Tom Campbell started his diving career at age 18 in the cold water lakes & rivers of Alberta and British Columbia, Canada. He moved to California with the goal of becoming involved in professional military diving. After completing the rigorous physical and mental demands required for volunteers into the Marine Corps First Force Recon Company, Tom was sent to the US Naval School of Underwater Swimmers in Key West, Florida, where he graduated as a qualified Navy Diver. In 1964-1965, Tom was part of a select Force Recon unit that was assigned to MAC-V-SOG in Vietnam. He trained & lead 20 highly skilled Vietnamese Special Forces commandos to conduct highly classified covert operations organized by the CIA. Many of these secret operations were conducted off Norwegian-built “Nasty-class” boats.” A contingency of SEAL Team One supported these ops with specialized equipment. As a result of these operations, Tom was meritoriously promoted.
(After 35 years of secrecy, information about the Secret War in Vietnam is now available to the public in many articles, books, and videos. If you’d like to learn more about Tom’s experience in “The Secret War”, here’s a great book on the subject “SOG: The Secret Wars of America’s Commandos in Vietnam“)
After six years in the Marine Corps, Tom was badly injured and returned to civilian life. Shortly after his discharge and recovery, Tom became a NAUI diving instructor and since then has introduced hundreds of people to the ocean realm.
After graduating from college with a degree in business and criminal law, he attended the California Highway Patrol Academy and started his career in one of the world’s top law enforcement agencies. While a patrol officer with the CHP, Tom was selected to be part of President Reagan’s security team.
Later, as the CHP’s public affair’s officer, Tom also started several successful educational projects including the “Sober Graduation Program” for high school and college students, designed to create an awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving. Celebrities, including Kenny Loggins, John Travolta, and other movie stars worked with Tom to help spread the message. When featured on “Good Morning America,” the Sober Graduation Program was quickly expanded to other countries. Nancy Reagan saw the TV show and was so impressed she invited Tom and John Travolta to the White House to meet her and President Reagan.
After many years of shooting videos for television productions, Tom plunged into the world of large-format High Definition (HD) cinematography in 1998. As a pioneer in underwater HD, Tom is world renowned for his meticulous camera work and stunning imagery. His talents are in high demand around the world for assignments, which have taken him from the frigid waters of the North Atlantic to the tropics of the world. Recent projects include filming the President of Mexico for a PBS special (“Mexico: The Royal Tour); giant mantas in Mexico and Mozambique; BBC’s award-winning “Andrea: Queen of Mantas;” dugongs for the King of Abu Dhabi; shipwrecks of Truk Lagoon; venomous fish in Papua New Guinea; great white sharks in South Africa and Mexico; manatees in Florida; and the kelp forests of the Channel Islands.
Throughout his professional years, Tom has been a highly successful still photographer and cinematographer. His underwater still images and magazine articles have appeared in hundreds of popular publications worldwide.
International Wildlife, UNEP, and BBC’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions have honored Tom with world recognition. In addition, Tom often appears as a featured speaker at film festivals, such as those in Antibe, France; Lofoton, Norway; Wildscreen in England, as well as at festival in the US such as the prestigious Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival, the International Wildlife Film Festival, and the BLUE Ocean Film Festival, of which he is a founding board member.
He has completed assignments for a wide range of corporations such as the BBC, Continental Airlines, National Geographic, Discovery and History Channels, Time Life Books, New York and LA Times magazine. Tom feels that the most important contribution any wildlife photographer or filmmaker can make is to create an awareness that will protect and preserve our environment for future generations. To that end, he seeks out projects that feature scientists working on marine wildlife to better understand our endangered ocean habitats.
48 – Tom Campbell
[00:00:00] Brett Stanley: Welcome back to the underwater podcast. And this week I’m talking with underwater photographer and high definition, video pioneer, Tom Campbell. We chat about how he got started in wildlife photography is moved to cinematography and how high definition video really opened some doors for him. Tom tells us about his stock libraries, selling his first photograph and he explains how he kind of disappeared for a few years. All right. Let’s dive in Tom welcome to the underwater podcast.
[00:01:01] Tom Campbell: Thank you very much, Brett pleasure to be here.
[00:01:04] Brett Stanley: It’s great to have you here, man. Um, you travel quite a lot, so where are you at the moment?
[00:01:09] Tom Campbell: Well, at the moment we’re sitting at our house in Prescott, Arizona, but we actually live on our boat, which is in Ventura, California right now.
[00:01:17] Brett Stanley: Oh, okay. So are you just taking a break from the boat and heading out to Arizona?
[00:01:22] Tom Campbell: Well, we had some business to take care of and then she had to do here. And, uh, actually we went to Colorado first because we’re in the process of building a mountain cabin home
[00:01:32] Brett Stanley: Oh,
[00:01:32] Tom Campbell: in Colorado and outside of Ridgeway, Colorado. And so we go there two, two day trips. So we come here first, take care of a few things and then carry on, go over to college.
[00:01:43] Brett Stanley: that’s pretty awesome. So you’ve got this mountain C kind of life.
[00:01:47] Tom Campbell: Well, we’ve always liked the mountains, especially Beth. And, um, you know, I’ve spent quite a bit of my life living around the mountains, but I’ve always been on the ocean ever since I came to California in 1960, when I came down through, get into the military, I’ve been in California ever since. And I’ve been on the ocean the rest of my life.
[00:02:08] Brett Stanley: That’s amazing. So, so, and you were in the Navy as well,
[00:02:12] Tom Campbell: no. I spent six years in a special forces unit in the Marine Corps called force recon teams.
[00:02:18] Brett Stanley: right? Okay. So what does that, what do they do,
[00:02:21] Tom Campbell: well, it’s the Marine Corps equivalent to the Navy seals. They basically do the same thing. They’re quite clandestine about their business and they don’t advertise or promote it. So you don’t hear a lot about that.
It’s more similar to the Delta force in the army where they don’t talk about what they do. They just do it.
[00:02:38] Brett Stanley: Right. So how did you find that?
[00:02:40] Tom Campbell: as a young kid up in Alberta, Canada, where I lived, I was born on a farm in North Dakota and of all places to be raised, how I ended up with the ocean, the way I did it was a big question mark. But, um, for five years I lived on a farm in North Dakota. My dad was in the second world war when he left the war, he got discharged in Washington state.
So he moved the family to Washington state where I lived until I was 15. And I was in a very poor neighborhood there, a little rental house that we had, but I thought it was paradise because I could go fishing and hunting and into the woods or the Columbia river anytime I wanted to.
And it was very very little restriction on kids and just kinda rampantly ran free and yeah, pretty much we could. I mean, it was very common for myself and my buddies to walk over the railroad tracks and jump a train because they would slow down to get into the mill and they’d slow down enough that we could run alongside of them, jumping into box cars and get a ride to the, to the mill where we could fish on the port docks and swimming in the crummy river and go to the court to auction, go on the ships, all that kind of stuff.
Whenever I wanted to.
[00:03:59] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Adventure.
[00:04:01] Tom Campbell: There was. And when I was 15, my folks moved to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and I didn’t want to go. And I worked out something with my uncle, but I could live with an uncle and stay in Longview, Washington, which is where I went to the ninth grade and, uh, for a year. And then I moved up to Canada.
[00:04:23] Brett Stanley: And then, so, um, how was it in Canada? I mean, that’s a, that’s still a long way from the ocean.
[00:04:28] Tom Campbell: It is, and I lived in Calgary, Alberta, and I don’t have great memories of the place because it was more of a city life.
We still in a relatively bad neighborhood. And, um, so there was a lot of gangs there and a lot of the people didn’t speak English and it was not a pleasant time. And I started the 10th grade there and halfway through the 10th grade, I have to tell you this real quick, my teacher, I had a question, but I didn’t understand taking a math test.
And I raised my hand to ask the teacher, if he could help me answer a question. And I told him, I didn’t quite understand something. And if he could help me answer a question and he looked at me and very loudly to the whole class basically said, well, maybe you’re not smart enough to do this.
[00:05:14] Brett Stanley: Oh,
[00:05:15] Tom Campbell: And for, you know, for a 15, 16 year old kid, that was pretty shocking.
So to make a long story short, that was my last day of school. And I walked out of that cross room. I never went back to school can. And when I went home, I told my mom. I said, look, I quit school today and I’m not going back. And you’d wonder what a mother would say to a kid that would say that. And surprisingly, what she said was within you’ll have to get a job.
[00:05:42] Brett Stanley: right.
[00:05:44] Tom Campbell: So in fact, I did, I was quite mechanically at client at the time. And I started working at various mechanical things with cars and so forth
[00:05:53] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:05:54] Tom Campbell: ended up apprenticing as a mechanic in a shop that I did quite well at. It was a great job. I liked it and I made money and I could afford to buy things. And it did bother me that I wasn’t going back to school.
[00:06:06] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:06:06] Tom Campbell: So essentially that led into the first dive class that came to Calgary, Alberta, It was a sporting good shop. It bought minimal gear and they advertise the first dog in class. And I went to the shop to look at it just for the fun, because I’d been reading a lot of things about the Navy underwater demolition teams.
And that seemed like a pretty exciting life. And actually, it’s what I was thinking about in the back of my mind. So when I went and rented a tank with my buddy and a regulator, and that’s all we had, and the instruction we got in the beginning was don’t hold your breath. And when the tank’s empty, your it’ll have to pull this valve on the side to get 15 more minutes of there.
That was instruction we had, we drove to the bow river and no, no swim gear, just swimsuits. And it was cold. We put this gear on and we clamored down over the side of the rocks and went down to about 15 feet.
And I remember thinking, how could these people like Lloyd bridges from sea hunt and jacuzzi STO do this underwater when the pain was so extreme in my ears.
[00:07:14] Brett Stanley: right.
[00:07:15] Tom Campbell: And it made me wonder how they could do that. Or I saw a couple of tires and a couple of little fish and it’s stupid as it might sound, I was hooked.
[00:07:23] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Right.
[00:07:24] Tom Campbell: And so I went back to the die shop. We were not able to get the regulators off the tanks. And as a mechanic, I always had a toolbox in my trunk of my old car. And I just got my brush grips out and tried to twist the wig down off the tank. And it was just bending, took it back to the shop and told them that I wasn’t able to get the regular shellfish.
Oh yeah. Yeah. I forgot to tell you, you need to suck the air out of the regulator first and take the pressure out of the tank. Then you can do it. So of course he made it look quite simple. It was a short time after that, that the crash started the regular dive question. I think it was a 25 hour car. And it went over the basics of scuba diving.
And that was the first class in Calgary, Alberta that was taught. And I went through that group called the Calgary Aqua Bronx. And so once again, I was like totally hooked on this diving thing. So I spent the next two years apprenticing as mechanic in the shop and every spare minute till I had and dollar that I had myself and my buddy traveled all over Alberta, British Columbia diving in lake quarries rivers, wherever there was water,
[00:08:33] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:08:34] Tom Campbell: we logged 200 dives in two years.
And if you’ve ever been to Calgary, Alberta, the weather socks
[00:08:41] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:08:42] Tom Campbell: that have beautiful summers that lasts about two or three months and the rest of the time, it’s freezing cold, either raining, snowing slush and the rest.
[00:08:53] Brett Stanley: So. were you in, in like a wetsuits or anything or
[00:08:57] Tom Campbell: I got, I did manage to get a wet suit from the dive shop. That’s a bit form fitting wetsuit by any means, but it, it worked, but I was, you know, 17, 18 years old till the cold didn’t bother me.
Like now I can’t even imagine doing that,
[00:09:11] Brett Stanley: totally.
[00:09:12] Tom Campbell: but I, I managed to do it then. And, uh, I had a whole bunch of pictures of stuff that we did doing that. And the album got lost in a feature film that we shot one time. They wanted to use some of the pictures. They took the album and I never saw it again. So I really have no pictures of what we did for two years in diving in Alberta.
But what that did was lead up to the point where I decided I wanted to be a professional diver and, and do this underwater stuff. And I was 18 years old, uh, almost 20, by the time I made the decision to leave the shop. So I showed my car, left me the money that I had. I took my stuff and I transitioned my shelf to Longview, Washington, where my cousin and I decided that we would go in the Navy together.
So in his 59 Chevy, we took off from Longview, Washington. We made it as far as San Francisco and we got up in the morning, sleeping in the car and got up in the morning. And my cousin, Doug said, Tom, I can’t do it. I can’t leave my girlfriend too much in love with her. And her name was Julie. And there used to be a popular song called Julie.
And I said, Doug, we’ve got this all planned. I mean, this is what we’re going to do, man. He said, I can’t do it. So Doug jumped in his 59 El Camino went back to Longview and I hitchhiked to Santa Monica. And that’s where I found a place to stay. Um, I rented a little room with a little old lady who was 90 and.
Unfortunately, I met a guy. I took all my gear down to the beach at Laguna beach, and I was sitting on the beach with all my gear and I saw this old guy running down the beach and I can see him running for about 45 minutes. And I thought, God, look at the shape, your soul guys in. And when he came back on his run, he saw me sitting there with my tank and stuff, and he stopped and introduced himself and asked me if I was going to go diving.
And I told him, I said, well, I’d like to, but I’ve never been in the ocean. And, um, I’m worried about sharks
[00:11:22] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:11:22] Tom Campbell: and I’m afraid I’ll get bit. And he laughed and he introduced himself. There’s a guy named Willard Sage, and it turned out he was a fairly popular actor
in those days.
[00:11:33] Brett Stanley: yeah.
[00:11:34] Tom Campbell: And so Willard was an avid scuba diver.
And he said, if he’d like to go diving in the ocean, I have a trip that I’m doing next week. After Catalina. And if you want to go, it costs 14 bucks. I think it was, which was a stretch for me. He said, I’ll take you with me on that trip. I went to Catalini with him and it was a trip of a lifetime.
[00:11:57] Brett Stanley: Wow. Yeah.
[00:11:59] Tom Campbell: There was a hundred feet of visibility.
The visibility is obscured just by the amount of fish.
[00:12:04] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:12:05] Tom Campbell: And so I was just blown away with that. And Willard was a true mentor. He answered a lot of questions that I had and I had a lot, and I told you that I was getting ready to go into the Navy to become a underwater demolition Dyer. And he thought that was very cool.
He bragged about it a lot. And so he took me on a lot of dive trips that we did together, including diving along the coast and so forth.
[00:12:29] Brett Stanley: Yeah,
But that, so that Catalina trip was your first, ocean diving trip.
[00:12:34] Tom Campbell: first ocean dive.
[00:12:36] Brett Stanley: What a way to start.
[00:12:37] Tom Campbell: It really was. And in those days, like I said, the visibility was obscured by the amount of fish
[00:12:43] Brett Stanley: That’s
[00:12:44] Tom Campbell: and I’ll never forget it. And the feeling of the salt water and the difference in buoyancy and so forth. But Willard was a key player in my diving career. So the point came where I was ready to go in the military.
I had, I was 20 and I went to the Navy recruiter and sat down and I was, I spent six months staying in, getting in shape. I ran every day I swam, I did push-ups and pull-ups, and I got myself in really good physical condition because I knew that’s what I’d have to be able to do in the Navy. And so I went to the recruiter and he was a little short pudgy guy, nice guy.
But I told him I was here to join the Navy and I want to go into UDT. And he looked at me very seriously. And he said, are you an Olympic class swimmer. And I thought about that. And I was on the swim team in high school, as far as I went in high school and I was a really good swimmer, a strong swimmer and a distance runner.
And I said, well, no, I’m not going to get questions from her, but I’m a really good swimmer. And I’ve been on the swim team at school and I’ve been swimming ever since, and I’ve been a lifeguard and so on and so forth. And he said, then you’ll never make it.
[00:13:57] Brett Stanley: Oh,
[00:13:58] Tom Campbell: He said, oh, all of our underwater demolition guys are Olympic class swimmers.
And I mean, he just killed my dream, you know, and an instant a, he came back with a comment he says, but I can get you a job as a boatswain’s mate or this or that, or one thing or another, he came up with all these job classifications that I’d never even heard of. And I just sat there, staring at him. What am I gonna do with my life now I’m finished and I didn’t want to go back to Canada because I really didn’t like Calgary, Alberta.
It was too cold and all that other stuff. So I went home back to my little room and, uh, I met a guy, a friend who is going into Marine Corps and he said he was going down to sign up and go in the Marine Corps. And he wanted me to go with him. I said, well, I’ll go with you, but don’t try to talk to me about going in the Marine Corps because I have no interest.
I didn’t know anything about the Marine Corps, you know, living in Canada and Washington. I never even heard of the Marine Corps basically.
[00:14:57] Brett Stanley: Did you just assume the Marine Corps was just land-based
[00:15:00] Tom Campbell: basically.
And so I had no interest. Well, I went with him and as he promised, he never said a word about enlisting and neither did the recruiter, but the recruiter was a really sharp within guy.
And. He had the big posters behind his desk on the wall. One was he’s guys parachuting at parachuting out of an airplane. The other was swimming out of a submarine, underwater mountain climbing and address.
[00:15:30] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:15:31] Tom Campbell: And of course those are quite impressive posters. And I saw a discussion. I, so just before we left, I asked to recruit.
I said, by the way, who are those people in the posters? And he, he went on to explain to me that that’s it, that was their, their most elite unit in the Marine Corps. If they recall Porsche reconnaissance teams. And he said only 18% of the people that try out make it. And he says there ain’t no fat guys. Um, it’s very hard to get into this unit and.
But that’s what they do. And I said, do they do a lot of diving? And he said, they spend most of their life in the water.
[00:16:10] Brett Stanley: And you would like challenge accepted.
[00:16:12] Tom Campbell: It definitely got my attention. So I told them, I said, well, do you think somebody like me could get in that unit? And he just looked at me and he said, well, he pointed at the posters. He pointed at the posters and he says, those guys made it. He said, those Marines made it.
[00:16:29] Brett Stanley: Yep.
[00:16:30] Tom Campbell: And I thought, well, then there’s a shot for me.
So the rest of the story is pretty short. I signed up to go in the Marine Corps and of course, day one and day two. When you get to bootcamp, it’s the biggest mistake he ever made in your life?
[00:16:43] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:16:44] Tom Campbell: It was a horrible experience. And I thought to myself, that’s in the middle of the night. After the first day, I thought, what have I done?
[00:16:51] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:16:52] Tom Campbell: I really screwed this up. But so I went through bootcamp and I did pretty well, but. And, uh, I got on bootcamp. I was sent to a reconnaissance battalion, which is similar to the four street con teams, but it’s like the difference between a Navy diver and a Navy seal. They do different jobs.
[00:17:14] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:17:15] Tom Campbell: And so I spent the first year in recom, Italian doing rubber boat work and a lot of swimming, uh, submarine work, things like that.
And I really liked it, but just down the street where these guys that were out running every day, when every time they went to the chow hall, they had to run, they had to run every place. They went and they always ran in small groups and they were of course the most elite. And that’s what everybody said.
Well, those are the four street con guys, and it’s impossible to get in that company almost. So I put in to try out for Porsche recon and I made it
[00:17:54] Brett Stanley: right.
[00:17:54] Tom Campbell: I spent the next five years in that company. Traveling all over the world, blowing up things. A lot of submarine work, a tremendous amount of diving and parachute jumping and rock climbing and stuff like that.
So I loved it. It was just, I was saying, oh,
[00:18:10] Brett Stanley: Yeah, this was your happy place, right? Like this is what you’ve been building up to.
[00:18:15] Tom Campbell: it really was. I mean, I, the people that you work with are real special it’s competition is very intense, but once you’re in the company, you’re like brotherhood.
[00:18:27] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Like you, yeah, because you then family and you’re the, you’re looking out for each other.
[00:18:31] Tom Campbell: Yep. Yeah. It’s not like that. When you’re training, nobody’s very friendly with you. Cause they think it was going to be gone anyway.
[00:18:38] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Or they’re trying to beat you to the, to the spot that that’s coveted anyway.
[00:18:42] Tom Campbell: Yeah. But once you get to that point, it’s the best job in your Marine Corps. Not to mention the fact that you get paid extra money for parachuting.
[00:18:50] Brett Stanley: Oh
[00:18:51] Tom Campbell: For demolition and hazardous duty.
[00:18:54] Brett Stanley: You the danger money.
[00:18:55] Tom Campbell: Uh, yeah, I made and I didn’t drink and I didn’t smoke and I didn’t gamble. And so I saved up a lot of money when I was in 1964.
I walked into a Chevrolet dealership and paid cash for a brand new 64 Impala.
[00:19:08] Brett Stanley: Oh, that must’ve felt amazing.
[00:19:10] Tom Campbell: Uh, well, you know, I had a really great life and it was, I was happy. I went to Vietnam and one of the first groups and because of the specialty that we had, I was assigned to a CIA CIA operation called . And four of us went to Vietnam and we were stationed on a small secret base that was run by the CIA.
And we ran our operations out of there on highly classified boats called nasties.
So everything we did was basically from the. To the beach, back to the ocean, back to the base,
[00:19:45] Brett Stanley: Wow. That’s quite full on to say, how long were you there?
[00:19:49] Tom Campbell: uh, tours are six months each in the year two tours. So I was there 64 in 65.
[00:19:56] Brett Stanley: Right,
[00:19:57] Tom Campbell: And, it was very dangerous work. And like I said, how you classified? And so that was the only downside to the entire military career that I had was that there were, was ugly and nasty and it never seems to go away from you all the way.
[00:20:12] Brett Stanley: right. Yeah.
Yeah. I can imagine,
[00:20:14] Tom Campbell: had signed up to go back to Vietnam because I worked in quite a special team of highly trained Vietnamese commandos. And those people were under my command and we were together all the time and everything that we did, and they were the best.
[00:20:31] Brett Stanley: right.
[00:20:32] Tom Campbell: I wanted to go back. I felt that I, I was obligated to go back and be with him during the war.
And while I was away on leave, I got involved in a really bad motorcycle accident and had several bones broken and pretty much put me in the hospital for seven months. And my time in the Marine Corps was up then and where I was going to ship over and do another four years. I was afraid that I would not be able to make the standards to get back into forestry con and I didn’t want to be in a regular Marine Corps.
So I got out.
[00:21:06] Brett Stanley: Yeah. And so through any of this, were you, were you thinking underwater photography or cinematography? Was it something that had sort of come into that, that process?
[00:21:16] Tom Campbell: a good question. And yes, I was. I actually started when I was really young, my dad gave me, and I don’t know if this had anything to do with me becoming a photographer, but my dad gave me a brownie camera. And one of the pictures that I took was up in Alberta. It was a picture with deer standing alongside of a lake.
And the reflection in the lake was so sharp or the deer and the mountains in the background. And it was a total action that picture, but it was really beautiful.
[00:21:44] Brett Stanley: Yeah,
[00:21:45] Tom Campbell: And all my friends that saw that picture and especially the adults said, oh Tom, that’s a beautiful picture. You should be a photographer.
[00:21:52] Brett Stanley: right?
[00:21:53] Tom Campbell: And I have no idea if that had any bearing on what I ended up doing, but I did enjoy taking pictures and I started taking a lot of things.
[00:22:01] Brett Stanley: Yeah. So you had that visual language, you kind of knew how to use a camera and kind of how to sort of see through the camera’s lens.
[00:22:10] Tom Campbell: I think so. I think, I think it’s just a vision that you see and you start looking to see a bigger picture and what the picture is. You start looking at all aspects of it. And that to me probably got me a start then when I went into the Marine Corps, I bought a, what was called the camera
[00:22:29] Brett Stanley: Yeah. 35 mil.
[00:22:31] Tom Campbell: yeah, so 35 millimeter camera and I bought all the accessories for it.
And I started taking pictures of that underwater. Oh, they were horrible pictures. And I took quite a few of them, but I really enjoyed doing that. And I kept that camera with me all the time. And even though we were forbidden to take photographs in Vietnam by the CIA, I had that camera with me and I did take a few pictures occasionally and I had to be very careful about it.
Cause I could have gotten serious.
[00:22:56] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:22:57] Tom Campbell: I think that probably was the beginning of my photographic career.
And when I got out of the Marine Corps, I continued to take pictures, but I bought much better cameras. I moved into the Nikon series of cameras and started taking pictures.
[00:23:12] Brett Stanley: So for me, when I when I kind of got into diving and sort of taking photos under the water, I kind of found that I enjoyed having something to do Like, I found that when I was diving and just sort of floating around, I wasn’t as involved as when I sort of pulled the camera out, then started having tasks to do like, do you feel the same way?
[00:23:29] Tom Campbell: I do agree with that. You sort of, you sort of venture off into another space
[00:23:34] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:23:36] Tom Campbell: you do, and it allows your, your brain to start taking different paths. I think. And then you’re absolutely right about that. It does take you to a different level and being underwater is sort of a thrill on its own. And because it’s an alien world and so different, you have to combine those two things in photography and this alien world and figure out how to make them work.
[00:23:59] Brett Stanley: Yeah. How, how to fit them together.
[00:24:01] Tom Campbell: yeah, and I, by no means would consider myself a professional photographer at that point. cause I still have slides, uh, pictures that I’ve taken way back in the sixties.
And most of that stuff, I would just throw it away now,
[00:24:15] Brett Stanley: If you took that now.
[00:24:16] Tom Campbell: yeah, and, but I did continue to improve and I got more, more dedicated to what I was doing more precise than what I was doing and the switch happened and a very unusual moment I had been to Bon air.
Uh, I went there several times. With a group to go diving. And I took a lot of pictures here and again, they weren’t very good pictures by today’s standard. I probably wouldn’t have kept any of them, but I, they asked me, I was my second trip there. And the people at the resort asked me if I would do a slideshow one night for all the guests.
And I was very flattered. They would ask me to do that. And I said, sure, you know, I’d be happy to. So I picked out what I thought was all my best slides, put them in a carousel and they had a projector and all that stuff. And I did this slide show at the end of the slide show, a guy came up to me and said, I really enjoyed that slideshow.
And he said, I own a travel company. And I would like to buy a couple of those slides for my, my advertising brochures
and, and magazine. And, you know, I was flabbergasted because the first thing he said is how much do you show your photograph for? I’d never showed a photograph in my life.
[00:25:32] Brett Stanley: That’s right. How do you weight that out?
[00:25:34] Tom Campbell: I had no idea what they were worth,
[00:25:36] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:25:36] Tom Campbell: anything.
And I had to be very careful what I said, I didn’t want to sound like an idiot or an amateur. So I told myself, I think I said something like, well, uh, what do you normally pay per images? And he said, well, what I want, it’s a front cover, a back cover and a short piece inside. And he say, we normally pay $400 each for the coverage.
[00:25:59] Brett Stanley: Oh, well,
[00:26:00] Tom Campbell: I hardly knew what to say. The trip didn’t cost $800.
[00:26:04] Brett Stanley: yeah,
[00:26:05] Tom Campbell: And so I said, well, that would be fine. And he paid me $800 and change for three photographs.
[00:26:13] Brett Stanley: you’d already taken.
[00:26:15] Tom Campbell: I had, and my wife said to me, and a couple of my friends said, well, Tom, you should tell your photographs. They were really nice. And I just never thought about it.
So I sort of switched gears and went into a marketing mode and kind of the rest is history. Uh, I sold thousands and thousands of dollars of photographs over the years. And on the high end $20,000 per one, one ish, one image, when Beth first started, when we first met, she was working in the office and the BBC called and wanted a particular shot that had been a number of cover magazines.
They wanted to buy it. And I was overseas working and she called me and said that they had called and want this particular image of a diver swimming with a whale shark. And she said, how much should I ask for it? And I said, well, first you have to ask these questions. And I said, ask me what they’re going to use the photograph for.
And if there’s a photo credit and whether it’s from marketing image or this or that, and just questions about what they’re going to do at TMH.
[00:27:16] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:27:17] Tom Campbell: And I said nine times out of 10, they will tell you what they’re going to do with it. And then the last question you’re going to ask is what is your budget? And I said, eight times out of 10, they’ll tell you what the budget is.
Let’s see. When do you tell you that you just let me know what they say? So she had the conversation with him. They told him that their budget was $18,000. And so when Beth called me back, she was thinking, you know, three, $400, maybe 500 call me back. And she said, well, here’s what they said. And I said, what did they say the budget was?
And she said, well, they said the budget, the total budget was $18,000. I said, and that’s what you asked her to photograph. And she hardly knew what to say. And I said, you’ll be surprised what happens. So when they call back, she said, Tom said, he’d be willing to do this. No credit photo credit is necessary because it was going to be billboards and things like that.
And, uh, she said $18,000 would be fine. They sent the check
[00:28:18] Brett Stanley: Nice.
[00:28:19] Tom Campbell: I was fortunate enough in my marketing and abilities to realize that the market was not in dive magazines and things like that, which is where most people try to go with diving photographs. It was more about marketing and advertising. And so I tried to focus my attention on big marketing companies and it paid off very nicely.
[00:28:39] Brett Stanley: So would you then take photographs with them in mind in terms of what you would shoot and how you would shoot it?
[00:28:45] Tom Campbell: Absolutely. And for example, whenever I would shoot something, if I liked the shot and I think it had a market value, I would always shoot it with a cover in mind. That’s I shouldn’t vertical and I’d move the picture around so that there was space on the picture for writing. You know what I’m saying?
You have to have a head.
And you have to have various titles inside of the cover shots. So I would think about what the cover would look like. Not any one particular magazine per se, but a magazine cover. So I would shoot a vertical and I shoot horizontals and I always shot four pictures at each thing. And they were bracketed automatically.
And the camera, these were back in the manual camera days,
they were bracketed by a quarter stop and boom, boom, boom, boom got four pictures bracketed by a quarter, stop over and under you’re bound to have something that’s spot on.
[00:29:37] Brett Stanley: And is this, so were you just out on.
sort of dive trips and you would just see something that you thought would work for a magazine or would you purposely go out and kind of find stuff to shoot to sell?
[00:29:49] Tom Campbell: Uh, it’s a good question. And the answer is both. Sometimes I would go out with this specific story because I used to write some of the stories and magazine in question. Um, and other times if I saw something and I thought really has some value for a magazine cover or an article, I’d shoot it both ways.
And I actually had a person that worked in my office, labeled all the slides. And so we had a very good organized slide library that I could pull slide very quickly. And I learned a lot of other tricks that really helped me sell things. For example, oftentimes you have what they call signature pictures and they were showing over and over and over again.
And that was the case with a lot of my photographs. But occasionally you’d have somebody who would ask for one of those signature pictures. I think I only wanted one picture. And an example would be, they say, we’re doing a whole article on sharks. So we want to buy a picture of your, your whale, shark, basking, shark, tiger, shark, whatever it was.
And we only have $250 in the budget for one.
[00:30:59] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:31:00] Tom Campbell: And it was hardly worthwhile as a professional, running an office and doing what I did to sell one photograph for $250.
Not that I didn’t do that on occasion. I did. But what I would say is, well, if you’re doing an article on sharks, you must have other sharp pictures.
And she said, well, we do, we have quite a few. I said, well, here’s what I will do. I won’t sell this particular picture for $250, but I’ll send you 20 pictures of different sharks in, uh, in one sheet. And you look at those pictures and if you find more than two or three, whatever, I said, I’m willing to take $250 farm, but only if you buy more than three
[00:31:43] Brett Stanley: Right?
[00:31:44] Tom Campbell: and that worked several times
[00:31:47] Brett Stanley: So you basically upselling them from one photo to three because they get it off into one place.
[00:31:53] Tom Campbell: Yeah. And I remember in one case they were doing a story on sharks and I sold like seven photographs
[00:31:58] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:31:58] Tom Campbell: of one. And I only got $250 for them times seven.
[00:32:03] Brett Stanley: Which makes it way more worthwhile.
[00:32:05] Tom Campbell: Yeah. So I think that the situation with still photographs, you had to have, uh, a bit of a marketing talent and you had to look at the bigger picture as opposed to just wanting to see your pictures in light. You know, just having a photograph in a magazine or on a billboard or something. It’s not the end.
You have to look at it from a business standpoint and you’ve got to sell a lot of them if you’re going to make money.
[00:32:28] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Yeah. If this is going to make you survive and,
uh, and make you a living.
[00:32:33] Tom Campbell: and I, and I actually, I did very well and I showed a lot of photographs and as a still photographer, you know, I, I certainly made more money, I think, than somebody who would have been hired as a photographer producer things. And it was on a fixed payroll.
[00:32:47] Brett Stanley: Yeah,
[00:32:47] Tom Campbell: my income was pretty high. In fact, when I got out of the Marine Corps, I went back to college.
I took the college GED test and passed. So I went to college and I got a degree in criminal law and business, and from being a high school dropout to a college degree.
[00:33:04] Brett Stanley: right.
[00:33:04] Tom Campbell: And I wanted to go into law enforcement at the time with an end goal of going to the FBI.
[00:33:10] Brett Stanley: Oh, okay.
[00:33:10] Tom Campbell: sort of go backwards just a little bit, I took.
The written test for LAPD, L I S O C H P and Colton police department, because I was going to college in San Bernardino. I passed all the tests, except the Copeland police department, the smallest department of all, I failed their test, which is kind of a shocker to me. And I never really figured out why, but I did.
And so I had my choice of where I wanted to go to work. I chose the California highway patrol because it had an outstanding reputation. They had the nicest looking uniform, the fastest cars, and they paid the most money. And you could transfer anywhere in the state when you had seniority.
To me that made a lot of sense.
[00:33:52] Brett Stanley: Yeah. And they had motorbikes.
[00:33:53] Tom Campbell: They had no shoe, although I never rode a bike,
[00:33:56] Brett Stanley: Oh, you
[00:33:56] Tom Campbell: I was always a car guy.
so my photographic career, much of it took place while I was working for the highway.
[00:34:02] Brett Stanley: So you, so you’re doing this on the weekends or?
[00:34:05] Tom Campbell: Yep. And every, every trip I had a chance to go someplace. I went and of course I lived in Santa Barbara, so I was right off the channel islands
and I had a boat and I could go diving pretty much whenever I wanted to.
And so I just started taking pictures, lots of them. And, you know, things improve over time. You get better at it, better at it. And so I really enjoyed the job at CHP because a lot of interesting things happened. I was able to save some lives. I liked helping people, which is what that job is all about. And I got a chance to work with president Reagan’s private security team, um, and the Olympics and other things like that.
So it was a great job. And instead of switching over to the FBI, Like I had planned, I just kept putting it off and putting it off and time kept passing to the point where it didn’t make any sense to leave the highway patrol when I was so close to a 20 year career.
[00:35:04] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:35:04] Tom Campbell: But in the meantime I was doing very well as a photographer.
I never took a penny of overtime money. I always took CTO comp time
because that allowed me to have really long vacations and get lots of time off to go diving.
[00:35:19] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Which was probably more valuable for you.
[00:35:21] Tom Campbell: It was, it turned out to work out quite nicely for me. And, um, so I did an awful lot of trips and, um, I started teaching dive classes early on because I was a diving instructor. I got certified as a dive instructor in 1967, uh, through Nowi and also through Shimoff, which is here. certification agency.
And so for about 20 years, one of my side jobs to make more money was teaching dive classes. And I did that at Westmont college and also taught driver’s training for a while, which was a horrible job just to make extra money. But that sort of got me through my CHP career. And when I got to the point where I made as much money as a photographer and some cinematography work, I decided to leave the CHP early.
[00:36:12] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:36:13] Tom Campbell: So I did
[00:36:14] Brett Stanley: Yeah. And then, so that took you into, into the motion side of things, like filming and cinematography,
[00:36:20] Tom Campbell: well. It’s a good question. And what started me on that direction was simply this, when the digital cameras came out, I saw that as a major blow to any professional photographer
[00:36:32] Brett Stanley: right?
[00:36:33] Tom Campbell: anybody can take the picture and then digitize it, Photoshop.
It, it could put the right sky in, move things around, put people where they weren’t put animals, where they weren’t. And, and the biggest thing that really bothered me was that, you know, you go to all this trouble to capture things in life and especially wild things and in the water stuff to capture it and show what it really is like.
And once the digital cameras came out, I knew that nobody for the rest of our lives would ever know what’s real and what’s not real.
[00:37:08] Brett Stanley: Yeah,
[00:37:09] Tom Campbell: And we don’t.
[00:37:10] Brett Stanley: no, it’s very true. Yeah. I think there’s, there’s definitely a mindset of people these days of, of just assuming things aren’t real.
[00:37:17] Tom Campbell: Yeah. And, and, you know, I mean, I’ve sat for hours and sometimes days trying to get one photograph of something.
And I look at things I’ve actually seen a photograph that have, that has a wheel shark and hippopotamus underwater in the same picture.
[00:37:32] Brett Stanley: And is it real?
[00:37:33] Tom Campbell: No, can’t be real well sharks don’t live in the same water
that hippopotamus, but what’s the 10 year old kids supposed to think.
[00:37:41] Brett Stanley: No. Exactly. Yeah.
[00:37:43] Tom Campbell: So that really bothered me. So I have to say, I’ve never owned a digital camera. That was the end of my photographic career. I switched to cinematography.
[00:37:52] Brett Stanley: Right. So if you couldn’t shoot film, you didn’t want to shoot stills.
[00:37:55] Tom Campbell: That’s correct. I did.
[00:37:57] Brett Stanley: Yeah. So then when you moved into cinematography, we was that into, film cameras or we then shooting video.
[00:38:03] Tom Campbell: No. I started with a film camera, a 16 millimeter film camera.
[00:38:07] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:38:08] Tom Campbell: actually I started with early model high eight type camera, motion camera, and worked up a little ways from there and actually built a housing one time myself and put my expensive Canon camera in it. And it managed to make one dive
And that was the end of my cinematography career for a short
while. but then, uh, you know, the designer came back and I bought a 16 millimeter camera along with some of the smaller, cheaper video cameras. And I have to say, I really enjoyed, I didn’t like video when it first came out. I didn’t like the quality, but he came out with cameras.
They’re like the DX 1000 Sony camera, which produced a pretty nice picture, but it was still a four by 300. And I actually worked for a lot of production companies using that camera. And then of course the beta cameras came out and I shot as much as I could with the beta camera, but I always had to rent them.
a friend of mine who his name is Richard Andrews. And he worked, he was the president of a company called in Los Angeles. And they view and use a lot of films and store a lot of films. And I had taught Richard and his wife had a dive and he called me one day and he said, Tom, are you going to be shooting high-definition?
And I said, no, probably not. I don’t know anything about it. And, uh, I just don’t know anything about it. He said, it’s the future. And I think you should come down to my studio and see something that George Lucas. First star wars. Some other footage has been shot on these new large format, high definition cameras.
[00:39:51] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:39:52] Tom Campbell: So I gathered up my close friend, who is my second camera man on all the jobs that we did. And we went to LA, we sat in this beautiful studio and we looked on this big screen. We saw the stuff that George Lucas had shot in high Def. I was blown away. I was absolutely mind boggled by the picture. I remember seeing little drops of water on eyebrows and things like
[00:40:19] Brett Stanley: Oh, yeah.
[00:40:19] Tom Campbell: And I turned to tennis and I said, oh my God, can you believe this? I see we have to do this. And dinner said, I don’t think so. It’s going to cost a lot of money. So Richard, once again, reinforced the fact that he said, Tom, this is going to be the future. It’s just not here yet. So I called. The people I knew at national geographic discovery and BBC who I’d worked all of them called them up and said, look, this exciting news, I’m going to switch over to high definition.
And everything I shoot from now on will be in a 16, nine format. And all three companies said the same thing. It’s never going to happen.
[00:40:57] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:40:58] Tom Campbell: And especially Keenan smart with geographic
I just don’t think it’s going to happen to them. It’s complicated, it’s expensive. And we just don’t see us going that way. And I kept thinking to myself, he has to be wrong. I mean, this format is so beautiful and the quality is so good. It was 1,080 lines of resolution compared to 200, 250
[00:41:21] Brett Stanley: totally.
[00:41:22] Tom Campbell: astounding.
I made the decision on my own to switch to HD. And it was a huge step for me because it costs me every penny of every penny I owned, I sold one of my cars. I showed them a bunch of stuff, a bounce, your money, the camera costs $103,000.
[00:41:43] Brett Stanley: Oh my God.
[00:41:45] Tom Campbell: the housing was $69,000. And that’s a camera with no view. Find your lens or anything else.
No batteries. So by the time I got finished, I had my whole life in this camera system and it was worth a quarter million dollars
[00:42:00] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:42:01] Tom Campbell: and still geographic and discovery said, you can send us footage, but you got to crop it down to four by three.
[00:42:09] Brett Stanley: well, so that was a question I had was was the reluctance more about the cropping than the definition?
[00:42:15] Tom Campbell: No, they liked the quality. Of course, they just didn’t like the idea that it was, everybody would have to switch all their machinery. Everything would switch to a 16, nine format and that wasn’t going to happen. Well, it took about a year and a half, and I was very fortunate that I got a job offer, in Saudi Arabia.
And these people called and apparently their boss who was a Saudi shape, and this is a fabulous story in my career. Um, they had apparently seen one of my shark shows on geographic and their boss. The Saudi shakes said, well, how come our pictures don’t look like this? And of course they were shooting much smaller format cameras.
And quite truthfully, they didn’t know anything about production work. So the boss said, why don’t you find. And have them come over here and teach you some things about shooting. Well, that actually happened. They made some phone calls and somebody in LA who I never found out what it was, gave him my name.
Then they called Stuart Cove’s in The Bahamas where they do a lot of shark stuff and said they were looking for this person to shoot sharks and teach him how to shoot sharks and stuff. Cause their boss was an avid shark diver. So what happened was the person that they talked to their guys, a photographic instructor in The Bahamas said, well, we hire a guy named Tom Campbell to come here once a year and teach a program about sharks and how to shoot them
well. So they hit gold dust there and they got ahold of my number and they called the office and they offered me this job. I was going over to Saudi Arabia for eight days to teach their crew how to shoot. Well at the time, I wasn’t too crazy about going to Saudi Arabia, but it was a good job. And so for eight days they flew me over there business class.
And I sat down with her a bunch of really nice guys, young guys. They were three Australian brothers and they’re really nice, young, talented, good divers. And they knew about as much about production work as the difference between a tractor trailer rig and a cutaway shot. So obviously they were struggling to produce videos that were of inequality.
So for eight days I taught still photography and how to shoot video and how to do it right, and how to edit it. But I did tell him, I said, I’m not going to take any pictures here. You’re going to take all the pictures. I’m just going to tell you how to do it. And we’re going to pick all your selects and we’re going to make a two minute video and you can show that to your boss and see what he thinks.
Okay. The end of that story is after eight days, I went back to the office in Santa Barbara and I notion or got in the office and the phone was ringing and the person in charge of their marina and their diving had called me and said, boss has seen the two minute video and he wants you to come back and work for us.
It was like 110 or 20 degrees when I was in Saudi Arabia. And I never saw the client and I had no interest in going back there. And I told him, I said, well, I’m flattered that you had asked me to come back and work for you, but I’m not interested. And at the time, my career was really booming, quite nicely.
My phone rang a lot. I had a lot of jobs with different companies and things are going very well. And so I told them, I said, I’m just not interested. And I’ll never forget what this person said. You said you don’t understand. No one ever says no to the boss. And of course I felt like thinking and saying, well, I do, but I didn’t say that.
I said, well, you don’t understand that I’m a busy guy right now. I’m doing quite well in my field. And I just don’t want to come over there and take a full-time job like that. Well, it ended that story is we started talking about money.
[00:46:08] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:46:10] Tom Campbell: Okay. So Tom took the job and off to Saudi Arabia and I took my whole crew with me and we continued to show them how to shoot.
And we did a lot of the shooting ourselves in, and I met the client who is Shaykh, Abdul Musson. And he’s a really special guy. Um, I’ve never in my life. I’ve met very few people who are more concerned about the ocean and its inhabitants and shake that go machine was, he just was really into diving in ocean life and protecting sharks and.
But the, the job required traveling all over the world and shooting private documentaries about Shaykh Abdul machine and his adventures, and who got to see them? No one,
except the king of Saudi Arabia, king of Jordan, his salt shake friends in, in all over the world and that they could never be shown on television and I could never release anything.
[00:47:09] Brett Stanley: That was the, uh, that was the specification
[00:47:12] Tom Campbell: That was the agreement that we made. And at the other agreement I made was I would own because of that restriction, I could see where it was going to lock me up. So the other deal we made on a handshake was I would own all the footage that I shot, except everything that he was in, his toys, his airplanes and helicopters and his ships and all of his things could never be shown, but I would own all of the wildlife footage.
[00:47:40] Brett Stanley: So you came out of that with some decent, with some good stock, like good stock library.
[00:47:44] Tom Campbell: who can afford to travel all over the world and shoot all that stuff
[00:47:47] Brett Stanley: Yeah, totally.
[00:47:49] Tom Campbell: So that worked out nicely for me, and it was a good arrangement, but I’ll try to shorten the story of that. But after three years I was gone eight and a half months out of every year. And after three years, my phone started to ring bus and less.
And I remember turning down a five week shoot with geographic, several four shoots with wild things, which is a production company I loved working with. And if it had anything to do with wildlife or underwater stuff, it was mine. And I shot it and they called four times. And every time I had to say I can’t do it, I’m busy.
They stopped calling sort of geographic. So didn’t a lot of other people, GRB discovery people had worked with for years stop calling. So I could see my career is going to Schaeffer a mentally. And this happened in about three, three and a half years into my job with the shake.
[00:48:47] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:48:49] Tom Campbell: So I told the person that worked because he shake his right-hand man.
I told him, look, we’re going to have to tell the boss and I’m going to quit. And this is the last that I’m going to do. And he called the boss and the boss was very upset and the boss came to me and he said, Tom, he said, why are you doing this? We were having a good time or traveling or shooting. You’re doing what you’d like to do.
And I explained to him, I said, you know, it’s taken me 15 years to establish a worldwide reputation, or I show photographs all over the world, all kinds of different picture people. And I’m now doing a lot of cinematography work. I should, but my phone is stopping. The calls are starting to stop because I’m turning everybody down.
I said, it’s kind of like being a movie actor. You’re famous as long as you’re in the movies. But when you stop being in the movies, your name just disappears
and phone stops ringing, and I’m not making any money. And he was moved by that. I can tell, he said, okay. He said, I’d like you to come back to me, to Jetta on my private chat and we’ll meet, we’ll meet on the, in the boardroom, on the jet.
And we’ll talk about this. Well, what are you going to say? So I said, sure. Okay. So my crew went back to the states and I went to Jetta to boardroom on his plane. Did you blow your mind? That’s something. I mean, something like I’ve never seen or imagined,
[00:50:21] Brett Stanley: yeah,
[00:50:21] Tom Campbell: but he came in and we had this. The a really beautiful young stewardess came up to me and said, Mr.
Campbell, the boss would like to meet you in 10 minutes in the boardroom. I said, that’s fine. Um, and we did, we met. And what do you offer a retainer? and it was basically his idea. And my idea, I said, I just can’t continue to go on like this I’ll lose all my work. And he, and I said, then it becomes about money.
And so he said, well, what if I pay you a retainer? And you don’t have to take any other jobs?
[00:50:58] Brett Stanley: yeah.
[00:50:58] Tom Campbell: And I said, well, as long as I’m making the money that I can survive, I, and I was making very good money. Um, I said, that would be fine. He said, okay, then it’s done. I’ll have my lawyer craft up something for you.
You sign it and you, okay. We’ll continue to work together. So we did. So for 10 and a half years, I worked. For the Saudi Shaikh traveling all over the world. He’s shooting that brings us back to the library in the end, Keenan smart called from geographic. And this was after a year and a half of me shooting this stuff all over the world.
[00:51:35] Brett Stanley: yeah,
[00:51:36] Tom Campbell: And he said, Tom, yes, what? We’re going to switch to high definition, large format. And he said, I think BBC and discovery, and everybody else is going to follow suit.
[00:51:46] Brett Stanley: yeah.
[00:51:47] Tom Campbell: And I’m thinking to myself about time. And he said, you know, I’m sure you have a lot of nice footage and we can continue to work with you. And I’m sure we can get a good deal.
And I told him you’re right. I do have a lot of nice footage from all over the world, but I don’t know about the good deal
[00:52:05] Brett Stanley: Right.
[00:52:06] Tom Campbell: and that’s how the whole deal went down. And so I started selling footage. It was going out the door so fast that believe it or not, in the very beginning, we were the first company to shoot underwater in large format.
The only other person that did it was a guy named west Kyle’s very well-known senior photographer, good friend of mine. And the only other person that invested a quarter million dollars into a camera system,
we were the only two people shooting
[00:52:36] Brett Stanley: and where’s his down in Florida, right? Doing the cave diving and stuff.
[00:52:40] Tom Campbell: was in Florida. Yeah. Very well known cave, diver, really nice guy. And he and I were quite good friends. We actually did a number of things together, mostly presentations that we would do at film festivals. They would have Wes and I as guest speakers. And he and I were the only two shooting this stuff. And so he was starting to sell footage and because we were the first to get into this, we’re the only ones that had put in.
And the footage was flying out the door so fast. We had to hire another person to keep up with the sales and believe it or not, the beginning price for HD is a hundred dollars a second.
[00:53:18] Brett Stanley: well,
[00:53:19] Tom Campbell: And the more footage you bought, the cheaper it became.
[00:53:22] Brett Stanley: yeah,
[00:53:23] Tom Campbell: So you can see where that went.
[00:53:25] Brett Stanley: yeah,
[00:53:26] Tom Campbell: So suddenly I was doing quite well with the office, not to mention my job.
And, you know, I guess I just have to say that after 10 and a half years, I’d had enough of bouncing all over the world being gone eight and a half months out of the year. You can’t have a life for a wife. You can’t do anything, but go to work. I love what I did. I really liked working for the Saudi. the people I work with over there.
So it was a great gig and it came to the point where I had a chance to sell library and the library was worth a lot of money. and I did that because the red cameras, it just started to come on the scene. And I thought to myself, you know, I made this big switch to HD when nobody else would do it and look out, work out for me.
And I thought this red camera could put HD on a business or at least slow it down. And because the timing was right. And even back to my still photographs, when I stopped shooting stills, when the digital cameras came out, I had a chance to show my still life. And I sold it. And many of my friends had, how could you shelf 35 years of hard work with all those beautiful images, just walk away from them.
And all I can say is, I guess, I guess you turn into a money shooter. If you’re a professional shooter, you shirt, you shoot to make money and make a living.
So the library is worth what it’s worth.
[00:54:57] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[00:54:58] Tom Campbell: And I felt very strongly about the fact that the libraries would lose their value, uh, with digital images.
And I was 100%, right? In those days, there was another guy, very well known who I worked with and was friends with his name was Chris Neubert and Chris Neubert. And I were talking about this one day when digital cameras first came out, we were in Papa, new Guinea, actually. And we were having this discussion and we both said, you know what, I’m not going to do this.
I’m not going to switch to digital because I think it’s going to kill the industry. And Chris said, I think it will too. And he said, I think I’m finished. I’m going to do something else.
And I say, well, I’m going to switch to cinematography. I’m not going to shoot it anymore. And I haven’t shot stills since that time.
[00:55:47] Brett Stanley: Wow. Okay.
[00:55:48] Tom Campbell: I’ve never owned a digital camera, but most of the pictures I take are with my cell phone
[00:55:52] Brett Stanley: right. Yeah.
[00:55:54] Tom Campbell: or my, my red camera now.
[00:55:56] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing. So, so jumping from, from high Def, which is, you know, 10 80 to then going to red, which is, you know, 4, 6, 8 K
must’ve opened up a whole new kind of world of, of, of stock because It could be used for so many different things.
[00:56:12] Tom Campbell: It did. It did exactly that and you’re right. Uh, it opened up a new world and it kinda goes back to the question of marketing. You have to be a marketing person if you’re a photographer or cinematographer, because. Otherwise, you’re just going to take jobs from time to time, and you’re never going to get rich to a net.
And there’s an end game is a time comes and you’re not going to do it anymore, which is where I’m at right now. I mean, I still shoot, I still own the camera equipment, but I’m not taking assignments anymore. And, um, cause I don’t have to,
[00:56:47] Brett Stanley: Yeah,
[00:56:48] Tom Campbell: you know, you just, you have to, you have to dwell into the marketing world and try to figure out where things will fit and then try to work, try to work your skills into that market so that you can make money with it.
And those that do that too quite well. And those that don’t, they may be doing what they love to do, but are they going to be able to, you know, become millionaires or multi-millionaires not wisely and it’s not all about money, it’s about doing what you really love to do, but it sure doesn’t hurt make them.
[00:57:22] Brett Stanley: Oh, not at all. And I think, you know, if you are doing what you love and it’s, and it’s paying your mortgage or it’s paying your rent, you know, if you can survive doing what you love to do, that’s, that’s a win.
[00:57:33] Tom Campbell: It is it’s, it’s a win. Um, I’ve had such a great career and I’ve been able to help a lot of people along the way. I’ve enjoyed bringing on new people with us. We’ve done that frequently. Sometimes we get burned. Sometimes we do very well with it.
Um, and I like helping other people, whether it’s advice or being able to hire them from time to time to what we did.
Jorge Torres is an example of that. He’s a young guy from Spain that I met. Ernie Brooks just love boat with Brooks school of photography.
And he was just graduating from the school. He was a bit of an underdog in a way, because he was from Spain. Didn’t speak English quite as good as everybody else, but even I could tell he was very enthusiastic about what he did and trying to get into the photography world. And he took a picture of me at sunset or sunrise, one of the other.
And had it framed and sent it to me and he signed it and had it sent to me. And he told me that if I ever needed somebody to help, he would love to work with us. We already had a pretty locked in team. So, you know, I remembered him and I re I remembered what he said and what he did. And I was impressed with that.
So a few months went by, I don’t know, maybe six months or so. And, uh, we had a spot where we could use an extra person that we didn’t have a big budget. So I called Jorge and he came and he worked with us and we really liked him. He was great guy to get along with. He was willing to do anything and could do everything.
And so then he disappeared for about six months. We stayed in touch a little bit, but I got a call from a producer who was doing a story on the Navy seals. And the producer told me that Jorge had been shined on to be the cinematographer and do the history. And he said, this may sound a bit unusual, but Jorge has said that if we can get you involved, he thinks you could do even a better job because you came from this kind of a unit when you were in the military and he would be willing to do the sound or lighting or assisting.
Nobody does that
[00:59:45] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Yeah,
[00:59:47] Tom Campbell: and I was, I was just blown away by that. And so we did that story on the Navy seals that was at discovery channels. I never forgot what Jorge did. I took Dennis my right hand camera guy. I said, we’re going to hire him any job. We can take him on he’s with us. So he worked with us for 18 years and it’s just an outstanding, he’s not only a good friend.
He’s a very talented guy. And now he worked for the BBC and a lot of big agencies like that because he was younger where Dennis was kind of retired and I’m kind of retired myself, but. Although we’re still diving quite a bit and taking pictures. I’m just not interested in taking assignment work.
[01:00:28] Brett Stanley: but to have someone that would that much credibility, like, oh, Hey, to do that, you know, and not kind of take that job for himself and, and maybe not do as well of a job of it. That’s that’s a great character trait.
[01:00:40] Tom Campbell: Oh, hi buddy.
[01:00:42] Brett Stanley: no Jorge. Yeah.
[01:00:45] Tom Campbell: Yep. So, so her. A really high paying job out of that because we made really good money working for the Saudi Shaikh
[01:00:53] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:00:54] Tom Campbell: we got caught pay. It was not exorbitant. It was just top pay for cinematographers who used that kind of equipment and had that kind of background, which is pretty good.
[01:01:05] Brett Stanley: So, so what what’s happening for you now? You’ve, you’ve kinda semi-retired I guess. And you’ve got your, your motor yacht, your boat, what, what’s your kind of routine like these days,
[01:01:16] Tom Campbell: Well, the best part about it is that I’m doing exactly what I want to do. And when I want to do it with no pressure, uh, You know, I’ve had a really good career, not just paint a lot of money, but I’ve traveled all over the world and met some very interesting people, made a lot of friends and the adventure has been incredible.
And so I’ve always wanted to live on a boat and we could afford to buy a boat like this, and they’re quite pricey. and we still have a home in. and we’re building a new mountain cabin home in Colorado, just outside of Ridgeway. And so we’ll keep this house and just rent it along with a couple of other rental houses that we have, but I still enjoy shooting and diving.
And so we still do use our stock agencies a little bit, but they don’t make the money that they used to because just like high definition, when it came in, it was real good money and moving fast, but it too starting to wane and fade away as a red cameras came in and the same thing has happened with the red cameras.
I’m telling you, everybody in their brother has.
[01:02:26] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:02:28] Tom Campbell: a gazillion miles of footage out there from a variety of people. And some of them are really good shooters. Some of them are just avid, vacation shooters, but if they shoot one shot, it’s really worthwhile in their whole career, they can put that in as talk agency or they can show it.
So you add all that up and what it does, it kind of watered down the industry. And so there’s still going to be a few people who are going to make really good money, uh, as cinematographers, but there’s so many people doing it that I just didn’t see jumping into the, into the,
the realm of the whole thing with everybody else. And because we’ve already had our, our ride. So the last two films we do. one was just a year and a half ago. and we shot that it was 16 days in Micronesia truck lagoon. And it was a story about truck again, which I’ve done a few of those with different agencies.
But this prediction, this particular production company happened to be close friends of ours. They’re very talented people. They didn’t have a budget. Could you show, but they wanted to do it. So we just. As far as our part, we’ll go there on our own nickel, everything we shoot you can have and help produce your show.
[01:03:41] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:03:41] Tom Campbell: So that’s what we did on the truck lagoon show. The next call I got was from when I matched company that I’d been involved with over the years a little bit. And when they called, I was going to turn the job down because I just not interested in taking assignment work and. Really special for the environment or something that’s, you know, I dunno.
Just kind of help somebody somehow.
[01:04:05] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:04:06] Tom Campbell: And when they called and said they were interested in hiring me to do the shoot, I almost said, well, I’m sorry, but I’m not taking any assignment work anymore. So I’m not interested. Fortunately, I didn’t say that. I said, well, what’s the film about? And he said, it’s about the Marines.
[01:04:23] Brett Stanley: Oh, perfect.
[01:04:25] Tom Campbell: I’m in. So that was the last, that was an IMAX film. And, uh, I was one of the shooters on that and it’s quite a nice film. It was shot for the museum, the Marine Corps museum in Quantico, Virginia, where it’s shown on a big screen there all the time. So those are the last two professional shoots I’ve done and it’s kind of the end and you know where I’m at now.
So we just spend our time on the, on the boat traveling.
Uh, we had a lot of stuff in mind where we’re going to do white sharks, gray whales, blue whales, mantas, and a number of things in the sea of Cortez, which is why we took the boat there. But then COVID hit, it just killed almost everything we did.
[01:05:07] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:05:08] Tom Campbell: You know, I should’ve been, I should have been saying, well, we made 75 dives during the nine months that we were there.
[01:05:15] Brett Stanley: Oh, right?
[01:05:16] Tom Campbell: So it really put a, put the brakes on things, but we still had a good time on the boat, traveling and diving and doing what we like to do. And we decided to bring the boat back. And we were going to go to Alaska in March, April with the boat and do some underwater and tough side stuff up there. So that’s kind of on a hold right now for two things.
Number one, we’re not quite sure where we are with the bill. In Colorado. And that’s going to take some of our time. And number two COVID thing has still shut down much of Canada and some of the borders. And we don’t know what’s going to happen there.
[01:05:49] Brett Stanley: Yeah, I mean, how does that work if you’re, if you’re on the boat and forgive my ignorance, but I’m not, uh, a sail kind of person. Um, when you were heading up to Canada, do you end, if you don’t make landfall, do you do, are you still kind of governed by their border policies and stuff?
[01:06:05] Tom Campbell: Yeah,
uh, right now I’m not even sure we can take the boat into Canada and there was a time not too long ago that we’re for sure. And everything was shut down. So those, all those things considered. It’s sort of put a big question, mark, and what we’re going to do and how we’re going to go about it.
so we’re going to continue to stay on the boat and dive the channel islands and to stuff out here,
[01:06:28] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:06:29] Tom Campbell: but I’m not sure. And Beth, I have to tell you, Beth is not only a highly skilled photographer and she has been for many years, she was a professional photographer. in Alaska for years and years. And she worked at the parks service up there and she’s, she’s worked on a lot of these big commercial boats.
I was a naturalist and photo instructor and things like that. So together we have, we combine our skills where I don’t take pills anymore, but she does.
[01:06:57] Brett Stanley: right.
[01:06:59] Tom Campbell: I just do cinematography work.
[01:07:01] Brett Stanley: So between the two of you, you’ve got it. You’ve got to kind of covered.
[01:07:03] Tom Campbell: We do, we can pretty much do anything we want to do. and it’s kind of nice not having a, a timeline or any stress to worry about. We just do what we want to do and we want to do it. And if we change our mind, change your mind,
[01:07:16] Brett Stanley: Yeah. And if you sell some stock, you sell some stock. If you don’t, you had a good time doing it.
[01:07:20] Tom Campbell: and it doesn’t matter, you don’t need the money. And that’s a pretty nice position to be in.
[01:07:26] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:07:27] Tom Campbell: It took a long time to get here, but we got here and, you know, I, I have to say, I would encourage anybody who wants to be a professional photographer or cinematographer. I would encourage them to follow their dream, but I would suggest that they look into the business very carefully and decide just where they want to fit into it.
I’ve always told people that I think you should specialize in. all the work that I’ve done for various companies over the years, I’ve never had somebody calling me up and asked me to do a shoot on grizzly bears or spiders.
[01:07:58] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:07:59] Tom Campbell: Can I shoot grizzly bears and spiders? Of course I can, but it’s not my special specialty.
All the jobs I’ve ever gotten have come from people, looking for specialty people. So, if you get a reputation of doing something really well, you have a better shot at being employed than you do. If you tell somebody you’re Jack of all trades and you can shoot anything
[01:08:19] Brett Stanley: yeah, totally.
[01:08:21] Tom Campbell: you can’t. I tell you right now, if you’re a, if you’re a, do you want to shoot bears and you got to compete with the top bear people in the world.
[01:08:30] Brett Stanley: Yeah, totally.
[01:08:31] Tom Campbell: You know, and the same with underwater, if you think you want to do all this other stuff to do occasional under water stuff, and you want to compete with the top under water people. Good luck.
[01:08:41] Brett Stanley: Yeah. Well, I mean, there’s, so there’s such specific skillsets. Like it’s not even. The taking of the photo or that, or the shooting of the film. It’s, you know, it’s everything that goes with that in terms of holding yourself under water and moving, and you know, all these techniques you’ve, you’ve built up over, you know, 30, 40 years of, of doing this that makes you so good at it.
[01:09:01] Tom Campbell: That’s true. And, and I would just suggest that if it’s what you want to do, if it’s really what you want to do, pursue it, but look into it carefully. Come jump in with both feet. Like I used to tell people don’t quit your real job just yet. I mean, I kept my job as a high wind Coleman. For 20 years.
And although I could have quit earlier, uh, there were other reasons I stayed one.
I really did like the job. I liked helping people. And two, I got medical benefits if I stayed 20 years
[01:09:31] Brett Stanley: Yeah, exactly.
[01:09:33] Tom Campbell: and that’s a big thing in today’s market because we don’t have that in this country. So there are other things that you need to look into, but I do suggest that people try to specialize and do exceptional work in the field that you choose to go into.
[01:09:47] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:09:48] Tom Campbell: always keep in mind that anytime you can help somebody else along the way, it’s always a nice thing to do and bad mouthing somebody else’s work doesn’t make yours any better. So there’s no reason to bad mouth. Anybody else that does something in the same field? It, it just doesn’t pay.
[01:10:04] Brett Stanley: no. And I feel like people would pay attention to the people who do bad mouth and it doesn’t go down well, like, you know, they pay.
attention to who says those things.
And it reflects badly on them.
[01:10:16] Tom Campbell: it does. It’s a shortcoming on them because if you think that bad, nothing, somebody else will help your work or give you a better edge on things. It doesn’t.
[01:10:25] Brett Stanley: No, exactly.
[01:10:26] Tom Campbell: uh, I remember reading something one time, a guy he wrote, uh, about. And Federico made the best housing in the world it’s time, but he had somebody design a housing for them.
So he wrote this nice magazine article in a guy’s magazine, badmouthing, the amphibious housing, which west Skiles and I were the front runners in, in using those housings. And it was the best housing ever made for a lot of reasons. And. So I wrote him a note back and I should, you know, I complimented him on the work that he does and who he is and his reputation.
But I said, you might want to just keep one thing in mind that bad mouthing and typicals housing will not make your housing any better. And he wrote back
[01:11:09] Brett Stanley: Right.
[01:11:10] Tom Campbell: surprised he did.
[01:11:12] Brett Stanley: Oh, right. What’d he say?
[01:11:14] Tom Campbell: Uh, he, he appreciated my comments. You should actually, I feel badly that I said that.
I said, because you know, it’s just like when you’re talking to somebody, especially if you have a, an audience like you do, if you say something, once it comes out of your mouth, it’s.
[01:11:29] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:11:29] Tom Campbell: take it back and people don’t forget. So when you say something negative about somebody or somebody else’s work, it’s done, you can never take it back
and it doesn’t help you. I mean, all you
have to do is listen to the news nowadays. You can see that.
[01:11:43] Brett Stanley: yeah. exactly. And I think kind of like, you know, helping other people raise up, like lifting other people up and supporting them and, and that sort of attitude in the industry I think is, is far more beneficial and it plays way better for that person
then than denigrating someone else.
[01:11:59] Tom Campbell: Yeah, you’re right. I have to tell you, Jorge works all the time. He, his phone rings all the time. He can work as many days, weeks, and months out a year as he wants to because he’s so good. Dennis could do the same thing. He kept he’s retired. And one of the guys I told you about when we went to Saudi Arabia, one of the people in the crew over there is now a full-time employee at the BBC.
[01:12:22] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:12:22] Tom Campbell: there are several people that we have worked with over the past and spoken to, and given advice to, or a top notch professionals in the field. And I’m happy that we could participate in some small way in helping them get where they did.
[01:12:37] Brett Stanley: Yeah.
[01:12:38] Tom Campbell: No. Cause it’s, uh, it’s very rewarding to do that. And you can’t own this job or this work yourself.
[01:12:46] Brett Stanley: no, no. And, and people come in and they do it differently. They take a different approach to it and you know, and that’s why things evolve. And, and that’s why there is an industry because you know, this there’s so many different avenues you can.
[01:12:57] Tom Campbell: Yeah. And I think the people that are doing this now, especially in the Marine wildlife field, they need to keep in mind that the oceans and ocean and habitats are in serious trouble. The same thing applies to all the animals on this planet. they’re in serious trouble. And beyond what most people can kind of imagine.
So anything that you could do to put emphasis on the environment, protecting it and preserving it in some way is beneficial and makes you a more worthwhile person in your field.
[01:13:26] Brett Stanley: Absolutely. couldn’t agree more on that one. Well, Tom, this has been amazing. Thank you so much for sharing your, your life story and your career. There’s so much that that I’ve gotten from that. and as I said, as we’re talking about it, it’s, it’s great to be able to share these things, these lessons and things that you’ve learned, and to the people listening and who might be up and coming in this industry as well.
So thank you so much.
[01:13:47] Tom Campbell: Well, listen, Brett, it’s been a real pleasure. I’ve enjoyed very much. And talking with you and learning what you’re doing with your, with your pod. I think it’s great and truly beneficial to a lot of people. And I, I wish there were more people like you doing this kind of thing, because it also helps other people in their careers and helps them get ideas about how to start, where to start and when to start, maybe.
[01:14:11] Brett Stanley: Yeah, exactly. And that’s what I love about doing this. This is kind of giving all these different, different opinions and different kinds of approaches to things. So, so thanks Tom.