Don’t raise Cain in your business

Story of Cain and Abel [Fujifilm X-E3, 18-55mm, ISO 1000, ƒ/4, 1/200]
Yesterday when I was in my Sunday School class we were studying the story of Cain and Abel. While I have read this story over and over since a little child each time I come to the scripture a little differently. Life experiences and where I am in life really can impact one’s perspective.

Reading this as a business owner I saw this in a new light. I thought of how I see this story lived out in business every day.

Just read the story with a customer being God and while Cain and Abel are two freelancers giving estimates to get a job.

Genesis 4:1-15

4 Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain. She said, “With the help of the Lord I have brought forth a man.” 2 Later she gave birth to his brother Abel.

Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. 3 In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. 4 And Abel also brought an offering—fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.

6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? 7 If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

8 Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

10 The Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. 11 Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is more than I can bear. 14 Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

15 But the Lord said to him, “Not so; anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that no one who found him would kill him.

While discussing this passage in our class I was struck by why God didn’t treat both Cain and Abels gifts equally. The scripture doesn’t say why he treated them the way he did.

You would think God should treat them equally.

I can think of many Christmas and birthdays where opening a present I was disappointed or one of my family/friends were disappointed with a present. It was always important in my circles that you were appreciative for the gift.

So I can get why God might like one gift more than the other, I am that way. Our customers and potential clients also have reasons they pick one vendor over another and they don’t always tell you why.

Instead of dealing directly with God over his gift Cain got angry with his brother Abel. Sound familiar. We often are upset with our competition.

Instead of taking our anger out on others we need to work on ourselves. We need to remember there is always a next time. Maybe not with that client, but with another.

Maybe you are like Cain and realize you only have  “fruits of the soil” as a farmer and not an animal to sacrifice because you are a farmer and not the cowboy. Don’t be shortsighted and think the only way you can win a contract is to take out your competition. [You could be just talking about your competition in a bad way to the customer.]

Look at what you have to offer and do everything you can to be sure that your presentation of your gifts is as good as the gifts themselves.

Focus on your Audience’s Needs. … As you prepare the presentation, you always need to bear in mind what the audience needs and wants to know, not what you can tell them. While you’re giving the presentation, you also need to remain focused on your audience’s response, and react to that.

Whining yourself out of jobs

My daughter dressed up for Halloween this year as Alice: Madness Returns..

Not a day goes by where I am not hearing or reading some photographer complaining about the new normal for the industry.

What is the new normal?

Here is a list of some of the changes that impacts the industry:

Instant results – Today the digital camera gives unprecedented quick feedback to the photographer. Before digital you had to wait at least 90 seconds to see an image you just took. Polaroid camera let you create a quick print.
Auto focus – The biggest area this has impacted in my opinion has been sports. It wasn’t that long ago when you had to know how to follow focus to get an in focus photograph of action sports.
Matrix Metering – The earliest SLR cameras didn’t have meters built in. Later when they were built in the photographer still had to know how to use it because just pointing at a scene would not give you consistent results. Today’s matrix metering TTL systems allow the camera to take multiple readings through the lens and using very complex algorithms giving extremely accurate exposures. Each time a new camera is introduced, it appears to be even more accurate than the previous generation.
TTL Flash – We have come a long way since in the days of Matthew Brady where they had to use flash powder to take a photograph in low light situations. You can now control unlimited number of hotshoe flashes within the camera. The accuracy isn’t quite as good as matrix metering is with available light, but this is so much better than we have ever experienced.
YouTube – Today if you want to know how to photograph just about anything you can search for it on YouTube and there will be many videos teaching you how to do this for free.  There are almost no secrets any more that give some photographers an edge over their competition.
Online Photography Databases – Flickr is just one example of online database that you can search for photos at incredibly low prices or even for free to use. You can upload images and if you do a good job with key wording your images are visible to the world. In the past you had Stock Photography Agencies that you had to use. The agencies would push those photographers whose images typically sold well. They didn’t have the time or resources to put just any photos into the system for consideration.

It is very easy to complain about your situation. It is easy to talk about how some people are causing you to loose business.

Photographers need to wake up and realize every business is going through this today. Just look at how many professions are almost gone due to the invention of the personal computer. How many secretaries lost their jobs in the 1980s and 1990s when it first came out?

The United States Postal Service has been crippled due to email. We no longer need them to send a letter to someone.

Why stop whining?

1. Complaining about your work is excusing yourself from responsibility. You are only convincing yourself it isn’t your responsibility and no one else.
2. You are annoying everyone. You may find yourself being defriended on Facebook or just not knowing they are no longer paying attention to you.
3. You are wasting time and being nonproductive.

This is a Habitat for Humanity volunteer helping a family improve their situation with affordable housing.

Take charge of the situation

1. Look for solutions – Blowing off a little steam is OK and even healthy to do. Learn to roll with the punches. You need to focus on talking through a situation to look for solutions rather than just talking in circles.
2. Be the hero and not the victim – When you are feeling frustration remember it is rooted in fear. What are you afraid of? Once you have identified your fear it is much easier to then to address what you need to do to overcome this obstacle.
3. Count to ten – When you feel that urge to complain, stop and look for a solution.


The American theologian Reihold Niebuhr wrote the Serenity Prayer that was later adopted by the Alcoholics Anonymous and I recommend for Whiners.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

According to a University of Wisconsin-Madison sociologist, 75 percent of Americans who pray on a weekly basis do so to manage a range of negative situations and emotions — illness, sadness, trauma and anger.  What is often happening with people who pray is they are considering another point of view. In the case of prayer they are considering God’s perspective.

If you are unwilling to acknowledge that your perspective is limiting, then you may never get over whining.

Camera Modes Explained

Cameras are not created equal. When you pick up your basic Kodak Brownie Box Camera there was nothing to adjust. You had no controls. Kodak made the ultimate simple camera and used the slogan “You push the button, we do the rest.”

There were several versions of the Brownie made by Kodak through the years. The first one had no flash and later they would incorporate the flash bulb to help you take photos indoors.

Photo by Capt Kodak

Over time people learned how to get good photos, because they often had photos that didn’t come out at all or were very poor. They learned to keep the sun in the subjects face verses having them back lighted by the sun.

To overcome those limitations camera manufacturers started to give control to the photographer.

There are three controls that they put on the cameras: 1) Focus, 2) Aperture and 3) Shutter Speed.

The film manufacturers then created a variety of film that we could put into the camera. The sensitivity of the film allowed you to take photos from outside in bright sunlight to inside without a flash. You would buy Black and White film with ASA ratings of 12 to 3,200.

When color film came out you then could buy daylight and tungsten film in a variety of ASAs.  Later the ASA which stood for American Standards Association to now ISO which stands for International Standards Organization.

Before explaining how we got more camera modes we need to first understand in the Manual Mode.  Manual mode controls Aperture and Shutter Speed.


The Aperture is identical to the function of the iris of our eyes.  It controls how much light comes through the lens to the sensor.

If you have ever taken a magnifying glass and tried to burn a leaf you knew how to get a really bright point by putting the glass between the sun and the leaf and moving it back and forth. Moving it back and forth is exactly how the focus works on the camera.

When you get that fine point you will notice this larger circle of light. If you cut a small whole in a piece of cardboard you can hold it in between the magnifying glass and the leaf and eliminate that out circle.

If instead of burning a leaf you were doing this with a camera and taking a photo the more you eliminate that outer circle things in front of the subject and behind it that you focused on will become more in focus. This is what we call depth-of-field (DOF).  The bigger the opening the less DOF you have and the background and foreground become fuzzy.

Shutter Speed

While aperture controls how much light comes through the lens the Shutter Speed controls how long the light is on the sensor.

If we shorten the time to 1/280,000 of a second we can stop a bullet. To do this Edgerton did this with flash to freeze the bullet after going through an apple.  Here is a link to that photo.

The longer you keep the shutter open long enough you can blur things.  In this photo from the Civil War times of a street if you look closely you will see the blur of people walking and moving. This is how many of those empty streets were photographed back then. The people were there, but just not still long enough to be recorded.

During the Civil War Times

Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO Combined

When you mix the controls together you have to find the right amount of light coming through the lens and staying on the sensor, which has been set to a certain sensitivity (ISO) to get a good exposure.

Camera Modes

There are basically four main camera modes on many of today’s DSLR cameras.

  • Aperture Priority – In this mode the photographer picks the aperture they want to work with when photographing a subject. They may want a shallow DOF or everything in focus. Sometimes the photographer wants something else in between.  They use the DOF preview button to see what they will get.  I wrote an earlier blog on using that here. While the photographer is in control of the aperture the camera then picks the shutter speed that will properly expose the photo for the ISO picked.
  • Shutter Priority (Tv Mode on Canon) – This is where the photographer is picking the shutter speed to either freeze a subject or blur some of the photograph.  
  • Manual Mode – This is where the photographer is in total control and picks the shutter speed and the aperture. To be sure the photo is exposed correctly they will use the camera meter to get the best exposure for the ISO they also picked.\
  • Program Mode – With today’s most modern cameras the camera has sensors built into the lenses to talk to the camera. This lets the camera know which lens is on the camera and pick the best average setting for aperture and shutter speed to expose the scene correctly.

Scene Modes

Some of the many scene modes are: scene auto selector, portrait, landscape, sports, night portrait, party/indoor, beach, snow, sunset, dusk/dawn, night landscape, close-up, food, museum, fireworks show, copy, backlighting, panorama assist, candlelight, pet portrait, blossom, autumn colors, silhouette, high key, and low key.

These scene modes are like cheat sheets. The photographer does not need to know how to set the camera, but just pick the scene that best matches what they are photographing.

Snow example

If you have ever photographed in snow no matter which of the four modes you choose A, S, M or P they will all be too dark.  The camera sees all that snow as it being too bright.  It doesn’t know that it is snow.

Experience photographers will open up the exposure by 1.3 or 1.5 stops. For the person not knowing what to do, they just pick the snow setting and the camera will now open up the basic exposure by 1.3 to 1.5 stops to get a good exposure.

Portrait Example

For portraits you want a shallow Depth-of-Field. You want the background out of focus and the foreground as I have done in this photo.  Not sure how to do that, just set your camera to portrait scene mode.

Sports Example

When shooting sports the photographer generally is using a very high speed to freeze the action and a fairly shallow depth-of-field to make the subject pop out from the background.  Figuring this out as the player runs in and out of the sunlight takes some skill, or you can select the sports scene mode on your camera.

Silhouette Example

Maybe you like sunsets and sunrises to photograph but want the foreground to be silhouetted.  In general you are going to need to underexpose the photo about 2 stops. Again, not sure what to do to get that silhouette, then put your camera on the silhouette scene mode.

You make the choice

Now to get all these different type of looks you are still having to think before you push the shutter button. What type of a photo am I making. If you do not know and just like pointing the camera and pushing the button then you need to put the camera in “Program Mode.” This will get you closest to a usable photograph.

If you have been shooting in “Program Mode” for a while and are not satisfied with your results, then you need to be able to at least categorize your photo that you are trying to make by using the scene mode categories.

After shooting with these scene modes for a while you may discover you still want even more control. Maybe you want to control the DOF more and therefore you now can choose the “Aperture Mode.”

Maybe you discovered you need to pick the shutter speed and you can use the “Shutter Mode” to have more control.

You may have situations you need complete control and you now can choose “Manual Mode.”

Having a camera with all these modes can be overwhelming or it can help you get what you want.

Once you decide you want to have more control and understand how to use all the functionality of your camera you will finally pick up the camera manual that you never opened when you bought the camera.

The camera manual explains all the modes and even has examples.  Now take that lens cap off and go and shoot some photos.

Faith and Photography

Kiplinger just “…analyzed the jobless rates and salaries for graduates with the 100 most popular majors to come up with our list of the ten worst values in college majors.”

The research they did was on undergraduate degrees.  Number three on their list was “Film and Photography.”

I posted this to my FaceBook page and got a lot a responses. One from my friends Clark Hill said:

 Lots of times I’ve been out shooting video and a younger person will say “I’d like to get into video, what do you recommend?” I always tell them college prices are a complete waste to learn a craft. My suggestion is to read books on the subject, learn lighting and PRACTICE. Get a reasonably priced liberal arts degree and READ NOVELS, good ones. Learn to tell stories with words and pictures, the skills work together in your brain. Learn about people first and practice the craft.

Sadly the liberal arts degree was number seven on the list.

People of faith believe that God calls one to a line of work. The word vocation is actually rooted in the church. It means to be called and when first used was referring to being called to the priesthood.
The Jesuits outline the 7 stages of discerning a call to the priesthood, which I believe is advisable for whatever career you choose, especially photography.

Seven Stages of Vocation Discernment

  1. Attraction or Interest… to serving God
  2. Inquiry… taking the initiative
  3. Information Gathering… being proactive
  4. Discernment… understanding the experience
  5. Confirmation… moving toward a decision
  6. Application Process… submitting the application
  7. Entrance… if accepted, becoming a Jesuit Novice
There are two parts to a call for the ministry: 1) the personal call and 2) the corporate call. While one may feel they are called, the place they will serve must also feel the call to offer them a job.
It makes no logical sense to pursue the call to ministry. For most churches they require a M. Div. and this takes three to five years to earn after a four year undergraduate degree. For many people this is a second career and often they are taking a pay cut even with a higher degree.


What is important for a photographer is a strong portfolio of work to get jobs. A degree is not necessary to do this as a profession. However, depending on the type of photography you plan to do a college degree maybe highly advisable.

When Tom Kennedy was the director of photography at National Geographic I wrote to him and met with him. He had a form letter that would go to most inquirers about his recommendations.

He pointed out that most of the photographers working for National Geographic had college degrees in the areas of which they specialized. It was quite common for someone to have a marine biology degree if they were working on stories in this genre.  While the degrees varied, most all were in the subject they covered and not in photography.

You need to become an expert in the subject because you will be covering the subject with experts and the more you know the better your coverage would be for the magazine.

You do need to know how to make and take photos. How you learn these skills can be done many ways. Going to photographic workshops is one of the best ways to learn in my opinion. These are taught usually by professional photographers who are doing what they are teaching.

Working as an apprentice to a photographer is another great way to learn. I am sure there are people who would pay to spend time with Warren Buffett.  Imagine being there when he decides to buy stock in a company. I think I would be rushing out to follow suit.  Why not learn about the stock market from the expert rather than a classroom if you could get the chance.

Leap of Faith

Søren Kierkegaard, theologian and the first existentialist philosopher is credited with the concept of the Leap of Faith.  Kierkegaard believed that the paradoxes within Christianity required a leap to accept the faith.

In Indiana Jones the Last Crusade is a great clip showing the concept of the leap of faith.

To pursue photography as a “vocation” I believe is a major leap. Even if you feel this is your calling and those around you affirm your gifts to make it a career is still a major jump.

Learn from the ministry

While those who respond to a call to ministry will earn a degree, they never stop studying the scriptures. They spend incredible amounts of time each week preparing for the sermon.

Besides committing their lives to study they also commit themselves to obedience. This applies to the photographer as well. The ministers practice their faith and we too must practice our craft daily to remain sharp and competitive.

Keep the bar high for quality. Ministers focus on God to do his will. They are not looking around them to other ministers to compare and measure their success. We too need to look to pursuing creativity at the highest standard we can achieve.


Kiplinger reports “The new-grad unemployment rate for film and photography majors is only narrowly better than the rate for high school dropouts.”

This is a very tough field to remain competitive in. If you are pursuing this because it seems fun to take pictures then the odds of you working in retail are really high. If this is a calling, then the fire within will help you stand up to the tests that will come your way.

Use some discernment to see if this really is the vocation for you.

Covering a goodbye party: Mix it up

Stephen Finkel with his sister and mother.

Last night at my church we had a party to say goodbye to our youth leader for the past few years. He has enrolled at Fuller Seminary this fall and plans to work on his M.Div.

I took some photos as a way to thank him for his time at our church. I thought I would share here a few of my photos and explain why I shot some of these photos.

First of all most folks would like a few photos of themselves with their friends. They will often make prints of these groups to put into a frame on their desk, on a wall or on a table in their home.

One of the first photos I took was of Stephen with his mother and sister who came to help celebrate with him.

Another photo I took was an overall photo of the room. I took several and here is one that I like the most. The reason I like it is in the foreground are some of the youth that Stephen worked with at the church. The other thing it does is show that a lot of people showed up for this potluck dinner for him.

Some of the youth volunteers had gifts to give to Stephen.  Knowing that he was going to live in one of the most expensive places in the country and be a student once again, they gave him money in the shape of a tie.  Now I shot a moment when this happened. Later posed shots were taken, but the moment was when he opened up the package. It also captured one of the youth volunteer leaders he worked with through the years.

Detail shots are also helpful. Here we see the book that people signed and wrote special messages to Stephen.

I needed a photo that showed it was a potluck dinner.  Now I could have just done a photo of the table, which I did do, but this is better. It also captured how no matter where Stephen turned youth were lining up to have a special moment with him.

I love this shot that shows how enthusiastic Stephen is with youth. We also see how much the mother and the sister also are impacted by his personality. We also see another family waiting to have their moment and in a way you can tell it will be similar.

My wife let me know that some of the youth there were brought to the church by Stephen. This is a special photo because this has some of the people who Stephen helped bring into the church.

The last photo is of my daughter telling Stephen how much she appreciated him. This is my favorite. My daughter has been impacted by Stephen and the other youth leaders. For now she is thinking she wants to be a youth leader one day.

Now besides shooting the photos, I created an online gallery where Stephen and the church can go and download the images, order prints, maybe even put a photo on a coffee mug or a t-shirt.  Here is that link.

I have found that the gift of photos to someone can be one of the most appreciated gifts. Remember to mix it up so they will have photos that capture moments and ones they would just like to frame of their friends.

No longer the arbiter of truth

Nikon P7000, Auto ISO (100), ƒ/8, 1/30, -2 EV Fill Flash

Good morning! This is how we typically great one another. For those who are morning folks like me it is good, some people are not morning people.

A tidbit:

I learned the choice to be a morning person or not is genetic. The ability of a person to wake up effectively in the morning may be influenced by a gene called “Period 3”. This gene comes in two forms, a “short” and a “long” variant. It seems to affect the person’s preference for mornings or evenings. People who carry the long variant were over-represented as morning people, while the ones carrying the short variant were evening preference people.

Each day for me is a new opportunity or a fresh start. While yesterday may have been quite fruitful I always see places for improvement. I look forward each day to the opportunity to have a better day.

If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.
–Mary Pickford
One reason I look forward to new days is I struggle in putting into words my thoughts. What I have found over time is those who seem to navigate relationships either know how to react to almost any situation with just the right words or they are more reserved and less likely to say much at all.
Those who suffer the most in relationships are those who speak their mind freely. While we all love someone who is honest and truthful we really only appreciate those who do so with a warmth and care.
When to speak up in business
I was covering a professor at Georgia Tech teaching a civil engineering class where the lesson was on speaking up, but it wasn’t that obvious. The professor had divided the class into teams and each team was given a bridge to build. 
It appeared to be a test of them building this bridge out of balsa wood to see if it was going to support a large weight to later be put on the bridge.
However, the real test was for them to come to the professor after reading the bridge specs and communicate that this bridge will not work before they start to build the bridge. They were to speak up and communicate before spending time and resources on a bridge that was doomed to fail. 
It was the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger where they went back to all the engineers to see if someone had failed to speak up on a faulty ring design. The engineers had spoken up, but their superiors ignored them and went with the launch.
The ramifications of not speaking up when you should requires you to inform those you work with your concerns. 
Even when doing the prudent thing can have negative consequences. Often whistleblowers suffer a reprisal for speaking out. Many people do not even consider blowing the whistle, not only because of fear of retaliation, but also because of fear of losing their relationships at work and outside work.
When not speak up in business
Even speaking up when it can save lives can be costly. This is why so many people are silent about their opnions in the work place.  
My first job out of college was working for a newspaper.  I was trained to be the arbiter of truth due to the first amendment. Journalists must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience. This stimulates the intellectual diversity necessary to understand and accurately cover an increasingly diverse society.
One of my mentors, Howard Chapnick, wrote a book for photojournalists called Truth Needs No Ally: Inside Photojournalism.  Everything I was learning was to speakup.
I went from the newspaper to working for a Christian magazine The Commission which was communicating was missionaries were doing all around the world to their supporters. However, this is where I started to learn that speaking your mind can backfire.
One of the first meetings I attended I was asked for my thoughts in the meeting. I spoke from the heart and truthfully. I did not understand that this was more of a gesture to include me, but not a sign to welcome your opinion. I was not told they didn’t want to hear my opinion, I just felt very uneasy with the response.
It would take years before I understood that sharing your thoughts isn’t really welcomed in business. 
The art of Decorum
Decorum is an appropriateness of behavior or conduct.

I didn’t speak until I was three years old. Later I would work with a speech pathologist to develop my pronunciation of speech.

After some testing they discovered I was quite bright in certain subjects, but my social interaction and communication skills were not on my age level. While I wasn’t formally diagnosed with autism at the time I would later discover I was. When I did my internship for Social Work I was placed in a clinic where they had done my testing earlier. I was able to sit down with the psychologist that tested me years earlier.

Try to think of non-verbal communication, such as, inflections of the voice, a half smile, tired eyes, posture, fidgeting hands. These are things that we pick up on instinctively that are not taught.

The irony in all of this lack of picking up on non-verbal skills of communication is that I became a professional photographer. I believe all my years working to understand body language and subtle visual cues that famous photojournalists like Eugene Smith had captured in photographs was what was helping me overcome my aspergers (form of autism).

One of the techniques I have learned to use when meeting people is to engage with them on whatever I can find as a common ground. Sometimes it is as simple as asking did they see the baseball game last night or how did the thunderstorms last night affect their neighborhood.

Many times I just like to get people talking about themselves. I get to learn something new and in the process they begin to relax.

Navigating social situations is difficult for me. I often mess up and find myself having to apologize. My studies have introduced me to the cardinal virtues that I find helpful in navigating social appropriate behavior.

Cardinal Virtues

The cardinal virtues are a set of four virtues recognized in the writings of Classical Antiquity and in Christian tradition. These consist of:

  • Prudence – able to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time
  • Justice – proper moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others
  • Temperance or Restraint – practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation
  • Fortitude or Courage – forbearance, endurance, and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation

I often will find myself failing somewhere during the day in some relationship.

One of my favorite hymns from my Christian tradition is Just as I am. It was made popular by Billy Graham during his crusades around the globe.  To me the third verse was one I could relate to all the time, because I continued to struggle in my social interactions.

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
It is difficult to master the cardinal virtues because I am human. I am a flawed person who makes mistakes and must constantly ask for forgiveness. If you haven’t had to say your sorry in a while you might not be in any relationship. I think being in relationships will cause you to stumble because you care and want the best for your loved ones.

Just living life will make new days welcoming. You have a new opportunity ahead with each new day and keep the cardinal virtues in mind as you live each day.

Alternative to Check Presentation

Miyuki Ishida Johnson, Japanese teacher at Elkins Pointe Middle School, accepts a check Cranes for Kids run by Osh Kosh clothing.

Of check presentations this is one of my favorites. All the kids from the Origami Club came to the Osh Kosh clothing store with the teacher and all the Cranes they made. Visually this is quite interesting.

One of the main reasons I love the photo is my daughter is in the group photo. If I were thumbing through a publication this photo most likely wouldn’t make me stop to read the caption or the story.

A good lead for a story is as much about surprise as the content itself. If you are not careful you can pay more attention to grammar and style and forget that the audience needs to be entertained in order to keep them engaged.

The best way to ensure that your photograph doesn’t do what it is suppose to do is to use a cliché.

What is a photo suppose to do?

Why use a photo? Before you can answer that question you need to ask what are you wanting to accomplish. You may determine you don’t even need a photo, an article or a press release.

Sometimes the main audience you are trying to reach is so small you could just hold a luncheon and sometimes just meet with the people in person.

When the purpose has been decided that you need to communicate a message and the audience is best reached through website, printed piece of through social media you know that people respond to photos more than they do to text.

The most common mistake made at this point, which leads us to the check presentation photo is the assumption that any photo will do. 

You may think because you have seen so many check presentations that this is the best way to communicate your message. It is use by more people than other options, therefore it must be best is illogical.

What is the check for?

The best question you can ask to help you move to a better photo is to ask what the check is for.  

Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Guest Conductor Arild Remmereit and Sergei Krylov as guest violin soloist spend some time with the students from Elkins Pointe Middle School Orchestra answering their questions. Due to gifts to the music program students have the opportunity to meet some of the world’s best musicians.

Which would you rather use, the photo of the students getting time with one of the best violinists and orchestra conductors or the check presentation to the school administrator that helps support these type of opportunities?

Even a setup photo can do a better job than a check presentation photo. Would you stop and want to read more about this photo? If so, then it is successful. I can see this used to help talk about a Catholic School that is expanding to include new grades in the fall due to a gift helping the school add more classrooms.

Series of photos

Why only think about one photo? Sometimes a series of photos will help tell the story even better. 

When Seth Gamba started teaching orchestra in north Fulton elementary schools he had very few instruments. due to gifts he was able to buy some electonic orchestra instruments. This really made a difference for the students excitement about music.

Besides the expression helping communicate excitement, for most of the public they have never seen electronic viola. So there are some visual surprises with this photo that help communicate what a check presentation helped to fund.

I think the intensity of the student playing and the look of the strange instrument, which is an electronic cello, help communicate how a gift is helping the arts.

This is an electronic violin.  Again seeing middle school students this engaged in school is exciting.

Now while the photo is a better visual surprise than a check presentation, a good writer will help drop in other surprises.

One study done at Georgia Tech found that the only thing that had any significant impact on retention rates and graduation rates was if a student took music classes. Tutors, Greek life, taking courses to help improve study habits, and everything the school could test didn’t have any significant impact other than music.

Can you see how working this into the caption can help the development office raise even more funds than a check presentation photo?

Next time someone suggests a check presentation photo, remember to ask what the check is for and suggest a photo that communicates the purpose of the gift.

10 Year Anniversary: Lessons Learned

In May 2002 these were in my camera bag. I had two Nikon F100 cameras and was shooting mostly with Provia 100F transparency film.

It has been ten years since I went full-time freelance. It is time to celebrate.

As I look back over these ten years I have made some really great decisions and not so great decisions.

Good Decisions Made

Digital Capture

Going digital from film was the best decision I could have made. The timing couldn’t have been better for me.

In 2001 the Nikon Digital Camera at the time cost about $15,000. In 2002 Nikon introduced the Nikon D100 in the $1,500 price range. The timing was perfect to jump into digital.  The cameras were rivaling the film of the day.

Back in 1993 I was using PhotoShop and scanning my images from film. This was very time consuming, but this helped me make the switch to digital capture enjoyable.

Even earlier in 1987 I bought my first computer and was active on CompuServe. I was enjoying bulletin boards before the World Wide Web which would take off in 1995 with Mosaic being introduced.


As you can see I had already been using computers and digital imaging for many years before I went freelance full-time. 

November 10, 2002 in Mossy Grove in eastern Tennessee a tornado hit. I was called and asked to go and cover it the next day. On November 11, 2002 I bought my first laptop computer.

While I new how to download images and transmit them, covering that Tornado was the first time I was transmitting photos from the field.

Cell phone as modem

In August 2004 I was asked to cover hurricane Charley.  I would shoot images in the earlier morning at a location, jump in my car and edit those images. I then would transmit using my cell phone that was tethered to my laptop to transmit images. Since the computer just needed to run for a while, I would drive while it was in the passenger seat transmitting.

The client and newspapers all over the country were shocked that I was getting images out when telephone lines were down and power was out.  I was building my reputation as the guy who was able to use technology before my competition.

Today I shoot with the Nikon D4.

Continuous Upgrades

I have gone through a number of cameras since 2002. I shot the Nikon D100, Nikon D2x, Nikon D2Xs, Nikon D3, Nikon D3S and today I am shooting with a Nikon D4.  I did these upgrades to keep me giving my clients the best possible images I could produce technically.

I have upgraded software programs like PhotoShop, PhotoMechanic, Lightroom, Microsoft Office and more regularly.  Each time the improvements and performance more than paid off over time.

Switch from PC to Mac

For many years I was a PC guy. However, during these years I also helped many people with their Macs. From 1993 to 2002 I had Macs to work with and due to this knowledge I was helping organizations on the side as their IT guy.

Two years ago I had another PC laptop give me a lot of trouble.  I had learned I was loosing a lot of time trying to fix this, so I bought a new PC laptop with Windows 7 and it ran on i7 processor.  It was fast. Less than a few months later the laptop screen went blue.

While I had everything backed up, I could not get that new laptop to work completely after reformatting the drive and starting over. I lost two to three weeks of long days trying to make it work.

Dorie, my wife, gave me the best advice–go buy a Macbook Pro.  She had a Mac and knew I was spending more and more time fixing my computer and she rarely had to do anything with her computer.

It was the best decision I had made as far as computers. I knew I could buy a faster PC for about half the cost of a Mac and this is what kept me buying PCs.  I was saving money.

Dorie pointed out to me my time was money.  Lesson learned about how important my time was to our family and me.

My cell phone today. Motorola Razr Maxx. It lets me connect wireless to the web over 4G network in most places and lets me see my emails instantaneously.

Smart Phone

While on photo shoots in those first few years as a freelancer I would stop and take a break and check my email.  It would take about 3 to 5 minutes to start-up my laptop to check those emails.

I was starting to also see a shift in the expectancy of customers for you to respond to the emails being timelier.

The cost of a smart phone like the PC verses Mac was expensive.  The monthly financial commitment to the higher cost kept me from getting one for a long time.

Once again Dorie pointed out to me how important it was to get one for me. “It is a business decision,” she told me. It will help you make more money if you can respond quicker to job possibilities.

She was right–as always.

Today I use the Motorola Razr Maxx because it is the fastest phone on the market with the longest battery life. I charge it at night and when I plug it in at the end of the day it usually still has 60 – 70% of a charge left.  I am now able to connect my computer and iPad to the web using it’s 4G hotspot. I am able to connect in many places at a faster speed than my cable connection at home.


The best decision I have ever made was marrying Dorie. Having a spouse who supports you as a freelance photographer is very important. Her father ran his own business and I think she learned a lot just growing up in a home of an entrepreneur. 

While I lost many nights of sleep worrying about how we will pay our bills, Dorie never doubted my abilities. She never told me to look for another job.

I have watched many of my friends whose largest obstacle for success is their spouse. Having a supportive partner can get you through just about anything.

Dorie is taken so if you don’t have a spouse, be sure you find someone who believes in you and can walk by faith. I believe God helped me find such a wonderful wife and mother to our children.

Bad decisions made

Lack of Faith

My number one mistake that I continue to make is thinking that I am in control of my destiny. No question if I don’t get up and work hard I will not succeed, but just because I do that does not guarantee success.

I really think it is my faith in God that has sustained me the most. I believe there is a God in control on the universe. I do not think we are all puppets either, but I do believe he works in peoples hearts and minds and due to this it is God who has helped me more than anything at all. My mistake is not acknowledging this daily.

Saving Pennies while Loosing Dollars

I grew up with a Irish and Scotch heritage. My parents watched every penny and I learned the value of a dollar from them.

My mistake has been that driving around town to find the cheapest gas can actually cost you more than you save. 

While I don’t have time to research expenditures made, I try to do my best to get the best value. My mistake has not to value my time as money. I believe outsourcing some of the things I do to those who can do it better or at least remove this from my plate is something I will be trying to do more in the future.

Staying with PCs too long

I most likely have lost months of my life working on my PCs trying to fix the registry and defragging my hard drives.  You see every program on a PC interacts with all the other programs through the registry.  I was using so many different programs and they ended up over time screwing up the computer.

My programs on my Mac do not interact through a registry like on the PC. They really don’t affect each other and therefore over time I am not having the same corruption problems I was having on my PC.

Slow to my competition as my colleagues

Today I try to get together with other photographers as often as I can. I not only like to hear what they are doing, I am willing to share a good amount of what I am doing. Of course if I have something that gives me a competitive advantage I am careful sharing this.

Today some of my photographer colleagues are some of my clients. They get too busy and call me to help them out. I too return the favor.

Today I enjoy working with more people I call my friends than any other point in my life. How did this happen?  I am now focusing on building relationships and this is how my business has grown.  Prior to learning this secret I was trying to build me up.

Thanks for reading and being apart of my celebrating ten years.

Photo Marketing 101: Step one (Old School)

Even if you are still in school the business card is one of the most valuable Old Schoolbusiness tools you can use. If you are in school the goal is to get a job and you need to start now networking and the business card is one of the most valuable tools I use.

What is shocking to me is how often I go to meetings and people do not have business cards. Usually these are the same folks saying they need to learn more about business practices.
How they are used
You never know when you will need one, so I always carry a stack of them. Networking is happening at any moment and not necessarily just for those planned networking events.

When I meet someone at a meeting I like the Old School way of getting their business card and writing a note to myself to help me remember them on their card I was given by them.
If I am at a conference for a few days I find that those really unique size cards are more annoying than unique and helping them standout. 

When I meet someone at the event I think it is important to see if I can get an appointment with them later.  I find that once we find something in common I like to say how about we get together later and have a cup of coffee or lunch to talk more about it when we don’t have any other distractions.

This is when I typically get their card and say I will be in touch later to schedule some time together.

If someone doesn’t have a card I have to pull out a pen and paper and write the information down or put it on my phone.  This takes some time to do and sometimes in loud areas very hard to hear them talking.

When it is so critical that the difference of a dot when you are trying to find someone on the web is important, don’t you think it should be important enough to be sure they can find you?

This is the QR Code for my website

QR Code (abbreviated from Quick Response Code) is the trademark for a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code) first designed for the automotive industry. More recently, the system has become popular outside of the industry due to its fast readability and large storage capacity compared to standard UPC barcodes.

If you want to generate a QR Code to put on your business card or create stickers then go here  

What should be on a business card?

While many are starting to ad QR Codes to their business cards here is some other basic information

1.     Full name
2.     Email address (Use your domain to host
3.     Website/online portfolio (register a domain name
4.     Phone number
5.     Social Media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter)
6.     Blog

Some things you can leave off today
1.     Street Address
2.     Photograph

Electronic Business Cards

You may want a virtual business card. One of these examples is the CardCloud.  Unlike traditional cards they never run out. You can share it with anyone; they don’t need the app for you to use it. It lets you track whom you gave your card to and therefore helps you to reconnect easier in the future.

CardCloud is a digital business card application that is looking to replace the traditional printed business card. Rather than trading contact info by passing out a printed business card, CardCloud allows you to share your contact info directly from your iPhone to anyone in the room which is then stored automatically through .vcf or .vCard format. Alternatives to CardCloud include contxts, dub, Bump and BusinessCard2.

vCard is a file format standard for electronic business cards. vCards are often attached to e-mail messages, but can be exchanged in other ways, such as on the World Wide Web or Instant Messaging. They can contain name and address information, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, URLs, logos, photographs, and audio clips.

With LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and other ways to connect on the spot when you meet someone what good is a business card? I can tell you from being a journalist for more than 30 years when someone tells me how to spell their name many times we still get it wrong due to the accent or lack of articulation by some folks.

While many in sales are saying the business card maybe on the way out—I think it is here to stay.  I think the difference is now in what information you put on your card.
is where I get my business cards printed.  You can get 2,500 business cards with 4-color on the front and back for only $35.

Do me a favor and send me your vCard so I have your business card.

A college freshman has advantages over a senior

Photography advice for the college student

So you want to be a photographer. I have some general suggestions after having written numerous students lately. I want to help others who want to become photographers.


If you are reading this and you are a freshman in college or younger you will benefit more from my suggestions than a senior getting ready to graduate in May.

The time to start looking for your job after college is now.  Where do you start? 

Your Dream Job

First you need to actually have in mind a dream job that you would like to be doing. The sad thing is there are seniors getting ready to graduate who cannot tell you their dream job.  Ouch! Four years of wandering, when they could have been focused and know what they were working towards.

You need to find someone who is doing pretty much what you would like to do when you graduate. 

There are two types of people you may want to have their jobs—staff or freelancer.  It is OK whichever job you choose. The point is that you now have a target in mind. The surest way not to find a job after college is not to know what kind of job you want.

You need to make contact with the person holding that job or someone in a similar job. There is a very simple question you need to ask them.  How do I get a job like yours?

A Master Plan

After you have this discussion with a professional doing the job you would like to have later, you will find that you can put together a plan on how to proceed.

I can give you one thing that almost every pro will recommend to you right now; take some business courses.  What they are saying is take business courses that will help you run a small business.  Even if you are in a staff position you need to know more about how the bills get paid.

They may recommend classes that would help you. If you want to work for National Geographic Magazine, they most likely would encourage you to become an expert in a subject other than photography.  Some of their best photographers are anthropologists, biologist or something else.  They can go on projects because they know something about what they will be photographing.

Most likely they will give you some baby steps to get you started and recommend you keep in touch.

It’s about whom you know and whom they know

People are hired more because of a relationship than about their portfolio. There are many arrogant photographers with outstanding portfolios that no one wants to work with.  You need to be a team player. You will most likely need to show how you can be a team player and not a loner.

When there is an opening it is the last person they can remember who could do the job they call. This is why as a freshman you need to start building relationships.


You need to join a photographic association like PPofA, ASMP, NPPA, or another professional group as a student.  They all have student rates and most all of them give out scholarships as well.

Don’t just pay your membership dues; get involved. Volunteer to help at meetings. You do this in order to get your face in front of as many people in the industry as possible.  You may find people wanting to take you under their wing and help you out.

Go to the meetings and don’t hang out with other students while you are there all the time. Why? Are they going to hire you in four years? I don’t think so.  You need to learn how to speed date.

What I mean by speed dating is learning how to be genuinely interested in every person making your best impression so that you land a date/job.  Often at speed dating after the event people talk about whom they met and compare notes. If you come off not so good to one of the people’s friends that you were interested in that can kill your chances with them. 

It is this way in the photo business.  Photographers talk to other photographers about recommendation for assistants, interns and possible hires. Remember you are building your brand all the time. Don’t screw it up by an off handed comment that tarnishes you for a long time.


Besides taking some classes in photography in school you need to have a mentor other than your professor. You need to find someone to help coach you. It could be the person in your dream job, or someone between you and them that can get you down the road.

You need to shoot assignments for class, for your school paper and yearbook.  Send these to your mentor/coach and ask for a critique from them. After they give you feedback, be sure you implement people’s recommendations.

If you are really smart you will reshoot an assignment so it now is perfect for your portfolio if possible.  If you do reshoot the assignment then resend this to your coach/mentor and ask if this is what they meant for you to change or do.

Personally I would have a mentor and also be sending your updates to places that might hire interns or you would like to work long term.  Let them see you grow and improve.

Are you teachable?

By keeping in touch you will demonstrate either that you are listening to their advice and implementing it or you demonstrate you cannot listen.  You will miss the mark a few times. Sometimes by reshooting and submitting the work to them again can help you see that you didn’t understand a concept. Go and reshoot it again and then resubmit it.

This will show more than anything else you can do that you want to improve and you are looking for their advice. Most importantly it shows you are listening and asking for clarification.

Sophomores & Juniors

Do the same as I recommend to the freshman. Continue to expand your database of names in the industry. Continue to refine your portfolio.

As a true student you can get more internship opportunities than when you have graduated. There are legal reasons for this. Employers cannot hire someone who isn’t in school and say it is an internship.

What this means is apply for internships all the time. Do not wait till your senior year—you may have waited too long and now there are none to find. Better to get one your freshman year than not get one your senior year. 

You cannot do enough internships in my opinion. What you learn in the classroom will help a great deal in your job. Just about every class will at sometime find useful as a photographer. The reason is will encounter someone whose job is in that subject. You can hold some kind of a conversation with them if you paid attention in class.


If you are graduating in May and haven’t done an internship, found your dream job and have a coach or mentor it isn’t too late, but your opportunities are greatly diminished.
You need to spend as much time building that database of names to contact as you do studying for finals.  Having straight “A’s” and no contacts is not as good as “B’s” and contacts.


Manage your brand all the time. Watch what you post on Facebook and Twitter. When you go to parties remember others are taking photos and posting them to social media.

I recommend learning to help anyone you can and not just those who you think will get you somewhere.  Your reputation as someone who is kind is better than someone who is only in it for him or herself.


People want to work with their friends. Do your best to build good relationships and try to be a friend to others.