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A Master Photographer

By Nora Heston Tarte

Douglas Sterling fell in love with art at a young age. Born into a family of artists, he first dreamed of becoming a painter, but during a college photography course at Santa Rosa Community College, Sterling switched gears. His first photo assignment at 21 years old won a school competition. “That put the nail in the coffin,” says Sterling. “It just clicked for me.”

For the past 30 years, Sterling has honed his craft, becoming a master behind the lens as a prominent Bay Area photographer. His works include architectural, commercial, editorial, digital media, and fine art. His images subjectivize his themes and are intuitive and sensitive to design and aesthetic while remaining technical. “It’s the way I see light, form and shadows and how it plays on materials creating dimension to the subject, from architecture to editorial assignment,” he explains. Mostly he calls his process creative yet instinctual; often the final product plays on the translation of an overpowering mood, perfected by his inherent understanding of what to do behind a camera.

Sterling’s favorite moments include the once-in-a-lifetime shots where every element lines up. One such example comes from the day he shot Artesa for Sigma Architecture. It was late evening outside and Sterling predicted the shot before it happened. He readied his camera and clicked just as the moon came into the frame over the apex on the entry portal. “It was just a magical time,” says Sterling.

The first day Sterling spoke to his (future) wife was the day he photographed the original Artesa building for Domingo Triay back in the ’80s. She worked for the client, and after the shoot he went on a fishing trip to Alaska and brought back a salmon to cook for her. On their 25th wedding anniversary, he returned to Artesa for a second architectural shoot. “It’s come full circle,” he says. When it comes to photography, Sterling is a master of balancing work and play. He knows the moment to be serious and focus on the shot, but he also knows how to keep the job light and fun. “[Clients] hire me not because I can focus a camera and take the picture, but because I am very creative,” Sterling says. Many of his images have appeared in magazines, books, brochures, digital media and private homes—a testament to his talent. “There is an excitement of being in that creative realm.”

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