Featured Artist: Zak Gruber

Featured Artist: Zak Gruber

Featured Artist - Zak Gruber

Whether on foot, or by drone, on one wheel or two, Zak Gruber is a man of many talents. His creative pursuits and passion for connection make him a fascinating fellow to follow and a his warm, caring spirit makes him a pleasure with which to prate (and let's not forget that magnificent free-flowing mane). Whether you know him from his "30 second photo school" sessions on TikTok, are a fan of his @indiemoto Instagram reels for real, or are just learning about this talented treasure for the very first time here on our blog you're in for a very special treat. So let's get to it...

We like to kick things off nice and slow here so let’s get the ‘easy’ one out of the way... what’s the story of Zak Gruber and how is it that you happened to get into photography in the first place?

When I was a kid my dad was huge into all the new tech coming out. He always had to have the latest electronics. When I was five he ended up getting a brand new video camera and I remember I was so obsessed with it. It was this weird looking pistol shaped camera that had a VHS recorder attached to it that you wore on your shoulder like a purse. So ridiculous looking. But I couldn’t put it down. I still have it to this day.

It was third grade summer school when I decided to take a little video production class. The teacher was showing us some in camera tricks and then allowing us to make some graphics on the computer to add them to the video. On 4.5” floppy discs and deck to deck recording. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world!

Fast forward to high school. The high school I was attending was just being built and they were asking the local community what type of programs they would like to see in the schools. I remember one of the options in the brochure was a photography dark room class. All I remember thinking was, please let there be enough people interested in photography for them to include it at the new high school. About a month and a half before the new high school opened we were sent the available classes and sure enough there was. 

Honestly it’s funny to think back on all of this. Life was leading me down this path my whole life. I just wasn’t paying enough attention to realize it right away. 
After high school I started to ride BMX semi professionally for a few year. It was a lot of fun. I got paid, got to hang out with friends, travel a bit and just live life. But sometimes all good things come to an end. At 19yo I got severely injured where I could not ride anymore.

It was at this point in my life where I picked up the camera again, went to college for film and here we are.

Now for the cop out question just to make sure we cover our bases and give the people what they’re here for... what question do you get asked the most and what is the answer?

What camera do you use? Ugh... 

I honestly cringe when I hear this question. To me it feels like people truly believe that a camera is what’s responsible for composing, lighting, editing an image. Not the photographer. Don’t get me wrong! I’m here to help and love to talk about gear. But I think people need to understand, it’s not the equipment, it’s how you use it. I have friends that only take photos with their phones and have hundreds of thousands of followers on IG. Gear isn’t the most important thing. Understanding how it works is. 

I currently have the Nikon Z7 in case you were wondering. lol

Your growth over the past year has been incredible (and we’re just talking about magnificent mane 😮) but seriously your following has exploded as well. I think when we first met you early last year you had somewhere in the range of 40k followers on Instagram and in less than a year you’ve somehow managed to enlist another 200k+ faithful followers into the Indiemoto fan club (and who can blame them). For those who are interested in attracting a large following on platforms like Instagram what would you say has been the secret to your success? How did you crack the konami code of social media?

Honestly 2020 was a wild year. I am a commercial photographer by trade and when covid hit I lost all of my work over night. Instead of going into a massive depression and getting caught up in everything going on, I decided to hit social media. Hard. 

One day my wife Jamie said, you should try out TikTok. Thats all Gary Vee keeps talking about. Between dance moves and people trying to hook up, I honestly had no idea what my place was in that world. But after some encouragement from my wife Jamie, I decided to make a TikTok account. After some trial and error, I ended up having a few photography videos go viral. So I made a couple more. And a couple more. All of a sudden, I had this insane following of amazing people encouraging me daily to keep going. Gary Vee was right. The power behind TikTok was out of control. Until the election happened... The platform was sold to another company and the content went from fun and entertaining to serious and politics 24/7. Luckily for me at that exact time is when Instagram decided to launch their Reels to compete with TikTok. Honestly I don’t think they could’ve done this at a better time. 

Since I had this massive stockpile of TikTok videos that I already knew were working, I decided to use those same videos on Instagram. When I added them to Instagram through the new Reels, all of a sudden my account exploded! I'm a visual person all around, so something like reels and TikTok just make way more sense to me. I have more fun telling a story versus than posting a single image and moving on.

One of the biggest things I can tell creators looking to grow, is engage outside of your circle. Don’t expect to post in amazing image and people to just flock to your account. It doesn't work that way. If you want people to know you exist, you need to engage with them. If someone likes your post that isn’t in your circle, go back to their account, like a few of their photos, maybe comment once or twice. Check out some of the accounts they're following and do the same thing. Do that for 20 minutes a day and see what happens.

Another thing I tell creators is to not get caught up in all the IG “unwritten rules” “posting times” and “groups” to help you beat the algorithm. Just post and have fun. That’s the whole point of social media. Have fun and engage. If people like what you’re doing, they will find you. 

Now while a massive following is all well and good, what is it about social media platforms that calls to you? What motivates you to put in the extra time and effort that it takes to be constantly creating new content especially with a young family? Were you seeking a large following? Fame and fortune? Community and connection? A creative outlet? All of the above? None of the above?

This one has been an evolving answer over the years. At first I got on social media to sell motorcycles. Then after landing my dream job as a commercial photographer, I put the motorcycle garage aside and just had this random IG account. At the agency I was working for, someone encouraged me to start posting my work on the platform. At first I was very reluctant because I didn’t want people stealing my work. I don’t think I really understood what social media was at first. But I slowly started to post some of my work on there. Then one day someone told me about a local photography meet up that was happening downtown Milwaukee. I had never attended anything like that before but thought it was a great idea and wanted to check it out. That day pretty much changed my whole perception of what social media was and what it could be. I was so hyped! 

From there it was about getting groups of talented creatives together to have fun. I started to host all kinds of photography meetups. I think in the back of my mind social media was this outlet to release this creative energy I had. Working for an agency was great and my bread and butter but it didn’t always allow me to be fully creative.

July 2019 I decided to quit my full-time job at the agency and go 100% freelance. Little did I know Covid was on the way. Things changed pretty quickly after that.

Since your meteoric rise in popularity, has anything changed about the way you approach social media?

Maybe in a business sense but at the end of the day social media is a place for me to have fun with my friends and share my creative outlook. 

You’ve been called the Bob Ross of photography. How does that make you feel?

LOL Yeah that became a thing pretty quickly on TikTok. That’s one thing I really like about that platform. People aren’t afraid to tell it like it is. To be called the Bob Ross of photography might be an insult to some but it's the biggest freaking honor, to be honest LOL. That man inspired so many people and I could only dream of being on his level. 

Outside of social media how have you been dealing with the world amidst the panic of a pandemic this past year?

I’m not gonna lie, at first it was tough. Especially on my businesses. The campground and my photography business were both about to be shut down completely. My state of mind was a bit off that’s for sure. Luckily the campground was allowed to open and I decided photography would have to get put on the back burner for now. But after more and more information kept coming out about the virus and people were getting to know what was actually going on, I slowly started to become more comfortable with the fact that this is just how things are going to be now. That’s when I decided to get a van and hit the road. There was nothing wrong with me living out of a van for a week at a time and traveling to see these incredible locations so close to home. I was able to do all of this with barely any human contact whatsoever. It was a game changer. 

You happen to be a pretty prolific onewheel rider, which when coupled with your cinematography skills makes for some pretty sweet videos. How did you get into the onewheeling life?

One of my really good friends Julian had a Onewheel. And then bought another one eventually. That’s when I started borrowing his and really got into it. I grew up skating and riding bikes so the Onewheel was this perfect combination and I fell in love. 

You also posted quite the epic spill you took when coasting around a skatepark a while back... what’s the worst injury you’ve incurred in your onewheeling lifetime?

At the end of the day it’s an extreme sport just like the rest of them. The second you get on it you’re taking the risk of falling. And when there’s a motor involved falling can be taken to a whole other level. Luckily I have fallen a lot in my lifetime and have learned how to do a gracefully LOL. Because the Onewheel has a motor, sometimes it likes to take off in weird instances. One time I was dropping off a big ledge and the board took off and hit me in the back of the heel. I thought I snapped my Achilles tendon. Luckily it was just one of the worst bruises I have ever encountered in my life. 

Pre onewheel life I understand you knew a thing or two about two wheelers as well - both motorized and human powered... what is it about tire based objects that draws you to them rather than using your legs to get around? 😄
I honestly have no idea lol. My dad was into motorcycles and bicycle growing up so I think it just came with the territory. And somewhere along the line I developed this need for adrenaline every once and awhile. 

You and your better half @jamiegellingsmedia purchased a campground in Wisconsin located about an hour north of Milwaukee @camp.northernlights ... how did this come to pass and what’s it like being the owner of your very own campground?

My grandparents met during the war in Okinawa. After moving back to Wisconsin, my grandfather took all his money and bought a piece of property in the Northern Kettle Moraine. My grandfather and the family turned the property into a campground and it’s been here ever since. After they passed away we decided to purchase the property from them to keep it in our family. It’s was the best decision we’ve ever made. 

When it comes to photography, what would you say is your favorite subject matter and what do you find most challenging?

This is always such a hard question for me to answer. Im just passionate about photography in general. I don’t think it really has to do with the subject matter for me. I just love that camera in my hand. But if I had to pick one, I really enjoy landscape photography. There’s just some thing about scouting a location and heading back there when you know the weather conditions are going to be just perfect. Sitting there alone watching all the elements coming together is such a magical moment to me. 

Other than Indiemoto TikToks and Instagram reels, what are some of the best resources you know of for photographers looking to improve their skills, especially those just starting out?

YouTube is your friend! There’s so many amazing creators on that platform just looking to help. Also, recently I’ve been introduced to the Clubhouse app. This has potential to be an insanely powerful educational tool. You can get 1 on 1 time with some of your favorite creators. I actually plan to do some mini round table discussions on the platform myself.

Where did the Indiemoto moniker come from?

When I set out to come up with a handle for social media I really wanted it to mean something. After a lot of research I ended up with two words, 
Moto - Meaning movement and of course all things two wheels.
Indie - Is a self-representation that highlights your uniqueness. It means independent thinking, making decisions based on your own internal compass.

Off the top of your head, besides Kwik Trips, what is the best thing about living in Wisconsin (and please say anything but the Packers)?

For me it’s the people and the ever changing seasons. I moved to AZ as a kid and all I remember when we moved back to WI was how nice everyone was. Sounds cliché but Midwest people are like no other. They would go out of their way to help you instead of avoid you. Ask about your day even tho you’ve never met them before. Stop you in the grocery store to tell you that they’ve tried that same type of dip before and it went over so well at their grandmothers 75th birthday party. But it’s the seasons that get me. Especially Fall.

Everyone has their own idea of what the term Up North means... what to you is “Up North”? 

Up North is where life happens. Up North triggers a childhood memory. Up North is family. Up North is a state of mind everyone needs in their lives. 

I understand you’re a fan of the slouch beanie... how’s your charcoal waffle beanie treating you? 😉 

OMG! I was on a road trip in the UP this last fall and somewhere along the line I lost my favorite hat. I never thought I’d find one to replace it. That hat and I had been on some epic adventures together...

But, Up North Trading Co came to the rescue! I was reluctant at first but after that sweet charcoal waffle beanie touched my head, I knew we were going to have some fun adventures together. 

As you are well aware a little while ago we asked our Instagram followers what kinds of things they would like us to ask you about during this interview. So here it is straight from the horse’s mouth...
What is your most expensivist camera?

The most expensive camera I’ve ever owned was the Canon 1DX. But now Sony just dropped the A1 and they’ve got me thinking about taking out a second mortgage. 

On a scale of 1-10 how amazing is your wife?


How do you export 120p or 60p videos... like the timeline?

If you’re using something like Premier Pro, you have to do that in your settings when you’re setting up your timeline. If you’re trying to take 120p video and export it as slow motion, you would have to make your timeline settings 24p or 30p and then slow down the video to the desired speed your looking for. I hope that make sense.

Are there cheap options for taking good pictures of landscapes as a beginner?

Your phone is your best friend. Everyone has one and it’s always with you. Learn composition and manual camera settings. Your phone can take you a long way.

Do you use LED lamps? Which one do you like?

For most of my photography I use strobes and for video I use LEDs. Right now some of my favorite LED brands are Aperture, Arri, LumeCube and Lumni8.

What are some good camera angles from a phone to take a picture of something?

Angles are important but I would say what you’re looking for is foreground and background. You want to develop layers in your images. They can make your images more aesthetically pleasing. But if you’re looking for angles, I would say high angles and low angles will set you apart from someone who’s just standing there with their phone taking a picture. 

When are you coming out with some editing tips?

Editing tips coming soon!! 

Do you have any tips for indoor photography?

Indoor photography can be tricky to some people because you need lighting and camera equipment that can perform in the low lighting. But it doesn’t have to be difficult. If you don’t have lighting or a camera that has very good ISO range, I would suggest using a tripod and long shutter speeds. If motion blur is going to be an issue then I would suggest using high ISOs and fast shutter speeds. You can remove the noise/grain in post if needed.

Can a person with 0 knowledge become a good photographer?

100%!! Some of the best photographers started out with no knowledge.

How do you get f/stop, aperture and iso correct the first time?

This is another tricky one to answer. All of those settings depend on the scenario that you’re in at that time and moment. All I can say is get out there and start smashing some buttons. Experiment to see what happens when you turn the dial one way versus the other way. Then you will start to realize what does what. If you’d like to know more on these three specifically, I have some really great videos on my social platforms that explain these.

Which aspect ratio is best for a photo shoot?

This all depends on what you’re shooting for. On social media I tend to shoot more vertically to fill up as much real estate on the phone as I can. 
When I’m shooting for clients, I mix up the framing.

Do you have any camera suggestions for beginners?

Get out there and shoot as much as you can. Experiment with your camera. Get to know your gear.

How can we click light tail pictures without the shutter speed option?

You need to have that shutter speed option to be able to do that. But if you’re using a phone there is a trick to do this. Make your photos a live photo in your iPhone. After capturing a live photo, swipe up on the photo and there will be some options. Slide all the way over to long exposure and boom.

What kind of music are you into?

All kinds. But what’s currently been playing in my truck is Post Malone, Marshmello, and Coheed and Cambria. Yeah I know. Weird mix lol

Alright getting back to the script...
What resources do you use for improving your skills? What have been some of the biggest lessons you have learned since you first picked up a camera?

I went to film school so almost all of my knowledge came from there but just getting out  and shooting as much as I can, is one of the best educations. I think I learned the most as a photo assistant. Working with established photographers that had been in the industry for well over 30 years, helped me improve my photography skills immensely. And getting inspiration from platforms like Instagram, really encourage you to take your photography to the next level. 

The biggest lesson I’ve ever learned and this is in life in general, is that nobody knows everything. Education is important. Always continue to educate yourself and never act as if you know everything. Some of the most talented people on this planet are still learning daily. And people don’t like to hang out with people who think they know everything anyways. lol

What do you typically bring with you when you go out for a shoot?

Everything lol. It’s a problem. 

Something that is with me no matter what, is my Lifestraw and hand warmers.
What would you say is your favorite thing about shooting in Wisconsin? And favorite season?


Wisconsin is still low key. Meaning we have lots of cool hidden gems that are not widely known. For photographers, that’s a great thing. 

Outside of Wisconsin, what has been your favorite place to travel to and photograph?

My all time favorite trips were to Shanghai and Vietnam. The people, the culture, the food,  the views, all of it was amazing. 

Do you happen have a favorite photo you’ve ever taken?

Not sure if I’ve taken that photo yet but if I had to pick, I’d say the photo of Holy Hill in the fog is up there. 

Who are your heroes? (Photography or otherwise)

My wife, my girls, and everyone that inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing.
Any bucket shots on your list?

Anywhere in Japan and that north west corner of Montana has been calling me.
What’s one piece of advice you would offer someone who is just starting out as a photographer?

Learn your gear inside and out. 

This one comes from our previous featured artist Guthrie Collins who would like to know... What is your most audacious & wild dream?

Good question. Right now my goal is to get paid to travel with my family. But if I had one wish to make anything happen, I’d really love to take my dad and sister to Okinawa to visit our family we’ve never met. 

What one question would you ask our next featured person? (Anything you like. Doesn’t have to be about photography - it may or may not be a fellow photographer who goes next) 

What moment in time made you decide to follow your passion?

Time to pay it forward... who else would you like to see featured on this blog?

Felicia Fullwood, Bennet Young, Andy Merkel

Thank you so much for your time.

For more great Indiemoto content make sure to follow him on...

Instagram: @indiemoto and @Camp.NorthernLights
Web: zakgruber.com
Tiktok: @indiemoto
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