Photojournalists covering disaster need to know their role

Moore Oklahoma Disaster Relief Coverage

I find many people who have trouble covering disasters or helping with them due to being overwhelmed emotionally. While seeing horrific tragedy can affect you if it consumes you it isn’t healthy. It is healthy to have a heart and be moved by the situation, but when it imobilizes you is when it is a problem.

When you are unsure of your role is when you are more prone to being an emotional wreck and not very useful.

The people of Moore Oklahoma are some of the most resilient people I have ever met. One of the reasons for this is their understanding of their roles in disasters.

You can ask any resident their plan in case of a tornado and they can tell you their A, B or even a C plan they have in place. Most of them will first tell you if they have a place to go for shelter below ground or in a safe room above ground.

The next plan beside seeking shelter is to get out of the way. Most of them with this plan will just get in cars and drive away from the area.

Once the tornado has hit everyone jumps into recovery mode. What is interesting here is many people realize they are better off doing what they do best rather than doing just anything.

After digging out of their own homes, many will go back to work, because what they do as a job is helpful. Many who worked in the restaurants would go back helping feed those who are the first responders and the victims of the tornado.

You see most of these residents understand how they are most helpful for recovery efforts.

The Photojournalist’s role

While I could have gone to Moore, Oklahoma with a team to help clean up, I am much more useful telling the story. You see when I do my job well as a photojournalist I am helping get the word out.

There are three basic things I see as my role as a visual storyteller.

First, I need to help people know what happened. Now besides taking pictures showing the damage, I need to help tell the personal stories of the victims of the tornado. This first piece of the puzzle will help engage my audience.

When I capture the emotional impact the tornado is having on the community, it is time to move onto step two.

Second, I want to show what is happening right now. This is where I am showing the immediate first responders helping the community. This could be in the moments right after the damage while they are digging through the rubble to find survivors or it can be even days to weeks later where I am showing teams helping clean up.

I enjoyed showing all the teams helping clean up. I was there to show Chick-fil-A going around helping those home owners and clean up teams by giving them a hot sandwich.

Many of the local Chick-fil-A franchise guys all realized they served their community best by doing what they do best–making chicken sandwiches.

As a photojournalist I have to remember what I do best. Visual storytelling by me is helping the subjects connect with the audience who can potentially help. This is where I move on to the last part.

Third, I need to help my audience know how they can get involved. You can here the lady sharing how it is helpful for teams to come and help them put their community back together and for those who cannot come even prayer can make a difference.

Without giving people a way to respond can often cause problems. Most news media outlets coverage will tell their audience they can give to the Red Cross for example. I encourage you to consider going with a team as well and for everyone to pray for the people.

3.5 Easy Slide Show solutions for Mac and PC

The last time I wrote about creating slide shows, Adobe Flash worked everywhere on the web after Apple decided not to support Flash on their iPads, iPhones, or iTouch.

All the slide shows I produced early on will not work on the Apple mobile devices. So the shows needed updating.

I primarily use Final Cut and Pro X when editing videos and mixing still images. However, I have also used Adobe Premier before Final Cut doing the same thing.

While I could use Final Cut Pro X and create slide shows, these solutions are much simpler and faster, in my opinion. In addition, I can produce most of what I want and export them into Final Cut Pro X if I like.

1. Soundslides Solution for both Mac and PC

The latest Soundslides (1.9.5) version has JQuery HTML5 built into it. The beauty of the Soundslides solution is that the project will play back using Flash when available and use the HTML5 version as a fallback. The update ensures the user experience is the best it can be.

The best part of the Soundslides solution is that it is cross-platform.

You may find out as I did that some servers do not like how Soundslides is talking to the device to determine what it is before giving it a flash or html5 version. The way licenses work, they cannot create an html5 version only since it will not work on all browsers.

One more option is to use Soundslides Video converting service. The downside is you have to upload your file and then wait for them to send you a link to download it. Also, your project goes into a Que, and if you are on a deadline, this might not work.

As far as simple to use and if your office has a mix of PCs and Macs, this is a great software that is relatively easy to use. Also, having everyone using a similar software means you can quickly train everyone.

2. For the Mac

My favorite Slide Show software for the Mac that creates movie files is FotoMagico. The cost of the software is $99. One thing they offer that I don’t know any other software offering is One-to-One Coaching. Get up to speed with FotoMagico! Get tips and tricks from our tech support pros. Be more productive, and get your work done faster. Arrange a one-to-one online session with desktop sharing for $99 per session. When you are ready to output the show, FotoMagico has easy choices like YouTube, Apple Devices, and just about any other output, including 4K Cinema Projection.

3. For the PC

For a long time, before I switched to using Mac exclusively, I was using ProShow Gold. However, I found going from ProShow Gold to FotoMagico seamless and believe they work very similarly.

As you can see from the screen grabs, they look very similar. The outputs are identical to FotoMagico. You can create DVDs, Blu-ray, Facebook, Youtube, and more creations.

My suggestion is to output to H.264 format since this is a standard for video compression and is currently one of the most commonly used formats for recording, compressing, and distributing high-definition video.

These solutions make it very easy to combine your still images with audio. You can create a voiceover, use music and even blend it with video. In addition, the learning curve on these software packages is much easier than using Adobe Premier or Final Cut Pro X.

3.5 DigiCraft Plugin Solution

If you are looking for a plugin with Adobe Lightroom to create a slide show gallery, try DigiCrafts software. It was designed primarily for photographers to develop portfolio packages to play on Apple devices. However, I have used it when I need a click-through package.

I used this software to create small galleries of my work for my blog and website. You can click on the categories above.

Photographers: Diskwarrior and Reimage Keeps Your PC or Mac Like New

I want to help you fix all those quirks that eventually will happen with any computer.  Here are my two recommendations as must haves for your computer.

Both of these software solutions are helping you with your operating system. 

For the PC

Reimage is a unique repair service fixes your Windows Operating System – it reverses the damage already done with a full database of replacement files. Only software of its kind. It sells for $69.95 and for $30 more you can install it on three computers.

This chart does a great job of showing you what it can do. There are two things on that chart that make a huge difference: Repair at any time and private. I recommend this before taking your computer to a repair shop. The cost of the software will be less than the shop and if it works you saved yourself the trip.

If it is a hardware problem it will let you know and well you can replace something or then take it to a shop.

Some of the problems I was having with Windows 7 was the print spooler was not launching, I could not empty the trash can and when I clicked on the control panel under start I got error messages. Ran reimage and now it is as good as new.

Now I use VMware Fusion 5, which lets me run PC programs on my MacBook Pro. The only program I use this for is Quicken Home & Business to help with book keeping for my business.

The Quicken Home & Business sells for $99.  Great program for invoicing and keeping up with all my expenses.

VMWare Fusion 5 sells for $49.99.

Reimage needs a good internet connection because once it finds the problems it will download all the fixes and replace those registry and other files that have been corrupted to the factory settings.

For the Mac

DiskWarrior is the software I use to help improve the performance of my MacBook. It sells for $99. 

You will launch the program from either a DVD or from an external drive when you turn on your computer. I have it on an external drive and when I turn on my MacBook Pro I just hold down the “option” key and it gives me the option to start the computer from my external drive that is a complete copy of my laptops hard drive.

The reason for DiskWarrior to launch remotely is this is the only way for you to repair problems with the operating system at the root.

  • DiskWarrior recovers your files including your photos, music and videos.
  • DiskWarrior cures those cryptic errors reported by Disk Utility.
  • DiskWarrior uses a different approach to disk directory repair than other programs.
  • DiskWarrior is the only product that finds all of your data.
  • DiskWarrior is the highest rated and wins more awards.

There are two other programs on your mac that you can also use: Recovery and Disk Utility.

OS X Lion or OS X Mountain Lion includes a built in set of utilities in the Recovery System. Restart your Mac and hold down the Command key and the R key (Command-R), and keep holding them until the Apple icon appears, indicating that your Mac is starting up. After the Recovery System is finished starting up, you should see a desktop with a OS X menu bar and a “Mac OS X Utilities” application window. Note: If you see a login window or your own desktop and icons, it is possible that you didn’t hold Command-R early enough. Restart and try again.

In order to reinstall OS X Lion or OS X Mountain Lion, you will need to be connected to an Ethernet or Wi-Fi network. The Wi-Fi menu item is in the upper-right corner of the screen. Click the icon to display all available Wi-Fi networks. Click your preferred network name and, if needed, enter a username and/or password.

Disk Utility

You can access it the same way by restart your Mac and hold down the Command key and the R key (Command-R), and keep holding them until the Apple icon appears. This will let you choose the Disk Utility.

Another way is to go to Applications folder>Utilities and select the Disk Utility.  Click on first aid and choose disk repair. This will improve performance as well.

The advantage of DiskWarrior is it goes deeper by letting you clean the hard drive at the lowest level.

Shooting Workflow for the Novice Photographer

These are the steps I went through yesterday teaching the camp photographers for WinShape Camps. These were photographers with all levels of skill. We wanted all of them to have a good starting point.

Step One: Quality set to highest

Set your camera to the biggest and best quality. For most of the people and the cameras they had setting the camera to JPEG Fine on the Nikon cameras and JPEG “L” on the Canon cameras. The reason for this choice is if there is a great shot they want to use later for poster, then it needs to be the best quality.  If you can edit RAW images I recommend this over the JPEG setting. You can go back and fix white balance if you screw that up when you shoot RAW.

You cannot up size a photo without the possibility of pixelation.

Step Two: Use Auto ISO


Since the quality of the ISO really has little impact on the quality of the image AS COMPARED to the major quality shift with film, I have my camera normally set to AUTO ISO most of the time.

I will go in to the menu and change this AUTO ISO settings.

Nikon D3S menu ISO settings
Nikon D3S ISO settings allow you not just to set the ISO you can choose AUTO ISO. I use this most of the time. You choose the range by choosing the low and maximum ISO. You also can choose the minimum ISO preference.

This AUTO ISO setting isn’t taking creativity away, but rather I have set the tolerances that I would have been having to stop and think about to do anyway. This lets me get the moment sharp and in focus, which is critical in sports.

What is the take away?

Before the digital camera, to use ISO in a creative way meant to change film stock. You also could not shoot AUTO ISO. Due to this no longer being a hindrance I now see the ISO setting the way I see aperture and shutter-speed.  It is another creative tool giving me more options to get photos that in the past were not possible.

Step Three: White Balance 

Before taking any photos of a new situation we make a custom white balance to get the best possible skin tones.

My favorite way for getting a custom white balance is using my ExpoDisc.

ExposDisc goes in front of the lens and then you use it to get an incident reading rather than a reflective reading of the light.

Notice the direction of the light hitting the subject.  You move to the same position to get the light reading below.

Point the camera toward the direction of the light that is falling on the subject. 

I have found if the subject is facing me and the light is from the side, I face the camera with the ExpoDisc on it so it is pointing towards the camera position.  The chart above is to help you understand the concept, but you can modify it.

One way you can modify it is as long as the light is the same where you are standing, then you could cheat and take a reading from where you are.  The problem that can arise is if they are lit by Window light and the camera position is in the shade then your color balance will be off if you do not take it from the subject’s perspective.

You can use a White Card and get the reading off of this to set your camera. Since every camera has a different process I recommend reading your camera manual for how to set the White Balance.

Better than the white card is a 18% Grey Card. Many of the camera stores sell this as a cloth to clean your lenses as well.

Nikon P7000 shot with -1 fill flash

Step Four: Use Flash

Many times outside you have people with poor light on their face. One of the best examples of this is baseball caps. The easiest way to fix this is to use fill flash.

Refer to your camera’s manual on how to adjust the power of your flash. I recommend starting about -1 stops under with the flash. You need to experiment with this to get the results you like. Remember for the most part most pop up flashes on cameras are only good up to about 10 feet outside.

If you use the flash where you have done a custom white balance you could do another one with the flash or just use the flash preset white balance which often is a lightning bolt icon.

Flash with high ISO

I have discovered a couple of things about using flash with a high ISO.

  1. With TTL flash and high ISO I can easily balance these so I can shoot with my 85mm f/1.4 for example.
  2. When you use flash and it is illuminating most of the scene the dynamic range of the photo is compressed. What this means is most of the time the f-stop range of exposure from the highlight to the shadow is more compressed and therefore the noise is the shadows is much less than when shot without the flash.
Nikon D3 – ISO 200 – f/1.4 – 1/160 and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4. Also off camera flash using the Nikon SU800 to trigger the Nikon SB900 flash in TTL mode. The flash is set for -1 stop compensation. In addition I also was using the Radio Popper system to be sure the signal was consistently getting from the SU800 to the SB900.

Once I discovered the affects flash has on shadow, I started to shoot with it in situations where noise was a real possibility and I wanted to diminish the affect of it. I will often shoot with the flash -1 to -3 stops under on the flash compensation setting.

Nikon D3S – ISO 6400 – f/4.8 – 1/100 and Nikon 28-300mm. Also off camera flash using the Nikon SU800 to trigger the Nikon SB900 flash in TTL mode. The flash is set for -1 stop compensation. In addition I also was using the Radio Popper system to be sure the signal was consistently getting from the SU800 to the SB900.
Nikon D3S – ISO 6400 – f/5.6 – 1/100 and Nikon 28-300mm. Also off camera flash using the Nikon SU800 to trigger the Nikon SB900 flash in TTL mode. The flash is set for -1 stop compensation. In addition I also was using the Radio Popper system to be sure the signal was consistently getting from the SU800 to the SB900.

Step Five: Starting Shutter Speeds


One of the settings I change in the AUTO ISO is the minimum shutter speed. When I am shooting sports I prefer shutter speeds of 1/2000. So I will set this and then shoot in Aperture mode.
The camera will override the shutter speed of 1/2000 and go lower if the ISO gets maxed out at ISO 12,800. If you prefer not to shoot at such a high ISO then you can choose something lower like ISO 5,000 and then shutter speed would drop from 1/2000 much sooner than it would for me.

Flourescent and Sodium Vapor

When shooting under Florescent and Sodium Vapor I normally set the minimum shutter speed to 1/100. You see both of these type of lights are really like flashes.  They are flashing about 60 times a second and if you shoot faster than 1/100 you will get color shifts due to catching the light in between cycles.

Nikon D3 – ISO 6400 – f/2.8 – 1/100 and Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8

Tips for the official photographer of an event

We went out to roam the campus shooting different situations and even did one where 500 people were in a gym listening to the speaker.

Most everyone of the photographers I had to go and talk to them about going up front and taking pictures not just of the speaker, but the audience listening.

If you stay in the back you end of with the back of the heads of the audience and the speaker is all you can see of their face.

If you are the “official photographer” then people expect you to be moving around. If you are there as a participant this can be distracting and make people wonder what you are doing.

I shot photos as well to show the camp photographers how to go to the front of the room and what to photograph.

We also talked about once the meeting is over or not yet started are the best photos. People hanging out and just enjoying each other.

More tips on photos to take to tell the story are here on my earlier blog Variety is the spice of life.

How much should I charge?

It is quite common for a professional photographer to get a call asking to use a photo and the photographer doesn’t know how to give a quote for the usage.

Understanding Copyright

First let me start with understanding of copyright. It is safe to say that unless you have permission from a photographer to use a photo you cannot use it without opening yourself up to copyright infringement.

If a photo qualifies in Public Domain then you can use it.  Accurate photographs of two-dimensional visual artworks lack expressive content and are automatically in the public domain once the painting’s copyright has expired (which it has in the US if it was published before 1923).

There is also the category of Creative Commons License. Here the photographer has given permission for use of their images for non-commercial use. What is considered “non-commercial” is debated. To be sure you are OK clarifying before using would be a good idea.

If you are searching Flickr just look on the side navigation with all the tag and group information, it’s listed in that area with a link to what kind of license it is.

The other category is called Fair Use which can allow for use of images without compensation. My interpretation and I am not a lawyer, but if you are a student and working on a project for a class you can use images. However, if that student publishes those say on the internet could be a violation of copyright. When teachers start using the material it becomes a problem once they publish and distribute the material. Showing a news clip for a class to discuss would most likely fall under Fair Use.

When in doubt get the photographer’s permission.

The Phone Call

I have gotten numerous phone calls from colleagues on quoting on some of the strangest uses. My first place to look for starting is the software FotoQuote. It sells for $149.99 and most everyone I know that buys it usually recovers their money in the first few times they use it.

FotoQuote has over 300 stock photo pricing categories and a wealth of coach information.

Often clients are asking for a variety of uses and FotoQuote lets you even create “Quote Packs.” This is where you might include all advertising uses and exclude editorial. Just remember there are over 300 categories alone in this software package of categories.

Besides what category you are also giving permission for how big the image will be used. For example is it the main part of an ad or just a spec? Will they use your photo for the cover or just a thumbnail head shot with an article?

How often they use the image makes a difference as well. If they are publishing only 300 brochures for a meeting verses a print run of 5 million should be priced differently.

How long they get to use the image is also another variable. Will they use the photo one time, one month, one year, multiple years or unlimited should impact your price.

The first few times I was quoting on large projects I could feel the sweat on my forehead and my heart racing. I was having a panic attack.

Guidelines for quoting

Here are my tips for quoting on a usage. We need to first start with your base. If this is an assignment the basic price should be about the same for similar assignment, the differences in price are for the use. So, an executive portrait for a print on the wall in the companies headquarters verses it being use on billboards and running on the cover of Forbes Magazine will change the price, due to usage.

  1. Always ask what their budget is for the project up front. Sometimes they will give you a better deal than you would have asked.
  2. Be prepared to negotiate. Your first quote will often be countered. Therefore it is better to quote a little higher and have room to drop your price.
  3. Whenever you change your price you should change the usage terms.
  4. To speed the process along, I recommend going to a client with three prices. Your rock bottom price, middle range price and the high end price. This makes them see you as already trying to work with their budget. 

 Creative Fee and Usage Fee

When quoting on an assignment separating the creative fee and usage fee is a good idea. In addition to the creative fee you might have expenses as well listed.

I would suggest trying your best to encourage the client pay for as much usage up front. To help encourage them it would be great to list usage fees for future purchases.  I would probably state the time these prices will still be good as well.

For example you might allow them for an unlimited usage right now for $10,000. If they come back to you later that price should be much higher.  By putting this in writing and up front with the client you are showing them you are being transparent and trying to work with them.


One category in the FotoQuote database I find helpful is the going rates that are known for different publications. Many of the magazines listed will even let you know the rights and there going rates.  Basically they set the price and you decide to except their terms or not. Sometimes you might be able to get a better rate if you have a specialty or the only one with access to the subject.

I think of using FotoQuote like a pilot does when they are flying in the clouds, they are using the instrument panel to help guide them.

Remember FotoQuote is a guide and not prices fixed by the industry. These give you some starting points to help you negotiate.

Just as important as FotoQuote are other photographers. This is why I joined American Society of Media Photographers [ASMP]. I can pick up the phone and ask other members their advice. Often some of them have more experience than I. I am not calling for prices as much as also how to communicate with clients. Often how you word something can make a huge difference.

Photographer have you ever lost a password? Here is a software solution for you.

Years ago we could use the same username and password for just about everything. The upside to doing this is you only had to remember one login.

With identity theft on the rise and corporate espionage being a real threat you can no longer do this with your login accounts.

Today I have three different places I am logging into my accounts: 1) my Macbook Pro, 2) iPad and my 3) SmartPhone.  Trying to remember all those logins was getting ridiculous.

Over a year ago, I Googled looking for a solution. After reading reviews I tried a new software call 1Password.  After using this for a year I feel good about recommending it to you.

The good news is it is cross platform. If you have a PC, Mac, Android, iPhone or iPad. 1Password can remember all your passwords for you and keep them secured behind your Master Password. You remember your Master Password and 1Password will remember the rest.

I have been using this now for over a year and feel good about recommending it to you.  It has really simplified my life with having to remember passwords, account information and more details than I can remember.

1Password Categories for saving information:

  1. Logins [web]
  2. Accounts [email, web hosting]
  3. Identities [personal information]
  4. Secure Notes [Anything you want to save as text]
  5. Software
  6. Wallet [credit cards, bank account #s, debit cards]

You can put all your credit cards into the system and when shopping online it will fill out those long forms for you most of the time.

After you install it on your device you are able to also embed the program into your browsers. Anytime you go to those secure websites where you need to sign in all you do is sign in once to 1Password and then click on the pull down menu where it will then fill out the login information for you.

Sometimes your computer can crash and with 1Password you now can have all your software license keys in one place to restore your software.

You can sync over a Wi-Fi connection or using Drop Box.

Need to generate a new password? I have certain places I go that every 90 days I must change my password. This is the main reason I was forced to come up with a better plan than I had been using. The cool thing is the software creates a gibberish password using capital letters, numbers and symbols for you and therefore making your password more secure than using your pet’s name for example.

Photographers are your clients smarter after they hired you? They should be!

“Make your boss smarter than before he or she met you. Bring new insights to the place. Then, you become indispensable.” – Jack Welch

The Power of Insight

An insight is the power of acute observation and deduction, penetration, discernment, perception called intellection. It is an understanding of cause and effect based on identification of relationships and behaviors within a model, context, or scenario.

I really enjoy covering meetings for one reason—I get to listen and pickup insights from great leaders of our time.

I realize that many of the thoughts I have are like a bunch of strings just entangled with one another looking like knots. Often an insight or eureka moment is like the untangling of the string of knots and putting them onto a spool making them now ready to be woven into a tapestry of art.

Most of the time these moments are simplifying what appears to be complex. I am often thinking after these moments how beautiful this insight is to life.

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, took the company from 13 billion a year company to a $400 billion and in 2000 was named “Manager of the Century” by Fortune magazine.

Mr Welch was one of the speakers at Chick-fil-A Leadercast and mainly was talking about how good leaders have a ‘generosity gene.’ They know when those who work for them is nourished they flourish and so too does the company.

While I am not running a $400 billion dollar company, I do believe good business practices are universal.  

The nugget I took away was this statement made by him:

“Make your boss smarter than before he or she met you. Bring new insights to the place. Then, you become indispensable.”

Now if I just make great photos and give these to my clients will this make them smarter? I don’t think so. To help make them smarter I will have to develop a relationship where I have the time to explain why certain images I believe are the best to use.

One way to do this is to provide two folders of images to your clients. You provide one folder that has all the images in them and another folder with the selects. My suggestion is you then take time to briefly state why you think these photos would be best to use.

I find myself often saying here is this photo, which is graphically very strong and captures a cool perspective of the event for you. With another photo I am talking about how this photo works best for the highlight of the coverage. It would be like picking the play of the game from all the sports photos of a game.

Often I am picking photos and explaining how the body language of a particular photo shows emotional connection that is the strongest of the collection of images.

The “eureka moment” for me was to remember to always help make my clients smarter. This means more than just dropping off photos for them.

Your client will not have time to go through all the images with you to have you walk them through your selections. Just be sure to summarize how the photo helped them further their cause and the reason they hired you to shoot something for them.

How to improve in photography

The What

There are basically three things making up great photographs. You need the photograph to have good technical, aesthetic and emotional components to be good.

Technical—It is about the exposure, focus, and sharpness of the photograph. Good execution of lighting so you are maximizing the dynamic range.

Aesthetic—How close or far away you are from the subject and composition of the subject within the frame makes up a good deal of the aesthetic. The use of light and dark areas is very apparent in black and white photos. How you use of color is very important to get good skins tones for example.

Emotional—This is your ability to manipulate the technical and aesthetic to help capture the mood you desire. This is where you are making judgment calls about exposure [+/-].  You choose a specific lens to help you in some way achieve the results to communicate to your audience. Your composition choice will impact what you are trying to say and how you feel about a subject. How you choose to use light for the photograph can greatly impact the end product.

If all three of these elements are executed perfectly then the three concentric circles would appear as one circle and not just overlapping. This is what most of us are striving to accomplish and this is why for the most part even the greatest photos tend to have some overlap rather than perfection. Often the photographer will still see something that could have been improved upon to make the photograph better.

Your goal is to increase the overlap in all three circles. If you have just two overlapping like technical and aesthetic you will have well composed images that are technically perfect that are also lifeless.

As you can see then most every photo could be better for the most part, because it is almost impossible to overlap these completely.

I think one of the best professions to compare photography is music. We are both working with the physics of wave patterns, just one is visual and the other is sound.

When listening to a the best of the best musicians you are most often impressed at how effortlessly the musician performs. The physical challenges of stretching the body to perform those notes either by singing or moving of the hands on the instrument take years to build the muscle memory so that it isn’t apparent. You are just enjoying the performance. This is how great photos are made.

The photographer will work for years on being sure that in any situation they are able to technically get the photo. They are able to be in the right place to capture the aesthetic of composition and light. They have such a knowledge of the subject that they are able to capture the emotion of the moment as well.  When done to perfection you are unaware of the performance and just enjoying the image.

The Who

Who you seek out for guidance to master the technical, aesthetic and emotional components of the photograph will determine how long until you are a master photographer.

Frank Miller was one of my many mentors through the years.


You need to study under someone who is a master. While you might start out with someone a little better than you, sooner or later you need to go to that seminar or workshop to have someone look at your work and give you the personal attention you need to address your weaknesses and strengths.

It is quite common for photographers to move through stages of mentors. Maybe you are drawn to photography and it takes you a while to find the subject for which you are best suited. Therefore it is quite common to start working with a landscape photographer and end up later working with a portrait photographer. This will have you seeking out different mentors.


You need someone to pay you for your work if you are to make this a profession. Learning to listen to a client’s needs will help you refine your craft.

You will be problem solving and trying a mix of things that will help your client. In turn they are helping you grow.


You need to take the time to reflect on your work. A great deal of your growth will come from observation of your work and others. Over time you will be able to self evaluate your work.

Some of the self evaluation will be deciphering what went wrong and other times it will be what went right.

I am often observing my competition and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses. Many photographers I observe are great because they are playing to their strengths. Often they have become experts in a particular field and this knowledge helps them make better photographs than others.

I know of many sports photographers who were former professional athletes. They know what to look for that makes one athlete better than another and capture this in ways those of us who never competed cannot see.

The more you understand your strengths and weaknesses you will be able to distinguish your work from everyone else.

Putting it all together

When you are able to walk into just about any situation and come away with a photograph that all the technical, aesthetic and emotional is well executed then you are a master of the craft. This doesn’t mean you don’t have room for improvement, it means you will always be able to come away with a professional level image that engages the audience.

When other photographers are not seen as a threat but as your peers you have a good understanding of what distinguishes you from others. You are aware of your strengths.

I have grown to understand that those at the top of the profession are fully aware of the increasing competition and are not complacent. They are proactively looking for ways to continuously improve and by doing so are leaders in the industry rather than the followers.

If your computer crashes how will you get your work done?

A computer not working is one of the most frustrating things to experience, especially when you are on deadline. Well this week I have had my computer crash so many times I started counting.

What was causing my crashes? Well it is a bad NVIDIA graphics card. It is now at Apple having the motherboard replaced to fix this issue. Since I bought an extended warranty I am covered.

Now what I learned this week I would like to pass along as learning from someone else’s experience than going through this yourself in the future.

You need a backup computer

While you may have your computer backed up as I did, when it needs to go for repair it can take a while. It is a safe to say you are without it for a week or more depending on the manufacturer.

Your backup computer needs to be able to run the software you use on a regular basis. I highly recommend having similar computers, for the same reason you buy similar cameras as a backup. Software and peripherals will all work better with similar computers.

Most software companies will let the license cover two computers for this very reason.

Up until this week my backup computer was a PC and my main computer was a Mac. Well this wasn’t very practical when it came down to very critical software. Now many software companies will let you use the same license on a Mac and PC, but for the most part this isn’t true, especially with many of the Adobe products.

Regular backups

While having a backup is good it is better to have a pretty recent backup. You can schedule your backup software to update your backup with just the changes. This will not take all that long after your first backup, which will take some time.

Having an online backup is great, but when you get ready to reinstall your software, having it on an external hard drive is much faster. You can always update the latest with your online, but doing a complete restore over the internet, well lets just say you really need that fast hookup if you do use the online system.

Repair strategies

First of all there is a big difference between repair shops. I bought an extended warranty through Fry’s.  I liked that they offered a loaner for me to use if I needed it for a repair.

I thought I would just take my backup and use the loaner to transfer all my stuff. Well you can do that, but the software is designed to know the specific computer it is on. If you use the loaner and then need to buy a new computer you will have now installed your software on three computers. This is where you could end up having conversations with the software companies to get an exception or pay them for another license.

Great thing about Apple Care is this is honored by all the repair centers for Macs. There are basically three types of these repair centers that I have encountered. The Apple Store, which will, do minor repairs and send your computer off to their repair center if needed. Very quick turnaround times I might add. There are the stores like Fry’s that sell the computers and have a similar repair center to the Apple Store. The consistency of the repair centers in these shops is all over. Some are well staffed and equal or surpass the Apple Store. Lastly there are authorized Apple retailers that have extensive repair centers. They send off for parts and repair most computers on site. This gives you the fastest turnaround time.

My problem this week was Fry’s was honoring the warranty and gave me a loaner, but the experience has been horrible.

First I took the computer to them and they ran a general MRI of the computer. Nothing found I was told. You need to do a complete system reinstall from scratch. I knew from my own research this wasn’t what I was having a problem with and knew there was a stress test for the graphics card.

After pushing them they ran this additional test and it failed. So this process of getting a loaner and transferring my backup to it took about 6 to 8 hours of my time this past Sunday.

I try calling Monday to verify the computer went out and approximately when I could expect it back. After couple calls I finally had other things pressing. This happened again on Tuesday and then Wednesday I finally got them on the phone. The computer was still at their shop.

In the meantime the computer they gave me had it’s own trouble. The read and writing to the hard drive was so slow things that should take seconds were taking 30 minutes to an hour.

Rather than getting another loaner, I went ahead and bought another Mac to use as my backup.  I had lost a few days of productive work due to computer problems. Did I say this was a critical week of back-to-back jobs?

By the way the program that was triggering the bad graphics card to crash the computer was Final Cut Pro X. It works great as long as the hardware is OK. This is software uses the most memory and graphics of any program I use regularly.  I had this problem a year ago and it got much worse through the year. Apple finally acknowledges the problem in September 2012 according to many of the Apple forums.

The hobbyist may not need to worry about a computer that is out of commission for a week or more, but the working pro cannot delay projects once they have set a standard for turning around projects for clients.

Last lesson I think I can pass along is to have a timeline to replace your computer. I suggest maybe replacing your computer every 2 or 3 years bare minimum. I think even a better solution is to replace every 2 years and take the oldest one and let someone have it and the newest one can replace your primary and the primary then becomes your backup.

Photographers–Do you have a healthy ego, or are you just narcissistic?

Mark Wood, Emmy recording artist and inventor of the Viper electric guitar, plays with Chelle, my daughter, and her friend Maggie. They were able to have a performance with Mark Wood after being in a workshop with him during the week at Elkins Pointe Middle School in Roswell, GA.

Every artist has enough self-esteem to want to show their work, so a healthy amount of ego is good.

When you look at others’ work and think your work is at least that good–this is OK. This is good if you think you are even better than most. You need that drive to pursue this as a career.

Wanting to be on stage is a good thing.

There is a line you need not cross, and when you do, you have become narcissistic.

One of the places I see a lot of narcissistic behavior is with “missions” and “humanitarian photography.” Their pictures are more memory joggers for themselves; if they didn’t talk while showing you photos, you would have no idea what they did or why they are taking the photos. Often even with them talking, you may still be clueless.

Some clues that you have crossed the line into narcissism:

  • When asked why you are doing the photography, your motivation is about you having a good experience.
  • When your conversation is all about the gear, you are using. Gear centric is an indication of self-indulgence.
  • When evaluating a trip, you have that country stamped in your passport.
  • When you cannot tell the stories of the people, you just met on the trip.
  • When you cannot explain how your photos are helping further the work of the people in the pictures, you are about yourself.
  • You might be self-centered when taking people’s pictures and rarely have ever asked permission or care to request permission.
  • When you ask people to look at your pictures and look for kudos rather than wanting them to support the cause you photographed.
  • When you evaluate the photos based on how artistic they are versus on, do they communicate the message?
  • When you are pushing all the time to go with teams on trips rather than finding causes, you can help.
  • Have a mentor and ask how well you are doing.
Seth Gamba, the orchestra teacher at Elkins Pointe Middle School, is on the far left in the back helping his youngest students, while on the front row are his oldest students and his guest teacher/performer Mark Wood. Do you have enough belief in who you are working for that you would bring in someone else to be sure they attained their goals?

How to keep a healthy ego

  • You know your purpose for photographing on a trip.
  • You know the subject well.
  • You have taken the time to get to know the people you photograph.
  • You are asking permission to photograph people.
  • You always have your audience in mind when taking photos.
  • You have people calling you to be involved in their projects.
  • You are concerned that the photos you made are making a difference.
  • You are concerned about exploiting people and their situation for your gain.
  • Have a mentor and ask what you can do to improve.
  • You know when someone else would do a better job, and you step aside for now.
  • You know you need to improve and feel the burden to improve for your client’s sake.

Check out this multimedia package I did on the students learning from Mark Wood. I am proud of my daughter for singing and playing the viola with the orchestra.

Photographers–How are you coming across?

Throughout our life we are project an attitude to all we come in contact with each day. While we all have those bad days, what are you projecting most of the time?

While we are listening to others how are we coming across?

Listening Etiquette–Visual and Audible

We need to be aware of our visual presence. Our body language is very important. Just compare the top two photos. Who would you rather have listening to you?

Even when you are not directly being talked to and you are present you need to be aware you are communicating something to those around you.

Here are just a few tips to help you out with visual presence:

  • Stand in front of a mirror and practice your expressions 
  • Remember to not cross your arms and remain open to the person talking
  • Be careful to not give a fake smile [try mirror for practice]
  • Nodding at appropriate moments is good. Nodding to just nod will come across as disingenuous.
  • Video tape yourself with someone for practice

Hopefully you are becoming aware that you can have a positive or negative impact on those around you without ever saying a word. It is better to take charge of your circumstances rather than loosing control due to inadvertent visual communication.

A manager at a local drive thru had been talking to his employees about how they come across. One of the biggest game changers was when they started to record the conversations using a simple iPhone.

The drive thru restaurant had a list of things they wanted to do for each customer and the one thing that was really difficult to address was the voice inflections of the employees.

By recording the employees doing their work they now had a way for the employee to listen to how everything sounded. The manager would first listen to the conversations and going down a list of things they wanted to happen with every customer rated the employee.

The employee was then asked to evaluate themselves with no one around. After the employee and manager had both listened and evaluated separately they would talk about the performance.

Very seldom did the manager have to say much at all that the employee didn’t pick up on their own after listening to themselves.

One employee they had talked to for a while about their voice tone and attitude said this was an “ear-opening” experience.

Maybe there is a reason we have two eyes, two ears and only one mouth. I think we will get more accomplished with clients learning to use our eyes and ears proportionally.

If your are self-employed you are missing out on having formal evaluations, so create them for yourself. Be sure to ask some friends and clients you trust that will be honest for some feedback. Be prepared to hear something negative and remember they are telling you because they care. 

Photographers: Can learn something from the Shepherd

Necessity is the mother of invention. –Plato

Photographers need to run their business like a shepherd. If shepherds stayed in one place hunting and gathering food, sooner or later the area would run out of things to gather. In order for them not to run out of food so quickly, shepherds tended to travel in rather small groups.

Desert Experience

One of the best experiences to have in one’s past is the desert experience. When you are trying to survive and pretty much no matter where you look you see desolation your priorities shift to survival mode.

I was laid off from a job in 1989 and found I was in a desert for close to three years. This is when I was unable to find a job, as a photojournalist that was my calling.

I decided to take this time and go back to school for my masters and find whatever job I could to pay the bills.

While you are in the desert you are having your priorities rearranged.  While I had studied Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in my social work undergrad program, it was the loss of my photojournalist job that gave me real world experience in it.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

First Priority

I realized my first priority was to those basic needs of food and shelter. I had to move back home with my parents for a while to cut our expenses to something manageable. 

My attitude changed from jobs being beneath me to being thankful for any job. I remember driving around trying to sell meat out of a freezer in the back of a pickup for a month. I felt so much like the beggars who hold up the sign saying willing to work for food.

Knowing what I needed to survive help me to know many jobs that were advertised that were photojournalist positions were not paying enough to cover my basic needs. 

I now understand what I must charge to survive—do you?

I was becoming a very skilled shepherd who was looking for a field to graze in that could support me for a while.

Second Priority

You need a good view of your present situation. Like the shepherd who looks out into the field assesses how much food is left and for how long, you must do the same for your business.

It is quite common for many shepherds to go into the same field for their flocks. When the shepherd feels like it is time to move, the sheep respond to his voice and not the other shepherds.

Photographers are like the shepherds often in the same field. The smart photographer will see the end in sight and move to a new pasture before everything is gone.

If you haven’t had a desert experience you will if you are not aware of the resources left in the field where you are living now.

Third Priority

You must be looking towards the future. You need to have long-term goals.

The good shepherds know when the food supply is running low, but also they know where the next pasture to take their sheep is located. They have been doing their research.

The key for you to be forward thinking is to look to places where no one has gone before. Good shepherds are looking to green pastures; they are not looking where all the shepherds are with all their sheep.

Too many photographers and photographer wannabees are looking at other photographers and following them rather than learning from them and moving onto greener pastures.

A great book for anyone wanting to understand how to look for new opportunities for growth should read Blue Ocean Strategy.

Strategy for a Blue Ocean

  • Be the expert in a subject to help separate you from the pack
  • Get access to something difficult for everyone to access
  • Photograph subjects that hobbyist cannot because of their day job
  • Once you find a Blue Ocean–Look for another because your competition will follow you.

Lesson from the past

When George Eastman introduced the brownie camera people stopped hiring professional photographers. They almost decimated the industry for the professional photographer. It took some time for people to realize it was not the camera alone that made good photos and slowly would return to hiring them.

In time even today with the new digital camera having similar effect on today’s photographers as the brownie camera did earlier, in time people will return to using photographers for what they bring other than their cameras to a job.

My suggestion for today’s professional photographer is not to look for where people are using photography, but where they are not using it and could use it.