The KISS Rule

Portrait Tip

Do you like taking photos of your family and friends? Here is an easy way to get really good 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, which is simply put Keep ISimple Stupid.

For this portrait of my dad I chose to shoot this outside and use some of the sunny weather we were having down at the beach.  We shot 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 back lighting 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 for getting a good expression when people are squinting and straining due to the sun being directly in their eyes.

The benefit of the back lighting of the subject is you get a good 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 is not have blown out highlights in the background. I normally 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.  You need to be 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 focus even if you choose to shoot this at ƒ/22.

In general if you are doing a portrait of a person and not an environmental portrait, then the background and surroundings is not really that important.  Since this is the case here for this photo I threw that background way 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 the off camera Nikon SB-900 speedlight placement for this photograph.

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

The Nikon SB-900 has the PocketWizard FlexTT5 on it to receive the signal and talk to the cameras TTL system to give you consistent exposures.


I placed the light 45º to the right of the camera 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 will 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 of the color temperature of the flash will give it that “pop” I like to see.

Third, I like seeing a catch light in the eyes and 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.

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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 just have $20 if you want to share. So how come when your boss/client asks for something you don’t have the ability to do you can’t tell them?

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 AGREE. …
  • Rule 2: Say Yes AND. The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. …
  • Rule 3: Make Statements. The next rule 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 lot’s of 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 who is a creative director as well as voice over talent. This one tip had a major impact on my life in so many ways.

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

Tony was advocating 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 to see how to take this request and not only meet the request but 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 just need to charge XYZ for the additional work.

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

What Tony helped me to understand was that when I was saying no I wasn’t really helping the client at all. If they still needed it done then they would find someone who could make it happen and often then I would 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 really want to help them. I would be saying YES–IF.

Yes I can make that happen for you if you can 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 is their priority. By the way, I recently learned that modern society corrupted the word priority. One hundred years ago, there was no plural form: priority was singular only — it meant the single most important 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 actually 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. In general, the more people involved or impacted, 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 tasks from your list, and focus on the priorities that 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 huge. 

Compromising leads to disappointment with all parties.  When the parties come together they have a creative idea or solution for a problem.  Each party wants their idea out there more than the other one.  In this scenario a watered down version of both ideas emerge. 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 where the parties come together and listening to each other.  They are open to new ideas.  This is where everyone realizes that alone no one gets their ideas implemented, but by partnering with others they can accomplish their goals.

Rowing is a good illustration on 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. It takes place each year on Thames River, New London, Connecticut.

In this sport the team must work together.  Each person has to stay in sync with his 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. You must first trust to your clients, lower your barriers and be exposed.

Listen.  Take notes while listening to the client.  Note taking prevents you from responding to quickly with 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 need to also listen and learn where they have very little room for flexibility.  When the client feels like you know what they want and the parameters they are under you have the necessary information to be able 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.  You still need to explore with them to understand how much flexibility they have.  You still need to articulate their project 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 maize! 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 many times 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 main 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 in the end and sweep the light up 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 wide 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 of this, of course, but he or she ends up needing to tell the whole story in a single shot. 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 is done 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 are sitting at a table with poor light move them to a table in better light. After a few moments they’ll pick up on the conversation where they left off and you now have them in light that will work for the photos. In a photojournalistic coverage this is inappropriate, but for advertising or a corporate shoot it is perfectly fine to do.

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 reflector just out of the view of the camera and bounce the light back into the subjects face. This helps to draw attention to the main subject.

Adding Light
Used a flash to light his face inside of 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 either 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 you 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 and not just a noun. Before the days of 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 with more precision. 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. Parts of the photo can soften or 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 in camera saving time and money.

A properly exposed subject contains information at its fullest 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 – oops.)

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 don’t 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? You need to consider 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. Perhaps 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 maybe 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 remain always an amateur. Two of the three definitions in the dictionary refer to somebody who does or takes part in something for pleasure or is greatly interested in the subject. Only one of the definitions differentiates the amateur from the professional as more than just 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 on 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. Thee pristine barrier island make up 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 reminded recently at my family reunion about how diverse photography has become. I was trying to explain what I do 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 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 often is considered an expert in a subject outside of 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 know more about a wild animal.

For me I have specialized through the years in different areas which typically involve people in a unique location. My major specialties have developed into some of these 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 tell me of 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 which your typical geek may be interested.

Growing up in a preacher’s family I was surrounded by faith. This interest is still there today and after not only being active in my own church I went to seminary and earned my masters. Today I work with a team leading Missions Storytelling Workshops around the world.

I also spend a great deal of time working with Chick-fil-A as 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 played 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. While my studies as a social worker helped me to watch body language and capture a peak moment, it is my interest in science, faith or sports which help me to know what to include and how much to inform the reader.

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

The Creative Photographer is one who is curious most of the time and a problem solver when it comes to knowing how to communicate in a way 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 to communicate to your audience. Everyone wants those who work on their projects to add creativity and make your project better.

Vacation Photo Tips

Using flash at sunset in Jamaica

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

Probably the one place for vacations which 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.

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

If you turn your flash on it 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 feet to ten feet from the camera. If you get much further away your flash 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 is 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 to always 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 photo 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 outside photos another helpful hint is to compose your background before putting your subject (family, friend and loved ones) in the photo.

When you go somewhere for a vacation it is better to capture your group in these locations 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 photo.

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, and then leave a little space to one side or the other to have your friends then 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 monument almost a football field away from you.

Disney World at Magic Kingdom. Compose 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 subject is closer than ten feet and to compose for your backgrounds 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 cost 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 subject 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 actually 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 fairly 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. Just a few frames before the end of the roll would be the best one or two shots with an immediate and obvious drop in the 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 his or her creativity to kick in. It takes a few moments and some thought for this to happen even with the best photographers. It NEVER happens 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 are one who allows 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 take a picture. This is where most people start and stop – with one or two pictures (correctly called snapshots). The first view of whatever peaked their interest is rarely the best possible view.

When we go to a show something has peaked our interest in the play. 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 really good seat, a seat where we can see the stage from the best angle, a seat 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 message of the story. The director “blocks” where on the stage he wants the action to take place. He directs your attention to where he feels it needs to be for the play to have 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 where you can direct the attention of those who see the photos to what you fell has impact. Now, make a few photographs and let the action build.

One of the greatest advantages of the digital camera is the capability 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 on 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 go 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 someone who is no longer satisfied to produce pictures that are merely correctly focused, exposed, developed and printed. Such technicalities are nowadays taken for granted. No matter how sharp a photograph and how natural its colors, it still can be the world’s most boring picture.

Why? Because the How—the “technique”—is not the end, the standard by which to evaluate a photograph, it is secondary to the WHY, the WHAT, the WHEN. It is the impression the subject makes on the photographer that decides the approach. And as a good writer knows grammar-and-spelling, synonyms and different literary forms of expression, so a good photographer must know the devices and techniques that will help them communicate with an audience their emotional impressions of the subject. To be able 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 the effort. Craftsmanship is the use of things like:


The first thing a photographer does is observe with all their senses. The good 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 the senses with just the 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. The camera is a machine and the eye are part of a living, thinking, and feeling being controlled by a brain.

People are susceptible to a multitude of sensory stimuli. The 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 which 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 so as to emphasize graphics. You may choose black and white to force the viewer to look beyond the beauty to 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.

You must feel passionate about what you are photographing—negative or positive. The emotions of the war photographer who hates seeing how much death is caused by war is as powerful of emotion which can be captured by the camera 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 mute all your senses except for what you see in the viewfinder. Look all around the subject 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 helps just as adjectives in a sentence to draw to 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 start 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 are then able to 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 will interpret the subject using various techniques to create 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 subject has no appeal to the photographer—it is better for the photographer not to waste the time of pushing the shutter release to make the photo.

Photographing Children

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

Our family has years and years of pictures like that all made in front of our grandparents house. Flipping through the albums you can follow the year-to-year changes in the children as well as 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 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 really see what they look like and the poses tell them nothing about the children themselves.

Chelle looses 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 closer and the pictures (almost any picture) will improve, especially pictures of children.

When we travel the pictures we make of children we see usually are quite different from those of our own 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. The expressions and colors of their clothes are what draw us to make these photos.

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

No matter if it is your own kids or ones you photograph on trip get down to the child’s eye lever. 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 own world again, you can peak in with your camera and capture something of the real child.

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

To add to the story value, place a toy in the photo of the child playing with the grown-up things. Use a wide-angle lens or set your zoom at it’s 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; just edit them on your computer before you print.

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

By 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.

Normally I 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.

Hope these tips help you with your next portrait.