Friday, August 31, 2012

Can it get any more competitive?

Atlanta Journal & Constitution's photographer Johnny Crawford talks with a younger photographer about how he likes to work from the end zone.
"Look to your left, look to your right--when you graduate, only one of you will be there" was what incoming freshmen used to hear at Georgia Tech. The numbers showed that was true.

If everyone who was to be a photographer was required to have a college degree the speaker on that first day might say in this incoming freshman class of 100 only 10 of you will graduate.

As I look around at other photographers work, I am blown away at their talent. What is really scary is seeing new faces with so little experience that are talented as well.

“déjà vu all over again!” -- Yogi Berra

This weekend I will be on the sidelines of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff games. On the sidelines of these games will be close to a hundred photographers. You can hear the clicks of many of those around you shooting as if they are all in sync with one another.

While you might say I am having a midlife crisis at the age of fifty, actually I have lived with this fear most of my career. After tonight's game many of these photographers will pick up newspapers, magazines and surf the web for not just their photos, but to look at their competition.

We will all grade our work along the side of the other photographers. At a certain point in your career you start to see that most everyone has the "big play" of the game. This is when you realize it was certain amount of luck that some people were in the right place at the right time.

The funny thing is that some of my friends are always lucky. Over time I realized they were not lucky they just understood the game better than I did and knew how to position themselves to get the best angle on the play of the game.

You can easily get very depressed in this profession. It is very difficult to rise above the competition. The day you arrive at the top is followed by the next day of another photographer finding something new and better to help make their photo stand out from the rest.

We desire something truly revolutionary, but that really never happens.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Ecclesiastes 1:9
This bible verse is what helped inspire Ernest Hemingway to write the Sun Also Rises in 1926.  Life can be boring if we let it be. With almost unlimited TV stations and radio stations many of us still will flip through the channels and say there is nothing on we want to hear or see.

If we are not careful we can be doomed to a life of dulness.  

Can you ever get enough? We want more. In the American culture materialism consumes many of us. 

Whatever seems to be new “has been already in the ages before us.” So how do we handle this?

I have two suggestions:

Shoot for yourself

Years ago my photographer friend Ken Touchton was talking about a story he was wanting to do. Another friend looked at him and said that has been done before, to which Ken said, but I haven't done it.

One of the best reasons to push forward is for yourself. You need to have these experiences and live life to its fullest.  Tonight I will enjoy myself because I am trying to get the photos and do my very best.

After the game the world will most likely benefit from all the photographers on those sidelines. They will benefit also by the different sports writers, because each of them have a slightly different perspective and this is what the audience looks for.

Turn to God
Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
Ecclesiastes 12:13
For me it is my faith that helps me to endure this world. Ever since man was kicked out of the Garden of Eden, life has been weary and boring. However by living in relationship with God then all this life can have new meaning. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Camera Modes Explained

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

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

Photo by Capt Kodak

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Shutter Speed

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

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

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

During the Civil War Times
Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO Combined

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

Camera Modes

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

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

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

Snow example

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

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

Portrait Example

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

Sports Example

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

Silhouette Example

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

You make the choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Digital WorkStation for Photographer

I decided to look at all the software I use on my computer and realized my computer costs a lot more than my Nikon D4 camera which retails for $6,000.

You really need to remind yourself all that you bring to a job for a client. You need to be able to recoup your costs and still make a profit.

Hardware + Software

$2,500  Macbook Pro 15" 2.66 GHz i7 processor with 8 Gig Ram
$1,900  Adobe Creative Suite
$200     Microsoft Office 11
$150     PhotoMechanic
$150     Lightroom
$300     Final Cut Pro X
$50       SilverFast 8
$120     SoundSlides Pro
$140     FotoMagico
$400     Cumulus
$150     FotoQuote
$49       VMWare Fusion 5
$140     Windows 7
$99       Quicken Home & Business
$20       Disco Burning
$600     Few other software packages

$6,968  Total


To learn how to use the computer and each of the software packages is a lot of time and money.  I cannot realistically put a figure on this, because I have been to so many workshops through the years and then watched so many video tutorials on top of time practicing with each software package.

Realistically if I were to start from scratch to learn all that I know how to do on my computer, I think it would take two to three years of time to start over if I had to today.


When you get ready to price your time to work on post production, remember you are a highly trained professional working at a "Digital Workstation" and not just a computer.  Your clients most likely do not have any specialized software on their computers which requires years of training to master.

Your client has no reference for why you need to charge so much for post production when they have a $500 PC computer and a $300 camera and they upload their photos to Facebook within a few minutes of taking them. 

When talking to your client I don't think they are interested in you quoting all this like I am doing here. No this information is what you need to help you first of all know the real costs of doing business.

Difference between $7,000 Digital Workstation and a $500 computer?

You need to talk to your client in terms of what differences they will notice between what you will give them and if they took it with their camera.

Here are some areas you might want to address:
  • Skin Tones
  • Color Accuracy in their products
  • Larger color gamut 
  • Cropping
  • Leveling of horizons
  • Variety of images
    • Verticals & Horizontals
    • Overall, Medium and Details
    • Perspectives from high and low
This is just a list to get your juices flowing about things your post production work does to give them a superior product.

You learn to talk to them about digital redundancy which you do to insure they have an image. They take a photo and have it only in one place, where you make multiple copies and due to that if an image is corrupted you have copies. This takes up space on additional hard drives and cloud space.

Are you charging enough to recover your hardware, software and training you have in your "Digital Workstation?" This is in addition to the actual time you spend working on the project.

However you want to price it and communicate it to your client is as much creative as they shooting of the images. Be sure you are making money and not losing it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Faith and Photography

Kiplinger just "...analyzed the jobless rates and salaries for graduates with the 100 most popular majors to come up with our list of the ten worst values in college majors." Here is a link to the article.

The research they did was on undergraduate degrees.  Number three on their list was "Film and Photography." Here is that link.

I posted this to my FaceBook page and got a lot a responses. One from my friends Clark Hill said:
 Lots of times I've been out shooting video and a younger person will say "I'd like to get into video, what do you recommend?" I always tell them college prices are a complete waste to learn a craft. My suggestion is to read books on the subject, learn lighting and PRACTICE. Get a reasonably priced liberal arts degree and READ NOVELS, good ones. Learn to tell stories with words and pictures, the skills work together in your brain. Learn about people first and practice the craft.
Sadly the liberal arts degree was number seven on the list.


People of faith believe that God calls one to a line of work. The word vocation is actually rooted in the church. It means to be called and when first used was referring to being called to the priesthood.

The Jesuits outline the 7 stages of discerning a call to the priesthood, which I believe is advisable for whatever career you choose, especially photography.


Seven Stages of Vocation Discernment

  1. Attraction or Interest… to serving God
  2. Inquiry… taking the initiative
  3. Information Gathering… being proactive
  4. Discernment… understanding the experience
  5. Confirmation… moving toward a decision
  6. Application Process… submitting the application
  7. Entrance… if accepted, becoming a Jesuit Novice
There are two parts to a call for the ministry: 1) the personal call and 2) the corporate call. While one may feel they are called, the place they will serve must also feel the call to offer them a job.

It makes no logical sense to pursue the call to ministry. For most churches they require a M. Div. and this takes three to five years to earn after a four year undergraduate degree. For many people this is a second career and often they are taking a pay cut even with a higher degree.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Leap of Faith

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

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

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

Learn from the ministry

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Words and visual triggers

Showing your colors

Making a statement by wearing your team colors and even painting your body is what a Raving Fan does for their sports team. However, at most venues derogatory or profane signs, banners, clothing items and language are prohibited along with signs attached to sticks.

Why can't you just wear what you want to wear at a public event? You might be thinking I paid for the event and I am not hurting anyone.

It is a violation of federal law to air obscene programming at any time. It is also a violation of federal law to air indecent programming or profane language during certain hours. Congress has given the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the responsibility for administratively enforcing these laws.

Bottom line: Obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution and cannot be broadcast at any time.

Due to this law having any fan at a venue can jeopardize a broadcast of a game.

Connecting the dots

What surprises me on a regular basis is how crude many people are in work situations. They like telling off color jokes that adolescents would do in boys locker rooms.

First of all how something is deemed offensive is different from person to person. Often those around you will say nothing even if they are offended. You need to know that the minute you use profanity in the work place you are running the risk of being offensive to someone.

Second many see the use of profanity when someone is frustrated or disappointed as lacking character or being crude.

Lastly, profanity taken to the extreme a person can be fired or even worse sued.


In the rebellious counterculture you will see a lot of profanity worn on clothing and used in speaking. Even in this environment the improper use of profanity can cost you.

One great example I just experienced last week was a pop-punk band playing in a local dive. We took our daughter to the event and were talking with the dad of one of band players. He is a clean cut guy just trying to support the kids. They are promoting themselves and hoping to book bigger venues.

The problem one of the band members created was wearing a shirt with profanity. Many of the big venues want to promote their venue and if they see photos of the band wearing profanity it might cost them bookings in the future.

Paying your bills and having a career

Once you start realizing how much things cost you learn very quickly to fit into the work culture. You buy a new wardrobe than what you wore in school. You are on your best behavior while you are at work.

Today with social media what you do in your off time is no longer off limits for your employer. How you conduct yourself out of work can get you fired from your job.

If you want to have a family and provide for them you soon realize you need a way to continue to get promotions and climb the success ladder so you can afford to feed those extra mouths and maybe even provide more things that you want them to have.

So, if you wonder why you haven't been getting jobs or have lost some jobs in the past can you rule out your use of profanity in your life as a culprit? Is it really worth the cost to speak your mind?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Nikon D4 @ ISO 12,800 still not enough

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ƒ/5.6, ISO 12,800, 1/60
When Available Light Isn't Enough

My daughter has a favorite band called Late Night Reading. This is a link to their MySpace page where you can listen to their music.  They are a pop-punk band started in 2009 when they were all just sophomores in high school.

I was fascinated at how the bands build their fan base using social media and then going to small venues like Swayze's Venue in Marietta. This is where they played Thursday night when I went along to help chaperon my daughter and her friend going to the concert.

My wife reached out to see if they mind me shooting some photos. We were doing this as much to make my daughter happy with photos of her with the band as to just have some fun ourselves.

You can see more of my photos here on my PhotoShelter account.

My daughter is in the middle with her friend she brought from school on the right.
The good thing about shooting the headliner is that they always have a few opening acts. Well this meant I could do some test shots and tweak everything so when the Late Night Reading band took the stage I was ready.

As you can see in the first photo I was only getting to shoot at about 1/60 for a shutter speed.  While I had my 85mm ƒ/1.4 to shoot with the problem then became a depth-of-field issue.

Why was 1/60 and ƒ/1.4 not good? This is a pop-punk band. They and their fans move like crazy. I am not sure with all their head banging that they are not moving faster than many of the athletes I photograph.

While the shutter speed was better at ƒ/1.4 I was having a terrible time getting many usable shots unless they paused for a moment.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60
I went back to the car and pulled out my hot shoe flashes, PocketWizard and Light Stands.  I used the same lighting gear used in this photo here of my daughter playing her viola.

I put the two lights stands all the way up as high as they go. Pointed the strobes to the stage zoomed all the way out for most of the photos and changed the zoom to a little wider if I moved them close to the stage. The SB800 was zoomed to 105mm and the Nikon SB900 was zoomed in to 200mm.

The strobes are on the PocketWizard Transceiver TT5 and They are on Manfrotto 5001B Nano Black Light Stands and the Manfrotto 175F Justin Spring Clamp with Flash Shoe to hold the flashes. I am triggering the TT5 using the PocketWizard Mini TT1 and PocketWizard AC3.

I turned the ISO up to about ISO 5,000 because I didn't want the background to go totally dark.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 5000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60
One of my favorite photos is of the bass player. I liked working from the side of the stage because I put the strobes in front like typical stage lights would be placed.  This meant I was getting more cross light from the side and shadows were helping give more depth to the photos than from the front of the stage.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 4000, ƒ/5.6, 1/60
  • Shoot test shots of available light before adding lights
  • Always have strobes with you
  • Use off camera strobes 
  • Use higher ISO to open up the background when shooting with strobes
If you are a parent, taking photos of your kids favorite activities and sharing them with them and their friends is a good thing to build long lasting relationships.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Two photographers add services for their clients

Two Photographers

Two of my close photographer friends have been going through growing pains after more than 30 years in the industry. Gary S. Chapman and Robin Nelson started in Newspapers as photojournalists and both of them have been freelancing for most of their careers. 

I have watched both of them continue to find clients and continue their passions of storytelling. Each of them have explored using video to tell stories and both have done some work with video. 

While many in our industry have been preaching that to get jobs you must embrace video the two of these photographers still believe in the power of the still image. 

Today both of them would most likely describe themselves as visual storytellers more than they might have when they were working on newspapers. 


Gary S. Chapman is a humanitarian photographer who travels the globe doing coverage for his clients. Often his wife Vivian, who is a writer and producer has collaborated with him on many projects.

Gary has made just about every change possible to stay current with the technology to provide the very best product for his clients.

Storytelling is core to his work. He has captured real moments as opposed to setup situations in order to respect the dignity of the subject and remain true to representation of the story.

Gary started blogging early to share these stories of the people he was meeting around the world. He was being sent to places where people needed help. For example Gary was meeting people whose entire families were killed in front of them by another group. While the organizations were getting the photos they did not always use them to their full potential.

Due to budgets being cut everywhere Gary was traveling alone more often and didn't have Vivian to write the story for him. Out of necessity Gary began to write short stories for his blog about the people he was meeting.

Check out some of these stories by Gary on his blog here

In the past year Gary started to ask the NGOs if they would like him to write short stories and help them blog about the stories they were sending Gary to cover. The only additional costs to the NGO was a little more to cover Gary's time for writing.

It won't be long before Gary is going to need to change his title from "Humanitarian Photographer" to "Humanitarian Photographer/Writer."

Video and Stills

Robin Nelson is as passionate about telling his subjects stories as Gary.

Whenever I call Robin and we get together for some coffee I am always asking what he is working on. The overwhelming time is spent on telling me the struggles these subjects are going through and how wonderful these people are as human beings.

A little over a year ago Robin took the plunge into video and went to the Immersion Conference. While the teachers were trying to keep the students from using stills in their projects and only video, Robin resisted. He wanted to incorporate what he was already doing with the stills and not abandon them as many others had done.

While many photographers talk about their work as being the voice for the voiceless, this could not be more true than with Robin's passion for the developmentally disabled. The difference with Robin is he is involved helping this community even when he is not photographing them. His own son has some challenges and Robin has seen first hand how society expects everyone to pull themselves up by their own boot straps even if they don't have boots.

This is one of the video/still packages Robin has done for the Georgia Council on Developmental Disability's 'Real Communities' initiative.

How Robin was able to get this project is he was already known by the advocates in this community. They saw him at their meetings and saw the stories he was publishing through traditional media for years. It was because of this ongoing relationship he was able to have them approach him about the stories they wanted told.

Now Robin occasionally writes stories, but this new way of combining his photos with the actual voices of the subjects has him excited.

Here is a link to Robin's website

Executive Producers

Robin and Gary might not see themselves as executive producers, but they are living the role. They are no longer taking photos and handing them to organizations expecting the organization to know how to use them to tell the story.

Both Gary and Robin are producing packages that are being used more today by their clients than the photos alone were being used in the past. They have solved problems for their clients.

In the past the clients had to take the photos of these photographers and then create a package for their audience. With budget cut backs and frankly a lack of knowledge of how to do what Robin and Gary offer, clients are eager to work with someone who gives them a product ready to go.

Both Gary and Robin were noticing for years that their photos were not getting used enough by their clients. Both of them ended up putting together their own packages for their blogs. Their passion helped them to pursue new skills that their clients now embrace.

Are you passionate enough about your subjects to tell their stories even if your clients fail to tell the story? You need fire in your belly to work as hard as Robin and Gary to take on more work like they are doing. I am sure that the subjects of their stories today are glad they did.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Magic words for the freelancer

Staff vs Freelancer

When you are on staff and you are asked to do more then you just have to do it. However, there are a few things you can do if you are on staff and the requests are unreasonable.

If there are reasons you cannot accomplish all that is on your plate then you need to ask them what you need to take off. I would enjoy helping you, however I have these other projects. Which of these projects can I let go of or can we send these to an outside freelancer?

Sometimes the requests requires something that you do not know how to do or you may need more resources. This is when you explain you could do this but without these resources I am unable to accomplish your request. You articulate as necessary why you need it and let them determine if they want to help make it happen.

You do not want to be known as the staff person who is always saying no. You want to be viewed as the staff person willing to make adjustments to make things happen.

Yes ..., However ...

I had a eureka moment when I was explaining a situation to my friend Tony Messano.  Tony is a creative director and helped me to know how to be positive.

"You need to let the client say no," said Tony. No matter the request you can handle almost any request with yes I would love to help you, however to make that happen this is what I need from you.

  • While you are here, can you photograph this?
  • Can we just stop by here on our way?
  • Your camera can do video right? Can you just get me a quick shot of this?
  • Can you put these up on the web in a gallery for us?
  • Can you make a few extra DVDs?
I am sure you can think of numerous other scenarios to add to this list. The key is these requests land outside the contract and agreement that you have with the client.


If you do not have a contract you are already screwed. You need something that you and the client can look at which lists what the client will receive.

I recommend writing a contract based on a project rather than an hourly wage. If you base it on an hourly wage then whatever they ask you to do in the time you have given to them is fair game. You have become a day laborer or just like the staff position.

When you do a project contract there are a few things I recommend you cover. This is specific details of the work, price, and rights.
  1. Work to be performed
    1. What you will photograph
    2. The style that it will be photographed
    3. How many images will they receive and the format they will receive them
    4. Time of delivery of the images
  2. Price 
    1. How much for the work
    2. Expenses
    3. Time of payment for the work
  3. How they can use the images (rights)
You should get even more specific in the terms and conditions which ASMP has a recommended contract for this here

Carry the contract with you to the job. When the client asks for any changes outside the realm of what the contract covers, be ready to pull it out and say we can make the necessary changes here to the contract so we can get what you want done. This is when they ask for more you give the additional price for the work.

Tip: Ken Touchton a freelancer friend of mine recommended even writing into the contract a fee for any additional photography. He usually adds this as any additional projects the price is a certain amount. The idea is that you are quoting on similar projects that you are already doing that day. An example is adding one more portrait.

Magic words

Yes I can make that happen for you, however to do that then this must happen .... What would you like to do?

But Stanley ...

What if I don't want to do the work? If there is an ethical or legal reason to say no to a request be sure and price it to make it worth it if they approve your price. This is similar to my jerk price, where I charge enough for those difficult clients that I can work with them for the day. 

Too often I have said no when I should have taken my own advice in the past. Two things would have happened. First of all I would have maybe made more money and second I would have kept more clients because of my positive attitude.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The client is the one paying you

You are hired by a person not a company

One of the most difficult things to understand is who the decision maker that hired you is who you are working for and not the company.

If John Smith of a project team hires you to photograph a project and John Smith works for Coke, you need to know that Coke didn't hire you, but John Smith who works for Coke hired you.

A few years ago I worked for Georgia Tech and this problem of who paid for the photography came to my attention in a very messy situation.

The Research Institute which was a separate part of Georgia Institute for Technology had asked our department to photograph a project. Since I was the only photographer on staff that meant I was hired by them to shoot a research project.

The research was being done in the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech. Important that you notice this is a different department. The Research Institute had built an incredible reputation as being able to get work published in major popular news and science magazines like Popular Mechanics, Business Week and other publications.

The Research Institute's writer contacted me and they paid for the photography.

Unknown to me at the time the College of Engineering had contacted my department to also help in promoting the project. The writer in our department when hearing I had been to the researcher and shot the project went to our files and pulled the images and sent these out with his story.

This was when we had a very messy situation. The writer who had his department pay for the photography didn't get to use the photos first and the other writer not only scooped the story and got a feather in their cap they used photos that another department had paid to have produced.

New Policy

After that fiasco, we put a new policy in place. Which ever department paid or initiated a project was able to use the photos first and anyone wanting to use them had to have permission of that department.

Since this was all with tax dollars it really belonged to the state and not a department technically. However, we realized we needed to address this or have another solution. The problem was that if a department was using their budget to create something and another department didn't spend any money it was creating ill will.

My Policy

No matter who is requesting photos, I always let them know I am more than willing to help and want to help them. However, I tell them it is not my call and I would encourage them to contact my client and I am more than willing to help once my client has approved the use.

The Politics

The more you know about the company and the organizational structure the easier it is to handle these requests.

When you know that the client's boss is the one making a request I can handle this much differently when it is just another department.

Handling a request

Take the request: When someone comes up to you while you are working and requests something, I usually had them a business card and ask them to contact me by email and put their request in writing. I explain I would love to help them but right now am busy shooting.

Often the request will disappear because they do not follow up with you. This is a great way to handle most photography requests when it is more often someone asking for a favor than them truly wanting to compensate you for the work.

This will buy you time to have the time to properly respond to them by email or giving them a phone call. If you are like me and someone asks you something while you are busy in a project you are not able to process the request properly and give a well thought out response.

Let the client know of the request: Before responding to the request let your client know of the request. Ask them if they would prefer to handle the request themselves or would they like you to handle it.

Usage Rights: When you contracted with the client you most likely will need to address if they have one-time rights, exclusive rights, unlimited rights, and you also have the time limit of these rights that you agree to work with the client. I cannot think of a situation where you have been hired by a client that you will not need to wait until they use an image before you start selling it on the open market.

Wedding Photography

If the parents of the bride are the ones paying for the photography, this is important when it comes to requests from them. The dynamics change a great deal when the bride and groom are paying and then the mother of the bride comes asking for special photos outside your agreement with the bride.

In summary, you need to know that just because a person at a large company hired you to shoot something for them and even if you have given them unlimited usage, this does not mean that if another person from the company asks for the photos that you just give them to that person.

As long as you honor the client relationship you will gain the trust of this client.  How you handle the requests from the other people in the company can help them see you as a professional who has ethics and solid business practices.

Friday, August 10, 2012

What I learned from Portillo's in Chicago

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/2.8, 1/2000
A couple of years ago a friend of mine introduced me to Portillo's in Chicago.  It is an experience for sure.  You come in stand in a line to order. My friend encouraged me to order the the Italian Beef sandwich with everything in it. I also ordered a side order of crinkle fries and a chocolate malt shake.

I enjoyed it more because of all the experience around the food.  I am in Chicago and for my last meal I decided to stop by the Portillo's in Schaumburg.

Before you even go in the door the view from the parking lot is not like other restaurants. Look at all the flowers and the manicured landscaping around the building.

Nikon P7000, ISO 1087, ƒ/2.8, 1/350
Once you walk through the door you are transported back to the 1960's when the restaurant started.  Extremely clean and colorful. Unlike Cracker Barrel restaurant where everything on the walls is from the past, but looking rusted and worn out, here at Portillo's everything looks brand new.

For those of us who remember living during the 1960's this looks even cleaner than my memories, but there is enough memorabilia to take me back to those years.

Nikon P7000, ISO 320, ƒ/2.8, 1/110
The staff is dressed in white shirts with Portillo's in script on the back, ties, black aprons and newsboy style hats definitely creates an atmosphere all it's own. Checker board floor and on the kitchen walls definitely creates a flash back to year's ago.

Neon signs were created in 1910 and very popular between 1920's and 60's. Today designer's use these to create a feel for a business and often create flashback's for their customer's pasts of years gone by.

What about you?

Now when people experience your brand do you transport your customers to another time and place? Does your brand create an atmosphere?

You have a brand whether you know it or not. It might not be so distinctive as Portillo's, but it may be so bland that you are just know as one of the many providers of services in a market.

Photographer's have been known to wear certain types of clothing. Often the world travelers are seen in Khaki's whereas the news photographers are known to be in jeans like the famous news photographer animal on the Lou Grant Show.  If you are too young to know what I am talking about here is a link to a photo of animal.

On the other extreme was the photographer Felix Unger in the TV show the Odd Couple.  Here is the opening for the show that showed how obsessive compulsive was impetuous in every detail.

There is even the super hero Spiderman was a photographer known as Peter Parker. Here you can see his photo. I like him because Stan Lee created him. Hopefully you see the humor here.

Our you the hero to your clients helping them out of binds and saving the day? Are you the persnickety Felix Unger that customers like the attention to detail, but find some of your personality strange?

Maybe you see yourself like National Geographic Magazine fictional photographer Robert Kincaid as depicted in the book Bridges of Madison County. You may like Clint Eastwood's betrayal of Kincaid in the movie version of the book. Kincaid had a way to awaken the soul of a small town woman living on a farm. Do you create excitement with your clients? Maybe not like Kincaid, but in other ways you may create a bit of mystery with your presence.

Ask your friends and maybe some clients to help you know how they think of you now. Then see if there are things you can do to make yourself more memorable and distinctive. Maybe you need a new wardrobe. Maybe you need to take some dance classes to develop better posture.

Know you brand and control your brand. Be intentional and you too can create a following just like Portillo's does for it's customers.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Camera Insurance for College Students

A few days I posted a blog about camera insurance. It was inspired by what happened to some of my friends covering the Olympics in London.

A few days later I realized there is a group out there where they are the most vulnerable. These are college students.


Before you go off to college you need to have a conversation with your parents about their homeowner insurance. Do not talk to your friends and listen to what their insurance covers and assume it is the same for you. Every single insurance company does things differently and even the same company has many different variables to write a variety of policies.

You want to know about the fine print in your policy, so talk the the agent about some possible scenarios to be sure you are covered.

Possible Scenarios
  • The amount of gear you have, is it covered or do you need more coverage
  • If you work for the college newspaper will this affect you being considered a student or professional.
    • Some college papers pay their staff and this could affect your insurance
  • Renting of equipment. Can you rent something and still be covered.
  • You live in a dorm verses at home.
  • You live in an apartment off campus
Since these are all possibilities don't hold back. Ask them to give you ways you are not covered.  Your idea is to know now before anything happens.  You would hate to have all your stuff destroyed in fire, stolen or while shooting a football game it gets damaged and find out it isn't covered. 
Renters' insurance

It may be the best thing for your family for you to have a separate policy. The odds of you being robbed on campus may be hirer than home. Once you file a claim it may make it more difficult for your parents to find a insurance carrier.

The renters' insurance is similar to a homeowners' policy but only covers the contents and not the structure of the apartment. Some insurance companies may let you while you are a student have this policy and just add your camera gear to this.

Professional Organizations

As I mentioned in the first article on camera insurance you may be better off buying camera insurance. As a student you can join the professional organizations at a lower rate than pros and still get access to some of the benefits like insurance.

What to insure

It is recommended you take pictures of all your gear, have copies of all the receipts to show purchase price and write down the serial number. I would recommend making a spreadsheet to show:
  • the name of the gear 
  • the price of the gear (either paid or replacement cost)
  • the serial number
  • date purchased
Most policies that specialize for the photographer will include your computer gear as well. For your computer gear list things like:
  • Computer
  • External hard drives
  • Software
    • Adobe Lightroom
    • PhotoMechanic
    • Microsoft Office
    • ftp software
    • Adobe PhotoShop
    • Final Cut Pro
  • Monitor Calibrator
  • Card Readers
Think of your computer as a digital workstation and list everything you bought to work on it. If it is stolen you need to replace all that software and hardware.

Worst Situation

The absolutely worse situation to be in is having all your gear stolen and you don't know what is covered. Call today and find out what is covered, you may need to buy a separate policy.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Covering a goodbye party: Mix it up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 05, 2012

No longer the arbiter of truth

Nikon P7000, Auto ISO (100), ƒ/8, 1/30, -2 EV Fill Flash
Good morning! This is how we typically great one another. For those who are morning folks like me it is good, some people are not morning people.

A tidbit:

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

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

If you have made mistakes, there is always another chance for you. You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call 'failure' is not the falling down, but the staying down.
--Mary Pickford

One reason I look forward to new days is I struggle in putting into words my thoughts. What I have found over time is those who seem to navigate relationships either know how to react to almost any situation with just the right words or they are more reserved and less likely to say much at all.

Those who suffer the most in relationships are those who speak their mind freely. While we all love someone who is honest and truthful we really only appreciate those who do so with a warmth and care.

When to speak up in business

I was covering a professor at Georgia Tech teaching a civil engineering class where the lesson was on speaking up, but it wasn't that obvious. The professor had divided the class into teams and each team was given a bridge to build. 

It appeared to be a test of them building this bridge out of balsa wood to see if it was going to support a large weight to later be put on the bridge.

However, the real test was for them to come to the professor after reading the bridge specs and communicate that this bridge will not work before they start to build the bridge. They were to speak up and communicate before spending time and resources on a bridge that was doomed to fail. 

It was the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger where they went back to all the engineers to see if someone had failed to speak up on a faulty ring design. The engineers had spoken up, but their superiors ignored them and went with the launch.

The ramifications of not speaking up when you should requires you to inform those you work with your concerns. 

Even when doing the prudent thing can have negative consequences. Often whistleblowers suffer a reprisal for speaking out. Many people do not even consider blowing the whistle, not only because of fear of retaliation, but also because of fear of losing their relationships at work and outside work.

When not speak up in business

Even speaking up when it can save lives can be costly. This is why so many people are silent about their opnions in the work place.  

My first job out of college was working for a newspaper.  I was trained to be the arbiter of truth due to the first amendment. Journalists must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience. This stimulates the intellectual diversity necessary to understand and accurately cover an increasingly diverse society.

One of my mentors, Howard Chapnick, wrote a book for photojournalists called Truth Needs No Ally: Inside Photojournalism.  Everything I was learning was to speakup.

I went from the newspaper to working for a Christian magazine The Commission which was communicating was missionaries were doing all around the world to their supporters. However, this is where I started to learn that speaking your mind can backfire.

One of the first meetings I attended I was asked for my thoughts in the meeting. I spoke from the heart and truthfully. I did not understand that this was more of a gesture to include me, but not a sign to welcome your opinion. I was not told they didn't want to hear my opinion, I just felt very uneasy with the response.

It would take years before I understood that sharing your thoughts isn't really welcomed in business. 

The art of Decorum

Decorum is an appropriateness of behavior or conduct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardinal Virtues

The cardinal virtues are a set of four virtues recognized in the writings of Classical Antiquity and in Christian tradition. These consist of:
  • Prudence - able to judge between actions with regard to appropriate actions at a given time
  • Justice - proper moderation between self-interest and the rights and needs of others
  • Temperance or Restraint - practicing self-control, abstention, and moderation
  • Fortitude or Courage - forbearance, endurance, and ability to confront fear and uncertainty, or intimidation
I often will find myself failing somewhere during the day in some relationship.

One of my favorite hymns from my Christian tradition is Just as I am. It was made popular by Billy Graham during his crusades around the globe.  To me the third verse was one I could relate to all the time, because I continued to struggle in my social interactions.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.
It is difficult to master the cardinal virtues because I am human. I am a flawed person who makes mistakes and must constantly ask for forgiveness. If you haven't had to say your sorry in a while you might not be in any relationship. I think being in relationships will cause you to stumble because you care and want the best for your loved ones.

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

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Camera Insurance

Is your camera gear insured?
I woke up to sad news this morning, that two of my friends were robbed in London in the basement of a church behind two locked doors.  All of all their camera gear was stolen. Dennis Fahringer was the photography instructor for Youth With A Mission and his student Xiao Dong Yu from China had his gear and Chinese documents stolen. Keep them in your prayers and if you can help reach out to them.

They are doing this as a mission outreach for YWAM.  If you want to help Tom and Dennis you can donate here: Please specify if the funds are for Tom. This is Dennis' account. When Tom canceled his credit card it made it so his PayPal account will not work.

This email prompted me to write today's blog.

Camera Insurance

There are many ways to insure your cameras and I want to give you three basic categories that I understand exist. My recommendation is to know your situation and if you are adequately covered.

Homeowners Insurance

If you do not make any money through the use of your equipment, a standard homeowners or renters policy should cover against theft and fire, even when your equipment is outside your home. This typically covers what most people would typically own and not maybe all the gear a hobbyist might own.

If you accidentally damage your gear, most homeowners policies will not cover this.

As long as you are not using your gear for commercial purposes the homeowners basic policy can then be expanded through a floater. Here you buy an "all risk" policy that will cover the gear for anything except those things they would exclude which often are things like "acts of war."  So if you are out boating and the gear falls in the water you would be covered.

For the Pro

If you are making money with your camera the homeowners policy will not work. You will need a commercial inland marine policy.  This is better than the "all risk" policy in that it will remove the exclusion of professional and usually have even more tailored riders such as covering you if someone trips over your tripod.

Because this is a commercial insurance policy you can expect to pay more.  Tyically  $1.75 to $2.75 per $100 worth of gear with a deductible of $250 to $1,000 per claim.

Additional coverage available on a commercial policy includes general liability, commercial property, workers compensation, commercial automobile coverage and umbrella liability to name a few.

Insurance: A reason to join a professional organization

One of the best reasons to join a professional organization is for its benefits like special healthcare and camera insurance. One of the best reasons to use their insurance companies is they understand what you need based on working with the organization.

Lesson Learned

A few years ago I was reading on a photography forum how people were getting great deals through their State Farm Insurance representative. I was with State Farm for my house and cars at the time, so I called them.

I explained that I do not have a studio and do location work all over the country and occasionally overseas travel.  The quote I got was for about 1/3 what I had been paying. I jumped on that and had the policy for more than two years.

On that same photography forum I later was reading that someone had a problem with State Farm's policy and found out they do not cover what was typical for what I was doing. I copied and pasted the forum post and asked my agent do you cover me or is this correct?

They investigated and came back and said I was covered through the end of the policy, but the forum post was correct and they would not renew my policy.

My suggestion is to find an organization like NPPA, ASMP, PPofA or another professional photographer's group and call the vendors that they have deals with.  I called all the insurance companies and after calling around finally settled with the ASMP's vendor Tom C. Pickard and company or TCP (

Final Question

Do you know if you are covered if your gear was stolen? If you dropped your gear are you covered? If you are traveling overseas does this exclude your coverage?

You need to know the answers to these questions. Call your insurance representative and find out today, before it is too late.