Variety is the spice of life

12
Preparing for the assignment

When I am asked to cover an event I try to think of it like telling a story.  So there are 7 things I try to always have in my coverage.  What I discovered just this week that my friend Mark Sandlin, Director of Photography for Southern Living, uses this same list.  Actually this is the list all photojournalists have drilled into them.

13
Mark Sandlin, Director of Photography at Southern Living.

  1. Opener: Sets the scene for the story
  2. Decisive moment: The one moment that can by itself tell the story
  3. Details: Besides being like visual candy to the story, help often with transitions–especially in multimedia packages
  4. Sequences: give a little variety to a situation
  5. High overall shot: Gives a good perspective to how the elements all fit together
  6. Closer: Besides the classic shot of the cowboy riding off into the sunset there are other visual ways to help bring the story to a close
  7. Portraits: These photos are great for introducing the characters of the story

This is coverage of an annual meeting where the investors are brought in and the company gives them an overview of what they have done and where they are going.

One thing I am working really hard to do is make each photo have impact to draw the viewer in.  I use light, angles, composition and most important expressions of people to engage the viewer.  I wanted my photos to help this company communicate they are vibrant and viable in today’s market.

1
This photo is to show how the attendees could interact with the leadership team. I wanted to show them engaging in conversation, so I shot a few to finally capture not just a good expression, but use the environment to draw you in.  If you notice even the lady in the mural seems to be paying attention to the conversation in the foreground.
2
Details for me are a way to just have fun. I am looking for unique angles, color and light to help create impact and entertain the audience. 

3
A high angle is usually successful today because it is unique to our everyday lives.  Seldom are we tall enough to see this angle, so it looks different than you just walking around.  Even the lady in this mural is looking from above to see what is below.

4
The man to the far right is the CEO and while he will be on stage later in more formal roles, I like to show him more relaxed and approachable.  I am using the lines from the window to help draw you into the picture.  I want you to see the conversation first in the foreground and then you should drift to the background.  This just keeps you engaged.

5
While you can see everyone on the panel and I always shoot the obvious, it isn’t as compelling to me as some other angles below here.  But I always need to be sure everyone on the panel is well seen in one photo in case they need this.

6
As a panelist responds to the question you will find often that the rest of the panel may or may not be engaged. 

7
In this photo the CEO is the focus point and while the other panelist are not looking directly at him you can see from their expressions and slight turning of their heads to catch what he is saying as showing they are engaged.

8
PowerPoint presentations can be really difficult to capture the slide and the speaker in one photo. Thank goodness they had a spotlight on the speaker and had it balanced. The reason it was balanced it was being webcast live.  If you organize an event like this–always have a spot light on the speaker to make them not disappear into the dark.

9
While this isn’t a really close-up portrait, I think in this situation it is a nice portrait of him working.

10
As I mentioned before they were putting this live on the web and I have a photo that can help say that for them.

11
Another high overall shot to help tell another part of the story.

The decisive moment photo should be the one that used alone and not part of the package could tell the story.  Which of the ones above did you see that would work for you?

Did you notice the sequence of the panel?  Now the hard part is often a closer.  Sometimes you don’t have an ending.  This is because you want to communicate there was so much to see you want to leave the audience visually craving for more rather than wrapping it up to say well that is everything.

I suggest sitting down before you arrive to shoot a story and think through all that you have been told about the assignment and make a list.  Write down on a notepad that you will carry with you the outline of the 7 shots.  Under each one list a couple of options for each one.

As you shoot your story, check off the photos that you get.  Use your notepad to get names of people for the captions.

Once you have everything checked off on your list don’t stop shooting.  I continue to shoot more photos, but now I may be looking more and taking fewer shots.  I am cherry picking the moments that I think will be better moments than I already have.

I want to thank my friend Mark Sandlin for reminding me of what I do at every assignment so that I could share this with you.

By the way Mark said he wished he had said one more thing to those attending the class.  He wanted to say “if you haven’t made any mistakes, you are trying hard enough.”

Choose the right moment or communicate the wrong message with your photos

Photographers have the opportunity to show how engaging subjects are in their environments. You can show how animated and interesting the subject is by himself or herself as in figure 1.

1
Figure 1

You can show how passionate a person is and how those around her are being polite but not really engaged as in this photo in figure 2.

2
Figure 2

If you wait and shoot enough you will most likely find another moment that shows that those present are interested in the subject like in figure 3.

3
Figure 3

You don’t always need to see faces of people around the subject to show they are listening and engaged. You can tell they are facing the person and the subject engages the photo audience as well as the audience for the subject.

4
Figure 4

While this person from the audience wants to ask this panel a question, I chose a moment where those around him helped communicate a little about his personality from their expressions.

6
Figure 5

Compare figure 6 to figure 7 and you can see that those around the subject give you a tone of the question being asked by their body language and face expressions.

7
Figure 6

Sometimes you can show the audience alone’s reaction to a question to the panel from a subject that gives you a feel for the moment.

8
Figure 7

Just a photo of John Doe says something and the moment you click the shutter you are deciding a great deal about what you communicate. If you have a variety of moments you may be able to pick the moment that best depicts the tone and message the best way. If you have few to pick from you may actually have a photo that might be better not used because it runs counter to the message you are trying to communicate.

Are you aware of what communication is going on in your photos?

Which photos would you use?

perplexed
Figure 1 – I like the body language of the student taking a biology test.  I also like that the background with the body parts is behind her.  The dish in front has tissue she is having to identify.

Sometimes the only way is to show folks. I believe many of my clients hire me over and over because of what I deliver as compared to my competition.

I want you to look at these situations and see the before and after treatment that I often do with lighting to give my clients a choice.  I often will shoot available light and many times I find that adding a light to part of the scene can enhance the photo.

interacting
Figure 2 The student seems more engaged than the student in Figure 3 and interested in the subject due to her pointing with the pen to the different parts of tissue.
lacking
Figure 3 While this student maybe be thinking about the parts like the lady in Figure 2 she is not visually showing the same interest in the subject.

Lighting can help create a mood.  The client sometimes isn’t sure what look they are going for in terms of mood, so I give them some choices.

disinterest
Figure 4 With her hands by her side and not on the paper like the student in Figure 5 she looks at a loss for the topic.

interested
Figure 5 The one eye engaged with the model, lips are tight, the fingers tightly grasping the pencil all are communicating she is in control of this content.

Which of these did you like the best and why? You can comment on them below. I would be interested in your thoughts as to which one you might choose and why?

available2
Figure 6 Shooting with just the room lights.
available
Figure 7 Adding flash and colors to the room.

flash
Figure 8 Adding a flash to the women helps to separate them from their surroundings.

no flash
Figure 9 You eye is not as drawn the to subjects as in Figure 8 since their faces are in the shadows.

a
Figure 10 Good color and pop is achieved with a flash off camera.

c
Figure 11 The subject is more like a silhouette and faceless as compared to Figure 10.

1
Figure 12 The whole room was given a boost of light with the flash to give a greater dynamic range which makes the color pop.

22
Figure 13 With just the light in the room the subjects have strong back lighting from the window which causes a flair which diminishes the colors.
23
Figure 14 With flashes raising the light value on the subjects and less light on the background, helps direct the viewer to what they are doing and increase the pop factor.
conductor
Figure 15 The stage lighting on the conductor makes him standout against the darker house lights in the background.

sac
Figure 16 A flash is used on this back lit subjects to draw your attention to their faces.

Go back and look closely at the color and compare those with flash and the one without flash.  Do the ones with flash have much punch and color?  I think so, but do you see it?

Why are you here?

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

— Ephesians 2:10

focus
Fellowship Of Christians United in Service, Hamilton, GA

“Stanley, why were you created?” is a question I remember being asked by my grandfather Rev. Knolan Benfield. 
My grandfather then quoted Ephesians 2:10 to me and let me know I was created to do good works. 
I believe one of the greatest movements in my lifetime has been volunteerism.  I saw this movement start in the late 60’s for me.
As a child I remember professional missionaries speaking to churches where they helped raise support. Most of the missionaries were all college graduates who often had masters and doctorate degrees in things like theology, law, agriculture and medicine.

measuring
Student marks the board to be cut as part of a roof repair for an elderly woman’s house in Hamilton, Ga.
These missionaries felt called to give of their lives in service around the world.  They prepared through education so they would be well qualified to do the work in a different culture.  They would go to language school and learn to speak a foreign language.
raking
Students clean the landscaping of Fellowship Of Christians United in Service offices in Hamilton, Ga.
Loren Cunningham started Youth With A Mission in the 60s when the mainline church thought that unskilled youth should not be encouraged to do short term mission’s projects.  It took a while to grow the concept to today.  YWAM currently has over 16,049 full-time volunteer workers in nearly 1,100 operating locations in 171 nations and trains 25,000 short-term missions volunteers annually.  It is a movement still growing and thriving today.
Former U. S. President Jimmy Carter got involved with Habitat for Humanity in 1984.  Habitat for Humanity is devoted to building “simple, decent, and affordable” housing using primarily volunteers.

cutting
IMPACT 360 student cuts board for roof repair in Hamilton, Ga.
Pay it Forward is a movie produced in 2000 about a 11 ½ boy’s response to school assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world for the better.  Most folks feel like they need to give back to those who help them, but this boy’s concept is to Pay it Forward and creates a movement.
This past weekend I photographed college students who are in a gap year program in Pine Mountain, GA doing a service project. One of the appealing things about this college program is the service component and students are seeking ways to Pay it Forward in their communities.
John and Trudy White founded the college gap year program called IMPACT 360.  Trudy is the daughter of Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A. One of the cornerstones of Chick-fil-A is based on biblical principle of service.
It’s the same way with the Son of Man. He didn’t come so that others could serve him. He came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people.

— Matthew 20:28

widow watches
Elderly woman watches as the IMPACT 360 students and alumni put in stairs to her home in Hamilton, Ga.
The students each year enjoy their time of service and after they graduate they come back for alumni weekends to work alongside the current students in service projects.
Are you living up to your purpose—doing good works?

How to capture better color with your camera

glare
Reflections in hood and glass
no glare
Polarizing filter eliminates reflections
“I’ll fix that in post,” is the mantra for so many photographers.  As long as you get the best possible exposure and shoot in the RAW mode of your camera there is a great deal that you can correct in the postproduction.  However, there is one thing that cannot be fully corrected that needs attention before you push that shutter release.
If you shoot RAW rather than JPEG you can change the color temperature much easier and more precisely in the postproduction.  For example when you open the photo in either PhotoShop or Lightroom the RAW image will give you a pull down menu that is similar to the white balance menu built into the camera.  You can pick Auto, tungsten, fluorescent, daylight, flash or custom white balance settings.  If you shoot JPEG these options are not available.
So, the mantra for the RAW shooter of, “I will fix that in post” can be done as far as white balance.  The problem with being able to correct a photo after the fact can give you the false sense of security that everything is fixable in post.
If you miss the exposure even in raw you can adjust the exposure in post, but the results will not be stellar.  Correct exposure will give you more dynamic range in the RAW image than one poorly exposed.
I recommend before you press the shutter to take the photo to do a custom white balance with your camera.  This is where you tell the camera the perfect white balance in that setting. 
expodisc
ExpoDisc is used to get a incident “white balance”
grey card
Grey card is used to get a reflective “white balance”
There are different devices to help you set the custom white balance.  I use the ExpoDisc as my primary device.  This is a device you put on your lens like a filter, stand in the place of the subject and point the lens back towards the direction of either the light or the camera.  This is called an incident reading.
Another great and inexpensive way to set your white balance is a grey card.  This is a 15% grey card that is calibrated to give you what would be the absolute middle tone in your histogram.  You put this where the subject is and filling the frame with nothing but the grey you set your camera to it.  The card is facing the direction of the camera.  This is called a reflective reading.  
If you take time to get a custom white balance you will save this step in postproduction and increase the accuracy of the color in your photos.
no glare2
Polarizing filter diminishes the glare in foliage
glare2
Without the polarizing filter you have glare in foliage
One thing that is not correctable in post is glare.  This is often everywhere in a photo.  The polarizing filter is the best way to correct for this flaw in photos.
Often fishermen wear polarizing sunglasses so they can see below the surface of the water and see the fish.  It helps cut the glare of the light on the surface of the water to see the fish below.

Polarizing sunglasses also help those operating motor vehicles.  The glare from the dashboard, hood and road can be removed with the polarizer.

The polarizing filter fits onto the lens of the camera and after it is attached the photographer rotates the filter while looking through the camera lens is able to decide how much of the glare they want to remove from a scene.  
Besides water and driving conditions glare is everywhere.  The landscape photographer uses the polarizing filter to improve the color of foliage.  Leaves and grass often have glare that a polarizer helps to remove and give a richer color that is not possible to correct in postproduction.
There is one more thing that a polarizer does besides cut glare, but this is a little tricky to grasp.  The polarizer can give you a darker sky, but this depends on the direction you are pointing your camera in relationship to the sun.  Only ½ the sky can be darkened.  Without going to a long explanation, you just need to rotate the filter to see what part of the sky is affected.  If it gets darker then you know it is working and if it doesn’t get darker it isn’t working.
The one thing you want to be careful about when using the polarizer is if the sky in part of the photo is in the area that will darken and some of the sky is in the area that will not darken in the same photo.  
When you listen to the weather report you often hear them talk about humidity.  This is how much water is in the air.  Humidity can be something a polarizer can help with as well.  The water in the air can add to the glare.  Using the polarizer can help in this situation.  The lower the humidity the richer the color because there is less interference between the lens and subject.  Where you will see this the most is in the sky.  In dry climates the sky will almost be black with a polarizer.
I highly recommend you own a polarizer and use it to improve your photos—because postproduction will not fix what it will.

Students have access to superstars

photo1
Sergej Krylov and Arild Remmereit talk to the students from Elkins Point Middle School orchestra and band. Next to Sergej is his Stradivari “Scotland University” (1734) from the Sau-Wing Lam Collection, courtesy of “Fondazione A. Stradivari” in Cremona. (photo by: Stanley Leary)

Having kids give us a great excuse, if we need one, to take them places we want to go. Parents of kids get to enjoy children’s movies that they may feel awkward going to alone. We get to go to places like Disney World.

Sometimes kids have advantages to give us access to adult subject matter.  This is what happened last Friday night with our daughter.

Seth Gamba is my daughter’s orchestra teacher who organized group ticket sale for the students and parents to see the Atlanta Symphony.  Friday night was special because of guest violin soloist Sergej Krylov and last minute bonus of guest conductor Arild Remmereit.
 

photo2
Students, parents and teachers from Elkins Middle School enjoy listening to the artists answer their questions. (photo by: Stanley Leary)

At first you might think the “discounted ticket” was what excited me, but really it was what happened after the concert.

Seth Gamba had asked if the soloist violinist and the conductor would talk to the students after the concert.  They graciously stayed after the event and the students sat on the first 2 rows of the symphony hall for question and answer time.

You could see the faces of the students paying close attention to these superstars.  The parents I think were just as excited and also asked questions.

photo3
Arild Remmereit talks about his journey from the time of the student’s age to now. The students got to hear how his path was different than of Sergej Krylov’s. Arild’s mother made him take piano, which he wasn’t fond of at that time and had to practice 5 minutes a day.  Sergej took from his parents and practiced for 6 hours a day as a young 5 year old. (photo by: Stanley Leary)

The lesson is simple—as a student you have access that is difficult later in life to get. Professionals are very excited about talking about their work and answering questions to students.

If you have children be sure you are aware of the opportunities that the community has for them that give them access to “superstars” and go with them.  If you don’t have children—volunteer to help youth programs and by doing so you will not just get an opportunity to tag along to meet superstars you are one for giving of your time.

photo4
I seized the opportunity to thank Seth Gamba by offering to photograph him with the conductor and violinist. Follow the lead of Seth Gamba and organize an outing for the students you know to get access to professionals and artists–you will be glad you did. (photo by: Stanley Leary)

Measuring your efforts of marketing

Do you know your ROI—Return On Investment?  While often we can use this to measure a financial purchase for your work—like a new camera or lens you need to also look at your time.
Let me talk about four things I do to connect with customers and potential customers.
front
Front of my latest postcard
Postcards
First of all this is one of my first things I used to get my images into people’s hands outside of sitting down and showing my portfolio.  My friend Tony Messano helped me with a template to use.  Tony also gave me some great insight into using postcards.
back
back of the postcard
“Everyone has one good photo in them,” Tony would say, “so put some other photos on the backside of the same shoot to show how much variety you deliver—it will help set you apart.”
I have purchased and created a database of names that at one point was close to 6,500 names.  With the poor economy this has shrunk to 4,700 names.  I need to work on this as well.
I mail the postcards quarterly and sometime have gotten behind.  The advantage of these verses using email is the person has to touch the card before it goes into the wastebasket.
My hope is that it gets pinned on the wall with other examples the art directors keep.
newsletter
e.Newsletter
I have been sending this out for many years now on a monthly basis.  Sometimes I was excited about a new topic and sent out more than one a month.  This has proven very helpful.  I give away photography advice and tips I am picking up.  I am no longer just a photographer but considered an expert, because of my sharing of my knowledge.
This does pretty good and I can track it to see who looked at the email, whereas the postcard I just put out there.
website
My Website
Website
This to me is my online portfolio and more.  The main reason I have it is for those folks looking for a photographer can maybe find me and see my work and based on what they see hire me.
This is a very static way to market.  I use my postcards, emails, Facebook, Find a Photographer links on National Press Photographers Association and American Society of Media Photographers to drive people to my website.
Besides the photos it also has all my e.Newsletters, videos, bio and links to make it more of a resource tool for folks that visit.
I can track the number of visitors to the website using Google Analytics.  Here is a sample of the last month of visitors.
google analytics
Google Analytics
Blog
The largest traffic I get daily is my blog.  I am posting 3 or more times a week similar things that I used to only send as an e.Newsletter.  Blogs are not like spam in the people chooses to revisit and often will subscribe to get emails so they know when I have posted new material.
The number of folks coming to my blog each day and month are 10 to 20 times that of any other thing I do.
Here you can see the analytics showing the past month.
blog
Blog Analytics
Summary
You cannot pick just one of these to do.  All of them help each other and build my brand.  I ask folks when they call to book me where they found me and believe it or not all of them are getting me jobs.  But the one thing I hear the most often is after they discover me and go to my website they are impressed with the depth of material there that can help them.
Use Google Analytics or something similar to track visitors to your website, blog and e.Newsletters and you will know your ROI score.

I always travel with a tripod

tripod
Gitzo GT-0531 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber tripod
I always try and have a tripod with me at all times.  Finding a sturdy tripod was pretty easy to do.  However, once you start to fly and carry your tripod through airports worldwide you quickly will look for something much lighter.
Carbon fiber has high tensile strength, low weight, and low thermal expansion make it a perfect solution to make tripods strong durable and lightweight.  So a few years ago I researched and tried a few tripods before buying my Gitzo GT-0531 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber tripod. 
Weighing only 1.6 lbs, 20.9” tall folded, extends to a height of 51.6″ and can go as low as 10.6” with legs spread. 
folded
Folded
When looking for a tripod the smaller it is folded and then combined with a really tall height when expanded will make a tripod cost more.  The carbon fiber cuts the weight by 1/3 as compared to a similar tripod made of metal.
ballhead
Manfrotto 492 Micro Ball Head
This tripod doesn’t come with a head.  I liked ball heads and needed again something small yet strong.  I bought the Manfrotto 492 Micro Ball Head.
This combination fits in a small carry on bag and keeps my camera steady when I need it.  

Want to be a full-time freelancer?

This is an article written for Shuttterbug magazine a couple years ago and after being called for another interview I revisited what was written and think the tips apply today.

Take a moment and read it and give me your feedback in the comments below.

Click on picture to go to the article where you can read it online or print out the PDF on your printer.

shutterbug article

What will they buy? —Not what do I have to sell?

 
1
Are you selling prints, DVDs and digital files or are you selling the memories you capture?
Too often photographers look only at the cost of making a photo—pushing the button.  In the days of film many of these same photographers would try and sell a 25¢ piece of paper.  Both then and now these photographers miss the point—the medium is only a vehicle. 
Photographers of people sell moments.  The better the photographer is able to raise the feelings in the beholder’s mind the monetary value of that image is increased. 
The door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman isn’t selling appliances—he is selling a clean house.
The key for photographers is to realize they are not selling pictures, but what those pictures capture.  Even in advertising photos of products, the great photos help capture a mood and create a craving with the audience in some way. 
Photography has five stages in selling
1.    Attention
2.    Interest
3.    Desire
4.    Need
5.    Action
You need to in some way have their attention first.  There are many ways to get this. One of the best ways is through a referral from a happy customer. This is based on relationships.  The relationship you as a photographer have built with a client and the excitement they have and want to share you with their friends is by far in my book the best way to get someone’s attention.
Great images will also get someone’s attention.  These are often done through your advertising.  You must get your work in front of someone to get his or her attention.
The next step is creating an interest in your product. Your referral will use their testimonial to help you create interest.  They will tell their friends about how you impressed them in some way. 
Many photographers may have celebrities in their portfolio, some photographers have exotic locations and as you can see these things create an interest in the photographer and their work. 
This interest should lead to desire. This is where they start to inquire and want to know more and are engaged with you.  You have to move them from seeing you as a commodity; otherwise they will just look for another photographer.  You have to establish a real need for your services. This is where your ability to demonstrate to them how you are the best choice for them. This may be how you communicate your ability to take care of them and you might demonstrate this by just how attentive you are in the sales process. 
Questions for yourself:
·      Did you offer them something to drink?
·      Did you listen and ask thoughtful questions based on what you heard them say? 
·      Did you have good eye contact with them?
·      Did your greet them with a genuine smile?
·   Are you conscious of their time and clear and succinct in your answers to their questions?
If you established your ability to meet their need then it is on to action. The client wants to sign the contract and hand you the money to make it happen. If you find you are seldom getting to this stage where the client is taking the initiative to close the sale for you—then a real need for “you” was never established.  You are being seen as a commodity and that someone else can fill the need as well as you.