The Power of Photo + TXT

When you post a photograph with text you have increased the value of your photo by more than sevenfold.

Here is a great example that I did on Memorial Day where the text was needed to understand the photo.

A coin left on a headstone let’s the deceased soldier’s family know that somebody stopped by to pay their respect. Leaving a penny means you visited. A nickel means that you and the deceased soldier trained at boot camp together. If you served with the soldier, you leave a dime. A quarter is very significant because it means that you were there when that soldier was killed. So what happens to the coins after Memorial Day? It is collected and the money is used for cemetery maintenance, the cost of burial for soldiers, or the care for indigent soldiers. Supposedly the tradition became popular here in the United States during the Vietnam war. It is believed it was a way to show respect without getting into an uncomfortable political discussion about a war that was very controversial. In general, however, this tradition can be traced to as far back as the Roman Empire. It was a way to give a buddy some spending money for the hereafter. #MemorialDay #GeorgiaNationalCemetery #military #ColumbusGA #Georgia #freedom #coinsCemetery

A post shared by Stanley Leary (@stanleyleary) on

While I can go on and on about the value of being sure you use text to help people understand a photograph, there is another HUGE reason for you to get in the habit of writing captions for all your photos. This is especially true for social media.

Here are some of the photos I have posted to Instagram that I also share from Instagram into my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Searching for a photo that you posted somewhere on the internet is really difficult to find if you don’t use text. Then you just search photo by photo in your timeline. Yes you can narrow it down by year, but had you just put text with that photo you could search by that text as I have done here as an example for you.

If you type in the search field of Facebook for example a word that you used in a caption then you can find this photo in your timeline. I searched the word “deer” because I was looking for a photo a deer I took in our backyard.

The next screen popped up after the search. Then I went to the far left column and narrowed my search using just the filter for “POSTED BY” and selected “You”, which narrowed down all the posts to mine.

I scrolled down and found one of the many photos I had of the deer in our backyard.

Then just to see it bigger I clicked on the photo and this revealed the photo bigger.

You can just copy that link and share it somewhere else or if you just want to share the photo only, right-click on the photo and you can copy just the photo or the image url.

Now if you posted the photo without any text at all then the only way to search for the photo is to have really good memory. Then you can go to your timeline and search for when you posted a photo by year and slowly narrow that search by going image by image to find your photo.


Monday Devotional: Importance of community

Matriculation Day 2017 at The Citadel in Charleston, SC. [Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 400, ƒ/4.8, 1/500]
Each year a new class of cadets starts a new at The Citadel. They come in many of them being self reliant and many do already understand the importance of community, but the process of the Knob year for the cadets is to integrate them into the corp of cadets.

“Do you think the Clemson students are going through this today?,” I over heard some people as they watched the incoming freshman [knobs] moving into their dorms and getting oriented by the upper classmen officers of the Cadre.

My wife, Dorie Griggs, has been writing a blog for Citadel parents ever since our son was a student. He graduated in 2011. We decided to drive down to Charleston, SC and help some of the parents as they dropped off their sons and daughters.

[Nikon D5, 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/1250]
Each year parents of older cadets help the new parents and incoming knobs move into their rooms. This is the paying it forward that they feel so compelled to do after their move in experience the first year at The Citadel.

The Citadel Family Association helps identify all these upper classmen parents with the blue shirts.

[Nikon D5, 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/3200]
Before 7:00 am parents with their cadets are all lined up around the Alumni Center where they find out which company their young cadet will be assigned. We helped one student who flew from California and needed help getting to campus.

After they have their assigned company they drive to the barracks where the cadet goes in and in the middle of the quadrangle meets the officers who will start the same process of all military organizations. You learn that you will be yelled at right away and learn to follow orders.

[Nikon D5, 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/2000]
At each and every station you go to there is another officer who gets your attention and asks you many questions or to do certain things which you find out you are not doing correctly.

The good news is that each of the officers were in those new cadets shoes just a short time ago. They remember how it felt. However, they have been through the training and understand the process works to build a cohesive corp of cadets.

it is Matriculation Day 2017 at The Citadel. Here each student goes from one line to another throughout the day. These are the student officers who will train the Knobs. They are part of the cadre. [Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/1600]
They will learn to be in step with the corp of cadets. They will learn to hear just the voice of their commanding officer. They will learn to rely on each other.

It is Matriculation Day 2017 at The Citadel. Here each student goes from one line to another throughout the day. These are the student officers who will train the Knobs. They are part of the cadre. [Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 400, ƒ/7.1, 1/125]
As I looked around I watched the cadre interacting with each other and the knobs. You see there are friendships between them. You see the family that they have become away from their homes.

It is Matriculation Day 2017 at The Citadel. Here each student goes from one line to another throughout the day. Here the new student reports to the sergeant who tell them where to stand and when and where to sign a paper. [Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/640]
It all starts with following those first instructions that seem so silly as to stand behind the piece of tape, but not too far and to lean over and sign your name.

In the span of just 3 hours The Citadel had moved in 825 Knobs to their bunks and had them all dressed alike in the barracks in lines ready to begin their college career. I wonder how many other schools can move that many students into their dorms that quickly. It is military precision taking place on their first day of school.

[Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 400, ƒ/4.8, 1/125]
They think of everything at The Citadel. Each cadet is issued a Camelbak that they must keep full and drink from regularly. You can watch the cadre coming behind them in formation squeezing the Camelbaks to be sure they have water. They are telling them to drink their water.

[Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 400, ƒ/4.2, 1/250]
While in formation the cadets are to make the best of their time, yet they must wait for instructions. Here the cadre instructed them to read their Guidon. It has the rules of the corp of cadets. They must be able to recite this later in their training at a moment’s notice.

[Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 200, ƒ/4.8, 1/105]
The Apostle Paul talked a great deal about the importance of the Corp of Cadets. Well actually he called it being a part of the body of Christ.

Here is Paul’s letter to the Corinthians to get them to stop bickering and not working together.

1 Corinthians 12
One Body with Many Members
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[d] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,[e] yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.

And I will show you a still more excellent way.

You cannot be a leader or a follower if you are not a part of a community.

Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This week how will you be a part of the community of Christ? Who will you teach? What do you plan to learn? How will you serve?

It is August are you going back to school?

[Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 200, ƒ/11, 1/250 – Alienbees B1600 for fill flash]
It is back to school this week for college students and other schools in Georgia. Monday morning my drive in the morning took longer because all the school buses were out picking up children to take them to their first day of school.

In many ways this feels more like the beginning of a new year to me than New Year’s Day. There is such an excitement for everyone.

[Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/5.6, 1/1000]
It is something new because so many students are going to a new place. They are moving down the hall to the next grade wing or they are moving off to college.

[Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 200, ƒ/14, 1/250 – Alienbees B1600 for fill flash]
For most of my career I have been covering the back to school story and also helping private schools and colleges with the public relations and marketing materials.

[Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/5, 1/100]
We moved our daughter in last week to her college dorm. We are starting a new chapter in our lives now with our youngest off the college.

[Nikon D3, 70-200mm, ISO 1600, ƒ/2.8, 1/250]
The first part of our life for 18 years is where each fall we enroll in classes and then each spring we are tested on what we learned. If we prove we know the new material we then move on in life to the next rung on the ladder. Once you rise a few rungs up the ladder, life becomes easier.

[Nikon D3S, 14-24mm, ISO 4000, ƒ/2.8, 1/250]
Until you graduate high school most every year is planned out for you, with little options. You only need to navigate the halls of the school to get from one classroom to the next.

[Nikon D750, 28-300mm, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/100]
What about the rest of your life out of school? When you stop learning you stop living. You are only letting your mind and body start to slow down and finally quit on you.

“When did you become such a know it all?,” is something we have all heard, but really I am asking this question to myself as much as for you. If we stop learning haven’t we declared that we know it all?

[Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/6.4, 1/170]
Each year, maybe like now in August, pick something that you are going to learn more about. Maybe buy some books or take a class at the community college near you, but make a commitment to learn something new.

One of the best ways to learn is to travel. Even if it is just around your own city or town, go and explore. You get a lot more out of travel when you read about the places you plan to visit and study about what there is to do in those locations.

This year I learned about the Balkans. Last year I went to Togo, West Africa and Nicaragua to explore and learn about the people.

Every time I pick up a book, take a class, visit a new place I learn something new. I also most every time my previous knowledge is modified. You see learning more helps us to process what we already know in a new way.

[Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/5.6, 1/250]
While reading a book is learning, I suggest doing something with a group of people. The relationships you form bring a great deal of joy to the process of learning.

I love to teach photography and storytelling to groups. If you have a group of friends that just wants to learn how to get better photos of your friends and family I can teach you skills to elevate your photos.

If want to tell stories for a non-profit where you volunteer, I can help teach you how to capture the story more effectively to engage an audience.

No matter your age be sure you are going back to school this August.

Monday Devotional: Do you see the milk and honey or the difficulties?

[Fuji X-E2, Fuji 18-55mm, ISO 640, ƒ/5, 1/100]
It is back to the grindstone for many of this Monday. Are you excited or depressed about your day? I’ll be honest with you I am struggling. This is written for me as much as to share with you today.

If you are like me there are parts of your faith that just don’t make any sense at all. My problems are not with the facts within my faith about if something took place or not, but how do I deal with life right now.

Maybe you are like me and believe that God created you with unique skills and gifts that you believe has been part of why you are in your present vocation or feeling you to be led into a vocation.

The idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life.

But maybe like me you have experienced the eroding of opportunities to use your gifts in the work place. You may even have a job and just find yourself not appreciated or feeling as if you are not allowed to use your gifts.

I know many photographers that if they are not out shooting with the camera in hand they feel like they are not working. Freelancers often may go for a long time between assignments and during those times feel discouraged.

After all, isn’t this why I was created by God to do good works.

Ephesians 2:10
For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Now just look at how in the past the Jews dealt with their time in the desert when God spoke to Moses.

Numbers 13
1-2 God spoke to Moses: “Send men to scout out the country of Canaan that I am giving to the People of Israel. Send one man from each ancestral tribe, each one a tried-and-true leader in the tribe.” 

What I think is interesting is that when they returned and spoke to everyone they all were impressed with all the good they saw and then there is the big pause and reflection about how impossible it would be for them to take the land.

Numbers 13
26-27 They presented themselves before Moses and Aaron and the whole congregation of the People of Israel in the Wilderness of Paran at Kadesh. They reported to the whole congregation and showed them the fruit of the land. Then they told the story of their trip:
27-29 “We went to the land to which you sent us and, oh! It does flow with milk and honey! Just look at this fruit! The only thing is that the people who live there are fierce, their cities are huge and well fortified. Worse yet, we saw descendants of the giant Anak. Amalekites are spread out in the Negev; Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites hold the hill country; and the Canaanites are established on the Mediterranean Sea and along the Jordan.”
30 Caleb interrupted, called for silence before Moses and said, “Let’s go up and take the land—now. We can do it.”
31-33 But the others said, “We can’t attack those people; they’re way stronger than we are.” They spread scary rumors among the People of Israel. They said, “We scouted out the land from one end to the other—it’s a land that swallows people whole. Everybody we saw was huge. Why, we even saw the Nephilim giants (the Anak giants come from the Nephilim). Alongside them we felt like grasshoppers. And they looked down on us as if we were grasshoppers.”

If you read the entire story you will find that there were 12 sent out. One from each tribe. Only Caleb had the confidence that they could do it.

36-38 So it happened that the men Moses sent to scout out the land returned to circulate false rumors about the land causing the entire community to grumble against Moses—all these men died. Having spread false rumors of the land, they died in a plague, confronted by God. Only Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh were left alive of the men who went to scout out the land.

After this God wanted to wipe out them and start over. Once they understood how they let down God the people just wanted to go and take the land, but Moses stopped them. God was not with them, because they were not with God. Moses told them that God wanted them to keep all the commandments that God had given to them. After repenting and committing to following God were they able to take the promised land as promised.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 1250, ƒ/1.4, 1/100]
Are you experiencing a desert experience right now in your life. Do you feel like the Jews and feel like God had led you from a bad place to an even worse place. Are you now wanting to return to a place that you like the Jews would be like a slave to something?

God’s timing is not like our thoughts about timing. Today we might just need to do our chores and complete our responsibilities.

The one thing I love the most about Jesus was he boiled things down for my simple mind. What are we to do today?

Matthew 22:34-40
The Greatest Commandment
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In the broadest sense, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being”.


Where my inspiration comes from

[Nikon D5, Nikon 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/4000 – Alienbees B1600, Triggered with Pocketwizards]
When I took this photo I was doing all I could to capture the look of the musical Oklahoma! in Roswell, Georgia at a friends horse farm.

I didn’t get paid at all for this photo shoot. However, I put as much effort into it as I have done for any client. I wasn’t doing this for my portfolio and really wasn’t motivated for doing it for the school.

[Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/200 – Alienbees B1600 triggered by Pocketwizards]
I love my daughter so very much that I was doing all this for her. I was wanting her to have the best experience in high school theater as possible.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 400, ƒ/8, 1/320] photo by Dorie Griggs
I also didn’t do this alone. Dorie, my wife, and I have been doing this all through the years for all of our kids. Dorie was assisting me that day and together we were able to get a great banner for the photo.

I think the best motivation for any photograph centers around love. While we can show the joy of love through smiles we can also show the sorrow that comes from seeing one suffer in life.

Moving Chelle into her dorm room for the start of her freshman year at Columbus State University. She arrived early to participate in Camp Prowl a freshman experience and first year of the program.

Yesterday we took our daughter off to college where she will major in theater with a minor in dance and will get a teaching certificate as well. I feel like all those photos of her dance classes, orchestra performances, choral performances and theater productions let her know we supported her love of the arts.

As one with Asperger’s Syndrome I can tell you that Aspies do love. We just love in a different way. I do find myself experiencing lots of emotions, but will struggle more than most people on how to convey this to others. I have used photography to demonstrate to others how much I care.

Now I do realize that I still need to communicate using words as well, but this is much more difficult for me. I continue to work on it and am so blessed to have such a wonderful wife who has helped to bring me out of my shell and taught me how to interact with others.

Without the emotion of love as my motivator I could not produce some of my best work.

Don’t get sucked into thinking about photography as working with technology or you will develop a GAS problem. Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

Too many photographers forget that the 6 inches behind the view finder is more important than the 6 inches in front of it. The REAL KEY is to make the camera disappear to the audience, not the focus of the photograph.

[Nikon D100, Sigma 24-70mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 800, ƒ/2.8, 1/60]
Your inspiration must start somewhere. I found mine to start with my family. Today I am just reflecting on the time with my daughter since yesterday we turned the page. We are now in a new chapter of life with my daughter.

Maybe you feel frozen in your work. Maybe you are depressed or experiencing anxiety.

Whatever it is, at first it’s normal to feel rattled, frozen, or unclear about what to do. After awhile, you do what you can to change things for the better. But often there’s not much you can actually change, and sometimes nothing at all.

Still, there is always one thing you can do, no matter what.

You can always find someone to love.

Love feeds us as it flows out of us. Soothing, calming, centering, strengthening.

Screeching Red-tailed Hawk was my alarm clock today

Red-tailed Hawk in our backyard on our deck. [Fuji X-E2, Fuji 55-200mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/4.8, 1/400]
I woke up this morning to screeching in our backyard. Sometimes this is the squirrels and other times it is the chipmunks, but today it was this Red-tailed Hawk.

Let me walk you through this photo shoot that was more about reacting to the moment than having planned to be shooting a hawk this morning.

The photo at the top here is later when I was working on the photos in Adobe Lightroom when the hawk decided to get closer to food. Our bird-feeders where squirrels and small birds hang out around our deck.

Red-tailed Hawk in our backyard eating a squirrel. This one kept on screeching with another hawk nearby. [Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 sport, Sigma TC-2001, ISO 18000, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000] 
I first grabbed the closest camera and shot photos of the Red-tailed Hawk in the tree in our backyard eating a squirrel it had just caught. This was the Fuji X-E2. However, I quickly got my best camera to get this up close.

Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 Sport

I grabbed the Nikon D5 and put my Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 | S with a TC-2001 [2x converter] which gave me a 600mm ƒ/5.6 lens.

ExpoDisc EXPOD2-77 2.0 Professional White Balance Filter 77 mm, 82mm (Black)

By the way before I put the telephoto on the camera I put a 35mm lens and then did a custom white balance using my ExpoDisc. This helped me get the most accurate color under all the leaves and trees in our backyard.

I then quickly put this is my sports settings. I did this because I just needed to pick my custom settings where I had programed my camera for sports. Here is a blog post to walk you through it.

After shooting many photos I realized the hawk was staying until it was finished with the meal. This gave me some time to go and find a tripod, because I was hand holding the camera and lens up to this point.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 sport, Sigma TC-2001, ISO 900, ƒ/5.6, 1/200] 
Then I went to the Nikon shooting menu and picked normal. This let me shoot at ISO 900 versus ISO 18000. I lowered the shutter speed from 1/4000 to 1/200.

I continued to shoot photos looking for moments where I felt like I was capturing the hawk as I wanted to portray it to you.

Red-tailed Hawk in our backyard on our deck. [Fuji X-E2, Fuji 55-200mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/4.8, 1/400]
When it was sitting on the railing on our deck I watched as I think it was looking for a squirrel that was hiding under our gas grill.

Since I had put away the Nikon D5 and the Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 | S I grabbed the Fuji X-E2 with the 55-200mm attached and got just a few more shots before it flew away.


Most photographers are introverts and introverts need community

[Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/1000] photo by: Robin Rayne Nelson
I have taken many different personality tests and all of them have me somewhere on the introvert scale. Now some have me borderline extrovert, but never a strong extrovert.

On the Myers-Briggs test I am a INFP.

INFP personalities are true idealists, always looking for the hint of good in even the worst of people and events, searching for ways to make things better. While they may be perceived as calm, reserved, or even shy, INFPs have an inner flame and passion that can truly shine. Comprising just 4% of the population, the risk of feeling misunderstood is unfortunately high for the INFP personality type – but when they find like-minded people to spend their time with, the harmony they feel will be a fountain of joy and inspiration.

What I have found that while not all of my photojournalist friends are INFPs, many are introverts.

Being a freelancer and an introvert combination can make life extremely lonely. I know friends and family support me, but having someone who can fully relate is invaluable.

My Involvement with Groups

For most of my life I have been organizing small groups. While in high school I loved to play chess so I formed a club that met at my house.

Later I worked on the staff of the Southern Short Course, which at the time was the oldest photojournalism conference in the country based in North Carolina.

I also hung out with fellow photojournalists in my first job at the Hickory Daily Record.

When I went to work with Don Rutledge in Richmond, VA with The Commission Magazine we had people from all over the world coming in regularly to meet Don Rutledge and Joanna Pinneo. We often went to lunch and talked shop. This was one of the most rewarding times of my life where each week I was meeting with people in the same career as myself and passion for our work.

Left to Right: Jim Veneman, Bob Carey, Morris Abernathy, Louis Deluca, Ron London, & [Me] Stanley Leary
When I went to seminary we started the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference which has run for 25 years. Also during my time in Fort Worth, TX I was part of the Christians in Photojournalism group that met in the metro area.

I would later start a CIP group in Atlanta and then help transition this group to become FOCUS.

Yet all of these formal groups isn’t enough. I continued to join affinity groups because so much of my day is spent alone.

Start with just one person

Robin Rayne Nelson was the guest speaker at the Cherokee Camera Club in Canton, GA. Robin shared her passion for special needs and the LGBT community. [Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/25]
I can tell you without my close friends in the industry I could not have survived. Robin Nelson and I get together for coffee and talk about our story ideas.

Bill Bangham, Eugene Richards and Stanley Leary at the SWPJC. [Nikon Coolpix P7000, ISO 1600, ƒ2.8, 1/60]
Another close friend is Bill Bangham. Whenever we get together we just pickup from where we left off. So often these conversations today are on the phone since we live in different towns.

Ken Touchton and myself on a job.

Another good friend is Ken Touchton. Ken has given me some of the best business advice I have ever had throughout my career. Ken also challenges me all the time. When I first left a staff job and went freelance, Ken called me once a week to ask what I was doing and my plans. Then the following week he called to hold me accountable.

Vivian and Gary Chapman as well as Ken Touchton during one of our times together eating at a restaurant in Roswell, GA.

Another wonderful couple is Vivian and Gary Chapman. They have been good friends through the years. I often call Gary for advice and love how transparent Gary is about his work.

My mentor, coach and friend Don Rutledge. photo by Ken Touchton

The one person who really taught me to have an open door policy was Don Rutledge. He was open to meeting with anyone as long as he had time, or he would make time.

Don would take me to lunch with some of the most famous photographers and not so famous photographers as well. Ever person was treated equally. Don listened and asked questions. Don also loved to tell stories on himself where he screwed up. He taught me how to laugh at yourself.

What I hope to communicate today through this blog is that is is imperative to the successful photographer to be in community. Not just to participate in some meeting planned by others, but to go out of your way to plan those events for others as well.

I highly recommend joining a Facebook online group and not just troll the posts but actually contribute. Post photos, ask questions and contribute by commenting on other photographers posts. Create community.

Here are a few Facebook groups you might be interested in joining. Be sure you are a good fit. Don’t just try and join every group. Join those where you truly are amongst your people. If you are not a photojournalist then don’t join that group. Maybe join the Nikon or Canon group.

FOCUS – Fellowship of Communicators Uniting Socially 

Christians In Photojournalism (CIP)


Christian Photographers

Sony Alphas

Nikon D5

There are many other groups to join on Facebook. The cool thing is many of these groups organize events locally for you to participate. Besides joining a group then take the time to develop those closer relationships where you go to coffee or lunch with just one person.

If you are just going to see what you can get out of something you will not get very much at all out of anything. However, if you go to not just get something, but rather give then you have a better chance of benefiting. When someone tells you of their projects be sure and follow up and ask how their project is going. Ask to see it and offer constructive criticism if they are open to it.

Knolan Benfield in Hawaii with me helping teach posing to photography students with Youth With a Mission. (Photo by: Dennis Fahringer)

By the way the person who got me started in photography was my uncle Knolan Benfield. He worked with Don Rutledge as well and the two of them taught me so much and made it possible for me to be where I am today.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. – Mahatma Gandhi

No more fumbling through the camera bag for a lens


Working with photo assistants has taught me that you need to communicate clearly with them. Every photographer has a different system for doing things.

If you work with the same assistant all the time you are at an advantage to those of us who need to hire different assistants from time to time. I am not so busy that I have a full-time photo assistant.

One of the things I just did was to label my lenses in my camera bags. I had been researching different labeling systems for camera lenses and tried out LenzBuddy. They make a variety of front lens caps, rear lens caps and camera body caps.

I decided to put all the lenses into my ThinkTank Airport Security Roller Bag with the lens rear caps facing up.

I then ordered all the “Focal Length Only Custom Lens Cap – Rear” which cost $9.95 each. The official Nikon rear lens caps cost $14.82 on Amazon.

You can put your Logo or other custom design on and of their caps.

Just this week when I had my daughter as the photo assistant this helped a great deal. “Can you get me the 35mm?” was no longer a slow process for her to pull each lens out of the bag to find the one lens I needed.

Maybe you have been digging through your own bag of lenses labeled with a Sharpie on masking tape (or not at all) and realize how much this could help. I just think that whenever you can present yourself in front of the client as one who thinks of all the small details they will trust you even more with their details.


Simple one light setup to balance existing light

[Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 400, ƒ/1.4, 1/125–Alienbees B1600, Translucent Umbrella, Pocketwizard remotes]
My daughter helped me today on a photo shoot. Here she stood in for a test shot where I needed a key/main light due to the overhead skylight creating unpleasant light on her face.


Once I had my setup I just dialed the Pocketwizard AC-3 power up and down to balance the light in the room. I chose to make it about a stop brighter to be sure it was the main light on her face.

Next I just moved closer and tried a few angles with the Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4.

After exploring my options for later, I then took my second Nikon D5 and put the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G lens on it and did a few more shots for angles. Now the reason it is on a second body is it would be much faster to change cameras than lenses.

[Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8, ISO 200, ƒ/1.8, 1/60–Alienbees B1600, Translucent Umbrella, Pocketwizard remotes]
Again I then tried a few different angles and compositions.

My gear for this photo shoot:

Nikon D5

Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8

Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4

Alienbees B1600







Pocketwizard TT5 & TT1 kit

Pocketwizard AC-9

Pocketwizard AC-3

Manfrotto 5001B 74-Inch Nano Stand

Westcott 2001 43-Inch Optical White Satin Collapsible Umbrella

Drew Gibson Country-Blues Song-Writer

Drew Gibson plays at The Crimson Moon in Dahlonega, GA with Dave Hadley playing the steel guitar. [Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/45]
Last night we drove up to Dahlonega, GA to see one of my wife’s friends from her college days in Richmond, VA play at The Crimson Moon.

Drew Gibson plays a country-blues style of music. He writes all of his music.

[Fuji X-E2, 55-200mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/3.8, 1/100]
His latest album is 1532, which is about his late father and his family. I believe when artists start to deal with those raw emotions that they experience in things like losing of a loved one they are able to unleash their emotions.

[Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/70]
Musicians often create a vibe with their music that draws others in since this often resonates with their audiences emotions as well.

While listening I felt like the photos I was taking from my seat just didn’t capture all the emotions I wanted to capture. I went outside and saw this in front of The Crimson Moon and could see Drew and Dave playing through the window.

[Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/90]
Shooting through the window created this barrier between me and the musicians. The reflections in the window were from outside the coffee shop.

Often this is how I think we listen to music. We hear the music of the artist and at the same time we are reflecting on our own lives. The experience of the event creates this hybrid of our worlds colliding.

[Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/25]
When I came back into the restaurant I wanted to capture the guests all relaxed and listening. I wanted to pickup on the mood of the place itself.

I took a few photos from different parts of the room to give more context to the small venue in Dahlonega.

[Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/80]
Too often people get a tunnel vision and just continue to shoot from the same spot with the same lens. It maybe a great composition and the best angle, but it isn’t the only angle.

Move around and find those different perspectives.

[Fuji X-E2, 18-55mm, ISO 400, ƒ/3.6, 1/500]
If you are wanting to experience a similar concert as I did, then go to The Crimson Moon website for list of concerts.

You can find out more about Drew Gibson on his website as well.

This is song about Drew’s Mother Betty Jane from the album.

Here is another song by Drew, “When the Vinyl Scrapes”.