Storytellers Abroad to Togo West Africa is wrapping up

Hannah Teramura is working on voice over for her video. The man doing the voice over is a Ghanaian who lives in Tsiko, Togo and works with the Hopital Baptiste Biblique. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 5600, ƒ/8, 1/100]

What a week this has been. I am now flying back to Atlanta by way of JFK airport in New York. By the way we had around a four hour delay. Not sure right now on which flight I will take to get back to Atlanta. It appears I will miss the scheduled flight. It was delayed, but not as much as my flight.

During this week with Storytellers Abroad Missions Multimedia Workshop I have worked with Pat Davison and Jeff Raymond as we led ten students through their stories.

This is Cy Hayden another one of the students interviewing his subject with the help of Mrs. Gail on translating from French to English. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/125]

Each student would do a pre-interview with their subject and then a sit down interview. After we reviewed it most everyone would do a follow-up interview to help fill in the holes of the storyline.

Pat Davison is working here with Liz Ortiz on the left and Keziah Khoo. Each student spent a great deal of time with Pat going over their stories. I also met with each student. We would help by helping them through the storyline process and helping them understand how to use b-roll more effectively to tell their stories. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 7200, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

Each of the students then spent a lot of time massaging their stories in Adobe Premier.

Stacey Schuett on the left and Hannah Saxe on the right are working hard in the classroom on their projects. [Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art,  ISO 1000, ƒ/1.4, 1/125]

One of the students was Stacey Schuett who had been in the Atlanta Ballet and even lived near me during that time in Roswell, GA. We believe that my family saw her dancing in the Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker when she was in Atlanta.

That was such a cool thing to discover and really made the world seem that much smaller.

Another surprise was Wilson, on left, and his friend coming to listen to us a couple times. They are local and part of the YWAM base there. Wilson had been to Kona, Hawaii and we had a lot of friends in common. Keziah another student and he had taken the same film classes in Kona, but just different times. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 8000, ƒ/5.6, 1/125]

The students all stopped on Saturday night and we showed our stories in whatever stage they were in to the missionaries and to the subjects before we left the next day.

Everyone gathered who was in the stories or part of the Baptist Hospital in Tsiko, Togo, West Africa to see our progress. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 7200, ƒ/4, 1/100]

Since we started doing this workshop in 2014 with our first workshop to Lisbon, Portugal we have had two students decide to do this as a full-time career in missions. We have had a few others who have done more trips to tell missions stories using multimedia. Some of them are exploring this as full-time career as well.

Here is our team. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/200]

Check out Storytellers Abroad for our trip next year. We are going to Lisbon, Portugal again and will have the date posted soon.

If you want to do this even sooner you can still join me in Honduras for a similar workshop. Here is that link.

Travel Photography Tip First Things First

Nikon D5, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/1.8, 1/1000

This week while teaching in the Storytellers Abroad Workshop here in Togo, West Africa I have noticed some trends that most students make.

Every day we assess the trends of common errors and address those each day. One of the most common themes that almost every day starts with is taking care of the technical before trying to capture the content.

Allison Waller, a student in the Storytellers Abroad Workshop, has all these Togo children fascinated with her camera.  [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens,, ISO 3600, ƒ/4, 1/100]

Before you start shooting pictures or capturing video you need to take care of the settings on your camera.

Here is a short list of things that I recommend that a person check before capturing the content.

  1. Set the camera resolution. 
    1. Stills – I use RAW, but just be sure you have made a conscience choice.
    2. Video – I often shoot today in 1920×1280 24 fps. Again be aware what settings you use. With video you need to be sure all the cameras you use are on the same resolution or editing will be a problem.
  2. Set ISO – Use the lowest ISO possible to still get a sharp image and well exposed
  3. Set Aperture
  4. Set Shutter Speed
    1. Stills – Pick shutter speed that works with the focal length
    2. Video – Use shutter speed double the fps.
  5. White Balance – I recommend always using a Custom White balance
  6. Video Sound 
    1. Microphone close as possible to the person 
    2. Set Audio Recording level
    3. Always use closed headphones to listen for sound issues

Once you take care of those technical settings then when you start shooting the content you are collecting will be useable.

Pat Davison, professor from UNC School of Media/Journalism, is teaching interviewing techniques using a translator during our workshop in Togo, West Africa.  [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 1800, ƒ/8, 1/100]
[Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG Art, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/100]

My calling to be a photojournalist

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX, ISO 800, ƒ/2.8, 1/20

Back in high school I felt a call to be a preacher. For those not familiar with this kind of language I will try to explain this a little more for you.

A vocation (from Latin vocātiō, meaning “a call, summons”) is an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which she/he is suited, trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.

In my Christian tradition we believe that one is responding to God.

After this, I heard the Lord ask, “Is there anyone I can send? Will someone go for us?”

“I’ll go,” I answered. “Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

While early in my career I would say that when I decided to not to go to seminary after getting my Social Work undergraduate degree that I took a detour, now I would say I was learning how to tell stories.

While working on my master’s thesis on Don Rutledge I started to realize I was a preacher. Here is what I wrote in my thesis:

After talking with Don, this writer felt redirected in his call to be a minister who used the camera as a central part of his ministry.  Many who are Christian photojournalists have struggled with the call.  In many ways, the Christian photojournalist is a preacher.  The photojournalist’s illustrations are not done with words in the pulpit but with photographs on the printed page.

Today I would change that last line to say with still/motion images used in many mediums to tell the story.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX, ISO 800, ƒ/2.8, 1/30

The men in these photos are pastors in Burkina Faso learning how to be effective preachers to lead their congregations.

In 1992 a few of my friends started the Southwestern Photojournalism Seminar in Fort Worth, Texas. To help identify who we were we came up with this sentence:

The Southwestern Photojournalism Conference is the conference for those who believe photojournalism to be a calling and the act of bearing witness to be important.

I believe all photojournalists are responding to a call. Those who agree to the code of ethics of the profession that you can find here are seeking truth and communicating that to their audience.

The hardest part of the code of ethics to me is trying to be sure you are being truthful. This means you must really spend time getting to know the story. You must dig to be sure you are representing the subject accurately and that after seeing your story will feel that you accurately represented them.

While in seminary I was taught how to do an exegesis.

Exegesis includes a wide range of critical disciplines: textual criticism is the investigation into the history and origins of the text, but exegesis may include the study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience. Other analysis includes classification of the type of literary genres present in the text, and an analysis of grammatical and syntactical features in the text itself.

Now I went to seminary after working as a photojournalist for more than six years. What I found was that the skill was pretty similar to what a journalist does to be sure they understand a story.

My call story is unique to me, but has a lot of similarities to some of biblical characters like Jacob, Joseph and even Moses.

It is only when you look back through the lives of these biblical characters that you see how God took each thing that often was a struggle that was to help prepare them for their calling.

Moses complained about his voice to God. I was born with Autism. Both of us complained about our struggle to communicate.

What I can tell you is that the camera brought me a great deal of comfort to help navigate this world. I am so thankful that my father who was a Baptist preacher advising me to major in either Social Work or Business in undergraduate and that I would get all of my biblical studies in seminary.

Majoring in Social Work taught me how to listen with my ears and eyes. I learned how to ask questions to get to the bottom of a problem. I also learned about body language and how to read people. This would later help me tremendously with a camera and recognize why certain photos were better at communicating than others.

While my intention of going to seminary to get my masters in communication to return to the church to do photojournalism, it was the required courses in education and theology that I would truly teach me more skills that I use today.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX, ISO 800, ƒ/2.8, 1/60

Had I not been willing to take a different direction by becoming a photojournalist I might be a pastor today of a congregation. Each week I would prepare a sermon and speak to my congregation. Pastors equip the saints to do the work of the church.

However because I followed the call to use photojournalism as my pulpit the audiences I have reached through different newspapers, magazines, online media and the list goes on is not a few hundred, but literally I am touching the world with the photos I have been privileged by my subjects with their help to capture so that audiences will understand the world in which they live better than they did before they saw these images.

I believe I am equipping the saints through educating them with photos, text/audio and even cinema that helps to deliver stories to them so that they can take actions to make this world even better because they now know more than they knew before.

My favorite thing to do today is to teach others who feel called into this profession of photojournalism/storyteller and equip them to do even more than I was able to do.

Are you a Br’er Rabbit Storyteller working with nonprofits?

Project Gutenberg’s Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit, by Joel Chandler Harris

I grew up listening to the stories of Uncle Remus about Br’er Rabbit. In case you are not familiar with the character of Br’er Rabbit. Br’er Rabbit is a trickster who succeeds by his wits rather than by brawn, provoking authority figures and bending social mores as he sees fit. The name “Br’er Rabbit”, a syncope of “Brother Rabbit”, has been linked to both African and Cherokee cultures.

You see the animal trickster represents an extreme form of behavior that people may be forced to adopt in extreme circumstances in order to survive. The trickster is not to be admired in every situation. He is an example of what to do, but also an example of what not to do. The trickster’s behavior can be summed up in the common African proverb: “It’s trouble that makes the monkey chew on hot peppers.”

Working for Free

There are some very good reasons to work for free or donate your time and resources to a nonprofit organization. Being altruistic is truly the best possible reason to give of your time and resources.

Another great reason to donate is that when you offer to give your storytelling skills to an organization you are more likely to remain more in control of the project and therefore more likely to do your best possible work that you can produce. Many personal projects that I have seen done through my career by photographers were altruistic acts of kindness.

There are countless people who launched their careers by giving away their work for free and using these projects in their portfolios to get work.

I actually do encourage those who have no real portfolio this is the way to build your portfolio. You find something you are passionate about, which often might be something that a nonprofit could use. The advantage of doing this early in your career is they can provide you the access necessary to put together a project that will showcase what you can do for clients in the future.

Almost no one will spend the travel expenses and let alone actually pay someone to produce something if they do not have GREAT examples.

Business Model Changed

There are just a few things that have impacted photographers doing work for nonprofits.

  • Stock Photography—years ago a photographer could go overseas and shoot and then come back and put images into a stock agency and make some pretty good money. It was very common for photos to sell from $350 up to many thousands of dollars. Today with people giving their photos away for free through things like Flicker this has dried up as an income source. It was not uncommon for a photographer long ago to shoot for free and due to the access make money and lots of money from the stock sales later. This revenue stream dried up years ago.
  • Digital—Before digital you had to really know photography skills because you would have to wait till the film was developed to see the results. Now with the LCD on the camera you can see right away and adjust instantly to be sure you have a photo. So where many organizations would pay for a pro just because they needed to know they had photos, but now with digital they just look on the LCD for that confidence.
  • Good Enough—this is what social media has contributed the most to for our industry. People are seeing that OK videos and photos are getting traction and that great photos and videos do not always get more traction for going viral. 
  • Baby Boomers Retiring—many people are retiring and wanting to just donate their time to doing something worthwhile. Most nonprofits are welcoming the volunteers with open arms and enjoying the free rather than worrying about the quality.

What to do & What not to do

When it comes to working with nonprofits I am seeing more and more Br’er Rabbits. A good number of storytellers will contact a nonprofit and even do outstanding work that in the long run doesn’t really help sustain the nonprofit.

I have watched most of my career the demise of professional communicators and especially those in journalism. Loving what we do and feeling called to do it has many of us behaving like Br’er Rabbit. Br’er Rabbit represented the enslaved Africans who used their wits to overcome adversity and to exact revenge on their adversaries, the White slave-owners.

I am not seeing anyone planning revenge, however, I am seeing people do just about anything they can to do storytelling.

There are many hobbyist/pros who do not need income from their photography because they make really good money in their full-time jobs. Some of these are even professional communicators who are on staff of a corporation or even a newspaper for example.

There are many people who just love to travel and see the world. They are looking for another stamp of a country they have never been to that they can add to their passport.

What is happening with these people is they are not thinking long-term for the organization they are donating of their time and resources.

Managerial Accounting

I think you need to understand this business concept in order to do the right thing when offering your work for free to an organization.

Too many people see the savings they are providing an organization by donating of their time and resources. This is how financial accounting tracks things, but those organizations that mature over time do not use this method only. They use managerial accounting method in addition for their organization.

       Provides information to make decisions regarding the future
       Relevance of data is emphasized over reliability
       Focuses on timeliness of information
       Reporting is focused on parts of the organization such as departments or      
       divisions and not on the organization as a whole.

Here are just a few things that organizations address due to using managerial accounting procedures:
       1. Just in time inventory
       2. Total quality management
       3. Enterprise resource planning
       4. Supply chain management
       5. Benchmarking

Do you want your donations to an organization to multiply or just help temporarily? Most would want to know they were helping long-term.

Think about each of these when you donate next time to an organization:

  1. Is my donation helping the organization meet it’s mission statement?
  2. When I stop donating is what I am doing for the organization something that they need to continue and pay for this service going forward?
  3. Am I helping educate the organization on how to use my gifts the most effective way possible.
  4. Will you be disappointed if your donation isn’t used?
Storytelling is core to successful organizations
I know that every organization must do effective storytelling of what they are about at the core or they will not be successful. I do not mind donating my time as I choose, but highly resent organizations that expect all storytellers to donate to their organization. 
I believe organizations need to have a budget for their ongoing storytelling. They need to have materials that they can use over and over that help tell their story. They need to tell new stories of how they are continuing to make an impact or sooner or later they will start to die. 
Just like movie studios must continue to come out with a new movie to get people to spend their money to watch, so too must organizations continue to tell their stories or people will stop being apart of their organization. 

Time to Pay for Free

There should come a time in a nonprofit’s growth where they will slowly mature by doing the right things. The day will come when the organization cannot just rely on Free.

I know one organization that has built up and continues today relying predominantly on free and all their staff raise their own support to work for free full-time. When I have worked with them I have been trying to give a presentation and the room I was too use was not useable. Due to improper wiring by free volunteers over the years the rooms were not just unusable but fire hazards.

I couldn’t get the work sent to my email accounts one year because all the free IT support didn’t wire their campus properly.

Even Habitat for Humanity knows it must rely on professional electricians and plumbers to meet code for their homes.  Maybe more organizations need to realize their really is a code standard for good communication.

Here is the bottom line for organizations that do not create a plan to budget for storytelling.

Organizations that continue to go to professional communicators asking for free and never budget for communications never mature.

Thought I would end with the sunset.

Storytelling using multimedia to tell the story

How many times have you been called on to talk to a group and you have either said or wanted to say, “You just had to be there to know what I am talking about?”

When I traveled to see the coffee growers in Salvador Urbina in the southern most part of Mexico in the state of Chiapas I was there to help tell their story.

Here is one of the latest packages I just had translated into English from Spanish. This is David Velázquez the current president of the cooperative Just Coffee. Please go there and buy their coffee. For those who are coffee aficionados it is premium arabica coffee.

I decided to use primarily still photos for the b-roll for a reason. I think those moments allow you to pause and listen to David at the same time.

The human voice is the most powerful audio I know for video, especially when you can hear it in their voice. Here the voice over talent Craig Carden did a great job of capturing the mood of David Velázquez.

I am blending Video, Audio and Still images which I think together is a better package than any of these alone would be by themselves.

I let David tell his story and then I went through the days of shooting and pick as many of the images I could that related to what he is talking about.

I hope you enjoyed it. Call me if you want to take a class from me on how to do storytelling using multimedia.

International Missions Photography Workshop for Students

For many years a few of my friends have been talking about how to offer a hands on workshop for those who feel a call to use their camera in missions.

Jeff Raymond, ABWE Director of Visual Communications, called me and we talked for a while about our dreams.

There are a few things that needed to come together for this to work. Along with James Dockery, ESPN Video Editor, Jeff Raymond and myself we will be helping to train college students in storytelling for missions.

Next May we are taking 9 students to Lisbon, Portugal where each of them will work on a multimedia project telling a story about the missionary work in Lisbon.

The students will go through all the stages of the storytelling process. As they work on the project, each day they will receive instruction, opportunities to capture images and then receive critique so that they can then make adjustments the next day and continue to refine the story.

If you know of college students or are one yourself that is interested go to this link [] to learn more and register. We are taking applications and those who register prior to December 1st will be given priority. This is not the final deadline, but we encourage you to register early.

Helping hurts when communication is overlooked

I believe photographers’ need a good PR agency and since no one is volunteering to do it for us, we must step up and take on this responsibility.

One such area I want to address is a photographer who wants to help use their talent to help humanitarian organizations or faith based organizations.

Please bear with me as I walk through understanding the elements and then trying to put together an action plan for photographers.

Stanley working in Africa.

The Humanitarian Photographer

If you were to Google the definition of what is a humanitarian photographer, you will not find a definition is the normal places like Webster dictionary, Wikipedia or Google.  It is a new term used to describe not so much a style as the humanitarian organization for which photography is done.

When you Google “humanitarian photographer,” I have a few friends that will pop up to the very top of the lists: Gary S. Chapman and Esther Havens both do humanitarian photography.

You will see every style of photography being done for humanitarian organizations that primarily distribute aid.

Three ways that humanitarian organizations distribute aid

  1. Relief
  2. Rehabilitation
  3. Development

In the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself, they say “A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development. In fact, the failure to distinguish among these situations is one of the most common reasons that poverty-alleviation efforts often do harm.”

They go on and say, “One of the major premises of this book is that until we embrace our mutual brokenness, our work with low-income people is likely to do far more harm than good.”

Relief is the easiest of the three things humanitarian organization do. It is easier to raise money and distribute materials things in the time of a disaster than to do the more in depth rehabilitation or development. However all three can hurt those trying to help and those receiving the service.

Do you know where I am going with all this? Will I be addressing how entitlement programs are the problem? Maybe I am going to talk about how we need income distribution to solve the problem?

What is Poverty?

Wikipedia definition—Poverty is the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money. Absolute poverty or destitution refers to the deprivation of basic human needs, which commonly includes food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care and education. Relative poverty is defined contextually as economic inequality in the location or society in which people live.

In the book When Helping Hurts, “Development expert Robert Chambers argues that the materially poor are trapped by multiple, interconnected factors—insufficient assets, vulnerability, powerlessness, isolation, and physical weakness—that ensnare them like bugs caught in a spider’s web.”

The book goes on to say, “Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.”

Based on this definition everyone suffers from poverty in some way.

Where the photographer can help

If broken relationships are what is the core issue in poverty, then to rebuild these relationships communication is key. With the broken relationship between two people they must come together and listen to one another.

Often counselors can help with the facilitation of restoration. When it comes to groups this is where I believe the professional communicator refines the role of the counselor and helps each group to better communicate and therefore move groups closer together.

Leaders of humanitarian organizations and their donors are often to blame for the failure organizations goals.

Donor and CEO Problem

A philanthropist decides to give a huge amount to an organization with strings attached. “I want all this gift to go to something and none of it to go to operating costs of the organization” is one such type of gift.

The organization often will take the gift and totally reorganize just so they can use the gift. This is where the organization fails to educate the donor. A good CEO will educate the donor.

I see way too many humanitarian organizations focus on the relief. We can give food or we can teach them to fish. Teaching to fish is a larger investment in time, but not necessarily money.

Photographers need to understand relief, rehabilitation and development and how this applies to the organization. They need to have the strategic vision if they are to help an organization achieve their strategic vision.

Way too many photographers just want to go and travel to take photos. They are in it for themselves and are hurting and not helping.

Photographers need to know as much as they can about the area a humanitarian organization is addressing. What other groups are working in this area? Are they duplicating efforts? Is their approach helping the long-term goal of no longer being needed?

It is common that once you start becoming strategic and not just a button pusher of the camera you will help in ways beyond your camera. You may help leaders of different organizations know about each other. You may help them network due to your work for different groups.

PR for the photographer


One of the ways I am watching photographers with PR for themselves is to tell stories through their blogs and being sure they are letting humanitarian organizations leaders know they are blogging.

If you have a blog you may want to ask some of those organization leaders to do a guest blog for you. 


You can create a printed or online newsletter that you send out to your distribution list. This method is different than the blog; it is pushing your message. A blog pulls people to the content.


You can put your coverage up in a gallery and invite humanitarian organization leaders to come to the show. You can also encourage the humanitarian organizations to also have a gallery where you could be there as the artist at the opening to help bring in donors.

Social Media

Get involved in groups. Many humanitarian organizations have active group discussions where a photographer could easily be part of the discussion. Give some tips of your own or maybe you offer links that you have discovered as a good resource. Be a part of the discussion.
Hold organizations accountable

I would encourage all of your discussions to always be trying to be sure the organization is helping the problem and not hurting. Sometimes it is just asking a question with an attitude of innocence. Sometimes you may need to call attention a little more forthright. Remember your purpose is to be part of the solution and not hurting. Ticking everyone off is not the best solution since you will quickly discover yourself no longer a part of the discussion.

My response to all those who ask how to do “Missions Photography”

Young photographers and old, but all those fairly new to missions, want to know how to start photographing missions. Their attitude and communication says they are ready and should be doing this now. This is my opportunity to empty out all those emotions that are running through my head and articulating what I’m feeling, without risking saying something to someone that I’ll regret. So here is that letter I often write to get it off my chest and never send. By the way this could also apply to doing NGO work as well.

Dear ___________________:

I get contacted almost weekly from someone wanting to do missions work.  Your request to know how to get into the field is similar to all those other contacts. You reference seeing others going on mission trips or even a short term trip yourself. Your desire seems to be to do this full-time using your photography to capture missions.

Let’s just be honest with one another—traveling the world and taking pictures just sounds fun. It has to be better than what I am doing here every day.

I believe there are four phases to becoming a missions photographer: 1) The call; 2) The Preparation; 3) The Affirmation & 4) The Corporate Sending.

The Call

You hear the call from God that this is what he wants you to do. How you hear that call is different for every person. One of the most famous calls is of Isaiah in the Bible.

Isaiah 6:8

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

The Preparation

If you were called to be a ditch digger, a doctor, a pastor or a communications person each of these would require you to become more proficient and develop that talent.

For the most part this would entail some formal training and some on the job training. Doctors go to college, then medical school and then they do a residency. My recommendation for most photographers wanting to cover missions abroad is to get some formal classroom training, work with some pros and then do a residency type of position for a year or two, just like the medical doctors do.

The Affirmation

You need others to affirm this call. Before a person is accepted into a Seminary to further their biblical studies they must have a letter of affirmation from a sending church. So to a photographer should have this same type of an affirmation where people are confirming not just that you know photography but are using it now to further the gospel.

The Corporate Sending

You need a client who is willing to pay for the content you are creating. Some missions agencies of different denominations have positions for journalists and photojournalists. You must go through an interview process just like you would if you were to be a church planter. They want to see examples of you doing now what they will send you to do somewhere else.

Where are you on these steps?

From your correspondence with me it appears you think you are ready now, but I have some hard questions for you.

What are you doing in missions right where you are?  Would God call someone to do missions photography in your neighborhood?

God hasn’t put you in Africa or somewhere else—he has you here. You are in a mission field. Do you think it is all that different just because you are in a different town, state or country?

You are like so many others who live right here with me in Georgia.  Right near me in Clarkston, GA are refugees from all over the world. There is even a book on one of these groups “The Lost Boys of Sudan.” Here is a link to that book  Missions of the cross-cultural experience it is right there.

I am sure there are opportunities in your community for a cross cultural experience if that is where you need to serve.

Here is a NGO that works with the refugees in Georgia.

How will it be any different for you to shoot in some city in Africa than right where you live? Too many “Christians” think that missions are like a worship service. Missions is so far removed from a worship experience. Missions agencies send their missionaries to those places of highest need. Those places are where there is less than 2% of Christians in the population. This is like going to solitary confinement as compared to going to a place where the people are like you.

If you don’t like working in the secular world now, then you are not ready for the mission field.

Now up to this point I have only addressed your willingness to do mission work. Now I want to address another concern I have for missionary work.

Do you think God deserves our very best effort? Based on the assumption he would want us to do everything we could to be prepared, how well prepared are you for the call? Have you taken the talents you have been given and refined these?

Christ selected 12 disciples and then spent three years training them before they were sent out completely on their own for good. He did an internship program with them where they went out and then reported back to him.

Lets just say you have really prepared as best you can. You went to a photography school and got your training. Now you are working somewhere to get your apprenticeship time in. Just like a medical doctor must do a residency, so too you must work somewhere with supervison.

Now comes another perspective. Who will send you? If you think agencies or churches will be the supportive body to help pay for the expenses of you traveling the world to tell the story of missions why would they send you?

Another way to think of this, think of it like National Geographic Magazine. Should they send you to cover a story or someone like a William Allard, Joe McNally, Steve McCurry, Joanna Pinneo or some of their many proven professionals?  I would think they would send the person who has a strong portfolio and track record of delivering content.

So too the church and agencies should send the person best because it is good stewardship of what God has entrusted them. Sending someone because they are willing is a good way to burn relationships on the mission field.

I hope you see mission coverage can be where you are now. You should be producing content of the stories in your neighborhood. If you are able to produce solid content right where you are now—which is the mission field, then those groups that can send you to foreign mission fields will see you as a good stewardship choice for them.

Remember the Apostle Paul was not readily affirmed by the disciples. Church history shows us there is a time from his calling until the time he was sent out as missionary from the church. Paul’s Damascus road experience was when he was about age 34 [Acts 9:1-9]. Paul was not sent by the church until he was age 47 with Barnabas [Acts 13:2-3]. He preached in the synagogues in between, but sent out was not for years. He first worked in his neighborhood. If it was good enough for Paul, why not you?

This may sound harsh, but I feel you need to hear this from someone and it might as well be me.

Maybe the thing you need to do is pray for God’s guidance and let him lead you. You might be surprised at all the doors that open through him verses by our own hands.

Sorry I am so pushy with this, but I am really sad to see so many people wanting to go overseas when the largest mission field in the world is here. More missionaries come here of all types of faiths to proselytize than any other country of the world. Who should God send to your neighborhood or city to do mission work? Could it be that he has already called someone–YOU?

Your backyard is your first mission field. This is where you will refine your craft and get the affirmation of others. It is here that your friends will then recognize your calling and send you.

Your call doesn’t always mean now, but you now knowing your path. Keep the faith and fight the good fight.


Stanley Leary
Roswell, Georgia
404-786-4914 |

Lower Third Titles in SoundSlides Plus

In my last blog post I talked about how to use SoundSlides.  Here I just want to show how to use the lower thirds title tool.

Figure 1

When you are using SoundSlides pick the Audio tab and then under that click on the Lower Thirds tab as you see in Figure 1.

You then just type in the Name field what you want in large type and then in the Title field will all be smaller under the name. The In Point field says where the title starts and the duration how long it is up.  You can see in the example in Figure 2 how the top line becomes the Title on the left.

Figure 2

I hope you also just enjoy watching two SoundSlide shows I did when I was in the Yucatan covering Roswell Presbyterian Church’s mission work there.

How to become a humanitarian or missions photographer

New church and well being built in Becanchen, Yucatan, Mexico. [Nikon D3, ISO 200, f/8, 1/100, 24-120mm]

“I feel God calling me into missions photography …” or “I want to be a humanitarian photographer and would like to meet you,” are two things I am hearing almost weekly now. 

To make this dream a reality is to engage your head and your heart in this journey.

Reasons not to become a humanitarian/missions photographer

1. The field is overcrowded. If you live in a major city like Atlanta you are very much aware of traffic jams.  Another great comparison is going to Universal Studios or Disney World.  You are going to stand in a very long line because this is a very popular job. This field is not just crowded, every day more and more people are wanting and trying to become photographers.

Fernanda washes clothes and makes hammocks for a living in Akil.  Her son Roberto Carlos has finished school and wants to go to college. They live in the Yucatan in Mexico. [Nikon D3, ISO 200, f/5, 1/8, 24-120mm]
2. Most photographers do it for free.  Translation–it is very difficult to make a living. How will you compete against others who will not only do it for free, but pay their way to cover a cause around the world?
Mayan family at their home in the Yucatan, Mexico. [Nikon D3, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/250, 24-120mm]
3. It requires a large financial investment.  You need cameras, lenses, flashes, memory cards, computers, software, and training to use all this.  Did you notice the list was multiples? Everything requires a backup because equipment will fail and you must still deliver.

4. It is a business. Since the 1970’s staff jobs are actually dwindling.  More and more photographers are freelancers who must pay higher taxes and higher healthcare insurance than their staff counterparts.  Don’t forget you need camera insurance and liability. You must first be a business person and then a photographer.

David Woods stopped on our drive to BoBo from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso for our lunch. You need to be able to eat a variety of food when you travel. [Nikon D2X, ISO 100, f/8, 1/320, 24-120mm]

5. You have to be outstanding and not average. If you watched American Idol then you have a good comparison to this industry, but the numbers are greater.  Everyone owns a camera and many think they can make great photos. American Idol auditions hundreds of thousands to get it down to 25. If you go back to past seasons not all of those 25 finalists are making a living at it. The odds are similar in photography. There are many great photographers, but they didn’t have the complete package to make it.

6. Everyone owns a camera and can make a photo. Think about this for a while. Why pay you to photograph something when they can take it themselves?

7. 95% of your time you are not making pictures. Even the most successful National Geographic Magazine photographers spend only a fraction of their time shooting. Most of the time you are researching a topic or an organization trying to find ways you can help them achieve their goals.


Diane Zuma plays with water at well in Koudougou, Burkina Faso. There are two types of wells in this area: one which is open and not safe to drink from and this one which is deep and is covered and much safer to drink. (Photo By: Stanley Leary) [NIKON D2X, AF Zoom 18-50mm ƒ/2.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/5, 1/320]

8. It’s not about you. If you want to take pictures because you have an interest in something, well unless an audience is willing to pay you to see your work there is no career for you. The most successful photographers today are not focused on telling a story with their camera–they are focused on connecting the subject with the audience to achieve a goal.

There is no AAA roadside assistance in Burkina Faso. My host David Woods repairs the truck that just lost a belt on the side of the road. [Nikon D2X, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/2000, 24-120mm]

Here are some questions you need to answer

1) Why do you want to be a photographer? If your answer is I like to take pictures and meet people, then keep on doing this as a hobby.  If you want to tell the stories of some people you have met, you still need to keep this a hobby.

Humanitarian and missions photographers are goal focused. When I am photographing an orphan I am wanting to help them find a parent. Some who will see my photos may give money to cover their housing and food until they find a parent and this good, but my goal is to move people’s hearts to take this child in.

My goal is not to tell the orphan’s story. Do you see the difference?

Surgeon Danny Crawley is in theatre doing a hernia operation and Comfort Bawa, theatre assistant helps him at the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana. (Photo by: Stanley Leary) [NIKON D2X, AF Zoom 18-50mm ƒ/2.8G, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/160]

2) Why should you be the photographer? If the goal is to do something, why are you the best selection and not a professional photographer who has given their life to not just taking pictures, but to the cause? If the goal is to get an orphan adopted why would anyone want to have a photographer shoot it that has never helped anyone get adopted verses the photographer that does. Think about it why not hire William Albert Allard who made the famous photos of the little shepherd boy who lost his heard to a reckless driver in Peru? Allard’s photos moved the readers of National Geographic Magazine to replace his herd and then some.

A mass of people wait for medical treatment at the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana. They are all waiting for Dr. George Faile to see them that day.  [Nikon D2X, ISO 400, f/2.8, 1/25, 18-50mm]

3) What are you doing to be the very best photographer? Organizations that want to achieve their goals are not going to let just anyone photograph for them.  Actually they want to keep most photographers away from their projects.  Many photographers will do more harm than good.  Too many photographers are just trying to build a portfolio rather than help.

I am called to be a photographer
Just like a professional musician you will need to study the craft and find a teacher/mentor.  Even in Star Wars Luke had to find Yoda to help teach him the skills to become a Jedi Knight. My suggestions:
Take classes in the following:

a. Business and marketing – You need to understand how to price your work, how to negotiate with a client and most importantly how to find a client.
b. Psychology – You need to be able to work with a variety of people from all walks of life. You need to be able to get to know people in the most intimate way possible in the shortest time possible, because you will be telling their story as an expert on their life.
c. Photography – You need to know how to make your camera do what will work in any situation. You need to be able to not just capture something, but help capture it in a way that sets the mood as well as captures the moments. To do this you will need to master: Aperture; Shutter Speed; Hot Shoe Flashes; Studio Strobes; Available Light; Composition and much more.

We ate in a coffee growers home in El Aguilia, Mexico. [Nikon D3S, ISO 12800, f/5.6, 1/60, 14-24mm]
2. Study the masters – You will need to become a master.  Remember the organization will hire the person they think is best suited to help them achieve their goal. You need to become the expert they want on their team. The best way to do this is to study all the great photojournalists that have gone before you. You need to know why their work was so successful.

3. Study with a master – Take a workshop with someone who is known for storytelling that also is known to help organizations meet their goals.  I will be teaching you how to photograph in another culture, how to tell the story and reach your audience with the message.

4. Go to seminars and workshops to get inspiration.  You will be able to hear successful photographers talk about their work. The room is often filled with current masters of humanitarian and missions photography.

5. Get critiqued to learn – Don’t show your work to just get pats on the back. Show you work to people who can point out the basic things you are missing early in your career and as you grow can teach you about the nuances. If your purpose is only to show your work and have everyone applaud only – well then you need to keep this as a hobby, because even the masters of the craft look for ways to get even better.