Veteran Scott Thompson's photography leads with curiosity

Air-force service member takes his sons canoeing at sunset out on the lake.

Image Credit: Adobe Stock / Scott Thompson.

Storytelling is said to be at the core of photography. But what storytelling means can vary quite widely across photographers and artists. It can mean anything from having a palpable mood and tone or a sense of novelty and adventure to having a connection between the artist and their art.

To Scott Thompson, storytelling is all about curiosity. It’s about starting every engagement with a sense of wonder, humility, attention to detail, and an insatiable desire to learn about other people. “My creative process is all about the people that I meet,” says Thompson, “I don't know what they're gonna say to me. I don't know what their story is. So I have to start there. I listen to them and build trust.”

But rather than being a fly-on-the-wall, Thompson’s style of observational photography is active and participatory. It’s when Thompson says he goes from being an introvert to an extravert: from enjoying his alone time to being a fellow traveler, full of questions and inexhaustible energy.

Thompson’s portfolio, which largely focuses on veterans and servicemembers, is the result of being curious about people and their daily lives, and the trust that comes with building a relationship with your subjects. It’s a trust that’s important not just to Thompson and his work, but to the entire ecosystem of stock imagery.

Air-force service member gets ready for work and leaves.

Image Credits: Adobe Stock / Scott Thompson; courtesy Scott Thompson.

Honoring service, dedication, and hard work

Veterans have been frequently misrepresented in stock imagery. The Veteran’s Return Adobe Stock creative brief and accompanying article identified some of the problems with how service members are represented along with a call for how to make higher quality, representative, and powerful depictions.

Values are at the core of what many veterans said made a great image about people who had been in or were currently serving in the military or reserves. Instead of focusing on iconography, stereotypes, and easy cliches, they were drawn to images about the values that are behind veterans, like hard work, selflessness, and belief in improving the communities around them.

Scott Thompson’s work seems to exemplify this quality of being rooted in values, which in stock imagery is a difficult needle to thread. It’s a field where clients and brands want images that are clear, demonstrative, and fit their purpose, which can often lead photographers to go for easy, obvious, and well-established tropes like the wounded survivor or the warrior defined by a gun and a uniform.

For Thompson, creating high-quality images that resonate with veterans and stock consumers emerges from rooting his photography in his own life and the relationships he’s developed throughout his career. With his background as a service member for over 30 years, he wasn’t casting models to depict veterans: all the subjects Thompson uses are veterans doing activities that are part of their daily lives.

In a recent interview with Adobe Stock, he reflected on a recent photoshoot he did of a veteran who is a mother and was making breakfast for her family. He saw, in what is a daily ritual for most people (breakfast), a story about values: about a woman who cares deeply about her country and who cares about her family. “She’s taken on these two very deep responsibilities,” Thompson says. “She's balancing it all. That’s what I see in her face and her expressions and actions.”

Thompson may be especially sensitive to these values due to his own experiences. Before he joined the military, he recalls, “I was a punk, I had no discipline, no nothing. And I came back with honor, I came back with this loyalty and this dedication and this motivation that I never knew that I had.” And it’s things like loyalty, dedication and honor that he’s chasing in his work, from the breakfast table to the brooks where veterans go fly fishing.

Collage of servicemen and service-women spending time with their families.

Image Credits: Adobe Stock / Scott Thompson: Adobe Stock / Scott Thompson:Adobe Stock / Scott Thompson.

Stop chasing the action

For someone who enjoys hundred-mile hikes in the wilderness and spent his formative years as a photographer on tour with bands, it’s surprising to hear what Thompson says he wishes he’d learned earlier: “stop chasing the action.”

What he means by that is to start taking a pause to look at everything around you instead of the most engaging, captivating, attention-grabbing thing right in front of you. “It’s something I say when I’m mentoring people all the time,” he says.

It’s a lesson he learned when working for the Chicago Tribune: often Thompson would get so caught up chasing the most sensational thing in front of him, forgetting that good photojournalism is really about details. “That’s really what the story is,” he reflects, “it’s everything before and after the action, it’s all the details.”

Whether it’s the quiet moments making breakfast before your kids come downstairs, how you tie your boots, what you do to relax after fly fishing: all of these small, peripheral moments come together to tell you a bigger and more intimate story. These “goosebump” moments, where you really feel a connection through an image, are what Thompson’s photography is all about.

See Scott Thompson’s portfolio on Adobe Stock. Feeling inspired? Sign up as an Adobe Stock Contributor and upload your photos, videos, and more to the collection.