gets me to be creative.
Pierre Lambert: Yes.
Karl Shakur: My true passion is landscape photography, being outside, going on hikes, and getting the classic banger photo, but I found that by hustling and trying to take photographs of myself. I get myself out of my comfort zone and that also helps me make something that is authentic.
Pierre Lambert: That's awesome because anyone thinking about self-portrait is always asking themselves. I mean, if you get to a feed, and you see a lot of photos of a person. I am thinking, why do they do it? Is it because they're all about themselves, influence, or style, or because they love their face? Are they trying to show something, are they just trying to document different steps in life, or are they trying to get out of their comfort zone?
Karl Shakur: Yes. Obviously, using photos of yourself helps to build your brand. It helps to get your content area audience very well, acquainted with your personality, and what you look like but, especially for people like us who are landscape photographers and city photographers who like to capture our environment. I feel that it helps a lot to force yourself to make those images, and to make them good enough so that they're entertaining enough for your landscape audience because the landscape people have a higher standard. You better be shooting an F11. Do you know what I mean?
Pierre Lambert: It has to be the storm of the century.
Karl Shakur: Exactly.
Pierre Lambert: They expect the rainbow and the sunshine.
Karl Shakur: The sunshine. Yes. It is interesting to hustle with those over the last couple of months. That's what's pushing me that I'm enjoying right now.
Pierre Lambert: That's great. How did you get into that world of photography? What's your cartoon zero level or origin story?
Karl Shakur: I'm originally from Nigeria. I was an international show.
Pierre Lambert: No way. I lived in Nigeria.
Karl Shakur: No way. What city?
Pierre Lambert: Yes. I lived in Port Harcourt for six months, and then in Lagos for a year.
Karl Shakur: Your folks are working with oil or something?
Pierre Lambert: I used to be an engineer, and my company was laying pipelines and cables offshore, so I had to be out there.
Karl Shakur: Yes. I grew up in Nigeria. I did secondary school in my high school in Nigeria, and I came to the US for college. I'm a dual citizen. I have a Nigerian passport and an American passport. When I came to the US, I was looking for ways to keep in touch with my peers with whom I graduated. People who have gone to school in Budapest, Hungary, London, New York, and LA. There's no way for me to keep in touch with them. That's when Instagram was exploding at the time, so I hopped on Instagram, and I was looking for ways to document my process, growth, and progress as an adult and fell into the whole Instagram thing and then, on one of my family trips in the middle of the summer, my parents had a camera. I gravitated towards the camera and started using it and completely fell in love with it that summer, and made the mistake of going through some hashtags and finding the awesome community on Instagram and I was hooked. I have to make all these friends. I need to grow my accounts, and that is what brought me into photography as a whole.
Pierre Lambert: That's awesome. On how Instagram was able to inspire and create that. That's so cool. Where was your first trip?
Karl Shakur: It was a summer trip with my family. We were in South Padre Island visiting some Muslim family members and going to the beach daily, and I said, all right, this is fun. I took a camera and started documenting our family's travels, and before you know it, boom! I think a lot of people are averse to saying that Instagram is their main creative driving force. It is what helped them start because there's a little bit of a stigma to being an Insta photographer.
Pierre Lambert: Yes.
Karl Shakur: But I think because we're living in such a very unique time, not everyone has the opportunity to be in such a tightly knit community. I don't think photographers were this tightly knit before in the eighties or the nineties. They have photography friends, but I don't think we had a community of over a thousand to 2000 people who are very passionate about photography. It was interesting, so I am happy to say that it was Instagram that pushed me down that line.
Pierre Lambert: Yes. I feel that Instagram has played a big role, and there was Flicker before. 500 pics was a thing at one point, but I still see it as a big shift with Instagram where it would inspire people to try a different kind of photography because it was easier to see what was beautiful. I will never pretend that I was never inspired by Instagram. That is such a great platform. Do you want inspiration? There are lots of very good people. It's so cool. Where did you grow up in Nigeria? Was it Lagos?
Karl Shakur: I grew up in Abuja. It is the federal Capital of Nigeria. But I went to school in Ankara in the Northwest of the country, so a lot of my formational and growing up years were done far away from home, and in boarding school, so I have a unique background, that I am looking for ways to tell the story, maybe doing a little mini-doc, going back home to Nigeria and photographing it, videoing it, and telling that story. I am super excited. I don't think a lot of people have the same background as me. It is a little unique in that sense. I think the mistake that I made last year was that I wanted to visit this country. I wanted to visit Algeria and do a photography trip, and I sent my Nigerian passport to the embassy, but it never got back to me, so it is still in limbo, somewhere in the Algerian embassy or in New York. Yup. This was maybe almost a year ago.
Pierre Lambert: They never send it back?
Karl Shakur: They never sent it back. I need to either go to New York. They want us. Now, I have the time. I am at home. I cannot do anything about it because of all the travel restrictions, and COVID-19, and all that.
Pierre Lambert: That is crazy. I love your idea of going back to Nigeria because that is a place that had a huge impact. I had Lexi on the podcast, we talked about it because she traveled everywhere and we talked about central Africa. Nigeria had a big impact on my life because it was a very eye-opening experience in the real world, I will say, and not just my work. Let us just put it that way, and I want to go back. There is such good energy in Nigeria. I do not know.
Karl Shakur: Colorful. I think it is one of the happiest, people are so vibrant and full of life. If you decided to do a street photography trip in Moloe, or somewhere in Lagos, like the markets, it would be vibrant and colorful. I have to do that.
Pierre Lambert: We should go on a trip to Nigeria. I will take you to the surfers’ beaches of Lagos. There is this local, we used to go and surf and spend a weekend in his four tiny walls on the beach. We used to spend a weekend there with him, and since then, the BBC and stuff have done tiny documentaries around it because he was the only Nigerian surfing. There would be expats who would go and surf and then, this one Nigerian guy because it is not in the culture, and he was ripping it. It was awesome to see that.
Karl Shakur: Let us see. Yes.
Pierre Lambert: That is cool, so photography, what did you get your first toe into the business side? When did you switch to I am going to do it like a pro?
Karl Shakur: I think it was the summer of 2016 or so. I am a professional. I am trained as an architect. I have a Masters in Architecture.
Pierre Lambert: Like Chelsea.
Karl Shakur: Yes. Chelsea, she did for a couple of years. I was doing some summer school at Kansas State University and looking for ways to keep myself busy scrolling through Instagram, and I came across these guys, and they were on the trip. I can't remember where they went for a trip. I was thinking, how do they have the money to do this? How are they doing this? After going through every single post and seeing all the hashtag advertisements they were doing. I was thinking this seems like a very viable business venture. That day, I decided this was going to be my job. I want to travel for money, so I decided, I think summer of 2016, to make sure that I'm doing my best to continue to build my audience, and to build my skills so that I would hopefully one day be able to pivot from being a professional architect to a photographer, and then over the next four, three years, by the time that I graduated, I had a firm shooting, and I was able to step out into the industry, so I only worked for about half a year as an architect in the industry, which is very interesting.
Pierre Lambert: Then you'll say, see you guys.
Karl Shakur: Doing this sort of thing. I'm going to go back and get some bangers.
Pierre Lambert: That's awesome. What was your first trip? Your first formative trip.
Karl Shakur: Because I had such an astringent and very intensive schedule in architecture school. I couldn't necessarily do trips as frequently as I wanted to. What I would do is, I'll take about two trips a month and I would travel from Kansas, which is for anyone who was not aware of the geography. Kansas is in the middle of the country, and for you to get to any mountains or salt flats or anything interesting to photograph, you have to travel at least 12 hours westward to get to Colorado or to go to Arizona, so about two times a month, I would travel from my school on Friday, immediately at 5:30 PM, after class. My stuff was already packed, hopped in the car and drove to Boulder, Colorado, where I had one of my close friends at the time. We would get in the car together and then drive into the mountains. I would shoot all weekend, finish around Sunday at 1:00 AM or Sunday at maybe mid-day, and immediately start driving 12 hours back to Kansas, and get to campus just in time for class on Monday and go into class and hustle. I went to maybe Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, the Grand Canyon, Rocky mountain national park. That Rocky Mountain range, and that's what was the formative photography years for me. That's what got me into photography, into landscapes a lot.
Pierre Lambert: Yes. That's pretty. I admire the hustle because driving 12 hours is a lot of thinking time.
Karl Shakur: Yes. I tried doing it a couple of months ago, so I was moving, I had all my stuff in storage, and I was moving here to Atlanta, and I couldn't even do a seminar stretch. I don't know what kind of energy I had. That was only two years, three years ago when I was like 24, 23. I was just so intent on getting those photos because you get addicted to the feeling of having new stuff to creatively pour your mind into, edit, and to post-process. I needed new stuff to build. That was like the fuel that forced me and then got me out there.
Pierre Lambert: Yes. That makes total sense. I'm sure after pointing things over. You'd be ready to drive 30 hours just getting me somewhere.
Karl Shakur: Yes. It's been interesting because I just moved to the city here in Atlanta. I don't know anyone. I don't have any family members nearby. I don't know anyone in the city, so I've been alone for about 30 days by myself. No roommates. I have a big house for myself. No roommates, nothing for 30 days, and I see it as my responsibility to promote responsible behavior, so I wouldn't be out there photographing in the landscape because I need to show people that we have a responsibility to sit at home, so this other stuff can end, so we can go outside and have beers with our friends and party and go to concerts again. I am taking it personally to stay at home, and to do my part as a responsible photographer, and someone with an audience.
Pierre Lambert: I feel the same way right now. Nothing prevents me from going out in the street and starting shooting, except my moral consciousness, but even if I go to the grocery store, I know I can shoot, and it's cool to shoot because you document what's happening, but I don't see myself sharing that because some people will take it as, “everyone can go out, he does it, everyone should go out, but you don't have the context when you're looking at a post or when you are looking at the video, you don't have a context to, I'm home. I need food, so I'm going to this store. I have my camera, and then I come back. I respect that man. How are you handling the 30 days? It might be more, but what does your mind like?
Karl Shakur: Yeah, to be honest, I only get on Instagram and YouTube when I'm feeling inspired and energetic, creatively. I want to say that like a lot of people, I'm going through depression and anxiety. It goes up and down so frequently. One day, I'm feeling energized. Like, yes, let's make YouTube videos. I should do other photos at home, get the fog machine cranking, and then the next day, I don't have the energy. I lay in my bed all day, my house is a mess. There are so many dishes in the sink, and then I have to pick myself up and start working out again, being active, and it's just going up and down for me. It's easy as someone whose job is to show themselves having fun, enjoying themselves. It's easy to get stuck in that loop of everyone else having fun. I'm the only one who isn't dealing with this properly. I'm the only one who isn't dealing with this well, but in actuality, the truth is, for example, the day before yesterday was a bad day for me. I didn't have the energy to do my job to create YouTube videos, to create Instagram images. I didn't have the motivation because I am feeling lonely. I was feeling, not creatively charged. I remind myself, speak to family, speak to friends, remind myself that this whole thing is temporary, and then after two days, it clears up, and I feel energetic. Today's one of those days where I feel energetic, luckily. I've worked out this morning, showered, brushed my teeth, cooked myself breakfast, but it doesn't happen that way every single day. I'm being honest.
Pierre Lambert: I see, it's an interesting time. A lot of time being with ourselves. I will say, I'm in the lucky position where I have my wife and a kid, and with a kid, you have zero downtime. I'm striving. I'm looking for downtime, but it's good how you shared that. It's not easy every day because a lot of people see us. You post on your good day, right?
Karl Shakur: You're not sharing your days as if I'm doing a little room tour. If I'm showing my work out on my Instagram story, that's the day when I feel the most creatively charged, and I have access to all my faculties, but sometimes my house is a mess. Many dishes in the sink, and I'm not feeling the energy, which I think it's important. I want to be able to convey to the audience that everyone is having a tough time in this period as well, especially people like us who get creativity from being outside a lot. So, it's okay to feel, man. I don't have the energy. I don't have the motivation to do all that. It's fine to feel that way at this time, which is good.
Pierre Lambert: Have you thought of something maybe, next time on one of those slumpy days.
Karl Shakur: Yes.
Pierre Lambert: Can you just time-lapse it? Like, put a camera in a corner, and you time-lapse the 12 hours of daytime.
Karl Shakur: That's a good idea.
Pierre Lambert: It's like, here's what my real life looks like.
Karl Shakur: Yes. I'm not trying to write that note out yet. Because, it's very good for people to know that the people that they look up to, and the people that they admire, in work ethic, for example. Everyone is always thinking that we're always working on interesting projects. I'm going to write that down. That's very valid.
Pierre Lambert: “Oh, this guy spends a lot of time on his couch doing nothing .”
Karl Shakur: That is the truth. We are all human. Especially people who have an effort to create and build audiences. Those kinds of people are very charged and want to be the best versions of themselves, but obviously, we all fall short to be effective in our environment, and this coronavirus environment has been a strong environment over the last couple of weeks.
Pierre Lambert: It is affecting, especially anyone traveling outdoors right now that is not living outdoors because some people have the, not luxury, but they had the opportunity to be living by those places, so they can still access them. But for us stalking cities.
Karl Shakur: Yes. It is a little harder. Speaking with Chelsea, a couple of weeks ago, she feels so blessed to be Hawaii-based, one of the most beautiful islands in the world, and that the backyard is these beautiful, green mountains, which is very lucky for her, very happy for her. I also wish I was stuck in the mountainous desert somewhere more creatively charging, rather than being in a city. The only thing I can go to is to go to a nearby target to get some bagels or whatever.
Pierre Lambert: I am still alive outside. I see what you mean. I think she said that in a few stories also, she was talking and she is saying, I am lucky. I told my wife at the beginning of March. I am saying, we should move to Hawaii or Tahiti or Moorea, because I am a French citizen, and she is making the way I can spend two years in Moorea if I want. And it would be good there because it is a different environment and she is working from home now because no company is open. I was saying, it would have been cool right now, but you don't know how it's going to go down, and then, by the time it happened.
Karl Shakur: It is too late.
Pierre Lambert: Then you don't want to go and bring any infection to an island either.
Karl Shakur: Yes. So, we are just crossing our fingers and seeing when it is going to end. You have to, in your mind, be convinced that I am ready to go in August. If it's August, I'm ready to go in August, and hopefully before then, it cancels, and we can get outside. So, you were saying something. How do I do what?
Pierre Lambert: Yes. I was going to shift to a question on creativity. What is your process? Let's say there was not a coronavirus thing, and you were going on a trip for two weeks, and what would you be doing creatively, or what would be your creative process? Would you be mapping out like shots? I am super interested to know if you are someone who maps everything out, shows up.
Karl Shakur: I have a very, let me see if I can pull up. I have a list of terms that I always look up, like my travel research terms. It is going to take me a while to pull it up here. Let's see, it will be in my miscellaneous notes, and I'll have a series of words that I searched for a location. For example, if I'm going to Cambodia, I would search Cambodia national park, Cambodia where to go? Cambodia, what to see? Cambodia travel guide, Cambodia road trip, Cambodia cave, Cambodia arch, Cambodia Treehouse. Cambodia dunes. Cambodia cabin. Cambodia waterfalls, valley canyon, church, mountain, desert, observatory deck, hike, lake, swimming hole, rock, cliff, lighthouse, beach, scenic drive, photography spots, photo spots, beautiful destinations, places, Cambodia scenic drives, Cambodia scenic highways, Cambodia scenic cold gorge, Geiser, hot spring, sunrise, sunset, abandoned, rope swing blow holes, shipwrecks, sand. I have all these terms that I would open up.
Pierre Lambert: I hope you guys took notes.
Karl Shakur: I'd open up all my tabs and go through Google images and see any single place that I think would be of value to me to create, just because I want to make sure of that, making the most out of all my trips. After creating all those, after finding all the destinations, usually to be about 20 destinations with maybe two or three out of the way, I would then plot them according to today how I want to do them today. I'd have liked my sunrise and sunset plan for each day and I won't be stringent to it. I'll be a little bit flexible, see how the trip is going and modify the trip to make sure that I'm also getting good rest and good food and good sleep throughout the trip. That's usually the toughest part for me, and then I try to get to the location, get the regular banger. It takes five minutes to get the regular shot that you've seen on the internet before, and then I sat back, and I like to brainstorm and think, how can I make this a little different? Usually, I have some saved images on Pinterest of poses that I saw that were interesting, or water splash ideas that I thought were creative, and I try to put my spin on it. I'm not ashamed of referencing other creators, referencing other photographers or painters, for example, for dynamic ideas, that helps me with being original in itself. The more you can see what other people make and try to make it different in your style. I think that gets me going. I have a whole folder on my iPhone as well for poses and location, and I go through those persons when I'm on location, and I want to create something interesting. I'll go through it. It's not loading. I'll go through my phone and see what ideas that I have. Usually, it's from figure painters on Instagram who have these paintings that have interesting poses. For example, I'm scrolling through my pose folder, and this would help me to think of ideas of how I can integrate different elements that I've brought from different photos, different paintings, different ideas, and bring them into my concept, and then remember that all of that is also working under the roof of the color limitation, so I would all be creating its all green images. If I'm in somewhere. If I go somewhere for a certain color, I'd be working under the limitation of whatever color that I'm working on at the moment, which is just like all these limitations, I think to make my work more fulfilling when I know that I'm able to get something that I'm happy about, you know? Yeah. That's I think that's what, that's my, that's my creation.
Pierre Lambert: That's awesome to hear how you're approaching it. Thinking, has there been a tool in particular that helps you with the research, or is it Google image, Pinterest, and Instagram?
Karl Shakur: It's like the savings tool on Instagram, I think is what, so I have different folders. I have a folder for poses. I have a folder for atmosphere. I have a folder for locations, and that helps me to categorize my creative ideas into different buckets. If I'm feeling like making something more dynamic or more agile, then I'll go through those images in the post folder, and that'll help me draw my attention in a certain direction.
Pierre Lambert: That's cool. I remember, for anyone listening. How do we commit to what you're saying? Like having a folder on your phone, where photos you can always go back to if you're dry on inspiration or you're like, oh, I felt bored. Okay. Even just pick one, try to recreate it, and I used to do that a lot with my clients, especially in the portrait world, where it was portrait engagement, all that, and happy couples, but the problem is I would get bored very quickly, it's like, hold hands, a kiss, look over his shoulder and look there, which was cool, but I would do 80, 90% of that, and 10% that I would pull up my phone and be like, let's try something, guys.
Karl Shakur: Yes, there's one time I was going through an illustration book, and I know I'll see anything from a magazine, anything that I think is cool, that I think that I can try later on. I use the opportunity to take anything from the middle of children's books that I see, like a character looking goofy, the pose is interesting. It takes the photo and then saves it into a certain folder. If you feel, I don't know what to do today. I've gotten all the basic shots, and then you pull up that folder, and it helped to diversify your ideas a little bit, which is very, I think it's one of the saving graces when it comes to helping me through creative blocks.
Pierre Lambert: That's great. Great advice for anyone out there. Have you started doing the videos when you're traveling, or maybe you started what is started, so walk us through that.
Karl Shakur: I just started diving into video around December. I only just began figuring out my creative flow for the video as soon as this whole virus hit, but usually what I do is, I'd have some tutorial ideas, like a destination. I think that people are interested in learning from that destination. Maybe if I go to Iceland, how I'm able to shoot in a glacier or how I'm able to get more dynamic, like snow portraits, that kind of thing, then I have those tutorials. What I'm using to go on hikes, the gear that I'm using to go on hikes, and then, I'll have for myself, and for my creative journey, I'd have one cinematic piece that I decided to make from, from a destination, so I'm currently cooking up an edit from Iceland, from my travels in Iceland over the last couple of weeks, after I'm done delivering the audience with that value, like learning information. I also entertain them with more cinematic pieces. Which I think helps me to keep my feet up. Keep my energy, and keep me inspired for this kind of video, so it's not just a money grab, for views as well, but something that can keep my creativity up as well.
Pierre Lambert: That's awesome. I'll give you. No one asks for it, but I'll give you my 2 cents. Keep it, and keep doing that part, doing that cinematic or whatever, because, for me, that's my journey. But it gets very quickly where we push those aside and focus on the rest, on tutorials or whatever, where you kind of guarantee that first, it's going to help people. But it's also going to generate more views. There's going to be more interest, which means more growth, but those projects, I think, are super essential. That's good. You're on that one. What's your gear? I'm super curious?
Karl Shakur: Yeah, so I'm one of those Canon fanboys. I'm addicted to Canon stuff. I know a lot of the people are Sony guys, mirrorless guys nowadays. I hedge my bets in Canon because, as everyone says, the color science, but the most important factor to me is the ergonomics of a cannon body. When you hold it, it feels like an extension of my arm. Having shot with them for so long, it feels very comfortable, and having something that I hold very often in my hand, that's important for me to have that foreign factor. I've invested so much money in Canon lenses, but luckily it's about to pay off. There are rumors on the R5. Not rumors but confirmations on the R5. Which has some of the most insane specs on a mirrorless body, so I'm interested in switching over to that. But for right now, I shoot with a Canon 5D mark four, and I have my second shot. It's a 60, just in case I want to do a time-lapse or have someone shoot on the side. I shoot with a 17 to 35, 2.8. L lens Canon and 28 to 72.8 and then the 70 to 200, 2.8. Then I have a 100 to 400 with a two times converter in case I need to go all the way to 1,600, and then I have an 800 to 2,600 lens,.which is a very cheap $200 lens that I bought on Amazon, and I use that for photographs like eclipses of the sun or the moon. Something that I need to zoom into very far away. That's the beginning, and then I use my Mavic, have I preferred the Mavic zoom? I have the Mavic zoom and the pros, but I prefer the telephoto look on the zoom, so I use the zoom more often than I use a pro.
Pierre Lambert: That's good. When you travel, do you take everything?
Karl Shakur: Everything. I usually leave depending on the trip. I'll leave the 100 to 400 behind, but I don't take the telescopic lens. I leave that here. Only if I'm going on a trip specifically to photograph an eclipse or a moon, then I bring that along, so I'll take the 15 to 35 from 7 to 16 to 35. I'll take a 16 to 35, 28 to 70, and the 70 to 200 as well as one body. I'll take the 5D, and then I'll put that in my hand luggage. I never check in my camera gear ever. Sometimes, I'm curious if I need the 100 to 400, then I'll put that in the suitcase, but my body and my lenses, my main lenses always stay on my body because I'm not comfortable letting it go. I know many airlines offer a lot of discounts for checking in if you have the credentials. They offer great prices for people who are in the media industry, but I can't see myself parting because if you pull up to a job or pull up to a trip. And you want to start photographing, and then what? Your camera's in Timbuktu. We left it in Norway, what are you going to do?
Pierre Lambert: That would be the worst. I'm the same way. All memory cards, and every hard drive is in my pocket. Do not touch anything that has jobs.
Karl Shakur: It's interesting sometimes depending on the airline, the weight of the luggage, so the way your bag. If it's ever in my backpack, I always put my back straight up and act like it's light and hope that it doesn't weigh if they do weigh, and they're so intent on checking it in. I always agree and have them tag it. They tell me to put it at the bottom of the jet bridge, and then I take off the tag. I board it. I never check it in.
Pierre Lambert: There are many bad stories about checking it in. What's your camera bag?
Karl Shakur: I've been bouncing between a couple. I usually take two bags on trips. There's a new Shimoda bag. That is good for hiking. I'll take the Shimoda bag with the interior compartment, and then I'll also take the produce bag. I can't remember the name, so I pulled it up. It's a backpack pro. The backpack pro by douchebag. I'll take that as well. Both of them paired together, depending on what. If I need to go on a big hike, I'll bust out the Shimoda backpack from my suitcase, and I'll put my camera unit inside that, and then I'll use that because it has excellent weight support and all that, but if I need to slink around the city, or if I want to look a little more casual and not as, you know, adventury, then I'll bring out the douche bag, which has a slightly more stylish form factor, depending on whatever I'm doing, I usually have those two bags on my person in my suitcase, so if I'm going to, for example, if I'm going to New York City, I'd rely more on the douchebag, but if I'm going to say Patagonia. Somewhere that is hiking intensive. I would bring out the Shimoda.
Pierre Lambert: That makes me think of something because I don't like to compromise on weight support and support in general because it just gets so heavy, and I'd say, why do I have to look good and ruin my back?
Karl Shakur: That is true. Yes, but the thing as well is that sometimes I want to go to a coffee shop, and if I'm in a city like Barcelona, I don't want to take too much gear because the people, like these guys on the streets, depending on what city you are, they have very light hands, so I'll just take, if I'm talking one body and one lens out, then I want to have a more slim, so I can run and gun. I'll take the smaller backpack. I'll leave my stuff locked up in the closet or in the hostel that I'm at, and that kind of stuff. I like to switch between the two because it's a lot more versatile, weight support. It's hard to beat that weight support.
Pierre Lambert: The reason is that in cities with an adventure backpack for a long time, until I got something that looks a little bit more normal. But people would be like, oh yeah, you look like you're hiking in that backpack. I have a green floral jacket with a floral kind of orange backpack from f-stop, and it looks like I'm going to hike on the mountain and people may ask, downtown, where are you going? Oh, just to a coffee shop, that's good. That's something that struck me with your work also is that you're always super stylish in your photos.
Karl Shakur: Yes.
Pierre Lambert: Do you hike in that stylish outwear, or do you bring it?
Karl Shakur: You recently made that transition to like, I'm generally not a stylish guy. I like to dress that way. I've done my research beforehand, but I would have two, three ideas for an outfit in my head, and then I'll shop for those. I'd like to create those looks in my head beforehand, buy them and put them in my suitcase. And then, I'd have them in my backpack for certain. For example, Iceland a couple of weeks ago. We didn't go on any tough hikes, so I could easily dress up in whatever outfits I wanted to photograph or look good in, and then it'd be easy. But for trips that I'm doing difficult hikes, like in Namibia or some other tough locations. I'd like to dress in a lot more breathable, hikable outfits, and then hopefully I'd be able to style them with just different accessories, maybe like a nice hiking hat or a nice scarf, and then, I pair those together with whatever easy hiking outfit I have, usually all it takes to make something cool, like the image is maybe just a nice jacket or, you know, a single piece of clothing, and that could transform the image. Usually, you like it. For example, in Iceland, I wore a turtleneck, and it suits me so well with the rocks.
Pierre Lambert: That's the one that struck me. That's the one that I was just checking again because I remember that's the one that struck me in Iceland. I was saying, who's so stylish going home.
Karl Shakurf: Yes. It's just a turtleneck, and sometimes I have these ideas that stick in my head, and I can't get them out. For example, I wanted this side of myself. There are these black rocks in Iceland. Let me see if I can send this to you.
Pierre Lambert: I think I have it right under my eyes.
Karl Shakur: Yes, exactly.
Pierre Lambert: I'll link it below, guys, so you can look at it.
Karl Shakur: Then the rocks, there's a series of square rocks. These are like protrusions in Iceland, and I thought it would be very striking if you could have a figure in complete white from head to toe, and it just stuck in my mind before I even went on the trip, and I said, I have to get this way. I went on Amazon and looked for painters' overalls. I bought it, and then I just paired it with a white, like a turtleneck, and I posed in front of the rocks. I feel like it's very striking. The way the image looks at the end of the day, so that's another idea. I think about these ideas before I get to a location because I can't get them out of my head.
Pierre Lambert: Yes. That's a good way. That's a great way. I always struggled between looking at images and not looking before getting to a place because part of me is like, I want to keep them, I want to keep a fresh eye, and a part of me is saying I don't want to waste my time.
Karl Shakur: As someone who has the business, I think, you owe it to yourself to be able to get those boundaries. What I usually do is if I have a series of images that I know that for sure these images are going to perform very nicely on the internet . If I want to sell some prints and a lot of my clients, I want to go to buy it. I spend the first 10 minutes of the shoots going through the images, snapping those, and I know that I've gotten those so I can relax in my head, and then I start thinking of other ways to inject my personality and style into the photographs. I think that's an interesting way to go about the whole travel photography thing because it's so popular. Travel photography is so popular. If you look up Bali photography, you're going to see every single angle of the same waterfall, and it's going to be hard to get something unique, so you might as well photograph those things, get them out of the way, get your creative mind to check and take off those subjects, and then you start forcing your mind to relax and come up with some other ideas that can hopefully get you something unique that someone else hasn't done before.
Pierre Lambert: That's good. That's good. Have you explored a little bit of other islands in Indonesia?
Karl Shakur: Yes, I think my most favorite place in the world is Java. The ones right beside it are on the east of the volcano. It's so raw. The fact that you can walk on the rim of an active volcano, and see the plumes of smoke coming from the inside of the volcano. It's bizarre, so yes. Java and Bali are the two places I've been to in Indonesia. Those are one of my favorites, one of my favorite places in the world.
Pierre Lambert: Nice. Let's go east next time.
Karl Shakur: Okay.
Pierre Lambert: If you can go to Lombok.
Karl Shakur: I've been to Lombok as well.
Pierre Lambert: Have you been to the volcano? Have you done Rinjani?
Karl Shakur: No, I haven't.
Pierre Lambert: You would start working out on your squad.
Karl Shakur: Yes, we did it a couple of months ago, but because of the earthquakes in the region, the whole hiking trail has completely switched and changed so, we expected to see this waterfall. We hiked for maybe six hours or something. Bizarre. We got there, and there were earth tremors, everything was shaking, and we couldn't move forward, so we wasted about maybe 12 hours of our day hiking up and down this mountain. That's also one of the joys of going with the flow is that you never know what sometimes it's just around the corner and there's something that is a life-changing photograph, but sometimes you work hard and you'll hike because you want to do something unique that no one has done before
Pierre Lambert: isn't that most of the time? Let's tell the truth, guys. This is most of the time. You only see the 1%..
Karl Shakur: That is true.
Pierre Lambert: That's awesome. Zumbahua is a cool island also if you ever get the chance to explore. No one's been there. If we can talk more about it. I crossed it twice by bus and spent a week in the west part of Zimbaua. Very cool. Interesting. Because you get the view of Rinjani but from the other side.
Karl Shakur: It's not the same in Zimbahua.
Pierre Lambert: It's completely different. That island is massive, man. To drive through, it's going to take you eight, 10 hours. It's a journey. I was traveling on the cheap, so I went from Bali to the Komodo islands, but by bus..
Karl Shakur: Wow. How many years ago was this?
Pierre Lambert: The first time I did it was in 2010, and the second time was two years ago 2018. It hasn't changed. Like that part has not changed, but Bali, man. It's a different place. Gilly. I didn't even go back, but Lombok had changed so much just in the span of like six years. It was a new place, so it's impressive. How do you feel when you're, when you're on, on an adventure and you have to balance out between your sponsors, or the business side, and you are personally creative. How do you balance that out? Do you do both at the same time when you travel or do you like just one direction?
Karl Shakur: I like to force myself to do both because, just from experience over the posting, sponsored posts over the last 2, 3, 4 years, I found that the sponsor posts that perform the best are the ones that seem genuine and the ones that would want to share, so what I've started doing is like creating like mood boards. I use the same creative direction from my posts. I use it for sponsored posts, so that when the time eventually comes, I'm excited to share those sponsored posts. For example, that Iceland image of me in the all-white was a sponsored post for a cologne company. I was happy to share it because I felt that it was representing my creative journey at the time, and the audience is very happy as well to take the sponsored posts in because they can see that you worked hard to try and make this different. So I try, and I try and do both at the same time, and they use the same creative limitations in the same creative stringency, like to keep the quality as high as I can so that the audience continues to support what I do because it's very people, people like to support people that they see are working hard and trying to create something that they can benefit from.
Pierre Lambert: True. You inspire everyone at the same time, you know, and that's, that's awesome. What would you say or what kind of advice would you give to someone who's just finishing high school nowadays?
Karl Shakur: Okay, so this question, I get asked a lot if I want to go into photography, but I don't know if I should do college. I'd say if you have the opportunity to work hard and get some scholarships or to get funding from family, you should most definitely, a hundred percent, do university. Why?
Pierre Lambert: Interesting.
Karl Shakur: Yes. If you can do it on the cheap, if you can do it from funding from family members, if you have scholarships, if you have some funds that you've procured from friends who are willing to donate or that kind of stuff, you should do it. University, because university like further education is incredibly valuable that will help you set yourself apart from other people. For some reason, even though I feel like I've gained a lot of my skills by working in the field, there's no doubt that it's helped my creative feel to have studied architecture and to understand like composition and that kind of thing, so, if you're, if you're on the funds, and you can do it for free, you should most definitely go to university. However, if you can't get it for free, or if it's tough for you to get the funding because we live in a day and age where people can build audiences, and monetize these audiences, you should try and do it by yourself, and then another piece of advice, I think this is equally as important as the first little tidbit that I said is the shoot, and then, you shoot again and shoot some more, you shoot tomorrow, the day after and shoot everything, shoots straight up, shoot down, shoot left, shoot right, and shoot as frequently as you can shoot because the more you shoot, the more you develop your style, the more you get better, the more you set yourself apart from the average Joe, and the more you develop your skills and make yourself more valuable in the community, the more prospective clients want to invest in you, the more they see their value in you. I think that that was the reason why I was able to, you know, grow my audience and to grow my skill set was because I was so adamant about driving. However, hours away from home to this mountain, to shoot for two, three photos of the weekend. Shoot and shoot some more, and shoot again, and then edit as much as you're shooting, so you shoot, you edit, and make sure that you're doing the best that you can to keep pumping out as much content because the more you pump out, the more you get better at what you do, the more you develop your skills, and then the more prospective clients want to invest in you.
Pierre Lambert: Makes sense.
Karl Shakur: Yes, and if you're eventually at the end of your university career, your education, you find out that you're making enough money to transition to your creative field. Then that's how you can take what you've learned from university and make it fully pumping into photography and into having this online business. I think it's the most ideal to have the best of both worlds. Because if something changes, and you have a fallback, you have something that you can fall back on as you progress through your life because you've been able to get this further education, and because you set yourself apart, you also, for example, whenever I speak to clients, and I say, I have a master's in architecture. Everyone is like, oh, wow. It shows that I have the tenacity to go through school for six years and procure this master and procure. It shows that I have the drive to complete something. I think it helps set people apart.
Pierre Lambert: That's interesting. Okay. What is the one scale that has helped you the most that you learned in university?
Karl Shakur: I'd say just having the proportion. A lot of my photographs are very heavily dependent on composition and proportions. I'm very knowledgeable on how the golden ratio works, how the rule of thirds applies to building aesthetics, how things look to an eye, and how things look aesthetic, so it helps me to frame my photographs very well. That's what I think was the most valuable lesson. It happened in the first three years of architecture school is like the basic proportions in the rules of, you know, proportioning imagery and proportioning, how your building is brought together. I think that's what's helped me. Because I know compositional rules, if things land on the third line, they seem more or more aesthetic to the eye when they appear in the middle of the composition. It's easy to draw your eye to the subject of the photograph. I think that's what's been the most valuable for me.
Pierre Lambert: Yes. That's something that shows in your work. It's very aesthetic and easy to read on your images, which is awesome. Karl, I want to be mindful of your time. What would you, what would you leave people within this weird time? What would you think about for the next one day or two months? Who knows?
Karl Shakur: I want people to know that they should be prepared to wait, wait this out as long as they possibly can because as much as going out to photograph is very fun. I don't think it's as valuable as grandma's life or your buddy who's immunocompromised. It's not as valuable as their life, so you should be prepared to stay at home for as long as possible. However, that doesn't mean that we should not be creative at this time. I think to get, get, get a tripod, get a remote trigger, get it's something. I think there's a good example. I forgot her name. She's an Alaskan photographer. Her name is, uh, let's see if I can pull up Erin outdoors. I don't know if I've seen her work. She's been making
Pierre Lambert: I saw her on Tiktok today.
Karl Shakur: Yes. Beautiful miniature photographs in her house. Keeping her creative juices flowing by. By creating a beautiful landscape, like piles of pancakes and like mounds of a flower as the desert and that kind of thing. We can take beautiful photographs from our homes, so I think we should try and challenge ourselves to keep creating those photographs so that when this, all this is over, we can burst back into the world, with our creative juices, fully charged, and be able to dive right into creating as usually the
Pierre Lambert: That's, that's awesome. I think that's good. It's something to think about. You don't need the external world to create something beautiful. It's also within, I mean, within you in a way.
Karl Shakur: Yes. It's not going to be the same. Shooting in your living room is not going to be the same as somebody, a mountain, but there is no doubt that it would, it would continue to charge your mind and charge your creative juices, which I think is very valuable to keep charging this in this very, very weird time.
Pierre Lambert: In a way, you want to come out sharper than you entered. Otherwise, if you want to come out on top, be sharp and be on top of your game. Do not slouch and 24 months of Netflix.
Karl Shakur: Yeah. But at the same time. Speaking from personal experience. We all have those down days, so as much as you want to hustle, get bagging and get that good stuff out and get the content out. Allow yourself to fail and to make mistakes and to like, to, to slack a little bit because everyone is imperfect as well. Everyone is also going through this tough time where they feel like the world is ending, and it's the Corona, a couple of weeks. And they'd known nothing to do, knowing nothing to do. Allow yourself to fail, as well as try to pick yourself up and keep going.
Pierre Lambert: Yes. It's about the balance. Balancing out, and like averaging it on all the days. If you're averaging Netflix versus creativity.
Karl Shakur: That's true.
Pierre Lambert: There's something to balance. That's awesome. Karl, thank you so much for taking your time. What should people find you? Do you want them to look at a specific piece of content?
Karl Shakur: Yes. I have a YouTube video of me trying to create some very atmospheric cinematic photographs in my house. I'll link it below. I'll send you the link so you can link it below. Just to see, give people an idea of the kind of stuff that I'm trying to make here at home. I think that's the best way for people to give people motivation. Yes. Maybe I can make some dope stuff here at home as well. That was, that was very interesting. I'll link that to you as well. You can find me on Instagram and YouTube at Karl_Shakur. Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It was a pleasure chatting.
Pierre Lambert: Thanks. Karl. Thank you so much.
The Pierre T. Lambert Podcast is where Pierre interviews the best creatives in the world to share their tips and stories. Enjoy & spread the word to your friends about this podcast! Pierre T. Lambert is a travel & adventure photographer & YouTuber followed by over 1,000,000 people. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.