After 6 years of single start dates, it is time to move the workshop to a monthly subscription service that allows you to join, do assignments, communicate with and learn from peers, and most of all have a highly creative experience.

We call it Project 52 Pro System and it is live now. For less than a dollar a day you have access to multiple webinars per week, assignments, tips, tricks, real-world working solutions to help you take your business where you want to.

Here are two videos that will explain more about what Project 52 Pro System is all about.


This is the welcome video for the students. Here you can get an idea of what we are doing.

10 Non-Photographic Things You Must Be Good At to Be a Pro

10 Non-Photographic Things You Must Be Good At to Be a Pro

Ten Things You Must Be Good At to Be a Pro Photographer

… and none of them have anything to do with making photographs.

  1. People person.
    Yeah, you gotta be a people person. No, I didn’t say you have to be an extrovert, you have to be a people person. You have to read people and understand what isn’t being said while they are talking. You can be outgoing or quietly soft-spoken, but you have to be able to work with people and be someone they would like to work with. This may be even more important than being a good photographer.
  2. Quick Decisions.
    There is no time to ponder or worry yourself through a bid proposal. Usually, there is a ticking clock and it gets louder as the deadline approaches. Make quick decisions based on solid research and you can be golden.
  3. Understanding Priorities.
    There are many reasons to set priorities in a small, service-based business. Failure to meet your obligations because you screwed up priorities can be a devastating way to lose a client… and chip away at both your reputation and your self-esteem.
  4. A Head for Business.
    Yeah, yeah, yeah. We hear it all the time. “I’m creative so I don’t understand business like icky business people do.” Bullshit buttercup, you had better learn then. Most every successful artist, designer, photographer, and author knows business and have become masters of their financial fate. To think different is to expose the mindless twaddle that you have ingested from failed artists.
  5. Master Time.
    Time waits for no one. We have a limited of time to do anything in this reality. If you are late for a sunrise shot, you missed it. If you are late delivering product, you missed it. If you cannot make it to meetings and conference calls on time, you will be replaced by someone who can. There is far too many talented people for anyone to waste time on someone who doesn’t value it.
  6. Know Your Numbers.
    Finances. Profit. Loss. Carried Forward. Lots of terms that mean something to your bottom line. If you don’t know where you are how will you figure out where you are going – or even how you got here. Learn it. It isn’t hard, it just takes some focus. And then you can make better decisions, faster, based on your knowledge of the numbers.
  7. Listening Skills.
    Seriously. Super-seriously. If you are thinking about what to say while someone else is speaking you are not listening. Listening will help you hear the nuances of what is being discussed. It may lead you to some creative solutions you hadn’t thought of before. At least it will stop you from asking a client the same question over and over again because you weren’t listening when it was discussed.
  8. Grace.
    Sometimes shit happens. Sometimes you lose. Sometimes you screw up. Blaming everyone around you for that screw up instead of taking responsibility for it is a terrible reputation to have. No, your assistant didn’t screw up, you did. No, it wasn’t the lab, or the delivery guys, or the talent, or your Uncle Misha… YOU are the photographer – and you accept the loss. Graciously, and with sincerest apologies.
  9. Mentorship.
    Are you mentoring a startup photographer? Are you a startup photographer working with others to make the business better for all of you? Are you being helpful to the community of self-employed creatives in your town or region. Did you answer no to any of those questions? Ask yourself why? To be helpful is a great honor for a creative. Be honorable and be a mentor.
  10. Patient Impatience.
    You must be patient for your business to expand the way you want it to. You must be impatient in the work that will make it do so. Patience is not laziness. Patience is not sitting around hoping. Impatience means never wasting time, and constantly creating more work in order to grow. Patient Impatience is what I call it. And it works.


10 Questions That May Predict Your Success as a Photographer

10 Questions That May Predict Your Success as a Photographer

Commercial photography is a lot of fun, and it is a lot of work. Hard work. Some of it mind-numbing boring work, but more important than most anything else you do. Understanding what we do, who we do it for, and what its value is can be a crucial part of getting work in a crowded industry.

Here are 10 questions you can answer that may let you know if you are ready to be in this business. If you are faltering on any of them, at least you will have a place to start when it is time to fix your shortcomings.

  1. What kind of photography do you do?
    (Possible answers: consumer photography, commercial photography, editorial photography, documentary photography, photojournalism, fine art, illustrative… and so many more)
    1B. Can you describe each of the genres mentioned above?)

  2. Who (types of businesses) hires photographers to make images like you make in your county/region?
    You must have 15 answers to be in the running.

  3. What types of national clients hire photographers to make images similar to the ones you are making?
    You must have 20 answers to be in the running.

  4. Is your portfolio a good representation of what you do – or want to do as a professional photographer?
    4B. Does it address the companies needs you identified above in number 2 and 3?

  5. How many graphic design companies, ad agencies, PR firms, and media content creators (magazines consumer and trade) are within your immediate vicinity? How many in your county? How many in your state?

  6. How significant is your marketing effort? Are you calling on client leads and clients 20 times per week? 15 per week? Less than 15 per week? This can be email, direct mail, phone, carrier pigeon… anything?

  7. Who are your main direct competitors in your town or city? Who are their clients? What do they charge? Who are their vendors (hair, MU, set building, etc…)? How often do they update their website and reach out to clients?

  8. Who are the top modeling agencies in your town? Do you have a working relationship with them? If there is no agency in your town, where are the models being hired by your competition coming from? Same with vendors, suppliers, and artisans.

  9. Can you handle an RFP with credibility (Request for Proposal)? Do you know how to bid a job, what the implications of rights managed may be? Do you know what questions to ask to let the agency or client know that you know what you are doing?

  10. How would you define your style? And what does your style bring to the table for clients wanting to use you? What value do you offer clients in a world where there are a crapton of photographers – some willing to shoot it for a fraction of its value.

    How do you calculate the value of an image you are shooting for a client? Is it a commodity industry (cost + markup)? Or are there intrinsic values based on the usage of the image? Are the rights of ownership a value proposition that can be leveraged? How much are you worth… and why?

There are no right and wrong answers, but there sure as hell ARE answers. Score yourself this way:

Score yourself this way: If you cannot answer the question without research, you are simply not going to fare very well in the competitive and highly skilled arena of commercial photography. If you realize you must do a crapton of research, you have just learned a vital and oh so important part of this mysterious business.

Good luck.

— — —
Cover Photo by Bethany Legg
Personal Projects and Recharging the Inner Batteries

Personal Projects and Recharging the Inner Batteries

This is kind of a personal post for me. There are challenges that I face as an artist and writer. And photographer. And sometimes those challenges can take its toll on me, and us. Creativity, for me, takes nurturing and constant practice.

I have always felt that photography, was more than what I could do. It was a big part of what makes me. In my DNA so to speak. It partly defines me more than any other endeavor that I involve myself in.

I came to photography the usual way. My dad was a photographer / writer and his enthusiasm was contagious. I would go into the field with him and he would photograph fishing ‘flies’ and how to sight in a rifle and such. I would be his note taker, and he would talk to me as he was working and I would write down the distances or the exposures. He wrote and illustrated magazine articles for outdoor magazines. I miss my dad.

(Note: This is an older article from the archive. All material still relevant. The cafe in the last image has been torn down and a gas station now sits on that iconic corner.)

When I was a kid I would wait every Wednesday by our little mailbox to get the issues of Life and Saturday Evening Post. Cover to cover by nightfall. I cut out images and stuck them in a little box. Names like Eisentaedt and Margaret Bourke White started to become recognizable.

The images were so beautiful, and sparked such interest… I would go back again and again to look at the photographs. Moments in time caught forever in a frozen tableaux… to be shared and remembered. Film (movies) doesn’t do that for me. I rarely want to sit and watch a movie again and again. But I can pick up my copy of Ansel Adams Monographs, a Minor White collection, or my old dog eared Cheyco Liedmann book and enjoy a few quite moments.

There has also been some stuff online recently that lets me know that other photographers are talking about and thinking about this stuff as well. Chase Jarvis, Zack Arias, Scott Bourne, Jack Hollingsworth, Kirk Tuck, and others have posted on creativity.

I have been feeling the burn of captivity lately. Seems like I am tied to a desk as I am working on two books, redoing the curriculum for the workshops and editing/post processing images for clients.

So I wanted to go out and do something that spoke to how I was feeling. I generally don’t try to make ‘pretty’ pictures, others do that very well. I like environments that show themselves to be involved in life. From decay to renew, old contrasted with new, and the mark of man on the environment.

Since I am feeling a little isolated and in need of a recharge, I decided to take an afternoon and do something photographically that made sense to me. At this moment… where I am and what I am feeling now.

More after the jump below. I just wanted to remind you that our new feature “Rants and Raves” are shorter form articles that are just that… rants and raves. I have the first few months of the schedule up at Learn to Light, so if you are considering a workshop this year, check the schedule out. I think my workshop is one that will change your lighting and photography for the better.

This is the road that I chose. It is fairly close to where I live and goes through some rather flat and mundane farming land.

View Larger Map

It isn’t a long drive, and it offers no typical ‘beautiful’ scenery. I had a nice slightly overcast sky and it seemed right for my project. I wanted to capture in my images what I was feeling and this light, environment and somewhat desolate landscape was exactly what was called for.

It isn’t a long drive, and it offers no typical ‘beautiful’ scenery. I had a nice slightly overcast sky and it seemed right for my project. I wanted to capture in my images what I was feeling and this light, environment and somewhat desolate landscape was exactly what was called for.

Abandoned migrant worker facilities. Don Giannatti

Abandoned migrant worker facilities.

I find that just getting off your ass and doing something, anything, can get the juices going and create situations that allow vision to be explored. I had nothing in mind as far as photography and gear, I just wanted to make images that would help me understand what I am feeling.

My gear was simple: Canon, 20-35 L, 80-200 L, 4 speedlights, several stands and modifiers, a small boom, and a kit of Mamiya 6×7 film cameras. Tripod, extra batteries and my “lighting’ kit was also along. At the end of the day, nothing but the Canon and the 20-35 was used.

Crossroads in the desert: South of Maricopa, AZ

The lines caught my eye and the clouds added some beautiful texture to the sky.

I guess that was fitting looking back. I am looking for simplicity in the images and the gear seemed to follow. I like the way the wide angle lens adds so much to the field of the image… letting the subject be more isolated within the environment.

Simplicity is the thing for me right now. I want to narrow my acquisition of things and increase my understanding of the ways creativity are manifested in the soul. Too much time spent chasing the material world can create havoc in the creative world. At least it does for me.

The simple, or minimalistic, aesthetic is one that appeals greatly to me. It runs through my photography and design, and it needs to be brought into my self as well. I wanted the images that I do to speak to the minimalist in me.

I didn’t leave the house with the intention of shooting only one lens, or to do ‘that shot’ I have been wanting to do. I tried to clear my mind of all that stuff and just think about the emotion of the world in front of me… and how to get that into a photograph. Without expectations, I am open to serendipity and that allows the world to present itself.

Remove the filters of self-imposed arbitrary limitations.

Tree and Sky. Between Maricopa and Stanfield, Arizona

The trees made me stop and turn around. I knew there was a shot there and I wanted to find it

I drove right by the trees. I was listening to some music I had brought along and thinking about something I had just seen. The trees just wizzed by my passenger door with only a glimpse. I kept on driving for a mile and realized… that was part of what I need to do. Stop going so damn fast and missing the moments that can be created.

I turned around and went back to the three trees. Closing the car door it looked kinda hopeless. Access was denied due to the fencing and there was a fairly soggy ditch between me and the trees.

The more I didn’t see a shot, the more I wanted a shot. I needed to make that image. I didn’t know what image, but there was one here. I refrained from making images that I knew would not cut it. I worked the camera like it held precious film… not taking the shot till I knew I had something.

That was important to me. I wanted to come back with as few images total as possible, with the maximum amount of images I like. I finally found the image I was looking for, and made a few exposures.

I was feeling less melancholy at this point. I knew I had a few images that would make the day worth it, so I got in the car and headed further south with the feeling that I was making some images.

Entrance to an old ranch house, near Stanfield, Arizona

I have always been drawn to the frame within the frame. It says something metaphorical to me.

This is the power of the personal project. Some projects are large in scope and some are small – like this one. It doesn’t matter which you are on at any one time, but having projects to focus intent on makes a big difference when you are shooting.

Some projects are driven by external elements, a desire to do something to help or elevate or bring attention to a cause or an interest. And some are driven by internal elements… like this one.

Projects help open the mind to opportunities, it let’s the images that may not be seen get through. Awareness of parameters and goals helps refine the creative self to find the answers and solutions.

I waited for the truck to get in position and made the shot. I only got the chance to shoot 3 trucks, and like this one.

Finding emotional meaning in images is so important. The image as metaphor, the image as a reflection of one’s soul. The image as an iconic touchstone for people to refer to in thought and action. A great image can transcend the reality of the object. A piece of paper with some ink or emulsion on it is NOT what a photograph is. We bring so much TO that little piece of paper from our own perceptions, emotions, community and culture. The fact that images can provide that for people of diverse situations is a testament to the power of the still image.

Well, it use to be called the Burnt Buns Cafe. It is under new management. I didn't go in, but I did do the shot.

When I got to the ‘destination’, actually the turnaround spot for me, I found that the “Burnt Buns Cafe” had been taken under new management and was no longer.

No problem. I made my photograph anyway. I didn’t dwell on the loss of an old friend, I instead made an image that showed the distance between. The loss that I felt, instead of the cafe itself. I hope you can see that in my images, but if you can’t, that is fine as well. I cannot guarantee that my images will do what I want them to do. And I don’t make images that scream the message or are so totally flagrant in the metaphor. At least… I try not to.

In the end, the trip was well worth it. I got these 6 images and 7 more that I really like. And I got off my ass. And I took my cameras and gear and set out to do something. Anything.

But I also left with a plan… to make images for ME about the way I am feeling and hopefully to share those images with people who will enjoy them…even IF they don’t know what I am trying to say.

Other projects: I have a 365 iPhone project here, and I am working on a few books and new site for art photographers. In March I will start a photograph/article per day project that will culminate in a book.

I hope that you found the article interesting, and have started a personal project for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a big project, it can be as little as a few hours on a lonely county road.

Post processing was on my mind from the first image. I wanted to mute the colors and increase the contrast from the very flat light. I used overlay layers (soft light), highlight painting, luminance masks and localized sharpening on the images. I then desaturated the image and added a tone of warmth to all the images.

Three Idea Thursday June 1

Three Idea Thursday June 1

These will become more prevalent as I continue to exercise the brain muscle. Working the 10 ideas a day from James Altucher’s great book “Choose Yourself”.

So here goes.

Three Idea Thursday, June 1

1. Photograph all of the Thai Food (Italian, Mexican, French – whatever floats you) Restaurants in your town and make a website guide with images of the food, building, interior. Do not charge the restaurants, but get their participation. Become known as THE food photographer by people who do food, not just editors and photography type clients.

2. Give away all of your iPhone shots. Or landscape? Or out-takes. Free. In fact – encourage bloggers to use them. Put them on a web page with a blanket “get them free” language and ask for people to use them on their blogs. Couple this with a pitch to shoot “professional” images at a rate that makes sense. NOTE: You absolutely MUST be on top of PR. This is YOUR STORY… rock it. (I did a Youtube on this here)

3. Like road trips? Do one every weekend. Document your journey… mileposts, food, bars, fun… but with your own quirky twist to it. Purchase fun, funky things that are one-offs. Build a website and show the trips, sell the one-offs at a profit. Use video, audio and of course photographs to get people excited about the adventure.

Yes, it’s been done before. Usually very badly. Yours has to kick ass.

(NOTICE OF DISCLOSURE: I have no idea of these would work or not. That isn’t the point. The point is the idea that could come from an idea that is thought about critically. I think they have merit. I thought Vine was cool. There ya go.)