Questions with an Educator: Sky Bergman

This week’s Questions with an Educator features Sky Bergman.

Sky is a commercial photographer as well as a Professor of Photography at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo, CA. Her fine art work is included in permanent collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, Seattle Art Museum, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Her commercial work has appeared on book covers for Random House and Farrar, Straus & Girouz Inc., and magazine spreads in Smithsonian, Arthur Frommer’s Budget Travel, Reader’s Digest, and Archaeology Odyssey. Here, Sky shares a bit about her experience as a photography educator, and the advice she commonly shares with her students. Sky’s Film “Lives Well Lived” is currently in theatrical release across the country, so take a look at the film’s description at the end of this article.

We asked: Do you find it difficult to balance time allocation to both teaching and your own photography business?

Sky said: A former professor of mine, Richard Ross once said, “Your time is worth more than your money.” When you are young you don’t quite understand what that means. There is never enough time in the day, and learning how to balance life is a challenge. I spent six years of my life making “Lives Well Lived,” and it was taxing to juggle teaching, home-life, and the film. I feel that I have finally successfully aligned my creativity with a work-life-teaching balance. My work on the film has opened my teaching to an entirely new and exciting focus and my students benefit from my enthusiasm.

We asked: What aspect of teaching do you enjoy the most?

Sky said: I view teaching as a cycle of giving and receiving. I begin my classes by telling my students that all egos are left at the door, mine included, and that we learn from each other. As my own work evolves through the years, it allows me to embrace new methods and technologies. I incorporate these experiences into the classroom setting, thus exposing the students to a breadth of new ideas, innovations, and experiences. They in turn, continue to expose me to new ideas and concepts that I might not have considered. I am very fortunate because I love what I do, so every day is a gift when I enter the classroom.

We asked: What experience from your own career do you find to be most beneficial to share with your students?

Sky said: I think my business experience is the most beneficial thing that I can share with students. It is vitally important for all artists to value their work and not be taken advantage of. The tendency especially for students or those that have newly graduated is to undercharge or work for free. Potential clients might try to convince you that taking a job for free will be good “exposure.” The reality is that exposure does not pay your bills. Learn to value your work and your time. If you don’t value your time and your craft, no one else will.

A good way to build your portfolio; find a non-profit cause that you believe in and work with them to produce work that you are passionate about. Potential clients will be interested in seeing that work.

We asked: Given that your business has started to produce video, do you find that more of your students are inspired to produce video?

Sky said: In my classes I emphasize the fluid nature of photography and what it means to be a working photographer in the digital age. I teach students that one has to be a videographer as well as a photographer to be competitive in the market. My interest and passion for video and filmmaking as well as the art of storytelling is a key component in what I teach and how I work.

We asked: Do you think motion will become a larger part of the photography industry in the future?

Sky said: Motion already is a larger part of the photography industry. It has become much more of a standard practice for clients to ask for motion as well as stills on a shoot. Since the evolution of the DSLR to be able to shoot video, everyone is more inspired to do so. It is affordable to do a video project in a way that just a few years ago would not have been possible without a large budget.

We asked: What was the biggest obstacle you faced in your career?

Sky said: I have always looked at obstacles in my career as an opportunity to grow and to learn. Through the network of creative people that I have surrounded myself with, I am always able to find a solution to just about any problem. I look for the resources that are available through the people that I know. I am not shy about asking a lot of questions. I have found that most people are very happy to share their experiences and ideas and you can learn from the wisdom of others. Cal Poly has a motto, “Learn by doing.” I believe that I live that motto.

We asked: Do you expect that your students might face that same obstacle?

Sky said: My advice to students is to create a network of creative people even while they are in school. Everyone that they connect with whether it is someone who comes to give a guest lecture or fellow students, they are all part of your network. Join an organization that is in your field such as ASMP and become involved to expand your network. Don’t be shy about emailing or calling someone who is doing what you want to be doing and ask their advice. When you reach out, listen twice as much as you speak, and ask people about themselves; it opens more doors. Then practice the art of gratitude. Celebrate those who helped you. Send thank you notes; not emails, actual handwritten notes. Say something kind to the person that helped you. Let them know what a difference it made to you. Having a strong network of people that you can count on will get you through most obstacles. I also teach my students to look for creative solutions when they face obstacles. It helps to know what your goals are so that you can achieve them. Figure out the big picture, then take those big ideas which can be intimidating and break them down into small manageable parts. Dream big, but with small achievable goals along the way.

A bit about Sky’s film, “Lives Well Lived: Celebrating the Secrets, Wit & Wisdom of Age.”

Lives Well Lived, Sky’s director debut, celebrates the incredible wit and wisdom of adults 75 to 100 years old who are living their lives to the fullest. Encompassing over 3000 years of experience, forty people share their secrets and insights to living a meaningful life. Their intimate memories and inspiring personal histories will make you laugh, perhaps cry, but mostly inspire you. Lives Well Lived premiered a year ago at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and since then, the film has been featured at a dozen festivals around the country and has won four awards. The film is currently in theatrical release, so visit the “Lives Well Lived” website for information on screening dates and locations.

Find more of Sky’s work on her website.

If this article was of interest to you, take a look at some of the other articles in the Questions with an Educator series.

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