Pop the Hood

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I bought a Toyota Tercel many years ago. Like every car that I bought the car salesman popped the hood and let me see what was under there. With old cars you look for signs of good maintenance.

After I bought the car I was invited back to the dealership for a training session in their service department. They had pizza and drinks for us. They walked us around and then had us take a seat as they went through some basic things that will help us get the best performance from our cars.

They had an engine setup to run in front of us where they dropped the oil pan. Most engines would seize up under this experiment, but they wanted to show the type of oil they use on our vehicles help them perform.

Years later when I wanted to upgrade to a bigger and newer car I was a raving fan of the Toyota and that dealership.

Dan Cathy, the president of Chick-fil-A, is encouraging all of his operators to pop their hood. Customers are now being taken on backstage tours of the kitchen. They get to see how fresh the food is and what top brands of food they use. You will see fresh chicken, Dole Pineapples, Hershey Chocolate, Oreo Cookies and more when you tour their kitchens.

They have been doing this for about a year and some of their operators are excited about the results. They have noticed that these backstage kitchen tours create Raving Fans faster than anything they have done before. Why? If you ever worked in a fast food place you would understand why.

What is it we can take away from these examples? First of all people do notice the difference between good and bad and being sure your product is the best that you can deliver will help separate you from your competition.

Second you need to do like the Toyota dealership, reach out to your customers and help them enjoy your product even more.

If you do everything I suggested you are up their with the greatest of the used car dealers. They pop the hood and they want you to come back and will give you good even great service.

What is the indication you have given the top service. Your customers think of you as their family. This is when you are no longer seeing your customers as your meal ticket. You see them not as people who help you meet your bills.

The key to making this happen is popping your hood. Learning to be more transparent with folks is the best way to make lifelong friends. This is when your intentions are not hidden. It is when you are really thinking about how to make their day better.

When your customers look under your hood will they find a heart?

Spending time with President Jimmy Carter

I just recently I spent the day with former President Jimmy Carter. I was even able to tweet that he was my seat warmer that day. What a really exciting time it was for me to work with The Carter Center. President Carter is the Founder of The Carter Center.

I was covering International Campaign to Eradicate Guinea Worm which the Carter Center is the leader in worldwide. There are only 3 countries left in the world before it is defeated. The last major disease defeated like this was small pox back in 1978 during President Carter’s presidency.

I really enjoyed the event since everyone was so excited about the progress of the campaign. I could tell President Carter was very pleased. He was so easy to photograph and gracious to his guests from all over the world.

While I am always concentrating on getting the best expressions and moments with people interacting to help tell the story in the most effective way, I am also looking for graphically interesting angles to add a little interest. I liked the ceiling here in the press conference.

The logo for the Guinea Worm looked so similar to their staircase at the Carter Center that I not only thought it was a cool graphic, it also tied into the event with the look of the Guinea Worm being twisted onto a stick. (Carter Center Logo Below)

Come and Visit vs. Go and Tell: Secret to Growing a Business

The Little Red Church on the Big Island of Hawaii

Last week during a devotional time Derek Schoenhoff, Pastor of The Little Red Church, on the Big Island of Hawaii asked who authorized the temple? He opened my eyes to how much man wanted the buildings and not God.

Today many churches have this idea of inviting people to their programs at their buildings. Ya’ll come now. Come and visit has become the mantra.

This is not the only thing that turns us inward. Many of us understand that Jesus died for us. The problem with continuing down this road of thought is that we can become very self-centered.

Rick Warren starts his Purpose Driven book with “It’s not all about you.” Derek Schoenhoff is reminding us of Jesus last words to his disciples to “Go and tell.”

What I have discovered the past few years when it comes to business, I too had become very self-serving and asking folks to come and visit my website. Come and find me.

The more I read the scriptures the more I learn about a God who came to earth to serve rather than to be served. He asked us to do the same.

What I have been doing the past couple of years is exploring how to be a servant to my clients. First of all you need to know this is quite difficult and I continue to fail in my efforts, but I do believe I am starting to see this is the path to success.

Jesus told us to go the second mile, but in order to do so we have had to already gone the first mile.

So, what I have learned is for most of my career I focused on making better pictures. If you build it they will come. What I have learned watching many of my friends careers falling apart is most folks know the difference between bad and good photography and very few the difference between good and great.

Why didn’t they know how much better I was than who they were using for their photography? My work was better than most, but there were others better than me. What was strange was those who I thought had better work than me were also struggling. Those whose work was OK were flourishing.

So, this past year I finally had a moment when it clicked. People know the difference also between good and bad service, but also most of them all knew the difference between good and great service. Even more amazing was people were paying top dollar for that service treatment.

People pay for the experience as much as for the product. If you have been trying to build a better widget and figure the world will come and buy–they may, but you will build a better business when you have focused outward. Going to them and doing whatever it takes to make their lives better and more comfortable.

Those most relevant in social media are those who share and are focused not on themselves but others. Do you want to grow your business–then focus on service, no matter what your widget is.

Shallow Depth-of-Field

Figure 1 – Nikon 85mm ƒ/1.4

For this e.Newsletter I thought I would answer a question I received the other day from a friend.

Hey Stanley,
I have a quick question for you. I bought a Canon ƒ/1.4 50mm prime lens last year and I love it. My only issue is that when set to automatic the depth-of-field can be so narrow that a nose is in focus and an eye is out of focus. I’m assuming that the aperture is just too open. Is there a rule of thumb when taking portrait-type shots as a minimal (or max – not sure which is which) aperture? Maybe I just need to stay on aperture priority and ƒ/1.8, or something. What’s your recommendation?

One of the most popular lenses being bought today is the 50mm ƒ/1.4. The reason for the popularity is the silky smooth shallow depth-of-field obtained when shooting at ƒ/1.4. You will see a lot of wedding photographers using these to not only get that look, but also used because you can use it to make photos when flash is not allowed—like during the ceremony.


Figure 2 Nikon 60mm ƒ/5.6

Often when you are inside and you cannot use flash the rooms are so dark you need a lens with an aperture of ƒ/1.4 or ƒ/2 to get photos. The problem is that you can only go only so slow with your shutter speed before the photos are blurry due to movement. If you were photographing objects and not people then you could take a photo with a shutter speed of 1 second, but with people you need to be shooting at least at 1/30 of second or faster to avoid movement issues, which will give you, blurred images.

When using the lens for portraits wide open at ƒ/1.4 and filling the frame with someone’s face will very quickly give you the results that you just described.

There are a couple things that affect depth of field.

1) The ƒ-stop/aperture.

As you already know the lower the number the less depth-of-field you have.

2) Distance to subject.

The closer you get to a subject the shallower the depth-of-field when the ƒ-stop stays the same. In macro photography for example when you get as close as 1:1 ratio you often have to be at a ƒ -stop at a minimum of ƒ /11 to appear in focus. When I do macro photography the aperture is quite often at ƒ /45 and it still appears like a shallow depth-of-field.

Figure 3 Nikon 60mm ƒ/45

This photo here (figure 3) is at ƒ/45. See how the eye is out of focus. You would think at ƒ/45 everything would be tack sharp, but it isn’t.

My suggestion is the closer you get you will need to increase the ƒ/stop to keep the facial features of the eyes, nose and mouth in focus. I personally don’t mind the ears out of focus.
I occasionally will shoot with my 85mm ƒ/1.4 wide open and just get a persons eye in focus, but the number of photos you need to take to get an acceptable photo can increase due to them or you moving. I usually shoot between ƒ/4 and ƒ/5.6 for headshots to keep most things in focus.

When doing group photographs, people are often two or three deep in the photo. In these situations you need to be shooting at ƒ/8 or greater aperture or either the people on the front or back will not be sharp.

If you own a shallow depth-of-field lens like ƒ/1.4 just remember if you want that silky smooth out of focus look behind the subject you need to be sure what you want in focus is in focus. On many of the new cameras you can move the focus point around in your viewfinder. This will help you maintain your focus and composition. Focusing in the center of the frame and then recomposing the photo will often give you poor results since the tolerances are so critical.


Figure 4 Nikon 60mm ƒ/8

Practice by making portraits at ƒ/1.4, and then do some at ƒ/4 and then some at ƒ/5.6. Get comfortable with the look of each aperture and when you want a certain look you will feel confident that you can deliver, because you have practiced.

Got a question about photography you would like to see me write about, send me a note and let me know at stanley@stanleylearystoryteller.com.

Photographing your Passion

Your dream assignment often will be a self generated one. This is my conclusion after pitching ideas to National Geographic Magazine and other publications for the past 25 years.
The first step to the dream assignment is defining your passion. What gets you excited and willing to champion a cause?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9wmMSv3SoY]

Early in my career I got that dream job as a photographer for The Commission Magazine. This magazine covered Christian missionaries all over the world. The magazine was competing with National Geographic Magazine for the best use of pictures in the Picture of the Year contest put on by the National Press Photographers and Missouri School of Journalism.
This was my second job after a newspaper job. Since I was the new guy, my job wasn’t as glamorous as the other photographers who on a regular basis traveled the world. I was making portraits and passports for all the missionaries and their families as well as teaching them how to tell their story using slides.


Occasionally I got to do a story, and it was always in the states showing how local churches were supporting their missionaries.
I did get to hangout with Don Rutledge, Joanna Pinneo and Warren Johnson when they were not globe trotting the world. While I would say my favorite thing is shooting a story I am passionate about, my second favorite thing is listening to other photographers tell their stories that they are their passionate about. This is why I regularly invite photographers to my home and let them share their photos from around the globe.


Just this past month we had 20 photographers at our house sharing stories about Pakistan, Alaska, Japan, Haiti, Mexico and other spots. This is equivalent to having the photographers of National Geographic Magazine sit beside you as you turn the pages and give you the behind the scene look of the story. It is even better because they show you even more photos than they were able to publish.
My passion is showing the love of God for his people. Sometimes I show the joys, and sometimes I show the pain.
Just this past October I was privileged to tell a story with a twist on what I thought was a traditional missions story. I traveled to Mexico to get a close-up view of why Mexicans have risked their lives to travel north to find jobs. Why would people spend $2,000 to $3,000 to pay a coyote to help them navigate the desert for 3 – 5 days and nights? Since 1994, 5,000 Mexicans have perished in their attempts to cross the border.

I discovered one solution to the illegal immigration for coffee farmers. About ten years ago while sipping a $5 cup of coffee, Mark Adams was talking to a former coffee grower who told him how coffee growers’ income dropped over 70 percent in just a short period of time in the late 90’s. This was just about the time that illegal immigration was getting worse.

Mark was working for Frontera de Cristo. It is one of the six Presbyterian Border Ministries of the National Presbyterian Church of Mexico and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. The group was doing micro loans to help families start small businesses to support their families. The coffee issue was bigger than they had addressed.
They then formed a Just Trade Center to help address the issue of the coffee growers. They, along with the help of others like Catholic Charities, gave a loan to the coffee growers for $20,000 that was enough to buy a roaster. It was such a huge success that they hope to find other industries where they can help a community like they have done with Café Justo.
Take a look at a package I created to help introduce people to their concept. I believe once you learn about their story you will start to explore other ways you can become an informed consumer helping to address the issues facing immigration.


As you can tell I got a little side tracked and this is what happens when you find a passion. Even if you have to donate your time to do a story you feel passionate about do it. Then you have something to share with folks about what you want to do for them.
As you can tell from my project, I had to get some friends involved to help me with the voice over, help in picking the best folks to tell the story and many eyes and ears to help refine the story. So when you get ready to tell others about your passion and need help—give me a call.
book africa book GT book Portfolio book

Coffee Table Books for Gifts

One of the best personal gifts people can give is a photograph. The reason for this is that photos have the power to keep all our precious moments alive. And giving the gift of an especially well-chosen photo is a way to preserve a fond memory with someone you treasure.

The gift of a photograph today has many ways for presentation. One way many use now is a greeting card. This photo however is typically an individual or family sharing one of their personal memories with their family and friends.

bagIf you give a photo to an individual the photo of something that you shared can not just show your friendship with them, but help remind them of a memory that the two of you share.

Besides giving a print of the photo, you can have the photo put on just about anything. Here is just a sample of the items you could put the photograph on for that special gift:

travel mug• Coffee cup
• Candy Tin
• Blanket
• T-Shirts
• Aprons
• Coasters
• Calendars
• Neck Tie
• Ornament
• Porcelain Plate
• Puzzle
• Digital Photo Frame
• Coffee Table Book

water bottleIf you have the time and enough variety of photos the photo book is one of my favorite things to come along. You can produce a very nice coffee table book for your friend for as low as $20 for a 20 page soft cover book.

If you choose to make a book, my favorite book publisher is www.Blurb.com.

Go online to www.MyPhotoPipe.com where you can not only get prints, holiday cards, but have canvas prints made.

For items listed above here is one place to lookhttp://discountphotogifts.com/.

Have Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Ten Steps To The Family Christmas Photo

Our family photo this year for Christmas cards.
Every year I take our family photo and, like many of you, send it out as a Christmas card. Here’s what works for our family photo, try it with yours.

First we do it outside. Everyone is more relaxed out there than in a studio environment. It’s an informal setting so casual, comfortable clothing look good and comfortable cloths make for comfortable subjects. It is easier to make good family portraits with a relaxed family. 

Maybe one year, for a really great photo, we can have on our pajamas! That’s probably not a good idea.

Second it is easier outside. There is plenty of light and we can control it by where we place the family. We can use open shade, or backlighting or, for soft light, we can do it on a slightly overcast day.
Third I look for a good background. I love our backyard with all the trees. While looking for a good place to do the portrait I take a few test shot to make sure what I see is what I’ll get.
Fourth I use a tripod and a radio remote control to fire the camera. This way I can be in the photo and make the shot when we’re ready, not when the timer fires the camera. The remote also allows me to make several shots without running back to the camera to re-set the timer.
Fifth with three children plus my wife and I all in the photo and me not behind the camera watching for expressions it’s a real challenge to come up with good expressions on everyone at the same time. Usually the problem is with only one person and it is usually me.
Just FYI: Back in the good ol’ days of film Kodak did some research and found that each person added to a photo required seven times more shots to get a great expression of everyone at once.
no flash
No Flash
Meanwhile, back to present day and the digital image… So everyone, except me of course, has a good expression in one of the photos. It would be great if I could remove my head in that shot and replace it with the one image where I actually have a decent expression. (Now is when we fall in love with our tripod.) By having the camera on a tripod and with software like PhotoShop you CAN take my head, or yours, from one photo and put it into another. The latest version of PhotoShop has a menu item that makes this so much easier.
If you don’t move your camera during the photos and everyone stays pretty still you can combine the best expressions of each person into one photo.
Sixth I compose the photo, figure out where I need to be and take a couple of test shots of my family minus one. If the light looks good on everyone I join the group and fire away.
Seventh If your family looks lifeless hopefully it is only because of a lack of catchlights in their eye. A catchlight is a photographic term used to describe light reflected in the subject’s eyes. The lack of a catchlight, even in an animal’s picture, can make the subject seem comatose.
You can use a white sheet to bounce light into the subject’s eyes or use a flash. This year I used a flash.
If the subject is backlit your flash or sheet becomes more than just a way to create a catchlight—it becomes the main light.
When using flash balance it to the available light. Start with a medium f/stop, like f/8, to ensure the group is all in focus. (We’re talking about depth-of-field or how much is in focus in front of and behind the point on which the lens is focused. But that’s another whole newsletter.) Make some test shots at different f/stops and see what you like the best.
Once the light looks good on the family we can explore a few ways to control how the flash balances with the outdoor light. With everything on program mode you can adjust the ISO from 100 up to 400 or higher. The higher the ISO the lighter the background will be provided the f/stop remains the same. The lower the ISO the darker the background provided the f/stop remains the same.
It is easier to do darker backgrounds later in the day or early evening. For lighter backgrounds do the session earlier in the day.
Eighth Have everyone dress in the same or compatible colors. Earth tones like browns, greens and tans work well outdoors. Just be sure on one is dressed so differently that they look like the lead singer with a backup group on a Motown group CD cover.

We like to goof around for some of our photos.

Ninth If you want to have a lot of fun let everyone change outfits for different looks. If your family is like our family we like to take some goofy ones too.

Tenth Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday.