The Walk & Talk Photo Shoot

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

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

No Flash

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

Here I cropped out the assistant, which when I am shooting 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 hotshoe flashes and with the studio strobes. The advantage of the larger strobe was the ability to stay farther away from the subject, due to a lot more powerful strobe.

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

Before walking and talking I started by showing the class how using fill flash off camera works. Here there is no flash and the subject is back lighted.

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

Here just using the hot shoe flash off camera I was able to shoot at a faster shutter speed of 1/8000 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 camera the light is creating some modeling to the face as well as lighting up the face.

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

Try this technique sometime 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 just a couple tips that can help you in taking photos in 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

My suggestion is the use the exposure compensation on your camera as a way to compensate for all that white snow.

This 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 over expose the photo.

Now this 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 is 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. 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 continuous 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 decided to shoot as fast as I could at 1/8000. It isn’t necessary to stop the motion, but I was just seeing what it looked like and really 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 to 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 reaction and things around the action.
  3. Use your motor drive to capture series of images.
Nikon D3s, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 9000, ƒ/5.6, 1/8000
Here I was at the top of the hill and captured the brother and sister as they came back up the hill. You can still see the excitement. I also purposely composed to show someone at the bottom of the hill 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 as much as you can the photos 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. Copyright is at the top of that list. Right next to it was you knowing 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 are being created 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. This made if 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 where we never did in the past for photographers. 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 major crisis. You can be the super hero and help save their business. You can see plainly their problem and you 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 a customer. If they have no problem needing to be fixed with your services they do not need you. 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 you to provide that solution to the client.

You see 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. You have what we call ongoing expenses, which you must spread over all your jobs. This is not just what money you need to pay your home budget needs, but also your business budget. This includes your gear, your costs to find out about customers and costs 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 somehow.

This cost of doing business is then spread out over all your jobs through a year. Maybe that figure is about $600 per the 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. This is for you only.

Now if you have a client for example in a ditch with their car in the middle of no where 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. 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 get to know your market and what prices are typically being charged for these services.

Determine your Target Audience

Now if the going rates are lower than your figure you need to charge you have a problem. You will need to somehow convince people 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 the market of it’s own. It is important that this item 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 stay in the car while they change your oil. They are offering your wine, Champaign or a wonderful latte. Good chance they even picked up your car from your home and brought it back to you at your convenience.

Once you know your figures that you need to charge and you know the market place and have decided 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 for the customers problem.

Going back to the side of the road with our customer 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 take this to the repair shop of your choosing. If you don’t have a repair shop you prefer I have a few that I use regularly that will work with your insurance and get you back up and running.

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

Your business is grounded as every other business–you solve other people’s problems. The key is much 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 to 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. The most successful are like Steve Jobs creating products to solve the problems for clients that 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 market place. Hopefully one that is a luxury and not a commodity.

The secret to successful business is one that is focused 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 am shooting 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 them to be 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 light ratio as compared to the subject. For the most part you don’t want it too bright.

Here your eye goes to the background and not the subject that I want your eye 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 move 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.

Now another thing I think 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

Now notice in the photos how the background is slightly darker than the subject. With photography you can take control of this with your camera. In all three of the portraits here I use an auxiliary flash off the camera to brighten the subject just enough so that the sunlit areas in the background were not blown out.

Three tips to remember:


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

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

My response was, “No. You just cannot continue to fail over the long haul. Again you don’t have to do all of them yourself, you can outsource. My recommendation is to realize to be successful you need to 1) have good solid product consistently, 2) you need to deliver more than you promise, 2nd mile service and 3) WOW them. You need to connect 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 I have had for anyone of my blogs. I started to examine why was this person so 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 is fleshed out with sufficient copy to be published 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 list and article. It has also been suggested that the word evokes “popsicle”, emphasizing the fun but “not too nutritious” nature of the listicle.

After reading a few more comments I started to realize what I think the person was having an issue with from my article. In My Humble Opinion [IMHO] the person was new to the industry and experiencing the difference from being an amateur to now the experience as a pro.

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

You see 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 was feeling the same thing this poster seemed to be indicating in his comments that we need to wrap each other in emotional support as pros. My wife pointed out to me that you are a pro, people expect you to have great photos. They don’t comment to you for doing what is expected.

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 there are many amateurs who produce better images than pros. Most amateurs however could use a dose of reality that the biggest difference for the working pro over the amateur is business skills and not photographic skills.

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

Professionals understand that when they go to workshops and meetings with pros for the most part we are getting together to all get better at our business skills. We may be learning some of 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 just make photos.

Professionals also understand they need to pay for those classes and workshops. The people teaching them are working pros that are giving 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 of how wonderful you are now will seem emptier if they are not hiring you to shoot for them. If they really 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 slice of pie that is smaller is very threatening.

New pros need to be aware of one major thing when they turn pro. Just because you graduated and know how to make wonderful images does not mean there is work for you right away. Every client that hired photographers last year will most likely hire those same photographers. When you do get hired often one of those photographers just lost that job you are shooting.

Now some pros take this the wrong way and therefore will do everything they can to sabotage your career. This is especially true if you setup shop in their town.

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

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] have championed business skills for photographers better than any other organization that I have been a member of for my career. I joined in 1987 and have learned more through the organization and fellow members than from any other place. 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 carried 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 just starting out we have an associate’s membership where you have pretty much all 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 my cost of doing business. I learned that when I create estimates that often the client would 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 to photographers to have copyright protection.

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 like 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 really made me sad about the comments the poster made was “no matter the pay” he wasn’t going to 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 I along with my ASMP colleagues 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 assisting me and talking with her answering all her questions. 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 she went to there was a hotel she stayed in for free. So it appeared in many ways the magazine was thinking about her.

It was when we spent a few hours going over her expenses and what they were paying her she discovered she was making way below minimum wage.

It was when her car started to have mechanical issues that she realized she could get it fixed and continue doing the work. She wasn’t making enough to cover the true costs of owning a car.

This is 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 clearly.

Her mother rented her a car so she could go and do the assignment, but the assignment 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 she is doing great. She not only is making a good living she has a staff working for her of more than three people.

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 the photographers who do not understand business principles are not only going to go broke they leave the industry worst off. Now those clients think that the rates they were paying to those failed photographers was reasonable. We need you equally lifting up the industry just as these guys are doing in carrying the log. They cannot do it alone.

Turning pro from amateur status is when you start to have adult conversations. This is when you will not like everything you are hearing from a seasoned pro who is really 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. They started out on riding young calves before graduating to bullocks and then bulls. Between the ages of four and six they hone their skills by “mutton busting” on sheep. You see bull riding is thought to be one of the most dangerous sports in the world. An estimated one in every 15 bull rides ends in some sort of injury.

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

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

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 you are expected 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 very diverse mix of our american landscape. Those differences melt away through their training which pushes their limits to each person realizing that those strangers they met on day one are their along side them even willing to die for them.

You will see if you look hard 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 of 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 just seem flat to you? I know many times after I have worked so hard on a story/photo I just feel like the results just were not capturing something, but what was I missing?

Now when I cover sports, which is really a short story, where the winning team must overcome obstacles, to win I can see the problem with a flat coverage. The teams just never really 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

I have been having wonderful emails sent to me over the past couple weeks about my daughter’s performance as the witch in the musical Into the Woods. Now while I would be proud of her no matter what as her dad, I was really 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 that she was able to deliver in her performance. One person wrote that 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 mankind to tend the garden alone.  Your character arc was spot on.”

So exactly what is a character arc? It is the transformation or inner journey of a character over the course of the story. While many things may happen to a character in a theater performance, unless those are portrayed in someway on the stage the audience isn’t allowed to experience those changes.

This is what I would like to say is 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 work often with a NGO in telling their story I must interview a person about the before the climax of the story. I am most often telling a success story which means 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 them to articulate the struggle they experienced. After hearing this part of the interview I then can go and get b-roll of others also going through this. I should be able to find this because most NGOs are raising funds to help others like 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 is unable to 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, resources and being the friend to help other like this person to overcome their obstacles. It is imperative that I have done a good job of articulating why they cannot do it alone.

The last part of the story is showing the changes in the main subject. Today for example because of the changes they have gone through now 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. This is where you search for only stories that are often cliché. You find a person with major physical deformities to help you capture the struggle so you don’t have to work at it as hard.

Remember, 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. The downside of this being your only tool is applying a hammer to every situation doesn’t get the results you are needing.

“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 which had many different tips that could be switched 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

Both 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. With its northward facing needle, it is a consistent and true indicator of physical direction. By placing “moral” in front of compass, we evoke a clear picture of mental processes that point a person in a particular direction in life. These processes are consistent and true 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. For many people they 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 been passing over all those leadership books because you are just an independent photographer. You don’t even use assistants, so how could this possibly help me?

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

  1. Control Time–You should be always focused 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 priorities. When you finish your day and go home then your priorities should be focused on your family and what is most important. Knowing how to get the most out of your time during the day is great leadership skill.
  2. Temper Emotions–This is the one thing I struggle the most about. The reason it is such a struggle is because 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 each and every situation there is to 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. Strategy is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty.Strategy is important 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 about what tools are best to put into your leadership toolkit bag? 

Tip on dealing with depression that often comes with freelancing

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 7200, ƒ/5.6, 1/250

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 taketh under the sun? One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth 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
  • Loosing 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 that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16:33
First I cannot tell you to read something or take something and it will all be better. What I can say from my life experiences is that it can really suck all you are dealing with. One of the best things when one is feeling this way is just to have someone there with you. Having someone who just 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

This 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 thy staff, they comfort me.

– Psalm 23:4
You may feel like Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem. You are going there to pay your taxes and you arrive and you have no where to stay. It is the end of the year and you also have a child on the way.

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

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 if you are able I highly recommend helping others when you are down. If you are not able then this is a clear sign you need to see a doctor.

It will help you to get your attention off of your own problems. Sometimes we get in 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, shows that your problems are not insurmountable.

When I started giving to others of my time and talents was when 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 the work you will do. Helping others will once again reveal your true self worth. It will show you that you do have value and that you can make a difference.

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

You will find that you aren’t the only one with problems. We know this intellectually, but seeing it first hand 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. This is a great way to learn how to capture those moments that help convey the events of the day.

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 with words will tell a story of the day.

The Establishing Shot

The photo above is a great 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 which 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 space of the publication. They are looking for the one shot that helps convey most of the story elements. Here is 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 being moved as they do each day by the cowboy.

Detail Shots

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

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

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

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

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

The challenge for the photojournalist is to capture 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 really just don’t have an ending shot but rather just more examples of the flavor of the story. This here is the world famous Joe T. Garcia’s 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

Every time 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 think this is true because of the authenticity of the moment always trumps something made up.