The Walk & Talk Photo Shoot

Nikon D3S, 28-300mm, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/1000

When you use the flash outside, you can get much better lighting on people’s faces.

No Flash

You can see the difference between these two photos. I demonstrated this technique to the YWAM School of Photography class in Kona, Hawaii, a few years ago. I shot this broad so you can see how the assistant must walk with the people and stay slightly ahead but close to them.

Here, I cropped out the assistant, which, when I shoot a job, I have them out of the frame, so I do not have to crop. Hopefully, you can see how the lighting is helping the photo here.

Using Studio Strobe

I showed how to do this with hot shoe flashes and studio strobes. The advantage of the giant strobe was the ability to stay farther away from the subject due to a much more powerful strobe.

Nikon D3s, 28-300mm, ISO 200, ƒ/14, 1/250

Before walking and talking, I showed the class how a fill flash-off camera works. Here, there is no flash, and the subject is backlighted.

Nikon D3s, 28-300mm, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/8000

Here, I could shoot at a faster shutter speed of 1/8000 using the hot shoe flash-off camera due to the HSS [High-Speed Shutter] technology now available for most cameras. This let me darken the sky quite a bit.

I have found that getting the sun behind the subject allows the subject to stop squinting. Then, by adding the flash off the camera, the light creates some modeling of the face and lights up the front.

For the “Walk and Talk,” I ask subjects to stay very close to each other. I even say you should feel the other person touching you every once in a while. I also ask them to make eye contact. I generally have one person talk, and the other person listens.

Try this technique sometimes with your subjects. If you like, you can hire me to work with you or your group to teach this in a workshop.

You ready for snow days?

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 5600, ƒ/5.6, 1/8000

Here are some tips that can help you take photos in the snow. First, you can use the scene mode of snow if it exists on your camera. Another option is the beach scene mode. Both of these will get you pretty close.

The downside to using scene mode is the camera doesn’t know if you are shooting landscape or action in the snow.

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/800

I suggest using the exposure compensation on your camera to compensate for all that white snow.

Here is the location of the Exposure Compensation on the Nikon D3S. You push this and spin the dial on the back of the D3S to under or overexpose the photo.

The exposure compensation is in different places on each camera, so get your manual out and look for exposure compensation in the index.

Exposure Compensation Dial on Nikon P7000

Most of today’s cameras also have different metering modes. On Nikon, I recommend shooting with matrix metering.

Here are what camera settings I suggest for capturing action in the snow.

  1. Matrix Metering
  2. +1 Exposure Compensation – Take test shots and see if needing more or less. Each camera responds a little differently.
  3. Auto ISO
    1. Use the camera suggested latitude ISOs for your camera. For example, I use 100 – 104,000 for my Nikon D5 but only 200-6400 for my Fuji X-E2.
    2. Minimum shutter speed of 1/2000 for my Nikon D5 and 1/500 for Fuji X-E2
  4. Aperture Priority – Choosing depth-of-field that is appropriate for the photo. 
  5. Continuous Focus – Single focus mode will lock the focus, but if they are sledding to you, they will not be in focus. Need to be in the constant mode to track the subjects.
Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 6400, ƒ/5.6, 1/8000

For many of these photos, I shot as fast as possible at 1/8000. It isn’t necessary to stop the motion, but I saw what it looked like and liked the results.

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 5000, ƒ/5.6, 1/8000

Action Shot Tips

  1. Place yourself where the action is going. For most all these photos, I captured the people at the bottom of the hill. This way, I captured their expressions and not the backs of their heads.
  2. Don’t just shoot action, but the reaction and things around the action.
  3. Use your motor drive to capture a series of images.
Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 9000, ƒ/5.6, 1/8000

I was at the top of the hill and captured the brother and sister as they came back up the mountain. You can still see the excitement. I also purposely composed it to show someone at the bottom of the mountain, or you wouldn’t know it was a hill.

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 2000, ƒ/8, 1/500

For this photo, I was panning with them as they got a push. The idea is to mix up the images as much as possible, so you have captured more of the memories for the years ahead to remind them how everyone was having fun together.

I think I am now ready for some snow.

I want to cover international conflicts

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 500, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

Before you take a career jump to become a Conflict Correspondent let me give you some insights that come from many years of studying this for myself. First, I have never covered war.

I have many friends who have covered war and conflicts around the globe. I have sat in many presentations by them where they have shared some gruesome to insightful comments on these situations.
These are some of the books that I have in my personal library on covering conflict. I have read all of them and met many of the authors. I recommend all these books and you can still find them on Amazon or eBay.

This doesn’t make me an expert, but it does make me more educated about some of the issues of covering war.

This is the latest book I have read on the subject by Lynsey Addario. It is a honest and very transparent biography of a war photographer. Click on the picture for link to the book.

The possibility of being kidnapped and hurt are very real. Daniel Pearl was a journalist for the Wall Street Journal with American and Israeli citizenship. He was kidnapped by Pakistani terrorists and later murdered in Pakistan on February 1, 2002.

from Committee to Protect Journalists

Every time I am teaching a new group of wannabe photographers I have someone wanting to pursue this path. If this is your calling then by all means pursue it, but don’t jump out of the plane without a parachute. That parachute should be some resources to help get you out in an emergency as well as people who are in touch with you regularly who can track you down if they lose communications with you. A contract with someone before you go is ideal.

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

Here are my comments from a recent post on a Facebook group. The person had been in the military and was asking how to do work in hostile environments as a photographer.

My first post was to search for the Committee to Protect Journalists and The Dart Center for Journalism.

There were a few posts in between. I could sense this guy was ready to go, so I chimed in again.

Before risking your life I would highly suggest having portfolio reviewed by photo editors that see this kind of work regularly. You need to know before you go if you have a chance of being published based on your ability to capture story. Also will help with finding someone who is willing to consider your work. You need someone interested in your work to send it to before you go.

I thought that if you didn’t know how to find that kind of material you most likely were not going to be good in war trying to find information, but I didn’t say that instead I wrote this in response to their question on asking me to tell them who that might be.

VII agency, Magnum, Newsweek, Time, … most importantly I would not go without being on some contract. You also need a lot of street smarts and kinda know how to research who even uses war photography. Pretty simple. Pick up magazine/newspaper. In masthead are your contacts.

They thought they would just contact those sources and they would just use them right away on the field. I had to chime in again and say:

Most War Correspondents start at a paper. Often just a small paper.

Still not understanding I continued:

You start at a paper covering local not going straight to overseas. If you can’t tell stories locally you are not going to do so overseas. That is how you build a brand.

The military didn’t send you to battle without extensive training so why do you think you are just as prepared with camera? If your goal is conflict coverage then show you can win the war and not the battle. Take the steps to prove you have the visual storytelling skills. It is similar to showing you passed all the basic training skills necessary to be a soldier. Skipping this step, as all your posts appear to insinuate further demonstrates to me that you are not ready.

Patience with storytelling is very important. It appears you are in love with the experience and not why journalists cover conflict.

Storytellers/Journalists want to inform people with truth. They realize how extremely difficult this is. Not just a photo of what is in front of the camera but rather interpretation of the events so as to help inform accurately. You need to be a writer as well. You need to write informative and journalistic captions if not stories to accompany your photos.

James Nachtwey’s heart is so engaged and his head is using every skill it can to provide understanding.

My last comment that is the most important point I can make.

What can you provide that isn’t already being done? Unless you can truly talk about stories not being told I don’t think you have proven to any editor why they need to see your story.

Publications/Media Outlets have limited funds and need to support those who are already proving every day with their work. Its not fair to those who are producing right now and doing a great job for you to get any work, unless you have a portfolio of work that is superior.

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 450, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

By the way our oldest son served in the Army and just recently got out as a Captain. I can tell you if you go into conflict many of your family will not rest while you are in conflict. I knew many spouses who had to stop working while their spouses served. They were hyper-vigilant waiting for safe return and scared that someone would be knocking at their door with sad news of their loved one dying in service to country.

If you have plans to have a family then you really need to read these books and hear how most everyone had no family life or ended up in divorce.

War will take a toll on you emotionally. You may come home physically in one piece but mentally a wreck.

If you still think you are called then do everything you can to be prepared. Also, if no one will send you this is a good sign that you don’t have what it takes. You have to demonstrate you can be a storyteller outside of conflict before anyone will trust you.

Understanding Copyright and Cost of doing business isn’t the secret to success

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, 4–Alienbees B1600, ISO 200, ƒ/11, 1/160

For the past 20+ years, the photography community has been pushing for photographers to know their rights. So naturally, copyright is at the top of that list. Right next to it was, you know, the cost of doing business.

I even perpetuated many of these tips that photographers needed to know to be sure they were running a healthy business.

Before 2002 quality images were hard to come by versus today, where almost daily, the amount of well-exposed, in-focus images happens faster than we can calculate. The reason I picked the year 2002 is that is when a 6-megapixel camera went from $25,000 to under $2,000. The price reduction made it very affordable for the masses.


Today there are so many images available that, for the most part, photography is now a commodity.

As photographers were pushing for more from customers and trying to explain why they must get more money, the customer needed them less and less.

Let me start the business lesson we never did for photographers in the past. We need to start running our business based on the customer/audience.

Nikon D100, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM,, ISO 200, ƒ/22, 1/160

What is the customer’s problem?

The best possible customer for you is the one going through a significant crisis. You can be the superhero and help save their business. You can see their problem and have a solution that will not only fix the problem but also help them be more successful.

The reality is that this is your only kind of customer. Businesses don’t spend money on things that will not help them reach their objective. At least we know they cannot afford to do that very often without going out of business.

Next, you need to figure out how much it costs to provide that solution to the client.

If you don’t know the problems you are solving for a business, you cannot figure out what you need to be doing in the first place.

[Nikon D5, Sigma TC-2001 2x, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, ISO 36000, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000]

Do the math

Now, this math you are going to do has two parts. First, you have ongoing expenses, which you must spread over all your jobs. Your prices are not just what money you need to pay for your home budget but also your business budget. Your business budget includes your gear, costs to find out about customers, and expenses to communicate to them about your solutions. Remember, you have to do all this because they may not hire you, and you still have to pay for it.

It would be best if you spread this cost of doing business over all your jobs throughout the year. Maybe that figure is about $600 per average job you must build into the price.

Next, you must do your math again and add up all the expenses to do the specific job to solve this client’s problem.

You add these together, and this is what you must make to stay in business.

How you arrived at this price or what this figure is should never be discussed with the client. Therefore, your pricing breakdown is for you only.

Now, if you have a client, for example, in a ditch with their car in the middle of nowhere, and you have a tow truck and are there to help them, you are in a great position, especially if they are in a hurry. So this is when you can get a lot more money than had you been in a large city with many more options for the customer to choose from than just you.

Take the time to know your market and what others are charging.

Determine your Target Audience

Now, you have a problem if the going rates are lower than the figure you need to charge. You will need to convince people somehow that you are a better solution. That is possible because an oil change can run from $19.95 to $20,000 for a Bugatti Veyron.

Believe it or not, there is a formula for true luxury, and it is called the Intrinsic Value Dependency Index. Now I am not an expert in this, but in general, a product must be of the best quality and, in the process, creates a space in its own market. This item must be rare as well. True luxury comes with over-the-top service as well.

When you get a $20,000 oil change, they are doing a lot more than you driving into a bay and staying in the car while they change your oil. Instead, they offer your wine, Champaign, or an excellent latte. Good chance they even picked up your vehicle from your home and brought it back to you at your convenience.

Once you know the figures you need to charge, see the marketplace, and decide where you want to be in that market, you not only set your price, you create a marketing plan to execute.

You have a website, portfolio, brochures, business cards, and other materials you will use to help showcase your work, which is a solution to the customer’s problem.

Going back to the side of the road with our customers in distress, you give them your sales pitch. I am here to help you. I can have my limo driver come and pick you up and take you to where you need to be next, and while that is happening, I can get your car out of the ditch and bring this to the repair shop of your choosing. If you don’t have a repair shop, you prefer I have a few that I regularly use that will work with your insurance and get you back up and running.

They love it and ask you how much. You give customers the price, and they gladly pay. Your limo driver picks them up, offers them some beverages, and takes them to their appointment.

Your business is about you solving other people’s problems. The key is more than the cost of doing business, copyright, or having the latest camera gear. Knowing your client first and foremost is the key.

Photography/Video/Multimedia is the tool for solving problems for customers. Those who are the most successful are not waiting by the phone like a plumber getting a call because a toilet overflowed. Instead, the most successful are Steve Jobs creating products to solve problems for clients they didn’t even know they had until they saw the solution.


  1. Start with the problem of the client
  2. Come up with a solution to that problem
  3. Know all the costs involved in providing that solution
  4. Create the sales pitch that addresses their problem with your solution and how the outcome will look if they use your services.
  5. Create a price that will cover your costs and help position your services within the marketplace. Hopefully, one that is a luxury and not a commodity.

The secret to a successful business is focusing on solving clients’ problems.

Watch background and lighting ratios in your photos.

Nikon D750, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG APO OS HSM, ISO 50, ƒ/7.1, 1/160

When I shoot something in the studio, as simple as this setup is here, I test a few things to be sure all the lights are as I want for the final image.

Here is the setup for the photo above:

Watch your backgrounds

One of the things all photographers need to pay attention to is their backgrounds. Now, not just compositionally, but just as important is the golden ratio compared to the subject. For the most part, you want it to be more brightly.

Here, your eye goes to the background, not the subject I want your watch to go to first. Pay attention to this when you are shooting in natural light.

How do you fix this? You can move the subject or your feet and circle the subject until you find a darker background. You can also add more light to the subject. You can do that with a reflector or a flash, for example.

Another thing that can help your photos is a backlight shining on the subject to create a rim light.

Here, there is a light just slightly behind the subject pointed down. Now, here, it is a little too bright. But sometimes, it can work.

Nikon D4, Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.8G, ISO 50, ƒ/2.8, 1/60

Here are a few more examples of backlighting:

Nikon D3S, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/2.8, 1/400
Nikon D3, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 200, ƒ/1.4, 1/4000

The photos show how the background is slightly darker than the subject. With photography, you can take control of this with your camera. In all three portraits, I use an auxiliary flash off the camera to brighten the subject enough so that the sunlit areas in the background are correctly exposed.

Three tips to remember:

  • Watch your background
  • Use Backlight
  • Watch the ratio of light on the subject versus the background.

Turning Pro from Amateur Photographer isn’t for the faint of heart

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 2000, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

I reposted a blog I had done a way back that had gotten a lot of positive feedback from the photographic community.

Seven Reasons Not to Become a Freelance Professional Photographer was the blog.

People shared it 32 times through Google Plus alone. It ranks 5th of the 1098 blog posts I have written for the most read. There are 44 comments on this post. Everyone on the base was positive except for one that was more of a question. “Is all lost when most of these points have been true?”

My response was, “No. You cannot continue to fail over the long haul. Again you don’t have to do all of it yourself; you can outsource. My recommendation is to realize to be successful, you need to 1) have a good solid product consistently, 2) you need to deliver more than you promise, 2nd-mile service, and 3) WOW them. It would be best if you connected with people way beyond your product. Just think of the TV show Cheers; the people came back to the bar regularly because of friendships on top of the food and good service.”

When I reposted it, I had the most negative response for any of my blogs. So I started examining why this person was taken back by my post.

The poster slammed the blog as Listicle.

In journalism and blogging, a listicle is a short form of writing that uses a list as its thematic structure but fleshing out with sufficient copy publishing as an article. A typical listicle will prominently feature a cardinal number in its title, with subsequent subheadings within the text itself reflecting this schema. The word is a portmanteau derived from a list and article. Suggesting that the word evokes “popsicle,” emphasizing the Listicle’s fun but “not too nutritious” nature.

After reading a few more comments, I realized what I think the person was having an issue with from my article. The reviewer was struggling with a newbie vs. a seasoned pro.

In a workshop with Scott Kelby, I loved one of his comments. “If you need a hug, you post on”

As an amateur, your friends and family will comment on how great of a photographer you are. However, the minute you turn Pro, that all changes.

I felt the same thing this poster indicated in his comments that we need to wrap each other in emotional support as pros. My wife pointed out that you are a pro; people expect you to have great photos. My experience is they don’t comment on you for doing.

For this article, I want to be clear that the difference between the word amateur and professional is solely the difference of hobby versus making a living. My comments are not about the quality of images because I think many amateurs produce better images than pros. Most amateurs, however, could use a dose of reality that the most significant difference for the working Pro over the amateur is business skills, not photographic skills.

As an amateur, you may join a photo club where you all help and encourage one another. Many camera clubs around me have had me speak to them and judge their competitions. I enjoy doing this and sharing some of my knowledge with them.

Professionals understand that when they go to workshops and meetings with pros, we are getting together to get better at our business skills. We may learn the same things that a camera club gets together to learn about the latest software, but we need this knowledge to remain competitive rather than take photos.

Professionals also understand they need to pay for those classes and workshops. The people teaching them are working pros that give you information that will help you make a better living.

Going Pro will be a lonely journey for several reasons. Most of all, your friends and family comments about how wonderful you are now will seem emptier if they are not hiring you to shoot for them. If they thought you were so awesome, wouldn’t they hire you?

While most professionals will help you, not everyone will be as enthusiastic that you showed up on the scene. First of all, remember in some areas of the industry, like newspapers, the opportunities are disappearing. When pros were making $200,000+ for shooting stock years ago, and now they can barely make $20,000 doing the same type of work, you showing up and taking more of the smaller slice of the pie is very threatening.

New pros must be aware of one major thing when they become pros. Just because you graduated and knew how to make beautiful images does not immediately mean there is work for you. Every client who hired photographers last year will likely hire those same photographers. When you get hired, one of those photographers often just lost that job you are shooting.

Some pros take this the wrong way and, therefore, will do everything they can to sabotage your career. Pros feel threatened if you set up shop in their town.

Now there is a great group of photographers I have been a part of that does not take this attitude. You may find one of our members like that, but I can tell you we do not encourage that. This group is ASMP.

Charleston, SC The Citadel Recognition Day 2019 [Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 2000, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000]

ASMP [American Society of Media Photographers] has championed business skills for photographers better than any other organization I have been a member of in my career. I joined in 1987 and have learned more through the organization and fellow members than anywhere else. Like the photo of the Citadel cadets carrying one another as they might have to do in battle to save their comrade, my ASMP fellow members took me.

To join ASMP as a member, you must get a sponsor who is satisfied that the applicant meets the eligibility requirements for Professional Membership, namely:

  1. Good moral character and reputation, and
  2. At least three consecutive years of experience as an imaging professional.

Now, if you are starting, we have an associate’s membership where you have the same access as a member, just not voting rights. If you haven’t proven you can run a successful business for three years straight; we don’t need you making business decisions for the organization.

We see the new photographers much differently. We work to find another chair and welcome you to our table. We take you under our wings and do everything we can to be sure you are successful.

The best things I learned right away from the start with ASMP were the importance of good business practices. I learned about how to figure out the cost of doing business. I knew that when I create estimates, the client would often try and negotiate for a lower price or more services for the same price.

ASMP worked to protect my copyright by helping to inform congress what this means for photographers to have copyright protection.

Charleston, SC The Citadel Recognition Day 2019 [Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000]

My fellow ASMP members didn’t give me a group hug as I would experience as an amateur on Flickr. It felt like they took the legs out from under me, and they did. They were carrying them just like you see in this photo. They helped me by challenging me on my low prices. How are you making a living on that price?

The one thing that made me sad about the poster’s comments was that “no matter the pay,” he wouldn’t be swayed to stop shooting. You see, he is the type of new Pro that needs ASMP.

His attitude of “no matter the pay” means he will accept just about any job because he loves to shoot. After all, he said, “It’s in my blood and who I am.”

Through the years, my ASMP colleagues and I have helped countless photographers learn how to make a living and even a great living. One of those I took under my wing was a young lady who, when I met her, was a nanny and going to school full-time.

I had her assist me and talked with her answering all her questions. Then, she took on a client that had her traveling all over the state, shooting travel magazine packages for the publication.
The magazine had traded out with hotels to keep costs down. So every town my assistant went to, there was a hotel she stayed in for free. So it appeared in many ways the magazine was thinking about her.

When we spent a few hours reviewing her expenses and what they paid her, she discovered she was making way below minimum wage.

When her car started to have mechanical issues, she realized she could get it fixed and continue doing the work. But unfortunately, she wasn’t making enough to cover the costs of owning a car.

The expenses were when she realized that continuing with this magazine; she wasn’t just making below minimum wage; she was paying them to shoot for them. YES!!! You heard me.

Her mother rented her a car so she could go and do the assignment, but the project didn’t pay enough to cover the rental car fees and all the other costs associated with doing the work.

Today, that young woman is not only doing better but also doing great. She not only is making a good living, but she also has staff working for her more than three people.

Charleston, SC The Citadel Recognition Day 2019 [Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM | S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 1100, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000]

ASMP members know that photographers who do not understand business principles will not only go broke they will leave the industry worst off. Now those clients think that the rates they were paying those failed photographers were reasonable. We need you equally lift the sector just as these guys do in carrying the log. They cannot do it alone.

Turning Pro from amateur status is when you start to have adult conversations. These conversations are when you do not like everything you hear from a seasoned pro trying to help you out, but you see it as them trying to get rid of you.

Young photographers can learn something from professional bull riders. First, they started riding young calves before graduating to bullocks and then bulls. Then, between the ages of four and six, they hone their skills by “mutton busting” on sheep. You see, bull riding is one of the most dangerous sports in the world. An estimated one in every 15 bull rides ends in some injury.

I can tell you that many pro photographers feel like one in every 15 assignments ends up in some injury. We like to call that scar tissue which builds wisdom.

I recommend joining ASMP and NPPA, which has, in the last few years, changed to help freelancers even more with business practices than when I joined in 1985.

Corps Day Weekend Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1600, ƒ/6.3, 1/320

Remember, when you turn Pro, people expect you to have great photos, so don’t go looking for a group hug like you got as an amateur.

In military training, young men come together with a diverse mix of our American landscape. Yet, those differences melt away through their training which pushes their limits to each person realizing that those strangers they met on day one are there alongside them, even willing to die for them.

You will see if you look complex enough, seasoned pros taking on a lot of fire and struggling to stay alive. ASMP members know that each of us has gone through our training for at least three years. We know we are all battle tested and helping one another.

Are your stories or visuals just flat?

Fujifilm X-E2, Fuji XF 55-200mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/3.9, 1/70

Do your stories/photos seem flat to you? I know many times, after working so hard on a story/photo, I feel like the results were not capturing something, but what was I missing?

Now when I cover sports, a short story where the winning team must overcome obstacles to win, I can see the problem with a balanced coverage. The teams just never put forth the effort that visually showed greatness.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

Over the past few weeks, I received beautiful emails saying my daughter’s performance in the musical Into the Woods. At the same time, I would be proud of her no matter what as her dad; I was proud of her as an artist.

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 9000, ƒ/5.6, 1/400

Some of those emails started to capture the nuance she could deliver in her performance. One said my daughter was “making the part your own, not a stereotype or a copy of another actor’s work, but an artful blending of jagged, mean, ugly, playful, quirky, needy, and finally, channeling the almighty in condemning flawed humanity to tend the garden alone. Your character arc was spot on.”

So precisely, what is a character arc? It is the transformation or inner journey of a character throughout the story. At the same time, many things may happen to a character in a theater performance as an actor’s portrayal. But unfortunately, the audience isn’t allowed to experience those changes.

Experiences the changes in the character are often the missing secret ingredient to a compelling story.

Nikon D5, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 DG OS HSM S, Sigma TC-2001 2x, ISO 1250, ƒ/5.6, 1/4000

When I often work with an NGO to tell their story, I must interview someone before the story’s climax. I often say to a success story, so I have missed the opportunity to show this main character struggling.

What I can do and often do is have them tell me about what it was like before. I want the subject of the story to articulate the struggle. After hearing this part of the interview, I can get a b-roll of others also going through this. I should be able to find this because most NGOs are raising funds to help others through their success story.

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 2200, ƒ/5.6, 1/100

The main plot for most of these stories I am doing is that the main character cannot overcome opposing forces because they lack the skills, knowledge, resources, or friends.

My audience is who I am appealing to be the ones who help with supplying the skills, knowledge, and resources and being the friend to help others like this person to overcome their obstacles. I must do an excellent job of articulating why they cannot do it alone.

The last part of the story shows the changes in the main subject. Today, for example, because of the changes they have gone through, their children can go to college and have a better life than the main subject.

The story is often flat because I have done a poor job of capturing the struggle and problems of the main character.

Don’t be the storyteller who only searches for those who take little effort on you to communicate their struggle. The stereotype is where you search for only stories that are often cliché. Instead, you find a person with significant physical deformities to help you capture the battle, so you don’t have to work at it as hard.

Everyone has a story if we take the time to get to know them!


Photographers need to lead an organization of one

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/60

Col. Tom Clark, director for Citadel’s Krause Center for Leadership and Ethics, spoke last night to the Atlanta Citadel Club. Clark brought his leadership tool bag, and the first thing he pulled out of the bag was a hammer.

When he was a cadet at the Citadel, this was the tool used by the leadership at that time. But, of course, the downside of this being your only tool is applying a hammer to every situation doesn’t get the results you need.

“Ever tried hammering a screw?” was a question he asked us.

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/60

Then he pulled out a screwdriver with many different tips that I could switch out.

This tool reminds us that we must look at the head of the screw and figure out which of the tips: Flat Head, Philips, Square, or something else is needed to fit the head of the screw.

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 900, ƒ/5.6, 1/80

Dan Cathy, president of Chick-fil-A, also has a leadership tool bag he uses when talking to people about leadership. Dan Cathy has a slinky as one of his tools. Dan says:

Just as one end of the Slinky has to be the first to descend a staircase in order to put the whole thing in motion, leaders must be the first to move forward in any endeavor in order to put the rest of the team in unified motion. Just as the Slinky won’t work without one part of it “leading the charge”, any team endeavor we desire to complete—whether as a family, a group of friends, or an entire organization—will not happen unless a leader takes the first step. Let’s remember this the next time we’re on the precipice of a new endeavor, and let’s be leaders who get the whole thing moving.

Nikon D750,  AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 7200, ƒ/5.6, 1/500

Col. Tom Clark and Dan Cathy are leaders who teach leadership to people. They realize that these tool bags filled with examples are those “visual” reminders that help people grasp the concepts of good leadership and remind them to put those into practice.

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 1250, ƒ/4, 1/250

Compass as Ethics Tool

A compass is a relatively simple instrument based on a simple concept. Its northward-facing needle is a consistent and accurate indicator of physical direction. By placing “moral” in front of the compass, we evoke a clear picture of mental processes that point a person in a particular order in life. These processes are consistent and accurate indicators upon which personal belief and action can be based.

Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way.

No system of morality is accepted as universal. Many people use their faith as the set of doctrines that will be their true north for their morality compass.

Leadership? But it is just me.

You may have passed over all those leadership books because you are an independent photographer. You don’t even use assistants, so how could this help me?

Glenn Gutek wrote, “Great Leadership Starts With Leading an Organization of One.” These are some great tips. However, there are two that I think many photographers would benefit from using that I want to highlight:

  1. Control Time–You should be focusing on your top priorities for that moment. When you get up and start your day, the first things you do for your business should be the highest priority. When you finish your day and go home, you should focus your preferences on your family and what is most important. Knowing how to get the most out of your time during the day is an excellent leadership skill.
  2. Temper Emotions–I struggle with it the most. The reason it is such a struggle is that I am so passionate about my work. You have to be to get emotionally impactful images. 
Gutek said about tempering emotions, “at times, it is critical to practice the discipline of being dispassionate.
Being dispassionate allows a leader to protect the environment from becoming toxic and engaging in the wrong battles. Leaders should fuel their energy by investing in their passions, but keep things from running off the rails by not pouring gas on a volatile situation.”
Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 200, ƒ/7.1, 1/750

You are playing Chess, not Checkers.

The greatest thing you will learn in dealing with clients is how different every situation is from one another.
Almost nothing looks more orderly than chess pieces before a match starts. The first move, however, begins a spiral into chaos. After both players move, 400 possible board setups exist. After the second pair of turns, there are 197,742 possible games, and after three moves, 121 million. – Popular Science

James 1:5

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

All these tool bags of leaders have one thing in common–Strategy. A strategy is a high-level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty. Strategy is essential because the resources available to achieve these goals are usually limited. Strategy generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. 

Does your tool bag have only a hammer? What are you doing to learn the best tools to put into your leadership toolkit bag? 

Tip on dealing with depression that often comes with freelancing

Ernest Hemingway used this long quotation from Ephesians in his book The Sun Also Rises:

“What profit hath a man of all his labour which he takes under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goes down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.”

Hemingway thought the characters in The Sun Also Rises may have been “battered” but were not lost.

Do you feel “Battered”?

For many reasons, you, too, may feel frustrated and even depressed with your plot in life.

Are you suffering from any of these:

  • Loss of a client
  • Not sure what potential clients want or need
  • Camera gear is old and not financially able to upgrade
  • Feeling betrayed by another photographer
  • Losing clients to younger photographers
  • Feeling old
Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 500, ƒ/4, 1/500

“I have told you these things so you may have peace in me. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33 I cannot tell you to read or take something; it will all be better. However, I can say from my life experiences that it can suck all you are dealing with. One of the best things when feeling this way is having someone there with you who listens and doesn’t give advice but is willing to be with you during this time.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX, 100, ƒ/7.1, 1/640

Psalms 23:4 is a Bible verse that reminds me that I am not alone:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me; thy rod and staff comfort me.

– Psalm 23:4

You may feel like Joseph and Mary are on their way to Bethlehem. You are going there to pay your taxes, and you arrive, and you have nowhere to stay. It is the end of the year, and you also have a child on the way.

I doubt they were excited about this trip and all they were dealing with.

Nikon D3S, Nikon 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/500

Carry one another’s burdens.

Galatians 6:2 – Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way, you will follow Christ’s teachings.

Now, I highly recommend helping others when you are down. However, if you cannot do so, this is a clear sign that you must see a doctor.

It will help you to get your attention off of your problems. Sometimes, we get into such a hole that we can’t see anything else or find the way out. Helping others works to break this cycle and opens our vision. It gives perspective and shows that your problems are not insurmountable.

When I started giving my time and talents to others, things finally turned around for me. Now let me tell you, just because you start helping someone doesn’t mean there is instant gratification for the work you are doing.

Like the mule here helping carry the farmer’s burden, you, too, will feel the weight of your work. Helping others will once again reveal you’re true self-worth. It will show you that you have value and can make a difference.

While helping with other people’s burdens, which sometimes are wounds, you will help heal yourself.

You will find that you aren’t the only one with problems. We know this intellectually, but seeing it firsthand is healing. Sometimes, we feel like we have been singled out for pain. We are not that special. It comes to all. Receive healing as you work to heal others. Do something; get out.

What photojournalism has taught me

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 400, ƒ/11, 1/250 

Photojournalism is a particular form of journalism (the collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast) that employs images in order to tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, but in some cases the term also refers to video used in broadcast journalism. Photojournalism is distinguished from other close branches of photography (e.g., documentary photography, social documentary photography, street photography or celebrity photography) by complying with a rigid ethical framework which demands that the work is both honest and impartial whilst telling the story in strictly journalistic terms. Photojournalists create pictures that contribute to the news media. ––Wikipedia

In photojournalism, you are capturing moments rather than creating them. Therefore, photojournalism is a great way to learn how to capture those moments that help convey the day’s events.

Since you cannot stage your coverage, you learn how to go about capturing life. You are trained that you need to get those elements that you can later choose from to help construct a sequence of images that, when accompanied by words, will tell a story of the day.

The Establishing Shot

The photo above is an excellent example of an establishing shot. Well, maybe not great as in call the Pulitzer committee, but for covering the Fort Worth Stockyards, it does help establish the place where your story takes place.

Nikon D750, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/320 

Stand Alone

When shooting for news, the photojournalist is mindful of the space of the publication. They are looking for the one shot that helps convey most of the story elements. Here is an example from the morning I was at the Fort Worth Stockyards that might work as a stand-alone shot. You can see the herd of cattle herded as the cowboy does daily.

Detail Shots

Nikon D3, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 2500, ƒ/1.4, 1/320

You may go down the street to the world-famous Billy Bobs and capture some boot scoot dancing for detailed shots.

Nikon D3, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 2500, ƒ/1.4, 1/320

You may capture some portraits of the patrons for some of your detailed shots for the story.

Nikon D3, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 6400, ƒ/1.4, 1/160

The photojournalist’s challenge is capturing those eye candy moments that are part of the story and not just graphically interesting.

Thinking larger package

Nikon D3, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 1000, ƒ/2.8, 1/125

My mentor Don Rutledge taught me there are times you don’t have an ending shot but rather just more examples of the flavor of the story. For example, here is the world-famous Joe T. Garcia restaurant where you cannot make a reservation. Bridal parties will just come and wait to be seated on their wedding days.

Nikon D3, AF NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4D, ISO 6400, ƒ/1.4, 1/160

Whenever I am at the Fort Worth Stockyards, I feel like I am in a travel story for some western magazine.

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/320

What photojournalism taught me was that if you pay attention and are sensitive to the moment, you can anticipate great moments that are more powerful for the most part over a well-produced movie. I believe it is true because the moment’s authenticity always trumps something made up.

A Director of Photography is your organizations parachute and/or translator

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 400, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

You don’t jump out of a plane without a parachute unless you want to die. It is pretty self-explanatory as to why you need support, or you will crash to the ground.

The parachute is a device used to slow the motion of an object through an atmosphere by creating drag. For example, when jumping out of a plane, it is more important that you are alive when you land than how fast it took you to get to the ground.

Nikon D3S, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 450, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000

Our son Nelson is on the left in this photo. He had just finished his first jump at the Army’s Airborne School in Fort Benning, Georgia. After they land, each soldier is required to repack their parachute.

They will use the same parachute again and again during school. So you don’t use the parachute once to help you navigate the jump and abandon it later.

The Director of Photography is like a parachute to the organization that hires photographers. They help protect the organization and the photographers so that the mission is safely accomplished.

Here Patrick Murphy-Racey talks with Lily Wang the way sometimes a director of photography does with their photographers. Sometimes they coach their photographers about things they need to do for the organization.

Another metaphor is to think of the Director of Photography as a translator. They handle the details to ensure the project is done correctly and completely.

To be a translator, you cannot just speak both languages. You have to take tests and prove that you understand the nuances of the wording, or you get those translations we call Chinglish.

Cecil B. De Mille wrote:

“The Director of Photography is the custodian of the heart of film making… as the writers are of its soul… his tool is a box with a glass window, lifeless until he breathes into it his creative spirit and injects into its steel veins, the plasma of his imagination… the product of his camera, and therefore of his  magic, means many things to many persons – fulfillment of an ambition… realization of dreams.”

The Director of Photography for a movie has a similar role as a Director of Photography for still photography projects.

Here are some things that a Director of Photographer should do for your organization:

  • It is in the meetings that projects are created to help determine if photography is a good solution
    • Generates ideas for the organization
    • Helps refine ideas by suggesting different treatments for projects
    • Continues to remind the team to remember visuals in their projects
  • Finds the best photographer for the job
  • Communicates with the photographer all the needs and expectations of the project
  • Negotiates rates based on
    • The difficulty of the job
    • Rights management
    • Scope of the project
  • Insures metadata is embedded properly into all images
    • Proper caption information
    • Keywording
    • Rights are spelled out
    • Model/Property Release
    • Filename
  • Works with the photographer to get all model and property releases as needed and that they are also digitally filed with the photos into the image database
James Dockery works as a lead video editor for ESPN and is here talking with students about their projects during our workshop last year in Romania. So often, the director of photography wears this hat where they are helping the photographer flesh out an idea or treatment of the story.
They serve as a sounding board for the organization’s communications staff and the photographers.
Maybe from your experience, you can add other aspects that I might have left out in the comments section.

Use Light to help in compositions with Deep Depth-of-Field

Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 3200, ƒ/10, 1/250–off-camera Nikon SB-900 fired with Pocketwizard TTL system.
When photographing in this plant, I needed to see the background to give context to where the employee is working. For this reason, I am shooting with an aperture of ƒ/10. I also wanted your eye to go to the worker predominately and not just wonder; therefore, I used the off-camera flash to hit the worker.
The flash is zoomed to 200mm to give me more of a spotlight on the worker.
Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 5600, ƒ/5, 1/250
You might prefer the photo without the flash. But how would you know without a comparison? Flash is key to keeping and getting clients. Clients love options even if they don’t need but one photo.
Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 3200, ƒ/8, 1/20–off-camera Nikon SB-900 fired with Pocketwizard TTL system.
Had I not used the flash in this situation, your eye would have gone to the background more than to the worker.


  • Use Deep Depth-of-field to bring in the context around a subject
  • Keep the subject close to the camera to help with composition and communication
  • Use light to help direct the viewer because the deep depth-of-field can compete with the subject
  • Give client options – Shoot situations with and without lights, for example
Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 3200, ƒ/7.1, 1/80–off-camera Nikon SB-900 fired with Pocketwizard TTL system