If I had to start over today

I would recommend for most people to invest in a mirrorless camera system. I would not recommend starting with the Nikon FM2 that I first started my professional career shooting.

Nikon Z6 with Sigma 24-105mm ƒ/4

Depending on when you ask me in my career what I would recommend the market is very different. With that said there are core things that do not change.

Cut Expenses

Start with basic gear. You don’t need the top end model camera. Today’s most basic camera will do just about all you need. The only thing I would think a little about is if you are doing photography and video then you would want to go with a camera that also had headphone and microphone jacks.

Food, Shelter & Transportation are needs, but if you are not careful you can be living beyond your means. Remember you are starting out and so keep all these to the bare minimums. Drive a cheap car, get a roommate and eat at home as much as possible.

Know what everything costs. You need to know exactly what you need to meet your bills. I like to budget by the month. I know exactly what I need to pay my monthly expenses. This is your personal budget, but you also need to know your business budget. To get these numbers NPPA has a really good Cost of Doing Business Calculator. Here is that link: https://nppa.org/calculator There are little “i” in a circle on each item. Click on that to learn more about each item.

Gear

  • Camera
  • 2 lenses
  • 5 in 1 reflector
  • Hot Shoe flash, Light Stand and umbrella
  • Memory Cards, batteries
  • Computer and Lightroom

You don’t need a lot. I would probably recommend having a second camera. This is more for backup than anything else. The rule is always have 2 cameras for any job that cannot be rescheduled.

You need a basic website. I recommend WordPress. I have it hosted with Godaddy. Create a domain name. Use this with your email address as well.

Get a business card. I would have your name, phone number, email and website domain name on the card.

Find your niche. I would start with headshots and family photos. You need very little gear and your network already exists.

Too many go after niche that requires a lot of gear. Sports is a great example. To compete in this area you need expensive telephoto lenses. The downside is the going rates for sports is one of the lowest in the industry.

Don’t try and market yourself for everything, but if someone calls then of course take the job. Just don’t over reach. Start small and realize you need to spend most of your time cold calling.

KISS for portraits

Alexia Shepherd [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85] 

When you are changing lighting setups or camera settings you are not able to pay attention to expressions. Trying to give a lot of variety with lighting setups may not be the best approach.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid

It takes a lot more skill to get great face expressions than it takes to change a lighting setup. You have to build trust with the person. You have to have a connection with them so that together you can capture the true essence of the subject.

Alexia Shepherd [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85] 

I do super minor lighting changes so that I can spend more time on getting lots of expressions.

One thing I do with my setup is just change the background from a grey to a white background.

I can pause just for a moment and turn on or off the two lights behind my white muslin background. Off I get a nice neutral grey. The light from the beauty dish is what is lighting the background and my subject.

When I have my background lights on they are giving me one stop more light than I have set on the subject. This gives me a really clean white background.

Chance Wills [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85] 

I love to shoot 50 to 100 images before I change the background.

Chance Wills[NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85] 

I encourage people to bring a couple of outfits. It is amazing to me how much wardrobe change impacts the final photo.

Will Oliver [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85] 

Changing from a low-key photo to a high-key photo also can help change the mood of the photo.

Will Oliver [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85] 

My tip is to pick one outfit and shoot a lot. Go for 100 photos without changing lighting. background or clothing. Then just change the background and repeat. After you have done that, then change outfits and shoot again.

Make the emphasis of the portrait/headshot session about getting an expression. Go past the extremes of sadness and joy. Then try and shoot all the nuances of expressions.

Chance Wills [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85] 

Don’t forget to get verticals and horizontal photos.

Andrew Mozingo [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4.5, 1/125, Focal Length = 85]

Most of all remember the thing that makes a great headshot is EXPRESSION!!!

Andrew Mozingo [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4.5, 1/125, Focal Length = 85]

It is much easier to get a pleasant and real expression if you have pushed the limits of expressions first.

Andrew Mozingo [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4.5, 1/125, Focal Length = 85]

What you can learn from actors

I believe there is such a thing as over directing a person during a head shot/portrait session.

I love working with actors because they want to use their skills and rarely get to do that with photographers during a head shot.

Maggie Cook [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85]

Before I get a really intimate and what I would call transparent moment with a subject they have to be really relaxed and comfortable with me.

Maggie Cook [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85]

One of my techniques I use is to ask “actors” to give me as many face expressions as you can in 30 seconds. Those just starting out in acting often will struggle, but for those who love to perform and do a variety of characters this is like a psychogenic ‘trip’. They are Thrill-Seekers whose risk is being perceived as being weird or off.

So “pushing the envelope” or “pushing the limits” means to test the boundaries of what is safe or acceptable in a given situation, by exceeding those boundaries.

Macy Frazier [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4.5, 1/160, Focal Length = 85]

Once I have gone with them on this journey of letting them perform and risky expressions, they tend to let me in.

They are able to tap into their emotions and let me see them through their eyes and on their faces.

Timothy Villalovas [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4.5, 1/125, Focal Length = 85]

For me the hardest type of photos to get with people is one where their personality is being projected.

Katy Johnson [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4.5, 1/125, Focal Length = 85]

Even the smile photos are more genuine and inviting than had I not gone through asking them to give me all their expressions.

I just spend my time slowly adjusting the heads so that the light works best a that their expressions are captured in the most effective way. That might mean I lower an raise the camera angle to their eyes.

I work hard at getting rid of things like double chins.

Will Oliver [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, ISO 50, ƒ/4, 1/160, Focal Length = 85]

The way I like to think of getting a great expression is that you need to have the subject go past the acceptable moment to an extreme.

My role is to create a safe environment where it is OK to try any expression with the goal being that by pushing the limits we are able to be truly transparent. This is when great moments can happen.

How do you get to the next level?

  1. Educate Yourself. Have a goal in mind. …
  2. Move From Thinking to Doing. …
  3. Face Your Fear. …
  4. Embrace Your Challenge. …
  5. Avoid Procrastination. …
  6. Adapt a “No Failure” Attitude. …
  7. Create a positive environment.

Know your audience

Look carefully at these first two photographs. What is similar and what is different?

[NIKON D5, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, ISO 7200, ƒ/7.1, 1/250]

They are the same church on the same day. The difference is the church has two types of worship services.

8:45 a.m. Contemporary Service 8:45 a.m. Dunwoody United Methodist Church [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 2000, ƒ/5.6, 1/100]

The very first photo is from the 8:45 a.m. Contemporary Worship Service and the second is from the 11:05 a.m. Traditional Worship Service. They went to great lengths to make transforming of their large sanctuary from a traditional church to a contemporary space. They have fabric that covers all the walls to keep the Rock Style band music from bouncing around too much in the space to allowing the traditional Choir to reverberate during the traditional service.

11:05 a.m. Traditional Service Dunwoody United Methodist Church [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 1400, ƒ/5.6, 1/100]

The senior pastor speaks at both services.

Senior Pastor Dan Brown, Contemporary Service Dunwoody United Methodist Church [NIKON D5, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 5600, ƒ/5.6, 1/100]

There is a little difference in the two other than just his dress code.

Senior Pastor Dan Brown, Traditional Service Dunwoody United Methodist Church [NIKON D5, 28.0-300.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 4000, ƒ/5.6, 1/250]

Just six years ago the church added a contemporary service that met in their gym. It is now the best attended service and needed more space. This is why they converted their largest space to accommodate the group.

Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church

One of the largest churches in America, North Point Community Church, is nearby. Many churches lost members to this church because of the style of worship and sermons.

When Andy Stanley started the church in November of 1995 they intentionally created a new format and wanted to be different than all the churches in the area. Andy said, “Atlanta does not need another church. What Atlanta does need is a safe environment where the unchurched can come and hear the life-changing truth that Jesus Christ cares for them and died for their sins.” So began North Point Community Church.

Andy understood the audience better than most at the time for Atlanta in 1995.

WHY CHURCHES ARE DYING AND DECLINING FASTER TODAY

Slow response to change as change accelerates all around us. Many churches are incredibly slow to change. For most of our American history, the pace of cultural and technological change was sufficiently paced for churches to lag only five to ten years. Now churches are lagging 20 and 30 years as the pace of change increases dramatically. To many attendees and members, the church thus seems increasingly irrelevant. To be clear, I am speaking about issues of style, methodology, and awareness, not changing doctrine or biblical truths. A church guest I recently interviewed said it clearly: “I stuck with my parents’ church as long as I could. But when we had a big blow up over projection screens in the worship center, I had enough. I wanted to go to a church where matters of minutia were not issues to fight over.”

Thom Rainer

I believe that the church isn’t the only organization that has to do a better job of understanding their audience. Journalism has suffered a great deal because they have lost touch with their audience.

Like the churches that are growing the content should not change, but rather the issues of style, methodology and awareness needs to change.

Today communicators need to do a better of getting to know their audience. While you must master the subject to communicate it, just as importantly you must put as much attention to the understanding of the audience.

One of the largest problems most people have with anything they create is they think people will just discover them. Well the smart ones know you have to advertise and appeal to the needs of that audience to engage them.

I know that some of the most successful organizations are those who have created a fictitious family/customer. This family represents the median of the bell curve of that community.

I have listened to writers and editors arguing over why Sam and Sally [fictitious couple] would be interested in a story.

If you cannot tell me why a story you are working on is necessary for those in your audience to see, then the odds of anyone reading it are not good.

You have to tell people how this information can impact their lives. Surprisingly I have been shocked when people show me their work in journalism and I ask why they did a story that they cannot tell me why the audience needs to know about it.

If you know your audience as well as you know your subject you will not have to worry about a Plan “B”.

Meet Storyteller Hannah Bohrer

I walked over to Hannah Bohrer and asked her about her story. The night before she had met her subject of the story Marlen Talledo.

Marlen and Hannah at the premier showing of the videos. [Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, ISO 3200, ƒ/6.3, 1/60]

Hannah was really moved by Marlen’s story. You can see when Marlen showed up for the event we had for the community to see the videos we had been working on our last night in Lima that Hannah was excited to see Marlen.

When we were working with Hannah on the story she was passionate about the content and all that she had learned about Marlen’s story.

Hannah talks with Pat Davison about her story. [Canon EOS 7D, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, ISO 3200, ƒ/4, 1/60]

One of the hardest things each of the students struggled with and through was the cutting their videos down in time.

Andrea Carhuachîn helped translate Hannah’s video. Andrea lives in Peru and is in college studying communications and joined our workshop for the week as a translator. [Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, ISO 1600, ƒ/4.5, 1/60]

There were a few criteria for which we made our decisions. First the missionaries picked people whose lives were changed by a particular ministry. We did stories on the seminary, a radio station and the prenatal center.

Marlen Talledo is the director of Centro Prenatal Vida Nueva [english “New Life Prenatal Center”] and if the content didn’t help tell the story of how the Prenatal center changed her life, we cut that out of the story.

The other thing that was driving our stories was the audience. Why should the audience care and also how can they get involved? You see if the audience was to be a conference where this video would be shown then we kept them in mind. If the audience was churches in the United States that are supporting the ABWE missionaries we would be sure the content would engage them.

One way I help teach this simple, yet very important concept of storytelling, was to ask people to think of communicating something to the mother or dad. Would how they tell the story change depending on which parent they were talking to at the moment.

Most all the videos were made for the United States churches that support ABWE and for the missionaries to use them also with the Peruvian churches that support these ministries.

Hopefully this gives you enough of the context for which Hannah made this video. Please comment below about what you think of the story.

If you want to learn how to have an experience like Hannah in storytelling workshop please consider joining us this June in Romania with Storytellers Abroad.

If you have a group that would like to have us come and teach you storytelling then write to me so we can create a special workshop for your organization.

Meet Storyteller Naomi Harward

I met Naomi Harward a couple years ago on our Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Nicaragua. Naomi is one of the quietest people I have ever met.

Naomi working with James Dockery on her project. [Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, ISO 1600, ƒ/4, 1/60]

Naomi said many times that video isn’t something she likes. She prefers writing. We continued to push her out of her comfort zone.

Pat Davison looks at Naomi’s project. [Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, ISO 1600, ƒ/5.6, 1/60]

Each one of the instructors is direct when advising students. We do not beat around the bush. They give their strong opinions because they want the very best story possible for the subject and for the audience.

Naomi is the only workshop participant who did her story in English and then had it translated into Spanish for subtitles.

Listen to Sara Lu tell her story and see how Naomi captured it for you here:

If you want to learn how to have an experience like Naomi in storytelling workshop please consider joining us this June in Romania with Storytellers Abroad.

Meet Storyteller Josiah McConville

First thing I noticed about Josiah is he was taller than me. I learned he was studying film at Liberty University.

Josiah was also pretty quiet. He was a listener.

[Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, , ISO 1600, Ä/5, 1/100]

We sat and talked about his subject for a while. The hardest part in the beginning for Josiah was finding the storyline thread that he wanted to tell. He was asking great questions, but each question was making the story broader and not more focused.

Josiah McConville’s Story Lucho & Rosa Martinez, David Heim – Translator. Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 800, ƒ/4, 1/200, Focal Length = 24]

After he did his first interview I went with Josiah on the second interview. He did a great job. He was able to help the couple focus on how what the seminary had meant to their ministry.

Josiah McConville’s Story Lucho & Rosa Martinez, David Heim – Translator. Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 1800, ƒ/7.1, 1/200, Focal Length = 24]

One of the difficulties perplexing not just Josiah, but me as well, was getting our heads around the way Lucho and Rosa talked about their ministry. Josiah dug a little deeper by asking follow-up questions like tell me how that felt when you went through that time.

Listen to the story that Josiah captured of Lucho and Rosa Martinez here:

If you want to learn how to have an experience like Josiah in storytelling workshop please consider joining us this June in Romania with Storytellers Abroad.

Meet Storyteller Rose Finley

I first met Rose Finley on our Storytellers Abroad workshop in Nicaragua. Rose is such a joy to be around. While she is quiet she does love to laugh.

Rose talking with missionary. [NIKON D7100, 18.0-105.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 800, ƒ/6.3, 1/60]

If Rose was not working on her project by herself she was listening. She is a person of few words. You can see her listening with not just her ears but her eyes.

Whenever I talked with Rose I always felt I had her full attention.

[NIKON D7100, 18.0-105.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 800, ƒ/5.6, 1/80]

You can see during her interview how focused she was with the subject. Rose cares deeply about people and making them feel appreciated.

Rose is getting input on her story from ABWE missionary Evelyn Stone. [Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM, ISO 1600, ƒ/4.5, 1/60]

Rose is also very independent. I would have to seek her out and ask if I could help. If I didn’t ask I think she would have not wanted to bother me or the other teachers. She did however ask for help in translation from Spanish to English.

Rose works with ABWE missionary and seminary professor Dave Stone on the translation.[NIKON D7100, 18.0-105.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, ISO 640, ƒ/4, 1/80]

Listen to the story that Rose captured of Carol Banda.

If you want to learn how to do storytelling like Rose please consider joining us this June in Romania with Storytellers Abroad.

Meet Storytellers Marissa Dickey and Jamie Gessner

Both Marissa Dickey and Jamie Gessner are ABWE Career Missionaries serving in Colombia, South America.

When Jeff Raymond and I went on our scouting trip to Lima in October we talked with Evelyn Stone the founder of the prenatal center and ABWE missionary where she mentioned that Maricielo had just had her baby just a couple days before we arrived.

We knew right away that this was a powerful story. In Peru abortions are illegal. However, 80% of all women have had an abortion according to Evelyn Stone the director of the prenatal center.

[L to R] Marissa Dickey, James Dockery and Jamie Gessner go over the edits on Maricielo’s story. Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [X-E3, XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 12800, ƒ/5, 1/38, Focal Length = 35]

The purpose of telling Maricielo’s story was to show how many women end up coming to the prenatal center for counseling and help.

Listen to Maricielo and her family tell their story.

Both Marissa and Jamie are fluent in Spanish and English. This made it much easier for them to do the story because they didn’t need translators. Can you imagine everything someone says has to be translated and then everything you say is translated. That takes a lot longer to just have a normal conversation.

[L to R]James Dockery telling stories, with Marissa, Jamie and Jeff Raymond during the Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [X-E3, XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 4000, ƒ/7.1, 1/100, Focal Length = 27]

Marissa and Jamie asked every instructor for input on the story. Then they sat together and tried to take all that input and craft a stronger story. The hardest part for them was cutting parts out.

They realized that while some of the great quotes were powerful they were often repetitive.

When you would hear them talking on the last day of editing they were trying there best to keep you the audience engaged and hoping through telling of Maricielo’s story that you would consider getting involved with the prenatal center.

If you want to learn how to do storytelling like Marissa and Jamie did here consider joining us this June in Romania with Storytellers Abroad.

Meet Storyteller Stephanie Simmons

[photo above is of the seminary night classes that share the space with a school]

Jorge Quintana is a seminary student that storyteller Stephanie Simmons was given to tell his story.

See the story she captured here.

Stephanie has lots of positive energy. She is always smiling.

Stephanie Simmons. Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Lima, Peru [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/400, Focal Length = 35]

What I admired the most about Stephanie was her focus. She wanted to learn.

[X-E3, XF55-200mm ƒ/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, ISO 5000, ƒ/7.1, 1/100, Focal Length = 300]

When I talked to her about her story before she did the interview I could tell she had listened to the subjects. I could tell she cared for them and being sure she would stay true to the story.

[X-E3, XF18-55mm ƒ/2.8-4 R LM OIS, ISO 6400, ƒ/7.1, 1/100, Focal Length = 36]

Now I love to watch people and just observe them. I noticed Stephanie would be on the edges of the group participating but also listening.

[NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, ISO 12800, ƒ/4, 1/200, Focal Length = 24]

When the instructors were meeting each night to see who might need more help the next day on their stories, we all talked about how Stephanie welcomed ideas and was so eager to learn.

If you want to learn how to tell a missions story like Stephanie join us this June in Romania with Storytellers Abroad.