Anyone who knows Scott Schilke won’t be surprised to learn that the Naples Camera Club has honored the amiable former condominium manager as its Photographer of the Year. Schilke’s easy-going personality belies the competitive fire that burns in him as he keeps a breakneck schedule of photographing rockets at Cape Kennedy and supercells in Tornado Alley.
The Naples Camera Club is not a gathering of casual hobbyists. On the contrary, it is a collection of top-notch photographers with top dollar equipment. Being named its Photographer of the Year is not an honorary thing. It’s an honor that is competed for, and Schilke accomplished the feat in just two years.
When Schilke speaks he has a twinkle in his eye and a kind smile. So, one may wonder what drives this apparent gentle soul to chase supercells, stand on condominium roofs as thunderstorms roll in from the Gulf, and compete with other credentialed elite photographers to shoot rocket launches at the Kennedy Space Center?
The answer is surprising. It goes back to his days as a single parent raising a daughter alone on a salary that wasn’t quite enough. Schilke accepted a job with the Deltona Corporation—the developers of modern Marco Island—and left his infant daughter in 24-hour childcare while he worked during the week.
“Not providing the way I should for my daughter made me fight,” Schilke said. ”Things were tough in my early days with Deltona. I took a job down here in 1979 that paid me just enough to live on and pay for my daughter’s 24-hour-a-day daycare back home. We often didn’t have enough money for food on the weekend. It was tough financially. It was tough emotionally. Being a single dad, I did what I needed to do. It changes your life. She had no mother. Her mother abandoned both her and me. ‘It’s her biological,’ we say. That’s what stopped everything else I wanted to do. I had to give it up. She was the most important thing.”
Fighting to provide for his daughter was the birth of Schilke’s competitive side, he believes.
“Being a condo manager manifested in everything I did,” Schilke said. “I could have just been an average condo manager and collected my paycheck and done an okay job. But that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to do my best for them. They are paying me; they need my best. That transferred over to photography.”
Schilke advanced with Deltona and was soon managing the Summit House on Marco Beach. Later he moved to Hideaway Beach where he was soon managing five condominiums. While a condo manager, he managed to become a credentialed race car photographer. But his competitive nature made him want to advance to an even more competitive arena—rocket photography. But he knew he couldn’t be a condo manager and a rocket photographer.
“Working in condominiums for forty years, I was never able to focus on photography,” Schilke said. “It was always a love of mine, but I never had courses or classes. I was self-taught through trial and error and making mistakes. So, through trial and error, I learned. But I didn’t have the foundation I should have had as a photographer. And being on call 24 hours a day for 40 years with the condominiums, it was very hard to get away from the building and to go on photography trips. At 62, I went to my wife Maria and said, ‘I really want to take early retirement. Finish my career out at 40 years. I want to do nothing but photography and quit racing and move over to rockets. It’s going to be a hard transition and I may not be able to break into it. But I want to try.’ So that was my goal when I retired and left Hideaway. That’s what I wanted to accomplish. It took a year to break into Cape Kennedy and start getting through the different levels of security and access. There are three different components out there: NASA, SpaceX, and the United States Air Force. Those were all barriers I had to break down and break into.”
Schilke loves rocket photography, but there is another photographic pursuit he likes even more.
“Lightning, by far, is my favorite thing. Rockets are second, racing would be third. But lightning and storm chasing are first. It’s violent, but it’s fun. I’ve had some close calls. I’ve had my mechanical shutter release shock me probably 15 times. It’s really painful. And you’re going to get shocked. But it makes you feel alive when you’re in front of Mother Nature. A mother ship. A tornado. Or lightning. You feel this big,” he said, with his thumb and forefinger held less than a half-inch apart. “Mother Nature is incredible.”
The Naples Camera Club has been another competitive outlet for Schilke. Having his photographs judged was tough.
“The competition part,” he said, “to be honest when I first started, was scary. I could have failed. I could have failed when I quit racing and tried to break into rocket photography. That was scary. I hadn’t really pushed myself. Being judged was the hardest.”
“When they started the competition, I was stunned by the images. There are some outstanding wildlife and landscape photographers. And they have been doing this all their lives. This is their passion. The images that are being presented are amazing. There are some amazing bird photographers in this area. Dr. Phil Wheat normally wins. When he has a bird entry it’s just phenomenal. He’s amazing. In my opinion, he’s a world-class bird photographer. He lives just north of Marco at Fiddler’s Creek. He’s tremendous. Dr. Cohen, who was a dermatologist on Marco, is another amazing bird photographer. He wins a lot, also. These people are extremely talented. I’m looking at these images and I’m drooling. It’s just wonderful to be around people who have that passion and to see what they are producing. It has dramatically helped my photography. It is exactly what I needed.”
Call out box idea:
Naples Camera Club’s Photographer of the Year Scott Schilke has several tips for budding photographers that he has gleaned from seminars he has attended at the Naples Camera Club.
Declutter your background.
The rule of thirds.
Fill the frame. Don’t be afraid to zoom in and fill that frame.
Diagonal lines and leading lines.
High and low shooting perspectives—don’t always be at eye level.
Make sure eyes are clear on bird shots.
A frame within a frame.
Make your image tell a story.