The KISS Rule

Portrait Tip

Do you like taking photos of your family and friends? Here is an easy way to get perfect portraits of them. This is keeping it simple.

[NIKON D4, 85.0 mm f/1.4, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 200, 1/8000, ƒ/1.4, (35mm = 85)]

The key to any good photo is the old KISS rule: Keep ISimple Stupid.

For this portrait of my dad, I chose to shoot this outside and use some of the sunny weather we had down at the beach.  We hit this outside on the balcony of our cottage. The reason for the location was it was the fewest steps I needed to make to get a good photo.

Start with the sun backlighting the subject.

One of the reasons I always start with the sun on the back of the subject and not where it is lighting their face has to do with expression. I find it almost impossible to get a good word when people are squinting and straining because the sun is directly in their eyes.

The benefit of the backlighting of the subject is you get an excellent rim light around the subject, which will help you separate the subject from the background.

Look for a darker background

I like to find a simple background that does not have blown-out highlights in the background. I usually look for a much darker background than I chose here. My point is to be careful, or your blinking highlights will be in the background and distracting rather than complementary to the subject.

Choose a shallow depth-of-field

I am using my favorite portrait lens for this photo, my Nikkor 85mm ƒ/1.4.  It would help if you were sure that the eyes are what you are focusing on and the sharpest point in the photo when shooting with this lens. I still recommend having the eyes the place you concentrate, even if you choose to shoot this at ƒ/22.

In general, the background and surroundings are not that important if you are doing a portrait of a person and not an environmental portrait.  Since this is the case for this photo, I threw that background out of focus by shooting at an aperture of ƒ/1.4.

Fill Flash

I love to use an off-camera flash as my fill/main light outside for portraits. Here is a diagram showing you where the sun was and this photograph’s off-camera Nikon SB-900 Speedlight placement.

You can trigger the off-camera flash in many different ways. I often use the Nikon SU-800, which uses infrared to activate the off-camera flash. I chose to use the PocketWizard Mini TT1 on the camera with the AC3, which lets me alter the flash’s power from the camera, not the flash.  It saves you a lot of steps back and forth for tweaking those fine adjustments.

The Nikon SB-900 has the PocketWizard FlexTT5 to receive the signal and talk to the camera’s TTL system to give you consistent exposures.


I placed the light 45º to the camera’s right and not quite 45º above the eyes.  I am a little lower since my subject has deep-set eyes. 

What is the benefit of the flash say over a reflector? If I used the reflector, I would be bouncing the sun into their face and often getting the squint I was trying to avoid.

Second, by using the flash, I get good skin tones because the color temperature will give it that “pop” I like to see.

Third, I like seeing a catch light in the eyes; the flash helps me be sure one is there. I think this helps bring the eyes to life.

Go and try this setup yourself. Adjust it to your conditions and the subject and see what you come up with.

What do you want to read about?

I would love for you to write to me ([email protected]) and let me know what you would like me to cover in a blog or e-newsletter. Maybe if I don’t know, I can find a guest blogger to help me on that subject.

I love to hear from you, so please drop me a note.

How to Meet the Priority of Your Boss/Client

When someone asks you for $40, you don’t tell them OK if you only have $20. You tell them you have $20 if you want to share. So why can’t you tell them when your boss/client asks for something you can’t do?

A little secret – You can learn to say yes, and the boss/client then can say no.

Learn To Say YES.

Improvisation rules are also great for client support. Just look at Tina Fey’s Four Rules of Improv:

  • Rule 1: Say Yes. The first rule of improvisation is to AGREE. …
  • Rule 2: Say Yes AND. The second rule of improv is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. …
  • Rule 3: Make Statements. The following government is MAKE STATEMENTS. …
  • Rule 4: There Are No Mistakes.

When your client says this is their priority – AGREE. Then you should respond with YES, AND to meet your priority, I need …

Just like improvisation, you don’t want to come back with many questions but statements that help clarify the scene.

I love Rule 4 that there are no mistakes. That is because you are trying to meet your client’s needs.

I also learned about another way to say yes from my friend Tony Messano, a creative director and voice-over talent. This tip had a significant impact on my life in many ways.

Tony was not advocating becoming a “Yes Man” where you agree to “anything” regardless of how crazy or stupid – and sometimes illegal – it is. You still will say no to things that you ethically disagree with doing.

Tony advocated that we turn ourselves into problem solvers for our clients and bosses rather than becoming a problem.

The way this whole topic came up in the first place with Tony was over me trying to deal with clients that kept on saying since you are here, can you do _______. Tony helped me see how to take this request and not only meet the demand but also make more money.

Roswell High School Theater Short Attention Span Theater [X-E2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 1600, 1/100, ƒ/4.5, (35mm = 96)]

I learned how to price for the project, and then when this type of request came up, I could say “Yes.” Yes, I can make that happen; however, since this wasn’t part of the proposal and is outside the scope of it, I need to charge XYZ for the additional work.

I had been handling these requests or similar variations for my whole life up to then responded with a “NO.”

What Tony helped me understand was that when I was saying no, I wasn’t helping the client at all. If they still needed it done, they would find someone who could make it happen, and often then, I would usually no longer be used for future projects.

When I was in a staff job, I often said no because I didn’t have time with all the other things on my plate. As a freelancer, I was saying no because they were asking for more without offering more pay.

Had I learned this tip earlier in my career, I would have become a more valuable team member when someone would ask me to do something; I would now be saying how I want to help them. I would be saying YES–IF.

Yes, I can make that happen for you if you tell me which of these other projects I can delay or not do to be able to take on this extra work.

As a freelancer, I am saying YES–IF you decide what on the list we were shooting comes off because I don’t have time to do all you have, or I might be saying yes if you agree to the extra XYZ cost.

[NIKON D5, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 3600, 1/100, ƒ/1.8, (35mm = 85)]

Ask your boss/client what their priority is. By the way, I recently learned that modern society corrupted the word stress. One hundred years ago, there was no plural form: importance was singular only — it meant the most critical item.

When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. In a recent innovation workshop with HR executives, one team won an award for developing a simple tool to prioritize incoming requests by filtering them by business need, the source of the request, and the anticipated effort involved. We must ensure that the top priorities take precedence.

What separates a priority from just another task on the to-do list?

Focus on client projects before internal work; setting up the new CEO’s computer before re-configuring the database; answering support tickets before writing training materials; and so on. Another way to assess value is to look at how many people are impacted by your work. The more people involved or moved, the higher the stakes.

You probably can’t get to everything on your list. After you prioritize your tasks and look at your estimates, cut the remaining jobs from your list, and focus on the priorities you know you must and can complete for the day.


[NIKON D4, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 200, 1/160, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 14)]

The difference between two parties who compromise or collaborate is enormous. 

They are compromising leads to disappointment for all parties.  When the parties come together, they have a creative idea or solution for a problem.  Each party wants their concept out there more than the other one.  In this scenario, a watered-down version of both ideas emerges. In the end, no one is satisfied with the solution.

[NIKON D3, AF Zoom-Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6D IF, Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/200, ƒ/18, (35mm = 98)]

Collaboration isn’t about negotiating solutions.  It starts when the parties come together and listen to each other.  They are open to new ideas.  This is where everyone realizes that alone no one gets their ideas implemented, but they can accomplish their goals by partnering with others.

Rowing is a good illustration of how to collaborate.  It is the oldest intercollegiate sport in the United States.  

The Harvard-Yale Boat Race or Harvard-Yale Regatta is an annual rowing race between Yale and Harvard universities. It is America’s oldest collegiate athletic competition. Each year on the Thames River, New London, Connecticut.

In this sport, the team must work together.  Each person has to stay in sync with their teammates.  For me, it is the perfect picture of collaboration. 

If just one person is out of sync, the team suffers.

When a client hires me, they expect collaboration and not compromise.  Trust is the foundation of this process. It would help if you first trusted your clients, lowered your barriers, and were exposed.

Listen.  Take notes while listening to the client.  Note-taking prevents you from responding quickly to your ideas.  Active listening means you ask questions to clarify and be sure you have their perspective.  You may want to paraphrase their idea and ask if you have it right.

The key is understanding what they want to accomplish.  You must also listen and learn where they have little room for flexibility.  When the client feels you know what they want and the parameters they are under, you have the necessary information to collaborate. 

Meeting and exceeding the client’s expectations is easy if you listen and check with the client to be sure you understand their project. 

Many clients will have done an excellent job articulating their project from the very beginning.  It would help if you still explored with them to understand how much flexibility they have.  It would help if you still told them their assignment in your own words. Skip this step, and you will experience friction with the client.

All things being equal, people want to do business with their friends.  True friends collaborate rather than compromise.

My friend Tony Messano talks about what he looks for when he hires a photographer in this video clip.  Here is his website

Writing With Light

Available Light, no flashes at night. We’re headed to the corn maze! Jumpee pillow, hayride, smores, corn cannon too. [NIKON D3S, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 12800, 1/80, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 14)]

In writing, we use italics, bold, quote marks, and other techniques to emphasize parts of the composition. In photography, we use light to do the same thing.

Theater and movie directors often use light to draw our attention to the main subject in a scene. This may be as dramatic as turning a spotlight on a character while everything else goes completely black. More often, it is much more subtle. Without the light to guide us, we might lose the lead actor on stage amidst all the other actors and scenery.

During a concert, a spotlight is constantly on the leading performer. So rarely are they not in that spotlight that the famous clown Emit Kelly did a comedy act where he tried to stay in the spotlight only to give up and sweep the light off the floor.

Using fill flash to capture it in the camera. [NIKON D3S, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 4000, 1/8000, ƒ/7.1, (35mm = 14)]

Another way to lead the viewer’s attention to a person or part of a scene in video photography is zooming in on that subject. In TV and film, they use multiple cameras to help direct the audience. The director will cut from a camera with a broad view to one showing a close-up of the subject.

Still, photographers don’t have the luxury of simultaneous shots zoomed in or out, cutting from a wide to a close shot. The still photographer can do all this, of course, but they must tell the whole story in a single image. Print advertising does this all the time.

The still shooter should do all that is reasonable and feasible to capture the image in as high a quality as the situation will allow. (More about that in a minute.)

There are two ways that you can help direct the attention to the main subject using light in photography. One is done in the camera and the other in post-processing.

Getting it in the camera

Students are taking a test, so I used available light. [NIKON D3S, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 1250, 1/250, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 24)]

Available Light

With today’s digital cameras, it is relatively easy to work with the available light in almost any location.

If people sit at a table with poor light, move them to a table in a better light. After a few moments, they’ll pick up on the conversation where they left off, and you now have them in a light that will work for the photos. This is inappropriate in photojournalistic coverage, but it is beautiful for advertising or a corporate shoot.

Use a reflector to help improve the light. It is much less intrusive than flash and can work just as well. Have an assistant hold a glass just out of the camera’s view and bounce the light back into the subject’s face. This helps to draw attention to the main issue.

Adding Light
I used a flash to light his face inside a furnace/air conditioner blower. No other lights in the room. [NIKON D3S, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 12800, 1/250, ƒ/6.3, (35mm = 14)]

You can use a constant light source or flash to light the subject. Use spotlight effect as much as possible rather than floodlight where everything is lit equally.

Another trick of the trade is to place a colored gel over a light used on the background. This will simplify a junky background by making it all one color. The orange extension cords and red tools hanging on the wall in the background no longer vie for attention with your subject. At least two lights are needed, one on the subject and one on the background. The light on the subject should be brighter than the background light.

Postproduction lighting

Using fill flash to capture it in the camera. [NIKON D3, 24.0-120.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 6400, 1/80, ƒ/3.5, (35mm = 24)]

This is done so much today that a photo being “PhotoShopped” is now a verb, not just a noun. Before PhotoShop, photographers would “burn” and “dodge” in the darkroom. A face could be lightened and the background darkened.

With digital today you can do even more than we did in the darkroom, and more precisely. You can select only the subject, just a single color, or anything one part of a photo and alter it in many ways. You can remove, change or add color. You can make objects lighter or darker. Details of the image can soften or be blurred.

If all this can be done in post processing… why use lights?

Using colored gels to help the background and create a science look and feel. [NIKON D3, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 200, 1/160, ƒ/14, (35mm = 14)]

The need for post-processing disappears if you capture it on camera saving time and money.

An adequately exposed subject contains information at its most total value.

When should auxiliary lights be used and not used?

(Here’s the “more on” reasonable and feasible.)

In Hollywood, everyone is being paid to produce a professional product people will be willing to pay to see. (Pardon the alteration; I got carried away as always.)

In news coverage, the only ones being paid are the news crew or maybe just a single photographer, and they are being paid to get the story regardless of the quality. Sure, it should be as high a quality as is practical, but the story is the thing.

The colored carpet and chair colors distracted you. Now they disagree with the gels. [NIKON D3, 24.0-120.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Manual, ISO 200, 1/15, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 24)]

When a photographer comes to do a job, particularly an event, what determines the approach? Can it be with all the lighting using multiple flashes (Hollywood), or will it need to be photographed using the available light (News coverage)?

What is the deciding factor? It would help if you considered the friction you may cause while capturing the moment.

Perhaps the subject or event can be moved to a more photogenic area that would not require much if any, additional lighting. Maybe reflectors can be used instead of flash, thus reducing the interference with an event.

You need to explain to the client the choices (and the resulting photos) and together find a solution. (HINT: Whoever is paying for the project needs to decide, or this may be your last job with them.)

Final thought

Use light to direct attention; it can improve the communication of the composition.

The Creative Photographer

Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina. [NIKON D2X, Sigma APO 120-300mm F2.8 EX DG HSM, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 200, 1/160, ƒ/10, (35mm = 183)]

We often talk about being either an amateur photographer or a professional photographer. What is the difference between these two? The professional earns a living with their camera.

The workshops or seminars for most professionals frequently talk about how we as professionals must always remain amateur. Two of the three definitions in the dictionary refer to somebody who does or takes part in something for pleasure or is intensely interested in the subject. Only one of the definitions differentiates the amateur from the professional as more than pay, but somebody who has only limited skill.

We took the Lookout Express, the world’s largest speed boat, out to see Cape Lookout Lighthouse at the end of North Carolina on August 3, 2005, while we were on vacation at Pine Knoll Shores beach in North Carolina. Cape Lookout National Seashore is the 56-mile stretch of North Carolina’s Outer Banks, running from Ocracoke Inlet to Beaufort Inlet. The pristine barrier islands comprise the national seashore – North Core Banks, South Core Banks, and Shackleford Banks. [NIKON D2X, Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 EX DG Macro, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/2000, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 72)]

As you can see, our choice of words in describing a photographer can mean many different things. I was recently reminded about how diverse photography has become at my family reunion. I was trying to explain what I had done to my relatives.

While there are many amateur and professional photographers, I believe the one thing distinguishing most seasoned professional photographers from those who fall by the wayside is creativity. The Creative Photographer is by nature always trying to see the world in new ways.

GTRI research engineer Shayne Kondor, right, and graduate student Paul Lowe are working on a digital version of a patented technology called DentAART, which allows dentists to precisely capture a patient’s exact anatomic tooth position and form and then produce a unique prescription for use in planning and delivery of facial procedures – restorative, orthodontic or surgical.

The Creative Photographer is rarely a generalist—yet can often handle most assignments. The Creative Photographer usually specializes and is often considered an expert in a subject outside their photography knowledge.

I have an uncle who also was a photographer. What was one of his specialties was wildlife. He was called on to write a column for a magazine where he often helped the reader to learn more about wild animals.

I have specialized through the years in different areas that typically involve people in a unique location. My primary specialties have developed into some areas of interest: Corporate Storytelling, Science/Technology; Religion; Sports, and Humanitarian.

4th of July Fireworks at Roswell High School [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 4, ƒ/11, (35mm = 24)]

While still in my crib, my parents told me how I would take the screws out of the crib. I wanted to take things apart and know how they work. This grew through the years to me enjoying sound systems, cars, computers, and anything your typical geek may be interested in.

Growing up in a preacher’s family, I was surrounded by faith. This interest is still there today. After being active in my church, I went to seminary and earned my master’s. Today I work with a team-leading Missions Storytelling Workshops around the world.

I also spend much time working with Chick-fil-A as a consultant.

Beavers live in family groups or colonies that include a breeding pair and four or five offspring, which range in age from newborns to two years. [NIKON D2X, , Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/500, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 202)]

My earliest memories involved sports. I remember being taken to sporting events and later playing most sports in some league. Today I play basketball two or three times a week for exercise.

When I show up on a photo shoot for any of these areas, I am not just thinking about setting the camera or lights. I am thinking about what is going on and how a geek, theologian, or athlete would be interested in the subject. At the same time, my studies as a social worker helped me watch body language and capture a peak moment in my interest in science, faith, or sports, allowing me to know what to include and how much to inform the reader.

There have been times throughout my career when I struggled with how to capture the moment to communicate an idea. It was then I would gain new skills with photography to inform the reader better. However, I have been just curious most of my life to want to know more about these subjects. You will find books and magazines, and if I had kept all my pages from surfing the web, you could see that I wanted more about: science/technology, faith, or sports.

The Creative Photographer is often curious and a problem solver when it comes to knowing how to communicate to hook the reader and inform them about the world in which they live.

Give me a call so I can learn something new about your area and help you communicate with your audience. Everyone wants those who work on their projects to add creativity and improve their project.

Vacation Photo Tips

Using flash at sunset in Jamaica

Not using the flash outside is one of many people’s biggest mistakes with their vacation photos.

Probably the one place for vacations that could use the flash more than we ever think is at the beach. Typically the sun is so bright at the beach the only way for people not to be squinting is to be sure the sun is behind them. The problem with this is now their face is in the shade.

Chelle plays in the sand in Emerald Isle, North Carolina. Flash used at the beach.

Turning your flash on will fill in the shadow and make it easier to see their face. There are limits to this working effectively. Most on-camera flashes work best from three to ten feet from the camera. If you get further away, your moment will have little impact on the photo.

Having a person face the camera where the sun is on the side of their face will also benefit from the flash. This is where it softens the contrast from the shadow side to the sunlit side of their face.

Disney World at Magic Kingdom. Using flash to fill in the shadows. [NIKON D100, 24.0-120.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Normal, ISO 400, 1/180, ƒ/16, (35mm = 90)]

A good basic guideline for most people is always to use their flash when photographing people outside when they are closer than ten feet to the camera.

Another time of the day where this can also improve your photos at the beach is at dusk. This is where a picture of your loved ones with the sunset sky behind them can capture the beauty of the location you have chosen for your vacation.

While using flash is a great way to improve your exterior photos, another helpful hint is to compose your background before putting your subject (family, friends, and loved ones) in the image.

When you go for a vacation, capturing your group in these locations is better so you can see you were there. For example, if you plan to go to Washington DC, compose the photo so you can see the monument fully in the picture.

Our family vacation at Sawgrass Resort in Ponte Vedra, Florida [NIKON D100, AF Zoom-Nikkor 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6D IF, Mode = Normal, ISO 200, 1/180, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 57)]

Once you have done this, leave a little space to one side or the other to have your friends walk into the photo facing the camera. Have them walk close to the camera and have the monuments over their shoulders in the background. Your friends will typically be seven to fifteen feet away, with the memorial almost a football field away from you.

Disney World at Magic Kingdom. Compose the background first, then put your family in the photo. [NIKON D100, 24.0-120.0 mm f/3.5-5.6, Mode = Normal, ISO 200, 1/320, ƒ/9.5, (35mm = 36)]

Remember to use a flash outside when the subject is closer than ten feet and to compose for your background to show where you were on your vacation to improve your photos from your summer vacation.

Shooting Too Little

Getting started

“You need to take more photographs.” This is almost always my number one observation when viewing portfolios of students and emerging professional photographers.

Kodak has told us this for years. However, with film cameras, every time you pushed the button, money left your wallet on its way to Kodak, but no longer!

Bertil Brahn, Clean Air [NIKON D2Xs, AF Zoom 122-300mm f/2.8D, Mode = Manual, ISO 100, 1/8, ƒ/14, (35mm = 330)]

With digital cameras, it costs nothing to shoot all the pictures you could ever need of a subject. So why do so many people, even photography students, shoot so few photos once they have found a topic that interests them?

Back in the day of film cameras and contact sheets (an 8 x 10 sheet of all the photos on a roll gang printed), it was possible to see how a photographer thought or approached a subject. With good professional photographers, you could even chart the progression of creativity as the exploration of the subject plays out on the page.

First, there was a reasonably decent shot followed by similar shots improving on the first view. Next, the contact sheet showed a change in angle or lens and more exploration. Usually, about the third or fourth approach, the photos became more focused (pardon the pun) or fine-tuned. A few frames before the end of the roll would be the best one or two shots with an immediate and noticeable drop in creativity. The goal was met. The best photo had been made, and the moment was over.

The point is the photographer dedicated enough energy, time, and film to allow their creativity to kick in. Even with the best photographers, it takes a few moments and some thought for this to happen. It NEVER occurs if the subject that attracted the photographer’s attention, to begin with, is not given the energy, time, and number of photos to allow the necessary infusion of his creativity.

When you have a chance to see a documentary about a photographer working, watch his face. If you allow your creativity to join you on your photo shoots, you will see familiar expressions of thought, frustration and positive head nodding on the photographer in the film.

You’ve just seen in action what you would see on their contact sheet given the opportunity.

So many people see something that catches their eye and takes a picture. This is where most people start and stop – with one or two images (correctly called snapshots). The first view of whatever piqued their interest is rarely the best possible view.

Something piqued our interest in the play when we went to a show. Maybe it was the ads or reviews or friends’ comments. If our interest is high enough, we may buy box or orchestra seating so we can have a perfect seat, a seat where we can see the stage from the best angle, a center where we can see all the stage and be close enough to see the expressions of the actors’ faces.

She Kills Monsters [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 5000, 1/250, ƒ/4, (35mm = 24)]

In theater, the director uses lighting and staging to help drive the story’s message. The director “blocks” where he wants the action to take place on the stage. He directs your attention to where he feels it needs to be for the play’s impact.

Buying a seat for a play is like picking a good angle for making a photograph. Find a position where you have good light and can direct the attention of those who see the photos to what you feel has an impact. Now, make a few photographs and let the action build.

One of the digital camera’s most significant advantages is the ability to see what you just shot and the freedom to delete those you don’t want anyone to see.

To create your finest pictures, shoot until you feel (know) you’ve got it. That usually requires a lot of shots. This is not relying on the law of averages or luck. It is not like shooting a burst of photos with a motor drive hoping at least one will capture the moment. That is relying on luck.

By shooting ‘till you feel good about it, you have allowed your creativity to take over and guide your ability to see as only you can see.

Remember, if most people watched plays like they take pictures, they would leave the theater just as the curtain rises.

So shoot and shoot and shoot …

Photography is more than the HOW

[NIKON D100, 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 , ISO 400, ƒ/6.7, 1/180, Focal Length = 67]

Cameras have improved a great deal over the years. With digital cameras and all the new improvements, one might think an idiot could make a photograph.

However, a good photographer is no longer satisfied with producing merely correctly focused, exposed, developed, and printed pictures. Such technicalities are nowadays taken for granted. No matter how sharp a photograph is and how natural its colors are, it still can be the world’s most boring picture.

Why? Because the How—the “technique”—is not the end, the standard to evaluate a photograph is secondary to the WHY, the WHAT, and the WHEN. The impression the subject makes on the photographer decides the approach. And as a good writer knows grammar and spelling, synonyms, and different literary forms of expression, a good photographer must learn the devices and techniques to help them communicate their emotional impressions of the subject to an audience. To do this, the photographer must know the technical and aesthetics to make more than a memory jogger but a powerful message.

Recording artist Soulja Boy poses for a portrait at his Atlanta Buckhead Penthouse on Thursday, April 23, 2009.

To produce interpretations instead of representations, a photographer must possess two qualities: vision and craftsmanship. Vision—the power to recognize the essence of a subject and translate it into graphic form—is a mixture of perceptiveness, sensitivity, imagination, interest in the subject, and that intangible quality called “talent.” It is a gift a person either does or does not possess. It cannot be taught. Craftsmanship, however, can be acquired by anyone willing to make an effort. Craftsmanship is the use of things like:


The first thing a photographer does is observe with all their senses. The excellent photographer then takes all these impressions and emotions and isolates the subject using only the sense of sight. How does the passionate photographer communicate all these emotions of all feelings with just a sense of vision?

A good photographer is aware that the camera’s vision is objective, uncompromising, and matter-of-fact in contrast with the human eye, which is subjective, selective, and unreliable. A camera is a machine, and the look is part of a living; a brain controls thinking and feeling.

People are susceptible to a multitude of sensory stimuli. A camera is only a light-sensitive machine.

Fire Dancer [NIKON D3S, 14.0-24.0 mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 200, ƒ/7.1, 1/100]

You must understand how to use the symbolic forms that the camera can capture to excite the observer to respond emotionally. You may want to choose to change a color photograph into a black and white photo to emphasize graphics. You may choose black and white to force the viewer to look beyond the beauty of the content. The famous LIFE magazine war photographer David Douglas Duncan preferred to photograph war in Black and White because he felt the flowers in the countryside took away from the horror of the dead soldier in the photograph.

It would help if you felt passionate about what you photograph—negative or positive. The emotions of the war photographer who hates seeing how much death is caused by war are as powerful emotions that the camera can capture as the wildlife photographer who captures the beauty of an animal in nature.

Reach for the camera when you feel something about a subject. Before you push the shutter, release and mute all your senses except what you see in the viewfinder. Look all around the issue and eliminate or include those elements which help create a mood and capture what you feel. Pay attention to the background and be sure that it is secondary to the subject and supports just as adjectives in a sentence to draw the viewer into the photograph as you would want to do as writing does for the reader.

She Kills Monsters [NIKON Z 6, 24.0-105.0 mm f/4.0, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 4500, 1/250, ƒ/4, (35mm = 38)]

When only those things you see in the viewfinder started to evoke the same emotions you felt before reaching for the camera are attained should you push the button to capture what you intended. This is when you can communicate with others more than a memory jogger. You will be creating new memories for your audience.

With a lot of practice, a photographer learns how to isolate how the camera will see. This craftsmanship is how they interpret the subject using various techniques to create an emotional response from their audience.

The more passionate a photographer is about the subject, the better the chances of obtaining a successful photograph. If the issue has no appeal to the photographer—the photographer shouldn’t waste time pushing the shutter release to take the photo.

Photographing Children

Remember standing in your new clothes in front of the hedge, squinting into the sun, while dad or mom backed across the yard, pointed to the camera, and told you to smile?

Our family has years and years of pictures like that, all made in front of our grandparent’s house. Flipping through the albums, you can follow the year-to-year changes in the children and the changes in the bushes and trees that take up most of the picture.

Nelson and Taylor enjoyed the go-carts at Lost Treasure Raceway and Golf for an afternoon of fun during our family vacation at Ocean Bay Villas in Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina, during the week of July 30 to August 6, 2005. [NIKON D2X, Sigma AF Zoom 18-125mm f/3.3-5.6G, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/320, Focal Length = 250]

These old photos bring back memories for us because we were there. For a stranger, looking at the same snapshots, the pictures show them nothing because the children are too far away to see what they look like, and the poses tell them nothing about the children themselves.

Chelle lost her second tooth on Monday, September 26, 2005. Her gum was irritated and red. She went to the dentist to be sure it wasn’t infected. While there, they found no infection and asked Chelle if she wanted it pulled. They pulled the tooth. [NIKON D2X, 18.0-50.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 400, 1/90, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 75)]

Here’s an idea. Get closer. Always get more intimate, and the pictures (almost any picture) will improve, especially pictures of children.

When we travel, the pictures we take of the children we see usually are quite different from those of our kids.

Togo, West Africa [NIKON D5, 35.0 mm f/1.4, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/2500, ƒ/1.4, (35mm = 35)]

We make photos of children playing, being themselves, and not all cleaned up. Their clothes’ expressions and colors draw us to make these photos.

Please introduce yourself to the adults supervising the children and ask permission to photograph them. You may have to do this with gestures if there is a language barrier.

Whether it is your kids or those you photograph on the trip, get to the child’s eye level. Crawl on the floor with a toddler, or get on your knees to photograph preschoolers. Not only is this a better camera angle for children, but the kids like it when you are on their level.

Jeff Raymond gets on his knees to get eye level with the small children in Togo, West Africa. [NIKON D5, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 800, 1/200, ƒ/9, (35mm = 14)]

The trick is to take the time to let the child become comfortable with you and your camera. When they begin playing in their world again, you can peak in with your camera and capture something of the actual child.

Children often mimic their surroundings. Give them a pot, spoon, or other grownup stuff and let them play to their heart’s content.

To add to the story value, place a toy in the child’s photo playing with the grown-up things. Use a wide-angle lens or set your zoom at its widest setting. Get close to the child and show their surroundings.

Chelle, our daughter, enjoys getting a hug from Georgia Tech’s mascot Buzz at the Georgia Tech Women’s basketball game against Miami on January 5, 2006. [NIKON D100, 18-50mm , Mode = Manual, ISO 100 , 1/250, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 30)]

Take a lot of photos. With today’s digital cameras, there is no cost to making many photos; edit them on your computer before you print.

So take lots and lots of photos. Truly explore your subject in their world.

Following these suggestions, your pictures will be true treasures, and even a stranger will be impressed.

Chelle’s Dress Rehearsal for her first dance recital. [NIKON D100, 122.0-300.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 1250, 1/50, ƒ/2.8, (35mm = 202)]

Hats & Headshots

My wife just got her fire helmet for her role as Chaplain for our local fire department here in Roswell, Georgia.

I wanted to get a good photo of her in it for her to use in some PR for her role.

Chaplain Dorie L. Griggs [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/400, ƒ/1.8, (35mm = 85)]

The main light I used for this portrait is the Godox V860iiN on a Godox Bracket which let me use the Godox Beauty Dish. Here is the setup, which also included one more Godox V860iiN as rim/background light.

I usually put the main light 45º above the person’s eyes, but when they have a hat on like my wife did in these photos, I had to compromise and lower the light.

Chaplain Dorie L. Griggs [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/1000, ƒ/1.8, (35mm = 85)]

Here I just backed up a bit and got a nice vertical using the same lighting setup.

Chaplain Dorie L. Griggs [NIKON Z 6, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 100, 1/200, ƒ/3.5, (35mm = 85)]

I also came in much tighter and shot this as well. I shot these at an aperture of ƒ/1.8 to keep the emphasis on her face. The background is legible but not distracting.

I hope these tips help you with your next portrait.

A Memory Jogger or Communication?

[NIKON D4, 70.0-200.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Manual, ISO 4000, 1/250, ƒ/8, (35mm = 70)]

I have been asked to speak to various groups about photography through the years. Many of these groups are photo enthusiasts.

[NIKON D4, 14.0-24.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 4000, 1/100, ƒ/4.5, (35mm = 17)]

Many of us take photos of our friends and family, and we remember when we look at the picture. Most of these types of images are memory joggers. The difference is that looking at the photo helps to revive a memory. For those who were not present when the picture was made, will they know what is going on or what you are trying to say?

One of the points I always make about how to improve your photography is comparing making pictures to writing. Photos are like sentences—every sentence must have a subject and a verb. Every image needs these same elements.

Manziel, Aggies Edge Duke 52-48 in Chick-fil-A Bowl [NIKON D4, 122.0-300.0 mm f/2.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 12800, 1/1000, ƒ/5.6, (35mm = 220)]

Many photos which are not successful are often like run-on sentences. What is the point of the picture? Where is the subject? What is going on?

The best way to improve grammar is to start simply and add elements. The best way to improve your photos is to keep them simple.

  • Come in close and eliminate as much as possible from the viewfinder. This requires you to look around the subject and start cutting things out of the photo.
  • Watch for busy foregrounds and backgrounds.
  • Action is essential. This is the verb part of the photo.
Cosmic Bowling for 2014 Awards Book [NIKON D750, 85.0 mm f/1.8, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 3200, 1/80, ƒ/1.8, (35mm = 85)]

The best way to make a photo is to put what you want to say into a sentence. After doing this, it is much easier to compose to be sure this is all you are saying and nothing else when making the photo.

Often the problem with most failed photos is the photographer never thought about what they wanted to say with the image.

This Gray Squirrel is enjoying the leftover apple pieces Dorie put out for them on our deck. Eastern Gray Squirrel [X-E3, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, Mode = Aperture Priority, ISO 200, 1/60, ƒ/4.8, (35mm = 300)]

Remember photos that communicate the photographer’s thoughts about what they wanted to say before pushing the shutter button.

360 Panoramics

Many years ago, I started doing 360-degree panoramic photos. They were first done with Adobe Flash.

Today we can use html5. HTML5 is the latest evolution of the standard that defines HTML. The term represents two different concepts. It is a new version of the language HTML, with new elements, attributes, and behaviors, and a more extensive set of technologies that allow for building more diverse and influential Web sites and applications.

Here are some I have updated for you.

360º Panoramic of Chick-fil-A Corporate Offices
360º Panoramic of Chick-fil-A Corporate Offices Waterfall
Roswell Presbyterian Church 360º Panoramic
Chick-fil-A @ State & Lake

If you are interested in this high-definition 360 panoramic, call me.

Here are more 360 Panoramics for you.