Are all your eggs in one basket?

To “put all your eggs in one basket” is to risk losing everything all at one time. For me this applies to two aspects of my business.

First, if you have a niche’ market it is good to develop a second niche’. Kodak saw the writing on the wall years ago and diversified beyond making film products only. If they hadn’t they would no longer be around. For me I have my interests directing my photography. I love sports and this is really where I first started in photography. In college shooting all the college sports was exciting. I didn’t out grow this interest, but added other areas.

My faith has always been what drives much of my passion. I have worked for Christian denomination’s mission organization covering missions around the world and continue to do so today. I really enjoy things that challenge my heart the way my faith does for me.

I also love technology. This challenges my mind. I love to figure how things work and how to fix things. This has driven my interest in research and technology photography through the years. All three of these loves exist in higher education. This is why I have helped many schools, colleges and universities through the years with their recruiting and public relations photography.

There are times when each of these has peaks and valleys through the year. By diversifying a little and yet still being niche driven and not all over in my work I have been able to keep my eggs in separate baskets with my work.

The second area where I have divided up my eggs is in marketing of my services. One of my best marketing is done through networking. This is getting me involved in my communities. By joining a photography association I learn from others and plug into friends who occasionally get over booked and refer to others they know in the industry. I have joined the Atlanta Press Club because many of those who are members go to the social events and meetings that I would not meet anywhere else. I have been able to meet people who not only might hire me, but become good friends.

I have gone to the library and found every list of people in the markets I am interested in working with to build a database. This database of 3,500+ names is categorized. I have categories for family, clients, prospects, and broken into almost every imaginable group I can think of. I have phone numbers, mailing addresses and emails. Each of these is a different way to contact the people. I call them, I send postcards and I send out an e.newsletter as well as individual emails.

When someone writes me back to unsubscribe to my e.newsletter I don’t delete their name—I add them to my no newsletter category. They still get postcards and occasional phone calls.

Lately I signed up for a new cell plan that lets me make unlimited phone calls as long as I am using the Wi-Fi feature of the phone. This lets me make lots of phone calls. I am learning how to have meaningful short conversations with many people. They are meaningful because I really do care about each person. If you don’t feel genuinely interested in people you have to be one incredible actor (which I am not) to pull this off. This is why I work hard to find as many new people I can to add to my list. If you are not genuinely interested in a person, it is important to have someone else to talk to if they don’t exist.

One of the gifts I have which I have learned to use more each day is my memory. For some reason once I learn something (really learn it) I usually don’t forget. This has helped me in ways I am now only beginning to realize. When I meet someone I haven’t talked to in a long time I can remember so much about them I can almost remember our last conversation. So, I tend to ask how they are doing and how something we talked about last time is going. I know others who call a lot for business need to write down something about a person when they talk to them to remind them to do this later when they call them again. I started to do this to help me and just by writing it down once I remembered it, so when I met them again in a grocery store and not planning on contacting them, I remember to ask about how they are doing with what we talked about last. This isn’t asking like I am doing therapy and they have a problem. It usually is asking about something exciting that has been going on in their life.

When you think you have done all you know how to do in a particular niche’ in your field try to apply those principles to a new niche’. When you are trying to find a new client or knowing how to keep your present ones, remember dating. Be persistent and try many different approaches.

What’s the biggest room in the world? Room for improvement.

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Share Your Calendar with Your Clients to Get More Bookings

I recently got a BlackBerry Curve after some friends convinced me it would help me in my business. They were right; it’s made a huge difference — particularly in conjunction with Google Calendar. Here’s how I’ve used these tools to communicate better with clients — and to win more bookings.

The learning curve on most new technology takes just a little time for me, and I guess this is why they call my model the BlackBerry Curve. But it’s been worth the investment.

With the Wi-Fi feature, I now have much easier Internet access on assignments. Before, I was relying on my laptop and cell phone to connect. It has worked pretty well for the past seven years, but the time it takes to turn on a laptop and hook up to the Internet to check messages can be easily 10 minutes. Now, I can glance at the e-mails as they come in as I work, and when I take a break can easily respond to my messages.

Out with the Old, In with Google Calendar

“Honey can you send me an updated calendar?” was one of my wife’s frequent refrains. Sending her my calendar not only helped me with our family plans, but also helped her to answer client questions when I was out. To accommodate her, I would go into Outlook, print my calendar to a PDF, and then e-mail her a copy. This system worked well enough — until the business became so successful that I needed to update the calendar more than once a day for her.

I realized I needed a better solution. And since the solution for just about every problem I encounter is to Google it, that’s what I did. I Googled and found Google Calendar.

Google Calendar synchs with Outlook every five minutes, once a day, or as often as you need it to. With the calendar, you can set up what I like to call visibility layers. You can let the world see every detail of your calendar, parts of the calendar, or nothing at all. You can invite people to have the ability to edit your calendar as well.

I chose to add my wife and let her have the ability to make changes. Sometimes I am on the road for a few days, and she needs to let my clients know what I have open and reserve a date. I also gave my uncle rights to see the details, since he has been assisting me on many of my photo shoots.

Sharing Your Schedule to Increase Bookings

As for the rest of the world (especially my clients), I decided to let them know when I was free and when I was busy. So I added my Google Calendar to my Web site. Google gives you the html code, so it’s easy. You can customize whether the day, week, month or agenda is the default page, as well as the colors and look of the calendar.

Adding this tool to my Web site has not only improved my business’s efficiency; it has also helped me increase bookings.

For most of my career, I’ve banged my head against the wall trying to convince clients to plan ahead — so, for example, we can take advantage of the time of year (like spring or fall) to show off the landscaping of their business. Until I had Google Calendar, I really believe most everyone thought I was blowing a lot of smoke and just trying to book myself.

In the past, clients would contact me and I would give them the dates I had open, and they typically would take their time and come back to me later — only to find some or all of their times had been given away to someone else who was ready to commit.

Since adding Google Calendar to my site several weeks ago, I have had people commit to dates and times right away. They have already checked my availability, and when they contact me are ready to book. (You can see my calendar on the left navigation at

By the way, I no longer have to send a copy of my calendar to my wife; she is better informed than ever before. Maybe this can help you as well.

Stanley works to make your job easier

Stanley usually provides a DVD-R immediately following your event. The ID information is printed directly on the inkjet-writable DVD-R, which is more archival than a paper label. The data includes the name and date of your event plus Stanley’s contact information making it easy to locate images later.

A duplicate DVD-R is kept on file by Stanley as an off-premises backup for you. Everyone should make their own backup as well.

Each image is high resolution JPEG. Usage rights of the images are negotiated prior to the assignment.

For most editorial assignments, photo identification is embedded with the image. This is helpful when writing cut-lines for your newsletter or matching the photo with the person in a story.

One of Stanley’s clients has 500 plus new portraits made every year. Many of the faces are new. The office staff uses the imbedded identification to match the portraits to bios. This helps those who have not met the new people to match the person with the name.

Below is an example of what this looks like for you when you are using Photoshop to view the images. Go to the menu option Menu>File Info to pull down the box.

If you have many photographs made each year and have ever had trouble locating a particular photo the above example should interest you. This ID information is recognizable by most image archiving software such as Cumulus . The file information box of Photoshop is known as IPTC for short.

Here is example of the same example of the photo in PhotoShop now in MediaDex.















As you can see, the information is the same. Since Stanley has done this work for you, after setting up the software like MediaDex to recognize IPTC then you only need to drag the folder from the DVD-R, which Stanley provided to you into the database software and let it ingest the images. You do not need to add any more information. The name of the event is searchable and you can find people because you can search the caption for names.

You can also use services on-line like PhotoCore. This provides a live, searchable database for you to use. Your photographers can upload from anywhere in the world and you can determine access by creating accounts for photographers, designers and clients. Look at some of Stanley’s examples here.

With this service provided by Stanley, you can find a photo within seconds. If you choose to save all the images on a server then the artist only needs to click to place the photo into their design. It only takes a second.

You can use the information printed on the DVD-R to locate a project, place the DVD-R the computer and just drag the photo from the Database straight into your document.

Today we must be good stewards of our budget and resources. Since Stanley has completed most of the data entry for you he has saved you hours of work that translates into savings for you.

There is more than meets-the-eye in Stanley’s photos. Not only has he provided you with the images you need, he has increased their value to you because of the wealth of information he has provided about those images.

The ease of use, the ability to locate quickly a single photo in you collection and the in-depth information about that photo all located together is what makes a photo shoot by Stanley more valuable to you.

Yes, Stanley truly does work to make your job easier.

Seeing Eye to Eye Isn’t Always Best

In Psychology 101 we learn the value of relating to others at eye level. Many books on photography discuss unusual angles such as a worm’s eye or a bird’s eye view. Such perspectives can create interesting photos, but there is much more to the choice of the angle of view than just making a nice picture. Indeed, the angle from which you photograph a person sends a message to the viewer about that person. Do you know what message you’re sending?

The three letters in the illustrations below stand for Parent, Adult and Child. If you photograph another adult at their eye level the camera (audience) is, of course, on the same level with your subject. This adds dignity to the subject.

On the other hand, if you shoot down at the subject you place the audience above or over the subject much the same way a parent is above or over a child. This makes the audience feel responsible for the subject. We often see photos of starving children in Africa photographed this way.

Lower the camera angle and you reverse the camera (audience) to the subject relationship. This “shot from below” adds prominence to the subject. It increases the stature of the subject and makes them more authoritative. (Don’t use flash from below a face unless you want to create the look of a monster.)

To carry the audience back to their childhood, place the camera on the floor and crawl around photographing a child at the child’s eye level.

When photographing an expert, like a research scientist, keep the camera at eye level, not below. The eyeball-to-eyeball angle helps to humanize or “warm up” the expert.

Photographing people using this simple PAC principle allows you to make statements about who they are, not just what they look like.

Like everything else in photography, knowing more than ƒ-stops and shutter speeds will make you a better photographer. And remember, seeing eye-to-eye isn’t always best.

How much do you cost?

Fuji X-E2, FUJINON XF 55-200mm, ISO 500, ƒ/6.4, 1/500
My stepson looked at his first paycheck and asked, “Who is FICA?” This was his first hard lesson about where the money goes – the cost of doing business.

A lot of the money we pay for a service doesn’t stay with the service provider.

According to Dun & Bradstreet, “Businesses with fewer than 20 employees have only a 37% chance of surviving four years (of business) and only a 9% chance of surviving 10 years.” Of these failed businesses, only 10% of them close involuntarily due to bankruptcy and the remaining 90% close because the business was not successful, did not provide the level of income desired or was too much work for their efforts.”

So many good photographers I know have to turn to other ways to make a living not due to any lack of photographic skills, but because of poor business practices.

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/6.3, 1/1000
Two things caused their businesses to fail: 1st – they didn’t know their real cost of doing business and 2nd – they failed to promote themselves.

In 2001, I left a staff position and started full-time freelancing. My business has averaged a 20% growth rate each year for the past six years. Many of my colleagues ask me how I do it.

This coming week I go to Hawaii to teach business practices for the third year in a row at the University of Nations in Kona. First, I require the students to calculate how much it costs them to live for a year. I’ve found that even the older students who have been on their own for a time typically do not know what it costs them to live.

Nikon D4, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, ISO 200, ƒ/22, 1/15
No matter the profession, if you do not know your cost you cannot estimate what you are worth in the market place.

Once you’ve know your cost and decided how much net income you want to earn it is easy to determine what to charge for each project in order to reach that goal.

Take a moment and think of everything needed to do your job. Here are some categories from the National Press Photographer’s Association list I use just substitute your terms for similar categories to figure your annual cost of doing business.

  • Office or Studio
  • Phone
  • Photo Equipment
  • Repairs
  • Computers (Hardware & Software)
  • Internet (Broadband, Web site & email)
  • Auto Expenses (Lease, Insurance & Maintenance)
  • Office Supplies
  • Photography Supplies
  • Postage
  • Professional Development
  • Advertising and Promotion
  • Subscriptions & dues
  • Business Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Legal & Accounting Services
  • Taxes & Licenses
  • Office Assistant
  • Utilities
  • Retirement Fund
  • Travel
  • Entertainment (meals with clients)
Add your desired net income to your annual business expenses, divide that total by the number of projects you reasonably expect to do in a year. The answer gives you the average per project you must charge clients so you can pay those bills, stay in business and live the way you want to live.
Now you must find out if the market place will sustain this charge.

Let’s say you need to charge on average $1,000 for per project to reach your goal. If the services you provide are what people can get anywhere then they will shop for price. If the going rate in your community is $1,200 then you are in good shape. If the going rate is $900 then you need to look at cutting your overhead—your hoped for income or business expenses or both.

The key to earning what you want comes down to service. You must be able to demonstrate to potential clients that you offer something more if you want/need to charge more than other photographers do.

I have found that I need to know about the subjects I cover more than other photographers do. In addition, I deliver my images a good deal faster than most others do. I also listen carefully to what clients say they want and try to, not only meet their needs, but to go beyond their expectations.
When I first determined my cost and income goals, it was a revelation just as my stepson’s response to FICA and other deductions from his pay were for him.

I do my best to keep my overhead low, but even so close to 50% of my gross goes to business expenses. It was quite shocking for me to see what I must charge to pay the bills. This knowledge was the fire I needed to get me to put the time and effort into finding ways to make me more valuable to clients and to find those clients by seriously marketing myself.
Do you know what you cost?

Guidelines for Portraits, Headshots and Mug shots

Good Example
With LinkedIn, Facebook and other social media websites, the importance of a good headshot could not be more important.
There are a few do’s and don’ts, which if you know them can help you look your best the next time you have your photo taken.

When you are having a head and shoulders photo made the photo is suppose to be about the person and not the clothes. I doubt seriously a clothing manufacturer wants a headshot of the model to sell their shirts—they want to see the clothing predominately.

The reverse of this is what will help you look your best—the photo is about you and not your clothes and/or jewelry. So here are a few guidelines about how to keep the attention on you and not the clothes.

Example of pattern

Solid Colors—Avoid Patterns
Keeps the viewer from looking first at the clothing due to the design over the face

Darker clothing is preferable
Your eye will go to the lighter area of the photo, which will be the eyes. White shirts are difficult for printers to hold together and makes your head look like it is floating on the page without a shirt sometimes.

Example of Solid Color

Avoid herringbone jackets
On the web and television you will get a moiré effect.

Classic over trendy clothing
The classic look tend to stay fresh looking without going out of date as quickly as some of the fashion trends of the day and makes the photo look more current longer.

Simple or no Jewelry
One strand of pearls and matching earrings verses pendants and large earrings help keep the attention on you.

White Clothing & Jewelry

Do you wear casual or a suit for the photo? If you are using the photos for business—it is always best to have the suit in addition to a casual dress if you choose to use as your primary photo a casual dress. The reason for the backup suit photo is we often need a more serious tone at times. If your company is going through a merger—the suit photo would probably be a better choice to send out with the PR packet.

As you plan for portraits in the future it is always best to follow these guidelines and always bring two or more outfits to change into. If you are part of the executive team of the company you want to look your best so the company will benefit. Having a few different portraits with different outfits to pick from gives you the ability to choose the best option—and this is what most executives do each day—make choices.

Moiré Effect from Herringbone Jacket

If you need additional help in planning your next portrait session—give me a call and I will be glad to answer any additional questions you might have.

No Setup Photos

The cry of all the focus groups when they review most educational recruiting pieces seems to always say they want natural looking photos and not setup.

After having spent the last twenty plus years as a photographer shooting pure photojournalism, where you capture what happens in front of the camera to shooting for advertising pieces, where there are stylists arranging everything in a photo; my experience says most focus groups are asking the wrong questions.

“Do you like the photo?” is not as good of a question to see if the photo was successful as a question like “What did you learn from the photo?” You can even have a photo again on a questionnaire from your recruiting materials and ask, “Does the photo help you see what a typical dorm room looks like?” You could even have a follow up question “What could improve the photo to show you a dorm room?”

The reason I have come to this place about evaluating photos is my experience with truly “real” photographs. I have spent many years shooting “photojournalism” for magazines, newspapers and wire services. You do not change a thing in these photos and you do everything you can use composition, lens choices, lighting and timing to communicate the mood and reality of a situation.

Often a photojournalist’s photos are not “pretty” pictures. Photographers will even use their composition to create more conflict to add to the mood of the photo. Having a focus group evaluate war photos with the typical questions we ask “Did you like the photos?” will give you results which would say the photographers were not successful.

How can you know the right moment to take a picture unless you have a fairly clear idea of what the subject means and what you are after? When you are interested in a subject, you want to learn more about it. You dig below the surface values to the truth beneath. That way you get to know it intimately and are able to photograph it understandingly.

Understanding does not necessarily mean a technical knowledge of the subject. Understanding is interest, sympathy, curiosity, the human element of the equation.

While photojournalism will give you “real” photos, sometimes reality for recruiting will keep your institution on the same path rather than to where you would like to be.

This is where what I call the “sitcom” photography works best. We all know the sitcom isn’t real, but it can create such a reality we are all tuning in to see “Who shot JR?”

This is the type of photography where the school has determined where they want to go and then create communications pieces to help them attain the goal. For example if you want to be more diverse in the future, you will need to show diversity. If you keep it real, you would then research to find those situations where diversity exists already. Then you would photograph those situations and play them prominently in your piece.

As one person put it “You don’t want to be the lone raisin in a bowl of milk.” If everyone works to help the school to become more diverse it can be done.

As you can see there are a few ways to communicate your message using photographs. The ideal scenario is to have “reality” photos. If you had a photographer go to everything you did this year—then maybe you would get the reality you need.

Sometimes “reality” isn’t what you want to show. The student wearing another competing schools T-Shirt. A student with major over weight issues or skin problems can detract from the message. This is why so often we re-create reality like the sitcom. If properly planned, you will tune in and want to know more about your school.

Photographs are made of light, mood, texture, form, and line. The value of techniques lies in how they are used. Techniques by themselves are barren. To come alive with meaning, they must be employed interpretively. This is where I come in. Give me a call and let’s make your recruiting photos—REAL.

Sometimes a Detail Tells the Whole Story

Nikon D3S, ISO 6400, f/5.6, 1/2000, 28-300mm also used SU-800 Speedlight Commander to fire SB900 Speedlight off camera.  The RadioPopper PX System are used to be sure the signal for flashes works outside.

We have all seen photographs with too much “stuff” in them. Because the photographer makes no attempt to select one subject, the image fails to communicate. It’s the visual equivalent of a run-on sentence.

A close-up of a detail frequently reveals more of the subject than a picture of the whole subject. So many photographers want to shoot general views because they believe they offer “good composition” or to capture the beautiful light. The detail photograph can have more impact and communicate more because the photographer is forced to be interpretive with the detail. The isolated part can tell more, be more emphatic, and be more quickly appreciated and understood. It tells the story in compressed, sometimes dramatic, fashion by scaling down to point out a specific idea to greatest effect.

Nikon D3S, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/4000, 24-120mm, SU800 with SB900 off camera flash

In approaching a subject, decide how much to include in the viewfinder of the camera. Force yourself to look around the subject and look at each of the corners and everything within the frame of the viewfinder. If there is anything that detracts from the theme, move in closer to eliminate it; if there is not enough to tell the story, move back to include more. The key to this process is to know what you want; the details will fall naturally into place and “composition” is achieved.

I have found the following exercise effective with my students at Reinhardt College. First, shoot a large scene, then close in on it and cut it in half. Close in again and again until, finally, you isolate the most important subject and thus make a statement about the main thing in the scene. In this way, you learn that much of what you see in a picture may not really be that important — and how to select the part or parts that are most meaningful.

Nikon D3S, ISO 3200, f/5.6, 1/4000, 24-120mm, SU800 with SB900 off camera flash

Great photographers know that composition is a matter of feeling rather than of rules learned by rote. You will develop this feeling as you gain experience, but you will never really “know it all” because, as you learn more about life, you will put emphasis on different things. Composition, ultimately, is just another way of looking at life.

Nikon D3S, ISO 6400, f/18, 1/60, 14-24mm

How to Take a Good Group Photo in 15 Minutes or Less

Nikon D100, Sigma 15-30mm, ƒ/9.5, 1/30

The key to group photos is planning — and how big you plan to use the photo can make a big difference in your planning. We don’t hang wristwatches on the wall, because their faces are so small you cannot tell time with them. In most family rooms, you could have a three-inch face clock and tell the time. In a classroom, you might need a 10-inch face. The clock face size is a good rule of thumb for determining whether someone will be recognized in a wall print at a normal viewing distance.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 15-30mm, ISO 100, ƒ/11, 1/60–Alienbees used for fill flash

The more you show in a photograph other than people’s faces, the larger the photo needs to be to recognize the people, because their face size will diminish. If your group photo is more for identification, then getting everyone close together where you can see their faces should be the primary goal. Then you can run the photo in a publication and people can tell what everyone looks like.

Nikon D3, 24-120mm, ISO 200, ƒ/8, 1/100–6 Alienbees B1600 shooting through white umbrellas

On the other hand, if your photo is more about creating a mood for a poster of, say, a hip-hop band, then you will shoot much looser and space the people out and let their body language help establish the mood. For these concept/mood photos, I like to spread people out and put people at different heights (relative to their faces). I like to think in triangles. If you were to connect the dots (faces) between people, do they make triangles? Create depth by having some people closer to the camera and others further away. This will give it a more three-dimensional feel.

Nikon D2X, 70-200mm, ISO 400, ƒ/16, 1/200–4 Alienbees B1600s full power lighting the room

If you go to the music store and look at CD covers of music groups, you can see some of the leading work done in the industry. Try copying some of these until you get the hang of it and can come up with your own concepts.

If you pre-plan and have a good idea and have taken into consideration people’s sizes, you will move pretty quickly through the process. If you don’t, it goes slowly and your photo may fall apart — because you will lose the attention and interest of the people in the photo.

In scouting locations in advance, you are not only choosing a location because of the scenery; you are also ensuring you are there at the best time of day for a group photo. Having the sun right behind the group isn’t the best technical photo. Sometimes, a location won’t work simply because the group isn’t available at the right time of day to make the photo.

Nikon D2X, 24-120mm, ISO 100, ƒ/16, 1/200–4 Alienbees shooting through white umbrellas

I have found that if you have done your homework, you can pretty much make any group photo in 10 to 15 minutes. You may get to the location earlier, but the people in the photo should be able to be placed into position immediately — and then you are just looking for good expressions.

One last thing that can make a great impact on the quality of your photo: either have a laptop computer or TV on location to view the images as you shoot. Virtually all digital cameras will plug into a TV and let you see the image big enough to assess the smallest details — enabling you to move people only inches and improve the final product.

To Break the Rules, You Must First Know the Rules

Finding Forrester is one of my favorite films. In the movie, William Forrester, played by Sean Connery, is a reclusive Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who never gave the world a second novel. Forrester befriends a 16-year-old inner-city basketball player named Jamal. Jamal, an aspiring writer, visits Forrester’s apartment to seek the author’s wisdom. In one scene, Forrester and Jamal have a lively discussion about rules of writing, such as “You shouldn’t start a sentence with ‘and’.” They talk about how breaking the rules can create a wonderful impact. If overdone, however, it also can have a devastating impact.

This is so true in photography. Photographers must study and know the rules of good visual composition like writers study and learn the rules of good writing composition. Once you understand the rules, your ability to break them helps you have better impact with your photos.

This little boy shepherd is part of the Fulani tribe which is known for being herdsmen and is 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, 18.0-125.0 mm f/3.3-5.6, ISO 100, ƒ/5.6, 1/90, Focal Length = 187]
Breaking the rules can create visual surprises. Tom Kennedy was the director of photography for National Geographic magazine when I showed him my portfolio many moons ago. While at the time my work was professional and of excellent quality, Kennedy’s comment was that he wanted more surprises.

Kennedy had seen just about everything in his role at National Geographic. When Kennedy said he wanted to see more surprises, he wanted — for example — to see shots that weren’t taken from my normal standing height or sitting height. One of the things his critique had me doing right away was looking for the extreme. I started shooting with my camera on the ground, and finding ways to get up high. I also started to shoot extreme close-ups, another change in what I’d been doing.

These boys are enjoying the stream just outside the village of Konadouga, Burkina Faso. They were a little surprised at seeing the white man with the camera taking their photo. In just ten miles we went through 30 different languages spoken by the tribes in the area. (Photo By: Stanley Leary)
[NIKON D2X, AF Zoom 18-50mm f/2.8G, ISO 100, ƒ/6.3, 1/90, Focal Length = 27]
There comes a point in your photographic journey where you begin to find your own voice. In the movie, Forrester had Jamal use a typewriter to simply copy Forrester’s work. The author began doing this after he set down a typewriter in front of Jamal, and the pupil just sat there waiting for something to come into his head. When Forrester saw Jamal wasn’t typing, he asked Jamal, “What are you doing?”

“I am thinking,” said Jamal.

“No thinking,” Forrester replied. “That comes later.”

To get the juices flowing, Forrester gave him some of his own work to copy. It was through punching the keys and going through the actions that Jamal loosened up and slowly, after copying the work, started to write his own work.

Photographers do the same thing. We copy other people’s work to learn how they did it, and then add the underlying technique to our long-term memory to use later. Most of the arts require the mastery of certain skills before you can create your own original works. This typically takes about five years. You can see this as musicians learn to play an instrument like a piano.

After copying the concepts of other photographers, you soon learn that your work is no better or worse than many others. This is when you realize that to stand out from others, you must do something unique — your surprise.

Forrester had a great quote that made me think; he asked, “Why is it the words we write for ourselves are always so much better than the words we write for others?” As photographers, we don’t always receive assignments that challenge us; there’s only so much you can do with a check presentation, for example. Most of the great photographers I know have a secret to their work — personal projects that sustain their creative juices.

The key to surprising others is to first surprise yourself — to take risks and look through your camera in a different way, not being afraid to break the rules. Stretch your way of looking and see if there is a better perspective than you normally take when making photos. Who knows what you might discover?