Photographer you get the call–Are you ready to go?


Your Go-To Bag

For most of my career, I have been getting assignments just a day or two before the shoot. As a result, I have had a fair number of requests that had me grabbing my bag and running out the door.

Now when you get that call, are you ready? I got a call to fly to NYC and to pull this off quickly. Think about all you need for a shoot that requires travel.

  • Purchase Airfare
  • Book Hotel
  • Book Rental Car
  • Book Photo Assistant
  • Pack clothing bag
  • Pack photo gear

You are also sending emails/texts to your contacts planning your trip. You need to know your contact and their Phone #s, email for example, and let them know when you will arrive after you have already checked with them about when is best for you to be there.

Streamlining your process is as key as having your workflow down for post-production.

Every pro has a go-to bag, the first thing you grab for every job. Here is what is in my #1 bag.

Bag #1 Gear

  • (2) Nikon D4 Cameras – 2 extra batteries and charger
  • Nikon D750 with Grip – 2 extra batteries and charger
  • 14-24mm ƒ/2.8 Nikkor
  • 85mm ƒ/1.8 Nikkor
  • 28-300mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 Nikkor
  • Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8
  • Nikon SB-900
  • Nikon SB-800
  • (2) PocketWizard TT5 
  • PocketWizard mini TT1
  • PocketWizard AC3
  • Battery Charger for AA batteries
  • ExpoDisc
  • Microfiber lens cloth
  • Nikon MC-30A Remote Trigger Release
  • Nikon ML-L3 Wireless Remote Control
  • Shure FP15/83 Lavalier Wireless System
  • RØDE VideoMic Pro
  • (2) Zacuto Z-Finder, Gorilla Plate V2, and Z-Finder 3.” Mounting Frame for Tall DSLR Bodies
  • ThinkTank Memory Card Holder
  • ThinkTank Airport Security™ V 2.0 Rolling Camera Bag
Often I need a run and gun lighting kit, two tripods, and light stands for video. Here is what is in the second bag I grab.

Bag #2 Gear

  • (2) Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stand – 6.” (1.9m)
  • (2) Interfit Metal Umbrella Bracket with Adjustable Flash Shoe
  • (2) Cowboystudio 33-inch Photography Studio Translucent Shoot Through White Umbrella
  • (2) Neewer TT850
  • (2) Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger
  • (2) ThinkTank Strobe Stuff
  • (2) MagMod flash modifier system
  • Gitzo GT0531 Mountaineer 6X Carbon Fiber Tripod Legs – Supports 11 lbs (5kg) & Manfrotto ball head.
  • ProMaster XC525 Tripod
I just put this picture of the ThinkTank Glass Taxi to the point that I have a few specialized bags that I grab, like this bag for sports. It holds my Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x & Sigma TC-1401 1.4X.

What is your go-to bag?

It is easier to grab a bag than to pack a bag. Take your time to create the primary bag that will let you photograph most of the situations you do regularly. What is in that bag will be different for each person. You most likely have looked at my list and rolled your eyes. You are probably also wondering why I don’t have something in my bag that you consider key to doing great photography.
I think you need a basic lighting kit. I have two basic kits. One is a studio strobe kit, and the other is a hot shoe kit.
It is better to have a kit ready to go and not worry that you left something at home or the office when you need it on a photo shoot than to rush to pack a bag at the last second.
The cost of an extra bag ready to go is cheaper than the blow to your brand when you cannot deliver for the client.

Using photography to build a brand

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 7200, ƒ/9, 1/100

This coming Saturday, October 3rd, Chick-fil-A is opening its first store in Manhattan, New York.

My job was to capture some of the inside and outside of the restaurant. The photos will help everyone who works for Chick-fil-A get a glimpse of the new location.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 12800, ƒ/8, 1/250

Here I am trying to capture the street sign of W 37ST so people can understand where this is.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 12800, ƒ/8, 1/200

I then tried to let you see the other side to show how this is a residential area of NYC.

No matter how hard I tried, the single image didn’t do justice. So I took some 360º Panoramic photos of the place. Here is one from the street.

I think the 360 is a lot more engaging and helps you get your bearings as to the location of the restaurant better than the single image alone does.

Photographer are you Liked or Loved


Monetizing a Like on Facebook is more important to a freelance photographer trying to make a living than how many likes you can get.

We need to understand a Like on Facebook is someone walking by a newsstand and noticing a headline. Someone may even pick up that publication and glance through it for a moment, but unless they purchase the magazine, the photographer will not benefit.

You need to know what this acronym stands for as a business person. ROI is short for Return On Investment.

You will be able to recover all your costs and build in a profit if you understand ROI.

As you can see, Story and ROI apply to a profitable business, but likes will not alone make you money.

Lately, more of my friends are facing layoffs from working on staff as photographers, writers, and designers. While we can point to many reasons these organizations have a downside, I think it is wise for those losing their jobs to evaluate if the work they performed impacted ROI.

It is tough to connect communications to an ROI, but shouldn’t we as creatives are concerned if, after all, we have done on a story that the company is still losing money? Shouldn’t we be more concerned that no one is buying the content we are producing?

Who’s the Audience?

I believe many communications experts are more interested in if their colleagues like their work than if the client and their audience like them.

I think we need to be very aware of what the audience wants to consume and, at the same time, be forward-thinking about things we think they need to know about. Have we put too much emphasis on what we think is important over what they feel is essential?

Are you producing work for industry awards or the customer?

Personal Project

Now, this may seem highly narcissistic and counter to all my comments above, but we also need to spend time producing work from our hearts. So find something you are passionate about, take your time, and do your best to tell the story.

Show the world what you can do when you have no restrictions. You will need to fund this yourself; by doing so, you will finally have something to show people about what is possible. You will show people your style and abilities.

Once you have done this personal project, analyze it to see how this approach can be an excellent ROI for an audience and client. I think it is easier to figure out the audience first and then find a client that is interested in that audience that could use your approach.

When picking your project, be sure and think through the hypotheticals. If I produced what I think might work, then who is the audience that would WANT this, and what client can USE this to justify their ROI?

Liked or Loved?

When people buy what you produce, you are LIKED and LOVED.

Patience Grasshopper: Patience Photographer

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 200, ƒ/7.1, 1/100

Sunset Photos

Timing is crucial when shooting sunsets. The sun barely dipped below the horizon, and the sky is still getting light from the visible sun.

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 200, ƒ/7.1, 1/100

Nine minutes later, the sun has minimal impact on the sky.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 12800, ƒ/8, 1/100

Here in Chicago, I just wanted a dark blue sky so that the city’s lights popped, but the edges of the building were still visible.

Nikon D750, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 160, ƒ/7.1, 1/160

As the sun set, I took this photo in Seattle of the skyline. By just waiting seventy-eight minutes later, I captured this photo from the same spot.

Nikon D750, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 6.2 sec

Finally, the lights in the city are brighter than the sky, allowing them to create a more powerful photo.

Dusk Photo Tips

  • Pick your location an hour before sunset
  • Use tripod
  • Use low ISO
  • As the sun goes down, shoot lots of photos
  • Shoot good 20 to 30 minutes after the sun disappears below the horizon

Workshops Help Photographers Navigate the Precariat Class

Business of Photography Workshop 

presented by Todd Bigelow

This past weekend for two solid days, Todd Bigelow shared from his perspective business tips to the American Society of Media Photographers Atlanta Chapter. ASMP believes that if everyone is fully informed about the photography business, this will help photographers know how to run a successful business.

The Creative Circus hosted the meeting. The Creative Circus’s mission is to graduate the best-prepared, most avidly sought-after creatives in the marketing communications industry. Unlike traditional college programs, their emphasis is on portfolios and excellent ones. In addition, the teachers are all working professionals, unlike many professors who have been mainly in academia.

ASMP wanted to be sure that these students not only have a great portfolio but understand how to run a business.

Todd Bigelow believes in the 80/20 rule where 20% of how to be successful is your portfolio, and the other 80% is your business practices.

About 23 people were taking the class. Most of the class consisted of very successful photographers with more than 20+ years in the industry. So why were they taking the class, you might wonder?

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

While photographers are not required to do continuing education to maintain a certificate–everyone taking this class understands that continuing education keeps them up on the latest ideas in the industry. 

Photographers join the Precariat Class.

In sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare as well as being a member of a proletariat class of industrial workers who lack their own means of production and hence sell their labour to live. Specifically, it is applied to the condition of lack of job security, in other words intermittent employment or underemployment and the resultant precarious existence. The emergence of this class has been ascribed to the entrenchment of neoliberal capitalism.

– Wikipedia

Todd Bigelow introduced me to Precariat, an excellent description of how my career had felt for many years. Of course, photographers are not the only ones going through this, but we have joined other professions with this sense of unpredictability.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 5000, ƒ/25, 1/40

Classmates become the professor.

It is pretty standard at all the workshops I attend that the other class participants will often chime in with expertise that is just as helpful and sometimes even more than the primary instructor.

Annalise Kaylor, who has more than a decade of experience as a social media strategist and content marketing consultant, was also taking the class. She was able to help the class understand some of the social media realms and gave some great examples of how companies are using photography.

One such example was a well-known company that used a photograph with their social media buy of 2 million dollars for a one-week use on social media.

We all learned how much photography was not just helping tell stories but being used to gather data that allows companies to do a better job of marketing and selling this information. Imagine if you had the names of the people hiring photographers for projects. Then, you could cut down on that 80% business and spend a lot more time on the 20% of the photography and increase it.

Another person taking the class was Mitzie Goldman, who was a CPA and was able to add information about taxes.

When we talked about working with NGOs besides my own experience, we had Gary S Chapman, who has specialized in this for his entire career since the late 1970s.

I mention these classmates as just a tiny part of what everyone contributed in class. When you take workshops like this, you will learn from the instructor and those taking the class. I think of this as the serendipitous bonus factor of continuing education. Sometimes these tidbits you pick up that you had no idea might happen are the best part of the class.

Workshop opportunity I offer

This January 9 – 16, 2016, I am running a workshop with my friend James Dockery in Chiapas, Mexico.

Café Justo is a coffee grower cooperative based in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico. You will work with one of the coffee farmers to capture their story of how the coffee cooperative helped to change their lives.

The design of the workshop is for photographers who want to add to their skill set multimedia. We will teach you how to create the storyline, capture your subject telling their own story using audio/video, create video/stills to accompany that story, and then put it together using Adobe Premier Pro.

One of the most challenging parts of storytelling is access to a great story. So we have put in place everything to help you tell a great story in an exotic location.

Register before the end of October 2015 and save $200.

Audio for DSLR Filmmakers

Another excellent opportunity for a workshop is the one ASMP/Atlanta is hosting with Michael Schwarz on Audio for DSLR Filmmakers. Michael shows how to get the best quality audio while shooting DSLR videos. Microphone selection, placement, and recording directly to the camera or with a digital recorder are critical to creating compelling motion projects. In addition, Michael explains step-by-step, simple best practices for shooting multi-camera interviews.

Here is a link to that 2-hour program on November 4, 2015.

The love of photography can cloud your judgment.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250

There are two things I love to shoot more than anything else: Sports & Humanitarian subjects.

Both of these subjects are like an adrenaline rush for me to cover.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1400, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

I am not alone and find that both of these subjects have photographers lining up in a row to shoot them for free to have the chance to do so.

Here is a big clue to your brain cells–ANYTHING that people are willing to do for free requires you to be the very best to make a living at it.

The odds of being a professional sports photographer earning all your living doing this full-time may be more complex than playing the sport professionally. The reason is that so many people want to stand on the sidelines and do whatever it takes, even for free.

In sports, we call these jock sniffers. That may sound crude, but they want to be close to the action.

Not sure what we call them if they are willing to do whatever it takes to do humanitarian photography for free, but there are so many of these folks out there that it is scary.

In a Facebook group, there was a comment/question about covering missionaries for church organizations. Here is a small snippet:

The missions organization pays you little or in some cases NOTHING for your work after all is said and done. There are some of us who can walk away with photos worthy of National Geographic. I ask you, is it fair and right for missions groups to get all the benefits of having talented photographers shooting for them while the photographers get little or nothing to show for it? 

Here is my response

There are three types of mission organizations. 


1. The William Carey model of mission societies where people give to the society and then the society hires missionaries and pays them as a staff is one model.
2. Each person raises their funds. They have their supporters give to the organizations that endorse them, and they take a percentage [usually 10%], but this gives people a tax write-off. So the entire organization raises their support. Campus Crusade works this way for the most part.
3. There is often a blending of the two models where a small support staff might be staff, but the majority raise their support.

So if the person who hired you to work on the project is raising their support, then I think you don’t have a case in the traditional sense in their eyes.

The problem in missions is when everyone is not operating on the same model.

I have a capitalistic freelance business. I find clients who I charge for my services. I either must make enough to subsidize my mission’s photography, or I must charge to cover my costs.

In My Humble Opinion

Many unqualified “missionaries” can convince people to give to their cause. However, they are great fundraisers and not necessarily great “missionaries.”

I think the movement away from the William Carey Mission Societies to each person crowdfunding is funding those who are fundraisers and not missionaries by skill set.

The problem also has been that many “missionaries” in the William Carey Mission Societies were not good at communicating their work when people visited them on the mission field. As a result, many seeing the missionary would think they were not doing enough. On the other hand, often, the visitor would think they did as much good as these seminary-trained missionaries. In some cases, this was true, but the lack of understanding of cultural differences often played into the equation.

You cannot change these models, but you must be aware of them and decide how you will respond. For example, you can create your own 501c nonprofit and crowdsource and have people give to the communications efforts of missions worldwide.

You can go and be a tentmaker who makes most of their money like Paul, one of the first missionaries and author of much of the New Testament, did as a tentmaker/missionary.

You can find those organizations that have set aside a budget to hire you because they value true expertise and understand how this will help their mission objectives.

After more comments where people still felt like organizations should be paying them who often are all raising their funds, I needed to add some more thoughts. So here they are for you.

I don’t think you will get very far with the feeling people should pay you when they are raising all their funds.

If you cannot cover your costs, state that, and they will find a way if they want to work with you. Suppose they don’t, then move on. Not paying is true with clients who offer you money, but it is below your cost of doing business–you must walk away.

There is another aspect to the discussion other than pay versus fundraising.


Photographers who can tell stories effectively and organizations that raise funds due to their work will be in demand.

Too many who want to do “missions” or “humanitarian” are more in love with themselves traveling and getting paid to take photos. They do not believe in a cause. Their work is average and not what people will want to share on social media. They don’t have the followings. They are irrelevant with their work, but in their minds, they are legends.


You cannot just be a great storyteller these days alone. It would help if you also connected with the audience. For example, some photographers say that when they “Tweet,” they communicate with more than 100,000 followers. They are a media outlet themselves. They have so many followers because they share in a way that appeals to the audience.

They have an audience, and when they share, people get involved, and those who are blessed to have them work for their benefit. Many organizations will hire them just for access to their audience.


It would be best if you had outstanding work today. That is a given. But it would help if you so had so much more. You must understand the entire process of a crisis needing people to get involved. You know what it takes to engage that audience, and you are part of a team helping them to understand all that must take place with your work to make it successful.

Photographers running successful businesses are more likely to help missions or humanitarian agencies than photographers struggling to get by. The reason is simple–they know you must make sound business decisions for something to be successful.


IN ANY PROFESSION, where people are willing to do something for FREE, there will always be those who can earn a living at the very pinnacle of that profession. Here are some careers you find many people doing for free all the time:

  • Music
  • Theater
  • Sports
  • Humanitarian 
  • Photography
To get paid and earn a living, you must not just be the best technically. Many amateur golfers can outdrive many on tour. Many musicians are technical wizards with an instrument. 
Those who get paid are the total package. In photography, that means you understand better than your client how you can best help them. You also understand everything that needs to happen for your ideas to create a real impact for the client. Then, you can communicate and work with a client to achieve those goals. 
You also understand the business of the profession and know what you need to charge to make a living. Therefore, you can convince people you are the solution to their problems and that they need to pay you to help them achieve their goals.
You are also a person that exudes confidence that makes people know you have their back and are on their team.
You can own all the very best gear available. You can have the best portfolio there is in the profession. But if you don’t know what business you are in and what problems you are solving for others, you will never make it.
Don’t fall in love with what you get to do in a profession; fall in love with how you love to solve other people’s problems, and it just happens that photography is part of the solution.

Community Journalism with Fujifilm X-E2

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.6, 1/50

Community Journalism

Last night at my daughter’s high school, the county had an informational meeting about the planning for schools in our county. I took my Fuji X-E2 camera with me just in case I wanted to use it.

There were less than ten people in attendance. So you would think there is no real reason to have a meeting, but this is how many meetings happen every day in our communities that have a significant long-term impact on our communities.

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.2, 1/30

Those who speak up are the ones they hear from, and they must assume this is the will of the community because they asked them for their feedback, which is what they get.

Those in attendance at the Fulton County Schools Educational Space Standards Community Meeting could hear how the county has hired outside experts in educational space. The experts will help the county set those academic standards that the designers and architects will use to assist in implementing changes to improve our schools.

They will now have the WHY part of the process answered if anyone asks why they were making these changes. Also, when the changes recommended come up against budget restraints, everyone will know what they are falling short of doing.

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/18

So imagine you go to one of these meetings in your community. Do you think a photo with some explanation would be a great way to communicate with your friends through social media?

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/18


Next community event, you go to be sure and take some good photos and add some text as a caption. Taking pictures and writing a summary can help us build stronger communities.

How I solved the problem of providing prints on location

Crisis Situation

“Can you provide prints onsite?” was a client’s question to me. I hated making prints with inkjet printers through the years, and some of the other solutions were just too expensive to justify.

Suppose you owned one and did any amount of printing; you most likely have had to clean the heads due to getting banding across prints. Making prints just was so time-consuming for me.

When I had this request, the very first thing was feeling the emotions of stress.


I first went to my friend for the past 20+ years Pete Casabonne. Pete manages PPRPix. In the past, I did my printing with in-house labs that I managed. When this got in the way of me shooting more assignments, we outsourced that at Georgia Tech to PPRPix.

Talking with Pete and then doing some research on my own, I found the Epson PM225 PictureMate Charm Compact Photo Inkjet Printer for $199.

To set up the Charm the first time, you slide the four-color ink cartridge into the slot in the back of the Printer. Next, you rotate the handle back and out of the way, open the top cover to turn it into an input tray and open the front cover to turn it into an output tray. Then load paper in the paper tray, plug in the power cord, and you’re ready to print from a memory card, using the control panel and tiltable LCD on the top of the Printer or from a PictBridge camera.

If you want to print from a computer instead (or also), run the automated installation from the supplied disc and plug in a USB cable. When you open the box, you should be ready to print your first photo within 10 minutes—or less if you don’t need to install the driver on a computer.

For glossy photos, the cost works out to just 25.3 cents each, based on the $37.99 (direct) price for a print pack with enough ink and paper for 150 photos. The cost is 32.3 cents per photo for matte images, based on a $32.29 (direct) price for enough ink and paper for 100 photos.

The combination of fast speed, low cost per page, and high-quality prints earned it a spot as PC Magazine Editors’ Choice for 4- by 6-inch dedicated photo printers.

I will be writing my review of its performance after using it in a Photo Booth in a couple of weeks.


  • 5760 x 1440 dpi
  • Print 4.0 x 6.0″ Photo in 37 Seconds
  • Print from Memory Cards
  • Borderless Prints
  • 2.5″ Color LCD Preview Display
  • Portable, Weighs only 7.9 lb
  • Dry, Scratch, & Water-Resistant Prints
  • Grab the handle and take PictureMate Charm to parties, events, the office, and even your vacation getaway.
  • Smudge, water, and fade-resistant photos
  • With on-board photo editing, you can crop, enhance, remove red-eye, and more.
  • Choose from various layouts and print in black-and-white, color, or sepia
  • Print stacks of photos at an everyday, low print price
  • Compatible with any digital camera
  • The Charm operates for hours on a single battery charge (with an optional rechargeable battery)
  • Print wirelessly with the optional Bluetooth adapter


This screenshot of the Epson Easy Photo Print software will let you print from your computer. 


Once you select your images, you can crop and make minor adjustments and choose if you want index print [contact sheet], borderless or bordered prints, and more adjustments. I prefer shooting RAW and editing all my images using Adobe Lightroom. Once you install the printer driver, you are just picking the Epson PictureMate as your Printer. 


In Adobe Lightroom Print Module, go to the Print Job tab and select Printer. 


On the lower left, pick the “Print Settings,” and then this will pop up where you choose the EPSON PictureMate PM 225. 

Tethered Shooting

I will use my Nikon D4 to shoot photos of people at a Photo Booth wireless. I will use my CamRanger to sync to my Macbook Pro. Here is an earlier blog post on how that works.

Here is how you set up Lightroom to automatically have those images appear so you can immediately edit/print the photos.

Simple Photo Frame Effect – Add a Custom Border with Text or Image

Here is a great video to help you create text. To add logos and text, I make those in PhotoShop and select graphics instead of text. Little practice, and you will be doing this with ease. Watch this video for a walk-through of the steps.

Nikon D750 vs Fuji X-E2 with Sigma 120-300mm

Nikon D750, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Nikon SB-900, Nikon SB-800, PocketWizard Transceiver TT5, PocketWizard Mini TT1, AC-3, ISO 10000, ƒ/8, 1/320

The last time I shot this I did it from shooting inside the house looking through a window. This time I am outside shooting.

The other reason I did this again is the weather was incredible at my home today. We woke up to 50º F and it got to about 69º F at the hottest today. Wonderful time to just sit and watch a bird feeder.

Fuji X-E2, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 6400 ƒ/-not sure, 1/180–off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger with flash at 1/32 Power

First I must say I can only manual focus and I never really got the focus perfect with the Fuji. I would approximate where the hummingbird would be whereas with the Nikon I was able to auto focus.

Hummingbird Feedeer

This is the actual setup with the Fuji. The only difference is the flashes were switched out with the Nikon system.

Hummingbird Feedeer

I believe the wings are more frozen with the Neewer flash than with the Nikon due to flash duration.

Fuji X-E2, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 6400 ƒ/-not sure, 1/180–off-camera flash using the Neewer TT850 flash & Neewer 433MHz Wireless 16 Channel Flash Remote Trigger with flash at 1/32 Power

Now to make up for the ability to lock in on focus I used a high aperture with the Fuji. To do this I just rotated the Nikon to Fuji converter. I can only guess as the aperture, but most likely around ƒ/16 or higher.

Solve a problem, then start the business

“Don’t start a business. Find a problem, Solve a problem; the business comes second.” 

– Robert Herjavec, Shark Tank

Too many photographers are trying to start a photography business and fail because they are not solving any problems. If you are thinking of starting a photography business or have created one and are struggling, then I want to encourage you to stop and spend some time answering these questions.  

Establish the need for your solution

What is the basic need? You focus on the condition at the heart of the problem instead of jumping to a solution. Example: Businesses and individuals have a tough time telling their stories [elevator pitches]. It is difficult for many businesses to explain what they do without using pictures to help tell their story. What is the desired outcome? Again, here don’t focus on a solution but on solving the problem. Example: Improve the engagement/communication of businesses with clients. Who stands to benefit and why? But, first, you must understand why the industry hasn’t already addressed this. 

Justify the need

Does this fit with your strategy? Your solution should generate economic development and opportunities for local businesses. Therefore, it needed to involve something that people would buy because it is fulfilling a need. What are the benefits, and how will you quantify your success? Shooting stories for nonprofits will help them raise more funds to accomplish their goals. So you can find out how much money they raised before you helped them and afterward. Assisting organizations in raising funds will also help you later sell your success to other businesses. 

How will you be sure your solution is carried out? It would help if you took ownership of the success of the project. That means you need to be sure the client understands everything that needs to take place for your solution to be a success. I have gone so far as to do social media publishing and putting packages up on YouTube and Vimeo and even written blogs for clients. Executing the plan is a must, or it will look like a failure for the company and you.

Explore the problem

What has been done before by your clients or potential customers? You need to understand why other solutions have not worked well. 

What solutions have others with your skills offered? Essential to know how to differentiate what you are offering compared to other companies. 

What is stopping them from acting? Many times there are restraints that your clients are dealing with, making it very difficult for them to perform. Do they have the funds even to afford this solution? Sometimes there are outside factors that keep them from using your services. For example, could showing people’s faces put their lives in danger?

Write your problem statement and solution.

A clear description of the problem helps people grasp the issue. In addition, it would help if you addressed why other solutions were failures. Finally, you will need to outline the necessary steps/elements essential for the success of the solution you are proposing. Include this outline proposal.

The notion that you get your portfolio in front of people and they will hire you will have little success today. You are just a commodity, making competing in today’s marketplace challenging.

Knowing how to ask clients a question that makes them think is critical. When they realize they don’t have an answer is when you have an opportunity to provide one for them. It would help if you established the need for your services. Lacking services mean they are not getting those needs met somewhere else.

Remember, you need to be helping others by solving their problems, or your services are unnecessary.

Are you a photojournalist who finds yourself suffering from depression?

Nikon D3, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 1000, ƒ/8, 1/160

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see the truth.

Nikos Kazantzakis

These are a few sentences I found interesting in an article by Rev. Peter M. Wallace a few years ago.

There has never been a more challenging time in [fill in the blank]. Everyone is scrambling to find the right way to connect to an audience that has fractured and fragmented to numerous different platforms.

And yet the reality some fail to acknowledge in this midst of this chaos is that the need or function all these declining institutions used to fulfill remains. People are simply choosing different ways, different platforms, to meet these needs.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX, ISO 100, ƒ/14, 2 sec

It has been easier for me to focus on an institution and set my path in life to get to its destination. But unfortunately, this path is what many photographers concentrate on working for Sports Illustrated or National Geographic rather than the need or function these institutions serve.

Sports Illustrated just let go of its staff photographers; National Geographic has shrunk its staff through the years.

I had focused on working for The Commission Magazine. It was the flagship printed piece for missions for the Southern Baptist denomination I was once a part of years ago. While I did get there and worked on the magazine for a short time, I never really got to be one of the leading photographers for the magazine. They would do three or more important stories a year.

During the financial crisis of the late 1980s, the agency had to make cuts to balance the budget and cut my position.

Nikon D2Xs, Sigma 120-300 mm f/2.8 DG EX APO IF HSM, Sigma 2X, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/3000

I went into a major depression. My first marriage fell apart. Nevertheless, I continued to push forward, realizing I needed more skills to add to my resume, and I went to seminary and got my masters in communications.

Upon graduating, none of the missions agencies were hiring, so I found a job at Georgia Tech. While I was there for ten years, it was a temporary job on my way to my original dream—still no openings through the years I could find.

Nikon D2Xs, Sigma 120-300 mm f/2.8 DG EX APO IF HSM, ISO 400, ƒ/5.3, 1/2000

Slowly I was coming out of depression, but I still was finding that my dreams were not becoming a reality. My skills had improved dramatically, and I was thrilled to be working, but I never felt like I was fulfilling my purpose all the time.

Maybe you find yourself in this exact spot as I did. Today I, too, find I drift into this depression. My friend Gary Chapman spoke at the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference a few years ago and introduced me to the book Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and Your Life. For Gary, the photography stock market was his cheese. He had built a library of images at Getty and other smaller agencies, and each month could expect a pretty decent check. But then, that check started to shrink. Soon all he saw was just crumbs each month rather than the large block of cheese he was used to experiencing.

One of the biggest mistakes storytellers make is focusing too much on the what and the how. When someone’s experience moves them from an NGO trip, when you ask them to tell you the story, they give you a timeline of their experience. They inform you what and how they did their work.

What is missing is, too often, the WHY. Once you hear why you are more likely to stay engaged, many Christians disgusted with their churches will say they are followers of Jesus today. So they choose to focus on Jesus rather than the institution.

Maybe so many of us are depressed and feel like someone moved our cheese because we have been focused on these institutions more than we should have been. I might better wrap up the key to our purpose by focusing on the need these institutions were fulfilling. Focus on WHY these institutions started.

Due to the leadership decisions of the church, people were leaving. A Gallup poll reported that “Most Americans Say Religion Is Losing Influence in the U.S. But 75% say American society would be better off if more Americans were religious.

You see, the need still exists. People are looking for what faith brings to their lives.

When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

– Viktor E. Frankl

Maybe we are struggling in this profession because we have been too focused on institutions and not enough based on WHY these institutions existed from the get-go. 

Photojournalist Job Description

The primary role of the photojournalist is to be a visual storyteller.  By photographing, editing, and presenting images, they tell a story in a way that no other media can.  Some photojournalists will work for a local publication, while others will travel nationally or abroad, sometimes putting themselves in constantly changing or even dangerous situations.  The subject matter can vary greatly, from local civic issues, national political races to social unrest in a foreign country.  Many photojournalists are freelance photographers and sell their photos to various organizations around the world.  The photographs serve the purpose of enhancing the story for the reader or viewer.

 As you can see, the role of the photojournalist isn’t limited to an institution. It is just a matter of having stories to tell and finding the audience that needs to see them.

Perspective changes the view of the game.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250

I am in the end zone on my knees to get this photo, shooting down the field with a 600mm lens. I am shooting up to the player’s face.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1600

What is evident in the comparison is I am no longer on the sideline shooting the game. Instead, I moved to the press box, where many TV cameras covered the game.

The perspective changes how the players appear to the audience. I believe when you are down low and shooting up at the players, you give them the sense they are like the Roman gods, where they tower over men.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250

I think shooting from the lower angle is much better most of the time, but there are times that the different perspective helps.

On those close calls, the TV will go to multiple angles to see which one the angles gives a better angle on the play. Having different angles covered is why most major news services have many photographers covering the game. They will have a better chance of having the play covered in case one angle doesn’t show the gameplay or is needed to help the audience understand the call.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/4.5, 1/1250

This photo is one of those plays from the game where you want to see another angle to verify the touchdown.

When I shot the game from different perspectives, I wanted to capture the branding of Chick-fil-A from different views. While the shooting from down low on the players from the field is a great perspective, I would have missed this photo if I had stayed with that angle only.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250

This top-down view is a great scene setter. It tells you this is the Chick-fil-A kickoff game and who is playing.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/1250

I suggest always getting down low when shooting sports as one of your central angles, but always mix in some other angles to help give your audience a different perspective of the game.