photo © Scott Van Osdol
I can tell that the spirit of giving really counts for something in Scott Van Osdol’s life. And it’s not only about “shining a light” on popular global injustices, it’s about spending months helping neighbors who weren’t asking for anything in the first place. As an example of this, Scott produced “EveryOther Day,” a pro-bono film and social fundraiser that raised $80,000 for cowboy Rode Lewis who had been driving 180 miles for kidney dialysis, every other day. To top off the achievement, the project won Silver and Gold Austin ADDY Awards.
Pros know it’s not easy to balance personal projects and commercial work, but Scott understands the formula for success is to say yes first and to figure out a way to swing it all later. Based in Austin, he has ridden and shot pro-bono for the Hill Country Ride for AIDS since 2004—helping to raise more than $10 million—while working with Austin creatives to produce campaigns that have appeared in CommArts, PRINT, and the HOW International Design Annual.
On the commercial side of his scale, he counts YETI, Wells Fargo, Justin Boots, and Dell among his long list of clients, who return for Scott’s slice-of-life portraiture and his endurance in our exacting industry. In 2015, ImageBrief added him to their list of ten lifestyle photographers to watch. Five years later, we’re still keeping our eyes on Scott because he takes us to worlds we would have otherwise completely missed.
When the Houston flood hit in 2017, the entire state of Texas immediately went into all-hands-on-deck mode. Tell us how you happened to join forces with Splashway Waterpark to raise money for victims.
I had recently shot a project for Splashway before the disaster hit. We’d finished the shot list for that day, and I told the art director I thought there was a great photo hiding in the wave pool. I went back and shot for an hour from this vantage, getting hundreds of images. I knew the moment I got this frame I was done, and told my assistant to get a signed release from the boy’s parents.
The pro-bono component came a month later when I learned Splashway opened its campgrounds and cabins—for free—to people fleeing Hurricane Harvey. I used the image to produce a small pro-bono campaign with postcards, email blasts, and a social push with stories in Wonderful Machine and Workbook. I got to work with Photo Rep Heather Elder in her #GivingPhotography campaign, every photographer’s dream date.
Do you spend a lot of time on prep and scouting for your pro-bono projects or are you the type who shows up and works with whatever is on hand?
On pro-bono shoots, I usually know the subject beforehand and have an idea of what will work. So, I begin shooting documentary style with what’s on the ground. I’ll direct as needed. The trick is to stay open to possibilities. All Hail Serendipity.
For commercial shoots, planning, scouting, and prep is absolutely necessary. The best images usually come towards the end, as we refine our vision during the shooting process. The talent gets looser as anxiety wears off and they settle into their roles and become playful. The best shots often come after I call a fake “wrap” and everyone gets real, real fast.