Sunday, March 31, 2013

If Photographers had union like the musicians ...

Pam Goldsmith, world renowned violist, works with my daughter giving her tips to improve her playing.
I am in Los Angeles this week on our family vacation. We stopped by our family friend Pam Goldsmith's for a visit.

I was sharing about how photographers talk about the triangle for describing those working as pros. Many years ago that triangle base was not as wide as it is today. The tip still is small and many believe it to be smaller for those really earning a living as a full-time photographer.

Pam Goldsmith then shared how in the Professional Musicians Local 47 they have about 13,000 members of which less than a 1,000 are doing enough gigs to be making a living full-time as a professional musician.

She went on to say she thinks this number is actually smaller than the 1,000 and smaller group than years ago.

If photographers had a union

I am not advocating forming a union for the primary purpose of knowing how many of us are working, but the reason the union was formed was to help people get work in the music industry and for a fair wage.

I think if we had a union we would have similar numbers if not even more members than 13,000. Even if we too helped with regulating rates we still would have dismal numbers of those who have invested time and money to pursue this as a career.

My daughter, wife and I visited with Richard Bugg who works with Meyer Sound. Their sound systems is what was used in the Beijing Olympics and other major productions throughout the world.
Later in the day we went to Richard Bugg's home office studio where my daughter was getting to see what it is like to do sound mixing.  Richard had the Broadway musical Wicked tracks and letting my daughter listen to the different orchestra parts and vocals and how they can be mixed.

What we learned from Richard was to stay employed he had to continue to be flexible and adapt to new situations and apply his problem solving skills to a new situation.

My take away from today

After visiting not just average professionals in the entertainment industry, but the top in their respective fields each of them talked about to get jobs they had to be the best they could be.

Pam talked to us about when playing in orchestra there is a different approach than when in the recording studio for a movie. With the movie you have to be so exact because the editors have the scenes timed down to Milli-seconds. She had to be 110% accurate with the beat.

Richard shared about equipment breaking and fixing equipment in pressure situations.

Richard also talked about how he and my wife's brother Richard Zvonar determined that laptops have stage fright.  They would have sound systems running with their laptops and everything worked great in rehearsal and then they would crash during a performance.

This led them to help design systems that ran separate from the laptops.

Too many times Apple would upgrade an operating system which would crash their software. They would spend so much time trying to fix the problem that this is why the separate systems were designed to work sound design systems. They don't fail.

Again, I hope you see the importance of not just people but equipment must be the best and perfect.

If we had unions photographers would be even more aware of how many call themselves professional photographers and how few really are making it. The difference is in the nuances of details.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Photography Tax Tips

Bookkeeping??? I just want to shoot

If you don't like keeping track of your spending or budgeting and you just can never see yourself doing this, then read no further.

However, if you want to make money with your camera and do this as a profession you have no choice but to keep track of all your expenses and income or you can go to jail for tax problems. It is just that simple.

Even if you hire an accountant you must keep records to give to them.

I am writing this to help anyone who hates doing this and if you do like it maybe a simple way to do it for now on.

All you have to do for the IRS is show where all your income is coming in from and what are all your expenses. By the way you need to have documentation to back this up in the form of receipts and/or record keeping.

This is what I do for my record keeping for the IRS. 

These are some tips I have to offer for photographers to help with taxes.

First a disclaimer: I am not an accountant or lawyer, so please check anything I say with a Certified Public Accountant.

I recommend using Quicken Home & Business.  Here is a link. This only works on Windows, but you can run this on your Mac.

How to run on a Mac.  

You need to set aside some hard drive space to run a Windows platform.  I use VMware Fusion which costs $49.99.

You will still need to invest in one last software: Windows.  Good news is you can still buy Windows 7 for around $79.99.  Price dropped when Windows 8 came out.

Why I use Quicken Home & Business?

When I got my first computer it came with Quicken and I just started using this back in the 1980s.

I liked a few basic features, which for the most part are the same as the first version I ever used.

The template looks just like your check register. You have box for  Payee, the amount and most importantly the category.


Quicken helps you setup categories based on IRS Schedule C for your business.  Out of the box you can select the default and be pretty close to being done. My suggestion is to pay a CPA to consult on the categories you need to use for your business.

Now there are a few cool things that Quicken can help automate your book keeping.  One of the best things is many of the credit card companies make it so Quicken can talk to them and download all your transactions. The only thing you will need to do is to be sure the right category is assigned to each transaction. But after the first time with a vendor, the next time it comes up it goes to your last category.

If you use multiple categories for a vendor it will let you choose which one from a pull down menu.


You can attach a receipt to any transaction. This is very important for book keeping.

You may also be wondering about what the IRS thinks about digital receipts. The short answer is that digital receipts are as acceptable as a paper copy. According to Rev. Proc. 97-22, the IRS allows taxpayers to save electronic images of documents and destroy the original hard copy.

If you scan your receipts and then attach them to the transaction you are meeting the IRS requirements.

You can see here a scan of a cash receipt. I put this in my Cash Transactions.


Quicken even comes with a Vehicle Mileage built in.

Tips for tracking your mileage.

You will need the odometer reading for the beginning and ending of each year. So, New Years Eve or Day you need to write down the odometer reading.

Think of tracking your mileage like you would do a checkbook transaction. You need to write where you went for business. You need the starting odometer reading and the end reading. If you like you can track your tolls in the same place as well as your parking. I choose to track all my receipts for tolls and parking either my credit card account or cash account.

The IRS will want your total business miles, personal miles and over all mileage for the tax year.

Also keep track of actual vehicle expenses. You can deduct which ever you want–mileage or actual expenses.

If you have a smartphone this is really cool and easy way to track your mileage. I recommend you checking out TripLog for use with your Android Device or iPhone.

TipLog Highlights

  • The most popular GPS mileage tracking app with over 300,000 downloads
  • The only app that AUTO STARTS when connected to power or Bluetooth devices
  • The only mileage tracking app that reads a vehicle's odometer from OBD-II devices
  • Sync and merge data to TripLog Web from multiple devices with Fleet Management
  • The most comprehensive reports compliant to IRS TAX returns

Click on image to see larger

Since I am tracking all my personal and business expenses I can easily see what my actual expenses in a given year are for a vehicle. This is where you might put in the note field which car was at the shop. So you can use actual expenses or mileage for the IRS forms. The good thing is TripLog and Quicken Home & Business helps you decide which is the best to use any given year.


I like the ability to use your logo and customize your invoices with Quicken.
To get paid I must invoice by clients for the work I did for them. I have setup a few categories of billables that I use for invoicing.

You can have for example unlimited number of ways to charge for your services. Once created it will automatically drop in all the explanation that you use to describe what you did for them.

If you have taxable items that you invoice for, then you can setup those categories to automatically tax at the rates for your area.

It is quite common to have some billables that are taxable and others that are not. Again, this is a reminder why you need to talk to a CPA to get you setup.
Another cool thing with the software, is you can put in the due date for invoices and Quicken will help you know what isn't paid and who is late paying. This is critical information when you are short on cash due to slow payment.     

April 15th

If you have used Quicken Home & Business through the year to track all your expenses and income, then TurboTax Home & Business can import all this data and then basically you just click through questions verify that it is correct.

Filing my taxes has never been easier.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Which photo is best? Another Example

Click on photo for a larger view.

This is a series I shot of a little Senara boy in the town of Konadouga, Burkina Faso, which is located in West Africa.

Which of the photos would you pick and why?  Here are larger versions of the composite above:

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5

Photo 6

Photo 7

Photo 8
I think anyone of the photos will work. Yes I do believe they are all good and which one to use depends on what I am wanting to say to people. Now I might crop the photo a little depending on the photo I select and how it will be used.

I could easily see this photo running over two pages of a magazine with the headline and story on the left over the photograph.

I think the furrow of his eyebrows and his hands on the post change so much from photo to photo. The only photo I really feel like makes the child look content and happy is Photo 2. You could argue Photo 3 also he is playful and enjoying himself.

All the other photos he is looking at the photographer inquisitively which can be interpreted many different ways.

For the most part all the ones with the furrow of his eyebrows and tight grip on the pole communicate some type of desperation to me. These look more like the NGO photos trying to raise money for their programs that help children. The expression communicates uneasy feeling which can help the viewer feel responsibility for the child.

I am shooting slightly from above the child a few feet away from him. What I find interesting is in the last photo he raises his chin which makes his eyes look more level to the camera perspective. This in turn puts him more on eye level with the audience.

That last photo could be used where you may have the child making his on plea for help in the copy.

Which photo is best? The first question should be what are you trying to say.

Photographer Tip

When shooting situations like this in the field you have to feel the situation. Then you must know what you are trying to communicate about this person to people who are not hear but will be the audience.

There are two of the journalists questions I think you need to really understand and know what the answers are before you push the shutter release.

What and Why are the two question of the five I would stress.

Here are the five questions a journalist should ask:
  • Who is it about?
  • What happened?
  • When did it take place?
  • Where did it take place?
  • Why did it happen?
Some authors add a sixth question, “how”, to the list, though "how" can also be covered by "what", "where", or "when":
  • How did it happen?
What is going on that you need to communicate to your audience? This helps you pick the situation and moments out of everything that you are seeing and focus on the message.

Why should the audience care? This is a deeper question that I like to ask rather than just why did it happen. This helps me often work to find the peak moment that will engage the audience.
This is why I might crawl on the ground to get my audience eye level with children. When they are eye level with a child this should help them feel like a child, because to see this moment like this would mean being like a child on the ground.

Remember if you don't know why you are pushing the shutter release then no one else will understand either when they see your image.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Which photo is best?

I will take a few situations show you the take and help you see why one photo stands out over the rest.

First I am taking the drive of a basketball player to the basket. This is the series of six images shot extremely close in time. They are so close in time that the time from the first to the last image is only one second total time.

Take a moment and go through each photo separately and make your pick first. We may or may not agree, but in the end can you articulate why one photo is the best?

Photo 1

Photo 2

Photo 3

Photo 4

Photo 5
Photo 6

Sports is about competition

Rather than calling these rules lets call this list of mine guidelines. These are things I generally am looking for in a sports photo beyond the technical correctness of the photo.
  1. The ball
  2. Competition
  3. Peak action
I like three photos more than the others. I like 1, 2 and 4, because all three elements are in those photos.

The 3rd photo she is so much in front of the competition they don't really exist and in the 5th and  6th photo she has already blown by the competition therefore she is not overcoming adversity.


The moment before she blows by the player to the basket you can see the defender and the offensive player competing for the space on the floor. Now it is clear to me in photo 2 the offensive player has more desire on her face than the defender.

I think this face expression is the nuance that commentators talk about between the winning team and the loosing team. She wants the win and it shows and the defender's expression is complacent.

I think the pick is definitely between 1 and 2.  Let's look at them side by side.

I like the ponytail of the player up in the back, it gives it more motion than the other photo. I also like the defender's hand looking like it is trying to reach for the ball more in the second photo. I can also feel her next step being the jump step to the basket and completing the move to the basket.

The last thing I would do is the crop a little tighter and my final image would look like this here.

What do you think?

Do you come to the same conclusions? Maybe you can argue for another photo. The point is you really need to be able to break down your photos and talk about why one is better than the other.

A few things happen when you start doing this. First of all you will most likely notice you didn't shoot enough. The photo you want is either before or just after you moments that you do have.

Second, you will start to anticipate sooner the moments. Why is this? You now are training yourself to know what to look for in the photo.

Too many people are shooting just nouns and not complete sentences. Photo 3 is a great example of the noun and not a sentence. Yes you could say she is doing something, but notice the difference of having a competitor in the photograph.

The defensive player helps to tell the rest of the story. In photo 3 you have no idea who they are playing. This could be just her warming up before the game, but the other photos show the competition.

Some might argue to use image 5 or 6 because she is shooting. If I didn't have number 2 I would go with those, but I would much prefer to see the battle on the floor for position than the open shot.

This should be happening with all of your photo shoots, not just sports. There is a moment that is best. Stay tuned for other examples.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

How Photography Helped Me: Part 2

Don Rutledge, pictured here, is the person who helped me to see and understand body language in ways that Social Work didn't teach me. [photo by Bill Bangham]
What I was learning with Photojournalism:

While a freshman in college I got my first SLR camera and began shooting for the school paper and yearbook. I would take my work to my uncle, who was a professional photographer and who worked as a photojournalist to review.

Going through my contact sheets he started to teach me how to improve my images. While I was somewhat learning about body language in Social Work, it was with my uncle and later with Don Rutledge that I would be schooled in the finer points of body language.

Instead of me looking at a movie of me during the day and analyzing my social awkwardness, I was learning by observation of others with my camera.

While many think that those with Asperger's Syndrome lack sensitivity to others and lack empathy, I believe just the opposite. While their outward social skills are lacking they are aware of many things people do not see.

I believe their desire to avoid social situations is they often feel things about others and do not have the innate ability to process and articulate spontaneously these feelings. My experience is that I feel too much and it often can cloud my social skills and make it difficult to respond in a moment. It is much easier for me to avoid situations than to embrace them and learn from them.

Knolan Benfield with an environmental portrait of the pastors of leading congregations in Hickory, North Carolina in 1985.
Knolan Benfield

In 1985, my uncle, Knolan Benfield, was excited to show one of his series of photos of ministers. His excitement and telling me all he had to do to make these photos captured my attention. I had never been interested in what other people do like this before.

Knolan had combined photojournalism with portrait photography using lighting for the first time in his career. He took environmental photos of senior pastors in their church buildings. With each pastor he worked hard to find those architectural settings that made each congregation different.

One of the things he was most excited about was the composition. He had learned from Don Rutledge how to pull the audience into a photo by creating layers. These layers pulled you from front to the back of the photograph.

This is an example of where there are layers from front to back in a photograph helping to create more interest.
One of the things that are quite different in Knolan's portraits from his days as a photojournalist was the use of lights. He almost never used lights in his photos when shooting for magazines.

Knolan combined the existing light with the strobes to help create depth and interest. To do this in 1985 he would get the light settings using a handheld meter and then add a flash to just be a little brighter than the rest of the scene, maybe 1/2 to a full stop difference.

Knolan bought a special film back for his Hasselblad system that would let him shoot a Polaroid to do a test shot. This was revolutionary for him and quite new at the time.

It was early in my career and I was not able to take all this and do it myself until some eight years later in my career.

In the meantime I would leave my first job at a newspaper, where I was perfecting my understanding of how to make a photograph and tell stories, to go and work with Don Rutledge and Joanna Pinneo.

While I was learning how to see social situations using my camera, it would take years of shooting before it started to sink into my personal life.

Sensory Perception

I was naive in my early jobs that when higher up people asked me for my input that I spoke directly and with such candidness that it would hurt me.

Those with Asperger's tend to not see the point of superficial social contact, niceties, or passing time with others, unless there is a clear discussion point/debate or activity. Their allegiance is to truth, not people's feelings.

While those with Asperger's are not good at explaining why he or she did something that appeared to contravene the social codes; but, equally, typical people are not good explaining the exceptions to the codes and reasoning for their social behavior.

Today there is a remarkable DVD that is an encyclopedia of emotions, entitled Mind Reading: The interactive Guide to Emotions. Simon Baron-Cohen and colleagues at the university of Cambridge identified 412 human emotions (excluding synonyms). They examined the age at which children understand the meaning of each emotion, and developed a taxonomy that assigned all the distinct emotions into one of 24 different groups. A multimedia company then developed interactive software that was designed for children and adults to learn what someone may be thinking or feeling.

On the DVD, actors (including Daniel Ratcliffe) demonstrate facial expressions, body language and speech qualities associated with specific emotions.

In essence the DVD does some of what I had to learn on my own through Social Work and Photography.

Problems with Non-Verbal Communication

Adults with Asperger's syndrome may have problems with non-verbal communication, according to the National Institute of Neurobiological Disorders and Stroke. They display awkward body gestures, inappropriate facial expressions and/or an odd stiff gaze. They rarely look people in the eye and do not display any form of joy such as smiling, winking or hugging.

This may sound harsh, but when you have a camera around your neck your odd behavior may look a little more normal. Maybe the way you appear is that you are looking for a photograph. This may be true, but it allows me to study the situation without being as harshly judged.

When I was young I ran around almost all the time in an army uniform playing to be G. I. Joe. The other attachment I had was to this tractor, which I rode everywhere for a few years.
Intense Specialized Interests

According to the Better Health Channel, adults with Asperger's syndrome tend to have very intense time-consuming specialized interests. These individuals usually become experts in one or two areas and excel in their chosen careers because they choose jobs that best fit their interests. They are often referred to as eccentric, which sometimes causes social isolation. An example of an intense specialized interest would be someone who spends long amounts of time studying science and statistics, but has little interest in anything else.

I have an intense interest in photography and specifically using photojournalism to help causes. I tend to read a great deal and study nuances to help me be a better storyteller.

Many people are surprised as to how much I get done. Asperger's has helped me stay on task to do tedious business and marketing tasks. It has helped me to spend time problem solving computer issues related to my photography.

People with Asperger's syndrome are often perfectionists, tend to be exceptionally good at noticing mistakes, and have a conspicuous fear of failure. I have been able to channel this to help me perfect my photography and the fear of failure has kept me busy with marketing. These are some examples of how Asperger's has helped me with my photography business.

The Porfolio

Funny thing that is important in photography more than other professions, is the portfolio. Your work must be at a certain level before you get an interview. This works to the advantage of a person with Asperger's. In general we do not do well in job interviews where you need to sell your abilities to an employer. My work is the first foot in the door, which my personality alone might not make it through.


Because of the way I am wired, I am very good with picking up anything to do with the computer and photography. Also because of the way I had to teach myself to understand things, I have discovered I make a good teacher. This is due to the way I have had to break things down into parts to then put them back together to construct the whole.

Today I spend a great deal of time problem solving the teaching of technical concepts. I have also discovered over time there are so many ways to approach a problem, because I often approach things different than other do and because of this I know there needs to be more tolerance of others.

I remember crying as a young boy because the model motorcycle I was trying to put together was missing a few steps in the instructions. My mother made me wait to ask my dad if he could help. What happened was no one could figure it out. I spent hours until I found a way to solve the problem.

This emotional feeling of not being able to figure something out and no one could help me was depressing. I keep this in mind when I teach today. I encourage students and let them know I believe in them. I give them space and will come along side them so we together can process the problem.

I realize that if they can figure it out with someone encouraging them that they will feel better about solving it than if someone just gave them the answer. I know that because of how proud I was of that motorcycle when I finished it.

Where I am today on this journey

I love to take on a problem that hasn't been done before. One of my favorite jobs was photographing research projects of engineers and scientists. In those situations you are photographing usually a one of a kind that hasn't been photographed before. You have to figure it out. It is not a cookie cutter solution.

Adults with Asperger's syndrome can be renowned for being honest, having a strong sense of social justice and keeping to the rules. This has been what keeps me focused on storytelling on social justice issues.

Asperger's Sydrome people can acquire The Ability of the Mind abilities using intelligence and experience rather than intuition, which can eventually lead to an alternative form of self-consciousness as they reflect on his or her own mental state and the mental state of others. this is a highly reflective and explicit self-consciousness as similar to that of philosophers.

I have learned to use this awareness to help me be a storyteller of other people's stories.

Friday, March 22, 2013

How Photography Helped Me: Part 1

Stanley on school bus in Kinston, NC

While I have always wanted to be in control for a very long time I wasn't in control.

Asperger's Syndrome

It would not be until my adult years that I understood that I had Asperger's Syndrome. Early on I went for psychological testing because of my behavior in the classroom. They suspected I had Autism, but at that time they didn't want to label me.

You see it was not until 1994 that the American Psychiatric Association recognized Asperger’s syndrome. While I had majored in Social Work in early 1980 it was never talked about. It was when my sister was doing her masters in Social Work that she came across it.

She recognized the symptoms in me.

There were a few things that made her aware I might have it. I didn't talk until I was three years old. I was also socially awkward.

However, on the plus side of the characteristics:
  • Persistent
  • A perfectionist
  • Easily able to identify errors
  • Technical ability
  • In possession of a sense of social justice and integrity
  • Likely to question protocols
  • Accurate
  • Attentive to detail
  • Logical
  • Conscientious
  • Knowledgeable
  • Original in problem solving
  • Honest
  • Likely to thrive on routine and clear explanations
Once you get to know you

I have heard this phrase a lot through my life. The reason is those with Asperger's Syndrome frequently say things without considering the emotional impact on the listener [faux pas].  Also, I tended to include too much detail when speaking on topics.

Those who have chosen to move past these social flaws soon learn to love me because of the many positive attributes that I do have. However, like everyone, I have some rough edges of a personality that don't help me. It would be Social Work and my Photography training that would help me do a better job with my social skills.

Social Work & Photography
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. [1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV]
I find it quite strange that today I work as a professional communicator. You see my greatest weakness is communication.

While I know I was called to do what I am doing I am reminded of the scripture following 1 Cor 1:27.
... so that no one may boast before him. [1 Corinthians 1:29 NIV]
It was my pursuing the call that I would be led down a path that has me working today as a professional photojournalist.

I went to college to major in Social Work, thinking I was going to be a pastor one day. Here I took these types of courses, which basically helped me to intellectually understand people and social situations. Even with all this training I still was not wired to intuitively grasp the social moments. So I can only say I have been blessed with opportunities that I alone did not merit.

Here are some of the course work required for Social Workers:

Stanley making a monkey face during his college years.
Human Behavior Course—This first or second year course explores the interaction of various factors in human behavior, including biological, social, cultural, environmental and psychological. Discussions focus greatly on individual behavior in a larger social framework. Attention is also given to diverse populations, including minorities, children and the poor, as well as the impact of discrimination and oppression.

Social Work Research Methods Course—Social workers must be able to effectively research both new and existing social data. This course provides the techniques to do both, including performing qualitative and quantitative studies. Students learn to critically interpret, organize and use research findings in everyday practice. This is typically a second year course.

Generalist Social Work Practice Course—Students in this course learn the process of intervention in the social work context. They acquire the skills to evaluate, engage and intervene in social problems. This involves a study of the principles and values of generalist practice through multiple social perspectives. These perspectives include multicultural, groups, families and individuals. Social work roles, professional relationships and service delivery models are also examined.

Social Work Policy Course—Social workers must be familiar with the major administrative, legislative and judicial policies that affect their work. They must also understand how to advocate for policy changes to improve social conditions and empower at-risk groups. Students gain this understanding by exploring the history, organization and philosophies of social policies and their effect on diverse populations. This course is generally taken towards the middle or end of a social work program.

Field Practice Instruction Course—In this course, students apply knowledge gained in the classroom to practical situations that model real-world problems. Students develop skills in oral and written communication, effective supervision and critical assessment. This course may include placement with a social work agency and an additional seminar. It is generally taken towards the end of a social work program.

Photojournalists with Social Work or Psychology degrees

Later in my career I would discover that many of my favorite photographers would have majored in Social Work or Psychology. Don Rutledge and Joanna Pinneo who I worked with in my early years both were psychology majors. Eugene Richards was a social work major and even worked as one for years before becoming a photojournalist.

There will be more about how photography would help me more than Social Work in Part 2

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The importance of the pause

The most important tool I use when I read is the pause. We even talk about books as being a quick read or not. The writers that say a lot with few words cause us to pause to take in what we just read.

Poets are the masters of the pause. They use this tool more than just about any other technique. It is quite common for a poem to take a long time to write, sometimes years for a poem to be finished. The reason is the poet is looking for the right word or phrase to communicate something worthy of the pause.

World Read Aloud Day

There is even a day each year where we celebrate the reading aloud of the written word. There are the masters of this art that make us all want to just listen to the reading aloud of writings.

Who hasn’t heard a reader take off as if it is a race to the end of the passage only to leave listeners all confused due to the lack of pauses?

That pause is a tool that when used properly allows the silence to give deeper meaning to the word or phrase just preceding the pause.

Paul Harvey the master of the pause

The New York Times said that Paul Harvey’s “trademarks: a hypnotic timbre, extended pauses for effect, heart-warming tales of average Americans and folksy observations that evoked the heartland, family values and the old-fashioned plain talk one heard around the dinner table on Sunday.”

Paul Harvey understood the power of the pause.

The visual pause

The still image has come to be known as the visual pause. For the audience can savor a moment rather than being bombarded by a constant moving image of life as we experience it in real time.

Even in video and film the still image is used to help the audience absorb the content. Ken Burnes is an American director and producer of documentary films, known for his style of using archival footage and photographs. He has mastered the use of the still image. The audience is not bored by the still image, but rather mesmerized and able to digest the content.

The photograph has helped influence our world and change it.

Robert Capa’s photograph of Omaha Beach, Normandy, France in 1944 put the viewer on the front line of the war.

Dorothea Lange’s 1936 picture of the Migrant Mother put a face on the Great Depression.

Eddie Adams 1968 photograph of the murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief helped to end the Vietnam War.

The photos are like poems. They allow the audience to pause and take in the deeper meanings of the images.

Now just compare the video below of the famous moment of the murder of a Vietcong by Saigon Police Chief.  I think this helps us understand how important the [PAUSE] is for something so emotionally impactful.

This is an interview with Eddie Adams years later talking about this experience. It happened so quick for Eddie that he didn't even think about it having any impact at all even after he shot it.  It is only when he was able to [PAUSE] did he understand what he shot.

Video and cinema use the still

Even in the movies directors use the still image to help the audience pause to absorb the moment. Sometimes they will slow down the movement to give a similar affect.

While video is about movement if it duplicates reality of life too much then the pause is lost.

Great producers understand the storyline and use the images as well as the sound to help tell the story. The more emotional the storyline becomes the more the movie will slow down.

Combining poetry and the photograph

If you could combine the reading of poetry at it’s best with the strongest still images of the subject you could have an incredible impact.

In the fourth quarter of this year’s Super Bowl Dodge RAM ran a 2 minute package combining the best of the spoken pause of Paul Harvey with some of the great photojournalist for a package that was voted the #1 Super Bowl ad this year by AdWeek.

Which medium?

Each medium we use for messaging has it's strengths. My largest concern today is that too many people are defaulting to video for everything.

I have some recommendations for those who want the most impact with their message.

If your message is vital to your organization then you need to pull out all the stops. This is where you put a team of communicators working together on the project.

You need strong text, strong still images and compelling video that is presented in a way that compels the audience to become engaged with the topic.

This is where you do what Jimmy Bonner, of the Richards Group, the brainchild of the "God Made the Farmer" ad did. The instructions were very simple and freedom was given to those photographers. He gave each photographer Paul Harvey's speech and asked them to spend time with the farmers and ranchers. Just shoot what you feel is appropriate.

Andy Anderson, one of the photographers blogged on the project. He said:
10 photographers capturing on there own terms the life of a farmer and rancher. All of us searching for meaningful images. Not any one photo rising above any others, but collectively voicing a message for folks and a vocation we have all really taken for granted. The last truly archetypical American worker. And who better else to match the images with than Paul Harvey…America’s grandfather.
Do you want impact like this ad had on the world? Maybe then you need to consider the power of the pause--the visual pause of the photograph.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Famous Photographers: Nature or Nurture?

Nikon D4, 14-24mm, ISO 10,000, ƒ/2.8, 1/60 @ 7:07 am at the Chattahoochee Nature Center located in Roswell, Georgia.
Too many times when I meet people they assume that the reason I take good photographs is one of two reasons.

First they assume my camera gear is why I get great photos. The second reason is they assume I was born with this talent.

The one thing they rarely if ever talk about is how much work and study is necessary to make great photographs.

Nikon D100, 16mm, ISO 400, ƒ/6.7, 1/160
In my mind's eye, I visualize how a particular... sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.
Ansel Adams

Visualization is a central topic in Ansel Adams' writings about photography, where he defines it as "the ability to anticipate a finished image before making the exposure".  You may see some people holding up an empty frame or even putting their hands together to create a frame to look at a scene before ever picking up a camera.

In the movies storyboarding was done to help visualize what would happen so that all those involved would be able to make it happen, from lighting, camera and blocking of the talent for example.

For me to make the photograph of the basketball players I had to visualize this long before it actually would happen.

When I was on staff at Georgia Tech I installed the Ultra White Lightning system. The Alienbees are what I put up once I started doing freelance full-time.

I arrived early and put four strobes onto the catwalk to light the court. I needed the light to get the depth-of-field necessary to be sure the players were in focus.  You cannot shoot this at ƒ/1.4 and expect that the player will look sharp.

Arriving early means getting to the venue early in the morning for a night time game. It takes about two to three hours to put the lights up and be sure everything is working. I really needed to do this when no one is on the court. Approximately a few hours before the game it is quite common for the teams to be practicing, so you must arrive early or you may not have enough time.

I had to also attach a remote camera behind the backboard. This had to be fired by a radio remote and also use a radio remote to fire the flashes at the same time. Framing of the image I knew from playing basketball for years. I normally get an assistant to do a few layups to help me make the frame loose enough to capture most any play on this side of the basket.

Then I had to wait until during the game the players would be in place for me to fire the shot. Now at the time I did this I could only fire the camera once every three to four seconds. The flashes needed to recycle and any faster would give me underexposed images.

I had to anticipate the moment that would capture the peak action. Too soon or too late and the photo is not as dramatic.

As you can see from this photo, I did not pop out of my mothers womb and just have the innate skills to capture this moment.

In the very first photo at the Chattahoochee Nature Center I had to get up before sunrise to capture this moment. Also, I knew the sky would look blue even tho it looked black to the naked eye. This is capturing something that your eye doesn't even see.

Both of the examples I have given here are not what talent would see and just click a button to make it happen. Both took years of training and understanding about many technological gear to make them happen.

You don't make the photo above in the middle of a parking lot in the dark with pure talent. You must know from years of experience where to place the lights to get this effect.  How do you get a Rembrandt lighting affect on a punk rock bank? You just have to know how to do this from learning how to make it happen.

What about nature?

There is no question that some people have an innate ability to see and create wonderful work, but for the most part talent that goes under developed is no match for someone with persistence and willingness to put in the time and effort.

If the opportunity avails itself then a person with talent will have a good chance to make an incredible image. However, from my life experience it is the person who anticipates that gets the best image.

Nikon D2Xs, 600mm, ISO 200, ƒ/5.6, 1/1500

The reason great photographs are made is because the photographer anticipated the moment. If you wait till you see it and push the shutter button then you will have missed it.

Sports photographers know the teams and players so well they can almost tell you the next play. They get into position that gives them the best opportunity to get the moment.

Many sports photographers will put up multiple remote cameras to anticipate that something or someone may black their view and by having it covered from multiple angles will have the game winning shot.

Even the portrait photographer will talk with the subject and get their reaction to something. Just mentioning certain topics with a subject can elicit a good moment. It is said that Yousuf Karsh grabbed Winston Churchill's cigar from him to get that famous photo of him. He knew it would get a reaction.

Nature & Nurture

I believe it is the combination of nature and nurture that makes for the great photographers. What this means is that those who work hard and learn to plan for their photos will make some great ones, whereas those who just think they will just shoot whatever they see will rarely make great photos.

The Making of an Expert

According to K. Anders Ericsson, Michael J. Prietula, and Edward T. Cokely published paper in the Harvard Business Review in 2007:
New research shows that outstanding performance is the product of years of deliberate practice and coaching, not of any innate talent or skill. Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Photographers: You are what you read

These are just some of the books I have read in the past year.

You may have heard "you are what you eat," but I believe that "you are what you read is just as true."

Read what you want to cover

The photographer needs to become an expert on the subjects they cover. If you work in business then you need to be reading what those in that industry are reading.

If you are covering the faith community, then you need to be up on theology of the groups you are wanting to do work.

If you want to do work for NGOs then you need to be up on the areas that they address.


Osmosis does not require input of energy and therefore this is where most of us start our careers. We start covering what we are already familiar.

For me growing up in a minister's home where my father was involved with missions means through osmosis I was pretty knowledgeable about Baptist and Missions.

By taking the time out of my life to go to seminary I was able to take my knowledge to a whole new level of understanding. I studied theologians and worldviews which helped me communicate the nuances of faith to the audience.

What I am reading today

I do a lot of work with Chick-fil-A. To know how to help them communicate their story requires me to understand where they are going and not just where they have been.

One of the best places for a photographer to understand what business like Chick-fil-A is going is to attend a conference like Leadercast. Leaders from across the globe will attend this conference to learn how they can be better leaders for their organizations.

It is here that I was introduced to speakers like Patrick Lencioni and John C. Maxwell. I also learned that these leaders were also looking to other leaders like John Wooden, Tony Dungy and
Mike Krzyzewski who are all coaches.

I started reading all the books I could on leadership and how to build teams. I am confident to say that I am well versed now in the field and understand some of the current trends.

This helps me now sit at a table and recommend stories rather than being the person waiting on them to tell me stories they need covered.

Great storytellers recognize a good story

"If I only knew back then what I know now," has been said by many people. I know it took time for me to be able to understand now without experiences to build upon. 

If you spent 30 years of your life telling stories, then you too would be really good at knowing what makes a good story. I continue to recommend to my clients that my greatest asset to them is the creative idea. Once you have a good story idea getting a team to cover it is easy. It is finding the story that takes the most creativity.

Where do good ideas come from?

I would argue that very few great ideas come from the inexperienced. I think overnight sensations are actually 10+ year careers that finally bloomed.

When I get a great idea today it is because I am referencing something else in my brain from a history of stories I have covered, things that I have read and from experiences I have had. It is not from just hearing something fresh.

Steven Johnson: Where do good ideas come from?

I really recommend watching this 4 minute video to understand the framework for why I believe you need to expand your horizons for your business to grow.

The four minute video is a condensed version of the already condensed presentation Steven Johnson made a the TED Conference. Now I recommend you really watch this to understand how he came to the refined 4 minute package.

Steven Johnson is the best-selling author of six books on the intersection of science, technology and personal experience. The whole idea that we have these "eureka" moments is not by chance, but rather the colliding of ideas.

Living in Isolation

I believe that the more you isolate yourself the better the chances are for failure if you are in business.

It has been said that in business there are the 1) innovators, 2) imitators and 3) idiots.

The innovator is someone who is having "eureka" moment and has put together a few tidbits to get an edge on the competition.

The imitator is someone who recognizes change and adapts quickly and therefore their clients are benefiting as well.

The idiot is someone who decides to try and follow the well worn path only to find now it is now just a commodity making it difficult to make a profit.

Read, Get Out & Network

If you are struggeling with your business, then I have three recommendations.

Find some books that are trending in your area of interest that you want to photograph. These are not books on photography, but rather on the subjects. Besides reading them find someone or a group to discuss these topics with and get you to dive deep into the subject.

Get out and find a place to socialize. Maybe it is the local coffee shop and it will require you to do more than order your coffee and sit in the corner. Start a discussion group on one of your books is one way to get out there.

Find some groups to network with in your community. Hopefully this could be on what you like to cover with your camera. Join an association and go to their meetings and mixers. 

Still not successful

If you are one of those people doing everything I suggested and you are still having trouble, maybe you are one of the idiots. Not trying to insult you, but think about it. Are you one of 100 photographers standing on the sidelines of a major sporting event wondering why no one is buying your stuff? There are only about 20 or so outlets for those 100 photographers. The market is saturated.

Find the market where you are not one of many photographers and there you will have found a potential gold mine.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Photography Ought To Be Fun

From an early e.Newsletter I sent out in June 2006. The photos are from my first digital camera--Nikon D100.
“Brain research has now proven conclusively that play is essential. It actually restores our intellectual capacities and renews our spirits. It’s essential to good mental health and physical health and to the reductions of tension.”
--Joined at the Heart: The Transformation of the American Family 

Deer antlers are among the fastest growing tissues known to man.
My family has always taken pictures. One of my earliest experiences is playing with an old camera that used flash bulbs and making photos. I would run around pretending to make photos.

My father had a darkroom where he would develop his black and white photos. It was so much fun to watch the photos appear on the paper in the trays of chemicals.

Nature and wildlife are probably two of my favorite subjects when I make photos for myself.

This past week I took a few days and met my uncle who is also a professional photographer and who taught me a great deal through the years. He has been widely published as a nature and wild life photographer.

The white tailed deer’s high degree of sensitivity of the smell, which us humans can’t even begin to understand, is used for protection as well as mating.
We decided to meet and camp at Cades Cove in The Great Smoky National Park which is located near Townsend, Tennessee.

We would get up really early before the park opened and be one of the first through the gate each morning and one of the last the leave the park at night. The animals like white tailed deer, turkeys, and coyote typically are more active in the morning and early evening.

The black bear is more unpredictable and could be active at any time. We hoped to see black bear and did. However they seldom would stay around once they spotted us and turned for the woods more than once.

We also noticed that when we used our binoculars more than one of the many bears we spotted turned into a tree stump. Sometimes when we were in the park you would hardly see any wildlife. We believed the heat kept many of the animals relaxing in the shade longer before venturing out to the meadows.

Before we would go into the park we would get a camera ready to go. I would use my Nikon digital camera with a 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with a 1.4X teleconverter with a 2 gig flash card ready beside me. The lens was mounted on a monopod and the tripod was near by if the scene allowed for it.

Both my uncle and I commented how much more fun this was with digital over shooting film in the past. We shot more than we may have shot in the past, but there were many reasons we liked the digital.

The things we both commented about shooting digital was the pockets on our camera bags where we kept film were now empty or full of something useful. We also enjoyed being able to change the ISO as either it was getting darker due to us going into the woods or the time of day. We also enjoyed playing with the white balance. We experimented with different settings seeing what
we liked best.

In the campground at night I could download my images onto my laptop and see the results from the day. So the next day, we were picky about what we would stop to photograph.

The minute we saw a great lighting situation or black bear, we stopped. For these types of trips you choose a long lens like a 300mm to get close enough to photograph a black bear. Any other lens if you fill the frame with the bear—well you will have more problems with a bear than your photographing abilities.

A teleconverter like a 1.4X or 2X can easily make the 300mm into a 420mm or even a 600mm and add very little weight to the bag.

A moderate wide angle zoom will help you enjoy those scenic scenes with barns. I love using my Nikon 24-120mm lens for this.

There were not as many wildflowers this time of year as earlier in the spring, but I always have a macro 60mm lens for close-up pictures of flowers.

Stream near Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in the Great Smoky
National Park.
While I have a flash I use this as a last resort. But when inside an old farm house this can really help. I still prefer using a tripod, but there is always a possibility you might need one. Some of the cameras like my Nikon D100 have a pop up flash built into the camera and for just about anything they can help when you need a flash.

After shooting early morning, we would drive into Townsend, Tennessee for a good country breakfast. During the hotter time of the day was a great time to explore inside the woods the streams and water falls of the park.

For the really hot day we drove up to Clingmans Dome which is 20° cooler than the rest of the park.

Just seeing if you are paying attention. I photographed this Kangaroo and her Joey at the Kangaroo Conservation Center located in Dawsonville, Georgia June 17, 2006.
Our goal was to make photos and have fun—we exceeded our goal. Remember to just take photos for the fun of it.

Carter Shields Cabin--George Washington "Carter" Shields (1844-1924) bought this land and cabin from John Sparks in 1910. The cabin dates to 1830-40s. Shields lived in the cove until 1921.