Photographer are you shooting yourself in your foot?

Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/2.8, 1/500

In the words of Joan Rivers, “Can we talk?” Lets just get honest here, we are often too concerned about ourselves and not enough about our clients.

Did you know that many people who are doing what they consider loving actions are actually hurting someone? More than often they are taking actions because it makes them feel better and not their friend.

I learned about this when I was a Social Worker. We call this behavior enabling and not helping behavior.

Enabling takes place when you are in some way allowing the addict, alcoholic, or afflicted individual to continue their destructive behavior. Enabling is often perceived as helping. The essence of enabling is permitting the addict to continue with their addiction, often by supplying money, shelter, legal aid, or any other form of help.

What I learned about enabling to avoid it requires you to know more about a situation. You must understand the root causes and not just the symptoms.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/6.3, 1/250

Providing Solutions & Not Problems

I think way too many photographers are approaching clients with problems and not solutions. They are just like those who are enablers–they do not understand the big picture and are shooting themselves in the foot over and over.

I believe today those who pitch ideas that are easy for a client just to plug into their situation get more jobs than those who pitch ideas that require the client to have to do more work to use their contribution.

Here some questions to ask yourself about your pitch:

  1. What problem does my idea help solve for the client?
  2. What does my client have to do to implement my idea?
  3. If my idea requires help am I finding it and providing the total package or relying on the client to provide something?
  4. Does my pitch talk about how this addresses the clients issues?
  5. How do I know that my idea is good for the client?
  6. Do I have more than one idea in case the client says they are not interested for some reason or another?
To boil this down to the basic question you need to ask why should the client care about your idea. Don’t assume they understand how this will help them–you need to have that as part of your presentation. It will show them you do understand them or it will show quickly that you do not understand at all what they are doing.

2015 Staff Photojournalist Job Requirements

Nikon D810, 24-70mm [photo by: Robin Nelson]

For those who want to find a staff job working at Newspaper, Magazine or online outlet the job description is a lot different these days than it was years ago.

Here are a few descriptions I pulled from job postings with the National Press Photographers Association:

  1. Candidates should excel at news, features and sports photography. Our visual journalists also are counted on to produce multimedia presentations and online slide shows. 
  2. The multimedia coordinator is responsible primarily for video production and assists with other multimedia projects, including photo research, livestreaming and interactive content. The multimedia coordinator ensures that video projects produced will meet editorial and branding standards and tell compelling and distinctive stories. 
  3. Candidates should have news, feature, sports and multimedia experience and be prepared to work in a fast-paced, breaking-news environment. 
  4. Looking for an energetic, versatile, creative multimedia/visuals editor who can help us continue to produce great visual content for our readers!

Multimedia is technically anything that involves multiple types of content. The World Press Photo organization split this category into interactive and linear.

Linear productions give the reader guidance. There is only one way to experience the story. With an interactive package the reader is able to decide the direction.

With either one there needs to be visual storytelling in terms of photography and video in each.

Nikon D810, 24-70mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/7.1, 1/60 [photo by: Robin Nelson]

Here is what I am telling students and those wanting to make a career change to storytelling/photojournalism.

I believe that there are three components [skills] needed to hired as a staff multimedia producer.

First you need to be able to write. You need to be able to capture the story in a written form. This is necessary because you need to provide written captions many times and today you may be putting the package together all by yourself.

Second you need to have a good command of photography skills to capture the visual story as stills. You need to master your camera to be able to not just get well exposed images, but use the creative tools of aperture, shutter speed and light to tell a story more effectively. You need to know how to use artificial light and I highly recommend knowing how to use strobes off the camera.

Third you need to master capturing motion and sound. Understanding that in most multimedia linear projects sound will drive the project, so you must know how to capture and use it to help lead the audience through the story. You need to master post production software like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier.

Your understanding of what makes a good story and how to find stories will be what is most valued by your employers.

I would suggest taking a journalism writing course as well as photojournalism course before you dive into multimedia post productions skills. This will take more than just taking the classes back to back. You need to produce at the highest level showing you have mastered these skills.

Your portfolio will be more important than your degree. There are many people working in the industry without a college degree and there are many people with degrees not working because of their portfolios.

With portfolio being key, your degree is what can also make you more valuable, especially if your degree is in a subject that helps make you an expert in that subject. For example Sebastião Salgado has a doctorate in economics and Eugene Richards has a degree in social work. Both of these photographers built their professions on their expertise on the subjects they cover.

As you can see this is a lot to master, so don’t quit your day job before you have a portfolio that shows you can tell stories using multimedia.

Experiencing Israel during Holy Week in Georgia

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 180, ƒ/8, 1/200

This past week I had an assignment at the Explorations in Antiquity Center in LaGrange, Georgia. I was able to experience ancient biblical life and times without going to Israel.

This is one of the ways I learn best–Experiential Learning. Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing”. Experiential learning is distinct from rote or didactic learning, in which the learner plays a comparatively passive role.

The first photo here is a replica tomb of what Jesus Christ was placed into after his crucifixion.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/125–off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger 

The docent, tour guide, helped us to see the cross that Christ most likely was crucified on rather than the Roman designed cross many wear today or that is in churches. They went into a great amount of detail to help you understand why this was such a horrible way to die.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 2500, ƒ/7.1, 1/100
They have authentic goat hair tent like the nomadic shepherds have lived in for thousands of years. Here you sit and listen as the docent helps explain what you are seeing and experiencing.
Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/160
This is a replica of the main gate to the city. Here you learn about the gate that Jesus would have come through on the donkey. What happened around this gate gives you perspective.
Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 220, ƒ/7.1, 1/200
Here the group is sitting in the Garden of Gethsemane replica learning about the Olive Tree and the Olive press.
Here is a great blog post explaining the symbolism of the olive tree and how Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was like him being pressed. 
Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 400, ƒ/18, 1/200
They have the press that they first use when working with olives. It was good to see and have an expert in Biblical History speaking and helping us to see the significance of the Mount of Olives and the celebration of Holy Week.
Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 9000, ƒ/2.8, 1/100
You can experience a Jerusalem Biblical Meal, which would have been similar to the last supper. I recommend going to the center for a experiential learning experience. For photographers it makes for a fun location to shoot.

The Explorations in Antiquity Center is not related to any particular denominational tradition, so the conferences should be both meaningful and sensitive to people from many different backgrounds.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 2000, ƒ/4.8, 1/100–off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger. The MagMod with grid is used to keep light off the screen.
Here is a explanation of the MagMod I used to keep the flash off the screen in the photo above.

Chick-fil-A App – No Skymiles Needed

While this may not seem to be about photography, it is about saving some time when ordering your breakfast, lunch or dinner. As we know today the most precious commodity we have is our time.

One of my favorite Apps and programs that I am apart of is the Delta Skymiles program. The loyalty program is great and two main perks I love the most. The best part of the program is boarding early on all flights.

Having camera gear I need to be sure this is on the plane and I am handling it and not the baggage guys.

The second thing I like is accruing mileage to use towards future trips.

I now have another App that is saving me lots of time and giving me perks similar to the Delta App–Chick-fil-A’s new mobile ordering app.

I love a three things about it: 1) Order accuracy; 2) jumping to the front of the line and 3) No need to be a long time user of Chick-fil-A to benefit.

The first thing you will do when you use the App is find those Chick-fil-A restaurants near you that are participating. Over the next year they are rolling this out in different markets. Lucky for me in the Atlanta market I can use the App. Chick-fil-A doesn’t expect to make mobile ordering available nationwide until 2016.

You tell them if you are going to pickup the meal: 1) Curbside, 2) Dine In or 3) Carry Out.

Next the app has you on the Menu page. Similar to the menu in the restaurant. You can pick a meal or à la carte.

Once you have ordered you can then save this order as a favorite. This is great for those customizations where you want more pickles or none at all for example. Once you have that complicated order or just typical order you can just add that to your favorites.

Maybe you pick up for your family member as well as you and you both have a standard order–this can save you time in the future.

There is the combination meals and once you pick one you can then change the size of the drink or side item like Waffle Fries.

Here you can customize your order as well.

Once you have the meal it pops up and then you can review it. You can also see the Nutrition or Allergens by scrolling down.

Occasionally Chick-fil-A Cows might pop in with a suggestion like they did here with me.

Just like Amazon you put your credit card information into the App for easy paying. This really speeds up the process.

You can also put money into the app. This is great for parents with kids and need to keep them on a budget.

The last step is when you arrive you click the button to tell them you are here and they start your order. Don’t want those Waffle Fries just sitting around getting cold, so this keeps everything hot for you.

Emotion Trumps Technique

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 12800, ƒ/1.8, 1/250

The other night I was watching the TV Show The Voice. Nate Ruess was a guest advisor to all the contestants. I remember one comment that stood out the most for me, “Emotion trumps technique every time.”

Christina Aguilera often advises the other coaches, “Go with your heart!” when they are trying to make a decision.

Here are a few quotes from famous photographers also talking about the power of emotion and the heart of photos:

“A good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.”
Irving Penn 

“Look and think before opening the shutter. The heart and mind are the true lens of the camera.”
Yousuf Karsh 

“I think that emotional content is an image’s most important element, regardless of the photographic technique. Much of the work I see these days lacks the emotional impact to draw a reaction from viewers, or remain in their hearts.”
Anne Geddes 

“If it makes you laugh, if it makes you cry, if it rips out your heart, that’s a good picture.” — Eddie Adams

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/20

Those who capture emotion by accident will struggle to do it again, but those photographers who are in touch with their own feelings in a moment and in touch to those around them are more likely to anticipate these moments. They are able to constantly deliver great photos because they are emotionally aware of themselves and their surroundings.

Emotion, or a feeling, is what can bring a snapshot out of obscurity and make it shine. Sometimes an expression on the face can help bring this to the photograph. Often the direction of light or color of the light can influence the emotions.
Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/4.5, 1/500
Sometimes you need to eliminate things from the photo to strengthen it.
Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 100, ƒ/7.1, 1/60
You can add light as I did here on the Hawaiian Fire Dancer. I used a Alienbees B1600 with a CTO gel and 30º grid to light up the guy. The cool sky helped create a mood. So in this situation I “created” the mood.
Sometimes you just need to put down the cameras and sit for a few minutes until you start to feel the mood. Then you need to figure out what are the visual cues triggering the mood.
Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/6
Sometimes like here at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter–Diagon Alley at Universal Studios the costuming and surroundings help create the mood.
In this photo I feel like I am in the World of Harry Potter. 
Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/8, 1/500
Now here because of what all is included around my daughter I know I am in a theme park and not in a scene of Harry Potter. 
What you include and exclude can change the whole feeling/mood of the image. 
Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.6, 1/125

Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/40–pop up flash at -1EV
You may remember these two photos I showed in an earlier post. Remember even the time of day will change the mood.

What time is it on your camera?

Sunday, March 8th Daylight Savings time happened. We lost an hour of time. Did you move all your clocks forward?

Now if you have only one camera this is important, but it is critical if you have more than one camera on a photo shoot.

Go through your menu and set the camera for the correct time zone. This is great to use if you travel to be sure you are set on the local time using the correct time zone.

I like using Nikon’s Camera Control Pro 2 $179.95 to set the time on the cameras to the computer, which is set to the internet time.

I synchronize the camera date and time to the PC as you see here I did with my Nikon D4.

Here I plugged the camera into the computer using the USB port and calibrated the Nikon D750. Now all three cameras are synchronized.

This helps when editing that I can get all the photos shot at the same time together. This makes it so easy when in Adobe Lightroom to organize the photos by Capture Time.

Now if you changed white balance situations then this can be crucial when trying to group all the same photos in the same light together.

SYNCHRONIZE THE CAMERA DATE AND TIMES!!!!!!

Backstage Tour of ESPN-U studios in Charlotte, NC

Here I am on the set of Sports Center with photo assistant David White. [Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/7.1, 1/100]

This past Tuesday I called my friend James Dockery who will be helping teach the Storytellers Abroad Workshop in Romania with Jeff Raymond and I to let him know I was going to be near him the next day in Charlotte, NC.

The next thing I am hearing is an invitation to stop by for a tour of the ESPN studios there in Charlotte. This is the home of the ESPN U and a few other programs.

James Dockery is a coordinating editor for ESPN and is here finishing up some edits at the end of his shift. [Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/60]

James is showing David White what he is working on. The software they use primarily is Quantel IQ’s which has been customized for ESPN.  They are basically editing off of servers live rather than downloading files then editing them and the uploading them. They are editing so quickly that replays are showing up seconds after they were captured with graphics.

[Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/7.1, 1/30]

One of the best things to learn editing from someone who works at a place like ESPN is they have created digital workflow so that as one person leaves and the next editor comes behind them they can pick up where the other editor stopped and finish a project. Now you cannot do this if you have your own way of doing things.

One of the best things that I learned from James Dockery was file structures. We learned on our workshop in Lisbon last year that you need to first create the folders for a project first before you even start working. Here is how we setup our project folder for our “Portugal Project”

Create Project Folder

  • 01_Portugal Photo Files
  • 02_Portugal Video Files
  • 03_Portugal Audio Files
  • 04_Portugal Graphic Files
  • 05_Portugal Premier Edits [We were teaching using Adobe Premier]
  • 06_Portugal Scratch Disk
  • 07_ Portugal Output Render Files
  • 08_Portugal Preview Files
In the 05_Portugal Premier Edits folder each time we reopened the project to start we created a new version. This way if we had problem we could go back a version and not have to recreate all the work we have done. The brackets were not part of the file name, just here to tell you what was in those edits.

05_Portugal Premier Edits [Inside the folder]

  • Portugal Edit_001 [Day 1]
  • Portugal Edit_001 [Day 2]
This is the moving graphics edit suite at ESPN. [Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/5, 1/125]
The other things that James was able to give advice on was your camera settings. Have all your cameras set the same way so editing goes much smoother. For ESPN they broadcast in 720p and so anything above this is just a lot a wasted space on the servers. 
He recommended shooting everything in 720 60 FPS.  Second choice was 720 30 FPS which depended on your camera’s capabilities.
David White had fun putting on Auburn helmet his favorite football team–Go War Eagles! [Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/7.1, 1/200] 
Seeing all the helmets reminded me of how you can never have enough “B” roll. I can tell you from my experience and so can James that you just cannot have enough “B” roll. So for those coming with us to Romania this summer be prepared to hear this over and over again. 
Here we are in one of the master control rooms for a live show. There is still another room off behind me which is the sound guy’s room. [Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/8, 1/80]
This summer Jeff Raymond, James Dockery and I will be teaching students about how to create a video package that uses still images, video, audio and graphics to help tell a story. 
There is still time to join us in Romania. Here is the link www.StorytellersAbroad.com 

Ever wonder what happened to your camera???

Just the other day I was trying to take photos with my Nikon D4 and it would just not focus. There was a delay when I pushed the shutter until the camera fired.

I looked to see if the timer was set. It wasn’t set. Now I am saying to myself, what the &#%!@?!?

I had put the Pocketwizard TT1 on the camera and was attempting to fire off camera flash. 

Well I can report this took a couple days for me to figure out. Not proud of how long this took.

The problem was the flash control on the Nikon D4 was set to Red-eye reduction. To change those settings you push the flash button on the top of the camera and turn the main command dial. See illustration here.

Here are the choices on the camera for you.

I do not remember ever changing this so, this is why I had a really hard time isolating this problem.

Quick solution 

Most all cameras have a way to reset the camera to factory settings. The time it takes to figure out what setting on the camera got changed may take longer than just doing a very quick reset.

On the Nikon D4 you find the two buttons with the green . You can find them by the ISO and WB buttons on the back of the camera.

Just push these two buttons and most likely this will solve most of your problems.



One more way on the Nikon D4 camera [most cameras have this function] is to find all your recent settings and just change that one item.

I am writing this blog as much for myself as anyone else.  

Here is an interesting factoid: When you take good notes you will remember things well enough that you rarely end up having to look at their notes again.

In fact, it seems that writing anything down makes us remember it better. On the other hand, not writing things down is just asking to forget. It’s a kind of mental Catch-22: the only way not to have to write things down is to write them down so you remember them well enough not to have written them down.

Now you may know another reason I do a blog. It helps me to go through the process of writing something down and in the process I have discovered I remember more things. Another thing is I now have an online database of topics that I can find later when I am having trouble remembering or I want to share with someone who asks me a question.

Rim light can be critical in portraits

Nikon D750, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/9, 1/200

My friend contacted me and wanted me to reshoot their son’s senior photo, but match the background. Here is one of the photos from the session. Below is the lighting diagram and settings for the photo.

The softbox on the right of the camera is -2 EV compared the the main light on the left. Depending on which way the subject faced I would alter the set up so the one he is facing was the main light and the other light was acting like a fill.

To make this photo work I believe the hair light behind the subject helped to rim light the subject just enough to separate him from the background. Without it the tux would have blended with the background and created a near merger.

My preference is a muted background which for me helps to separate the person from the background.  I just changed the background and added a light to the background.  Below is the lighting diagram for you.

Your goal should be that the background compliments the subject and doesn’t do anything to distract from the subject. You also want to be sure your subject doesn’t blend into the background. As with all rules there are times to break them.

Transitioning From Photographer to Storyteller

photo courtesy of Knolan Benfield, Jr.

One of my earliest memories with our family is my grandfather, whom I called Daddy “B”, with his slide projector sharing his latest trip with all the family. The photo above is with my Daddy “B”, Nana “B”, my mother, sister and me wearing an indian hat watching a slideshow.

Once I started shooting myself I also got a slide projector and would have similar shows in our home.

In my second job with the International Mission Board I helped missionaries know how to construct a slideshow so that it told a story. I also was producing slideshows to music. This was in the late 1980’s.

Here is one I produced showing Don Rutledge’s coverage of Russia:

I was taught how to shoot “Photo Stories.” Here is what I was taught to capture:

  1. Opener: Sets the scene for the story
  2. Decisive moment: The one moment that can by itself tell the story
  3. Details: Besides being like visual candy to the story, help often with transitions–especially in multimedia packages
  4. Sequences: give a little variety to a situation
  5. High overall shot: Gives a good perspective to how the elements all fit together
  6. Closer: Besides the classic shot of the cowboy riding off into the sunset there are other visual ways to help bring the story to a close
  7. Portraits: These photos are great for introducing the characters of the story

I was always working with a writer who captured the story as text and together our packages were produced in magazines or newspapers.

Looking back I would say I was getting elements of the story and really not responsible for the complete package.

In 2006 I bought a digital audio recorder, which changed my career trajectory. I produced my first package that I was responsible for all the parts to help tell a story. My friend Susan Shaw had started a business combining her art with love of farm animals.

Here is that first effort of mine to capture a story in 2006:


I was learning the craft of the storyline. Up until this point I was focusing on capturing the HOW? and WHAT? of the story and now I am laser focused on the WHY?.

One of my favorite stories where I could see some of the changes taking place was my first coverage of the Daddy Daughter Date Night at Chick-fil-A. Here is this story package I did in 2008:

Today I am producing on somewhat regular basis small two to three minute packages that are small stories.

Here is one of the latest stories I did recently for Honduras Outreach Inc.:

Here is what they have as their mission statement on their website:

HOI is a Christ-centered short-term mission organization working alongside people of developing countries who desire to implement sustainable development partnerships. We organize mission trips to Honduras and Nicaragua.

HOI’s vision is to create life-changing relationships between the people of developing countries and North Americans, while promoting community directed and integrated spiritual, physical, educational and economic development of men, women and children in the developing world through the promotion of dignity, mutual cooperation and self-sufficiency.

My goal with the package was to help communicate the emotions and the heart of HOI.

This process has taken me more than thirty years to learn. Twenty of those years were learning how to produce compelling photo stories and the last ten have been executive producing storytelling packages.

I want to invite you to go with me to Romania to learn how to do this in just two weeks. We still have some slots open. Here is the link to that workshop www.storytellersabroad.com

If that doesn’t work for your calendar give me a call and let’s plan a personal workshop or group one for you.