Recently we’ve gotten to know photographer and video producer Luke Pearsall better because of his stellar photography work with our client, Appalachian Gear Company. As many in the industry know, the pandemic has been extremely hard on those in the creative space, which that is why we wanted to shine the light on Luke this month. Luke’s story is so much bigger than being an outdoor industry photographer, and we hope that through this interview we can help introduce him to others who are looking for a solid creative partner or who are wanting to feel inspired to go after their own passions.
Luke, thank you so much for taking the time for this interview! As we were doing research we were so impressed by the breadth of work you’ve done over the years and are excited to talk about some of that here today. First, as we do with most of these interviews, we’re going to need to know your birth sign (we are in Asheville, after all).
I’m a Virgo.
I suppose we should start from the beginning, how did you get started as a professional photographer/videographer?
My start in photography began in high school when I took a college-level Photo 1 class over the summer going into senior year. I fell in love with the process and the expression of photography. From that moment on I started to pursue the quest for the very best education in photography–which led me to study Advertising Photography at The Rochester Institute of Technology, widely regarded as one of the premier schools to obtain a degree in photography in the country.
You have worked on some incredible projects throughout your career, from ABC’s Lost and HBO’s Entourage to shoots for Land Rover USA, American Express, and our mutual client Appalachian Gear Company. What prompted the shift from Hollywood and mainstream brands to the outdoor industry?
I was very fortunate when I first started my career after college to find my way onto the film sets of some of the biggest movies and television shows at the time. It was an incredible experience to learn from the top professionals in the industry for many years and very humbling in many cases to be the one who was simply just running coffee to people and working my way up. My first love was always photography and eventually, I began to focus more on the stills side of the industry. Again with a lot of hard work and some strokes of good luck I was able to have a career as a freelance photographer with many great notable brands. My big break was when I was hired to shoot a campaign for Samsung Mobile USA, which changed my life in many ways.
Living in L.A. for nearly 12 years was a wild ride, but L.A., as much as I would call it home, never really seemed like a good fit for me. I love the outdoors, I love outdoor gear particularly, and I wanted to pursue more clients in the outdoor industry, like Appalachian Gear Company. One of the best parts about working with outdoor and travel brands is that I really care about them because I can truly relate to the product and understand that my work will play a critical role in their success. I value more personal relationships with the owners and PR companies I work with, and take a personal interest in being able to utilize my previous experiences in larger-scale production and photography to help the brands I work with be successful. Five years ago I moved to Denver to be closer to the heart of the outdoor industry and haven’t looked back.
What is one of the most memorable projects you’ve been a part of (for good or bad reasons)?
One might think that the big movies or television shows that I have worked on would be the most memorable projects I have worked on in my career, and although they are probably some of the most unique experiences I have had, I was really working as a very small part of a very large machine. One of the many unique projects I worked on was a small television show I co-produced called “The Gentlemen’s League.” The show was unique in that my friend group at the time pitched and created it, and we all used our collective skills to make it a reality once it was sold. It starred Jerry Ferrara from HBO’s Entourage and Max Greenfield from Fox’s New Girl, among other really talented friends. It was on the air for just a single season but was well received, and has become a memory of a time in my career when I got to collaborate with friends on a really fun project.
The pandemic has definitely turned the world upside down, some for good and some for worse. How has your career been impacted by it and how have you adapted what you do to succeed in such a challenging time?
The pandemic has been, for lack of better words, a disaster for the creative professions. We simply don’t work in an industry where we can work from home, and we have to be around people to create the things we need to create to make a living. I have seen many of my fellow creatives struggling during this time as the businesses they normally work with are struggling to keep their own doors open and don’t have the dollars to spend on high-value photography and video. As things cautiously begin to start moving again in the industry, the shift has been to work on smaller scope projects with less travel involved for everyone and with watered-down numbers of crew on the job so that we can safely operate in the still very present COVID workplace environment. A job that normally could be shot in a single day or two with multiple models and or actors now might need to take place over several days–which isn’t ideal but essential at the moment. I think many of us are still trying to figure out how to reopen our businesses and keep our crews and talent safe.
You’ve been pretty vocal on social media about how popular apps can make it difficult for content creators to thrive online, based on algorithm changes, etc. What, in your opinion, are the best and worst parts of social media for a creative like yourself?
I think it’s pretty scary in today’s social media environment to put all your eggs into a single app. At one time my Instagram account topped out around 160k followers. I was gaining hundreds of followers per day for a period of time, with some days even reaching a thousand. In today’s more algorithmic social media world, it feels like there is absolutely no rhyme or reason to who the app decides to promote to an audience.
Social media agencies say to simply make engaging content, but I disagree. You have to create the content, but you also have to be aware of how the algorithm works. You almost have to create trending content–not just the high-quality content you would create for yourself. It is very tricky. We are all at the whim of how an AI algorithm decides we should be seen. The best part of social media, however, is the ability to connect with people all over the world and make new friends. That is something that no algorithm can take away from you. The ability to reach out and connect on a personal level is what I appreciate the most.
What advice would you give a burgeoning outdoor photographer trying to break into a competitive industry?
I think what I would say to any new photographer trying to break into the industry is to be realistic with your expectations. Just because you bought all the gear and made a YouTube video or made an Instagram Reel, doesn’t mean you will get noticed. Like everything, you have to put in your time, learning your craft. You don’t get better at anything unless you actually do it. This is something I still remind myself of when there are periods of time I could use to create more and learn more. There is no shortcut. The road can certainly be long, but one day you’ll be sitting somewhere amazing in the world pinching yourself because someone is paying you to be there working for them.
When not planning and executing photo and video shoots for clients, what do you do to recharge and reconnect to your life?
In all honesty, sometimes the shoot is the recharge. I love what I do and there is a lot of planning, emails, phone calls, and non “shooting” related hours that go into the actual shoot days themselves. If I’m working for an outdoor brand on an adventure somewhere with people who are like-minded, it feels like my creative batteries are getting recharged. The clients that allow me to do the things I love, like hiking and camping, while creating for them are the diamonds in the rough because that is what I would be doing if I wasn’t photographing the experience anyway. I truly love being outside. Always in all ways.
You are lucky enough to be based in Colorado–an outdoor mecca–can you share with us a couple of your favorite pastimes and places you’ve been enjoying and/or look forward to returning to when COVID protocols have been lifted?
My top activities in Colorado would have to be spending time exploring the mountains on the Continental Divide Trail and the Colorado Trail backpacking. Also, I love finding new off-the-beaten-path dispersed camping spots down mountain roads to spend time with friends car camping. Another activity that I really enjoy and would like to do more of here is whitewater rafting. I did a three-day trip with a company out of Buena Vista two summers ago, camping and rafting, and it was an absolute blast! When we are free to travel more safely after COVID I cannot wait to internationally travel again. I fear it may be some time still though.
What song/artist is playing on repeat for you right now?
Most recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Leon Bridges “River.” That man has a silky voice.
Podcast or documentary? Which one is your preference and do you have a favorite?
Oddly enough I recently have been listening to The Victory Podcast, which is hosted by Kevin Dillon (Johnny Drama) and Doug Ellin (Executive Producer and Creator) from Entourage. It’s like reliving my years working on the show, and I love hearing all the old stories from the gang.
Let’s pretend you could have an all-expenses-paid trip to anywhere post-pandemic, where would you go?
I have had really limited opportunities thus far in my travels to visit areas in Asia. I would love to visit Thailand. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a really long time.
If you could meet someone from the past, present, or future, who would it be and why?
From the past, it would be Nikola Tesla hands down. A man who has created so much technology still being used in modern-day applications is so interesting to me. If people reading this don’t know much about him it’s worth researching.
In modern days similarly, I think it would be interesting to meet Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla Motor Company. I like the thought of meeting people who can see the future through innovation in technology and science.
In the future, well…I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.
What is the most underrated piece of outdoor gear you use?
Without a doubt, the most underrated piece of gear that I use backpacking is my Gossamer Gear ⅛ inch foam pad. To me, it is one of the most versatile items in my pack, hands down.
Anything fun coming up on the horizon that you want to share with us?
From a work perspective, I have been really excited about my new relationship with Appalachian Gear Company and look forward to driving the still photography side of their marketing efforts in the next year. I believe in the product and the people that stand behind it. The sky is the limit.
If the world permits, I’d love to tackle a smaller thru-hike this summer, like the Tahoe Rim Trail. I have committed myself to not feeling personally like this is the year for a longer distance thru-hike, like the PCT.
Anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t ask today?
I think we covered it all here. If anyone has any questions they would like to ask me relating to any of the answers above, photo or gear-related, please feel free to reach out.
Find Luke at:
Facebook: Luke Pearsall Photo
For business inquiries: firstname.lastname@example.org