The Organic Process Professional Photographer

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/5000

This “Chicken Man” was on the road between Tenkodogo and Ouagadougou in the country of Burkina Faso, West Africa. These are “free range” chickens that they tie their feet together to take them to market.

Instead of ordering “free range” chickens off the menu they are called “bicycle chicken.” They get that name as you can see on how they are brought to market.

We hear today the benefits of eating natural organic food. We think of organic as natural process.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/400

Mergers and acquisitions, which is inorganic growth, is an aggressive approach to growing a business. While most photographers are too small to think of merging or acquisitions the aggressive approach to business is what is hurting their growth.

When you start a small business, you must focus on growing your customer base, reinvesting profits in new assets for greater income, and improving productivity to increase your bottom line. All of these efforts are examples of organic growth. In a nutshell organic growth is focused on preplanning and being prepared for the future.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 125, ƒ/14, 1/250

Photographers need to operate their business like a farmer. He prepares the ground, plants the seeds, weeds the fields, waters the crop and when storms are predicted does what they can to protect the crop. The percentage of the farmers time is in the preparation versus the harvest.

Advice for the photographer

  • Dream first of what you hope for
  • Think of all the steps necessary for you to reach that dream
  • Invest your time and energy in getting the things you need to make the dream a reality
  • Create your action plan
  • Execute the plan

Couple major insights from the farmer. There is a season for planting and a season for harvesting. The farmer clears the fields when they first start. They may have to clear trees and brush as well as remove rocks and stones from their fields before they can plow the fields to prepare the ground for the seeds.

In West Africa the farmer is so poor they cannot buy fertilizer. It costs more than they will get out of the harvest. Many of these farmers will plant two seeds in field because if they get enough rain then one of the plants will thrive, but if it is a dry season the other plant will do better.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/500

This farmer here working the fields in Koudougou, Burkina Faso.  This is part of the bible school where they not only teach theology, but farming to help the pastors feed their families while they minister as a bi-vocational pastor.

Photographers may need to be bi-vocational as well today.

Overnight Success

You will look like an overnight success only if you are prepared. There are some things in your dream that you will try and force to happen. We all do this and then we slowly learn that sometimes the problem was we have been planting seeds in the fall and not the spring or we were trying to harvest in the spring rather than the fall.

Here are a few things to help you become that overnight success.

  1. Have an elevator speech ready [earlier blog on elevator speech]
  2. Have ideas ready for clients – Don’t just show your portfolio, do some research and have some ideas that you can pitch to them when that opportunity presents itself.
  3. Prepared replies – Think about those situations that a client may ask you to do something and how you should respond. The more you can anticipate issues the better you will come off when they come up.
You have heard of Natural Leaders–Well they are really those who have invested a lot of time on the front end. You may have also heard of those who are “Good Natured.” Well most likely they have thought about situations enough to one know how to respond or to understand how a situation isn’t a problem to begin with anyway. You know how to go with the flow because you have thought enough about things prior that your response is actually well thought out.
This is a really key thing to understand. You need to know enough about your industry to be able to know how to be very flexible and when to take those “organic moments” and speak into them. 
A farmer who has plans to put the seeds into the ground one week and realizes that if they move it up a few days they can take advantage of the rain verses loosing days because they were delayed.
The photographer who has invested some time into thought about their business is prepared like the farmer. So the question is how well prepared are you?

Combating Portfolio Depression

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC HSM Macro Lens, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/160

Most photographers grow despondent of their portfolios over time due to having little new work that can replace their best work. I call this Portfolio Depression.

There are times in life where we need some intervention. Sometimes this is medical where we may have to even undergo surgery to get rid of something harmful to our body.

Photographers are like many other artists and find themselves under the knife trimming the fat to become more lean and effective in our craft.

After a shoot I ingest my photos from the camera and do a rough edit in PhotoMechanic. All I am doing at this point is deciding if the photos are OK. Out of focus, extremely bad exposure, accidental frames shot, bad expressions, and other things that rule a photo from keeping it is what I am evaluating.

Usually I am eliminating 50% to 75% of the images at this point.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 APO EX DG HSM, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/80

Just a few weeks ago one of my clients talked about my consistency. He said he could always count on solid professional work and people liking working with me.

The hardest part of the edit is during the Lightroom phase where I straighten horizons, maybe crop a little bit, where I correct for the lens profile and minor burning and dodging. I am often feeling left very flat emotionally.

It doesn’t take long and I find myself sinking emotionally. I look at my work and realize I am not seeing very many grand slams.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 2.5 sec

To compensate for my frustrations I started to plan some skyline shots of some of the cities I was visiting. Here is the Seattle Skyline I did back in April.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/16, 20 sec

What has been happening on my photo shoots that were making things more and more difficult is clients sending me to locations with very little information about the location. It really wasn’t something they could fix either. It just is what it is.

Kyle Petty’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was 1986 Miller High Life 400 Richmond, Va. Here is where Bill Elliott ended up on the wall. After the race, Earnhardt had to pay a $3,000 fine ($6,454.46 when adjusted for inflation) plus a $10,000 security bond for an incident involving himself and the back end of Darrell Waltrip’s vehicle ($21,514.88 when adjusted for inflation).  

In the days of breaking news it was difficult for you to plan ahead. The best I could do is position myself as I did here covering the 1986 Miller High Life 400 at the Richmond Speedway so as to catch where many of the wrecks happened on that track.

ƒ/8 and Be There

Photojournalists have a saying, “ƒ/8 and be there”, meaning that being on the scene is more important than worrying about technical details. Practically, ƒ/8 allows adequate depth of field and sufficient lens speed for a decent base exposure in most daylight situations.

It doesn’t take you long in this profession to realize that the attitude of “ƒ/8 and Be There” is very short sighted.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 100, ƒ/22, 25 sec

Just a few weeks ago while in Bucharest, Romania I went online before getting to Romania and found some signature shots of the city. While it felt good to get this photo like all of my other skyline shots the part that is frustrating with these photos is  many of these photos other photographers have taken. I was more proud of the Bucharest photos since these particular angles didn’t show up right away on the Google searches when I was researching.

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 6400, ƒ/2.8, 1/320

One thing I learned early on is if your photos are very exciting then change your perspective. So this is what my wife and I did one day by taking a balloon ride in the North Georgia mountains.

Nikon D3, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 720, ƒ/5.3, 1/1000

By just getting up in the air I was seeing things from a different perspective than 6’2″ which is my height standing.

Nikon D3, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 400, ƒ/8, 1/30

While getting a different perspective by getting high or low and then also shooting late or early I am still faced with the majority of my assignment work.

Ok you are now reading my story of conflict. My photos just are not exciting enough and lack the surprise factor that I want to get every time I go out. I remember watching my mentor Don Rutledge struggle with the same issue. Just one thing majorly different is my mentor was a lot better than I have been with photography.

I watched Don buy new camera systems to see if that would help give him some creative edge. Don bought new Singh-Ray filters for all his camera lenses and this helped give him a unique look.

Don shot Nikon, then shot Olympus and then went on to Leica cameras before returning to the Nikon cameras. All these moves were to help him keep creative and get the very best out of a situation he was shooting.

The sad reality is that you can produce some very excellent professional photography, but that moment you were dealt is lackluster. You have done just about all you can to make the very best photo you could have made.

The danger for the photojournalist is you don’t want to manufacture moments. This is who I am most of the time. I am someone who wants to stand flat footed and find the angle and then help tell the story as authentically as I can possibly do.

The number one thing that has helped the most with accomplishing a sense of satisfaction has been doing multimedia projects. I realize that what often was missing in photos were the words of the subject and having them tell their own stories took my work to a whole different level. Are the images better? No. However, the stories are more complete.

What often feels like depression after an assignment is actually me looking at the conflict in my story. Then often I will look at other photographers work on similar topics and see how they treated the story. I am finding other resources through photography magazines, online galleries and most important is through professional associations. This is where my colleagues are publishing like NPPA’s News Photographer Magazine and ASMP’s Bulletin magazine that help keep me up to date on trends and gear.

Best advice to help combat this portfolio depression is to create your own personal project. This way you can plan and control more of the variables and give you an opportunity to really show people what you can do when you are given the opportunity.


  • If you love all your work then you are not growing
  • If you are depressed after reviewing your latest work – that is normal
  • If you look to get better by studying other people’s work – you are smart
  • Do your own special project
  • Take a workshop