Photographers are either like Cruise Ships or Battleships

I have been extremely blessed this year and was able to go on two different cruises. Both were with the Royal Caribbean Cruise line.

The first cruise was on the largest cruise ship in the world, the Allure of the Seas, and the second on the Seven Seas. You could spend a whole week on this ship doing so much and still not see it all—which is what happened to me.

Two things stand out about cruising: 1) entertainment and 2) food. Maybe I should reverse that order.

The Cruise Ship’s primary purpose is to serve those on the ship with hospitality. So if you are on a cruise ship, the odds are pretty good you are being done.

Contrast this to the battleship, whose purpose is to serve their country by being strategic and focusing their energy outward.

Hobbyists are inward-focused for the most part. They do something more for their enjoyment. You are working more as a professional when doing this primarily for others’ enjoyment.

This Saturday night, I went to the local high school play. The students did a great job. The ones that are in touch with how they come across to the audience are the ones who will be able to do this professionally. Becoming more aware of the audience’s perspective helps them to know how to tap into the audience’s emotions. So many professional artists get caught up in doing their art for enjoyment. Some are just such naturals that they thrive performing and may even have an outstanding career and the entire time be doing this primarily for themselves.

Success for the fine art photographer seems to be the exception and not the rule for most professionals in the arts.

The hobbyist [enjoying cruises] will put out a lot of money to be entertained. However, to be a professional [shipmate on a battleship], one must perform well enough that others pay them.

Here are four keys to being sure you become a working professional and not just a hobbyist

  1. Knowing your core values and learning how to use those core values to meet the needs of a community
  2. You are creating an experience with photography, unlike any other photographer. You need to stand out. Standing out can be done in more ways than just the photos. Consider your presentation, your attitude, and your customer service.
  3. Every good brand has a mission or a story that’s worth talking about—Find out what is worth talking about. Then, as Seth Godin says, be remarkable.
  4. Deliver a repeat performance. Consistency is why certain brands like Apple can introduce something so new, and no one has ever used it in their circle of friends, but they will camp out to be the first to get the new product. The last thing they got was a hit, and so was the product before that, so the customer believes in the brand.
Today with the digital space we live in, it is quite possible for you to create a great brand in a short time. The key is a series of smart moves. The first move is to know what you have to offer to your community. Then you perfect it. If you have something that will solve another person’s problems, you have the beginnings of a possible career.

More High School Football ISO 51,200

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 12,800, ƒ/4, 1/500, 630mm

Caption for the photo above: Woodward Academy War Eagles #13 Elijah Holyfield, the son of famed heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, takes to the outside, leaving Blessed Trinity Titans #73 Andrew Cornell on the ground and #87 Logan Craighead going for a tackle on Friday, September 27, 2013. Final Score Blessed Trinity defeats Woodward Academy 27-17.

I decided to try another high school football game tonight and some even higher ISOs than last.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 51,200, ƒ/5.6, 1/1600, 480mm

Caption for the photo above: Blessed Trinity Titans #5 Milton Shelton scores the second touchdown with Woodward Academy War Eagles #4 Matthew Clopton and #1 Antone Williams chasing him on Friday, September 27, 2013.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 51,200, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 630mm

Caption for photo above: Woodward Academy War Eagles #3 Arrington Farrar tackled Blessed Trinity Titans #5, Milton Shelton, in the first quarter on Friday, September 27, 2013. Final Score Blessed Trinity defeats Woodward Academy 27-17.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 36,204, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 262mm

Caption for photo above: Blessed Trinity Titans #6 Chris Keegan scored the first touchdown with Woodward Academy War Eagles #6 Marcus Hyatt and #1 Antone Williams in hot pursuit on Friday, September 27, 2013.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 , ISO 51,200, ƒ/4, 1/1600, 175mm
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 28,735, ƒ/4, 1/2000, 190mm
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 40,637, ƒ/4, 1/2000, 170mm

Gross income broken down for the independent photographer

If you are considering becoming a professional independent photographer, look at some of these numbers. Of course, you may want to keep your day job and do this as a hobby instead.

One thing most self-employed people know about their business, if they are successful, is that only a tiny part of what you charge a client is what you will take home to pay the bills.

These are my numbers, which will vary widely from business to business. Your age makes a big difference in medicine, for example.

According to my numbers this morning, I could break down every $100 into four major categories:

  1. $19 Medical Expenses
  2. $36 Business Expenses
  3. $14 Federal and State Taxes [Self-Employed pays double vs. staff person; no, you don’t get to take home more because you don’t spend more as a staff person. The company pays that other 1/2.]
  4. $31 Net Income
Once you start figuring out where all your money is going, you get a lot better at ensuring your prices are high enough to survive. Surviving is paying all your bills and doing it on time. If I weren’t debt free, another piece of the pie would be for interest. 9% credit card interest may turn into a 3% loss of income to pay off debt.
So after working on those numbers, I went to lunch and, while eating, broke my tooth. After a trip to the dentist, I now changed some of the numbers by 1%. Medical went up by 1%, and net income went down by 1%.
You cannot plan for all emergencies. You cannot count on a certain income coming in, either.
Most business owners run a tight ship most of the year and then, in the last quarter, talk to their accountants and then might do some upgrades to equipment or other purchases to help lower their taxes and make capital improvements.
Many business owners will give more to their church in the last quarter or a charity. The reason for the delay is the importance of reserves.
If you are young, in your twenties, and unmarried, your medical expenses could be drastically lower than mine. I am covering my family, and I am in my fifties. Just being that old will give you higher rates for medical insurance.

Three ways using visuals to show building expansion

Impact 360 Classroom

If you are engaging your audience online then one of the coolest ways to show a space is with the 360º Panoramic. Put your mouse in the photo, click on it, and drag it around, and you can feel standing in the room and turning around to see the space as if you are there.

That same interactive 360º panoramic can also be output as a still image. Still, I think most people are not quite grasping into comparison to the interactive version, but it gives you the space’s documentation space.

The traditional still photograph

This single wide-angle image of the classroom gives the viewer the feel of the room.

It gives you a slice of the room in a moment in time. In addition, however, you can use a series of photos from the classroom to help provide a complete story of the usage.

Small groups in the classroom use technology at the desk with also larger monitors to share what one person has on their device with the group.
Here you can see the groups in discussions with the instructor moving through the space to check in on each group. The area is large enough that group discussions are possible without interfering with each other.
You can see here that the student is sharing with the classroom and using a microphone to ensure everyone can hear what is going on. They also can use video in the school to create live classrooms online for those around the world to participate.


Just a quick clip can help communicate the space to your audience.

Video is at its best when you want to lead your audience through the message. Here in this clip, I can tell a complete story about the expansion of the IMPACT 360 gap year program in Pine Mountain, GA.

Which one is best?

Too often, people think more about “either/or” rather than “and.” The answer to this question lies within the strategy of your plan. If you do not have a design, you are more prone to make a significant mistake.

For example, had I only done a video, the organization would have nothing to use in the printed newsletter they send to all their supporters.

Had I just done the panoramic interactive, I would have something online and, as you can see, the stretched still image for a printed piece.

What about doing it all every once in a while for those big projects where you will use the stills, the interactive panoramic, and the video to help engage your audiences in many different spaces?

I contend that today, the still image is often overlooked for video. The video appears to be more sexy and cool. However, I believe that the base from which all visual communications of a project similar to this must contain the still image. Even NPR realizes the power of the still image and its importance in their online packages.

They took away the video cameras to train their people to make strong still images. Why do this? Just go to their website at and notice how they use the still image as the place to start. Before you click on any video online, it usually has a placeholder of a still image. If that still image isn’t engaging, then you have most likely wasted all that money on a video that few will see except those who already would watch it regardless.

Remind yourself not to be trapped into thinking “either/or,” but instead think “and” when choosing a medium for your audience.

Atlanta Skyline from Georgia Tech

Why I changed my title from Photojournalist to Storyteller

Definition of Photojournalist

Photojournalism is a particular form of journalism (the collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast) that creates images in order to tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, but in some cases the term also refers to video used in broadcast journalism. Photojournalism is distinguished from other close branches of photography (e.g., documentary photography, social documentary photography, street photography or celebrity photography) by complying with a rigid ethical framework which demands that the work is both honest and impartial whilst telling the story in strictly journalistic terms. Photojournalists create pictures that contribute to the news media.


Photojournalism: the job or activity of using photographs to report news stories in magazines or newspapers


This photo is from the East Carolina Buccaneer (college yearbook) 1984. That is me on the left. I was the darkroom manager back then. The other photographers are Mark Barber and Mike Smith in the top middle photo, and Gary Patterson, head photographer, center bottom and to the right Neil Johnson.

We all shot for the school newspaper and the yearbook as “photojournalists.”

Stanley Leary is photographing in the village of Garango, Burkina Faso. (Photo By: Shawn Hendricks)

Here I am, shooting in 2005 in Burkina Faso, and I still consider my work to be as a photojournalist. I was shooting for a Christian organization showing their work. It was to be used in materials for a fundraising program they did every year.

The choice of words you use to communicate can make all the difference in the world.

“Language shapes our behavior and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning. The right words spoken in the right way can bring us love, money and respect, while the wrong words—or even the right words spoken in the wrong way—can lead to a country to war. We must carefully orchestrate our speech if we want to achieve our goals and bring our dreams to fruition.”

—Dr. Andrew Newberg, Words Can Change Your Brain

Client-Centered Communication vs. Self Centered 

If people find out I went to seminary, they want to know what church I pastored or where I pastored. So you see, there are assumptions made by the words I use with the audience.

Writers have always known that the right word can evoke so much more than just any synonym would do.

According to Compton’s Encyclopedia, the English language contains some 500,000 words. Yet the average person’s working vocabulary consists of 2,000. And the number of words we use most frequently that make up our habitual vocabulary? For most people, it averages 200-300 words.

According to Oxford University and the PBS series ‘The History of English’:

William Shakespeare used a total vocabulary of just over 24,000 words. In 2003 16,000 of those words were “obsolete.”

Edgar Allen Poe used a total vocabulary of under 18,000 words. In 2003 9,550 of those words were “obsolete.”

Is the word photojournalist obsolete? No, but if you are trying to communicate your value to a client, using this word can create a hurdle or obstacle.

While you may see yourself as a photojournalist and understand fully what that means and that it doesn’t mean you work at a newspaper but rather the approach you take, that is great and maybe even 100% accurate.

Now take in your audience, who you are trying to convince you are the person to help them tell their story.

I have started to use the descriptor Storyteller because this explains what I do, and clients can see the need for a Storyteller much faster than they can see the need for a photojournalist.

Another term similar to the Storyteller that you might like is Narrative.

Humanitarian Photographer

For me, the descriptor “Humanitarian Photographer” is too limiting. This tends to describe one as working with NGOs and nonprofits. While a corporation might look for a “Humanitarian Photographer” if they are trying to brand themselves as compassionate and that they give back, it is most likely not what they are going to look for when they need to tell the story of their product and how it is transforming people’s lives.

Examples of photojournalists not working.

I am a member of Christians in Photojournalism. When people write to join, many in the past have asked what newspaper they work for today. It would be best if you worked for a newspaper to be a photojournalist or part of our organization.

As many members have lost their jobs with newspapers, their identity as a photojournalist didn’t change. So they are still doing in their minds photojournalism for mission groups, NGOs, and even the corporate world, but telling accurate and truthful stories.

When I talk to people who do storytelling about Christians in Photojournalism, you can tell many have a look on their faces that I don’t work for a newspaper.

For the past 20 years, I have helped staff the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference. Some attendees get very upset if the speakers are not working for a news organization. Some speakers have shared how they are helping pay their bills by doing photojournalistic weddings.

What we call the “Day In the Life” photo story is how many former photojournalists see themselves doing by covering weddings. Many have gone on to help protect water projects or other things like Habitat for Humanity worldwide and show this as their “photojournalism.”

The disconnect in both of these examples is those who could participate do not see themselves as photojournalists. Instead, the title to them means news organization photographer–not a storyteller in the broader sense.

Don’t become Obsolete.

If I continue to use the term photojournalist to describe myself, I will soon become obsolete because the word is not used the same with my audience as I use it.

Everyone, not just photojournalists, must be less self-centered and client-centered to avoid becoming obsolete. What words in your client’s vocabulary best describe you?

The power of made-up words cannot be underestimated either. My friends Dave Black and Zack Arias are great examples of creating new words. Dave talks about “silhouette reveal” verses “fill-flash.” Zack often makes up words for pieces of equipment in his demonstrations. Then he will say if you call up B&H and ask for a Big Bertha, you might not get what he was using.

Remember you are trying to connect with your audience to get hired. So figure out their vocabulary to help them quickly understand your gifts and talents.

Successful photographers are more than their photos

Successful photographers are about so much more than the photos they make. But without great images, they have no reason to exist.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 12800, 1/400, ƒ/4

Most photographers I meet are passionate and want to do the right thing. They are very concerned about doing the right thing as well. But what is lacking is business acumen and the tools to run their business effectively.

It is pretty standard that photographers are quite busy and think they are doing exceptionally well. Still, they are missing revenue opportunities, barely breaking even, and even losing money.

To meet the demands of their clients, some are delivering just OK photos to turn them around so they can get on to the next project. However, in have in a timely fashion, some of the picture’s colors are slightly off, or the exposure is just a little off, and even some of the photos they deliver are not sharp.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, 1/250, ƒ/11


Lack of discernment or long-range perspective in thinking or planning is the definition of myopic. But, unfortunately, you can get so busy that you cannot see your faults.

Imagine walking into a photo studio with no photos on the wall. Instead, the photographer comes out to talk with you, and you ask about their photography. The photographer talks a great deal about their business vision, and you want to see some photos.

The reality is this is how so many photographers run their businesses, but instead of lacking photos, they lack business acumen.

Are you providing services that are right for and meet the needs of your customers?

This question will catch most photographers off guard because they cannot answer it.

In the days of film, you didn’t even know you had captured anything with your camera until you developed the film.

A latent image is an invisible image produced by the exposure to light of a photosensitive material such as photographic film. When photographic film is developed, the area that was exposed darkens and forms a visible image. In the early days of photography, the nature of the invisible change in the silver halide crystals of the film’s emulsion coating was unknown, so the image was said to be “latent” until the film was treated with photographic developer.

– Wikipedia

One of the primary reasons professional photographers were hired is that many people would take pictures with their cameras. When they got the results, they were disappointed for various reasons. Nothing came out of poor exposure, out of focus, or something else.

Today there is no waiting to see if you have an image. Instead, people use smartphones with built-in cameras to take most of their photos. So they can see immediately and have an idea they can publish instantly to the world.

One of the primary reasons professional photographers were needed is now gone. Most people can take their photos and get something without having to know anything at all about photography.

Creating Desire

Steve Jobs was the master at creating a product that people never had before and didn’t know what they wanted. Yet, by the end of launching a new product like the Apple iPad, he had not just made us want one but convinced us that we needed one.

While in seminary, I took a course called Systematic Theology. Systematic theology draws on the foundational sacred texts of Christianity while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine throughout history, mainly through philosophy, science, and ethics.

One of the most profound thoughts I had to get my head around was who God is and my relationship with God.

“The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time. He treasures us and anticipates our departure from this earth to be with Him-and we wonder, indifferently, how much we have to do for Him to get by.”

― Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

The concept of God not needing us but wanting us can spin my head, but this concept helped me understand the raw power of intimacy. Great relationships are built on a mutual desire for connection.

The more a photographer desires a relationship with a client, they will begin to understand, like Steve Jobs, that they must think like their client. For example, Steve Jobs helped solve my problems in my life by helping me to connect with others using technology to increase my ability to do so.

Maintenance Program

Why do Toyota cars have such a good record for lasting a long time for their clients? One thing that changed for me was in 1993; I bought a Toyota Tercel. One different thing is that the dealership invited me to a party in their service department.

They had pizza for us, but most importantly, they wanted us to get the most out of our vehicles. So they took the time to educate us about the maintenance program. Every 5,000 miles, you need to bring your car in for routine service. They added that if you follow the maintenance schedule, your vehicle will most likely last for 200,000 miles without a problem.

Toyota cars last so long because they did a better job educating their customers about the importance of preventive maintenance.

As photographers, what is involved in a preventive maintenance program for you?

  1. Digital Workflow: you need a sound system that helps you consistently make and deliver quality images to your clients
  2. Marketing to new and present clients: you need to consistently have something in place that helps you to connect with new clients and a plan that also helps you stay connected to your present clients
  3. Accounting: you need to have a system in place to create estimates, invoices, pay your bills and track all this so you can be sure you don’t have outstanding invoices, statements, or taxes.
  4. Relationships, not transactions: you need to have a focused plan to make all of your clients about a relationship designed to make them your friends. Without this being intentional, these clients are just transactions and will soon be replaced by other photographers desiring a relationship with them.

Do you have a plan in place for you to follow? If not, stop what you are doing and create one and then work on the project, and you will see success in your future.

Friday Night Lights – High School Football

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 12800, 1/400, ƒ/2.8 [Touchdown for Milton HS]

I decided to shoot some high school football while taking my daughter to the game. While I have shot a lot of sports, it has been a long time since I shot a Friday night high school football game. I think the last time I did it was with a film camera back in 1991 in Fort Worth, Texas, with my good friend Morris Abernathy.

First, I must say that shooting at ISO 12800 with these Nikon D4 cameras is fantastic. I know I never shot color high school football until now. WOW! I am shocked at the quality we now get out of these cameras.

Here are a few selects from the evening.

By the way, I want you to know I did a custom white balance at the beginning of the game, and then once the sun went down, I did another custom white balance using the ExpoDisc. Slight cropping, and that is it in all these photos.

My tips are pretty simple. First, use a long glass and stay in front of the play. I prefer to shoot from the end zones, so I get a clean background for the most part.

My lens of choice is Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, and I use it most often with the 1.4 converters. However, since I shoot these on my Nikon D4, I also crop in by 2x, making the lens into an 840mm ƒ/4 lens on the longest part of the zoom.

I prefer to see the players’ faces, and they tend to look towards the end zone if they are offensive, and the defense looks toward the other end zone.

These photos are just a few of the #3 from Milton scoring right in front of me. With that zoom, I could keep him tight throughout the run to score the last frame above him.

High Key Dodge Viper Photos

I decided to go back to the Dodge Viper and shoot it purely high-key. So here are some from this morning’s shoot.

Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/8, (35mm = 28)]
Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/6.3, (35mm = 30)]
Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/7.1, (35mm = 41)]
Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/6.3, (35mm = 30)]
Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/8, (35mm = 28)]
Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/8, (35mm = 68)]
Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 28)]

For these last few, I turned the 30″ x 60″ softbox long side front to back rather than side to side, which helped eliminate a black line that you may see in the photos above.

Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/8, (35mm = 55)]

You can see the black line I got rid of by putting the softbox, in essence, further behind by turning it vertical versus horizontal.

Here is the result here

Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/8, (35mm = 55)]

By the way, the size of the car here is something for scale.

Dodge Viper
[COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1250, ƒ/7.1, (35mm = 41)]

My photographs of a Black Dodge Viper

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/640

I just wanted to have fun, so I photographed a Dodge Viper.

So I rolled the Dodge Viper into my studio. Here are some shots.

Dodge Viper [COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1000, ƒ/8, (35mm = 153)]
Dodge Viper [COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1000, ƒ/6.3, (35mm = 76)]
Dodge Viper [COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/640, ƒ/8, (35mm = 153)]
Dodge Viper [COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1000, ƒ/6.3, (35mm = 76)]

After doing different shots with the blue gel, I switched to red and reshot the photos.

Dodge Viper [COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1000, ƒ/7.1, (35mm = 119)]
Dodge Viper [COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/1000, ƒ/6.3, (35mm = 105)]

Now how did I take all these photos? Well, first, I was walking through Sam’s Club and saw the Dodge Viper and decided to buy it on the spot. So yeah, I spent a whole $12.95 for a model.

The Setup

Dodge Viper [COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/640, ƒ/8, (35mm = 50)]
Dodge Viper [COOLPIX P7000, , Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/640, ƒ/8, (35mm = 50)]

I moved the softbox further from the background and more in front of the car for the first photo and did a similar with the first red photo.

I suggest playing with something like a car and photographing it in a different light. I also highly recommend buying a black car versus a lighter color car if you want to learn how to light. 

Wedding Lighting Kits

Kit One

These are the AC-powered strobes that I use for many different shots.

Here is a list of what is in the kit:

  • 3 Alienbees B1600—If I think the facility for the reception needs more than this, I can bring even more of these monobloc lights
  • 3 PocketWizard Plus Receivers
  • 2 PocketWizard Plus Transmitters
  • 1 PocketWizard Plus II Transceiver—Can be receiver or transmitter
  • Sekonic Light Meter
  • Vagabond Mini Lithium—Use this to power Alienbees B1600 when power isn’t nearby
  • 3 Extension Cords
  • 1 Power Strip
  • 3 Convertible 45″ umbrellas—Can take off black and convert it to a white shoot through
  • 3 Smith-Victor RS75 7’6″ Compact Aluminum Light Stands
  • 1 Paul Buff set of four honeycomb grids for a 7-inch reflector
  • Roll of Gaffer Tap
  • Several gel filters for color correction or adding color if needed

All this fits into the Tamrac 660 Rolling Studio – Black and weighs about 65 lbs. I check this bag when flying.

In this photo, you can see the room lit up with the 3 Alienbees B1600.

Rebecca Kramer and Cameron Manzi Wedding

Here is another photo showing how the lighting works in the room. Again, most of the action happened in the center, not on the fringes where I placed the lights.

Kit Two

This photo shows my hotshoe lighting kit. It includes

  • 1 Nikon SB900
  • 1 Nikon SB800
  • Pocket Wizard Flex Transceivers TT5 Kit
    • 2 TT5
    • 1 TT1—Use this with the PocketWizard Plus so I can sync at 1/500
    • 1 AC3
  • 2 ThinkTank Strobe Stuff bags to carry the flashes
  • SD-9A 6 AA External Flash Battery Pack for Nikon SB-900 SB900
  • 2 Metal Umbrella Brackets with Adjustable Flash Shoe
  • 2 Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stand – 6.2′ (1.9m)
  • 2 30″ PhotoFlex White Translucent Umbrellas

All this except the light stands and umbrellas go with my cameras in the ThinkTank Airport Security™ V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag. I usually pack the stands along with my Tripod.

Gitzo GT0531 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs – Supports 11 lbs (5kg) & Manfrotto ball head.

You must do it if you are called to be a visual storyteller. But how?

Stanley on top of Grandfather Mountain [photo by Knolan Benfield]

 “Say goodbye to full-time jobs with benefits” was the headline on CNN’s website on June 5, 2010. The writer, Chris Isidore, said, “Doug Arms, senior vice president of Ajilon, a staffing firm, says about 90% of the positions his company is helping clients fill right now are on a contract basis.” Not all staff jobs will disappear, but the clear indication is that contractors are growing in the percentage of the job market. 

A couple of years ago, the local WSB-TV reporter Jim Strickland interviewed me about being a freelancer. They were doing a story on the rise of contractors versus staff jobs. 

On May 30, 2013, The Chicago Sun-Times shocked everyone when they laid off their entire photo department. Two weeks after the Chicago tabloid laid off its photo staff, the Southern Community Newspapers Inc. chain in Georgia closed its photo department. 

Change has happened 

When I left college, my career plan was to work for a newspaper for a couple of years and then work for a missionary agency as a staff photographer telling stories of missionaries worldwide. Just shy of two years at a newspaper, I got a call to come and work for the missionary agency for the Baptists in Richmond, VA. The Commission Magazine was their flagship communications piece that won 3rd place in the Pictures of the Year award while I was on staff as best use of photos by a magazine. Right behind National Geographic and Sports Illustrated. Five years later, it was the end of 1989, and there was a slight recession, and I lost my job.

My plans had no contingency for this situation. Looking at what seemed to be a weakness of not being a seminary graduate in the missionary agency, I went on to seminary. Three years later, the landscape had changed by 1993. 

Stanley and his daughter Chelle are making monkey faces. You have to laugh. [photo by Dorie Griggs]

Loyalty to a Profession, not a Company 

The years of layoffs and downsizing have changed how people think of their jobs. For example, it is more common today for people to feel loyalty to their Profession than to their employer. This is because they are working on advancing their career but no longer see doing this with one company. Many of my colleagues feel called to photography, specifically to the visual storytelling of nonprofit or faith-based organizations.

While twenty years ago, they could find a staff job doing this type of work, those jobs are scarcer than ever, and sadly those salaries haven’t changed in more than twenty years. 


The most famous missionary in the Bible was the Apostle Paul. Many do not know that for most of his career as a missionary, he was also a tentmaker. He was a bi-vocational minister. 

Today for people to follow their calling and use their talents, the best path for them may be that of a tentmaker. One of my friends, Greg Thompson, sees himself in this role as a tentmaker. Read about him and follow some of his blog posts here The advantage of this bi-vocational/tentmaker is the ability to pay your bills and still fulfill your call. 

Balance of Lifestyle and Vocation 

Too often, I talk to young photographers who want to pursue something that would be a very lonely life for most of them. A few have wanted to be war photographers.

After getting them to refocus and tell me what type of lifestyle they wanted when not photographing around the world, it was only then that I could help them see pursuing war photography would require sacrificing some of their lifestyles. I

advise anyone wanting to be a professional photographer to determine what lifestyle they want and then look at what type of photography can sustain this lifestyle. The other way is to look at what you feel called to do in photography, then come to terms with the lifestyle needed to lead to pursue it. 

Due to the shift from staff positions to contractors for most organizations today, you need to be an entrepreneur. Being an entrepreneur means you must learn how to run a business first. 

Entrepreneur versus Staff Specialist 

Many of my friends who went to seminary to become missionaries studied scripture and preached. However, most didn’t learn how to run a business and do marketing. The seminary didn’t teach business acumen because organizations sent out missionaries for many years. 

Today missionaries may have an organization that endorses them, but most missionaries are no longer staff missionaries; instead, they are in an even worse position than most freelance photographers. They must raise all their support for the ministry and pay their bills. In addition, a portion of their funds must go to the organization that endorsed them. 

Sadly many great missionaries and photographers are having a similar problem; the lack of entrepreneurial skills for running a business has them leaving their professions to find a job to support themselves.

In Youth With A Mission: School of Photography 1 class, I helped teach a segment on lighting and business in Kona, Hawaii.

Take a Leap of Faith 

Soren Kierkegaard encouraged Christians to stop turning inward, contemplating their faith, and taking action. This called on them to take a leap of faith. If you focus on paying the bills and security, then I think you have turned your back on using your gifts. But unfortunately, using those gifts is not something that will be easy. I leave you with this scripture, which I hold dear to my heart because there are many days when life throws so much at me that if not careful, I will also focus on my security and not on my calling.

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed – that exhilarating finish in and with God – he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.

– Hebrews 12:2

Simple One Light Outside Group Photo

Nikon D4, 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/125, Off camera Alienbees B1600

The Setup

Simple lighting setups work great outside when you already have the sun as one of the lights.

Before getting the photo above, you must plan and do some test shots.

I recommend putting the strobe opposite the sun and using the sun as a hair light to help create separation from the background.

Nikon D4, 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/125, Off camera Alienbees B1600

When I do test shots, I take intimate photos of the face to see how the light looks on the front. So here, my daughter, who was also my assistant, stood in the place I would have the bride and bridesmaids stand.

Top View

I metered the scene and then added the strobe at one stop less than the scene.

Just be sure no one comes between the strobe and the people, and always have someone standing next to the strobe so that a strong gust of wind doesn’t blow it over. Also, this person can be sure the flash is firing.