Nate Ptacek


Year of Graduation: 2008

Major(s): Environmental Studies

Minor(s): ART

Current Position: Video Editor at Patagonia, Ventura, CA


Please give a brief description of your current position and where you're working:
I am a Video Editor at Patagonia - the Ventura, California-based outdoor clothing company well known for its unique and leading approach to environmental activism.  My role includes directing, producing, shooting, and editing various video projects for our global marketing and environmental initiatives.  Additionally, I oversee the company's video asset management and distribution systems at large.  I'm typically found juggling hard drives and deadlines at my desk, but my job has also brought me to some amazing places - most recently down slot canyons in Utah and empty beaches south of the border.

What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
After graduating from St. John's in 2008, I spent one last summer working as a canoe outfitter in the BWCA before moving to Minneapolis in September.  It was nearing the height of the Great Recession, and work was scarce.  Eventually I found a part time job at Patagonia's retail store in St. Paul, which I supplemented with marketing work for an environmental non-profit, and occasional freelance photo and video projects.  Patagonia offered great health benefits and a mission I could believe in, and within two years I had relocated to our Ventura, California headquarters for a position on our product photo team.  This transitioned to a role in marketing and creative services that generally encompasses a mix of video asset management, post-production, and creative, project-based work.  I just had my 8-year anniversary at Patagonia and couldn't be happier.

What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
If you're interested in pursuing photo and video work, you'll need to learn the ins and outs of production and post-production in a rapidly evolving industry that always seems to change as soon as you feel like you're getting the hang of things.  I started shooting on 35mm B&W film and Hi-8 tapes, and have lived through the transition to digital, SD, HD, and 4K/UHD, and even just shot my first project using virtual reality cameras.

I think the best way to get up to speed and stay ahead of the curve is through a mix of mentorship, internet research, and most of all, just getting your hands dirty and making work - constantly.  Find a subject matter you're passionate about.  Set assignments for yourself.  Try new things.  Make something you love and destroy it only to start all over again.  Pretty soon you'll have a body of work, and hopefully a style all your own.

What skills are important for your field?
First and most importantly, you must be able to think critically, be creative, and tell stories well.  Next, you must have the technical skills to produce quality images and bring them to life through photo and video editing software like Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Premiere Pro.  Good file management is critical, as is the ability to troubleshoot and problem solve.  Specific to my career, extensive outdoor skills and knowledge of complex environmental issues have also benefited me greatly.

What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
The most satisfying part of my job is the fact that environmentalism is at Patagonia's core.  We were the first to use recycled pop bottles in our fleece jackets, and later created the foundation for the global organic cotton market.  We are also a founding member of 1% For The Planet, and donate 1% of our annual sales to grassroots environmental non-profits.  This past Black Friday, we increased that number to 100% for the day, and donated a record-breaking $10 million.  As a voting member of our environmental media grants council, I get to help decide where to best apply this funding. Employees are also encouraged to volunteer, receiving up to two months paid leave to go work for an environmental non-profit of our choice.  In 2014 I volunteered with Save the Boundary Waters, a group working to halt dangerous sulfide-ore copper mines proposed on the edge of the BWCA.  This led to a series of film projects and an ongoing relationship with the organization that has brought me from -30 degree nights in the wilderness all the way to the halls of congress.  The best part is that our work is making a difference, and Patagonia has played a significant role through grant funding, store events, email action alerts, and helping to spread the word through social media.

Most challenging?
Patagonia's marketing department is relatively small given our output, so I often find myself wearing many hats and having to switch gears constantly throughout the day.  My largest challenge is handling the large volume of video data we create.  Our video and media archive is now north of 100 terabytes - vastly more than the combined data for the rest of the company - and I find it difficult to maintain a creative state of mind with this constantly weighing down on me.

What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
My experience at CSB/SJU prepared me well with a liberal arts background and solid critical thinking skills that can be applied to any career.  The Environmental Studies program gave me the background I need to convey information on important issues, and photo and video courses laid the groundwork for my technical skills.  Most importantly, the strong community and beautiful campus setting instilled in me deep ties to both the human and natural worlds, serving as a constant reminder of the things I am working to protect for future generations.

(December 2016)