Distraction, Discontent and Distruption (Part One)


Distractions, Discontent, and Disruption

The three “D’s” of the new daily discomforts. Wait, is that a fourth?

We are constantly being distracted from our work, made to feel discontent at every turn and facing disruption in our business like never before.


Distraction comes from every side. From Facebook and email to the web and other forms of entertainment. It comes from politics and social events. It comes from the manufacturers of commercial culture who want us distracted and hooked on their latest gizmo/whachathingy.

And it is damned difficult to keep our heads down and do the work with all that clamoring for our attention. Go to this webinar and that web page – they have all the answers. Listen to this guru or that guru or some rockstar who has all the answers – they will help make it easier. All ya gotta do is pay attention.

To them.

We have learned that we ‘must’ spend hours a day on Facebook, ‘connecting’ with our fans and followers and possible clients. We have to ‘pin’ and blog and tweet and twerk.

OK, we don’t really have to twerk. Seriously.

But we can spend so much time on the other crap that nothing of real value gets done.

Camera companies compete for our attention by dribbling out shiny new cameras with cutting edge features that we of course MUST have now, because our competitors have it. And it is awesome – that guru guy said it was, and there is a webinar that shows how lame last months new camera is compared to yesterdays new camera.

And a big time internet photographer just “Pinned” it… so it must be awesome.


We become unhappy with what we have, and what we don’t have becomes even more of a sore spot. Even to an open wound.
“When I get the Nicanon Mark 9, DE7000 X, I will finally be able to create my vision.”
But that never happens because as soon as you get it, Sonlympus comes out with a “Nicanon Killer” and some “awesome” internet guru has just declared it the most awesomest camera since last March.

We can sink into the pits of despair, the fire swamps of sadness, and simply believe that without this new or shiny or awesome thingy, we simply cannot continue on.

The funk continues when we read about a new photographer making a lot of waves, and getting a ton of attention. “Brooklynneshannadale Smith, 13, is shooting the new Audi campaign for a gazillion dollars after taking the commercial photography world by storm when her captivating, slightly misogynistic iPhone images on Instagram caught the eye of Dorkus McStoopeed, a big time ad agency owner in Manhattan…” (We call that a PR stunt. Learn to see them for what they are.)

And we try to measure this new work to our own, and try to figure out what the commercial world is really wanting anyway? We start to complain about clients, and the industry, and the totally screwed way it is going and how it is ruining the business… yadda – yadda – yadda.

Too many begin living their creative lives between distraction and discontent. They post memes on Facebook about how no one wants to pay them for their work. They go on forums and discuss how stupid and screwed up clients are. They fall farther and farther away from the center of their own world.


And while they are focused on all this negative distraction and discontent, along comes good old “Disruption”. It is quiet and insidious and if we are not vigilant, it will catch us looking away and – bang – we are watching our business from the sidelines.


Things change. It all changes. Some changes took a long time to occur, like continental drift. Others took a small amount of time to change… like the time my Tower records went all CD over night on a weekend. No more vinyl – overnight.

Photography has seen plenty of disruption before. The invention of the Brownie camera that allowed anyone to make a photograph. The addition of meters in cameras, faster ISO films, auto-focus, and digital are the highlights.

Now we are seeing disruption in the publication industry that is affecting the commercial photography business as well. Things are changing. Print magazines are flooded with promotions from thousands of photographers. There is a glut of shooters it seems.

But there are also more ways to find work. From web sites to web magazines, Kindle books to iBooks to eBooks, there are more and more ways to create images for publication. Kickstarter projects, self assigned projects, galleries and print sales.

Disruption can be bad for some, but it always opens doors for others.

Seven years ago there was no such thing as an App Developer. Disruption changed that, and tens of thousands of new jobs opened up where none existed before.

Ten years ago a photographer who wanted to do their own high quality coffee table book had to first find a publisher, then negotiate and get a lawyer and lots of crappola to just get to the point of getting it to print.

Today, a photographer can produce their own coffee table book and offer it for sale on Amazon – reaching millions and millions of people worldwide.
“Local” may not mean what it meant 20 years ago.


  • Maybe, but I am not going to offer you the tired old “get off Facebook” stuff you get everywhere, I will simply offer some ideas:
  • Self Assignments: Personal work is the key to keeping creative and moving forward. If you do not have a personal project, start one as soon as possible.
  • Create a schedule for your work. Follow that schedule. Call it your creativity plan or productivity mantra or whatever. Instead of being distracted by all the silliness all day, find a great time to go on, engage, have fun and then be done with it.
  • Find a disruptive agent and make some effort to understand it, what it means for your work and how you can use it to advantage. Instagram is a disruptor… what can you do with it to help your work get known and seen? Or is it not worth the effort for you?
  • Analyze the distractions you see around you. Are you sure the camera companies have your best interests at heart? Are you sure the gurus with millions of followers have your best interest at heart. (Some do, some don’t… look carefully and you can tell who does.)
  • Stop comparing your work to others. Period. Follow YOUR vision, follow YOUR style, follow YOUR path to image creation.
  • Become insulated against the distractions and discontent that is so pervasive on the internet and social media. Remember that most of those discontented, unhappy ‘photographers’ have not been in the trenches, they are simply spouting what they read other people say.

At the end of the day, you are your own advocate, your own critic, your own worst enemy.

And identifying the distractions, discontents, and disruptions around you is important for us all. Once identified, they are easier to leave behind, ignore or actively engage.

Providing Cover – Keeping Clients

still-life-4Finding someone to “cover” for you on a photography assignment can be tricky business. Not just for your client, but for you AND the person who you hire to do the shoot in your place.

Look, stuff happens. We all get sick or a relative passes away or there is emergency medical situations that make shooting the scheduled gig impossible. One sure thing we cannot do is to leave the client hanging. Simply not showing up is NOT an option.

The same thing can happen, to a lesser degree, when a long time client calls with an emergency shoot for a time period when you are not available. Simply saying, “nope… outta town dude” is not an option and it could cost you the client for future gigs.

So what do we do?

We find someone to cover for us. And that opens a can of worms filled with conundrums and highly charged with confusion, fear and paranoia.

Scenario One:

The client is in a rush and needs 25 photographs of the staff of a new company they had just acquired, and they need them shot next Tuesday at the official announcement meeting where all will be in attendance.

The timing sucks as it is the same day you are auditioning for “So You Think You Can Dance” and will be doing pirouettes and leaps on Tuesday.

You are unable to do the gig so you reach out to another photographer to ‘cover’ for you. I do hope you have made some good relationships with other photographers that allows that to happen… you have… right?


You cannot let this client down, they represent a good amount of fees over the course of a year, but you feel a bit reticent at sending over one of your ‘competitors’.

You know you have to service this client, so you tell them you are unable to do it, but have someone you will vouch for to cover it. Vouching for means you KNOW they will do a good job and a job that is up to yours and your client’s standards.

I have heard of photographers getting lesser qualified shooters to do a slightly less than excellent job to show the client how much better they are than other competitors. I will also say that usually ends up biting them in the ass… so don’t do it.

It is at this point that the paranoia part starts to wear down on you… what if the other guy ‘steals’ my client? What if the other guy does a better job than me? What if the client loves the other guy and wants to give him all the work… forever?

Get over it. Your professionalism is what counts.

You call your buddy, we’ll call him Tony, and give him the rundown. This is what the client wants, here are some of my lighting setups (you do photograph your setups so they can be replicated later, don’t you…), and the contact information for the client. You even let him know what to charge the client so that he doesn’t undercut your pricing or piss them off with a higher price.

“Call the client and get everything set up for the shoot, and let me know how it goes,” are the last words you say before hopping on the bus for LA and a chance at fame. Since you are actually incapable of dancing, you know you will be returning to the world of photography in a few days.

But hey, it was YOU who decided to make that bet… heh.

The above scenario is what happens – usually. And what else happens usually? The new photographer ends up with the client because they were there. THEY called and handled all the upfront logistics. They got the setup done and the people were thrilled and hey, he had such a great personality.

And to be fair, your buddy did not try to take your client. He didn’t hand out business cards or in any way try to solicit them. They just needed a few more shots done on Thursday, and called him direct.

Expecting him to turn down the client and send them back to you is not going to work – you are in the hospital with a badly mangled knee. Yes, hip hop IS that hard.

And that client is now your buddies client. It is quite awkward to expect that your buddy simply refuse the gig unless they offer it to you first… how does that work?


Scenario Two:

All transpires as above to the point of your call to the client. Yes, you have an associate who will cover the gig. Yes, they are right up to the level we need to do a great job. You get the “associate” on a three way call and introduce the “ASSOCIATE” to the client, go over logistics and make sure everyone is comfortable with the upcoming gig.

You send over the samples of the previous shots, lighting schema, and any personality quirks that the client perhaps displays from time to time… in other words you prepare them as you would an associate.

You go off to dance and your buddy takes care of the client. She calls to make last minute logistics, shows up and knocks everyone’s socks right off. She is pleasant and cool, and gets the images down just like you would have.

And then she delivers them… to you. You then send them on to the client.

And you bill the client, and pay the photographer. I am not going to get into percentages and all of that – ya’ll work that out on your own. Some do a cut and some negotiate a flat rate and some just pass it on through… whatever, it is plain as day to the client that the fill in photographer is under YOUR company banner.

When they need something on Thursday, they don’t call her, they call you and you call her. She is an associate of yours and working for you – not them.

Same outcome, but this time you keep the client and they love the fact that you can get the job done for them even when recovering from major dance injuries incurred while doing a hip-hop stunt on a whiskey keg… don’t ask. It wasn’t pretty.

Keeping our clients safe, happy and close is more important these days than ever. So be smart when finding someone to cover for you, and stay in control of the gig.


PS: If you are the one being hired to fill in, do that. Don’t try to sneak in a portfolio review, or hand them your business card because you forgot what was happening. Don’t try to take that client away from your buddy who entrusted this shoot to you.

It’s wrong, and karma can be a real bitch sometimes.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Thirty One; “I Love Photography… I Always Have”


{This is the final post of the “What I’ve Learned So Far” series and it will become a book very soon. All of you may download it for free if you are interested. I hope you enjoyed the series. I’ve learned more than just this, but I figured wrapping it in a month long time frame gave it some closure.
I would love to hear your thoughts on starting out in photography. In fact, I would love to interview you and feature that interview in my weekly dispatch. If you would like to share your successes and how you came to the business with me and the readers, just let me know by dropping me an email. I will get right back to you for a schedule.}

I can still remember those Look and Life and Saturday Evening Post magazines that would drop through the mail slot when I was young. Really young.

I would wait for Wednesday, because that was the day they all came usually. And then I would sit on the floor, and scan every page, every photograph, every ad.

I was simply in love with the still image in a magazine.

I can even remember some of the photographers of those days. Eugene Smith and Eisenstadt come immediately to mind.

Of course as I grew up other interests were added to my love of photography  – drums, girls, motorcycles, girls, poetry and girls… What?

I didn’t get my first real camera until I was in high school. A Miranda with two lenses – 500mm and 200mm. I learned to see with a long lens. My first subjects?

Motorcycles, bands and girls.

Not necessarily in that order.

My first commercial gig came many years after I had started shooting and making “art”. My neighbor was an art director for an ad agency in town and he knew of my interest in photography, I had no idea what an ad agency was, and was not really thinking of being a professional photographer.

He asked me if I could photograph a can for him. A black can. On a white background. He even gave me a drawing of what it should look like. (Later I was to understand these were called layouts.

Of course I said yes… how hard could it be?

Took me nearly a week. Back and forth to the guys at the camera store who would all help me figure out why my picture didn’t look like his drawing. Camera angle, subject angle, a white piece of curved art board… and light. LIGHT?!?!

I didn’t have lights so I had to construct a scrim in the back patio of my townhouse to make softer light.

A week later he came down to see if I had the photograph for him. I had just finished it in the darkroom and he was fairly pleased. He commented that the lighting was pretty nice, but thought the print could use more contrast. Now THAT I knew, so I whipped another print up for him and that was that.

He gave me a check for $200.

I was, as they say, hooked.

The path I took to become a professional photographer was a very curvy one, with lots of interesting stops along the way… art director, jazz musician, warehouseman… not in that order, but you get the idea. I did all kinds of things while learning about what I was getting into.

The school I attended was called “Hard Knocks”, and it was wonderful. Full of characters I will never forget. And some I wish I could.

I started with a small, 900 sq ft studio on Indian School Rd, and ended up in one of the largest studios in the area. I was sort of a generalist, but specialized in people and still life (product) photography. Worked all the studios to the point we were breaking before moving up, and never, EVER, had a line of credit or a bank loan for operating expenses.

Cashflow was king, and I didn’t buy anything I couldn’t afford to buy. Being frugal saved me more than once.

I was never famous, never someone out of state would have known. I didn’t live in NY or LA (well, briefly) or shoot famous models for Vogue. I shot a few celebrities along the way, enough to know that was not gonna be my specialty. And I spent a few years shooting very high end real estate and commercial properties. Made a ton of money, but soul killing for me.

At one point my art director kicked back in and we took design and advertising for a few specific clients to being the second largest ad agency in Arizona in 2000-2001. Billing over 6.5M. For Phoenix, that was pretty impressive.

Heady days.

Looking back over a long career in photography I can’t help but see the various ways it has changed, as has the whole industry of ad agency / graphic design / magazines / publishing and creation of art.

I loved the good old days, but I keep in mind that these are the good old days of people in their thirties and forties. It is all relative.

My history is not my present, nor does it have much bearing on the present. Those who fight that simple concept become bitter outsiders. I welcome change because if it is changing it is still vitally alive.

Being a photographer, making images mundane and wonderful, and working with other talented people is all I could have hoped for. Would there be some things I would change along the way, of course. But hindsight is always so much clearer.

I took risks, made stupid decisions, took the fall, took the wins, and have always made it through whatever storm came my way.

It has been a good life, being a photographer, and it continues to be a focus in my daily work.

Thanks for reading along, and if you have not caught all of the posts, don’t worry. I will be putting them into a book form for you to download in a few weeks.

As I write this it is December 31, 2015.

We are halfway to the year 2030… wow has time gone by.

Have a great and joyful new year, and live YOUR life.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Thirty; “The Overwhelming Mystique of Negativity”


“You can’t do that anymore. The market is full of photographers.”

“Nobody is making any money in this business.”

“Why the hell would anyone want to go into the professional photography now, all the clients have dried up.”

I know. We hear that all the time. Nothing new here – especially if you spend any time on Facebook, or the current “photography media” sites. And don’t even mention Photo.net forums… good God what is it with those people?

Now the interesting thing about these statements above is that they were said to me directly. To my face.

In 1978.


You shouldn’t be. The death of professional photography dates back to about the birth of professional photography.

In the early days of the turn of the century – last century – a small company in Rochester, NY had an idea. Put a camera into the hands of every day people and let them make a photograph. What held most people back was the alchemy of it all… needing to develop the film and print in a darkroom. Those things were luxuries only fit for the most astute craftsmen and professionals. The cameras were big, heavy and must be swung and tilted to create an image on the ground glass… very sophisticated you know.

So was born the Kodak “Brownie”. You take the picture and we do the rest… or something like that.

And the caterwalling of professionals began. The thought that just anyone could have a camera meant the end of professional photography. (Don’t believe me, look it up.)

“While it might seem like photography was universally liked, professional photographers were actually against seeing their art becoming popularized by amateurs. Supposedly paid photographers did not appreciate these “Kodak fiends” who became completely engrossed with taking weird and often out of focus shots.”
Read more >

It continued on through the invention of the smaller professional cameras (the end of photography as a profession).

It continued on through the introduction of the 35mm system cameras (the end of photography as a profession).

It continued on when the camera manufacturers put meters in the camera (the end of photography as a profession).

It continued on through the introduction of auto-focus (the end of photography as a profession).

And of course it is still in full swing with the introduction of inexpensive, pro level digital cameras (the end of photography as a profession).

To which I say, ahem, Bullshit!

I cannot speak for you, but I am simply tired of it. It is boring and sad.

Has the business changed? Hell yeah it’s changed.

Quick – tell me an art form or small business that has not changed in the last twenty years. (Except for government… no fair using those dolts.)

EVERYTHING has changed. Lawn care has changed. Dog grooming has changed. When is the last time you called a travel agent? How about typesetting? Printing?

Publishing… LOL.

See this is the thing… it is all changing, and that is both a challenge and an opportunity. Just depends on how you view it.

“A Pessimest makes difficulties of his opportunities and an Optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties”
– Harry Truman

Same situation seen by different people.

And it is not all their fault nor are they stupid or silly. They are caught in one of the oldest traps of mankind; the desire for things to stay the way they are and not to change beyond our comfort zones.

Wow – have they changed beyond a lot of folks comfort zones. And that causes angst and anger, regret and disappointment and it will build a tsunami of resentment and blame.

I call it “The Overwhelming Mystique of Negativity”. It is so much easier to be negative. It attracts more attention – especially these days when people are nearly begging to be victims. They want to be seen as a “survivor” in an attempt to feel like they are on Oprah’s couch spilling about the most aggrieved violations of their egos.

Notice posts online: Someone posts something positive, or something to share that is pretty cool and it gets from moderate to high hits depending on how good it is. Post something negative and the outpouring of whining and bitterness is nearly overwhelming. As though being negative was in itself a mystique and an element of being a photographer.

The toughest ones hit are the ‘old guys/gals’ who have been doing it a long time. They have set in their ways and are comfortable and along comes this digital thing and they can’t keep up and what the hell happened to film and OMG Lightroom will do WHAT with an underexposed POS capture?

And so they start with the resentment and the blame. They resent the new ways vehemently… “stupid twitter, stupid Facebook, stupid Instagram. I’ll never be caught dead with a blog? Screw Tumblr, it’s all just a fad.”

But it’s not a fad, it’s now and it’s real and they don’t want to change.

So out it comes…

“You can’t do that anymore. The market is full of photographers.”

“Nobody is making any money in this business.”

“Why the hell would anyone want to go into the professional photography now, all the clients have dried up.”


Look. There are clients out there. There are photographers doing well. There are new photographers in the market starting out who are making ends meet. That is how it has always been. I believe it takes between 7 – 10 years to hit your stride in this business. We start out working to pay the bills and putting a ton of money back into the business. It is NOT a quick start business.

We build traction, get more clients, make more money (invest back into the business and marketing) and so forth.

But now we have photographers complaining that they are not able to get gigs – after being in the business for 6 or 7 months. Meh… they aren’t in business, they are still trying to figure out what this business is all about.

Time to suck it up and understand some hard friggin facts, Jack.

This is one fkn hard business to be in. The bar is set way high… WAY HIGH! There has never been this much talent behind a lens ever… EVER.

So does that mean we give up? Do we just throw our hands up and whine about the ‘over saturated’ market or do we get real dirty workin’ real hard, and real smart. It isn’t always the best photographer, you know. Sometimes it is personality, perseverance, likability, consistent delivery, and a straight up approach that makes clients want to work with you.

Get some of that. Now.

Or give up. S’all good, and quite frankly maybe you weren’t really cut out for self employment in a devilishly difficult field with competition at every curve. Get a cushy desk job and bust your ass for a 401K and two weeks off. There is absolutely NOTHING WRONG with that. It is noble work.

Far better than beating yourself into the ground over something that is kicking your butt. (BTW, I have written about the possibility that it may not be the business at all, and quite possibly could be something you are or are not doing… you may want to read it.)

Of course some people will try to cover for their inability to make it by blaming others. And there are so many others to blame it is a quite attractive  target.

There are nubes. The ones who are just having fun and taking photographs… the thought that they would ever want to charge someone something is malevolence incarnate. They will “undercut us”… oh heavens no. Blame them for our disintegrating business.

There are workshop teachers and educators. We all know they are all lousy photographers only wanting to make a buck off of delusional nubes. Never mind that there are some terrific workshop teachers out there, and really, where else would someone learn how to be a pro other than learning from a pro? (Yes there are some bad ones, but for the most part they are pretty darn good.) But what the hell, let’s blame them for the fact our business is not growing… and no, we aren’t marketing this year – too busy whining on FB to actually market, but it wouldn’t do any good anyway because workshop teachers!

And God forbid a photographer have an idea for a product that would help other photographers… that is pure moneygrubbing and should never be done by photographers who should ONLY PUSH BUTTONS AND MAKE PHOTOGRAPHS…  Where will the new products come from? Well, from new product engineers who went to college and stuff, and who never ever used a camera cause they make the best camera stuff, by golly.

It is so far off the reservation of rational thought that one cringes from the sheer lack of cognitive reasoning.

So they don’t market, make mediocre photographs, spend too much on gear and now they are gonna tell you that there is no business left and it is because of nubes like you that ruined an otherwise healthy (LOL) industry.

And you should quit and get a job at Walmart making videos of poor people for rich college kids to laugh at. (What? Someone makes those videos, right? Probably a nube video photographer undercutting the video market with them new fangled Youtoober things…)


Just don’t.

Make a stand. Learn your craft. Learn the business. Find a mentor and give it a hell of a shot.

Not a year, with intermittent marketing. Give it a full on killer shot with a lot of effort and spunk and gumption and guts. (Did I just write gumption? Sure… whatever.)

Tell the naysaying nabobs to tell it somewhere else and get after making YOUR dreams come true. Be smart about it of course, but NEVER let them set your boundaries. That is something reserved for YOU and YOU ALONE.

I will be changing up the newsletter in 2015 to discuss winners, and successful photographers, entrepreneurs, designers and artists who have bucked the bullshit and made big waves on their own. I will be using it for fodder for my next book; “Consider It Granted: Stop Seeking Permission from Those Who Will Never Give It For Reasons You Will Never Know”.

(You can sign up for that every Sunday jolt of positivity on the top right sidebar. No spam, not much selling, lots of links to positive and powerful stuff each issue. We call it “In the Frame”.)

That’s what we do, you know. We constantly seek permission. And we seek it from people who will never give it. We have no idea what their motivation is, but we listen anyway.

Sometimes their motivation is NOT IN OUR BEST INTERESTS, but in theirs.

If you succeed at photography and they failed… well, that simply can’t be allowed to happen so you never get permission from them. And some people simply do not want you to succeed at anything for a vast amount of reasons. Most you will never know, but most are not really about you anyway. They’re about them.

So stop seeking permission from naysayers, whiners, complainers and those who didn’t make it for whatever reason, and consider your permission granted – from YOU.

It’s OK…

Just do it.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Nine; “Overnight Success? I’ve Got Your Overnight Success Right Here!”


I read all about “overnight success” and usually I just smile to myself. Of course I do not believe them, but that’s OK – they are always great entertainment.

I remember an interview with the band “Foreigner” where the gushing interviewer mentioned their meteoric rise to the top of the charts. “Yeah”, the band said, “it only took ten years of playing college venues to get that overnight success thing…”

And that is so true. Not only for arena bands and jazz orchestras, but for poets and photographers too.

Overnight is ten years.

Prepare for a lot of ups and downs in those ten years as well. A lot.

They are formative years, discovery years, learning the craft years.

Understanding marketing years.

You can rush them if you want.

No you can’t. I was lying to you just above. You can’t rush the process at all. You can work harder and speed it up a bit, but you ain’t gonna put ten years into a couple of months. Not gonna happen.

And look, I know photographers who have had some pretty big successes in shorter amounts of time, but it is rare – and it is usually discovered that they were banging around in the craft, or a similar discipline, for years before the camera purchase.

A friend of mine was a designer for 8 years before becoming a photographer. He did pretty well his fourth year out, and then struggled for a year or two before getting his feet back under him for a serious run at bigger gigs.

And remember, we aren’t really focused on moms with cameras or weekend wedding shooters here. We are talking to commercial and editorial shooters who work the B2B circuit. Budgets are scary in this arena.

And in order to get someone to entrust a budget of $50K on a photographer, that AD / CD needs to be really comfortable that something wonderful is going to come of it. Too damn much money for newbies who screw up.

You screw up, right?

I do… although I don’t on gigs. I screw up when I am testing ideas and shooting for concept. When I accept a gig, I KNOW I can do it and do it well.


And that takes time and effort and a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

How long does it take to be a player in this business? Let’s look at a typical situation.

It takes a couple of years playing with photography before it becomes an obsession.

And that obsession takes you from clueless wannabee to a confident shooter with a day job. You may not even have a style yet, just a very high level of competency. And that may be enough to start a business.

So we are already in to it for about 4 years or so.

Now we quit the day job and get to making some money… and the jobs come from all over. Some industrial work from one client, editorial portraits from another, and a catalog or two help make the rent, buy the food and put a bit away for slower times. If we work hard, market hard, we can see those gigs increase. Of course this takes into effect that you are not screwing up and delivering top notch, A1, killer work. If not… well, it may not progress any further.

At some point a style starts developing. And that style begins to define a lot of what you do. You become known locally as someone who can really do a great job, and especially with the style you have worked so hard on.

Local brings regional… and regional brings national.

This can take three to four years IN BUSINESS… even longer in smaller markets.

And we now have 7 – 8 years before we are putting our stuff in front of national clients with national budgets. Our eight years of experience helps give them the warm and fuzzies about our capability to get the gig done, while also providing a solid base for why we are charging very high fees.


The work is consistently top drawer, the clients are consistently impressed and there is a plan in place to make something happen. Without a solid plan, it is simply luck, and unrepeatable. We need repeatable successes to help drive us forward.

And that my friends takes a plan.

Just like starting out when you first made the decision to become a commercial photographer took a plan, going from local to regional takes planning and more planning still to go from regional to national.

Strategy and implementation. Marketing and story definition… MAKING something of your work and business is not left to chance.

And sure, look… I know and you know someone who is really scoring big time on Model Mayhem, and knocking them dead in the headshots for actors market. Yep, fine… nothing wrong with that.

But that work will not lead to much of anything without a plan for how to market it into a viable client base.

I have seen many ‘glamour’ photographers with huge Model Mayhem and Facebook followers. I ask them one simple question…

“Where are there clients for this kind of work?”

Not that it is bad work, or carries any connotations other than what it is, tell me who is going to hire you to make photographs like this?

Answer is that there are few to none. Other models? Maybe, but there is no career there. Local ad agencies? No way… and showing this kind of work to an ad agency, local magazine, design shop or MarCom director is going to get you on the fast track to “never come back here again”.

It is not viable in most areas. Yeah, it’s fun, I get that.

But once again, I will remind you that doing stuff ‘for fun’ is not necessarily part of the plan – unless it is alongside the stuff you do for getting clients. And unless topless girls with hand-bras are all you are ever going to shoot, you will have to start creating images that are marketable.

NO, I am not saying shoot what you think THEY will want to see… NEVER do that.

But know your channels, and know your specific breakdowns within those channels and MAKE marketable work.

I am not a patient person, in fact I am impatient to a fault. But some things take what time they take, and so I live with what I call “Impatient Patience”.

Impatient patience means we work as hard as we can at doing what we want to do, and we expect the work will pay off in time. Impatiently working to create, but patiently knowing that it will not be an overnight success.

Worst case scenario, we DO have some unexpected early success. And that is great as long as we remember the words of the great Han Solo; “Don’t get cocky, kid.”

Keep on the fast track even if you cannot see the next turn… it is there. It is always there. It just takes as long to get there as it takes.

And never let yourself ask, “are we there yet?” With a good plan and some impatient patience you will know when you are there.

What I’ve Learned So Far: Twenty Eight; “Photography is Jazz With a Camera”


Let’s start out by saying I love jazz. I love the swing, the blues, the instruments and most of all the improvisation of jazz. I listen to all kinds of music as well, from Opera to Country, but jazz is where I return to get my juices going.

Artists like Keith Jarrett, Bill Evans, Pharoah Sanders, Cannonball Adderly, Miles, ‘Trane, Monk, and Duke are mixed in with more modern players and some rather obscure tunes from the “free jazz” movement.

At the basis of jazz is improvisation. This is where one of the players is featured playing a melody over the rest of the band who may be playing a simple background. In most situations, this melodic tune is improvised… made up on the spot. The player may be reacting to something that was happening in the rhythm section, or responding to the chord changes with a free flowing melodic interpretation of the original tune.

There is usually an original tune. The whole band will play that in a practiced, orchestrated manner… then the “jazz” takes over when the soloist goes out to play his lines.

I think that is just what happens when we make photographs. The photographer is the soloist once the base (background/ambience) has been established.

A few rules apply to being able to know how to solo.

The first of which is you must know your instrument so well, that you are not thinking about how to play it, you are only thinking about the music coming forth from it. The actual operation of the instrument is now so second nature that you are hearing the music around you, and simply adding your voice.

Being a photographer means knowing that camera so well, that the operational struggles are far behind you and all that is being thought about is the image. What you need to do to make that image should come nearly second nature to you.

Aperture / shutter speed / ISO – it is all related to the creation of what you see in your head, and it simply should flow from fingers to camera to vision.

When I meet photographers who do not know the reciprocals, or how to light for beauty or which lenses do what, I know they are not ready to solo yet.

A Quick Test

You should be able to answer these questions instantly:

1. ISO 100 is how many stops different from ISO 650?

2. If the ambient light is f5.6 @ 1/250th, what would the strobe have to be giving to be one stop brighter than the ambient?

3. In a dark studio with a flash, which shutter speed will freeze the hair more? A=1/200 / B=1/60 / C=Not Applicable

4. What is the Sunny 16 Rule?

5. According to the Inverse Square Law, would we get twice as much light when placed at half the distance to the subject or 4 times as much light?

6. If you have an exposure reading of f5.6 @1/500 at ISO 400 – which of the following is a reciprocal value of that reading? A – f11 @ 1/60 at ISO 400? B – f4 @ 1/500 at ISO 200? C – f8 @ 1/2000 at ISO 800?

In a dark and noisy room, can you quickly – without looking – make these changes to your setting? 1. Change ISO? 2. Change Shutter Speed? 3. Change Aperture? 4. Format a card? 5. Change from Aperture Value to Manual?

Quick… does your lens turn counter clockwise or clockwise to focus from close to infinity? There are more… but you get the idea.


1. 2 2/3 stops faster.

2. f8

3. C Not Applicable. The hair will be lit by the strobe duration which is much faster than either of the shutter speeds.

4. Sunny 16 rule is F16 at 1/ISO for shutter speed. Side light open one stop – f11 Back lit open two stops – f8 – f5.6 depending on bounce from ambient.

5. 4 Times more light (two stops)

6. B – f4 @ 1/250 ISO 200

Thanks for playing… heh.

And soloing is where it is at, friends.

Being so confident in your gear that you forget all the operational buttons and switches and thinking about this or that or somethign else… you just create. Making the images you love because you are totally focused on that instead of being distracted by trying to figure out what ISO you should be using (reciprocals will help with that).

Imagine how difficult it would be to start to make up something in your head to play right now, while trying to remember the fingering for the GMajor scale… impossible.

Now imagine you are shooting a location shot and the shadows are coming up too deep. Do you know how deep they are coming up? Do you know how to fix them – fast? Will a shiny board be too much, or a white board be too little? Would a second flash create more highlights than you want or is there another solution? There are many solutions, you know.

Knowing what each one does, quickly, is jazz with lighting.

Improvising. It is one of the most important traits of a commercial photographer. Why – because things rarely go as planned.

We all know about backups and backups for the backups… you don’t go out with only four extra AA’s, right? We have backups that backup the backups on some gigs.

Extra lights, extra flashtubes, extra stands*, extra sandbags… everything in mutliples.

But the most important thing we have for backup is between our ears – the talent we have with a camera, the knowledge we have of the craft we work in, and the ability to spin on a dime and give change. THAT is what multiple backups are about.

Thinking of possibilities, seeing challenges instantly, and starting to work on how to fix them before anyone else even thinks about them. Keeping a crew motivated in 115 degree heat, while shooting under a dark cloth, and having the background slowly move to shadow because the AD couldn’t make up their mind in time for the shoot to be done in the frame you had… dancing like a fool to keep it all together.

That’s jazz, man.

Shooting a headshot and changing the angle of the light because it brings out the subjects eyes more, or creates a wonderful shine on the side of her hair, while instantly knowing that now you need more fill from the bottom pull up the card, and bring in the shiny board for some more bounce from behind… and all of this happening while you are working with the model, giving directions to both her and the crew and finding those moments where she looks great… click… click…

That’s jazz, baby!

And when the shoot is wrapped, and the AD is ecstatic, you ask for another chorus… just a bit more time to loosen up, slide outside of the chords and play in some registers that don’t get much attention. Move the light, swing in the boom… a chorus of changes happening right before your eyes… experimenting with the light, pushing the boundaries of composition, MAKING something new and so outside of the box that there ain’t no box… I don’t see no box… shut up about the box.

Yeah… that’s jazz too.

So how are you going to prepare to get to that solo? Some tips:

  1. LEARN to use that camera and KNOW how to do it with your eyes closed.
  2. Practice, practice, practice.
  3. Experiment. Once you KNOW you have the shot, try new and wild things… or even new and mild things. But step out and try something different… and if it works, you now have what jazz cats call a ‘riff’ you can spring when you need it.
  4. Work on your visual style with every shoot you do.
  5. If you do not have a visual style, ask yourself why not and look back at your work to see if one is beginning to appear.
  6. Push everyone around you to be the best they can be. Push yourself twice as hard.
  7. Improvise on a theme. Using a model friend, a bud, or some great props, play with the light. Build upon your knowledge… this is improvisation in the practice room. Safe.
  8. USE what you find is useful. Never remain inside the box others have built for you.
  9. “Stretch out”… what we call it when the soloist takes more than a couple of choruses… similar to improvising on a theme, this is more long form… a subject, story, journal.
  10. Inspire yourself with art you may not see or listen to often. Do not become encapsulated in one thing. Listen to all kinds of music, view all kinds of art and photography – EVEN, no ESPECIALLY if you don’t like it or understand it. Inspiration comes from such explorations… it really does.

Some of my faves include:

I listen to this when I am editing… Love this album.
The music you hear is totally and completely improvised on the spot.

And this classic Miles tune… it set the tone for a decade of new jazz

Music is one of the main inspirations I have in photography. I hope you will think of music and photography in a new way now as well.

*I should note that there is no such term as “too many stands”. One will always need one more stand than one has at any given time on any given set. It’s science, don’t argue.