Reuinted after 33 years

Dr. Ken Day enjoys catching up with Knolan Benfield after some 33 years.

A couple of days ago Nicholas Spratlen sent me an email that he and his friend Dr. Ken Day wanted to come and see the missions photo exhibit at Roswell Presbyterian Church.  They both get my e.Newsletters and read my blog and were fascinated with the concept.

I was pretty excited because they didn’t know that my uncle Knolan Benfield was coming to town the same day for a visit.  We met them at the church and frankly Nicholas and I barely got a word in, Knolan and Ken were just enjoying catching up and swapping stories about what it was like working together for the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board during the 1960s and 70s. 

Dr. Ken Day and Knolan Benfield

“What impressed me the most about Ken was when he became the head of the communications division he went back to school and got his Phd in communications from the University of Georgia,” said Knolan. Today for the first time he told Ken about how he felt.  Ken was sort of paralyzed for a moment. No one had ever thanked him for doing that.

It reminded me how important it is to tell people the positive things they do for you.

The other day I wrote to my friend John Spink, a photographer for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.  I was just taken back at how consistent his work was in the paper and with all the cutbacks it is hard to work for a newspaper these days.  I just wrote and told him I was really impressed with his work.

John’s response was unbelievable.  He said the comments made a big difference for him that day.

The reason for the get together, the missions photo exhibit that I curated for Roswell Presbyterian Church.

Take the time today and pick up the phone, get on facebook, send an email or just send a hand written card to someone.  Thank them for what they did in your life.

I had to share these photos of Ken and Knolan, because you can see in their faces that they really were enjoying each other.  We all need that in our lives.

Race Cars and Photography Subjects have a lot in common

Just a self portrait of me at the Atlanta Speedway

My last e.Newsletter sparked a reader’s comment.  He shot motorsports and wanted to do even more and get paid to do so.  He was commenting on my blog post “How to photograph what you love for a living.”

It was during the exchange of emails that I had a moment of clarity.  I had another example to help students learn how to understand marketing.

If you look you will notice not just a major sponsor, but many others with their logos on these cars.

The guy had sent me some of his photos of cars on a track and I immediately saw all the sponsor decals. I see every sticker as a potential client–most photographers just see it as decoration.

For example Goodyear might be interested in photos and an article for their internal newsletter.  Every single sticker on that car is a potential corporate outlet.  Two departments at each of these corporations one should contact.  Their PR office which often has two parts an internal and external focus.  The second group is Marketing/Advertising. 

Every time you talk to anyone on the driver’s team you need to find out where they are from and what schools they went to.  Their hometown paper is interested and their college alumni publications are interested.

Don’t forget to then look at everything on your list and then think of all the associations these folks are members of.  Each of those organizations has publications as well. 

Each and every sticker is another sponsor who would be interested in photos of this car.

Goodyear is most likely a member of TIA (Tire Industry Association).  They too have publications that need photos.  They run ads of their members in the publications.

While HomeDepot and Lowe’s maybe competition, most likely they are both members of the NRHA, North American Retail Hardware Association. 

Even NASCAR driver Randy Baker has sponsor patches all over his driving suit.

You may not ever cover motorsports, but if you were to think of everything you photograph as having people interested in the photos the same reasons that sponsors put decals on race cars, then you have one of the biggest clues to know how to market your services.

Everyone has a story is based on another fact someone wants to know their story.  Learn to connect the dots between the story and the audience.

When you make contact

When you pitch a story you are pushing content.  Learn to pull content as well with each contact.  “…here is a story for you on ….”  Always let them know your availability and what you are doing in case they want to piggy back an assignment for you.  “I am going to cover _____ race on____.  If you need any coverage of this let me know.  Also, I can take time on the way there and back to stop and get coverage for you along the way.  This will save you the travel expenses since I am already in the area.”

Whenever you travel take time to stop by and visit some of these people you are contacting.  “Hey John I am in the area for a job tomorrow.  Do you mind I stop by and say hello.  Maybe we can get a cup of coffee.”  This can lead to more jobs.

It is about networking.  The more contacts you make the more times you will get a job that pays.

Three ingredients I look for in a sports photo

Three ingredients: 1) Ball, 2) Competition & 3) Peak Action

There are three things that I think make for a good sports photo:

1) The Ball
2) Competition
3) Peak Action

The Ball

Not every sport has a ball, but for those that do I think it really helps to have the ball in the photo. Breaking this rule is possible to still have a good or even great photo.  But like all rules, when you break the rule you need to know why you did so.

Fan reaction to a play is a good away from the action shot where the ball will not exist for example.

The Competition

If you have a great peak action photo and the ball it doesn’t look as good without the competition.  It looks often like a practice moment when the competition isn’t in the photo.

The competition in sports shows the adversity that literally you must overcome to be a winner on the field.

We have all three, but the competition isn’t up and close like the first photo.  This communicates the runner is outpacing the competition. 
Peak Action

Just before they hike the ball in football you could have the ball and the competition in the photo, but lack the peak action.  It is a static moment.

Some of the things that can help communicate the peak action are expression and body language.  If you can see the expressions of the players you often can see the exertion of effort in the expression of the athlete. 

When they are at the peak of their jump like going over the defender you can see a peak moment.

Remember, in all of photography if you wait to see it and then click the shutter you will always miss it.  You need to learn to anticipate a moment.  This is most likely the one thing separating the great moments from an almost good moment. 

Here we have the ball and peak action, but there is really no immediate danger with the competition.  So there is less excitement than the photo above.

These three tips are on top of the things necessary in all photos:

1) Good exposure
2) in focus
3) Well composed
4) Good use of light

How to photograph what you love for a living

Mark Johnson talks with his photojournalism class at the University of Georgia.

Yesterday I talked to Mark Johnson’s Photojournalism class at The Grady College of Journalism and Multimedia on the campus of the University of Georgia.  I shared with them business practices and marketing concepts for the photographer.

If I had more time I would have told them to also about the importance of a personal project. If you ever hear a successful photojournalist speak about their work you will most likely hear about the “personal project.”

Today I want to talk about why I think this is a key to the success of the visual storyteller

Inner Drive

I have hit the delete key way too much here to capture how important having an “inner drive” is to the success of your career. You have to be excited about a project that it consumes you enough that you are excited about thinking about the possibilities that it motivates you to act.

You need to have a passion about something so that when you pick up the camera to capture the subject emotions are driving your compositions and not a formula.


You need a support system, because going something all alone is difficult.

My faith community talks about the individual call and the corporate call. While a person may feel they are called to do something it is the corporate call of the community that must confirm the call.

By sharing your ideas with some close friends they can help encourage you and challenge you in the process.

Mark is more than just their teacher, he can serve as their coach or mentor, but they must make that decision


You really need someone who has been where you want to go or at least has taken on a personal project and succeeded.

Your coach will talk to you before you start. They should ask questions and help you to articulate why you have chosen an approach.

As you shoot your project you should be taking it to them to review. This is when you will discover with their help you have some holes in the coverage. You then will reshoot and show the results again to your coach.

Sometimes you will discover that the project you tried to cover just doesn’t work for one reason or another. This is when your coach might suggest taking on something else that might be better match for your heart and abilities to capture.


When you are done with your project you will know it because you have achieved your goal.

Sometimes your long-term goal may take years to achieve, but due to your efforts people have hired you to shoot some of their projects. Sometimes you may have a very successful career and still not achieve your goal for a long time.


Just the other night my wife Dorie helped me to see I had achieved some of my goal.

I had been asked to curate the art exhibit on missions for our church. It has been up now for a couple of weeks. Some people had come to tell me how much they loved the photos. “They are so real and we just love them.” Soon I had a couple folks talking to us. Then I overhead my wife telling a couple that this was not just Stanley’s profession this is the essence of what he is all about.

You see my goal was not to be published only, I have wanted to know that my photos were having impact on people’s lives. I hope that because of the art exhibit people feel called to give, go and/or pray for missions. If this happens then this personal project met the objective.

Students listen to Mark as he introduces me to the class

What is your personal project?

Is there room for another photographer in the room?

Stanley teaching photography at University of Nations in Kona, Hawaii.  Youth With a Mission runs the school.  (photo by: Dennis Fahringer)
I believe there is room for another photographer in our industry.  To be successful a person must have the total package.
What are some of the things you need to be a successful photographer?
1.     Need a portfolio of professional quality images
a.     Well composed
b.     Good Exposure
c.      In Focus
d.     Great Light
e.     “Decisive Moment”
2.     Business Acumen
a.     Knows their home budget needs
b.     Knows the “Cost-of-doing-business”
c.      Knows their market place
d.     Has a consistent marketing plan
3.     Inner Drive
4.     Continuous Improvement
a.     Looking to improve their portfolio
b.     Looking to improve their efficiency
c.      Looking to improve their marketing
While I have been working as a photographer in some capacity for 30 years, it was in 2002 I became a full-time freelancer.  This is where I was responsible for the business side of photography if I were to be successful.
I reached out to a very successful Ken Touchton.  He called almost daily those first few weeks giving advice and calling to see if I was following through. 
When I teach I give similar advice given to me.  What I have discovered is very few ever follow through.  One day I shared how frustrated I was with students not following through with Ken.  He then let me know I was one of the very few that ever listened to him.
I had a few other friends who lost their staff jobs and also reached out to Ken and me.  After a few weeks Ken stopped following up with most all of them.  They were not following through and so he stopped wasting his time if they were not going to take his advice.
Most all of those photographers continue to struggle today.
This year Greg Thompson, director of corporate communications for Chick-fil-A, was talking with his team about their role.  “When a ship misses the harbor it isn’t the harbor’s fault.”
This metaphor helped me see how so many photographers businesses were going under.  They were spending their time working on websites and portfolios.  They were creating a harbor and not a ship.   It is a common mistake of businesses.  The “Field of Dreams” concept doesn’t work for the photographer.  You just don’t take a photo and people line up to buy it. 
Is there room for another photographer in this industry? If you want to be paid to shoot for yourself then there is no room for you.  If you want to shoot for others and help them achieve their goals with your photos—then you can make it.

Are you paying too much for travel expenses?

I assumed everyone knows about getting the lowest rates when traveling. On some recent trips I realized many are paying top dollar for things like hotel, rental cars and airfare.

I know there are many ways to save and I will not go into all of them, just the ones I am using now.
First of all I have found for booking most hotels and rental cars I use  I have been getting rental cars for as low as $9 a day.  I paid $15 a day for a car on the Big Island of Hawaii.
One of the ways you will pay top dollar for rental cars is walking up to a counter and getting what they have.  At this point you are most likely paying the top price.  You need to go online and book ahead of the time. When I do this with some of the bookings require you to pay ahead of time.  This is where the biggest savings take place.  If your schedules can change at a moments notice on a regular basis, then this might not work for you.
I always fill up the rental car before returning it and this usually is a lot less than paying for the rental car to do this for you.  It is great just to bring the car back with whatever is in the tank, but for this convenience you will pay for the service they offer.
I try and book all my flights with the same carrier.  Since I live in Atlanta I have chosen to do this with Delta.  The advantage of frequent flyer points is more than just a free trip, the more points you get a chance to board early and be sure your luggage is stored in the overhead containers. 
Another advantage of building points is getting 2 free bags and 20 additional pounds per bag.  This is important for photographers who often must check things like lighting kits, which can weigh more than the normal 50 lbs.
After traveling for a while you start to know the going rates.  When prices seem a little higher, I then will depart from my normal and try going directly to the hotels or other services.

By booking with Hotwire you still get to use your hotel chains reward points.  So I have joined Priority Rewards, Hilton Honors and Marriott Rewards.  Sometimes I must weigh the travel time between the hotel and the events or airport and the choice is not just based on the lowest price but how much time I will be spending to and from those locations.

I am sure there are tips you can give to me as well.  Take a moment and let us know some additional tips for the frequent traveler that will make their travel more enjoyable in the comments below. 

Will the photos entertain only or make a difference?

Members of Roswell Presbyterian Church pause to see the display on “Main Street.”

I have to admit it is nice to have someone walk up to you and say they like your photography.  Makes me remember those days before turning pro when I got more of those comments.  Once you turn pro you just don’t get those type of ego strokes.

The reason you don’t get those ego strokes is people assume you are a pro and the photos will look great.

This is a photo from a local missions project in Roswell, GA

I am very similar to many photojournalists–we want our work to have impact and make a difference.  While it is nice that some people will like the photos the purpose of me taking them was not to only entertain them with pretty pictures.  I wanted the photos to motivate them to take action.

The middle school youth go each summer to Chattanooga and help widows with their homes.  Here they are replacing the roof.  This shows anyone of any age can give back.

There are three things that I wanted to happen after people saw the exhibit:

  1. Pray for those ministries/missions of the church
  2. Give more to the offerings this year to help missions continue and to grow
  3. Go and volunteer their time and help in a project or just maybe these photos are the spark to ignite the passion for missions and they go into this as a full-time job
Roswell youth took time this past summer and did their missions trip in Roswell.  They stayed at the church like they would if they went somewhere else and every morning went out and helped the local non-profits with their needs.  Here one of the youth is working with a childcare that is for those who are typically on free lunches in the public schools.

While this list might not be the same for your organization–you do need to have a purpose for using photos.  Here are some ideas worth considering for just about any project:

  1. The photos need to inform and educate your audience about a topic or subject.
  2. The photos need to make people stop and want to know more.  I think this is where the visual composition, lighting and other artistic qualities help draw people to the image.
  3. Elicit a response.
    1. Often this response is just to read the caption
    2. Maybe they will read the article because the photos did their job.  Without the photo the audience will have not even taken the time to read.
    3. If the subject matter has some emotions to it–this will often move the audience to action.  They may get involved or give funds to the project

The power of the visual when it comes to you is to help you tell your story effectively. Just think today of how many times people will try to get you to hear something important to them and you are not engaged with them because you haven’t had your interest stirred.  I know it would be difficult to track, but just imagine placing a check down for every time your attention shifted due to something visual.  i think you would have a lot of checks at the end of the day.

How are you telling your story today? When is the last time you used visuals to communicate to the audience you need to react to you today?

Remember photos are not being paid for by successful companies to entertain you only. They are trying to elicit a response.

Will you tell your story today using visuals? If not–why not?

Visual Branding for a local Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A Roswell Town Center

Jim Waddle called me a couple years ago and asked if I could get a good photo of his Chick-fil-A and I assured him I could. 

Just a couple years later, which is this year, Jim asked if we could update that photo. The first photo was so successful in his ad campaign that he wanted to update it since he had done some landscaping and wanted a recent photo.

Now for those of you who only have one Chick-fil-A in your town you might not see why this is important for Jim.  Here in Atlanta you can almost reach out and touch a Chick-fil-A anywhere you turn. 

Each restaurant does their own promotions in addition to working with the market.  The problem through the years is his promotions were not always driving people to his restaurant.  Jim likes working with the area market, but also wanted to have some special events. 

Not all the Chick-fil-A’s look alike so having a nice photo of his store helped his customers know which restaurant was doing a promotion or an event.

When you think about it many of the brick and mortar businesses in a town are remembered by their location and looks, so why not use a cool photo of the business to remind folks–it is called branding.

Senior Portrait Should be Fun

Each photo here captures another side of Emily.  To me this captures the soft innocent child.

I was honored when my friend Fauve called and asked me to photograph her daughter’s senior year photos. This was all because of a photo I took of her playing her Cello in an orchestra concert.  She loved the photo and figured if I can make her look good playing the Cello then I should be the guy for her senior photo.

This is Emily and her sister Jane.  Siblings bring out the best in us.

The hard part about this photo shoot is Emily didn’t bring her cello.  It was just my camera and her. I had to talk to her and get her to play with situations.  She trusted me and did her best.  Because of her efforts we came up together with some real winners.

As you will see I couldn’t just have one of them together.

Emily let me know she didn’t want formal shots.  She wanted some moments where we were getting glimpses of her.  She didn’t see herself as look straight into the lens and smiling.  While we definitely got some of those shots, they were really moments in between other moments where she was looking up and waiting for some guidance.  Sometimes she was just relaxed and enjoying the moment.

I am not sure what I was capturing here.  I can’t quite put it into words.  Maybe it is just cool play on light.
We used different things that were naturally around for props.  I think these help relax some people.  I think here Emily already looks like a college student.

I believe there are times you just need to try a lot of things to then pick the best for your big moment.  Graduating from high school is a monumental moment we celebrate.  It is the transition year for many to leave home and start a new life.

Guess where Emily has applied to go next year?

Ceremonies help us to make these transitions.  Having your senior picture made is a way to have something to hold onto to celebrate the last time at home and with our friends.  Next year we will move on to a new beginning and new friends.  Before we can move on we really need to celebrate where we have come to at this moment.  Photos are some of the best ways to remember these times.

I like capturing moments where it looks like we are having a conversation. 
While the shot above is wider and helps set a mood, this shot gets us close and see how friendly Emily is to folks.
I am not sure, but I think these two like to have fun.

I am not sure I would narrow this down to one photo.  I like them all and there were many more that you are not seeing.  Take time to remember and one of the best ways to do that is with photos.

We all liked the signage on the shop. I think every lady would like to see themselves as part of Vogue.
Sitting on fences and porches makes a photo seem like the girl next door.  What do you think?
Emily just looks elegant to me.

2nd Mile Service Project for Roswell Presbyterian Church

Poster designed to promote the display

Roswell Presbyterian Church is my home church.  A couple of years ago they started using a hall that we call “Main Street” for art shows of our members.

They asked me to coordinate a show on missions.  We photographed our mission partners around the world and this is the resulting show.

I am excited because we are putting up photos that met a few criteria.

Criteria for the show:
  1. Photo had to be a large enough file size to make a 20″x30″ print.
  2. Photos had to be well exposed.
  3. Photos had to be in focus.
  4. The photo had to be story telling.  We needed photos that help people understand what they are looking at and not just a photo of people all smiling and looking at the camera.
  5. The photos needed to be action oriented rather than just a picture of an object.  So often people just take pictures of the buildings or the well they dug.  We wanted to see the people these projects were all about.

Laying out the prints along the hall for the display

The show will hang for 6 weeks.  During this time the ministers sermons will revolve around the them of “Windows to the Soul” that will be about each person’s individual calling into missions.

Our goal for the project is that everyone will come to see that God can use their gifts, whatever they may be, for missions.  Everyone is called to be missionaries. 

Picked three photos for one wall in a major area of the building

I hope we dispel some of the myths around missions:

  1. All missionaries are preachers
  2. You must go to some other continent like Africa
  3. You must give up everything you own
  4. Missions isn’t fun

The show isn’t about photography. It is using photography as the medium for the message.  I hope the images call some into full time ministry.  But if all it does is change one person’s life and helps them discover their call in missions then it was a success.

Photographic Significance—What does it look like?

John White talks to the new class of IMPACT 360 in Pine Mountain, GA

If you are like me, you want to create a body of work that makes a difference to the world. You want to have images that move people in some way.

The danger of pursuing this carrot in life is how you define what significant work looks like.

There are a few people who I admire for their body of work. Eugene Smith, the father of the modern photo story, is at the top of the list. Who wouldn’t want photos as he did of The Country Doctor, the victims of industrial pollution in Minamata, a nurse-midwife in South Carolina, or his coverage of Dr. Albert Schweitzer? Henri Cartier-Bresson is another photographer known for capturing the “Decisive Moment” in one image where the fleeting moment captured qualities, making them iconic in human history.

Dr. John Basie talks to the students of IMPACT 360

I wrote about Lewis Hine in an earlier blog post here. His work helped congress change the child labor laws—impressive and significant.

Is this how you measure what is significant? Maybe there is another way to measure your significance.

Maybe today, when you make a portrait of a person the family will treasure forever—that could be significant. For example, Knolan Benfield, my uncle, made a portrait of a very substantial man. The older gentleman came in for a portrait session and didn’t tell him he was dying of cancer. The family later let Knolan know that he had died, and they treasured the photo because it captured him so well.

You can see the impact already of the professor on these students.

While you may still be concentrating on the images you capture, maybe you need to realize you are maybe touching people’s lives by just being with them today. Of course, your camera introduced you to them, but your smile, handshake, and taking the time to listen to them turned their life around. Maybe they were pretty depressed and feeling insignificant.

I want my images to be significant, and all I can do is do my very best and critique my work and the next time, do something that makes it even better. However, I am not able to make my photos significant because it is the audience that will determine that part.

I am starting to learn more each day that people I meet need me to be present with them. I need to live in the moment, not the past or future. In doing this, then, they have my full attention. Being significant means learning to be present with those you are with. By the way, I have a personal confession—I stink at this. The closer I am to someone, the more difficult it is. I do a better job with strangers. I want to do a better job and struggle with this.

Think about it for a moment—who has touched your life the most? Of course, like most folks, you will mention a parent, teacher, or someone who just took some interest in you. However, most of us will not say a rock star, a celebrity, a political leader, a religious person like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or a famous photographer. Instead, we will mention someone who was present with us and treated us with honor, dignity, and respect.

Trudy White takes a moment to get to know one of the new students and ask how he is doing. Can you see the significance of this moment on both of them?

Be careful what you pursue because you may get it and miss the best part of life.

Looking for a staff photographer position?

Today’s “Storyteller” uses visuals and grabs the audience’s attention.

Are you looking for a staff position in photography? If so, then you have been seeing the same type of requirements I am seeing. Here are a few of the conditions I see in positions:

“Multimedia experience is a plus and should be included in your portfolio.”

“Applicants must be able to write photo captions using Associated Press style.”

“This position will photograph portraits, sports, general news, spot news and features.”

“Responsibility for taking or coordinating free-lance photography, only when necessary, for marketing, media and online/digital communications.”

“Identify and coordinate select images and design or coordinate design on assigned projects in collaboration with department team, assigned student workers, and external vendors as necessary.”

“Coordinate video projects in conjunction with team members, Media Services, and external vendors, with primary responsibility for coordinating script development, environment, needed equipment, direction and guidance to participants, schedules, on-site supervision, editing and production.”

Where are we going in this industry? In my opinion, we are looking for a storyteller. So while you are visiting a long list of skills that are adding to the traditional positions, what isn’t changing is the need for a storyteller.

Storytellers keep your attention.

From Wikipedia:

Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instill moral values. Crucial elements of stories and storytelling include plot, characters and narrative point of view.

Traditionally, oral stories were committed to memory and then passed from generation to generation. However, in Western, literate societies, written and televised media has largely surpassed this method of communicating local, family and cultural histories.

I think today, what is necessary for your portfolio is examples of great stories. Do you have these in your portfolio? Of course, a single image can tell a story, but companies are looking for someone who can command the public’s attention.

Those professionals who can consistently tell stories and demonstrate they create a following are rising to the top of the industry.

You can even see by the body language this guy is a “Storyteller.”

These are my top 5 ways to improve your portfolio:

1. Find stories that have strong emotional pull. Visuals are their strongest when conveying emotions.
2. Have single images that tell the story. This shows you can tell a story in limited space.
3. Have a series of pictures that help tell a story. This will demonstrate you can capture variety of moments that together tell a strong story.
4. Create a package that includes audio. I think the strongest audio is the human voice. The first person narrative is by far, in my opinion, the highest impact of all. I think this is why Jesus asked his followers to be “witnesses.”
5. Keep your “Audio/Visual Story” less than 3 minutes. All the research shows that the public will watch 2 – 3 minute packages, but to be longer it requires an extremely compelling story and storyteller.