Sports Photography—The Day Before The Game

The day before a big game coverage like the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, I am getting my gear ready. Charging all the batteries and being sure I have all the gear packed before the next day.

One of the things we are now more aware of with digital cameras is front or back focusing of a camera. When the camera and lenses ship they have some tolerance which gives you reasonably acceptable images, but if you want to get the sharpest images, then you need to calibrate. This is from Nikon’s website showing you the concept of calibrating that I am doing.

In the Nikon D4 menu you go to the wrench and then Fine Tune. You will adjust the settings here:

Watch this video on how you adjust your lens using Fine Tune on the camera. Sometimes it is easier to adjust the camera just +/- 10 or 20 points which might be all you need to do than to go and adjust 16 different focus points. Another point is you may have gone +/- 20 points and still need more adjustment and this is where the combination of the two can give you more range for calibrating.

[youtube]This is OK with fixed lenses, but for zooms just not enough. Sigma allows you to calibrate even more than with the camera calibration.

I am calibrating the new Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S lens today before the big day tomorrow.

I am using the Sigma Optimization Pro software coupled with the Sigma USB docking station to calibrate the lens in addition to using the Fine Focus on the Nikon D4 as well.

To check the focus point I am using the LensAlign Pro system.

I set the Camera and LensAlign Pro at the distance I will need to focus and then parallel to each other. The LensAlign direction help you set that up.

Then I take a shot at one of the four zoom positions with this lens: 120mm, 150mm, 200mm or 300mm. Then there are four different focus positions to also choose for each focal length you choose. When you have done all the possible combinations you will have 16 different customizable calibrations to get the sharpest image possible with your camera.

Here I am set for the closest focusing point for 120mm 

Now you will find that fine tuning your focus at 300mm and the furthest focus point at ∞ you have a long way to walk to setup the LensAlign Pro.

Due to the distance being over 100 feet from my deck the LensAlign was in the woods, so I used my Nikon SB900 on PocketWizard Flex TT5 and being triggered by the PocketWizard TT1 with the AC3 to help calibrate the flash.

I would do a test shot that might look like this and then I needed to zoom in on the photo to see the detail of where the focus point was for the photo.

Here you can see the focus point is actually slighting in front of the 0 where I wanted to be.

I open the Sigma Optimization software and put the USB dock on the lens replacing the camera.  This is why you need a tripod to do this, you need to lock everything down make the change and then reshoot to see if the custom change worked.

In the screen grab here you see I moved the focus point +4 further from the lens. They give you pictures to see what you are doing, which really helps.

After doing this a few times you can see where I ended up with focusing. Now you repeat this 15 more times with 120mm, 150mm, 200mm and 300mm at four different focusing points: Closest, Furthest and two in between.

Stay tuned for my results from the Chick-fil-A Kickoff with the new Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S lens.

College Football: My Gear


Here is the gear I will shoot with this Saturday covering the Chick-fil-A Kickoff between Virginia Tech and Alabama at the Georgia Dome.

Here is the list of gear

  • (2) Nikon D4 Cameras
  • 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 Nikkor
  • 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 Nikkor
  • Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8
  • Sigma 120-300 ƒ/2.8 (the old model in this photo, but will be testing the 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S)
  • Sigma 1.4 converter
  • Nikon SB-900
  • Manfrotto 294 Aluminum 4 Section Monopod
  • Manfrotto by Bogen Imaging 323 RC2 System Quick Release Adapter w/200PL-14
  • ExpoDisc
  • Shure FP15/83 Lavalier Wireless System
  • RØDE VideoMic Pro
  • Zacuto Z-Finder
  • AWP Knee Pads
  • ThinkTank System for lenses using belt and harness
  • ThinkTank Memory Card Holder
  • ThinkTank Airport Security™ V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag
I have other things in the ThinkTank Airport Security™ V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag, but the list is for football.  
This weekend I will get from Sigma the 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S brand new lens that sells for $3599.  I will be shooting it and comparing it to past results with the first generation 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 that I already own.
Stay tuned for my review from the weekend of putting it through the paces of covering the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game.

College Football—Getting Something Different



Most photographers covering a college football game for a publication get a press pass that gives them sideline access to the game. The press pass lets them get those photos that the fans cannot see from their seats. So the idea is simple if you want your photos to be better, get closer.

What I like the most about getting tight photos like this of the defense taking down the running back is you can see their expressions. I think this helps tell the story. Also, capturing the emotion of the players helps engage the audience.

The downside to these photos is that every photographer given access to cover the game gets the same images. Look on the sidelines of any college or pro football game and start counting all the photographers and video cameras. It will surprise you how many are there to capture the match.

Turn around 

If you are on the sideline, turn around and look for moments from the fans. They can tell you as much about the excitement as the players.

From the Stands

Don’t shoot an entire game from the same perspective. Mix it up. I like to go up high and shoot down on the field for a different perspective.

Before the Game

Arrive early and capture some of the pre-game activities. Here I capture three generations, all showing their pride in being a part of the game.

Mix It Up

The tradition at Georgia Tech is the Ramblin’ Wreck comes on the field every pre-game home football game. I don’t need the same shot every week to look the same, so I moved around looking for a different view of this tradition.


There are traditions like the Ramblin’ Wreck and at The Citadel, the Summerall Guards half-time performance that is just as important to cover as the game itself.

While capturing the Summerall Guards makes for good photos, you still need to make the most of the day.

Arrive Early

You can get photos outside the stadium and capture the day’s pageantry when you arrive early.

The Corp all marches over to the stadium and attends the game together. Capture this early, and you have something different.

Fans hang out to see the teams arrive, and you can show the excitement here.

Many college bands play mini-concerts before the game for the fans. To find these events and show how this is truly a community event involving more than just the football players on the field.

Show how families are involved by capturing face painting of kids.

Look for Different—Not Better

Don’t get caught up in capturing a better photo always. Sometimes the most effective picture works because it is different. People are not used to seeing that perspective or moment.

Here is an example of a different photo. Not all that interesting, but the access to behind-the-scenes will make someone stop and maybe read that caption.

Sometimes using a unique lens will help you get something “different,” as I did here with a fisheye lens of the fan trying to catch a winning ticket in a booth.

Now, if I shot most all the shots that day with the 16mm fisheye lens, the photo here wouldn’t be different.

For more tips on covering the story, read some of these blog posts:

Oct 02, 2008
Variety – Make plenty of photos from different angles. In addition to zooming, get closer and farther away from the subject. Make wide-angle and close-up photos. Try some without flash and some with direct flash.
May 01, 2011
A high angle is usually successful today because it is unique to our everyday lives. Seldom are we tall enough to see this angle, so it looks different than you just walking around. Even the lady in this mural is looking from
Nov 08, 2011
For the photographer, I recommend trying shooting all day with an extremely wide angle lens like a 20mm or even more comprehensive. If this is your standard lens of choice, try something different, like a macro or extreme telephoto. It is forcing 
Apr 27, 2012
Delivered on time; Invoiced in a timely matter. “Second Mile Service” possibilities. Early delivery of images; Well packaged presentation of the pictures; WOW factor photos. Different angle than they have seen before; Maybe a 
Jan 04, 2009
A telephoto lens and a wide-angle lens help us tell the same story differently. The choice of lens is like a writer choosing which words to use. It depends on what needs to be said. A telephoto lens not only 

Time for Kickoff events

Rib eating contest at Slope’s BBQ to kickoff the Roswell High School football season with the community.

Back to school

Around the country schools have either started or getting ready to start.

[Sidebar] I wish the first day of school was the same around the country. It would make for easier planning for vacations and coordinating of calendars.
Maybe it never was all the same, but I felt like we all started back around Labor Day at one time in our country history.

Communities plan parties around events celebrating. One example is while the kickoff football games for college come this weekend the parties have already begun.  This is a chance for the cheerleaders, football teams and bands to get out in front of their fans and help start the rally cry early.

Importance of Ritual

In creating and experiencing personal ritual, you can find strength and comfort in your life, gain perspective, and move deliberately into your future. People engage in rituals with the intention of achieving a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition – or even making it rain.

Ritual and ceremony provide a sense of “before and after” and people come away knowing their lives have been positively touched by the experience.

This year my daughter celebrates her first time with High School rituals as a Freshman. Each year she celebrates them it will be done as a way to count down and help her move towards her future.

Create your own rituals

Going out for ice cream is something that has been done in our family. My earliest memories are with my grand parents and all of us getting in the car and going to get some ice cream.

Honestly from a miser perspective it makes no sense to drive to an ice cream shop and spend on one ice cream cone what you could have bought a few for if you had gone to the grocery store.

Doing this with family created lasting memory for me. Another memory I had with my grand parents was my grand mother making popcorn on the stove.

The one I cherish the most was our family devotion time. I remember all of us taking turns reading the devotional and reading all the missionary names that we would then pray for as well as for our own family and friends.

To be a ritual it must be done more than once and preferably all the time.

Rituals for business are how we deliver performance. You most likely already have some rituals like coffee time, lunches, and other things that are part of your daily routine.

Maybe you need to create some big events each year to help your company grow. A simple birthday celebration of the company is a way to have a party and maybe take a moment to commemorate the growth from the previous year.

Successful sports coaches typically use rituals to build social bonds between team members. It brings team members’ external networks into the family.

I know many companies give out rewards at annual meetings [Rituals]. They invite the spouses to these events often so the spouses may see the rewards and encourage their spouses to work hard so next year they can win the cruise.

What is your kickoff event for this year?

This is the question that I am asking myself. I don’t have any formal rituals and therefore I don’t really take the time to celebrate what I have accomplished and then taken the time to formally make the necessary changes for the future.

This will be the 32nd year of me covering football. What will be different this year? Stay tuned this week as I tell you how I plan to do some things the same and some things differently. 

How to take photos and never need a model release

Nature Photography

Become a nature photographer and you can publish your work. As long as you don’t photograph people or private property you can take pictures and publish them without any problems.

I guess this is why so many people like photographing our national parks. If you however, photograph someone’s property then you cannot publish this without his or her written consent in the form of a property release.

If you photograph a private ranch for instance with a barn on it, that property owner can come after you for publishing photos of their property.

News Photography

Become a news photographer and not only get your work published you can also get a byline. The First Amendment protects your right to take photos and publish them.

The First Amendment contradicts people’s right to privacy if you are in a public space for news reporting and social, political and economic commentary. Basically as long as the photographer is standing in a public space then anything they can see from that spot is legally protected to photograph for news reporting purposes.

This is how the paparazzi get photos of celebrities and not break the law. If they are on a mountain road overlooking a celebrities backyard and they shoot with a long lens it is OK to do.  Same with being in a helicopter since the airspace is legal as well.

If you want to photograph people and do so without getting model releases you can work for one of these news outlets because you are working for the greater good of society.

The greater good is really more about taking photos of things we need to know to make our communities safer or we need to know about to protect our rights from those who are trying to take those away. So photos of traffic accidents help the community put up traffic lights at intersections which reporting has shown to be dangerous.

Photographs showing companies’ polluting our streams or illegal dumping that is documented have held them accountable. Just think of the reporting of the Exxon Valdese and BP’s oilrig in the gulf that polluted our water.

You don’t publish your photos

If you never publish your photos in print or on the web, but just take them and leave them on your computer for example, then you don’t need a release. Basically you are not using them in a way that impacts the subjects or property.

How it is used is the issue

So to summarize you taking the picture isn’t the issue for needing of a property release or model release, it is how you use the photo that determines the need for a release.

One simple way to think of it if you publish a photograph for trade or commercial purposes you always need a release to protect you from a lawsuit.

When You Need A Release

Hopefully you see if you want your photos seen you most likely need a release. This is an earlier post I did that will help you always have a model/property release with you at all times.

Mountain Top Experience is good, but you will need more

Grandfather Mountain Camera Clinic 2013 faculty from left to right Stanley Leary, Chuck Burton, Lauren Carroll, and Roger May.

Grandfather Mountain is North Carolina’s top scenic attraction

Initially organized in 1952 by Hugh Morton, the camera clinic invites photojournalists to Grandfather Mountain each August to discuss the nuts and bolts of good photography and relevant topics and trends in the field of photojournalism.

This year there were four presenters, Chuck Burton, Lauren Carroll, Roger May, and myself, on various topics.

Chuck Burton talks to the group about “Seeking The Different.”

Seeking the Different

Chuck Burton started his talk with a couple of photos showing how difficult it is to find something unique. His first photo was a photo in Washington DC a few hours before Hillary Clinton was to address a congressional panel on the Benghazi Attack. The oversized desk with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s name was in the middle of the photo. In front of the desk were about 20 cameras on the floor, each one holding the place for a photographer.

Chuck then said in this situation, you create something unique.

Then he followed it up by showing a photo of all the remote cameras on the basketball game, and he didn’t have a place to put his. So Chuck then taped two AA batteries on the bottom of his camera to get a photo from the floor. The next photo is the excellent shot he got. Then he showed us the next game how there were now five cameras on the floor doing the same thing.

The point is that shooting every day as an Associated Press photographer; he is always “Seeking the Different” to keep the readers engaged. Photography isn’t about THE mountain top experience; it is about a lot more than that. You shoot a great photo, kick back, and collect the lottery winnings.

Roger May presents “The Importance of the Personal Project and Managing a Kickstarter Campaign.”


Roger May’s North Carolina license plate is “DOCUMENT.” How appropriate for Roger. His Kickstarter project “Testify: A Visual Love Letter to Appalachia” is his journey to document his heritage in the mountains of West Virginia.

Roger helped us realize that the personal project is quite therapeutic, and after pouring your heart and soul into such a project, you would like to share it with the world. But unfortunately, many individual tasks don’t appeal to companies to publish because they don’t help promote their company directly. So, one of the best ways today to publish a book on your work is through crowdsourcing.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, especially from an online community, rather than traditional employees or suppliers.

Kickstarter is a website that helps artists with crowdsourcing.

Community Newspapers

Lauren Carroll presented “Shine a Light Where There is None: The Importance of Community Newspapers.”

Lauren talked about how much she just enjoyed meeting people from the community, allowing her to shoot sports, features, and even news. While she doesn’t like putting a camera in people’s faces during tragedy, Lauren explains to her subjects how she wants to tell their story to the community.

On top of Grandfather Mountain, we are looking towards Charlotte, NC, from the mountain.

Business practices

I spoke on “Making Money as an Independent Photographer.” I called it “Independent” and not “Freelance” because my friend Kenny Irby pointed out how maybe the word FREElancer communicates the wrong thing.

After the presentation, many folks said you know your talk would apply to every business. Since many in the audience were not full-time photographers and had other careers, they even commented how some of my points were helping them with some business decisions they needed to make.

The reality is that reading business books on starting a small business would apply to photography.

Coin operated binoculars at Grandfather Mountain with the “Swinging Bridge” in the background.

Coin operated vision

Everyone invested in going to the top of Grandfather Mountain and hoping this would help their vision for the future. Instead, it helped to see the bigger picture from a different perspective.

Now that we have all been to the top of the mountain, we need to move forward, take what we learned, and let it help shape our direction.

The Singing Bridge is a mile high above sea level on Grandfather Mountain.

Do you lack a sense of direction?

Maybe you need to put some quarters in a workshop to help you see your future more clearly. Find a workshop on something you would like to learn more about and take it.

Couple of ways to create your workshop. If you like someone’s work and don’t offer workshops, approach them and ask if you could pay them for a day of their time to teach you something they do. You never know. They may take you up on it.

I teach on a variety of topics around photography. If you are interested in a personal workshop or getting a few friends to split the costs, then call me. Here are some of the topics I teach, and if you think of something not listed here, contact me.

  • Business practices for the photographer
  • Hot shoe flash lighting
  • Studio lighting
  • Location Lighting
  • Portraits
  • Poising
  • Product Lighting
  • Missions Photography
  • Humanitarian Photography
I loved playing King of the Mountain as a kid, so this is just me being a kid again on top of Grandfather Mountain.

The More

Famous National Geographic Photographer William Allard gave a presentation at a conference I attended. Afterward, a young kid came up to Allard and said he needed this for inspiration.


William Allard turned to some friends and said you know we need one of these about every three months to keep all of us inspired. Remember, the workshops and seminars are there to inspire, but we must take this inspiration and do something with it.

When you leave a workshop, you need to have an action plan of what you will do differently than before the workshop.

Maybe after hearing Chuck Burton speak, you decide to try one new angle on a sporting event each time you shoot that you haven’t done before. You might take a few minutes and go into the stands to shoot or maybe spend more time shooting the bench rather than the action on the field.

After hearing Roger, May you decide to take on a personal project? You might even want to photograph your heritage like Roger.

Lauren Carroll challenged people to look for stories in their community rather than trying to plan a trip around the world.

Did the Mountain Top Experience do more than bring a tear and touch your heart? If so, we will see some activity in your life that shows the changes.

Overcoming boredom in photography

Bucket List

Do you have a bucket list. This is a list of things you want to do before you die.

The Bucket List is a 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.  The two guys they portray in the movie are terminally ill and you follow them on their road trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket”.

Maybe you have a list of things to do. I have a small list myself of things I would like to do.

Hobby and bucket list

Many people take up photography as part of their bucket list. They then may have another bucket list for things they want to photograph.

To a certain point this is perfectly normal for many people. For some of these people once they know how to take a picture sometimes means time to move on.

Bucket list can lead to boredom

If your purpose is just to figure out how to make a certain kind of picture and you accomplish this, then you may quickly become bored with photography.

How to overcome the boredom

You may need to acknowledge that you really had not thought to why you picked up photography except that you thought it would be fun. You may even be a professional who feels burned out. Your goal was to be a staff photographer for some publication and now you have arrived.

First you must acknowledge you have hit a plateau in your career. You have realized your goal and now need to look to the future and find a new goal.

Second you need to decide what you want to accomplish next.

Third I would work to make mastering photography gear not the end goal, but rather using photography to do something else.

My goal

I want to use my storytelling skills to help organizations reach their goals more effectively due to my photography.

A good example is my work with Just Coffee. I helped them tell their story a few years ago. I believe it did help organizations and people to understand what they are doing and get involved by buying their coffee.

Here is the package I created. The purpose was for groups to show this at their meetings and introduce the concept to their members.

Another group I helped was Chick-fil-A. This franchise owner had date nights with his daughter as their special time together. He realized how this is something missing for many families and so he created a Daddy Daughter Date Night at his restaurant. All the dads and daughters had to do was sign up and show up. They created the entire event for them.

Questions on the table to help start conversations with the dads and daughters and photographers taking pictures to help to remember the evening. My goal was to capture the event in a way that helped other franchise owners want to duplicate the event. But when you talk about it you really miss the emotional component that photos can bring. So, I photographed it and they shared it on their intranet at Chick-fil-A and it went viral.

Here is that package.

[youtube]What keeps me going is helping others tell their stories and there is no shortage of opportunity here. Had I made all my goals about mastering a technique I would be bored and had given up photography and moved on to something else until I became bored again.

Make your goals about serving others and you will always have a reason to celebrate.

Photographers are hired for brains and not gear


It is quite common for me to show up on a photo shoot and find out that the person hiring me has a lot of camera gear themselves. Most of my main customers have some great gear and we often talk shop.

The reason I mention this is too often when I meet amateurs they talk to me about what they don’t have and what they have in equipment, as if when they get enough gear is when they can turn pro.

One of the groups that hire photographers pretty regularly are agencies. Most all these agencies have camera gear and shoot a great deal of the photos for their clients. When they hire a professional photographer, rarely are they ever hiring them because of their gear, they have that gear just down the hall in their small studio.

They hire the photographer for their experience. Here is the concept, now make it better while still accomplishing their intended goal for the photo.

Take this really simple photo of a mobile phone. I just shot this a few weeks ago for a website. The reason the creative director hired me for this photo shoot wasn’t because they didn’t have the gear to take the photo, they hired me to light the phone and create the 3-D feel and be sure the elements they needed to highlight were easy to see.

No glare on the screen and then you needed details in all the black areas of the phone, which was primarily a very dark gray to almost black phone.

I saved them a lot of time of lighting the phone and getting what they needed very quickly.

I am often hired to photograph black objects. The reason is they are some of the hardest subjects to light and reveal the shape of the object.

Often once I have done this for clients they will go out and duplicate the gear and no longer hire me again.  As long as they duplicate the setup they are fine, until they come up on something new, then I get that phone call again.


I am often hired for science and technology shoots, because what I am asked to photograph hasn’t ever been photographed before. They need me to engage the audience with something which is often quite stagnant.

The photo of the researcher holding up the micro-needles on his finger was my idea of how to communicate how small those needles were. When this first came out the photo was picked up by the media world-wide. Many talked about the ouch-less needle.

Another assignment I met the researcher during time when all his gear was just sent away. All we had was his laptop and a spare LCD. He told me his work entailed giving an audience flashlights that they would wave in the air and he had cameras that would pick up those lights and his software would translate this into music that was played live by orchestra on the stage.

I had a Mini MagLight in my camera bag and I asked him to wave it around. I converted the flashlight to candle mode and this helped tell the story in the one shot.

I had to figure out the three different exposures for the photo and combine them into one photo. the exposure of the computer screens, the flashlight and then the strobes on the subjects face and then two more strobes to add some color to the photo.

Those are just a few examples where I used my brain to make the photo. The camera gear didn’t make the photo on “P” mode.

Even if you know how to use the gear and make it work this isn’t what they are hiring you to do. They are hiring you for your ideas, not just to execute their idea. They can do that without you.

What do you bring to the table other than your camera gear and lighting gear?

Advice to the Humanitarian Photographer on Getting Published

A young boy in the village of Konadouga, Burkina Faso, whose native language is Senara and the formal language taught in French. This is just a mile from the Ivory Coast border where rebels had been fighting.

Photographers, for the most part, are some of the most compassionate people you will ever meet.  They want to help organizations they encounter but often find most of their photos never seeing the light of day.

I am often getting emails from photographers returning from overseas and having a collection of photos they want to share. They want to get the stories in front of people.

A typical email will look something like this:

“I would like to ask for your advice. I want to send the photos to different magazines and newspapers with the hope that the photos will help generate interest and donations for the organizations I cover. How should I approach these media outlets?”

Here is my advice for anyone wanting to do humanitarian photography and want to help those organizations by getting their work published.

Remember throughout that your purpose is to connect the audience to the subjects. If you forget one of these, you will be unsuccessful at any time. Why should your audience care? Why do the issues need their story told?

Letzia stays at home, and her husband works in the fields in Akil in the Yucatan region of Mexico.

Before your go

For many reasons, the time to connect with media outlets is before you go and not after. The primary reason is that had the media outlet known you would be doing the coverage; they could have given you the valuable direction that would increase the chances of being published.

If you can write or do videos as well, then be sure and offer these skills as part of the package. I know many humanitarian photographers who provide some of these skills to their clients:

  • Twitter feeds while on the field
  • Blog posts when they return for the client 
  • Multimedia package
  • Audio recordings for the web

An editor often directs you to cover a certain angle that would appeal to their audience. If you are interested in the organization, you do what you can to get the organization in front of the audience.

The story will change before you even go if you take the time to reach out to as many media outlets as possible. They may also have an account for you to cover while you are there.

These boys are enjoying the stream just outside the village of Konadouga, Burkina Faso. They were surprised to see the white man with the camera taking their photo. In just ten miles, we went through 30 languages spoken by the tribes in the area. (Photo By: Stanley Leary) [NIKON D2X, AF Zoom 18-50mm f/2.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/6.3, 1/90, Focal Length = 27]

While you are there

It is rare that I have ever been on an overseas trip that the story we thought we would do doesn’t change after arriving. In some form, they will tell you that you just missed it or it didn’t happen while you were here.  This doesn’t matter if you did all your research to perfection. Often people heard something different than what you said, or they didn’t want to risk telling you the truth and you not coming to help them.

Be sure you get the names of people in the photos, the places you were when you took the images, and a good description of what is going on that isn’t always understood when looking at the picture.

Types of photos

Everyone smiling and looking at the camera are snapshots and memory joggers. For the most part, this is not what the media is looking for at all.

I have written about the three types of photos: 1) “Literal” Snapshots, 2) “Artistic” Snapshots, and 3) “Expressive” images that are taken for others and not yourself. For more about those three styles, you can read this earlier blog post:

Visual Storytelling: Three Stages of Composition

Feb 27, 2011

We all start with the literal snapshot and often revisit this stage of photography. These literal snapshots are primarily taken for the photographer. These photos are “memory joggers.” They help you remember the moment.

Here are some significant mistakes photographers make while doing “humanitarian photography.”

I wrote about them before, but I think this warrants repeating here again.

Street scenes in Tikul in the Yucatan, Mexico

Some clues that you have crossed the line into narcissism:

  • When asked why you are doing the photography, you are motivated to have a good experience.
  • When your conversation is all about the gear, you are using. This is an indication of self-indulgence.
  • When evaluating a trip, you have that country stamped on 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.
  • When you are taking people’s pictures and rarely have ever asked permission or care to request permission.
  • When you ask people to look at your pictures.
  • When you evaluate the photos based on how artistic they are for your taste.
  • When you are pushing all the time to go with teams on trips.
  • Have a mentor and ask how well you are doing.

You need to pause and be sure the reasons you are doing the coverage are for the people that need the help. The more you serve them, the more rewarding it is than serving yourself.

The Mexican side of the border is Agua Prieta, Mexico, which borders Douglas, AZ.

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 in mind your audience when taking photos.
  • You have people calling you to be involved in their projects.
  • You are concerned that the images you made are making a difference.
  • You are worried 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.
The fence is the barrier between Agua Prieta, Mexico, and Douglas, Arizona. [NIKON D3S, 24.0-120.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 12800, 1/60, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 120)]

When you get back

Contact those who were interested in running your work. Maybe a quick photo as a teaser and then a short message you just returned. You will be getting your job to them by a specific time.

Some editors will have given you a deadline before you go. Always try to meet the deadline and exceed it and get the material to them before they ask for it.

Be sure to explain if the coverage had to change and why. If they have traveled at all, they will understand. They may not know if it is not at all along the lines of what you talked to them about, and in this case, it might not run in their media.

You can always go back to all those editors who turned you down, which I highly recommend, and let them see what you have. They may change their mind.

Should a photographer list their prices on their website?


Yes and No: It Depends

Listing your prices depends on what type of customer you have. For example, if you are shooting for public portraits and weddings, you should have your prices listed.

Another way to think of it is, are you doing B2B or B2C? B2B is contemporary shorthand for a longtime sales practice called business-to-business, while B2C represents business-to-consumer. In essence, B2B deals primarily with other businesses, not the general public, and B2C provides products and services directly to the end user.

Having your price listed helps you and the customer.

How it helps you is as a filter. Once the customer has gone to your website and seen your prices, then when they are calling, they are already aware of your fees.

When looking for a gas station, I use the GasBuddy App to help me locate a station and see the prices before I drive.

If you tell people to call you, you better be ready for phone calls during dinner, bedtime, or anytime.

For the most part, many of your portrait and wedding customers want to know if you are within their budget before starting their conversation with you; frankly, most photographers want qualified leads.

Two ways to list pricing

First, you can put your full menu of prices up. What you charge for a sitting fee and your print prices are excellent to post.

If the fear of the photographer down the street seeing your prices and undercutting you is your greatest fear, then you have a lot more problems. They can always get a friend to call and get your prices.

There will always be someone cheaper than you. Race to the bottom on pricing is an authentic experience once you have been in the industry for a few years. You have to raise your rates sooner or later if you have kids at home to feed.

Second, you can also indicate that your prices start at $300 with an average order of $500. But, again, be careful that you are truthful. Don’t try and get them in the door with a low price so insignificant that they must go up in price to get what most people need.

Be sure not to use a link to a pricing page and then give them prices starting quote.

You can also list your basic packages and what they include and then state to call for higher-end packages. Again, remember how you word this can make those upper packages more desirable.

21 Jewel High-End Railroad Pocket Watch Hamilton 940–Not your $19.95 Timex Watch

Sidebar about Prices

Some customers can go very high-end. One of the reasons they like to buy things like Rolex or a Lamborghini is they don’t want what they get to be what all their friends have. They want an exclusive package that is not easily attainable.

Some photographers list their prices, which are out of sight to go after this market. However, if you can pull off the high-end service necessary with this type of photography, you might be able to lure people with your prices.

Commercial, Advertising, and even Editorial photographers

Due to the nature of the clients and how they will use the photos is not boilerplate; you are best not to have any prices published. Not listing your prices is not because of your competition finding out, but the number of variables to figure a fee makes it almost impossible to have standard prices.

Many use portraits on a website to accompany the bio of a salesperson. The same type of photo could be their brand used for a national ad campaign. You might charge $1,000 for one use and $5,000 for another service, and even $30,000 for another kind of usage.

Yamaha YTR-735 trumpet

How do I find out the going rates?

You might be new to charging for your photography. I always get calls from beginners wanting to know what they could trust.

First of all, there is no going rate. Photographers decided what they would charge for headshots in a market if they got together, then that would be illegal.

For comparison purposes, think if you were starting as a construction worker. It might take you a day to do a job that, after about five years of experience, you could do in a couple of hours. Also, the quality might even be better with all that experience. If you continuously charge a day laborer rate, then the person hiring you will most likely get ten times more work from you in five years than they would when you first started for the same day rate.

Remember, there are a lot of things affecting what you can charge. For example, your experience, quality of your work, and expenses can impact that price.

My advice to those starting is to keep your overhead as low as possible. Don’t buy the most expensive gear, most expensive car, most expensive house, and eat out all the time when you are beginning. Do just the opposite. Cut out every luxury you can so you can charge a rate less than those with years of experience. Be sure your rates will cover all your living expenses and ability to run your business.

You will have to suck it up for the first few years until you have enough clout to charge higher rates and get them.

Jay Maisel, Bernie Boston, Hugh Morton & George Tames at the Southern Short Course in Charlotte, North Carolina on May 10, 1986.

Warning About Other Pros

Too many seasoned pros try and tell those beginning to charge rates similar to their rates. It takes some time to establish your style; it will be challenging to get reasonable rates. With this said, you also need to be sure you are charging enough to make a living. Building your clients takes time, so I recommend keeping your overhead as low as possible when starting.

Tips for contacting professional photographers for help

Ways to connect

You can reach out to photographers in so many ways. But, first, I think it is essential for you to know some basic etiquette for connecting.

Introduce yourself

Tell the person you are and why you want to connect. “hi, my name is—after reading about you, I noticed we have a few things in common” or “hi, my name is—I have been following your blog and liked your post on …”

Give the person a reason they should want to connect with you!

Tell them about you. When you reach out to someone, and that person goes and clicks on your LinkedIn profile, it needs to help them.

If on LinkedIn, I highly recommend a professional headshot. A headshot goes a long way to show you are a natural person rather than a blank avatar. The blank avatar makes you look like a creeper.

It would help if you had your profile updated and helpful to those you are reaching out to for connecting. Make it easy for people to see why they should respond positively to you.

The point of the about me section is to show yourself as an authentic person and an excellent way for people to want to connect with you. We are not interested in a sales pitch. Things about your hobbies and interests go a long way to help people want to join. For example, if you were an Eagle Scout, this helps others with this background connect on a different level with you.

The about section is about you and a great way to introduce yourself to others. Fill this out as best you can; otherwise, people will ignore many of those requests.

@ Email

If you choose to email a photographer, be sure you follow a similar protocol. Keep the letter short and to the point. 

I think there are three simple questions you need to answer in the email in some way:

  • First, who are you? Second, why are you contacting me?
  • Third, what do you want me to do?

Connect the dots for the recipient. Please don’t make them have to figure out what you are saying.

Be willing to pay
There are many places to go for someone to critique your work. There are camera clubs, workshops, and seminars where photographers will give you some of their time.

The expectation of a private consultation where you get career advice is something you should be willing to pay. But, on the other hand, free advice is often worth what you pay for it.

It would be great to spend half an hour each week having coffee with Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, or Jeffery Gitomer for free. You know this might happen to a couple of people, and they are likely already good friends with them.

Good mentors are hard to come by, and getting good advice that can save you time and money in your career is worth every penny.

Unless the person you contact is on staff with a regular salary, they make their living through photographyshooting or consulting.

Good mentors have connections that alone can change your life forever. For example, a few years ago, I had a young college student about to graduate from school ask me for an internship. We talked for a while, and the next day she sent me a thank you note for taking the time to speak with her. She also thanked me for some particular points from our conversation.

I was impressed with her character. But unfortunately, I was not in a position to pay her at the time, and I let her know I would give her time to ask any questions each week. So she went with me just about everywhere for about two months.

My client Chick-fil-A was as impressed with her as I was and offered her a job as a writer. 

She paid me for my time by helping me and landed an incredible job due to her investment.
Here is Stanley and Knolan Benfield in Kona, Hawaii, for a lighting workshop.
Early in my career, I attended numerous workshops with NPPA and ASMP. There were two significant workshops where I shelled out about $5,000 per week to study with two of the icons in the industry.

I went to the Maine Workshop and studied with Steve McCurry from National Geographic. The cost of flying, hotel, food, and the workshop was just under $5,000. I learned a great deal from that week and not just from Steve but others in the class with me.

A few years later, I took another class at the Maine Workshops with Jeff Smith studying location lighting. Again I learned so much from Jeff and their classmates.

I offer personal workshops for people who are interested in this profession. I charge $125 an hour with a two-hour minimum for whatever they want to learn from me. For example, I have taught people one-on-one how to organize their images. I have done personal workshops on using hot shoe flash off camera for portraits. I have taught people business practices and marketing.

If you know of another professional photographer you would like to learn from, then approach them, and if they don’t offer workshops, propose to them what they do for you.    

If you are not willing to invest in your career, why should anyone want to?

I am switching to USB Flash Drives and I advise you to do the same

Apple kills Flash for websites

I have a Love/Hate relationship with Apple. When the rolled out their iTouch, iPhones and iPads they refused to support Flash. In affect killing it as a platform.

If your website used Flash, you either updated your website to html5 or just started over. You couldn’t afford to have people come to your website looking to hire you and not be able to see your work or maybe your contact information.

Apple may kill Optical Drives

Apple may have similarly sealed the fate of the optical disc drives back in October 2010 by leaving out the optical drive in their Macbook computers. Soon, it will go the way of the floppy disk.

Today most people are connecting to the internet for software rather than buying CDs. Adobe even went so far as to move most all of their software to the cloud. There is just less need for optical drives than a few years ago.

It’s a common misconception that burned digital media’s shelf-life is infinite. Unlike pressed original DVDs and CDs which are near invulnerable to degradation, burned media have a relatively short life span, typically between 2 to 5 years depending on the quality of the media and the handling of the discs. Had this not been the case there might not have been the move away from them.

USB Flash Drive as an alternative

What will you use going forward instead of the optical drive? The USB Flash Drive or deliver your images through the cloud with online galleries or something like DropBox.

I ordered my USB Flash Drives from and had my logo put on them.  The more you order the cost per unit does go down quite a bit.

Over a year ago I was getting ready to do this and asked USB Memory Direct for a quote and they sent this to me:

Below are additional pricing options for our classic styles.
Quote 7/24/2012
I wrote back to them late July this year and asked for a quote for quantity of 50 for the 4G drive.  The price went up a little.  

Quote 7/29/2013

I ordered my on July 31st and they arrived at my house on August 5th. They didn’t promise them before August 12th, so I was pleasantly surprised on the quick turn around.

While I will continue with some clients to deliver on DVDs, I am seeing these to slowly being phased out.

You don’t have to order in bulk

While buying a couple hundred will save you on unit cost USB Memory Direct will print on quantities as low as 20.  My recommendation is to buy the size you most likely will use the most in a larger quantity and then a few in larger capacities in smaller quantities.  Hey buy 100 2G, then maybe 50 4G and then 20 8G size in an order.

My recommendation is to start small and test the supplier for turn around time, quality and durability.

USB Flash Drive Benefits

There are a few benefits to using the USB over the DVD or CD. Speed to put images on the USB is so much faster than burning a disc.

Another benefit is I believe the USB is a much more stable platform than the DVD. I have gone back to earlier DVDs that worked a few years ago and today do not. I have never had this problem with a USB, but with all digital if it isn’t in three places it doesn’t exist.

Once the images have been taken off by the client and put on their computer or network then the USB can be used for other things. They may use this over and over and every time they do they are reminded of me. It gives me a similar impact of a postcard I send to them that they put up in the office.

USB Flash Drive as deliverable and not archival

I am sure the images are about as safe on a USB Flash Drive as an SSD drive for example. But the best solutions for archival is a system that has the images in three locations.

My use of the USB Flash Drive is to be able to give clients their images using this rather than DVD due to optical drives being less standard on computers.