The Power of Authenticity

Worship in Togo, West Africa. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm, ISO 8000, ƒ/4, 1/100]

Have you ever heard someone say, “Let’s get real here?”

Often in meetings and going about life, we are performing for others. We read the room and situation and plan how we will act. The thing is that organizations often take on this personality as well.

Two little boys I met in a village in Togo, West Africa. [Nikon D5, Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4, ISO 100, ƒ/1.4, 1/800]

Organizations and people look to the audience they are playing for and try to figure out what they want to hear to get what they want, which is often a living.

Everyone longs for love, acceptance, and connection. We often do not know how to make it happen. We learn over time that we cannot manipulate people and try to pull people closer to us because that does just the opposite and pushes them away.

Jacob Tarnagda is a leader in the church and is 40 years old. His wife’s name is Clenence. His home is in Soumagou. [Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, ƒ/7.1, 1/250]

When we interact with authentic people, we feel we’re interacting with “real” ones, people free from pretension and without false fronts. For a group of people to experience authenticity requires leadership to foster a place where sharing their authentic selves will be welcomed.

A few years ago, when teaching at the end of the week, I shared a little about myself. When talking to the person who invited me later to review what I could have done better, he made a profound comment that changed my life. If you had let people know what you shared at the end of the week earlier, I think people would have connected with you more than they did.

YWAM SOP Class that I taught in Kona, Hawaii. My daughter had Skyped with the group and told them about my Monkeyface. Here the class is doing the monkey face with me.

The following year I started my week of teaching by being much more vulnerable. I told the class my life story and growing up with autism.

This little boy shepherd is part of the Fulani tribe known for being herders and working in the village of Soubakamedougou, Burkina Faso, on October 15, 2005. The Marlboro company gives hats to the young boy cowboys to promote their product in Burkina Faso. [Nikon D2X, 24-120mm ƒ/3.5-5.6, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/90]

Organizations can do the same thing in their communications by being authentic with their audience. One of the best approaches to achieving authenticity is photojournalism.

Still, the photograph stops time. It gives the viewer a moment to think, react, to feel. When the camera captures a “real” moment in time rather than one that is “setup,” then the power of that moment gives validity to the storyline.

Surgeon Danny Crawley is in theatre doing a hernia operation, and Comfort Bawa, the theatre assistant, helps him at the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana. [Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 400, ƒ/2.8, 1/250]

The viewer often cannot know if a situation is actual or not, so it is up to the photographer to be sure that they have a moral compass that guides them to remain truthful. All it takes is for a photographer to manipulate one image, and then all their work is called to question.

Many nonprofits and businesses use stock photography for their communications. It is often more about convenience than any other reason that they choose to use a photo that isn’t about their organization to communicate some of what they do.

There have been numerous times when competing organizations use the same stock photo. The same image of a person carrying a laptop was used by competing computer companies. Different insurance groups used the same picture. Just google “same stock photo used in two ads” and look at all the examples.

My friend Gary S. Chapman encourages those organizations he works with to hire him to create real moments. He also encourages them to use his byline. “Photo by contributing photographer Gary S. Chapman” gives authenticity to the photo and helps people know it isn’t a stock photo.

I suggest finding stories that reflect what you do for people. Once you find that story, I would assign a journalist team to cover the story. The unit can be a photojournalist who writes and shoots or a group consisting of the writer and photographer. You may even choose to use video as well.

David Cifuentes and their family shared with the delegation from Frontera de Cristo how, since the forming of the coffee cooperative, all his family is finally together. Here he is introducing his children and grandchildren. His son went to Atlanta, GA, to work on golf courses to feed his family back in Salvador Urbina, Chiapas, Mexico. [Nikon D4, 14-24mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 8000, ƒ/4, 1/100]

It would help if you gave them the time to “peel the onion,” which is getting to the deeper story so that they can inform your audience how your organization made a difference in their lives.

I would find a few stories and have them cover all of them, so you have a series that helps validate your actions in people’s lives.

I have found that those organizations who talk about how they have made mistakes early on and are constantly correcting to do a better job will win over their audience.

I loved how the organization Honduras Outreach or HOI told their own story about a kiln they bought for the people in the Agalta Valley of Honduras.

These girls can go to school due to the giving of the HOI community. [Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/6.3, 1/250]

The people in Honduras asked what are they do with the kiln. Well, you make pottery and sell it to the tourists.

A couple of years later, HOI noticed that the Hondurans had been making donut bricks that they used to create chimneys for the stoves in their homes. They then started making tiles for their homes and schools with the kiln.

What I love about the story being told is that HOI admitted that they learned that they were not the ones coming to help out these helpless and inferior people. The people of Honduras were brilliant and creative. While they couldn’t have made the stuff they did without the kiln, they also knew that making pottery for the tourists didn’t make sense. There just were no tourists and just the volunteers coming to work in their communities.

This story helped HOI be more authentic with its audience. It enabled them to get more people involved.

There are times when you may need to set up a photo. Sometimes for the safety of the people involved, you cannot get a picture. You may choose to set up a shot for illustration purposes. This is OK, but you must tell your audience you did this. Credit the image as an Illustration, and where it is possible, explain why you chose to illustrate the photo.

Sometimes, in the caption of telling why you had to do a setup photo, you help the readers understand why you need their help.

Today’s young people are looking for authenticity.  They want to work with organizations whose words match up with their actions. The most robust way to communicate authentically is to use photojournalism.

Are your communications grounded in a moral compass?

SWPJC 25 years

Left to Right: Jim Veneman, Bob Carey, Morris Abernathy, Louis Deluca, Ron London, & [Me] Stanley LearyI apologize for the rambling below. It is a stream of consciousness of some of what I experienced this past weekend at the conference.

Jim & Carol Veneman have facetime with their grandchildren.

Twenty-five years ago, we didn’t have the ability to FaceTime with each other. We also didn’t have the power back in 1992 to shoot photos and share them instantaneously with each other.

A CBU student with Garrett Hubbard reviewed her environmental portrait.

I want to talk here about my journey through the years. When we started the SWPJC, I had not come to terms with my Autism. In third grade, I was tested and fell on the spectrum, but they didn’t give me the label back then.

I would slowly understand through many different events that I fit the Aspergers Syndrome perspective on the Autism Spectrum. Through the years, I have been taking steps like speech therapy and studying social work, which has helped me significantly improve my deficiencies.

This past weekend when I was teaching, I was reminded of my Autism.

I asked everyone in the class I was leading to take a picture. When asked what they took a picture of, I had people talk about taking a picture of me with a scowl on my face. Then a couple of minutes later, someone talked again about my body language as being negative.

This is me with my dad and sister.

I could have just crawled up into a ball and just cried. I realized that while I had done much through the years to pay attention to others, I had not done much to work on my facial expressions.

Autism is a developmental disorder involving qualitative impairments in social interaction. One source of those impairments is difficulties creating facial expressions of emotion. Difficulties with facial expressions may arise from deficits in motivation to express positive feelings with others. The tests may also stem from physiological problems in physically creating expressions due to damage to areas of the brain that control the facial nerve (which produces those expressions).

I know my family has really given me a hard time through the years when they take photos of me. I just don’t look happy. I guess there are moments when a glimpse of my enthusiasm does come through, but I cannot consciously bring the emotions I feel to my face.

I can tell you that I am always thinking and observing others. I do not take lightly those around me. I am always trying to figure out how to be of service. Can I help them, or what problem might they need help with? I often try to connect people with a need with someone I know that could be the solution. So my facial expressions are, I guess, accurate. I think which can produce a scowl or tense brow.

I want to be Helpful and Not Hurtful …

So that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

– Hebrews 6:12

I can tell you that God isn’t finished with me yet. I have a lot of work to do with my facial expressions. The good news is I know what I need to work on going forward.

… LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us.

– Psalm 4:6
Morris Abernathy, my good friend for more than 30 years

The Southwestern Photojournalism Conference started because Morris Abernathy called Jim Veneman and mentioned we had an opportunity to take over a photo workshop that Don Rutledge had held at the Seminary for years.

Morris’s vision was to expand the conference and make it an event where more people would feel welcomed. Morris has one of the biggest hearts for people that I know. He is also the one person who has had me doubled over in laughter where tears flow so many times. My wife and I think of the times we both have enjoyed his humor.

Morris has been a joy not just to me but to all who come into contact with him. We were blessed that he invested so much of his life into the conference.

Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

– Proverbs 27:17
Akili Ramsess with Jim Veneman

Morris is the person who was leading all the rest of us, including everyone. This photo of Jim Veneman putting his arm around Akili Ramsess just after meeting her is indicative of the conference’s purpose. We were about to welcome everyone to the table.

While this was the purpose of the original group, I can tell you that through the years, it hasn’t gone well every time. You see, I know from personal experience that there are many other people out there like me. Their facial expressions and body language doesn’t always match their hearts.

I believe those who started the conference want to return to our core values and put some changes that will make this conference more as Morris Abernathy had envisioned.

Brad Smith having a great time with Brien Aho during the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference
Twenty-five years ago, Ron London was the first speaker. He was our last speaker on Sunday and revisited his talking points from 1992.

An amateur (French amateur “lover of,” from Old French and ultimately from Latin amatorem nom. amator, “lover”) is generally considered a person attached to a particular pursuit, study, or science in a non-professional or unpaid manner. Amateurs often have little or no formal training in their goals; many are autodidacts (self-taught).

Garrett Hubbard started the conference by asking us to examine our identity.

“The most powerful words ever said to you are your own,” said Garrett Hubbard. The self-talk we do can be the most damaging or uplifting. We are in charge of which that will be.

Garrett also talked about how we often limited our identity to our job title and encouraged us to see our whole selves.

Akili Ramsess reviews a students photos
Patrick Murphy-Racey wanted to help equip photographers with the gear they needed to support their work to connect more effectively with audiences. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm ƒ/4, ISO 100, ƒ/4, 1/160]

While thinking and looking for ways to serve even more than I do now, Pat is buzzing by me like an Energizer Bunny in the commercial. He is beating his drum and pulling as many as possible behind him in his parade. Pat is the pied piper of photojournalism.

Before you know it, Pat has a group of students teaching them all about lighting.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  

– John 13:35

The cornerstone of the conference is Jesus Christ. The thing that we try to do yearly is very similar to what a mason calls the “Holding Bond” – maintaining a plumb-aligned bond or brick pattern. To do this, a mason creates the “Hanging the line” – attaching a mason’s line to the leads at opposite ends of a wall.

The committee that produces the conference each year is taking the time to meet soon to retool the forum. We will be “Hanging the Line” so that we can be “Holding Bond” so that when people look at our conference, they will see the love we have for one another.

Stay tuned through our website

Brad Smith and Brien Aho with the Chick-fil-A Cow.
Brad Smith shared his tips on how to make connections and show your portfolio. Besides having strong and unique images, Brad pointed out how important it is to be a likable person.
Nikon, Canon, and Sony were at the conference showing off their gear and letting students borrow cameras and lenses for the Student Workshop. This is Brien Aho, the Nikon representative working with a student on borrowing a camera. I consider Brien more than a camera rep. He is a friend and someone we all enjoy hanging around.

Brien Aho is helping one of the students with his Nikon 5300. The student asked me, but I knew Brien was more familiar with the camera as a Nikon representative. Whenever I turned around, I saw Brien helping people with cameras.
In his role as a Nikon representative, Brien was a Navy combat photographer, which you wouldn’t know right away. Once everyone realized his background, he quickly had people lining up to show him their portfolios and ask for his critique.
I thought I would end this with a sunrise photo of a student taking a shot at the Fort Worth Mounted Police horse stables.

We are planning on getting our committee together to make a planning retreat for the conference. We have not done this before and believe this is what is needed to go forward for the conference to be successful. Ron London reminded us at the meeting to never stop being an amateur photographer. He went on to explain what the word amateur came from and means. Akili Ramsess, NPPA executive director, spent her presentation and every other opportunity to talk about our success is all about relationships. She also helped us to see that what NPPA is trying to do for photographers is help them have connections throughout the industry. Patrick Murphy-Racey thinks more like me than most of any of my other friends when it comes to photography. The most significant difference between us is that Pat’s enthusiasm and excitement are written all over his face.

If there is one photographer I am incredibly jealous of, it would be Pat. I am jealous of how he exudes excitement to others.

We just wrapped up our 25th Anniversary for the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference, and this is the original crew. I am not sure how long we thought this would go on when we started this adventure, but we all feel like it was just yesterday. The student workshop we added many years ago has been an enormous success. One of the main reasons is the ability of the students to shoot and show the instructors their work immediately for some feedback and the ability to go and reshoot if necessary.

Covering a candidates for City Council meeting

L/R Marie Willsey, Lori Henry, and Shelley Sears are all running for open spots on the City Council and will speak at the Roswell City Council Candidate forum held at the Roswell Community Masjid. [Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art, ISO 2500, ƒ/4, 1/100]

I went to the local Masjid in Roswell to cover three of the candidates running for the City Council office.


I wanted to show that this was pretty historical to show the Masjid hosting the meeting and capture the personalities of those running for office so that the audience would know more about the candidates than before the event. The tiles had the Arabic language on them, and I included them to show the location of the meeting.

I watched and listened. Each of the candidates running for office was very different from the others.

Shelley Sears was running on her success as a businesswoman in Real Estate. [Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/4.8, 1/100]

Shelly Sears was a nonsense business personality. She had a very similar approach to Trump. She wanted everyone to no she was not a politician but a successful businessperson. She was running on the platform that we need business people running the city, not politicians.

I noticed she leaned forward more than the other candidates and intentionally chose not to use a microphone. This, to me, was her visually saying she needs no help at all and can handle it herself. I waited for the moment. I thought that showing her take control, lean forward, and telling you how she will take control was the best way to capture her.

Marie Willsey has been serving on her homeowner’s association board. She saw this as an opportunity to perform just like she had done for the homeowner’s board, but on a more significant community stage. She likes serving. [Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/4.8, 1/100]

 Marie Willsey reminded me of the stay-at-home mom involved in community service projects. She was serving on her homeowner’s board and loved doing this. She saw many of the same things facing the homeowners as those concerns for the larger community.

All the time, when she was talking, she was smiling. It was important that she came across as friendly and wanted to be seen as someone there to help her. So, I was sure to capture the smile and the warmth she was conveying to the audience.

Lori Henry had served in the past on the City Council. She wanted people to know she understood the issues that are the hotting topics in the community. She tried to portray herself as a scholar candidate on the city’s problems. [Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/4.8, 1/100]

Now the third candidate had been here before. Lori Henry was running as the well-educated issue candidate. She took issues and explained what needed to change to make a difference.

To capture this, I had to look for that expression that showed a lot of thought going into her comments. So I looked for that furrowed brow and intense gaze.

Thought before I shot

As you can see, I thought about each person. I felt their presence and looked for ways to capture those things in a visual moment that communicated some of this to the audience through the camera’s lens.

[Nikon D5, Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art, ISO 2800, ƒ/4, 1/100]

However First I …

The first thing I did was to walk into the room and asses the room technically.

The room had fluorescent as well as tungsten lights. I wrote an earlier blog about this here and how to get a good white balance.

I did a custom white balance using the ExpoDisc and ensured that the shutter speed was no faster than 1/100.

Next, I sat in the front row center to get a clear shot of the speakers without any distractions. Also, I knew I could stand up for a moment and move to the side and get an overall picture at some moment.

I also brought two cameras. The Nikon D5 had a 24-105mm, which helped for the overall shot and the three speakings, but then I brought my Fuji X-E2 with the 55-200mm, which let me get intimate photos of them individually speaking without me leaving my chair.

Once I had all the technical stuff taken care of, I switched my mind to listening and finding those moments to tell the story.


I call all this my shooting workflow. It would help if you always had the best technical shot and the moments to tell the story. There is a process that takes place every single time.

Do you have a process? Do you know why you are taking a photo? Do you know who your audience is for your photos? If you don’t know these answers, you will not be able to communicate much through your photos.

Mr. Robot conjures up the photo style of photojournalist Don Rutledge.

Portia Doubleday and Rami Malek in the pilot episode of “Mr. Robot.”

I love the depth in the imagery in the cinema-photography.


by Don Rutledge

I was talking to my long-time friend Ken Touchton on the phone. We had both talked about the TV show Mr. Robot.

Watch On-Line Now Here

We were talking about the photography style of the show, and quite frankly, it is unique. We thought today’s large screen TVs of LCD Sizes 32, 40, 42, 46, 52, 55, 70, and 82 were bringing the cinema into our homes. Instead, the BIG SCREEN has finally arrived so that the director of photography for TV shows is no longer limited.

John Howard Griffin, the author of Black Like Me, is walking down the street in New Orleans. Photo by Don Rutledge.

In the last show that Ken Touchton watched, he turned the sound down and just watched and studied, and this was when he realized it was like watching Don Rutledge’s photography once again. In this 1956 photo of John Howard Griffin walking down the street, you can see the similarity of using the negative space.

by Don Rutledge

Now, running Don’s work in a newspaper was more difficult than in a magazine. The designer would take a photo like the one above in a magazine and run it across two pages. Sitting in your lap, it has the same effect as a 55″ TV screen would have across the room–Cinematic as we might call it today.

Using negative space like this helped Don create positive and negative moods to help tell a story.

by Don Rutledge

Don had a way of finding an incredible scene and then letting the scene unfold with the people moving in and out of the frame. You will see this over and over in Mr. Robot.

by Don Rutledge

This photo of a Russian pastor is an excellent example of a composition style used in the Show.

by Don Rutledge

When two people are in the photos in Mr. Robot, you see this quite often.

Here is how Don Rutledge has shot some street scenes in the past.

By Don Rutledge

Don created tension by playing things off of each other in his compositions.

While the director of photography for Mr. Robot is doing what they think is unique, it has been around a long time, just harder to see in the media when it started in magazines like LIFE magazine back in the 1950s.

While most of today’s video is 50%, the closeup Mr. Robot is pulling upon the style of the great photojournalists like Don Rutledge.

My calling to be a photojournalist

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

Back in high school, I felt a call to be a preacher. For those unfamiliar with this kind of language, I will explain this a little more.

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

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

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

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

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

While working on my master’s thesis on Don Rutledge, I realized I was a preacher. So here is what I wrote in my thesis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hardest part of the code of ethics to me is trying to be sure you are being truthful. Being truthful means, you must spend time getting to know the story. It would help if you dug to be sure you are representing the subject accurately and that after seeing your account will feel that you accurately described the subject’s story.

I learned how to exegete scripture While in seminary.

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

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

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

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

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

I can tell you that the camera brought me great comfort in helping me navigate this world. I am so thankful that my father, a Baptist preacher, advised me to be central in either Social Work or Business as an undergraduate and that I would get all my biblical studies in seminary.

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

While my intention of going to seminary to get my master’s in communication to return to the church to do photojournalism, the required courses in education and theology would genuinely teach me more skills that I use today.

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

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

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

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

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

Three Stages of Composition

photo by: Don Rutledge

I learned so much from Don Rutledge, my mentor. He took this photo of an Alaskan family on the tundra welcoming a missionary they called a friend. Don was walking up with the missionary and realized this was the moment.

Why does the photo connect? Learn some of the techniques that Don Rutledge taught me in this video on the three stages of composition.

Panel Discussion – FOCUS [Fellowship Of Communicators Uniting Socially]

I hosted yesterday’s FOCUS [Fellowship Of Communicators Uniting Socially] meeting in Roswell, Georgia.

We had a panel discussion of these industry leaders; you can listen to them in the video above. They are discussing the state of the industry and tips they recommend for today’s professional communicator.

Dr. Houston Davis serves as the Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer of the University System of Georgia. USG comprises Georgia’s 30 public universities and colleges, including four research universities, the Institute of Oceanography, State Archives, the Public Library System, and statewide Information Technology Services. USG enrolls approximately 314,000 students and employs about 41,000 faculty and staff. 

Before May 2012, Davis served as the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the state’s liaison on the national Complete College America initiative. Before 2007, he served as Associate Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the Tennessee Board of Regents, on faculty and academic leadership for Austin Peay State University, in fiscal and academic affairs for the Tennessee Higher Education Commission, and as a regional counselor for the University of Memphis. In addition to his past professional duties, he served as director for the National Educational Needs Index project, a Lumina-funded initiative measuring educational, economic, and population pressures in the 50 states that influence policy and planning at local, regional, and national levels. 

He is involved in research projects and writing on higher education governance, economic development, and accountability issues. He also serves on several national advisory groups on higher education policy, degree completion, academic preparation, and responsibility. He received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University with other degrees from the University of Memphis and Tennessee State University. 

In addition to his professional duties, Houston Davis has served as director for the National Educational Needs Index project from 2004-2011, an initiative measuring educational, economic, and population pressures in the 50 states that influence policy and planning at local, regional, and national levels. 

Dr. Davis is involved in research projects and writing on higher education access, governance, economic development, and accountability issues in higher education and serves on several national advisory groups on higher education policy, degree completion, academic preparation, and responsibility. A native of Clarksville, Tennessee, Davis received his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, Nashville.

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs and chief communications officer for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. She is known across North America for work in agricultural issues management and crisis communication. She manages strategic communications, issues management, brand, and executive reputation management, crisis communication, and legislative relations for the college, agricultural experiment stations, and Cooperative Extension. 

She holds an associate’s degree in journalism from Middle Georgia College and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism and communication from Georgia State University. Before joining the University of Georgia in 1993, she spent more than ten years as an Atlanta newspaper reporter, public information officer, and marketing specialist. She has won numerous regional, national, and international awards for writing, editing, media relations, marketing, and communication training. She is an often-requested speaker on media relations, crisis communication, and other public affairs topics across North America. 

She has published research and professional development papers on defining agriculture to urban audiences, effective media relations in urban markets, strategic issues management, and working and managing in a telecommuter workplace. 

Her current work focuses on what promises to be the most significant social justice issue of the next decade – food security worldwide.

Michael A. Schwarz is an independent editorial and corporate photographer/videographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. Over a 30-year career, Michael has completed over 6,000 assignments for publications and corporations around the globe. His editorial client list has included USA Today, Fortune, Forbes, Business Week, The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, National Geographic Traveler, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Sports Illustrated. His corporate client list has included The Home Depot, UPS, The Coca-Cola Company, Harvard University, Brown University, GE, Synchrony Financial, and Porsche. 

Michael has a background as a photojournalist and is a 3-time Pulitzer Prize nominee. He has received numerous awards from the Pictures of the Year competition and was a winner of the Dag Hammarskjold Award for Human Rights Advocacy Journalism. Many years ago, LIFE Magazine featured Michael as one of the best young photographers in America in a special issue of their magazine. In 1998, Michael collaborated with author Ellen Spears on the book “The Newtown Story: One Community’s Fight for Environmental Justice.” Michael is a native of Baltimore and a graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology. Michael has served on the Board of Directors of the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar and the Atlanta Chapter of ASMP. He maintains membership in the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and the Atlanta Press Club. In a recent reader’s poll sponsored by the Atlanta Press Club, Michael’s collaboration with writer Steve Sternberg, “When AIDS Comes Home,” was voted the favorite Atlanta story of the last 50 years. 

In addition to his photographic work, Michael does digital photography consulting and training. His corporate clients have included: Nikon and Best Buy. He is a featured trainer with Blue Pixel Inc. and has been a lead instructor of Nikon School since 2001 and a workshop leader for the Mentor Series.

Greg Thompson is senior director of corporate communications for Chick-fil-A, Inc., one of America’s largest privately held restaurant chains with 2,000 restaurants and annual sales of almost $7 billion. 

Before joining Chick-fil-A, Greg spent 25 years in worldwide management and executive positions with IBM in Atlanta, Tucson, and Tokyo. In his career at IBM and Chick-fil-A, Greg has edited several magazines and websites, produced numerous events, product rollouts, videos, and multi-media packages, and has hired countless photographers, videographers, writers, and producers – including several Pulitzer Prize winners. He has also worked as a writer, producer, photographer, and consultant for several well-known organizations. 

Greg joined IBM after a career as a photographer and journalist for three newspapers and The Associated Press. 

He graduated from Vanderbilt University, where he studied history, political science, and sociology while working as a reporter and photographer for the then Gannett-owned Nashville Banner. 

Greg also is involved as a volunteer and consultant with several faith-based NGOs around the world. He serves on the boards of HOI, which focuses on Honduras and Nicaragua, and SCORE International, which focuses on the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Panama, and Cuba. Greg accompanied a SCORE medical relief team into Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake and worked with CRASH Japan and Samaritan’s Purse in Tohoku, Japan, after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In addition, he has volunteered in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, and Cambodia.

Greg and his wife, Mary Belle, have been married 32 years and live in Marietta, Georgia.

The terrorist attack in Ouagadougou had me remembering my time there

This weekend there was a horrible attack where 32 people lost their lives in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Above is a quick slide show I did back in 2005 of my visit to Burkina Faso & Ghana.

Here some of the news reports:

Story image for burkina faso from Newsweek

Burkina Faso Capital Security Tightens After Jihadi Attack

New York Times-3 hours agoOUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — In the wake of a weekend attack that killed up to 32 people, The state beefed up security across Burkina Faso’s Burkina Faso and Mali to Collaborate Against Militancy
Newsweek-1 hour ago, Missionary killed in the Burkina Faso attack was mourned by family in the South. 
Sun Sentinel-6 hours ago Burkina Faso attack: Al-Qaeda’ names’ hotel attackers.
BBC News-2 hours ago, the US condemned attacks in Burkina Faso
Opinion-Jerusalem Post Israel News-22 hours ago Burkina Faso kidnapping: children’s despair for Ken and Joceyln Elliott
Blog-The Australian (blog)-5 hours ago
Media image for burkina faso from Sun Sentinel
Sun SentinelMedia image for burkina faso from BBC News
BBC NewsMedia image for burkina faso from The Guardian

The GuardianMedia image for burkina faso from The Economist

The EconomistMedia image for burkina faso from The Australian (blog)The Australian (blog)Media image for burkina faso from U.S. News & World Report US News & World ReportExplore in depth

(1,223 more articles)

I thought I would take this blog to give you some of what I learned while in Burkina Faso.

I was there just ten years ago. I don’t think I know any of those killed directly, but I do know many of those I worked with that month in 2005 were most likely affected by this terrorist attack.

One of the oldest Mosques in Burkina Faso which is located in the downtown of Bobo-Dioulasso. Believed to have been built in the early 1880s. Religions in Burkina Faso are Muslim 61.6%, Catholic 23.2%, traditional/animist 7.3%, Protestant 6.7%, other/no answer 0.2%, none 0.9% (2010 est.)

Coffee is almost exclusively instant coffee (Nescafe is the usual brand). One of the region’s finest institutions (found mainly in French-speaking countries) are the coffee stalls where clients sit on small benches around a table and drink glasses of Nescafe mixed with sweetened condensed milk.

Burkina Faso is a poor, landlocked country that depends on adequate rainfall. About 80% of the population is engaged in subsistence farming, and cotton is the main cash crop. The country has few natural resources and a weak industrial base. As a result, cotton and gold are Burkina Faso’s key exports, and Burkina Faso’s economic growth and revenue depend on global prices for the two commodities.

In 2014 Burkina Faso was ranked 124th in the world economy, right behind Chad and just above Equatorial Guinea.

Ethnic Groups are Mossi 52.5%, Fulani 8.4%, Gurma 6.8%, Bobo 4.8%, Gurunsi 4.5%, Senufo 4.4%, Bissa 3.9%, Lobi 2.5%, Dagara 2.4%, Tuareg/Bella 1.9%, Dioula 0.8%, unspecified/no answer 0.1%, other 7% (2010 est.)

Most of the shepherds herding cattle are Fulani as this young boy is above.

I am about a mile from the Ivory Coast border, and those swimming here are the Senara tribe.

Community Journalism with Fujifilm X-E2

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.6, 1/50

Community Journalism

Last night at my daughter’s high school, the county had an informational meeting about the planning for schools in our county. I took my Fuji X-E2 camera with me just in case I wanted to use it.

There were less than ten people in attendance. So you would think there is no real reason to have a meeting, but this is how many meetings happen every day in our communities that have a significant long-term impact on our communities.

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/3.2, 1/30

Those who speak up are the ones they hear from, and they must assume this is the will of the community because they asked them for their feedback, which is what they get.

Those in attendance at the Fulton County Schools Educational Space Standards Community Meeting could hear how the county has hired outside experts in educational space. The experts will help the county set those academic standards that the designers and architects will use to assist in implementing changes to improve our schools.

They will now have the WHY part of the process answered if anyone asks why they were making these changes. Also, when the changes recommended come up against budget restraints, everyone will know what they are falling short of doing.

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

So imagine you go to one of these meetings in your community. Do you think a photo with some explanation would be a great way to communicate with your friends through social media?

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


Next community event, you go to be sure and take some good photos and add some text as a caption. Taking pictures and writing a summary can help us build stronger communities.

President Jimmy Carter and my fellow Photojournalists have something in common.

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

I was blessed today to see former President Jimmy Carter teach Sunday School at his hometown, Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, GA.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/3.5, 1/15

To get this opportunity, I realized last week when he announced his diagnosis with cancer that I had put off hearing him teach for too long. So I immediately went to the church’s website to see when he was teaching. Here is where you go to see when he is teaching

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/5.6, 1/250

I was there when every network was there covering the lesson. Here are some of the sound bites from today’s lesson.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 12800, ƒ/8, 1/250

 After the service, my wife and I took photos with the Carters.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 10000, ƒ/8, 1/500

The Atlanta Journal & Constitution sent Ben Gray to cover the event. I enjoyed watching my colleagues work while taking it easy as a spectator.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1600, ƒ/8, 1/500

Here is the Associated Press photographer David Goldman acknowledging he is on the other side of the lens for once.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1100, ƒ/8, 1/500

Here, Ben Gray is taking a photo of the caption information and ensuring it is with the image for later when he sends this back to the office for publication. In the background is David Goldman talking about a subject he just finished interviewing.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 200, ƒ/3.5, 1/500

I ran into Ben Gray later downtown, where he was filing photos from outside the store while his family was inside shopping. He brought his family to enjoy the historical moment with him.

Nikon D750, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, ISO 1600, ƒ/8, 1/500

You could see the media taking places where they could find them. For example, another photographer is editing and filing under a tree in front of Maranatha Baptist Church.

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/160

The day before, I hosted the Christians in Photojournalism group at my church in Roswell. So here is Patrick Murphy-Racey, a Sony Artisan, giving us the inside scoop on Sony’s latest cameras.

In the past, Ben Gray has been the keynote speaker. Other times we have had other journalists speak. Photojournalists need to know their colleagues. We try to help each other when and where we can, but we still must also work hard to get the angle others are missing.

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/140

David Stembridge shares some of his work with the group during our 5-minute shows. This time is where anyone can show their work to the group in just 5-minutes.

You see, photojournalists care deeply. They care for their subjects, and they care for the public. We care that we are informed about our fellow man.

Fujifilm X-E2, FUJINON XF 18-55mm, ISO 6400, ƒ/4, 1/160

Just like President Jimmy Carter was a statesman, he was also a Sunday School Teacher. Today was lesson 698 in Plains, GA. Here is photojournalist Patrick Murphy-Racey, a Catholic Deacon who is blending the technical aspects of photography with his faith.

Patrick said, “They say you can never step into the same stream of water because the water is constantly moving. I must stay abreast of technology because when I step on the floor each morning from my bed just like the stream, I cannot expect it to be the same as yesterday.”

Today President Carter boiled down the responsibilities of the Christian as simply as “loving the Lord your God with all your heart and to also love the person in front of you, no matter friend or enemy.”

He talked today about dealing with conflict. For example, he said, “Real estate is all about location, location, location. Conflict resolution is all about communication, communication, communication.”

While President Jimmy Carter saw his calling as through public service by holding public office, photojournalists see our calling as the role of the communicator. We are helping make our world a better place to live by helping us see our conflicts and helping us see the solutions as well.

President Jimmy Carter and photojournalists believe in serving, and our ability to communicate is key to our effectiveness.

2015 Staff Photojournalist Job Requirements

Nikon D810, 24-70mm [photo by: Robin Nelson]

For those who want to find a staff job in a Newspaper, Magazine, or online outlet, the job description is a lot different these days than it was years ago.

Here are a few descriptions I pulled from job postings with the National Press Photographers Association:

  1. Candidates should excel at news, features, and sports photography. Our visual journalists are also counted on producing multimedia presentations and online slide shows.
  2. The multimedia coordinator is responsible primarily for video production and assists with other multimedia projects, including photo research, live streaming, and interactive content. In addition, the multimedia coordinator ensures that video projects produced will meet editorial and branding standards and tell compelling and distinctive stories.
  3. Candidates should have news, feature, sports, and multimedia experience and be prepared to work in a fast-paced, breaking-news environment.
  4. We are looking for an energetic, versatile, creative multimedia/visuals editor who can help us continue producing outstanding visual content for our readers!

Multimedia is technically anything that involves multiple types of content. The World Press Photo organization split this category into interactive and linear.

Linear productions give the reader guidance. However, there is only one way to experience the story. With an interactive package, the reader can decide the direction.

With either one, there needs to be visual storytelling in terms of photography and video in each.

Nikon D810, 24-70mm, ISO 3200, ƒ/7.1, 1/60 [photo by: Robin Nelson]

Here is what I am telling students and those wanting to make a career change to storytelling/photojournalism.

I believe three components [skills] are needed to be hired as a staff multimedia producer.

First, you need to be able to write. You need to be able to capture the story in a written form. Writing is necessary because you must provide written captions many times, and today you may be putting the package together all by yourself.

Second, you need to have a good command of photography skills to capture the visual story as stills. You need to master your camera not just to get well-exposed images but use the creative tools of aperture, shutter speed, and light to tell a story more effectively. You need to know how to use artificial light, and I highly recommend learning how to use strobes off the camera.

Third, you need to master capturing motion and sound. Understanding that in most multimedia linear projects, the sound will drive the project, you must know how to capture and use it to help lead the audience through the story. Finally, it would help if you mastered post-production software like Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premier.

Your understanding of what makes a good story and how to find stories will be what is most valued by your employers.

I suggest taking journalism writing and photojournalism courses before diving into multimedia post productions skills. This background will take more than just taking the classes back to back. You must produce at the highest level showing you have mastered these skills.

Your portfolio will be more important than your degree. Those with solid portfolios get the jobs. Many people without a college degree had jobs, while those with a college degree didn’t.

With a portfolio being essential, your degree is what can also make you more valuable, especially if your degree is in a subject that helps make you an expert in that subject. For example, Sebastião Salgado has a doctorate in economics, and Eugene Richards has a degree in social work. These photographers built their professions on their expertise in the subjects they cover.

As you can see, this is a lot to master, so don’t quit your day job before you have a portfolio that shows you can tell stories using multimedia.

Transitioning From Photographer to Storyteller

Photo courtesy of Knolan Benfield, Jr.

One of my earliest memories with our family is my grandfather, whom I called Daddy “B,” with his slide projector sharing his latest trip with all the family. The photo above is with my Daddy “B,” Nana “B,” my mother, sister, and me wearing an Indian hat and watching a slideshow.

Once I started shooting myself, I also got a slide projector and would have similar shows in our home.

In my second job with the International Mission Board, I helped missionaries learn how to construct a slideshow so that it told a story. I also produced slideshows to music. I worked at the IMB in the late 1980s.

I was taught how to shoot “Photo Stories.” Here is what I was introduced to capture:

  1. Opener: Sets the scene for the story
  2. Decisive moment: The one moment that can by itself tell the story
  3. Details: Besides being like visual candy to the story, help often with transitions–especially in multimedia packages
  4. Sequences: give a little variety to a situation
  5. High overall shot: Gives a good perspective on how the elements all fit together
  6. Closer: Besides the classic shot of the cowboy riding off into the sunset, there are other visual ways to help bring the story to a close
  7. Portraits: These photos are great for introducing the characters of the story

I worked with a writer and produced our packages together in magazines or newspapers.

Looking back, I would say I was getting elements of the story and not responsible for the complete package.

I was learning the craft of the storyline. Then, I focused on the HOW? and WHAT? And now, I am laser-focused on the WHY.

My first coverage of the Daddy Daughter Date Night at Chick-fil-A was one of my favorite stories where I could see some changes. So here is this story package I did in 2008:

Today I am producing small two to three-minute packages that are small stories on a somewhat regular basis.

Here is one of the latest stories I did recently for Honduras Outreach Inc.:

Here is what they have as their mission statement on their website:

HOI is a Christ-centered short-term mission organization working alongside people of developing countries who desire to implement sustainable development partnerships. We organize mission trips to Honduras and Nicaragua.

HOI’s vision is to create life-changing relationships between the people of developing countries and North Americans, while promoting community directed and integrated spiritual, physical, educational and economic development of men, women and children in the developing world through the promotion of dignity, mutual cooperation and self-sufficiency.

My goal with the package was to help communicate the emotions and the heart of HOI.

This process has taken me more than thirty years to learn. I spent twenty years learning how to produce compelling photo stories, and the last ten have been spent executive producing storytelling packages.

I want to invite you to go with me to Romania to learn how to do this in just two weeks. We still have some slots open. Here is the link to that workshop

If that doesn’t work for your calendar, give me a call, and let’s plan a personal workshop or group one.