Photography Tax Tips

Bookkeeping??? I want to shoot.

If you don’t like keeping track of your spending or budgeting and can never see yourself doing this, then read no further.

However, if you want to make money with your camera and do this as a profession, you have no choice but to keep track of all your expenses and income, or you can go to jail for tax problems. It is just that simple.

Even if you hire an accountant, you must keep records to give to them.

This blog post is for those who hate taxes and are interested in a simple way to do it.

The IRS needs to know where all your income is coming in from and what are all your expenses. By the way, you need documentation to back this up in receipts and record keeping.

Here is what I do for my record keeping for the IRS. 

These are some tips I have to offer for photographers to help with taxes.

First, a disclaimer: I am not an accountant or lawyer, so please check anything I say with a Certified Public Accountant.

I recommend using Quicken Home & Business. Here is a link. [UPDATE 9-2-22] I am using Quicken for Mac to keep track of expenses and FotoBiz for Invoicing. Link to blog on FotoBiz

Why do I use Quicken Home & Business?

When I got my first computer, it came with Quicken, and I just started using this back in the 1980s.

I liked a few basic features, which for the most part, are the same as the first version I ever used.


The template looks just like your check register. You have a box for  Payee, the amount, and, most importantly, the category.


Quicken helps you set up categories based on IRS Schedule C for your business. Out of the box, you can select the default and be pretty close to being done. I suggest paying a CPA to consult on the categories you need to use for your business.

Now there are a few cool things that Quicken can help automate your bookkeeping. One of the best things is that many credit card companies make it so Quicken can talk to them and download all your transactions. So the only thing you will need to do is to be sure you are assigning the correct category to each transaction. But after the first time with a vendor, it goes to your last category the next time it comes up.

Using multiple categories for a vendor will let you choose which one from a pull-down menu.


You can attach a receipt to any transaction. Receipts are essential for bookkeeping.

You may also be wondering about what the IRS thinks about digital receipts. The short answer is that digital receipts are as acceptable as paper copies. According to Rev. Proc. 97-22, the IRS allows taxpayers to save electronic images of documents and destroy the original hard copy.

You are meeting the IRS requirements if you scan your receipts and attach them to the transaction.


You can see here a scan of a cash receipt. I put this in my Cash Transactions.


Quicken even comes with Vehicle Mileage tracking.

Tips for tracking your mileage.

You will need the odometer reading for the beginning and end of each year. So, on New Year’s Eve or Day, you must write down the odometer reading.

Think of tracking your mileage like you would do a checkbook transaction. It would help if you wrote where you went for business. You need the starting odometer reading and the end reading. You can track your tolls in the same place and your parking if you like. I choose to track all my receipts for tolls and parking in either my credit card or cash account.

The IRS will want your actual business, personal, and overall mileage for the tax year.

Also, keep track of actual vehicle expenses. You can deduct whichever you want–mileage or actual expenses.

TripLog is a fantastic and easy way to track your mileage if you have a smartphone. I recommend you check out TripLog for use with your Android Device or iPhone.

TipLog Highlights

  • The most popular GPS mileage tracking app with over 300,000 downloads
  • The only app that AUTO STARTS when connected to power or Bluetooth devices
  • The only mileage tracking app that reads a vehicle’s odometer from OBD-II devices
  • Sync and merge data to TripLog Web from multiple devices with Fleet Management
  • The most comprehensive reports compliant with IRS TAX returns

Since I am tracking all my personal and business expenses, I can easily see my actual costs for a vehicle in a given year. The note field is where you specify which car was at the shop. So you can use actual expenses or mileage for the IRS forms. The good thing is that TripLog and Quicken Home & Business help you decide the best to use in any given year.


I like the ability to use your logo and customize your invoices with Quicken.
To get paid, I must invoice clients for the work I did for them. I have set up a few categories of billables that I use for invoicing.

You can have, for example, an unlimited number of ways to charge for your services. Once created, it will automatically drop all the explanations you use to describe what you did for them.

If you have taxable items that you invoice for, then you can set up those categories to automatically tax at the rates for your area.

It is pretty common to have some billables that are taxable and others that are not. But, again, this reminds you why you need to talk to a CPA to get your setup.
Another cool thing with the software is you can put in the due date for invoices, and Quicken will help you avoid late paying. Knowing late payments is critical when you are short on cash due to slow payment.     

April 15th


If you have used Quicken Home & Business throughout the year to track all your expenses and income, then TurboTax Home & Business can import all this data. Then basically, you click through questions to verify that it is correct.

Filing my taxes has never been easier.

Which photo is best? Another Example

Click on photo for a larger view.

This is a series I shot of a little Senara boy in the town of Konadouga, Burkina Faso, which is located in West Africa.

Which of the photos would you pick and why?  Here are larger versions of the composite above:

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6

Photo 7

Photo 8

I think anyone of the photos will work. Yes I do believe they are all good and which one to use depends on what I am wanting to say to people. Now I might crop the photo a little depending on the photo I select and how it will be used.

I could easily see this photo running over two pages of a magazine with the headline and story on the left over the photograph.

I think the furrow of his eyebrows and his hands on the post change so much from photo to photo. The only photo I really feel like makes the child look content and happy is Photo 2. You could argue Photo 3 also he is playful and enjoying himself.

All the other photos he is looking at the photographer inquisitively which can be interpreted many different ways.

For the most part all the ones with the furrow of his eyebrows and tight grip on the pole communicate some type of desperation to me. These look more like the NGO photos trying to raise money for their programs that help children. The expression communicates uneasy feeling which can help the viewer feel responsibility for the child.

I am shooting slightly from above the child a few feet away from him. What I find interesting is in the last photo he raises his chin which makes his eyes look more level to the camera perspective. This in turn puts him more on eye level with the audience.

That last photo could be used where you may have the child making his on plea for help in the copy.

Which photo is best? The first question should be what are you trying to say.

Photographer Tip

When shooting situations like this in the field you have to feel the situation. Then you must know what you are trying to communicate about this person to people who are not hear but will be the audience.

There are two of the journalists questions I think you need to really understand and know what the answers are before you push the shutter release.

What and Why are the two question of the five I would stress.

Here are the five questions a journalist should ask:

  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • When did it take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?

Some authors add a sixth question, “how”, to the list, though “how” can also be covered by “what”, “where”, or “when”:

  • How did it happen?

What is going on that you need to communicate to your audience? This helps you pick the situation and moments out of everything that you are seeing and focus on the message.

Why should the audience care? This is a deeper question that I like to ask rather than just why did it happen. This helps me often work to find the peak moment that will engage the audience.
This is why I might crawl on the ground to get my audience eye level with children. When they are eye level with a child this should help them feel like a child, because to see this moment like this would mean being like a child on the ground.

Remember if you don’t know why you are pushing the shutter release then no one else will understand either when they see your image.

Which photo is best?

I will take a few situations show you the take and help you see why one photo stands out over the rest.

First I am taking the drive of a basketball player to the basket. This is the series of six images shot extremely close in time. They are so close in time that the time from the first to the last image is only one second total time.

Take a moment and go through each photo separately and make your pick first. We may or may not agree, but in the end can you articulate why one photo is the best?

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5
Photo 6

Sports is about competition

Rather than calling these rules lets call this list of mine guidelines. These are things I generally am looking for in a sports photo beyond the technical correctness of the photo.

  1. The ball
  2. Competition
  3. Peak action

I like three photos more than the others. I like 1, 2 and 4, because all three elements are in those photos.

The 3rd photo she is so much in front of the competition they don’t really exist and in the 5th and  6th photo she has already blown by the competition therefore she is not overcoming adversity.


The moment before she blows by the player to the basket you can see the defender and the offensive player competing for the space on the floor. Now it is clear to me in photo 2 the offensive player has more desire on her face than the defender.

I think this face expression is the nuance that commentators talk about between the winning team and the loosing team. She wants the win and it shows and the defender’s expression is complacent.

I think the pick is definitely between 1 and 2.  Let’s look at them side by side.

I like the ponytail of the player up in the back, it gives it more motion than the other photo. I also like the defender’s hand looking like it is trying to reach for the ball more in the second photo. I can also feel her next step being the jump step to the basket and completing the move to the basket.

The last thing I would do is the crop a little tighter and my final image would look like this here.

What do you think?

Do you come to the same conclusions? Maybe you can argue for another photo. The point is you really need to be able to break down your photos and talk about why one is better than the other.

A few things happen when you start doing this. First of all you will most likely notice you didn’t shoot enough. The photo you want is either before or just after you moments that you do have.

Second, you will start to anticipate sooner the moments. Why is this? You now are training yourself to know what to look for in the photo.

Too many people are shooting just nouns and not complete sentences. Photo 3 is a great example of the noun and not a sentence. Yes you could say she is doing something, but notice the difference of having a competitor in the photograph.

The defensive player helps to tell the rest of the story. In photo 3 you have no idea who they are playing. This could be just her warming up before the game, but the other photos show the competition.

Some might argue to use image 5 or 6 because she is shooting. If I didn’t have number 2 I would go with those, but I would much prefer to see the battle on the floor for position than the open shot.

This should be happening with all of your photo shoots, not just sports. There is a moment that is best. Stay tuned for other examples.

How Photography Helped Me: Part 2


Don Rutledge, pictured here, is the person who helped me to see and understand body language in ways that Social Work didn’t teach me. [photo by Bill Bangham]

What I was learning with Photojournalism:

While a freshman in college, I got my first SLR camera and began shooting for the school paper and yearbook. I would take my work to my uncle, who was a professional photographer and who worked as a photojournalist, to review.

He taught me how to improve my images through my contact sheets. While I was somewhat learning about body language in Social Work, it was with my uncle and later with Don Rutledge that I would be schooled in the finer points of body language.

Instead of watching a movie of me during the day and analyzing my social awkwardness, I was learning by observing others with my camera.

While many think that those with Asperger’s Syndrome lack sensitivity to others and lack empathy, I believe just the opposite. While their outward social skills are lacking, they know many things people do not see.

I believe their desire to avoid social situations is because they often feel things about others and do not have the innate ability to process and articulate these feelings spontaneously. My experience is that I overthink, which can often cloud my social skills and make it challenging to respond in a moment. It is much easier to avoid situations than to embrace them and learn from them.

Knolan Benfield with an environmental portrait of the pastors of leading congregations in Hickory, North Carolina, in 1985.

Knolan Benfield

In 1985, my uncle, Knolan Benfield, was excited to show one of his series of photos of ministers. His excitement and telling me all he had to do to make these photos captured my attention. I had never been interested in what other people do like this before.

Knolan had combined photojournalism with portrait photography using lighting for the first time in his career. He took environmental photos of senior pastors in their church buildings. With each pastor, he worked hard to find those architectural settings that made each congregation different.

One of the things he was most excited about was the composition. He had learned from Don Rutledge how to pull the audience into a photo by creating layers. These layers pulled you from the front to the back of the photograph.

This is an example of where there are layers from front to back in a photograph helping to create more interest.

One of the things that are pretty different in Knolan’s portraits from his days as a photojournalist was the use of lights. He rarely used lights in his photos when shooting for magazines.

Knolan combined the existing light with the strobes to help create depth and interest. To do this in 1985, he would get the light settings using a handheld meter and then add a flash to be a little brighter than the rest of the scene, maybe 1/2 to an absolute stop difference.

Knolan repurchased a unique film for his Hasselblad system that would let him shoot a Polaroid to do a test shot. This was revolutionary for him and entirely new at the time.

It was early in my career, and I could not take all this and do it myself until some eight years later.

In the meantime, I would leave my first job at a newspaper, where I was perfecting my understanding of making a photograph and telling stories, to work with Don Rutledge and Joanna Pinneo.

While learning how to see social situations using my camera, it would take years of shooting before it started to sink into my personal life.

Sensory Perception

I was naive in my early jobs that when higher-up people asked me for my input, I spoke directly and with such candidness that it would hurt me.

Those with Asperger’s tend not to see the point of superficial social contact, niceties, or passing the time with others unless there is a transparent discussion point/debate or activity. Their allegiance is to truth, not people’s feelings.

While those with Asperger’s are not good at explaining why they did something that appeared to contradict the social codes, equally, typical people are not good at explaining the exceptions to the principles and reasoning for their social behavior.

Today there is a remarkable DVD, an encyclopedia of emotions, entitled Mind Reading: The Interactive Guide to Emotions. Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues at the University of Cambridge identified 412 human emotions (excluding synonyms). They examined the age at which children understand the meaning of each emotion and developed a taxonomy that assigned all the distinct emotions into one of 24 different groups. A multimedia company then developed interactive software designed for children and adults to learn what someone may think or feel.

On the DVD, actors (including Daniel Ratcliffe) demonstrate facial expressions, body language, and speech qualities associated with specific emotions.

In essence, the DVD does some of what I had to learn on my own through Social Work and Photography.

Problems with Non-Verbal Communication

According to the National Institute of Neurobiological Disorders and Stroke, adults with Asperger’s syndrome may have problems with non-verbal communication. They display awkward body gestures, inappropriate facial expressions, and an odd stiff gaze. They rarely look people in the eye and do not show any form of joy, such as smiling, winking, or hugging.

This may sound harsh, but your odd behavior may look a little more normal when you have a camera around your neck. Maybe the way you appear is that you are looking for a photograph. This may be true, but it allows me to study the situation harshly.

When I was young, I ran around almost all the time in an army uniform, playing to be G. I. Joe. My other attachment was to this tractor, which I rode everywhere for a few years.

Intense Specialized Interests

According to the Better Health Channel, adults with Asperger’s syndrome tend to have intense, time-consuming, specialized interests. These individuals usually become experts in one or two areas and excel in their chosen careers because they choose jobs that best fit their interests. They are often referred to as eccentric, which sometimes causes social isolation. An example of an intense specialized interest would be someone who spends extended time studying science and statistics but has little interest in anything else.

I am interested in photography and explicitly use photojournalism to help causes. I read a great deal and studied nuances to help me be a better storyteller.

Many people are surprised as to how much I get done. Asperger’s has helped me stay on task to do tedious business and marketing tasks. It has enabled me to problem-solve computer issues related to my photography.

People with Asperger’s syndrome are often perfectionists, are exceptionally good at noticing mistakes, and have a conspicuous fear of failure. I have been able to channel this to help me perfect my photography, and the fear of failure has kept me busy with marketing. These are some examples of how Asperger’s has helped me with my photography business.

The Portfolio

The funny thing that is important in photography more than in other professions is the portfolio. Your work must be at a certain level before you get an interview. This works to the advantage of a person with Asperger’s. Generally, we do not do well in job interviews where you need to sell your abilities to an employer. My work is the first foot in the door, which my personality alone might not make it through.


Because I am wired, I am very good at picking up anything to do with the computer and photography. Also, because of the way I had to teach myself to understand things, I have discovered I make a good teacher. This is because I have had to break things down into parts and then put them back together to construct the whole.

Today I spend a great deal of time problem solving the teaching of technical concepts. I have also discovered over time there are so many ways to approach a problem because I often come things different than others do, and because of this, I know there needs to be more tolerant of others.

I remember crying as a young boy because the model motorcycle I was trying to put together was missing a few steps in the instructions. My mother made me wait to ask my dad if he could help. What happened was no one could figure it out. I spent hours until I found a way to solve the problem.

This emotional feeling of not being able to figure something out and no one could help me was depressing. I keep this in mind when I teach today. I encourage students and let them know I believe in them. I give them space and will come alongside them so we can process the problem together.

I realize that if they can figure it out with someone encouraging them, they will feel better about solving it than if someone just gave them the answer. I know that because I was proud of that motorcycle when I finished it.

Where I am today on this journey

I love to take on a problem that hasn’t been done before. One of my favorite jobs was photographing research projects of engineers and scientists. In those situations, you usually photograph a one-of-a-kind that hasn’t been photographed before. You have to figure it out. It is not a cookie-cutter solution.

Adults with Asperger’s syndrome can be renowned for being honest, having a strong sense of social justice, and keeping to the rules. This has been what keeps me focused on storytelling on social justice issues.

Asperger’s Syndrome people can acquire The Ability of the Mind abilities using intelligence and experience rather than intuition, which can eventually lead to an alternative form of self-consciousness as they reflect on their mental state and the mental state of others. This is a highly reflective and explicit self-consciousness similar to that of philosophers.

I have learned to use this awareness to help me be a storyteller of other people’s stories.


How Photography Helped Me: Part 1

Stanley on a school bus in Kinston, NC

While I have always wanted to be in control, I wasn’t in power for a long time.

Asperger’s Syndrome

It would not be until the adult years that I understood I had Asperger’s Syndrome. Early on, I went for psychological testing because of my behavior in the classroom. They suspected I had Autism, but they didn’t want to label me at that time.

You see, it was not until 1994 that the American Psychiatric Association recognized Asperger’s syndrome. While I majored in Social Work in early 1980, it was never discussed. When my sister was doing her Masters in Social Work, she came across it.

She recognized the symptoms in me.

There were a few things that made her aware I might have it. I didn’t talk until I was three years old. I was also socially awkward.

However, on the plus side of the characteristics:

  • Persistent
  • A perfectionist
  • Easily able to identify errors
  • Technical ability
  • In possession of a sense of social justice and integrity
  • Likely to question protocols
  • Accurate
  • Attentive to detail
  • Logical
  • Conscientious
  • Knowledgeable
  • Original in problem solving
  • Honest
  • Likely to thrive on routine and clear explanations

Once you get to know you

I have heard this phrase a lot throughout my life. The reason is those with Asperger’s Syndrome frequently say things without considering the emotional impact on the listener [faux pas].  Also, I tended to include too much detail when speaking on topics.

Those who have chosen to move past these social flaws soon learn to love me because of the many positive attributes that I do have. However, like everyone, I have some rough edges of a personality that don’t help me. Social Work and my Photography training would help me do a better job with my social skills.

Social Work & Photography

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise and the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

[1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV]

I find it quite strange that today I work as a professional communicator. You see, my greatest weakness is communication.

While I know I was called to do what I am doing; I am reminded of the scripture following 1 Cor 1:27.

… so that no one may boast before him.

[1 Corinthians 1:29 NIV]

It was my pursuing the call that I would be led down a path that has me working today as a professional photojournalist.

I went to college to major in Social Work, thinking I would be a pastor one day. Here I took these courses, which helped me intellectually understand people and social situations. Even with all this training, I still was not wired to grasp the social moments intuitively. So I can only say I have been blessed with opportunities that I alone did not merit.

Stanley made a monkey face during his college years.

Here are some of the coursework required for Social Workers:

Human Behavior Course—This first or second-year course explores the interaction of various factors in human behavior, including biological, social, cultural, environmental, and psychological. Discussions focus significantly on individual behavior in a larger social framework. Attention is also given to diverse populations, including minorities, children, and the poor, as well as the impact of discrimination and oppression.

Social Work Research Methods Course—Social workers, must be able to research both new and existing social data effectively. This course provides the techniques to perform both qualitative and quantitative studies. Students learn to critically interpret, organize and use research findings in everyday practice. This is typically a second-year course.

Generalist Social Work Practice Course—Students in this course learn the intervention process in the social work context. They acquire the skills to evaluate, engage and intervene in social problems. This involves a study of the principles and values of generalist practice through multiple social perspectives. These perspectives include multicultural groups, families, and individuals. Social work roles, professional relationships, and service delivery models are also examined.

Social Work Policy Course—Social workers, must be familiar with the significant administrative, legislative, and judicial policies that affect their work. They must also understand how to advocate for policy changes to improve social conditions and empower at-risk groups. Students gain this understanding by exploring the history, organization, and philosophies of social policies and their effect on diverse populations. This course is generally taken towards the middle or end of a social work program.

Field Practice Instruction Course—In this course, students apply knowledge gained in the classroom to practical situations that model real-world problems. Students develop oral and written communication skills, adequate supervision, and critical assessment skills. This course may include placement with a social work agency and an additional seminar. It is generally taken towards the end of a social work program.

Photojournalists with Social Work or Psychology degrees

Later in my career, I would discover that many of my favorite photographers would have majored in Social Work or Psychology. Don Rutledge and Joanna Pinneo, who I worked with in my early years, were psychology majors. Eugene Richards was a social work major and worked as one for years before becoming a photojournalist.

There will be more about how photography would help me more than Social Work in Part 2

The importance of the pause

The most important tool I use when I read is the pause. We even talk about books as being a quick read or not. The writers that say a lot with few words cause us to pause to take in what we just read.

Poets are the masters of the pause. They use this tool more than just about any other technique. It is quite common for a poem to take a long time to write, sometimes years for a poem to be finished. The reason is the poet is looking for the right word or phrase to communicate something worthy of the pause.

World Read Aloud Day

There is even a day each year where we celebrate the reading aloud of the written word. There are the masters of this art that make us all want to just listen to the reading aloud of writings.

Who hasn’t heard a reader take off as if it is a race to the end of the passage only to leave listeners all confused due to the lack of pauses?

That pause is a tool that when used properly allows the silence to give deeper meaning to the word or phrase just preceding the pause.

Paul Harvey the master of the pause

The New York Times said that Paul Harvey’s “trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average Americans and folksy observations that evoked the heartland, family values and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around the dinner table on Sunday.”

Paul Harvey understood the power of the pause.

The visual pause

The still image has come to be known as the visual pause. For the audience can savor a moment rather than being bombarded by a constant moving image of life as we experience it in real time.

Even in video and film the still image is used to help the audience absorb the content. Ken Burnes is an American director and producer of documentary films, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs. He has mastered the use of the still image. The audience is not bored by the still image, but rather mesmerized and able to digest the content.

The photograph has helped influence our world and change it.

Robert Capa’s photograph of Omaha Beach, Normandy, France in 1944 put the viewer on the front line of the war.

Dorothea Lange’s 1936 picture of the Migrant Mother put a face on the Great Depression.

Eddie Adams 1968 photograph of the murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief helped to end the Vietnam War.

The photos are like poems. They allow the audience to pause and take in the deeper meanings of the images.

Now just compare the video below of the famous moment of the murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief.  I think this helps us understand how important the [PAUSE] is for something so emotionally impactful.

This is an interview with Eddie Adams years later talking about this experience. It happened so quick for Eddie that he didn’t even think about it having any impact at all even after he shot it.  It is only when he was able to [PAUSE] did he understand what he shot.

[youtube]Video and cinema use the still

Even in the movies directors use the still image to help the audience pause to absorb the moment. Sometimes they will slow down the movement to give a similar affect.

While video is about movement if it duplicates reality of life too much then the pause is lost.

Great producers understand the storyline and use the images as well as the sound to help tell the story. The more emotional the storyline becomes the more the movie will slow down.

Combining poetry and the photograph

If you could combine the reading of poetry at it’s best with the strongest still images of the subject you could have an incredible impact.

In the fourth quarter of this year’s Super Bowl Dodge RAM ran a 2 minute package combining the best of the spoken pause of Paul Harvey with some of the great photojournalist for a package that was voted the #1 Super Bowl ad this year by AdWeek.

Which medium?

Each medium we use for messaging has it’s strengths. My largest concern today is that too many people are defaulting to video for everything.

I have some recommendations for those who want the most impact with their message.

If your message is vital to your organization then you need to pull out all the stops. This is where you put a team of communicators working together on the project.

You need strong text, strong still images and compelling video that is presented in a way that compels the audience to become engaged with the topic.

This is where you do what Jimmy Bonner, of the Richards Group, the brainchild of the “God Made the Farmer” ad did. The instructions were very simple and freedom was given to those photographers. He gave each photographer Paul Harvey’s speech and asked them to spend time with the farmers and ranchers. Just shoot what you feel is appropriate.

Andy Anderson, one of the photographers blogged on the project. He said:

10 photographers capturing on there own terms the life of a farmer and rancher. All of us searching for meaningful images. Not any one photo rising above any others, but collectively voicing a message for folks and a vocation we have all really taken for granted. The last truly archetypical American worker. And who better else to match the images with than Paul Harvey…America’s grandfather.

Do you want impact like this ad had on the world? Maybe then you need to consider the power of the pause–the visual pause of the photograph.

Famous Photographers: Nature or Nurture?

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 10,000, ƒ/2.8, 1/60 @ 7:07 am at the Chattahoochee Nature Center located in Roswell, Georgia.

Too many times when I meet people they assume that the reason I take good photographs is one of two reasons.

First they assume my camera gear is why I get great photos. The second reason is they assume I was born with this talent.

The one thing they rarely if ever talk about is how much work and study is necessary to make great photographs.

Nikon D100, 16mm, ISO 400, ƒ/6.7, 1/160

In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular… sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.
Ansel Adams


Visualization is a central topic in Ansel Adams’ writings about photography, where he defines it as “the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure”.  You may see some people holding up an empty frame or even putting their hands together to create a frame to look at a scene before ever picking up a camera.

In the movies storyboarding was done to help visualize what would happen so that all those involved would be able to make it happen, from lighting, camera and blocking of the talent for example.

For me to make the photograph of the basketball players I had to visualize this long before it actually would happen.

When I was on staff at Georgia Tech I installed the Ultra White Lightning system. The Alienbees are what I put up once I started doing freelance full-time.

I arrived early and put four strobes onto the catwalk to light the court. I needed the light to get the depth-of-field necessary to be sure the players were in focus.  You cannot shoot this at ƒ/1.4 and expect that the player will look sharp.

Arriving early means getting to the venue early in the morning for a night time game. It takes about two to three hours to put the lights up and be sure everything is working. I really needed to do this when no one is on the court. Approximately a few hours before the game it is quite common for the teams to be practicing, so you must arrive early or you may not have enough time.

I had to also attach a remote camera behind the backboard. This had to be fired by a radio remote and also use a radio remote to fire the flashes at the same time. Framing of the image I knew from playing basketball for years. I normally get an assistant to do a few layups to help me make the frame loose enough to capture most any play on this side of the basket.

Then I had to wait until during the game the players would be in place for me to fire the shot. Now at the time I did this I could only fire the camera once every three to four seconds. The flashes needed to recycle and any faster would give me underexposed images.

I had to anticipate the moment that would capture the peak action. Too soon or too late and the photo is not as dramatic.

As you can see from this photo, I did not pop out of my mothers womb and just have the innate skills to capture this moment.

In the very first photo at the Chattahoochee Nature Center I had to get up before sunrise to capture this moment. Also, I knew the sky would look blue even tho it looked black to the naked eye. This is capturing something that your eye doesn’t even see.

Both of the examples I have given here are not what talent would see and just click a button to make it happen. Both took years of training and understanding about many technological gear to make them happen.

You don’t make the photo above in the middle of a parking lot in the dark with pure talent. You must know from years of experience where to place the lights to get this effect.  How do you get a Rembrandt lighting affect on a punk rock bank? You just have to know how to do this from learning how to make it happen.

What about nature?

There is no question that some people have an innate ability to see and create wonderful work, but for the most part talent that goes under developed is no match for someone with persistence and willingness to put in the time and effort.

If the opportunity avails itself then a person with talent will have a good chance to make an incredible image. However, from my life experience it is the person who anticipates that gets the best image.

Nikon D2Xs, 600mm, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/1500


The reason great photographs are made is because the photographer anticipated the moment. If you wait till you see it and push the shutter button then you will have missed it.

Sports photographers know the teams and players so well they can almost tell you the next play. They get into position that gives them the best opportunity to get the moment.

Many sports photographers will put up multiple remote cameras to anticipate that something or someone may black their view and by having it covered from multiple angles will have the game winning shot.

Even the portrait photographer will talk with the subject and get their reaction to something. Just mentioning certain topics with a subject can elicit a good moment. It is said that Yousuf Karsh grabbed Winston Churchill’s cigar from him to get that famous photo of him. He knew it would get a reaction.

Nature & Nurture

I believe it is the combination of nature and nurture that makes for the great photographers. What this means is that those who work hard and learn to plan for their photos will make some great ones, whereas those who just think they will just shoot whatever they see will rarely make great photos.

The Making of an Expert

According to K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely published paper in the Harvard Business Review in 2007:

New research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill. Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.

Photographers: You are what you read

These are just some of the books I have read in the past year.

You may have heard “you are what you eat,” but I believe that “you are what you read is just as true.”

Read what you want to cover

The photographer needs to become an expert on the subjects they cover. If you work in business then you need to be reading what those in that industry are reading.

If you are covering the faith community, then you need to be up on theology of the groups you are wanting to do work.

If you want to do work for NGOs then you need to be up on the areas that they address.


Osmosis does not require input of energy and therefore this is where most of us start our careers. We start covering what we are already familiar.

For me growing up in a minister’s home where my father was involved with missions means through osmosis I was pretty knowledgeable about Baptist and Missions.

By taking the time out of my life to go to seminary I was able to take my knowledge to a whole new level of understanding. I studied theologians and worldviews which helped me communicate the nuances of faith to the audience.

What I am reading today

I do a lot of work with Chick-fil-A. To know how to help them communicate their story requires me to understand where they are going and not just where they have been.

One of the best places for a photographer to understand what business like Chick-fil-A is going is to attend a conference like Leadercast. Leaders from across the globe will attend this conference to learn how they can be better leaders for their organizations.

It is here that I was introduced to speakers like Patrick Lencioni and John C. Maxwell. I also learned that these leaders were also looking to other leaders like John Wooden, Tony Dungy and
Mike Krzyzewski who are all coaches.

I started reading all the books I could on leadership and how to build teams. I am confident to say that I am well versed now in the field and understand some of the current trends.

This helps me now sit at a table and recommend stories rather than being the person waiting on them to tell me stories they need covered.

Great storytellers recognize a good story

“If I only knew back then what I know now,” has been said by many people. I know it took time for me to be able to understand now without experiences to build upon. 

If you spent 30 years of your life telling stories, then you too would be really good at knowing what makes a good story. I continue to recommend to my clients that my greatest asset to them is the creative idea. Once you have a good story idea getting a team to cover it is easy. It is finding the story that takes the most creativity.

Where do good ideas come from?

I would argue that very few great ideas come from the inexperienced. I think overnight sensations are actually 10+ year careers that finally bloomed.

When I get a great idea today it is because I am referencing something else in my brain from a history of stories I have covered, things that I have read and from experiences I have had. It is not from just hearing something fresh.

Steven Johnson: Where do good ideas come from?

I really recommend watching this 4 minute video to understand the framework for why I believe you need to expand your horizons for your business to grow.

The four minute video is a condensed version of the already condensed presentation Steven Johnson made a the TED Conference. Now I recommend you really watch this to understand how he came to the refined 4 minute package.
Steven Johnson is the best-selling author of six books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience. The whole idea that we have these “eureka” moments is not by chance, but rather the colliding of ideas.

Living in Isolation

I believe that the more you isolate yourself the better the chances are for failure if you are in business.

It has been said that in business there are the 1) innovators, 2) imitators and 3) idiots.

The innovator is someone who is having “eureka” moment and has put together a few tidbits to get an edge on the competition.

The imitator is someone who recognizes change and adapts quickly and therefore their clients are benefiting as well.

The idiot is someone who decides to try and follow the well worn path only to find now it is now just a commodity making it difficult to make a profit.

Read, Get Out & Network

If you are struggeling with your business, then I have three recommendations.

Find some books that are trending in your area of interest that you want to photograph. These are not books on photography, but rather on the subjects. Besides reading them find someone or a group to discuss these topics with and get you to dive deep into the subject.

Get out and find a place to socialize. Maybe it is the local coffee shop and it will require you to do more than order your coffee and sit in the corner. Start a discussion group on one of your books is one way to get out there.

Find some groups to network with in your community. Hopefully this could be on what you like to cover with your camera. Join an association and go to their meetings and mixers. 

Still not successful

If you are one of those people doing everything I suggested and you are still having trouble, maybe you are one of the idiots. Not trying to insult you, but think about it. Are you one of 100 photographers standing on the sidelines of a major sporting event wondering why no one is buying your stuff? There are only about 20 or so outlets for those 100 photographers. The market is saturated.

Find the market where you are not one of many photographers and there you will have found a potential gold mine.

Photography Ought To Be Fun

From an early e.Newsletter I sent out in June 2006. The photos are from my first digital camera–Nikon D100.

“Brain research has now proven conclusively that play is essential. It actually restores our intellectual capacities and renews our spirits. It’s essential to good mental health and physical health and to the reductions of tension.”

–Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family 

Deer antlers are among the fastest growing tissues known to man.

My family has always taken pictures. One of my earliest experiences is playing with an old camera that used flash bulbs and making photos. I would run around pretending to make photos.

My father had a darkroom where he would develop his black and white photos. It was so much fun to watch the photos appear on the paper in the trays of chemicals.

Nature and wildlife are probably two of my favorite subjects when I make photos for myself.

This past week I took a few days and met my uncle who is also a professional photographer and who taught me a great deal through the years. He has been widely published as a nature and wild life photographer.

The white tailed deer’s high degree of sensitivity of the smell, which us humans can’t even begin to understand, is used for protection as well as mating.

We decided to meet and camp at Cades Cove in The Great Smoky National Park which is located near Townsend, Tennessee.

We would get up really early before the park opened and be one of the first through the gate each morning and one of the last the leave the park at night. The animals like white tailed deer, turkeys, and coyote typically are more active in the morning and early evening.

The black bear is more unpredictable and could be active at any time. We hoped to see black bear and did. However they seldom would stay around once they spotted us and turned for the woods more than once.

We also noticed that when we used our binoculars more than one of the many bears we spotted turned into a tree stump. Sometimes when we were in the park you would hardly see any wildlife. We believed the heat kept many of the animals relaxing in the shade longer before venturing out to the meadows.

Before we would go into the park we would get a camera ready to go. I would use my Nikon digital camera with a 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with a 1.4X teleconverter with a 2 gig flash card ready beside me. The lens was mounted on a monopod and the tripod was near by if the scene allowed for it.

Both my uncle and I commented how much more fun this was with digital over shooting film in the past. We shot more than we may have shot in the past, but there were many reasons we liked the digital.

The things we both commented about shooting digital was the pockets on our camera bags where we kept film were now empty or full of something useful. We also enjoyed being able to change the ISO as either it was getting darker due to us going into the woods or the time of day. We also enjoyed playing with the white balance. We experimented with different settings seeing what
we liked best.

In the campground at night I could download my images onto my laptop and see the results from the day. So the next day, we were picky about what we would stop to photograph.

The minute we saw a great lighting situation or black bear, we stopped. For these types of trips you choose a long lens like a 300mm to get close enough to photograph a black bear. Any other lens if you fill the frame with the bear—well you will have more problems with a bear than your photographing abilities.

A teleconverter like a 1.4X or 2X can easily make the 300mm into a 420mm or even a 600mm and add very little weight to the bag.

A moderate wide angle zoom will help you enjoy those scenic scenes with barns. I love using my Nikon 24-120mm lens for this.

There were not as many wildflowers this time of year as earlier in the spring, but I always have a macro 60mm lens for close-up pictures of flowers.

Stream near Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in the Great Smoky
National Park.

While I have a flash I use this as a last resort. But when inside an old farm house this can really help. I still prefer using a tripod, but there is always a possibility you might need one. Some of the cameras like my Nikon D100 have a pop up flash built into the camera and for just about anything they can help when you need a flash.

After shooting early morning, we would drive into Townsend, Tennessee for a good country breakfast. During the hotter time of the day was a great time to explore inside the woods the streams and water falls of the park.

For the really hot day we drove up to Clingmans Dome which is 20° cooler than the rest of the park.

Just seeing if you are paying attention. I photographed this Kangaroo and her Joey at the Kangaroo Conservation Center located in Dawsonville, Georgia June 17, 2006.

Our goal was to make photos and have fun—we exceeded our goal. Remember to just take photos for the fun of it.

Carter Shields Cabin–George Washington “Carter” Shields (1844-1924) bought this land and cabin from John Sparks in 1910. The cabin dates to 1830-40s. Shields lived in the cove until 1921.

Hand held light/flash meter

Flash/Light Meter simplifies lighting

I think anyone using studio strobes will greatly benefit from a flash meter. Here is the older Sekonic Meter I use most of the time. 

The primary thing I use the flash meter for is getting the exposure for my subject. I always start here when shooting. The light I am measuring is the main light, because it is lighting my subject, not because of how bright it is.

Once you have this reading you can then take other readings. If you have two lights hitting the subject as in this photo below I wanted to control the contrast in the photo and using a flash meter was very helpful.

This is Masha, one of the School of Photography 1 students I was teaching in Hawaii a couple weeks ago. She was my model as I taught the class how to ratio lights.

In a very classic lighting setup like this the main light is 45º to the axis of the camera and subject. The second light is one the same axis as the camera, which is perpendicular to the background.

I took a reading first of the main light that is 45º to the right of the camera. ƒ/8 was the reading for the main light on ISO 100 and sync speed of 1/250.  I turned this light off and then worked at setting the second (fill light) behind the camera to ƒ/5.6, which is 1/2 the power of the first light.

Once this was set I turned both the lights on and took another reading and the combined ƒ-stop was ƒ/9.

Taking reading of the background for the top photo of the soldier

When I made the photo of the soldier I knew I wanted the background which was white to be two stops brighter than the subject. The subject was ƒ/16 and therefore background is ƒ/32.

Some people prefer to getting a reflective reading off the background, but either way the reading needs to be two stops greater than the subject.

Many photographer will measure the background with the lights on it at full power and then set the main light on the subject by under exposing by 2 ƒ-stops.

For the portrait of Masha, I had a black background and put a blue gel over the flash and metered the background to be 2 ƒ-stops under exposed as compared to the subject. In the photo of Masha the background was just a tad brighter than ƒ/4, which was 2 ƒ-stops darker than the ƒ/9 of the two lights combined hitting her face.

You can do all this using your histogram, but lets just say the explanation of how to do it is a lot more complex than this for using the flash meter.

Lighting Setup: Table-top Product Photography

White or even clear objects on a white background is very difficult to do and can become quite frustrating for even the experienced photographer.

This is a basic setup for a catalog photo shoot where the object needs to be stand out. 

I have couple of examples here. Next you will have the lighting diagram of the setup and finally there is a list of what I used.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 100, 1/160, ƒ/20

Lighting Ratio

The trick in this lighting setup is the ratio of the background to the subject. I recommend you put 1 ƒ-stop more light on the background than on the subject.

How you measure this is with a flash meter. Always start with the light on the subject. I measured the light at ƒ/22 on the subject and then measured it on the background at ƒ/32. I then bracketed shots from ƒ/16 to ƒ/32 and pulled them up in Lightroom. After carefully looking at the detail in the subject and the background I chose to shoot at ƒ/20.

I also recommend evenly lighting the object for this type of catalog photography. This is why there are two 32″ x 40″ soft boxes at 45º angles from the camera to help wrap the object in light.

The middle 30″ x 60″ soft box in the diagram below is suspended flat over the table using the Manfrotto boom arm.

To avoid lens flare in this setup be sure the camera is ever so slightly not perpendicular to the background. Straight on can give you a lens flare.


Here is a list of the supplies I used to make the photo.

I recommend using a vinyl floor or you can use
Sequentia 1/8-in x 4-ft x 8-ft White Fiberglass Reinforced Wall Panel that I bought at Lowes.  I use the backside which is smooth for the photos. You can also roll this up for storage.

To hold the background in place I recommend BESSEY 2-in Metal Spring Clamps.  I have a bag of these I have handy for projects. They sell for just under $3 each.

You need something to hold up that background. You can get the Savage Background Port-A-Stand Kit for about $110.

The primary light for product work is a soft box. I have the 30″ x 60″ soft box from Paul C. Buff.  I like it for many reasons, but one of the reasons is how easy it is to setup and take down.

It works like an umbrella and has a lock that you screw tight to hold it in place.

I use the Alienbees B1600 monoblocs for my work. I like that the power is controlled with each head and I do not have to do math in my head as I did for power pack that split the power to different head. The Alienbees B1600 sell for $359.95 each. Since you are buying the directly from the manufacturer the price break is significant as compared to other lights that you buy from distributors.

Manfrotto 024B Boom is used to hang the large 30 x 60 soft box over objects. It sells for about $149.95 and comes with a 10 lb counterweight. I have a variety of other light stands I use. I put this on my JTL1200 Chrome Air Cushioned Stand (5016) which sells for $69.99.

Sekonic L-308S Flashmate – Digital Incident, Reflected and Flash Light Meter sells for $233.

Photojournalism isn’t trendy for a reason

“Migrant Mother” is one of a series of photographs that Dorothea Lange made of Florence Owens Thompson and her children in February or March of 1936 in Nipomo, California.

Every other type of photography other than photojournalism goes through trends. You can even look at the hottest trends for each year. Here is a link to “The hottest photography trends of 2012.

Once you start using gimmicks to draw the attention of viewers you are tampering with the authenticity of the moment.

Howard Chapnick former president of Black Star Photo Agency had over fifty years of experience behind him when he wrote “Truth Needs No Ally: Inside Photojournalism” back in 1994. 

Howard Chapnick wrote “For documentary photography to be gripping and absorbing it must be imbued with immediacy, concrete reality and emotional involvement.”

Photojournalism is about photos being relevant. To be relevant the photographer needs to capture what is impacting our world.

You cannot have concrete reality and trying to set or follow trends.

What really makes great photojournalism is a photojournalist who is passionate about the subject. They have become emotionally involved. This is not to say they have lost their objectiveness, but they have captured a real moment in a way the reader is pulled into the moment.

One of my favorite photo stories of all time is Eugene Smith’s Country Doctor. Here is a link to the Time Life website with that story.

This story was ground breaking because Eugene Smith broke from the script of shooting photos on a list. He followed the doctor and captured whatever he was doing. The doctor drinking coffee at the end of a long day wasn’t part of the script. It works because of it’s immediacy, reality and emotional involvement. Here is that photo.

Photojournalists today have better cameras and technology to help them capture moments that those before couldn’t even do. Tri-X film was not released in 35mm format until 1954, seven years after the “Country Doctor” story ran in Life Magazine. Smith was shooting with an ISO of 125 at best in 1948.

Today photographers can shoot at ISO 100 to 12,800 with the Nikon D4 and can even extend this range to ISO 50 to 204,800. You can now almost shoot in the dark and capture a subject.

In the future the only thing that will change in photojournalism is our equipment will get even better, but how we tell stories will remain the same.

The keys to great photojournalism:

  • Story ideas – You need to be able to find stories and distill them down to the nuggets which engage an audience.
  • People person – You need to be able to talk to almost every kind of person from the homeless to those who live in castles. You need to carry on conversations with the high school dropout to the research scientist.
  • Understand body language – The nuances of a head tilt, gestures and subtle eye movements are necessary to help not just communicate what is necessary to the story, but be sure it is honest and true to the character of the people.
  • Solid understanding of the camera – Getting a good exposure and in focus picture the camera can do with anyone. The photojournalist must understand when to change an aperture or shutter speed. They must understand which lens is the best to use in a situation.
  • Know light – Mastering light can help a photojournalist know where to stand to make the light work for them rather than against them. They also know when they must use auxiliary flash to reveal a story more powerfully without changing it.

When you start to feel like your work has plateaued this is not the time to think about trying a gimmick. You need to ask yourself if you are maximizing the technology to capture the stories. If you are a master at this you might just need to find a story that ignites the fire you have let go out.

Who do you know that could use someone help them tell their story? Who can benefit the most from your skills as a storyteller?

Maybe you just don’t know of anything and this is the time to find some way to get plugged back into your community. Be sure you are reading the news for your community, region, nation and world.

Sometimes the best thing you can do is just take a break and recharge yourself. Vacations are needed for the creative to keep them fresh. Who needs a burned out photojournalist telling their story?

One of my favorite events to cover that will pull you out of a funk is Daddy Daughter Date Night at Chick-fil-A. This is from the event in Columbia, SC.

Photojournalism isn’t about covering misery alone, it is about covering life. I suggest whatever kind of stories you have been covering to mix it up. Go and find a story on something outside your normal genre.