A college freshman has advantages over a senior

Photography advice for the college student

So you want to be a photographer. I have some general suggestions after having written numerous students lately. I want to help others who want to become photographers.


If you are reading this and you are a freshman in college or younger you will benefit more from my suggestions than a senior getting ready to graduate in May.

The time to start looking for your job after college is now.  Where do you start? 

Your Dream Job

First you need to actually have in mind a dream job that you would like to be doing. The sad thing is there are seniors getting ready to graduate who cannot tell you their dream job.  Ouch! Four years of wandering, when they could have been focused and know what they were working towards.

You need to find someone who is doing pretty much what you would like to do when you graduate. 

There are two types of people you may want to have their jobs—staff or freelancer.  It is OK whichever job you choose. The point is that you now have a target in mind. The surest way not to find a job after college is not to know what kind of job you want.

You need to make contact with the person holding that job or someone in a similar job. There is a very simple question you need to ask them.  How do I get a job like yours?

A Master Plan

After you have this discussion with a professional doing the job you would like to have later, you will find that you can put together a plan on how to proceed.

I can give you one thing that almost every pro will recommend to you right now; take some business courses.  What they are saying is take business courses that will help you run a small business.  Even if you are in a staff position you need to know more about how the bills get paid.

They may recommend classes that would help you. If you want to work for National Geographic Magazine, they most likely would encourage you to become an expert in a subject other than photography.  Some of their best photographers are anthropologists, biologist or something else.  They can go on projects because they know something about what they will be photographing.

Most likely they will give you some baby steps to get you started and recommend you keep in touch.

It’s about whom you know and whom they know

People are hired more because of a relationship than about their portfolio. There are many arrogant photographers with outstanding portfolios that no one wants to work with.  You need to be a team player. You will most likely need to show how you can be a team player and not a loner.

When there is an opening it is the last person they can remember who could do the job they call. This is why as a freshman you need to start building relationships.


You need to join a photographic association like PPofA, ASMP, NPPA, or another professional group as a student.  They all have student rates and most all of them give out scholarships as well.

Don’t just pay your membership dues; get involved. Volunteer to help at meetings. You do this in order to get your face in front of as many people in the industry as possible.  You may find people wanting to take you under their wing and help you out.

Go to the meetings and don’t hang out with other students while you are there all the time. Why? Are they going to hire you in four years? I don’t think so.  You need to learn how to speed date.

What I mean by speed dating is learning how to be genuinely interested in every person making your best impression so that you land a date/job.  Often at speed dating after the event people talk about whom they met and compare notes. If you come off not so good to one of the people’s friends that you were interested in that can kill your chances with them. 

It is this way in the photo business.  Photographers talk to other photographers about recommendation for assistants, interns and possible hires. Remember you are building your brand all the time. Don’t screw it up by an off handed comment that tarnishes you for a long time.


Besides taking some classes in photography in school you need to have a mentor other than your professor. You need to find someone to help coach you. It could be the person in your dream job, or someone between you and them that can get you down the road.

You need to shoot assignments for class, for your school paper and yearbook.  Send these to your mentor/coach and ask for a critique from them. After they give you feedback, be sure you implement people’s recommendations.

If you are really smart you will reshoot an assignment so it now is perfect for your portfolio if possible.  If you do reshoot the assignment then resend this to your coach/mentor and ask if this is what they meant for you to change or do.

Personally I would have a mentor and also be sending your updates to places that might hire interns or you would like to work long term.  Let them see you grow and improve.

Are you teachable?

By keeping in touch you will demonstrate either that you are listening to their advice and implementing it or you demonstrate you cannot listen.  You will miss the mark a few times. Sometimes by reshooting and submitting the work to them again can help you see that you didn’t understand a concept. Go and reshoot it again and then resubmit it.

This will show more than anything else you can do that you want to improve and you are looking for their advice. Most importantly it shows you are listening and asking for clarification.

Sophomores & Juniors

Do the same as I recommend to the freshman. Continue to expand your database of names in the industry. Continue to refine your portfolio.

As a true student you can get more internship opportunities than when you have graduated. There are legal reasons for this. Employers cannot hire someone who isn’t in school and say it is an internship.

What this means is apply for internships all the time. Do not wait till your senior year—you may have waited too long and now there are none to find. Better to get one your freshman year than not get one your senior year. 

You cannot do enough internships in my opinion. What you learn in the classroom will help a great deal in your job. Just about every class will at sometime find useful as a photographer. The reason is will encounter someone whose job is in that subject. You can hold some kind of a conversation with them if you paid attention in class.


If you are graduating in May and haven’t done an internship, found your dream job and have a coach or mentor it isn’t too late, but your opportunities are greatly diminished.
You need to spend as much time building that database of names to contact as you do studying for finals.  Having straight “A’s” and no contacts is not as good as “B’s” and contacts.


Manage your brand all the time. Watch what you post on Facebook and Twitter. When you go to parties remember others are taking photos and posting them to social media.

I recommend learning to help anyone you can and not just those who you think will get you somewhere.  Your reputation as someone who is kind is better than someone who is only in it for him or herself.


People want to work with their friends. Do your best to build good relationships and try to be a friend to others.

How long does it take to become successful photographer?

This is my actual gross sales numbers from the time I started out full-time shooting freelance back in 2002.  I started in April of 2002.  My wife was working full-time and it wasn’t until about the second or third year I was making enough to fully support our family.

If starting a business with perfection is your dream then it will never happen.  It takes time to become successful.

Six to eighteen months

If you do everything right to market yourself, from your first contact to the first sale can take easily 6 to 18 months for you to close the deal and get paid.  This is why almost experts advise to have at least 6 months of money for living and business expenses on hand before venturing out.

Why does it take so long?

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter Announces Three Countries Left in Guinea Worm Eradication Campaign: Nigeria and Niger Honored as Most Recent Nations to Halt Disease Transmission.

Event photography

A client hires a photographer once a year for an event. They have a photographer booked for that event. You introduce yourself and they not only love your work but want to hire you.  They have already signed a photographer with a contract in place for this year.  That means that the earliest they can hire you is a year from the date of the event. If the event for this year is 6 months off then you can see how it is 18 months before you see any money from a perfectly executed presentation.

Kid Rock signs an album cover for Alisha Mullen of Point Pleasant, WV, at the Waffle House restaurant in Duluth, Georgia on Tuesday, March 11, 2008 for local non-profit charity, Nicholas House, Inc., a homeless Family shelter in Dekalb County.

Editorial Photography

You get a meeting with the editor and they love your work.  They expect you to have story ideas. Your ideas were just done by the magazine.  In this scenario it will most likely be 5 years before they do those stories again.  You now need time to come up with more stories.  This takes some time.  You did an almost perfect presentation–they like your work, but need some ideas as well.

They may add you to their list of freelancers. Most editors give those who have served them well first shot at assignments.  Until this photographer or photographers are booked they will not be calling.  However, if they think your style is a better fit for an assignment they will call.

Sports photography has changed more for me than any other segment in my business.

Industry changes

One of the biggest changes for me has been sports. When I started to freelance I had numerous teams that would call and have me cover their games.

Today those same people are having parents and alumni calling them up to shoot on the sidelines. The difference is today’s cameras will let anyone get sharp in focus and well exposed photos. These photographers all have other jobs that allow them the resources to buy they latest cameras and lenses to cover the game.

Most of them started shooting their kids playing sports through high school and then realized they would like to stand on the sidelines of college and pro games.

While most of their photos are not on the same level as Sports Illustrated, they are good enough that for the price of “free” the sports information directors of the teams will use them and help save their club money.

While I depended heavily on sports when I started out freelancing full-time I have had to grow other parts of the business to make up for this which actually plummeted in sales volume.

Change in management

You have a great meeting with a client and then when you check back with them in a month or so about some possibilities you find they either were promoted or moved to another company.  Either way they no longer hire photographers. You have to start over with the new person that replaced them.  You loose a few months just figuring out all the changes.

Monthly I send out an eNewsletter. Each month I have numerous emails that did not go through because of changes of employment. Many of my contacts have changed companies. This is very common with agencies. It is easier for a person to go from agency to agency and increase their income than it is for them to stay with one agency and get the same increase in salary over time.

While many people are moving around in order to move up, recently many of the emails I had returned were agencies failing and going out of business. 

Recession and budget cuts

The company you have been in talks with about a project has frozen their money and have decided not to do any new projects and any projects not already started are killed. You did everything right, they just now do not have the funds to pay you for projects.  You decide not to walk away completely, because they may start back in the near future.

You were again successful in your marketing, but things beyond your control continue to happen.

Experience (the unmentionables)

You are a big risk when you first start out in this business.  Your first job is a major risk to the client.  You have no track record and they have no way of knowing if you can do what you say and if you will deliver on time.

Think of it this way, would you have bought a Kia or Hyundai when they were first on the market?  Would you have been like many people and decided to go with something more reliable like a Toyota or a Honda?

It is difficult at first not because of how good your work is or your ability to meet your obligations, but people’s careers are on the line if you don’t deliver.


How long you are in business affects how much more business you can get.

For a long time it was said that 50 percent of businesses fail in the first year and that 90-95 percent were gone by the fifth year. Good news those are not the real numbers being reported now. According to the SBA, about two-thirds, or 66 percent last past the first two years, leaving only a third of businesses that fail within these two years. Extended to four years, the number of surviving businesses decreases to only 44 percent, meaning that about 56 percent of businesses fail at the five-year mark, a far cry from the 90 to 95 percent previously claimed. http://www.ehow.com/how-does_5212542_many-businesses-fail-first-year_.html

For my business I can point to a few points where I could feel the difference in the response to my marketing.

Starting out

Since I had been working on a staff as a photographer, when I went full-time freelancing many of these clients used me right away. They knew me and trusted my work. However, for the most part all the new clients while impressed with my work were not jumping at using me.

This was a time when I had a hard time sleeping at night. I was constantly worried about paying my bills and I believe this stress is noticeable to clients and potential clients.

Year two

I could honestly say there was a change in attitude about the second year. My postcards had been going to these potential customers now for two years. They were getting my eNewsletters and occasional phone call from me now for a while. I was a known photographer and was more established.

Year five

This is when I became more comfortable with freelancing. I was sleeping more than I did the first five years. I was not as worried about the jobs coming in. I felt like I was in the flow of things.

Funny thing is that this was true for me when I was on staff. I always remember that around year five I was confident and those around me treated me as a senior employee and not the new kid anymore.

This confidence is what I think helped me get bigger clients.

Tony Messano created my first logo that I started to use in 2001.

Year Seven

They say to most store front photographers that at year seven you most likely have enough presence in the market that you could now move your place of business and your clients would follow.  Earlier than this you risk much more and most likely will be starting over.

I was now being asked to speak more often at industry events and to my colleagues. This was when I knew I was doing something right, because I was getting phone calls from so many wanting to be photographers.

Tony Messano designed this logo for me my seven year being a full-time freelancer

Tony Messano, a creative director friend of mine, recommended I change my logo. He had designed my first one and thought I needed a new one.

He recommended a bolder font to reflect the confidence he was seeing in me.  I think Tony was right, I felt so much better than I did when I started.


Looking back over all these years I am amazed out how blessed my family and business has become. When I started out we were in debt and I went further in debt to buy some equipment.  I don’t recommend doing this, but we had no choice. I didn’t plan to start in 2002 freelancing, I lost my job and had to do something.

Freelancing full-time isn’t for everyone. There are major risks you must take. Not knowing from day to day what you are doing can be very stressful. 

While I did everything I knew and worked very hard to get where I am today–I know that everyone of my clients had other choices. There are many better photographers than me in the market place.

I see much of where I am today as a divine thing. I don’t think I could have done nothing and God would have made it all happen for me, but I don’t think I did it alone with out God.

I frankly would have jumped off the cliff long ago had it not been for my faith. I also had an incredible support system. My number one support comes from my wife Dorie. Her father was an entrepreneur.  She grew up in this lifestyle, I had not. Dorie new things would be fine when I had no confidence we would be paying our bills the next day.

Today the business is still growing. We are debt free except for a mortgage payment for our house.

Freelancing full-time is a faith walk

While I grew up going to church every Sunday and even went to seminary later in my life, it is freelancing full-time that made me grow in my walk with God. I could not think of nor looking back can I see much more that I could have done to be successful. I was frankly working very hard.

For me my faith played a very huge part. I believe it helped to give me hope. I know it helped in keeping my sanity. I drew a lot of strength from biblical characters like Jacob who overcame many adversities.

When it comes to marketing: You need a great sales pitch

Just like you would give a presentation at a meeting, put similar effort and thought into your estimate sales pitch.  You may write it in an email rather than having face time with the client, so do your best to persuade them.

In our talks to THE BUSINESS OF VISUAL JOURNALISM WORKSHOP held at the Grady School of Journalism on the campus of University of Georgia, both Allen Murabayashi, CEO and co-founder of PhotoShelter, and I talked about converting people at each stage of the “Marketing Funnel.”

Move people down the marketing funnel.

If you create enough interest someone will call you for an estimate at some time.

You want to close a deal.  You have worked on your estimate and you are ready to give them the estimate. 

You quickly put together an email and send them the attached estimate. 

A couple days later you find out you lost the job to another photographer.

This may go on for a while for many photographers. They inquire as to what was the difference in their estimate and other photographers.  They generally find out one of two things—they lost the job to someone who was less expensive or they loose out to someone who was more expensive.

I have a few suggestions for you if you are finding yourself in this predicament.

Just like you would do in someone’s presentation, standup and ask your question to clarify the message. 

What is the need?

How well did you listen to the client? This is a very tricky question and requires you to know more than the client is telling you. You need to be thinking big picture even if they are not.

Just like your doctor hears about your symptoms and looks for a root cause (strategic) you too need to understand how what the client is asking fits into the system.

How will your photos help the client improve their business? Think about this in context of what they are asking you to shoot and bid on.  You thinking this way may not change how they need to think about it. You need to think this way in order to serve even the needs they don’t know they have.  If you just go with what they ask then you are just a commodity and will loose out the the lowest bidder.  You will also loose out to the photographer who is thinking strategically.

There are two possible answers to the question it will help or it will not.  If it will help them you need to understand how your photography can make a difference in them achieving this goal.

Remember you are not the only one listening to the client and giving them an estimate. This is like being in school and being graded on a curve, except in this case the one at the top passes and everyone else fails.

Maybe it will not help them.  In this case I suggest trying to understand how they see the photography serving the company.  There are many ways to ask, but you will understand their reasoning. One good reason to them is this is something they want documented because they worked hard on the project and want photo more for themselves and helping them feel good about what they have done.

By understanding the need the photos will fill for the organization you are now better equipped to see how you can meet and exceed their expectations.  You also will do a better job of giving them options that they haven’t even thought about for the project.

You may even offer another type of coverage than what they are asking. You discovered in the process of establishing the need they have an even bigger need that you could help with.  This could be something you see as a way to help them look even better and accomplish greater things.  You will most likely rethink how you give them a proposal.  Maybe you give them the option of a lower price on what they need with a guarantee of helping them work on this other project.

Ask your questions that help you know what they are trying to accomplish. Sometimes your questions alone can help them see you as someone they want on their team.

Listen by asking questions

Just listening to everything they client is saying isn’t really listening. Good listening will require you to ask clarifying questions. Good questions gets them to reveal more information that will help you understand their need better and help you to craft a proposal they will have a harder time turning down.

Many times a good question reveals more about what you know than a statement about what you know. Often you may know the answer to the question you are asking, but this is a more tactful way to pull the information out of them rather than telling them what you know. It will make it appear more as their idea and you supporting it than if you tell them everything and come off as a know it all.

Here a VP for marketing at Coke talks to an audience about their new dispenser. It uses medication-dosing technology to create some 125 Coca-Cola products, many of which, like Orange Coke and Vanilla Sprite Zero, aren’t available in bottles anywhere. They are creating options for their clients and creating new possibilities for them and therefore getting their drink machines in where others now loose out.

Give the client options

Too many people prepare an estimate that only has one price for a project. By doing this they have a take it or leave it offer on the table. However, the estimate that gives the client different options show them that you are flexible and are thinking of different solutions for them. You are giving them different price points to do business with you.

While you may not shoot wedding, think like a wedding photographer when it comes to pricing.  Think in packages.  Have a cheap, low, middle and high price packages.

For an event you may offer limited coverage of your time to not just more time, but other items. You may offer DVD or the images, prints, an online gallery, a slide show and other options as you raise the price of packages.

Before you present this to the client you need to practice your presentation and be ready for some negotiating. You will need to try and up sell them to the nicer packages.

You need to smile throughout your presentations even if you are on the phone. It must also be genuine.


In an earlier blog post on “The Windows to The Soul” I talk about genuine smiles and fake smiles.

According to Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, there are two kinds of smiles, the “Duchenne smile” and the “Pan American” smile. Here is how Seligman describes the two smiles, “The first called Duchenne smile (after its discoverer Guillaume Duchenne) is genuine. The corners of the mouth turn up and the skin around the corners of your eyes crinkles (the crow’s feet). …The other smile, called the Pan American smile (after the flight attendants in television ads for now-defunct airline), is inauthentic.”

You need to smile when you present your estimate.  Even if you are on a phone you need to smile.

Why Smile on the phone?

    o       Research indicates that over the phone, your tone of voice is 84% of the message.
    o       Your tone of voice is closely linked to your facial expression. A frown on your face will make your voice sound harsh and cold. But a smile will warm up your voice, making it sound warm, inviting and enthusiastic.
    o       When you’re smiling, people can tell that you enjoy the work you do.

You cannot fake authenticity. One thing that helped me to develop this authenticity was fear. I had a family depending on me and not paying your bills and letting down your family was something I didn’t want to go through.

Whatever I could read to help me be a better storyteller and take care of my clients I devoured.

To get people to be on the edge of their seats listening to you, you had to have been there first. Learn to listen carefully.  Ask thoughtful questions that help you think strategically for the client even if they are not thinking this way. This is how you will end up taking care of them.

How you present your prices

Using a wedding for example if you did a good job listening and asking questions the bride and groom may have told you all their plans for the next year before the wedding.  You realize you can offer to cover all their important showers, teas, cookouts, engagement portraits, rehearsal dinner and the during the day of the wedding starting from breakfast to that last things of the day. 

You now pitch to them how you would like to cover all their events for them through the year.  You talk to them about putting together the their first chapter in their life and would like to celebrate this with a coffee table book with not just photos but a story of how they met up to the time of the wedding.

You may pitch this first with a very large price of $75,000.  When they gasp you then help them scale back by helping them eliminate things like the teatime with grandmother.  You are not cutting out photos; you are cutting out emotional moments.

Nobody wants to eliminate grandmother, but they will cut $1,000 for some photos. It makes it more difficult for the client to shop price only when you are offering things they now need.  You listened and presented a package that covered what they really want–they want to document the most important event in their lives up to now and most likely major milestone it their lives.  You understand your real purpose and not just a package of photos.

While you may have to send your client the estimate rather than talking to them in person like you might do with a bride in a consultation session, learn to present your dream of how you would love to cover the event if their were no limits. Then scale it in stages so that each stage is something that helps them achieve their goal.

Choose your words wisely so as to always address the needs and dreams of the client.  We know that getting married is once in a lifetime plan and we want to help you record these precious memories so you can relive these moments for the rest of your lives.

You may be covering an event for a foundation that is honoring their largest donors. Here you may say that you will help them find the best photos of each major donor from the event, print them a 5×7 print with their logo on the print.  You will then put it in a special thank you card with the photo where you will have a message written in calligraphy for them thanking them for their gift and you wanted to have something from the event to help them remember it.

You may have an upscale version where they get two photos, one from the event and one showing how their funds are being used. Maybe it is an orphanage and you have a child they are sponsoring photo thanking them for their gift as well that is framed for them to put in their office or home.

Try your best to think the way the Ritz Carlton does for their guests—they anticipate ways that will make their stay a remarkable one.


Your goal is to create a package that when they pick it they will be REMARKing about their experience with you and what you did.

While you listen you may discover that with just a little modification to your pricing you could get more jobs. Just because you have always done it this way is a good indication that you need to think of changing. The economy is going through the biggest changes in a century–are you changing with it?

Experiment with your pricing

If you have been pricing things the same as you did before this recession—that may be your problem.  We have gone through a major shakeup of how business is done. Put on your thinking cap and see if you can lower your prices and increase your services.

Maybe you offer just a few more perks than you did a few years ago.  You may give web usage as part of your bottom package. The key is not just lower your prices, you may have to, but figure ways to offer services that you didn’t offer in the past.  Try to find ways to up sell to maybe talk the client up to something that helps them woo their clients.

When it comes to marketing: Act like a freshman and not a senior

Yesterday I was privileged to speak at THE BUSINESS OF VISUAL JOURNALISM WORKSHOP held at the Grady School of Journalism on the campus of University of Georgia.

Mark Johnson, Senior Lecturer in the Grady School of Journalism, welcomes everyone to the workshop.

The first speaker was Allen Murabayashi, CEO and co-founder of PhotoShelter, who covered fundamental web marketing tactics, essential website design requirements and critical features (plus some advance concepts) that helps photographers better utilize their website as a business and marketing tool and grown their online presence to best generate new business.

Some of the points that Murabayashi covered were very similar to my topics, but a little different perspective.  Hopefully by the end of it all people are realizing that if a few people are mentioning similar things then maybe it is something they should pay attention to.

Allen Murabayashi is very vivacious speaker and kept everyone entertained and informed.

One of the things that we were trying to do in our talks was to help those who are starting out or struggling on what we are doing with our time.  Earlier I wrote a post about how I spend much of my time.  Here is a link to that blog post.

It doesn’t take long before you start to see some common themes when you try to apply marketing to any industry.  First of all you must realize that not everyone is a candidate for your services. When you run the numbers it is more likely in the 10% range of those who are interested in hiring you.

You need a large fishing net to be successful when fishing for clients. In that earlier blog post I talked about this process of the Marketing Funnel.

This is the process I talked about earlier.  The idea is to get as many people in the first stage of being aware you are there in the marketplace. At each step you improve that area to help increase the likelihood of people choosing you.

Allen Murabayashi also used the marketing funnel.  He was also letting everyone know that the first thing is to make people aware of your services.  It is very important that you define your niche because otherwise your awareness group has to be even larger than if you are more defined in your niche.

Allen Murabayashi talks about the marketing funnel and how to get people to visit your website and then to use your website to help move them to becoming a client.

Freshman vs Senior Social Networking Skills

Since most in the audience were college students I felt like the best illustration I could use was for all of them to remember what it was like as a freshman.  How when they went to parties they had to go around and introduce themselves and meet folks.  They were proactive and needed to find some friends.

I contrasted how they went to parties as a freshman to as when they are a senior. As a senior you go and usually meet with your friends and just enjoy each other.  You are not looking for more friends you have them.

I challenged the class to act like freshman again and never loose this perspective–looking for friends.

What happens your senior year is graduation. After you leave you discover that many of those friends you had move on and you loose touch.  You are forced to be a freshman again–you are new at your first job and have to make friends again.

Old School Social Networking

I highly recommend getting off your computer where you are on Facebook and Twitter and try the old style of social networking.  Go to meetings, parties and social mixers in your community.

Join an organization and get involved. As you serve you will meet more people. If you have done a good job in defining your niche then it will be easy to identify those organizations where your potential clients are already.

Get involved and serve. One of the best ways to meet everyone is to volunteer to work a registration desk.

How do you grow your business?

The first step in that marketing funnel, after defining your niché, is creating awareness of your services to those who need them. How do you grow your business, grow the numbers of people you come into contact with.

Anticipation is key to capturing a decisive moment

Three elements I look for in sports photo: 1) The Ball, 2) The Competition & 3) Expression

One of the more obvious moments in capturing a decisive moment in photography I think is in sports photography.  Most everyone understands what the purpose of the game—scoring points.

I have written in previous posts about what I think are some key elements to some great sports photos. (Click here for that link)

Key ingredients (Most of the time)

1.    The ball
2.    The competition
3.    Expression of the athletes

Decisive moment in sports requires anticipation. I know that the purpose is to score points and the best place to capture this is with a camera placed behind the glass where you can show the goal scoring. What else is helpful is the three elements again: 1) Ball, 2) Competition & 3) Expression.  Had I captured a major break away the slam dunk would be missing the competition because you couldn’t see them in the photo.

To capture these moments requires the photographer to anticipate more than just the ability to recognize the moment when you see it. The action is moving so fast in most sports that if you push the shutter button when you see it, in the time it can take to make the shutter trip to the time it captures the moment it has already passed.

Great sports photographers are the ones who consistently capture peak action. To do this a sports photographer has studied the sport, the team and the players and can anticipate those peak moments.

What about peak action outside of sports?

“the decisive moment, it is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as the precise organization of forms which gives that event its proper expression.”
–Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson is credited with coining the phrase of the “Decisive Moment.” He may have been first to express it this way, but painters like Michael Angelo were painting them long before.  I think one of the greatest examples of this is the painting of the Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Many consider this the crowning achievement of all his work.

The Creation of Adam by Michael Angelo

As you can see in the painting you see Adam almost touching God.  To me this epitomizes the concept of the anticipated moment in photography, which often is the decisive moment.

This is when the anticipation is often greater than the moment itself.  It is like the effort of the basketball player as they are scoring rather than the actual point.

A mother touching her dead son and having her husband and family with her communicates much more about the loss of this soldier.  While there were many other moments that showed parts of the funeral, this communicates the loss and those who must cope with the loss.

While we may wish to capture the moment just before people touch, the touch itself can be just as powerful of a moment.

For me this is just an average photo of the Summerall Guards performing on Corp Day Weekend at The Citadel.
I was excited to capture this moment of the Summerall Guards performance. You see they perform this drill in silence and the only way they communicate is through small sounds.  Here you can see them sniffing, which is a small sound they can here next to each other.  I felt like I had captured the expression of the members doing all they could to stay in step and precision with each other.  This to me is a Decisive Moment of the performance of the Summerall Guard.

Moments are quite subtle indeed. I have written before about how the eyes are where true smiles are detected and not in the mouth.

Looking at the eyes of the guy talking and the guy listening lets you see there is a connection going on between them even though they are not looking directly at each other.  The eyes are giving away how this is a real moment and not something posed.


Here you can tell the lady is listening just by looking at her eyes.  There is a look people have when they are attentive with their ears that shows with their eyes.  You must capture these moments carefully by anticipating them.

Compare these two moments:



How do you capture the moment consistently?  You have to first shoot enough to begin with.  Way too many photographers never have learned to first overshoot.  Before you can learn to pick your moments you must first overshoot an event.

What happens when you overshoot?

First of all, over time you will discover that technically a lot of situations just will not work. I remember when I saw things and after a while would pick up the camera and shoot these only to discover later there were things from where I was standing making this impossible to capture.  Next time I saw something similar I was aware of either not making the photo or maybe doing something that would make it possible–like adding a flash.

Second, you realize their is a build up to a moment and then often just after the moment happens that the drop off is quite abrupt.  In sports there is the moment of the score and seldom just after you might see a moment when say a catcher at the home plate looses the ball in the tag and therefore the player is safe.  However for the most part the tagging of the player out is the moment.

Celebration after the touchdown.

Third, you start to see another moment develop shortly after the peak and give you a second great shot.  In sports this is often the jubilee shot.  The celebration after the score or sometimes the defeat you see on the defense or the loosing team after a score.

Last, you learn that moments are happening all the time and you must be on your toes watching and anticipating.

I tried to capture Tommy Bassett in many different moments in a desire to show the complexity of the man.  Here I have Tommy as a serious thinking and concerned person.


Here I think I have a lighter and humorous moment of Tommy with the ladies who formed a cooperative restaurant in Mexico.
Tommy Bassett is interpreting for our trip to visit the coffee farmers in Mexico for Just Coffee.


This is Tommy taking photos and getting contorted to get the right moment and composition.

When I went back through my coverage of my trip to cover the Café Justo in Chiapas, Mexico I realized I had a series of photos of our guide Tommy Bassett and one of the founders of the cooperative.  I also realized that had I wanted to do a story just on Tommy I would have wished I shot even more images of him.

You need to learn to think on your feet and continue to ask what are you trying to say.  What is the story? Then continue to shoot those things that will help you convey to your audience the story.  Remember you need to shoot enough to capture those moments that communicate.  Often these moments will have to be anticipated if you are to capture them.

Take that lens cap off your camera and get out there and start shooting.

Photography Rules: Don’t get religious

Just picture St. Peter at the gates of heaven and he is checking which camera you have to let you in.  Do you have a Nikon, Canon, Olympus or maybe you have a Pentax camera, but will this get you into heaven?

You would think this is going to happen when we die when you talk to some photographers.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qTVfFmENgPU]
There are even videos spoofing camera brand loyalty

There have even been converts in this battle over camera brands. You will find many photographers have switched when their brand of camera fails them after a few times. You would switch too if you photos were no longer in focus.

I watched one photographer years ago get so frustrated on the sidelines of a Georgia Tech football game that he just threw the camera after game across the field. 

These are the photographers who often feel the need to convert and once converted are on the street corners preaching.  They want to help others to join them and not go through the hell they had to go through to get their camera to make pictures the way they wanted.

I shoot with Nikon cameras. This is one of my Nikon D3 cameras I am selling since I am upgrading to the Nikon D4.

One of the main reason professional photographers upgrade their gear is to be sure they have all the competitive advantage they can.  You cannot loose a job to another photographer because they are able to deliver something that you cannot, just because of the gear you have. 

True Pro Photographers aren’t that Religious

Professional photographers know that it is the photographer more than it is the equipment that determines how good a photograph turns out.  So they are less about equipment than most amateurs think we are. 

It is OK to have faith in God and practice your faith. However, when your religion of camera gear comes into the discussion, it will more than likely have the pros realizing you think it is the camera that makes the photo and not the photographer.

Confession Time

While it is true I understand that it is the photographer that makes the photograph, the camera can fail you.  If it fails and another camera will be more consistent–then it is time for this photographer to convert.

My confession is that I changed camera systems a few times for not the right reasons.  I just wanted the latest camera and I could have kept my last camera and the quality of the images I was giving to the client wouldn’t have changed.

I must also confess that I have tried to get by with off brand lens just because of how inexpensive it was rather than about it’s performance.

The Nikon P7000 is the camera I carry all the time.

If St. Peter is a photographer

When you get the gates of heaven I think the question will not be what camera you shoot with, but let me see your camera. I think St. Peter will judge you a true photographer based on if you have your camera on you more than what camera you own.

Famous Photographers: Are there really any?

I don’t think there are many photographers who don’t want to be recognized for their work. Most everyone I know wants to have their work and themselves judged as being significant.

I have tried numerous times, as many other photographers have tried, to get hired by National Geographic Magazine.  I wanted to cover significant stories and to be viewed as significant.

Jay Maisel, Bernie Boston, Hugh Morton and George Tames.  Four famous photographers in my book. I took this at the Southern Short Course in the 1980s.

I’ve had the priviledge to meet some of the greatest photographers of our time. What was interesting to me is that most people in the room had no idea who they were. They knew their images, but didn’t know what they looked like.

Bill Fortney emcees a photo event in the 1980s.

Then one year I met Bill Fortney who gave his personal thoughts on the subject. He pointed out that other than maybe Ansel Adams, that most any other “famous photographer” who walked into a local mall would most likely not be recognized.  I think he is right.

Fortney went on to talk about how his pursuit of being a “famous photographer” was probably a big mistake. It was only when he was diagnosed with cancer did he come face to face with the demons of pride in his life.

Don Rutledge my mentor and friend for the most part enjoyed working as the fly on the wall. Sure he liked being recognized like all of us, but he had learned to get out of the way of the story. He knew he had to diminish for the story to be center stage.

Don Rutledge, my mentor and friend, taught me a great deal about being a photographer. I have yet to see anyone who was as masterful with storytelling with a camera. I also was impressed that he would talk with anyone and help anyone who asked him to help. Rutledge helped just about everyone he met even those just starting out.

The Road to Success

I have spent most of my career trying to figure out the steps to success. There are numerous books that help people climb the corporate ladder.  Not very many for those who are using photography as a path, but none the less there are many books on the topic.

What I continue to see over and over is “The Secret.” Most everyone one of the books was helping me to realize that to succeed I must serve.  However, this formula left a bad taste in my mouth. The message was more about how to rise to the top rather than how to live in the moment.

It continued to bother me that the only reason all these authors were writing the book was to tell everyone do this for a while and then you will be in charge.

What Don Rutledge Taught Me

Don wanted to tell stories with his camera, but because he was so good every where he worked they wanted him to manage communications departments. Don knew he was not gifted to lead, but was gifted with visual storytelling.

People around him were mad at him for not stopping doing what he was good at and to lead the division.

What I was learning from Don was that if I were a ditch digger and good at it, there is no reason I couldn’t make a career out of it.

Finally a book about how to be your best

Order it here on Amazon

While in Hawaii I met Jack Hart.  Jack was the art director for many years at CBS for TV shows like The Price Is Right.

For some reason after we were talking for a while Jack said he had a book I need to read.  I had to run off to teach class and just before I was to start Jack came in the room and handed me this book The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places: The Joy of Serving God in the Ordinary.

It is a very quick read and you can also get it as an eBook.

This is the first book that I have ever picked up that outlined what I had learned from Don Rutledge.

I believe the key to success is being joyful in life where you are now and not where you might be in the future.

What does this have to do with photography?

I have been working on a book to help students and those starting in this profession to be successful photographers. One of the key messages I believe is learning to connect the eighteen inches between the head and the heart.

The connection of why you do what you do can make all the difference in your attitude and your attitude is what makes people want to hire you over and over. 

It took me many years to understand how important the question “why” is to a story. I had been trained to ask Who, What, Where, When, When and How, but I was just filling the holes with the information.  I needed to be like a child and ask “Why is the sky blue?”

Why does the story need to be told? 

Attitude Adjustment

I have come to see that it is the photographers who understand they are here to serve others.  They serve by helping others communicate effectively using visuals.

When you are a freelancer you will have a client occasionally insult you–or at least it feels this way.  They may demean your position or some other way you feel insulted. You have a choice to respond and set them straight and sometimes this might be necessary, but you need to ask yourself is it worth loosing the account.  

As I read Ken Barnes book I came across this quote he had from Gordon MacDonald, in his book Rebuilding Your Broken World.

“You know whether or not you’re really a servant by the way you react when you’re treated like one.”

Do you seek significance?  Do you want to be recognized? Is this getting in the way of your joy for living?

Chick-fil-A is one of my best clients. They are my best for many reasons, but one that I have come to realize over time is teaching me the value of service.

Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, helps clean up trash at a Habitat for Humanity build in Columbus, GA.

Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, had trained his children that whenever they came to the restaurant that before they come in to pick up any trash.  Truett also does the same even today. If he sees something he will bend over at the age of 91 and pick it up.

Chick-fil-A trains their people to do any job joyfully, this includes the bathrooms and the dirty dishes.

Will you become a “famous photographer” if you serve others–maybe. I think the real question is will you be happy in the role of a servant, only when you discover the joy in it.

Key to selling on eBay: Take good photos

Have you sold anything on eBay before? I am selling some cameras and lenses and will replace them with a new Nikon D4.

If you are wanting to sell your stuff on eBay I recommend buying a lighting tent.  You can then take this outside and use the sunshine as your main light and the tent will do the rest.

This is the primary photo for my eBay sell for my Nikon D3.  I am selling this one first and then will sell another D3 once I have my new Nikon D4. The price is $2,500.

eBay recommends that you post many photos of your product so the buyers can get a good look before purchasing it.  There are two things the tent lighting will help you with the sale.  First it helps you to be totally transparent in the sale.  You are showing the product in the best possible light so that everything is viewable–even the flaws.

Here is how it appears on eBay.  Check it out

I made a couple more photos to help sell the camera.

Second, the more photos you use the less verbiage is necessary to tell everyone all they are getting. However, please be sure and list those things in the text that someone will search eBay.  If you have the manual and original box this will help you up your price.

I am trying to show all sides of the camera hoping this will improve my selling of it.

Now as you can see in the photo of the setup I have here in my basement office I am using strobes in addition to the tent to help with lighting.  Using the flashes will improve your color and believe me when you are selling something online the better the color the more likely a sell.

So many folks just use the manufacturer’s photos and because they are this will make some buyers a little cautious. They want to see the product you are selling and not a brand new one from a catalog.

This is my setup for photographing the camera and lenses.  Nice very even lighting.  We call this tent lighting where you are wrapping the object with light. B&H Tent Light

What are other tips to selling on eBay?  Please put those tips in the comments below so others can learn from the community. 

This is one of two 24-120mm Nikon zooms I am selling. 
This is the second 24-120mm lens I am selling.

Camera Phone or DSLR?: How much time do you have?

Veteran Professional photographers Greg Schneider and Tom Mills come every year to the conference to soak up more material.  Of course as you can see from my photo we are friends and enjoy catching up each year. Greg has been a past speaker at the conference.

I was just reviewing my photos from the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference.  I take these photos every year more for just me.  I am not trying to tell a story from my photos, I am just enjoying having some memory joggers. I might share these on social media where my friends tag each other to help us all remember.  They are taken for a more private consumption.

I contrast this to many people who come up to me and want to learn how to use their DSLR.  They are realizing their spouse is getting better photos with their camera phones than they are getting with what should be a better camera—their DSLR.

Kevin Vandivier and Ted Wilcox were both past speakers at the conference and seasoned pros.  They too come for learning and rekindling of relationships with friends.

Surely the professional photographers just know the secret settings to put my camera on that will help me consistently get great photos.  Is this what all these people are thinking when they come to me and want to know how to get better photos with their DSLR?

I then contrast this to all those professional photographers who spend money to go to a conference where for the most part not one single speaker got up to the microphone and told us how to set our cameras to get better photos.

Anacleto Rapping and Michael Kitada enjoy catching up with each other at the conference.  Anacleto has been past speaker a few times.  Today he teaches at Brookes Institute.

No one told us how to use flash to balance the background with the subject or to manipulate it.

Last year we did have Scott Kelby walk us through his workflow process for using Lightroom 3.  One year we had Joe McNally show us how to use multiple hotshoe flashes to light a subject and control them all from your Nikon camera.

Both of those technical presentations were for new things introduced and people wanted to know how to use the new technology.  But, for the most part the camera hasn’t changed all that much from over 200 years ago.  You still have an aperture, shutter speed and ISO to set to be sure the photo is well exposed. 

Bill Fortney, the Nikon Representative, takes time to help John Walton understand the differences between different model DSLR cameras that Nikon just introduced.  Typically you are hearing a dialogue where Bill is asking what type of photography are they doing and what do they want to do they cannot do right now.  Walton has traveled all over the world shooting for the AWANA Clubs International for the past 30 years.  Even with all his knowledge he is still on his knees before Bill learning something new.

Lifelong Learning is Key for DSLR

If you just want to know what settings to use on your camera to make photos and that is it, don’t waste your money on a DSLR.  Use your camera on your phone.  You will more than likely have this with you and that is why you will get better photos for the most part—having a camera with you when the moment arises.

If you are finding that you need a flash and your camera phone isn’t cutting it, then buy a camera with built in flash for those moments you just need to be sure the subject that is right in front of you has light on them. 

When this camera isn’t working for all the situations be very careful about your next purchase.  Buying the DSLR will not solve all the situations that the point and shoot wasn’t capturing.  Most likely it would capture the moments.  The problem is the lack of knowledge of how lighting works or the camera works to capture moments rather than the camera lacking.

During the panel discussion Lisa Krantz pulls out her iPhone and is taking a photo of the crowd and most likely posting to her social media outlets.  Notice how both Alex Garcia and Brad Moore are so use to this behavior by other photographers they are just taking this in stride.

What the Pros are buying

If you go to a conference with a bunch of pros today, you will see them walking around with point and shoot size cameras. They wear them like jewelry and proud to own them.  Sure you may see a few of us with our big DSLR cameras, but almost all will own a point and shoot.

Francis Bacon is using his point and shoot to photograph Jim Veneman with a student.

All the pros realize the simplicity of the point and shoot camera helps them rediscover why they fell in love with photography.  They enjoy having a camera with them that captures what they are experiencing at the moment.  Carrying all their pro gear all the time would help them make better photos, but they don’t enjoy carrying everything all the time.

Brad Moore has his photo taken by one of the conference attendees with their camera phone.

Why do all the pro photographers continue to go to conferences where they are not all learning about the camera settings?  They know they need to train themselves on why they make pictures rather than on just how to make pictures.

When you know why you are making photographs you will have the proper motivation that will help you tackle all the technical stuff and learn to master it.  You need to be reaching for lenses and flashes and changing settings on your DSLR the same way a person drives their stick shift car—it is all muscle memory.  You are not stopping and thinking about it you are just doing.

Tom Yu has Gary Fong review his work.  Gary Fong is the founder of Genesis Photo Agency and Christians in Photojournalism.  Every year Gary comes and invites all his friends to meet him at the conference.  Tom has come from mainland China to attend the conference for the first time.  Tom is now looking for an internship while he is in the state.  Anyone need an intern, let me know and I will pass this along to Tom.

If you bought the DSLR and not willing to commit the time to learn how to use it—which will be a lot of time—sell it and get a point and shoot or just use your camera phone.  DSLR is not for the casual shooter, it is for the serious amateur and pro.

Jim Veneman is never without his Nikon P7000.  He too is using a point and shoot over carrying his DSLR all the time. 

Parts To An Estimate

There are three major sections to an estimate for a job you are bidding on for a client.

1.    Your costs
2.    The price the client pays
3.    Your selling of yourself and why you are the best person for the job

Your Costs

There are two sections to every job when it comes to expenses.

1.    Ongoing expenses spread across all jobs, which we refer to as the “Cost of Doing Business.”  This gets broken down even more into

a.    Living Expenses
b.    Business Expenses

2.    Job costs associated to the project.  If you have prints, travel expenses, and other things that you would not have as expenses unless you were doing this job.

Your costs are not what you quote to the client.  This is what you use to help you know what you must clear for a profit.  Take this information and then figure out what you need to charge.

The Price the Client Pays


1.    The Price

If you are selling to the public prints they put on their walls from portrait sessions you may have a variety of packages that include the shooting fees and maybe a starting number of prints.

You may shoot weddings and then have similar print costs like the portrait photographer, but also have more prints and binders to create books for the couple.

When you shoot for corporate or advertising you have shooting fees plus usage fees.  These usage fees are based on where and for how long they plan to use a photograph. 

         2.    The Package

Typically you are going to offer more than one solution and hope that you can up sell the client. Most often you will have 3 to 4 prices.

A)    Rock Bottom Price
B)    Low End Price
C)    Medium Price
D)    High End Price

Your Sales Pitch

This is the area I see the weakest for most photographers.  They quote a price as a take it or leave it price.  Those who understand how to sell often do not mention prices until they have sold the client on their services.

The key is to first find out what they need and learn how to meet the need and even exceed it.  Once you have done this selling is quite easy.

If you are just pitching packages and not understanding how they plan to use the images you are unable to show how you are helping them.

Lets break this down into bite size steps:

1.    Establish the need.  You can ask directly and sometimes they know, but more than often you are going to need to explore with the client and understand them and or their business to be able to establish what they are trying to accomplish.

2.    Word all of your pitches to address the need and show them how by picking a certain product you are offering they will accomplish even more.

3.    Give them options. Too often photographers do not put themselves in a very good negotiating position.  Try your best to always think of three prices they could choose to meet their needs.  Maybe on the bottom price they only get the digital images.  Next level they get prints and on the top end you even provide online galleries.  Be creative think of ways that you can give them a choice.

Learn to say yes!

When a client asks for something that you are uncomfortable with, unless it is unethical price it so you can either bring on help to make it happen or the money is enough to make it worthwhile.  When you are saying to the client I would love to help you and here is how much it is to do that for you then if the price is too high, they said no and not you.

Too many photographers for example say no to not selling their copyright.  Just put the price high enough that it is worth it.  Surely you would like to retire tomorrow for the right price today.

Put yourself in the clients perspective

While you may have done everything just right and it makes sense to you, ask a friend who knows nothing about photography to hear your proposal.  Ask them to let you know if anything doesn’t make sense to them.  Ask them if it feels like you are excited about serving them.

If people are only shopping price rarely will you get the job.  If they are shopping for solving their problem and feeling taken care of by a photographer—you most likely are in the running using these principles.