International Missions Photography Workshop for Students

For many years a few of my friends have been talking about how to offer a hands on workshop for those who feel a call to use their camera in missions.

Jeff Raymond, ABWE Director of Visual Communications, called me and we talked for a while about our dreams.

There are a few things that needed to come together for this to work. Along with James Dockery, ESPN Video Editor, Jeff Raymond and myself we will be helping to train college students in storytelling for missions.

Next May we are taking 9 students to Lisbon, Portugal where each of them will work on a multimedia project telling a story about the missionary work in Lisbon.

The students will go through all the stages of the storytelling process. As they work on the project, each day they will receive instruction, opportunities to capture images and then receive critique so that they can then make adjustments the next day and continue to refine the story.

If you know of college students or are one yourself that is interested go to this link [] to learn more and register. We are taking applications and those who register prior to December 1st will be given priority. This is not the final deadline, but we encourage you to register early.

Lessons learned from the NPPA Business Blitz

The nuts and bolts of running a business is he most important thing you need to be a successful independent photographer. When you first start your business more than 95% of your time will be doing things like marketing, estimates and negotiating with clients.

National Press Photographers Association has been putting on business seminars not just for their members, but for anyone who is interested.

The entire event was giving photographers information to help empower them in business practices. At no point did any of the speakers show their award winning photographs and talk about how they made their pictures.

Greg Smith, independent photographer, NPPA board member and chairman of the business practices committee.

A few years ago under Alicia Calzada’s time as the NPPA president, she along with Greg Smith worked on business practices for the membership. Greg is the one who created the NPPA Business Calculator, which is referenced by everyone teaching today photographers how to run their business.

Greg walked everyone through the different fields of the calculator helping to explain why each of these fields needs to be considered to come up with a working budget for the “Cost of doing business.”

Beer Money or Rent Money

One of the problems many staff photographers continue to have is that they are often thinking of doing side jobs for “beer money.” The problem is the following week many of these staff photographers are being laid off and their business model of working for “beer money” and using company gear will not work when they have to buy their own gear, pay for all the costs of running a business and then have enough money left for now their basic needs like “rent.”

Mickey Osterreicher, NPPA Attorney

Mickey Osterreicher told us over and over “its complicated.” He helped to give us a better understanding of copyright, contracts and how to negotiate with clients. He helped to clear up that we need to register our images every three months and not every ninety days. Come February when you have less than ninety days you can get caught where some of your images are not protected.

We learned that their are four issues that need to be addressed for a photograph to meet the “Fair Use” requirements.

  1. Purpose
  2. Nature
  3. Amount and Substantiality
  4. Effect of the use
We learned that the caps of per image violation was $150,000 which will be divided by the parties that misused on image, if they are all related.
We learned the differences between copyright and license. Understanding this was how we were able to negotiate more effectively with clients.
We learned what must exist for a contract.
Offer + Consideration + Acceptance = Contract
He even helped us to understand that you can have an oral contract, but this depends on where you live.
Deb Pang Davis, Assistant Professor, Syracuse University
Deb Pang Davis explained that for our business to be successful we had to understand our brand and know how to build it in the community. “You are already a brand,” she said. “Do you know what it is?”
She encouraged everyone and especially the students to think really LONG term. This was ten years into the future.  Then you need to present the work to the audience that you want to do.
One of the greatest pitfalls of most business people is getting stuck on a “roller coaster.” This is where you do “911 marketing.” You have rent due and then you work really hard to market and then get some work. The next time you market is when the work starts to drop off.
Deb went on to give us many different ways you can market and build your brand so that you can avoid those roller coaster rides of the past.
Stanley Leary & Akili Ramsess [photo by Mark E. Johnson]
During a panel discussion on “Finding & Funding a Future for Photojournalism and Documentary Photography” I was able to give my spin on what I recommended. 
I believe we are at an all time high for opportunities for storytellers. However most of those who are working storytellers with the titles of Journalist or Photojournalist will most likely need to pursue other places than the news media outlets to use their skills. The number of those jobs has greatly diminished.
I encourage storytellers to discover their communities. Find where they congregate and then find those who want and need to communicate to those groups. Then become an expert on the subjects that they cover for those audiences.
Where are those communities? I gave them some examples of working for a corporation where they need storytellers to help with the communication in their community. Nonprofit organizations are also communities that need those same storytellers to create community newspapers within their sphere.
[photo by Mark E. Johnson]
While I came to speak, I also came to learn. I took a lot of notes. while most everything presented I had heard before, I did hear new ways of presenting the material. I am always looking for a better way to tell the story and I learned a few new ways to do just that.
I cannot encourage you enough to spend the time to get to know this material so that you too can be a successful independent photographer.

Storytellers purpose is to be the glue of the community

Alive After 5 is the Third Thursday each month April – October from 5-9pm on Canton Street in downtown Roswell, GA. 

I love living in Roswell, GA. While we are in one of the largest metro communities in the United States, Roswell has the small town feel. We have events like the Alive After 5 during the summer months where the community comes together to just experience each other, music, arts and food.

This is Seth Gamba, orchestra teacher at Elkins Pointe Middle school, playing the drums with the orchestra. The group plays on electric string instruments and even plays some rock tunes during the Alive After 5 event. My daughter plays in the group on the viola. Proud dad as you can see.

The community loves to do positive things together. Today people are seeking out experiences. Walt Disney understood this when he built Disney Land and Disney World.

This is my wife with the Paranoia Haunted House crew that was at Alive After 5 to promote their business.

My wife loves to post photos like this to her Facebook account and from the number of likes and comments I know the rest of her friends love this as well.

Role of the Journalist

According to Webster Dictionary “journalism is the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories.” Wikipedia goes on to say that journalism “serves the purpose of playing the role of a public service machinery in the dissemination and analysis of news and information.”

The role of media in the broader sense is helping communities connect to one another. I see journalists as helping people plug into their community network and the connection is being made through the media.

When you look at all the content that a local media outlet should cover of their community the pie has many slices. One of the slices that journalism serves in a democracy is to inform the community to better play a role in their government.

Wikipedia says, “In a democratic society, however, access to free information plays a central role in creating a system of checks and balance, and in distributing power equally between governments, businesses, individuals, and other social entities. Access to verifiable information gathered by independent media sources, which adhere to journalistic standards, can also be of service to ordinary citizens, by empowering them with the tools they need in order to participate in the political process.”

I fear too many journalists are only serving a slice of the pie to their audience. They want more than just the things in their community that are going wrong.  If you were to graph out the story coverage of many media outlets I think you would find that there is a lopsided coverage on the squeaky wheel.

Could you take a media coverage of their community and would it reflect the same percentages of categories of stories taking place daily, or would it be slanted.

What about work communities?

Most communication offices within corporations are serving like the media for their community. I find my role within a nonprofit was very similar to my role at the newspaper. My role working for a large corporation is also very similar.

The breaking news story in the nonprofit and business world are the stories that management needs told. While we do not have investigative journalists looking into management and reporting this to the community, we do have companies realizing that transparency is the best way to build affinity with customers. You are finding more PR professionals communicating where their company has made a mistake and how they are taking actions to correct it.

The common theme for communications professionals is serving as the conduit between the Subject and the Audience.  The most powerful way to make this connection is the story. We use some medium to deliver that story to the audience.

Mistakes Storytellers Make

All you need to do is look at those four words above: 1) Audience; 2) Medium; 3) Storyteller and 4) Subject. If anyone of these is diminished in importance then the connections are not made. The result of this over time is a community that lacks cohesiveness.

I believe way too many professional communicators are wrapped up in either the medium or the subject.  They buy the latest gear and try cool shots and forget the story. Sometimes they get so attached emotionally to the subject that they loose their objectivity to know the story.

I believe the audience more often than the medium or subject the most overlooked part of the puzzle.

I believe Steve Jobs is one of the best business people who understood the audience. When he rolled out new products they were not what people wanted or even needed. No one talked about a computer with a graphical interface before he helped to introduce the Mac. No one new what a tablet device was before he introduced the iPad.

What Steve Jobs did know was how to help improve the lives of his audience. He saw how they lived and how he could improve their lives.  Great storytellers need to know their audience just as well.  This way when we tell them stories of subjects in their community they will line up just like people do when Apple releases a new product. They know that it will be a great story, because yesterday they gave me a great experience.

Secret about your audience

When you immerse yourself into the community that you are covering this is when you find your subjects for the story.

Even businesses like Starbucks and Chick-fi-A train their employees to learn about their customers and to connect with them. Watch this video done by Chick-fil-A.

I encourage storytellers to discover their communities. Find where they congregate and then find those who want and need to communicate to those groups. Then become an expert on the subjects that they cover for those audiences.

Deb Pang Davis, Assistant Professor, Syracuse University

In Deb Pang Davis’ comments to the National Press Photographers Association Business Blitz at the Grady School of Journalism she was encouraging photographers to be involved in social media. This is one of the best ways to be a part of a community. People get to know you and you get to know them and share content.

Marketing is connecting you to your audience.

Want better posed group photos, pick better locations

Bulloch Hall Plantation located in Historic Roswell, GA

Location, Location, Location

Just like real estate, your photos will look better when you choose your location. This is the time of year for holiday parties, school dances and even weddings. While going into your yard and finding a clean background is a great idea, picking a location in your town that stands out may be a better idea.

Here you can see all the parents watching as I am taking the group photos and couple photos. If you look closely you will see my one Alienbees B1600 with the original vagabond battery by Paul Buff. It is to the far right in back [yellow head].

Another tip is to use a tripod. There are a couple of good reasons to do this. First your photos are sharper when the camera is rock steady still. Second if one person in a group photo blinks and then another person in another photo, you can always cut and paste one person into the other photo using PhotoShop.  This way everyone will look good in one photo.

Fill Flash

The subjects are all back lighted by the sun in all these photos. Unless you use a flash you will have a hard time holding the background and their faces to get a good exposure.  I metered the scene which was ISO 100, ƒ/8 and 1/50.  I then set the flash to ƒ/5.6 or one stop under whatever I would have metered for the over all scene.

Here I composed a wider shot to show Bulloch Hall where the grandparents of President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, and great grandmother of Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady from 1934-1945 lived.

I like the closer composition over the wider shot.  But I did both in case couples preferred one over the other.

Any time my family is with me and I have gone to this much trouble for photos, I always get a photo of them.

Environmental portrait needs to explore possibilities

When you get hired to shoot an environmental portrait the client will enjoy seeing choices. This is even more important with designers.

Some of the variations you give to the client are only you moving to the left or right to compose the photo from a slightly different angle.

For this environmental portrait I am wanting to show the subject works at Chick-fil-A corporate headquarters in Atlanta, GA. So I am using this logo as the way to help establish his employer.

When using a wide-angle lens like the Nikon 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 lens you can do portraits with the lens, but you want to keep the face closer to the center than to the edges. Here you can see the hands a slightly distorted when they are on the edges of the photo.

What I like the most about the wide-angle lens is it brings the audience into the scene and gives you a more intimate look.

Now this is shot with the Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4 lens.  In this photo I am shooting at ƒ/1.4 aperture. Now while it pops the subject out from the background I am starting to loose the logo which helps to establish the workplace.

I liked the effect of popping the subject out from the background, but I didn’t like the logo being so blurred. I then chose to close the aperture down just slightly to ƒ/2.8.  I like this the best of these two options.

Before you shoot–TEST

Your subject will most likely not have the time for you to take all day running around trying different locations. The best thing to do is have an assistant or ask for a volunteer to stand in for your test shots. Work out your lighting with them. Find all the locations before the subject shows up.

I had an assistant stand in for the subject and together we worked on locations. I would shoot and show the assistant and ask for his feedback. Sometimes you miss something and just having another set of eyes will help you catch any distractions.

Here are some of the test shots that I did about an hour before the subject was to meet me.

Homecoming Dance Photos

Nikon D4, 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 320, ƒ/5.6, 1/40

With a little preplanning your photos of your child’s homecoming and prom pictures we all take before with friends and family can improve your photos.

Now we tried to get all of our daughter’s friends to stop by the house before going out that night, but that just didn’t happen. This photo here out in front of the restaurant is what we did get with the group.

I hope you notice the major difference in backgrounds. Also, the on camera flash below compared to off camera flash above is also not as good.

This is how I setup in my backyard for the photos with the green background. The camera is on a tripod so that I could drag the shutter and use a low ISO.

It was easy to move parents in and out of the photos.

I just put the camera on a tripod and let our friends press the shutter so I could be apart of my daughter’s first homecoming dance.

When you plan those photos around your house where the family get’s dressed up, take the time to scout for a good background that will not distract from the people in the photo. Earlier that day we had rain and the ground was a little wet and for that reason I used a corner of the patio so people didn’t sink into the ground.

Be sure the background doesn’t have hot spots from sunshine. This will distract from the people.

Use tripod so you can shoot at lower ISO. Use off camera flash to help fill in the raccoon eyes and also help clean up the color in the skin tones.

Simple High Key Head Shot

Let me walk you backwards through this process. This is one of the potential retouched photos. I used the software program Portrait Professional to do the touchups. You may not like any of the touchup, but I wanted to show you often you may make some touchups for various reasons. This software will helped speed up the process.

This here below is the photo after shooting it and doing very minimal adjustments in Adobe Lightroom.

I really like working with a white background. To be sure you white background remains white the general rule is 1 to 2 stops brighter than the subject. I find it is best to slightly angle the background so that it is not acting like a mirror and creating a flair in the lens.

Camera Perspective

For this setup I chose to use more of a copy stand setup with two large soft boxes on either side of the camera. Straight above and slightly behind the subject is a hair light with a 30º grid pointing down onto the back of her head and shoulders.

Top View

Here is the diagram of the setup.

I put two mono-blocs on the background duplicating the same angles as the soft boxes on the subject. Again the background is 1 stop brighter than the subject.

Side view

With this setup the model can change poses and move side to side with similar light. This let the subject play with expressions and body positions without have to change the lights every single time we moved the model.

I started with the stool and found that the chair gave the model more to work with and feel more relaxed. Each person is different so you must together work to find those poses and expressions that bring out the best in the model.

OZ Magazine Interview’s Stanley

Oz Magazine called me and asked to interview me a couple months ago and the interview is in this October’s magazine on page 43. Click here for link. Below is the interview.


While in college my father gave me a camera. Immediately, I started shooting for East Carolina University while working on my social work degree. Social work was training me to understand what to look for. The experience of shooting all the time for the school helped me to perfect capturing these stories.


Become an expert on a subject and learn to provide a finished product, which means more than just photography.

All my clients hire me because I know a good deal about their industry—not just photography.

I am a visual storyteller using a photojournalistic approach helping organizations build customer loyalty. My social work degree and M.A. in communications makes me uniquely qualified to help people right in their own environment, by looking at all the different aspects of their life and culture.

You need to go to people with ideas and not wait for the phone to ring for someone to ask you to shoot their idea. The more you know about the subject and audience, the better you are positioned to come up with ideas to help your client engage their audience with content you create.

Today, I combine my photography, video, audio and writing to help put together complete packages that my clients can use right away. Too many of my colleagues just want to shoot and are no longer shooting because they expected the client to know what to do with their images.

Shooting with Heart or Head is often a camera choice

Stills vs Motion

When a still photographer photographs people they are able to quickly capture decisive moments. For the most part they are reacting to what is happening in front of the camera. Those who do it the best are good at anticipating a moment, but still the are reacting to how people are behaving in front of them. Most photographers are able to shoot from their heart because when something moves them they are able to capture it.

When a videographer captures something over time. They start rolling and then stop at some point. They cannot just react to a moment and turn the camera on. The videographer must think about what they want to capture and plan out their coverage.

The major difference with shooting stills [photographs] and motion is shooting from their heads. They cannot shoot from their heart. They must plan their shot more than the still photographer.

This is an example of a storyboard from the book Using Your Camcorder by Mandy Matson.

Every book on capturing motion will address the need to plan your shots list out before hand. You will find every one recommends storyboarding your shots so you have a good idea of what you are planning to get.

As far as just capturing daily life it is rare to get the same emotional content that a still photographer will capture because they cannot just react, they must plan their shots.

When filming for a movie they not only shoot to a storyboard they must create the emotion through the actors. As we know there is usually one angle that can improve the emotional moment than another. Many times the storyboard will have multiple camera angles to jump from to help make this work. They are filming Dumb and Dumber here in Atlanta. Take a look at some of the photos shot of the set by John Spink the AJC photographer here. You can see the same scene shot by John from what is two different places on the set. The reason he was able to do that, is they will redo the scene over and over for different camera angles or variations from the actors themselves.

When in the editing suite they are picking from multiple camera angles and different performances to then craft the scene.

As you can see to shoot video the head is how it is done and not reacting from the heart in the moment.

The one thing that video does have over stills for capture emotion is the sound. This is why a good amount of the evening news footage that is moving is often the interview where the human voice is what is conveying most of the emotion.

Television news knows the power of the still and use it all the time for major news events. Eddie Adams photograph from the Vietnam War of the officer shooting the prisoner is seen all the time on the news when they talk about the war. They had a film crew who caught the entire shooting, but it is the still image that capture the emotion even stronger or they would not be using it over the film.

I believe many of our iconic photographic images of people are where a photographer caught a microexpression. A microexpression is a brief, involuntary facial expression shown on the face of humans according to emotions experienced. They are very brief in duration, lasting only 1/25 to 1/15 of a second.

Most people do not seem to perceive microexpressions in themselves or others because they cannot freeze the moment to see it. You must slow a video down and look frame by frame to see them and running at full speed the average audience will not see them. This is why I think video has a more difficult time to capture emotions.

The Wizards Project was a research project at the University of California, San Francisco led by Paul Ekman and Maureen O’Sullivan that studied the ability of people to detect lies.

Truth Wizards use microexpressions, among many other cues, to determine if someone is being truthful. The Wizards Project has identified just over 50 people with this ability after testing nearly 20,000 people. So the research pretty much shows that in real time most people miss microexpressions.

For me the power of the photograph is if they capture the “Decisive Moment” then the truth telling makes this a powerful storytelling medium. The photograph can capture the storytelling moment that communicates emotion, because the audience will have time to see it and absorb the moment.

Video or Photograph?

I believe from all my experience that the best visual storytellers are using both their head and hearts.

The still photographer uses their head to plan to be in the right place at the right time. They are able to anticipate moments due to their knowledge of human behavior on a particular subject.

The videographer know how to craft a sequence that will pull on your heart as a package. From their experience they know what has moved their heart in the past.

My suggestion for those telling stories of life happening and not creating stories with actors, is to do like so many news outlets do when it comes to communication news events with a lot of emotion–use stills and the human voice to pull the audience in.

Sports Shooter Question: ƒ/4 Fast Enough for NFL?

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with 1.4 converter, Shot at 630mm, ISO 51200, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

I saw this post on Sports Shooter and responded to the question because I think sometimes photographers consider a lens or camera and don’t realize there are many settings that can impact sharpness of a photo and acceptable noise for publication.

My Response

I think with today’s cameras capabilities with high ISO should not be a problem using a 300mm ƒ/4 lens for NFL football night or day games.

The question you should always be asking is will the photos of the subject connect with the audience. 
I would then even take test shots at many different ISO settings and then compare the results to how the photos are published for that audience.
This is closeup on the photo above. Notice one major thing between the two photos, display size. This impacts the noise being seen. Again how will the audience view your work?
If they are primarily a website then you can get away with more than in print. 
Through the years there are a few things I have noticed that really impact this discussion with sports.
I have noticed a significant difference in sharpness of my photos when I drop below 1/1000. 
There are a few factors that impact focus. So often people blame a lens when it could be a few other things.
Factors Impacting Sharpness [which can make something look in or out of focus]
  1. I found separating the shutter from focusing and using the back button to focus and the shutter release to fire the camera improved focusing.
  2. Adjust the fine tune focus on the camera to match the lens. Each camera is different. I use LensAlign 
  3. Many of the lenses that I thought didn’t focus that fast magically are great once I upgraded my cameras to newer models.
  4. My Nikon D4 all of a sudden got ten times sharper images when I upgraded the firmware.
  5. On the Nikon system we have focus tracking. You can change how fast or slow the computer tells the camera to hunt for change in focus point. This can make a difference if something comes between you and the subject ever so briefly [referee]
  6. How many focus points you use for a sport. Sometimes you need fewer and sometimes more. This is why the camera manufacturers give you choices, so you can maximize your equipment for each situation.
Here is a quick video showing how calibrating your lens can improve the focusing.

My point is you can have a ƒ/1.4 lens that should be tact sharp, but because of all the things I mentioned above will perform badly.

With today’s cameras ability to shoot high ISO, auto focus in lower light than before I think you should be just fine with a ƒ/4 lens shooting.
Here are some of my photos from a HS Football game shooting at 12,800 in earlier post.
I was curious about pushing the ISO even higher to improve the sharpness of photos and get even more keepers, so I went to another HS Football game and pushed my ISO to 51,200 and here are those results
Bottom line is always test something before shooting for the client.

The Most Successful Photographers Spread Ideas

Time and time again, the most consistent comment I get about my photography is my ability to capture the moment that tells a story.

The second thing that started to help define my work was my ability to use light to improve moments.

My photos defined what I could do for clients.

I was even photographing things like lasers that you cannot see with the naked eye, but I was capturing this in photos.

I continued to grow and try new technology to solve the problems of clients trying to connect with their audiences. I added 360º panoramic interactive pieces for the clients to put on their websites.×410

I then started to add just audio to slide shows that were easy to host on almost any website and more economical to produce over traditional video. [ Click on photo above to see the Slide Show with Audio.]


I added video and mixed this with still images to help an audience really connect to the subject and feel the story.

Am I just a “photographer” any more. I am a problem solver. I am at the core of what I do an expert on understanding an audience and the subject and figuring out a creative storytelling to connect the two.

When potential clients get to see what I do, they hire me. The trick is to lead with visual examples. I want to be “Remarkable” and to do this I must spread ideas. To get the concept of what that means watch this TED Talk by Seth Godin.

Maybe I need to tell people I am a “Communications Handyman” who is there to solve your problems. I not only can come in and diagnose your communications crisis and understand the problem I can fix it.

The downside to “Communications Handyman” is it sounds like you are going to fix your problems the cheapest way.

Maybe I could use “Special Forces Communications Operative” but then you may think I just do war photography.

While I have picked for now “Visual Storyteller” people want to jump and then say so you are a photographer.

Maybe I take a risk and target an audience that I am best equipped to serve and find a title that works with that audience. Maybe with my seminary degree I go after the religious market and call myself “Visual Evangelist” or “The Visual Preacher.”

Successful Communication has four components

  1. Audience
  2. Communicator [photographer]
  3. Medium
  4. Subject
All four must be addressed for success.  Too many photographers often forget one or more of these. They can get caught up in the medium [gear head] or often emotionally wrapped up in the subject with all their time. 
Your purpose is to connect the audience and the subject and get yourself out of the way.
Now use this same model to address your marketing of you to an audience. You are the subject and the audience are your potential customers.
Now lets go back to those four elements again. Often a photographer is wrapped up in the subject and forgets about that audience. 

So you are shooting picture for a publication that is geared to women in their 40s and 50s and you go and shoot a Punk Rock Band.  How you cover it shows either you understand your audience or you do not.

So taking the photo above shows my emphasis on subject and medium.  Using lights to create just a cool photo.

 This is another example that I have taken a really cool photo.

Here I even am showing how popular they are, but am I connecting with my audience. Why would middle age women be interested in the bands.

But then I take this photo and now I have my hook for the audience. My wife loved this photo so much she used it as her profile photo on Facebook. The story for the publication audience is how these bands who can look scary and make you wonder if you child should be near them is to explain why they appeal to your children. This is of interest to the audience. I would actually lead with this photo before I would lead with what are cool photos first, because this connects to the audience.

You the Subject

If professional team were to work with you and help you be more successful then you become the subject, but who is your audience?  Too many photographers again fall in love with the medium. I like making pictures.

Two Approaches to be Big Fish in a Small Pond

Move.  Lets say you are a wedding photographer in Atlanta, Georgia. It would be easier for you to find another city to move. Atlanta may have as many as a thousand or more wedding photographers. Maybe you look for a place where the number of photographers per the population is lower.

Specialize. It is better to find a subject that few photographers if any are providing services. Mark Johnson, the head of the photojournalism program at the University of Georgia, told me about one of his students that double majored in photojournalism and horticulture. They went to a horticulture company and sold them on why they needed to bring them on board to be their communication specialist. Now that company has a better website showing their product to their audience.

The formula for success is simple. You have a subject and an audience in mind. You need to have ideas worth spreading in this arena. So go out there and be remarkable.

Advice for the photographer who feels anxiety today

God, the one and only— I’ll wait as long as he says. Everything I need comes from him, so why not? He’s solid rock under my feet, breathing room for my soul, An impregnable castle: I’m set for life.
—Psalm 62:1 MSG

One of the greatest blessings I have found for my life is anxiety. I have talked about this in many ways through the years on this blog.

When editing my work I become anxious because the photos don’t fully capture the event with the emotional impact that I felt. When I awake in the morning I am often stressed because I am not sure where my next project from a client will come. Over the past few years I have felt the loss of more and more clients because their budgets have been slashed.

Malcolm Gladwell is an author that I continue to follow and buy his books. His latest book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and The Art of Battling Giants is about what happens when ordinary people confront giants.

There is an interview done with Malcolm Gladwell by the Religious News Service that you can read here.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes, “Gladwell said that while researching the book, he began rediscovering his own faith after having drifted away. Here, he speaks with RNS about his Mennonite family, how Jesus perfectly illustrates the point in his new book and how Gladwell’s return to faith changed the way he wrote the book.”

The difficulty many without a faith perspective will struggle with is how this one review by J. Gomez put it, “I really have a tough time buying the notion that people succeed because of their difficulties, “The second, more intriguing, possibility is that they succeeded, in part, because of their disorder–that they learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage.” I look at it as overcoming challenges, making the best of what you have.”

Malcolm Gladwell gave a TED Talk recently on the classic story of David and Goliath. When revisiting the story he discovers some hidden truths he missed earlier growing up in the church hearing the story.
Making the best of what you have is a total self reliance and belief that you are in total control of your circumstances.

Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.
—Saint Augustine

I believe that those with a very close relationship with God have a healthy balance as St. Augustine so eloquently put it. The tension is in the part that it is often a collaboration between man and God.

Many question why a loving God would ever allow for evil in this world.

If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free willthat is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the stringsthen we may take it it is worth paying.

― C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity 

I have never been in a place in my life where I was at total perfect peace. This is the tension of life, we can choose to see our glasses half empty or half full.

Recently I wrote about how seasoned professional photographers look at their contact sheets and look for what they could do better. They are aware of the short comings of their images to what they felt and saw with their own eyes. Their struggle proves to be of enormous advantage over the bad photographer who looks only for a good image.

As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another.
Proverbs 27:17 MSG

I wrote earlier on one of my greatest struggles of Aspergers. Here are links to those two blog posts

Mar 22, 2013
Asperger’s Syndrome It would not be until my adult years that I understood that I had Asperger’s Syndrome. Early on I went for psychological testing because of my behavior in the classroom. They suspected I had Autism, but 
Mar 23, 2013
While many think that those with Asperger’s Syndrome lack sensitivity to others and lack empathy, I believe just the opposite. While their outward social skills are lacking they are aware of many things people do not see.

Today you are facing many things which creates anxiety. Don’t be the person who thinks you alone can pull yourself up by your bootstraps. To overcome the fear that anxiety brings into our lives you need to know you cannot do this alone.

I recommend reading this prayer today and every day. Make it your prayer and you can overcome the anxiety of this world.

The Serenity Prayer
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
―Reinhold Niebuhr

One of the key things I have been struggling with has been my identity. How I describe myself to others.

As a side note to this thought you might not be aware that the Jewish people try not to ever say the name of God, because by just saying it we limit what God can be. Theologians call this putting God in a box.

If we were truly created in God’s image as written in Genesis, then it would appear that we should be as careful about putting not just God in a box, but we ourselves.  Is it possible that the reason for much of our anxiety is that we may define ourselves as photographers alone and this has limited our abilities?

What would have happened if David had been older and allowed for adult thoughts to limit his ability to kill Goliath? The key I think to the story of David and Goliath is David acknowledged that all his victories were not his own but because of God. David said, “God, who delivered me from the teeth of the lion and the claws of the bear, will deliver me from this Philistine.”

David wasn’t thinking about being a shepherd or running to be king. David saw the anxiety of his people and believed the God who protected him while in battle for his own sheep would allow him to take on Goliath.

If you have lost your job as a staff photographer or maybe you are loosing clients do to various reasons don’t limit yourself by defining yourself as just a photographer. That is how David’s brothers tried to define him and send him home. David was not a shepherd, David was a faithful follower of God and trusted God to deliver him every day as he watched his flock of sheep.

Why am I grateful for the stresses of this world that create anxiety in my life? Because without them I wouldn’t have a need to get on my knees today and ask God to give me the wisdom to know what I should do today.

4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:4-9 [NIV]