Monday, October 29, 2012

Photographer or Educator

Stanley teaching lighting to students in YWAM School of Photography in Kona, Hawaii.  Photo by Dennis Fahringer

The first 20 years of my career I worked on staff of a communication team. I started first working in newspapers where we had a daily deadline. I then went to work for a magazine where we covered similar stories that I worked on in newspapers but our deadline was monthly.

I then worked for a university where we had weekly newspaper and a few magazines that I shot stories.  I was juggling many different deadlines those days.

Everyone I worked with on those publications was a professional communicator. While some were more word people and others more visual, together we were all trying to tell stories in ways that were compelling and drew our audience into the story.

Today, I work mainly with business people who are not professional communicators. There is a major difference in the conversations than with the professional communicators.

Defining the project

Working on a newspaper, I always knew what the story was about before I showed up to cover it. I knew when I was sent to cover a hard news story like a fire that I was to capture the who, what, where, when, why and how parts of the story. Also, it was running in the newspaper the following day.

I had to have one photo that could tell most of the story, because often that was the only space available. I was always shooting every assignment like a photo story, so if they had room they could use more photos to tell the story.

When I get a phone call or email requesting my services from a businessperson rarely is the project defined as it was when I worked in the media.

Questions for the client (sample)
What do you need covered?
What is the goal and purpose of the photos?
Where will these photos be used?
What is the feel/mood you are going for with the project?
Where and when will this take place?
What do you need from me as a deliverable?
When is your deadline?
What is your budget?
Who is my contact?
Who do I send the invoice to?
My goal is to get on the same page with the client. Often they are not sure of what they need and looking to me for some direction.

Educating the client

Never let your persistence and passion turn into stubbornness and ignorance. 
Anthony J. D'Angelo 

This is not when you tell the client what you do and what they need to give to you, this is more about asking questions which help you and the client move towards the goal.

I am helping the client understand everything we need from them to make photos that not only they will be pleased with, but most likely have a good chance to be in my portfolio.

It is not being a photographer or educator, it is being both that leads to success.

After I establish what they would like ideally, I now must help them know what I need from them to help accomplish this goal.

I would call all this information gathering part of the Pre-Production part of the project. Sometimes this can be done very quickly in a five-minute phone call or other times we need a few meetings with a team to make it work.

What I am trying to establish before the work begins is a storyboard. I want to have in my mind what the finished product should look like. Sometimes we actually create a storyboard of a few images. I always have the picture in mind of what we are shooting for, before I take on the project.

It is very easy to take a storyboard and then work backwards to establish everything we need to make it work. We work out who will be in the photos. We work out what they should be wearing. We also establish what props and location we will use. We decide on the best time to do the photography.

We also know all the places we plan to use the photos, so we can be sure the files that are created digitally will work for each of those mediums, whether it is for web, print, billboards or video for example. Each of these will help us determine things like to shoot vertically or horizontal. Sometimes we need both and so we are prepared to shoot it both ways.

At the end of the Pre-Production process the photographer and client know all their roles. Who is responsible for being sure everything is in place.

Seeing is believing

Photographs are the most reliable, the most correct recording means, and therefore they become the most important aid in educating and obtaining instruction. - Benjamin Stone

I am always shocked at how many visual people fail to show their clients examples of what they are talking about. Go to your meeting with a few examples ready.

Send the clients examples after a meeting if a new idea or direction is taken that you were not prepared to have examples for at the time.

You need to build a small database of examples that could be on your laptop or iPad ready to show. The key is to have some sort of a way to put your finger on them quickly.

I have a document with links to all my videos and multimedia for example.  I also have a database which I can pull up a thumbnail of everything I have shot. I can search this pretty quickly to have examples in a meeting.

Conflict resolution

The first few jobs you do most likely you will forget to ask a question. This is where you will have to decide if you messed up. If you did then you may have to eat some costs to make it right with the client.

The best way to avoid these conflicts is to work with a mentor who can help revue your estimates. The best place to find someone like this is through a professional organization. I have bounced many of my estimates off of other American Society of Media Photographers ( through the years.

You will get a client sooner or later that will push you to your limits. Some of these clients feel they have done their job when they have maximized the relationship with you on the project.

When they start making changes you can easily stop and listen to their request. Learn to say, “I am more than happy to make these changes for you. In order to meet your request I must _________________. Let me make the changes here to the estimate and have you sign off on this and lets make it happen.”

Sometimes I have to say that in order to just pop in and make a picture means that I may not have time to do the rest of the photos on our schedule. Sometimes I am saying this is additional work and I need to charge for that service.

The key to resolving the conflict is to articulate the situation and ask them what they would like to do going forward. You are letting them know how you are willing to resolve the issue and then they get to choose. Often the choice is a yes or no to making the changes.


I recommend you creating a questionnaire that you have by the phone or something you could email to the client even to fill out. This is very important to ask all the right questions or you may have to be eating some costs later.

Today I have done this so many times that I am not even aware I am going through my list of questions. The conversation with the client feels like a conversation more than me filling out a form.

I am taking notes that I will refer to throughout our conversation and use later to help create my estimate.

Are you ready for the phone to ring?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Key to good photos: Point your camera in a different direction

You go to an event and if you are like everyone in the photo above you are all pointing your cameras in the same direction and at the same time.

By all means still get the "obvious shot." What I want to encourage you to do is look beyond the main stage of an event.

Before this middle school orchestra concert all the students arrive early to get their instruments tuned.  Here I went to the area they were tuning and got really close.

Seth Gamba is the music teacher and the last time I saw someone tuning something like he is doing was early in my career. I watched the NASCAR pit crew use a screwdriver touching the block of a running engine to tune it by adjusting the timing.

Doesn't this photo make you want to know what he is doing.  This is quite different than the obvious conducting shot.

Warming Up

While the students are getting their instruments tuned and warmed up, I roamed around and got in close for some photos that you have to look really close to see if this is the performance or practice.

All the photos above are taken before the performance. Occasionally you can see in the background things that wouldn't be going on in the performance.  But look at how many look like a performance shot.

The hardest part during the performance is getting a good photo due to the angles you are limited to. Hey before hand I am walking all through the orchestra and taking photos.  Can't do that during the performance.

During the Performance

One of the things that I notice in the performance shots is the musicians are looking for the conductor as compared to before he wasn't around.

What will the 8x10 look like?

I get a kick out of seeing the iPad being used as a camera. I keep seeing and and thinking they are already seeing the finished 8x10 print.

But how did it sound?

Dorie Griggs, my wife, operated the video camera from the bleachers while I was down front shooting. If you have read this far you might as well enjoy hearing them play. By the way my daughter does the first "scream" in the performance.

Color correction

I used the ExpoDisc to get a custom white balance for the best skin tones.  Here is another blog post on how I use it. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sports Photography: High Speed Flash vs No Flash

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 12,800,  ƒ/5.6, 1/400 -- Flashes used (4) Alienbees B1600 with  11" long throw reflectors with PocketWizard Plus II receivers and being triggered by the PocketWizard Mini TT1.
High Speed Flash vs No Flash

In the photo above I used a flash with an output just about the same output as the existing light.

This is the histogram for the above photo.

Nikon D4, 120-300mm, ISO 11,400,  ƒ/2.8, 1/1000
Here is another photo where strobes were not used. I had to change to a faster lens and used a faster shutter speed.

This is the histogram for the second photo.  There are two things I notice that are different.  First of all the shadows in the available light photo have less information as compared to the photo using flash. Second the entire dynamic range appears greater with the flash, which results in less noise in the photo.

ISO 25,600

I wanted to just see what the Nikon D4 looked like at 25,600 without strobes.  Here is that result.  I am showing the same player so there is little variation as possible except for ISO.

Nikon D4, 120-300mm, ISO 25,600,  ƒ/4, 1/1250
Here is the histogram for ISO 25,600

Color Temperature

The ability of a camera to reproduce color accurately depends a great deal upon the color space with which the object is photographed.  The dynamic range of color is the greatest with Daylight or 5500º Kelvin. As you move away from this color temperature to the sodium vapor lights in this gym that are 3700º Kelvin and then must add 27+ magenta to color correct this to get a neutral grey the color space actually shrinks.  The dynamic range is less.

For the most accurate color if we had used only the strobes and no ambient light at all the color would have been the most accurate. Also, I could not have bounced the flashes off the ceiling, but would have to point them straight at the volleyball players. You see the flash that is bounced will have a color shift of whatever it bounces off. If the ceiling was red then there would be a red tent to the light.


Here is a photo of one of the four Alienbees B1600 with the 11" long throw reflectors. You can also see the PocketWizard Plus II used to trigger the flash. I dialed down the flash output to 1/8 power. Again with todays full framed high ISO camera chips the results are quite acceptable and the flash is less disturbing to those in the room.

This is a wider shot of the room where you can see the results of all four strobes going off.

This is the histogram for the overall shot above.

Here is that same angle with no flashes.

This is the histogram for the available light photo.

One last comparison

Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 12,800,  ƒ/5.6, 1/400 -- Flashes used 
Nikon D4, 28-300mm, ISO 12,800,  ƒ/5.6, 1/400 -- No Flash
High Speed Flash Sync

You may have noticed that the flash shots were done with studio strobes and syncing faster than the 1/250 sync speed for the Nikon D4.  How did I do that?

Here is an explanation from the PocketWizard website.
PocketWizard’s HyperSync™ feature throws x-sync out the window, allowing never before possible shutter speeds with full power flash – any full power flash.  With some camera and flash combinations even 1/8000th second is possible.   (Alienbees with the Nikon would only sync up to 1/400)
HyperSync is simply the ControlTL® system’s unique ability to adjust the timing of the flash burst so that you can use as much of the light output as possible as the shutter opening passes over your sensor.  With the systems “through-the-shoe” communication, a ControlTL transmitter with HyperSync can automatically detect the camera type connected to it as well as the shutter speed. Read more ...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Photography requires pursuit of zero-tolerance

Team RV performing at the Peachtree Dekalb Airport's Good Neighbor Day Airshow
Core essentials to success:
1. Be honest and truthful
2. Deliver on your promises
3. Stay customer focused
Most people dislike salespeople who waste their time. Not being prepared with something of value and a purpose can make it more and more difficult for you to get appointments.

If you have done your homework you will be able to leverage the customers resources from within their organization.  To do this you must know their goals and objectives.

Just imagine starting your meeting with after studying your website and some of your companies materials I understand your purpose to be ...  You can ask them if this is a good assessment. If you have done your homework you know you are on target.

I want to propose something today that will help you achieve this goal.  What I am proposing will help you and this is how it will benefit you.

If the customer decides to do business with you and you deliver as you have promised, you will be able to leverage this experience to get more business.  You are proving your trustworthiness.

Overtime you will build a reputation to get more customers, but also raise your awareness with your competition.


Every year 32 NFL teams compete for the Super Bowl Championship. All of these teams have the best football players they could find.

Last year the NY Giants did something different than other teams had done in the past. They brought in consultants who were not football players to help them win.

Team RV, the world's largest air show team, provides an exciting and memorable performance that combines precision formation flying and formation aerobatics.

Afterburner the global leader in Flawless Execution℠, offers three strategic quality management solutions – Equip, Embed, and Empower, a set of business process improvement principles inspired by elite military professionals and military fighter pilots that revolutionize the way you look at and do business in today’s fast-paced environment. They took their fighter pilot training and helped the NY Giants understand it isn’t about trick plays or new plays, it is about executing the plays flawlessly that will set you apart.

Many photographers I know are very much like their NFL counterparts.  They continuously are working on their skills to improve them. Just like some of the NFL teams that never are making it to the Super Bowl are photographers who are a struggling franchise.

Last year’s Super Bowl Champions are put under the microscope of all the other teams. They look for things to copy and look for weaknesses to exploit.

When you do things right it doesn’t become easier, sometimes it becomes harder.

Very Old Example

Many years ago there was this guy that rose to be one of the greatest leaders of all time.

Here are some of the things he did:
1. Healthy Diet—As a very young boy he was eating very healthy and avoiding junk food.
2. Remained pure and spotless—He was a gentleman all his life
3. Knowledgeable and easy to understand—he was well educated and also was an excellent communicator
4. Servant’s Heart—lifted up others around him
The political leaders of the day found out about his skills and had him as part of their leadership team.

He rose to such prominence that it infuriated many who wanted that power. These people spread rumors. They told lies about him in order to tear him down so they could get his job.

He was fired and thrown in jail for things he never did.

He would get out of this situation and rise again to the leadership teams only to have this happen again and again.

The reason he continued to rise is he didn’t become vengeful.  He continued to be honest and truthful. He delivered on his promises and he was focused on being a servant.

By the way the name of this guy was Daniel and you can find him in the Bible.
The men chosen to serve the king were …
"in whom there was no blemish, but good-looking, gifted in all wisdom, possessing knowledge and quick to understand, who had ability to serve in the king's palace." (Daniel 1:4)
The US Army Silver Wings from Fort Benning.
Grow your business

Remember that to grow your business is not just about finding the newest thing, however this is important to know, it is your flawless execution of doing the small things right every time.

Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. WOW them by giving them something more. Be careful not to tell them everything you are going to do. Be sure you can go above and beyond their expectations.

Ask good questions and do all you can to get to know your customer. When you do this you will be thinking of ways to help them even when you are not technically working on their account.

Are you overestimating your trustworthiness with your customers? Research shows that customers don’t trust their vendors as much as vendors think they do.

While you may do everything perfectly, many other vendors will not. Because you are a vendor you are often tarnished by their performance. They don’t want to get burned.

Be sure you help your client know your value. You need to find ways to show them how you are helping them. Sometimes this is entering your work into competitions and showing them it is winning awards. Sometimes it as simple as asking them if their sales went up after the campaign you helped them with.

If sales went up compare this to past campaigns.  Let them know you care about results as well as they do.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Love to Buy -- Don't like to be sold

If you are like most people you like buying things, but you don’t like being sold to by a salesman.

Shoppers in Savannah, Georgia.
Shopping Tips

Now we have heard of shopping tips and here are some just as a reminder:
1. Plan your spending and avoid impulse buys
2. Don’t grocery shop when you are hungry
3. Larger is not always cheaper and smaller isn’t always cheaper
4. Buying emotionally because you deserve something is dangerous
5. Buy things before you run out—this allows you to shop for sales cycles
These tips and more are given to help people control their spending and stay within their budget.  When you are able to live being debt free you discover a peace about life that is missing when you are always just one paycheck from homelessness or bankruptcy.

When you help people make a wise investment, you are looking out for them as a customer. You need to know all the shopping tips for customers, so you don’t fall into making mistakes.

Ye Ole Fashion Ice Cream in Charleston, SC. People love to buy ice cream.
Sales Mistakes
1. Not knowing your product
2. Not knowing your competition
3. Selling without establishing the needs of the customer
4. Failing to qualify a lead
5. Neglecting to collect customer data
6. Going to market too soon with product
7. Tunnel vision on the BIG sale client
When you have bills to pay you can become the desperate sales person. This is why it is recommended that you have enough money in the bank to pay your bills for the next six months.  This cushion can help keep you relaxed and better at closing the deal.

People love to eat out and find their favorite places like Kona Taeng On Thai located in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

Sales Tips
1. Face-to-face: More important than ever is the time you actually see a customer or prospect in person.
2. Find something in common. When you do find something in common this can help relax everyone.
3. Use YouTube or Vimeo. You can post short videos where you talk to people and give them some tips. This helps to give you visibility, credibility and worldwide exposure.
4. Blog. Create a blog and give a tip to help your customers. You need to do this regularly and a minimum of once a week is a good starting point.
5. Actively listen. Just listening to someone to help you find a quick way to sale your product is a mistake. I listen to what they see their long-term and short-term goals are for their business. If you are actively listening you will be asking clarifying questions that show your interest, but are helping you understand their problems. Their problems are opportunities if you have a way to solve them.
6. Become a partner. You should be helping them see you as someone who is part of their team to help them achieve their goals. When you are helping them achieve their goals you will be achieving your goals as well.
Shoppers taking a break in Savannah, Georgia.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Value Added: REALLY?

When the salesman is pitching the "Value-Added" concept, there is an assumption. The words assume you have to buy something in order to get the value.

This idea is totally dead today in sales. To compete today you have to establish value before the sale.

One of the ways restaurants and other food establishments establish value is in sampling of their food.  But no matter your industry you have to establish in some way your value before the purchase and not something "Value-Added" later after the purchase.


One great example of how music recording artists sale their music is to look on iTunes.  Notice you can preview the music before you buy.  They are establishing value before the purchase.

In visual communications it is very easy for the designers, videographers and photographers to have enough work to keep them busy that is not worth showing anyone for future work.

I had a lady come up to be at a party this weekend and talk about wanting understand how to get more business.  She was a designer working for a small agency. I talked to her about what she was doing.

She said what most of us in the business complain about. The work they are doing is not portfolio worthy. She was concerned the longer she stayed at this job the harder it was going to be to get any other job later.

To get a job in the arts you must show the work they will hire you to do.

Personal Projects

The solution is basically a personal project. This is when you do a project the way you think it should be done for yourself. At the end of your project you will have something to show that establishes your value to the customer.

Projects will most likely involve others and I recommend finding an organization to work with, because you can trade out your work for access.

You can do it pro bono or maybe work a deal where they contribute to the costs. Your purpose is to create a body of work that will show what you can produce.

The key if doing work that someone can use is for you to truly have artistic control to show what you can do when given the opportunity. Free will help you maintain more control.

The more they foot the bill the more artistic control they deserve.

I went on a trip to Haiti and most of the time I was in a meeting.  Not very exciting, but nonetheless I was in Haiti.  This was many years ago and I just put together a quick slide show to show the photos to music.

Later after this slide show I explored using a digital recorder and added interviews on another project.

Now I was adding another layer to the services.  I wasn't going to stop here I continued to add more value to my own personal projects.

I decided to create some tutorials with the computer that were then output as video.  Here is an example of this project:

I hope you are seeing the evolution. It takes time to continue to add value.

The key is to continually look for things that will give more tools to your clients to communicate their message.

I even explored and added to my tool belt 360º tours.

Click on the image for a Panoramic interactive image
I still wasn't satisfied. I then went out and shot some video to add to the still images on my trip to Mexico to cover the coffee growers.


If you want to get cool jobs then show your potential and your present customers what you want to do for them--don't tell them.

I will give you a few key things that will make this work for you.

  1. Find something you have passion about. 
  2. Don't do a story on something everyone is doing or has done
  3. Be sure to show it the way their customers might use it. 
    1. Put it in your blog
    2. Create a DVD
    3. Maybe create a coffee table book 
    4. Show it as a magazine story layout
  4. Know what you need to charge to do this type of work

Monday, October 15, 2012

Revisiting the Photo Story

The Photo Story

I wanted to revisit the Photo Story in case you missed my earlier post and also just to give some photos to go along with each of the points.  Here is a link to that earlier post.

Here are the basic things to look for in a Photo Story:

  1. Opener: Sets the scene for the story
  2. Decisive moment: The one moment that can by itself tell the story
  3. Details: Besides being like visual candy to the story, help often with transitions--especially in multimedia packages
  4. Sequences: give a little variety to a situation
  5. High overall shot: Gives a good perspective to how the elements all fit together
  6. Closer: Besides the classic shot of the cowboy riding off into the sunset there are other visual ways to help bring the story to a close
  7. Portraits: These photos are great for introducing the characters of the story
Not that long ago we had the youth leader for our church leave to go to seminary. I just took some photos to share with him as a thank you and for the church to use. While I was not shooting a major news story for a magazine even in a simple event like this the shots I was looking for was driven by the list above that I use on stories for magazines.


While this was not the first shot I took, it is a good opener. You can see the gift being given to Stephen Finkel where the youth group had signed their names and personalized this for him.  It really does the best job I think of all the photos to introduce what is going on at this event.

Decisive Moment

Just a nice moment where people are enjoying themselves at the event.

Stephen's mother and sister are sitting at the table listening to the lady gesturing and in the background is Stephen.
These are two photos that capture some nice moments. The bottom photo is the one I would use if I had to choose between the two.  I can see everyone lined up to say their goodbyes and his mother and sister hearing how much he meant to everyone.  This captures the emotions of the event really well.


They had bought a nice book for everyone at the event could write a personal message to Stephen.  This is a good detail shot to help round out the story.


These help communicate how everyone was close to Stephen and wanted to let him know that he meant a lot to them.

High Overall Shot

The high overall shot helps give a perspective and also shows how many folks showed up for the event.  


This may seem strange as a closer, but most of the folks in this photo are now apart of the church due to Stephen reaching out to his neighbors and inviting them. They all talk about his impact on his life.


Lane Alderman the senior pastor of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

Lane Alderman the senior pastor of Roswell Presbyterian Church.

Emily Wright Associate Pastor

Closer shots of the key players lets you introduce these characters to the story.  

There you have a quick use of the photo story for an event. Use it whenever you cover something and you will have the variety you need to keep the viewers engaged.