Sunday, September 29, 2013

Photographers are either like Cruise Ships or Battleships

I have been extremely blessed this year and was able to go on two different cruises. Both were with the Royal Caribbean Cruise line.

The first cruise was on the largest cruise ship in the world, the Allure of the Seas and the second on the Seven Seas. You could spend a whole week on this ship doing so much and still not see it allwhich is exactly what happened to me.

Two things stand out about cruising: 1) entertainment and the 2) food. Maybe I should reverse that order.

The Cruise Ship primary purpose is to serve those on the ship with hospitality. If you are on a cruise ship then the odds are pretty good you are being served.

Contrast this to the battleship whose purpose is to serve their country by being strategic and focusing their energy outward.

Hobbyist are inward focused for the most part. They do something more for their enjoyment. When you are doing this primarily for other's enjoyment you are working more as a professional.

This Saturday night I went to the local high school play. The students did a great job. The ones that are in touch with how they come across to the audience are the ones who will be able to do this professionally. Becoming more aware of the audiences' perspective helps them to know how to tap into the audiences emotions.

Many professional artists get caught up in doing their art for their enjoyment alone. Some are just such naturals that they thrive performing and may even have an outstanding career and the entire time be doing this primarily for themselves.

This seems to be the exception and not the rule for most professionals in the arts.

The hobbyist [enjoying cruises] will put out a lot of money to be entertained. To be a professional [shipmate on a battleship] performs well enough that others pay them.

Here are four keys to being sure you become a working professional and not just a hobbyist
  1. Knowing your core values and knowing how to use those core values to meet the needs of a community
  2. Creating an experience with photography unlike any other photographer. You need to stand out. This can be in more ways than just the photos. Consider your presentation, your attitude and your customer service.
  3. Every good brand has a mission or a story that's worth talking about—Find out what is worth talking about. As Seth Godin says be remarkable.
  4. Deliver a repeat performance. This is why certain brands like Apple can introduce something so new and no one has ever used it in their circle of friends, but they will camp out to be the first to get the new product. The last thing they got was a hit and so was the product before that, so the customer believes in the brand.
Today with the digital space we live in it is quite possible for you to create an awesome brand in a very short time. The key is a series of smart moves. The first move is to know what you have to offer to your community. Then you perfect it. If you have something that will solve another persons problems then you have the beginnings of a possible career.

Friday, September 27, 2013

More High School Football ISO 51,200

These are just some photos [above] from the evening that I enjoyed making.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 12,800, ƒ/4, 1/500, 630mm
Caption for the photo above: Woodward Academy War Eagles #13 Elijah Holyfield is the son of famed heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, takes to the outside leaving Blessed Trinity Titans #73 Andrew Cornell on the ground and #87 Logan Craighead  going for tackle on Friday, September 27, 2013. Final Score Blessed Trinity defeats Woodward Academy 27-17.

I decided to try another high school football game tonight and try some even higher ISOs than last time.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 51,200, ƒ/5.6, 1/1600, 480mm
Caption for the photo above: Blessed Trinity Titans #5 Milton Shelton scores the second touchdown with Woodward Academy War Eagles #4 Matthew Clopton and #1 Antone Williams chasing him on Friday, September 27, 2013.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 51,200, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 630mm
Caption for photo above: Blessed Trinity Titans #5 Milton Shelton is tackled by Woodward Academy War Eagles #3 Arrington Farrar in the first quarter on Friday, September 27, 2013. Final Score Blessed Trinity defeats Woodward Academy 27-17.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 with Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 36,204, ƒ/5.6, 1/2000, 262mm
Caption for photo above: Blessed Trinity Titans #6 Chris Keegan scores the first touchdown with Woodward Academy War Eagles #6 Marcus Hyatt and #1 Antone Williams in hot pursuit on Friday, September 27, 2013.

Just a few more photos for you.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 , ISO 51,200, ƒ/4, 1/1600, 175mm
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 28,735, ƒ/4, 1/2000, 190mm
Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 40,637, ƒ/4, 1/2000, 170mm

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Gross income broken down for the independent photographer

If you are thinking about becoming a professional independent photographer, take a look at some of these numbers. You may want to keep your day job and do this as a hobby instead.

Numbers before lunch

One thing most self-employed people know about their business if they are successful is only a small part of what you charge a client actually is what you will take home to pay the bills.

These are my numbers and they will widely vary from business to business. Your age makes a big difference for medical for example.

According to my numbers this morning I could break down every $100 into four major categories:
  1. $19 Medical Expenses 
  2. $36 Business Expenses
  3. $14 Federal and State Taxes [Self-Employed pays double vs staff person, and no you don't get to take home more because you don't pay more as a staff person. The company pays that other 1/2.]
  4. $31 Net Income
Once you start figuring out where all your money is going you get a lot better at being sure your prices are high enough to survive. Surviving is paying all your bills and doing it on time. If I wasn't debt free then another piece of the pie would be for interest. 9% credit card interest may turn into a 3% loss of income going to pay off debt.

Numbers after lunch

So after working on those numbers I went to lunch and while eating broke my tooth. After a trip to the dentist I now changed some of the numbers by 1%. Medical went up by 1% and net income just went down by 1%.

You cannot plan for all emergencies. You cannot count on a certain income coming in either. 

What most business owners do is to run a tight ship most of the year and then in the last quarter talk to their accountants and then might do some upgrades to equipment or other purchases to help lower their taxes and also make capital improvements.

Many business owners will give more to their church the last quarter or to a charity. The reason for the delay is the importance of reserves.

If you are young and in your twenties and not married then your medical expenses could be drastically lower than mine. I am covering my family and I am in my fifties. Just being that old will give you higher rates for medical insurance.

Three ways using visuals to show building expansion

360º Panoramic

If you are engaging your audience online then one of the coolest ways to show a space is with the 360º Panoramic. Put your mouse in the photo click on it and drag it around and you can get the feel of standing in the room and turning around to see the space as if you are there.

That same interactive 360º panoramic can also be output to just a still image, but I think most people are not quite grasping what this is as compared to the interactive version, but it does give you documentation of the space.

The traditional still photograph

This single wide-angle image of the classroom being used really gives the viewer the feel to how the room is being used.

It gives you a slice of the room in a moment in time. However, you can use a series of photos from the classroom to help give a more complete story of the usage.

Small groups in the classroom using technology at the desk with also larger monitors to share what one person has on their device with the group.

Here you can see the groups in discussions with the instructor moving through the space to check in on each group. The space is large enough that the group discussions are possible without interfering with each other.

You can see here that the student is sharing with the classroom and using a microphone to be sure everyone present can here what is going on.  They also can use video in the classroom to create live classrooms online for those around the world to participate.

Just a quick clip can help communicate the space to your audience.

Where video is at it's best is when you are wanting to lead your audience through the message. Here in this clip I am able to tell a more complete story about the expansion of the IMPACT 360 gap year program that is in Pine Mountain, GA.

Which one is best?

Too often people think more about "either/or" rather than "and." The answer to this question lies within the strategy of your plan. If you do not have a strategy then you are more prone to make a major mistake.

For example had I only done a video then the organization would have nothing to use in their printed newsletter they send out to all their supporters.

Had I just done the panoramic interactive, I would have something online and as you can see the stretched still image that could be used in the printed piece.

What about doing it all every once in a while for those big projects where you will use the stills, the interactive panoramic and the video to help engage your audiences in many different spaces?

I do contend that today too often the still image is overlooked for video. Video appears to be more sexy and cool. However, I believe that the base from which all visual communications of a project similar to this must contain the still image.  Even NPR realizes the power of the still image and importance in their online packages.

They took away the video cameras to train their people on how to make strong still images. Why do this? Just go to their website at and notice how they use the still image as the place to start. Before you click on any video online it usually has a place holder of a still image. If that still image isn't engaging then you have most likely wasted all that money on a video that few will see except those who already would watch it regardless.

Remind yourself to not be trapped into thinking "either/or," but rather think "and" when choosing a medium for your audience.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why I changed my title from Photojournalist to Storyteller

Definition of Photojournalist
Photojournalism is a particular form of journalism (the collecting, editing, and presenting of news material for publication or broadcast) that creates images in order to tell a news story. It is now usually understood to refer only to still images, but in some cases the term also refers to video used in broadcast journalism. Photojournalism is distinguished from other close branches of photography (e.g., documentary photography, social documentary photography, street photography or celebrity photography) by complying with a rigid ethical framework which demands that the work is both honest and impartial whilst telling the story in strictly journalistic terms. Photojournalists create pictures that contribute to the news media.
Photojournalism: the job or activity of using photographs to report news stories in magazines or newspapers

This photo is from the East Carolina Buccaneer (college yearbook) 1984.  That is me on the left. I was the darkroom manager back then. The other photographers are Mark Barber and Mike Smith in the top middle photo, Gary Patterson, head photographer, center bottom and to the right Neil Johnson.

We all shot for the school newspaper and for the yearbook as "photojournalists."

Here I am shooting in 2005 in Burkina Faso and I still considered my work to be as a photojournalist. I was shooting for a Christian organization showing their work. It was to be used in materials for a fund raising program they did every year.

The choice of the words you use to communicate can make all the difference in the world.

"Language shapes our behavior and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning. The right words spoken in the right way can bring us love, money and respect, while the wrong words—or even the right words spoken in the wrong way—can lead to a country to war. We must carefully orchestrate our speech if we want to achieve our goals and bring our dreams to fruition."
—Dr. Andrew Newberg, Words Can Change Your Brain
Client Centered Communication vs Self Centered 

If people find out I went to seminary they immediately want to know what church I pastor or where I pastored. You see there are assumptions made by the words I use with the audience.

Writers have always known that the right word can evoke so much more than just any synonym would do.

According to Compton’s Encyclopedia, the English language contains some 500,000 words. Yet the average person’s working vocabulary consists of 2,000. And the number of words we use most frequently—the words that make up our habitual vocabulary? For most people, it averages 200-300 words.

According to Oxford University, and the PBS series 'The History of English':

William Shakespeare used a total vocabulary of just over 24,000 words. In 2003 16,000 of those words are "obsolete".

Edgar Allen Poe used a total vocabulary of under 18,000 words. In 2003 9,550 of those words are "obsolete".

Is the word photojournalist obsolete? No, but if you are trying to communicate your value to a client using this word can create a hurdle or obstacle.

While you may see yourself as a photojournalist and understand fully what that means and that it doesn't mean you work at a newspaper but rather the approach you take, well that is great and maybe even 100% accurate.

Now take in your audience of who you are trying to convince them you are the person to help them tell their story.

I have started to use the descriptor Storyteller because this explains what I do and clients can see the need for a Storyteller much faster than they can see the need for a photojournalist.

Another term similar to the Storyteller that you might like is Narrative.

Humanitarian Photographer

For me the descriptor "Humanitarian Photographer" is too limiting. This tends to describe one as working with NGOs and nonprofits. While a corporation might look for a "Humanitarian Photographer" if they are trying to brand themselves as compassionate and that they give back it is most likely not what they are going to look for when they need to tell the story of there product and how it is transforming people's lives.

Examples of Photojournalist not working

I am member of Christians in Photojournalism. When people write to join many in the past have asked what newspaper do you work for today. Implying you must work for a newspaper to be a photojournalist or part of our organization.

Now as many of the members have lost their jobs with newspapers their identity as a photojournalist didn't change. They are still doing in their minds photojournalism for mission groups, NGOs and even corporate world, but telling stories that are accurate and truthful.

When I talk to people who do storytelling about Christians in Photojournalism you can tell many have a look on their face of I don't work for a newspaper.

For the past 20 years I have helped with staffing the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference. Some people who attend get very upset if any of the speakers are not working for a news organization. Some of the speakers have shared how they are helping pay their bills by doing photojournalistic weddings.

What we call the "Day In the Life" photo story is how many of these former photojournalists see themselves doing by covering weddings. Many have gone on to help cover water projects or other things like Habitat for Humanity around the world and show this as their "photojournalism."

The disconnect in both of these examples is those who could participate do not see themselves as photojournalists. The title to them means news organization photographer--not storyteller in the broader sense.

Don't become Obsolete

I believe that if I continue to use the term photojournalist to describe myself I would soon become obsolete because the word is not used the same with my audience as I use it.

To avoid becoming obsolete everyone, not just photojournalists, need to be less self centered and my client centered. What words in your clients vocabulary best describes you.

The power of made-up words cannot be underestimated either. My friends Dave Black and Zack Arias are great examples of creating new words. Dave talks about "silhouette reveal" verses "fill-flash." Zack often just makes up words for pieces of equipment in his demonstrations. Then he will say if you call up B&H and ask for a Big Bertha you might not get what he was using.

Remember you are trying to connect with your audience in order to get hired. Figure out their nomenclature that will help them understand your gifts and talents quickly.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Successful photographers are more than their photos

Successful photographers are about so much more than the photos they make. But without great photos they have no reason to exist.

Nikon D4, Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8, Sigma 1.4 converter, ISO 12800, 1/400, ƒ/4
Most photographers I meet are quite passionate and want to do the right thing. They are very concerned doing the right thing as well. But what is lacking is business acumen and the tools to run their business effectively.

It is quite common that photographers are quite busy and think they are doing exceptionally well, but in reality they are missing revenue opportunities, barely breaking even and even losing money.

To meet the demands of their clients some are delivering just OK photos to turn them around so they can get on to the next project. In order to deliver in a timely fashion some of the photos color is slightly off or the exposure is just a little off and even some of the photos they deliver are not sharp.

Nikon D4, 14-24mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, 1/250, ƒ/11

Lack of discernment or long-range perspective in thinking or planning is the definition of myopic. You can get so busy that you are unable to see your own faults.

Imagine walking into a photo studio and there are no photos on the wall. The photographer comes out to talk with you and you ask about their photography. The photographer ends up talking a great deal about their business vision and you are just wanting to see some photos.

The reality is this is how so many photographers really run their business, but instead of lacking photos they lack business acumen.

Are you providing services that are right for and meet the needs of your customers?

I think this question will catch most photographers off guard because most of them cannot answer it.

In the days of film, you didn't even know you had captured anything with your camera until you developed the film.
A latent image is an invisible image produced by the exposure to light of a photosensitive material such as photographic film. When photographic film is developed, the area that was exposed darkens and forms a visible image. In the early days of photography, the nature of the invisible change in the silver halide crystals of the film's emulsion coating was unknown, so the image was said to be "latent" until the film was treated with photographic developer.
One of the major reasons professional photographers were hired is that many people would take pictures with their cameras and when they got the results they were disappointed for various reasons from nothing came out or it was poor exposure, out of focus or something else.

Today there is no waiting to see if you have an image. People are using their smartphones with a camera built in to take the majority of their photos. They not only can see right away they have an image they can publish it to the world immediately.

One of the major reasons professional photographers were needed is now gone. Most people can take their own photo and get something without having to know anything at all about photography.

Creating Desire

Steve Jobs was the master at creating a product that people never had before and didn't know that we would want. By the end of his launching of a new product like the Apple iPad he had not just made us want one but convinced us that we needed one.

While in seminary I took a course called Systematic Theology. Systematic theology draws on the foundational sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophy, science and ethics.

One of the most profound thoughts I had to get my head around is who is God and what is my relationship to God.
“The irony is that while God doesn't need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don't really want Him most of the time. He treasures us and anticipates our departure from this earth to be with Him-and we wonder, indifferently, how much we have to do for Him to get by.”
― Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
The concept of God not needing us but wanting us can make my head spin, but this concept helped me to understand the basic power of intimacy. Great relationships are built on a mutual desire for relationship.

The more a photographer desires a relationship with a client they will begin to understand like Steve Jobs that they must think like their client. Steve Jobs helped solve my problems in my life by helping me to connect with others using technology to increase the ability to do so.

Maintenance Program

Why do Toyota cars have such a good record for lasting a long time for their clients? One thing that changed for me was in 1993 I bought a Toyota Tercel. One thing that was different is that the dealership invited me to a party in their service department.

They had pizza for us, but most importantly they wanted us to get the most out of our vehicles. So they took time to educate us about the maintenance program.  Every 5,000 miles you need to bring your car in for routine service. They then added this comment that if you follow the maintenance schedule your car will most likely last for 200,000 miles without a problem.

The reasons Toyota cars were lasting so long was they did a better job of educating their customers about the importance of preventive maintenance.

As photographers what is involved in a preventive maintenance program for you?

  1. Digital Workflow: you need a good system that helps you consistently make and deliver quality images to your clients
  2. Marketing to new and present clients: you need to consistently have something in place that helps you to connect with new clients and a plan that also helps you stay connected to your present clients
  3. Accounting: you need to have a system in place to create estimates, invoices, paying your bills and way to track all this so you can be sure you don't have outstanding invoices, bills or taxes.
  4. Relationships not transactions: you need to have a focused plan to make all of your clients be about a relationship of hopefully designed to make them your friends. Without this being intentional these clients are just transactions and will soon be replaced by other photographers who are desiring a relationship with them.
Do you have a plan in place for you to follow? If not stop what you are doing and create one and then work the plan and you will see success in your future.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Night Lights - High School Football

Nikon D4, Sigma 70-200mm ƒ/2.8, ISO 12800, 1/400, ƒ/2.8 [Touchdown for Milton HS]
I decided to shoot some high school football since I was taking my daughter to the game. While I have shot a lot of sports it has been a really long time since I shot a Friday night high school football game. I think the last time I did was with a film camera back in 1991 in Fort Worth, Texas with my good friend Morris Abernathy.

First of all I have to say shooting at ISO 12800 with these Nikon D4 cameras is just amazing. I know I never shot color high school football until now. WOW! I am shocked at the quality we now get out of these cameras.

Here are a few selects from the evening.

By the way I want you to know I did a custom white balance at the beginning of the game and then once the sun went down I did another custom white balance using the ExpoDisc.  A little cropping and that is it in all these photos.

My tips are pretty simple. Use long glass and stay way in front of the play. I prefer to shoot from the end zones so I get a clean background for the most part.

My lens of choice is the Sigma 120-300mm ƒ/2.8 and use most of the time with the 1.4 converter. Since I shoot these on my Nikon D4 I also crop in by 2x making the lens into a 840mm ƒ/4 lens on the longest part of the zoom.

I prefer to see the players faces and they tend to be looking towards the end zone if they are offense and the defense is looking in the direction of the other end zone.

In the series above these are just a few of the #3 from Milton getting a major break out and then scoring right in front of me. With that zoom I was able to keep him pretty tight throughout the run all the way to the last frame above of him scoring.

High Key Dodge Viper Photos

I decided to go back to the Dodge Viper and shoot it on purely high key.  Here are some from this mornings shoot.

For these last few I turned the 30" x 60" soft box long side front to back rather than side to side which helped get rid of a black line that you may see in the photos above.

You can see the black line I got rid of by putting the soft box in essence further behind by turning it vertical verses horizontal.

Here is the result here

By the way the size of the car here is something for scale

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My photographs of a Black Dodge Viper

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/640

I just wanted to have fun, so I decided I would photograph a Dodge Viper.

So I rolled the Dodge Viper into my studio.  Here are some shots.

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/640

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

After doing different shots with blue gel I switched to red and reshot the photos.

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

Nikon P7000, ISO 100, ƒ/8, 1/1000

Now how did I make all these photos?  Well first I was walking through Sam's Club and saw the Dodge Viper and decided to buy it on the spot. Yeah, I spent a whole $12.95 for a model.

The Setup

I just moved the soft box further from the background and more in front of the car for the very first photo and did similar with the first red photo.

My suggestion is to play with something like a car and try to photograph it in different light.  I also highly suggest buying a black car verses a lighter color car if you want to learn how to light.