My Newest Book Will Take Your Photography To The Next Level… or something


I have decided it was time for me to put it all out there… no holding back, no withholding of the secrets that I am privvy to. All of the stuff that other photographers wont tell you… I will. I am like a man on fire.

Without the burning pants and sickly smell of charred skin of course.

But otherwise… burning up, baby.


Some of the topics I cover show you exactly WHY I am considered one of the foremost photography people south of Chandler Blvd and West of the Walmart.

Yeah… McNally ain’t gonna spill his guts like this.

Arias ain’t gonna spill his guts like this.

In fact, when bringing up guts and the spilling of them no one does it better than me. Once in college I drank an entire gallon of Boone’s Farm Strawberry something… GUTS SPILLED.


I have no idea why I told you that, but then I have no idea why you are still reading this.

Chapters I will use to expose the ugly underbelly of photography and those secrets that only the ‘pros’ use to make gooder pictures than you do.

A sample of the kind of hard-hitting information that will spell success into the 6 figures and beyond.

1. Which ISO is best for Bokeh so creamy you can stand a fork in it.

2. Portfolio secrets I don’t even know, and I know a lot.

3. Things to say to Art Directors that make them feel all jelly and want to give you more money for the most stupid mundane shit you will ever shoot.

4. Sure, you gotta great camera… the joke is on you. Most pros shoot iPhones and Holgas.

5. You’ve heard of the “rule of thirds”? Bullshit… the “Rule of Pi Squared Rounded to the Closest Tenth” is what all the big guys use. Especially the Europeans who are all working here and doing killer work for big ad agencies without their green cards.

6. The 6 Secrets to finding a good Off Shore Bank for all the money you will be making after reading this book.

7. Ethical questions all photographers must face. (Gotcha… LOL, no photographers have ethics… that is just so stupid.)

There are like a lot more… and all of them are life changing, awesome and will give you that extra heads-up for getting the drop on your competition.

In fact if you have a lot of competition in your market, you will especially enjoy the section on “Staging an Accident” with ten tips even the biggest city Coroner will miss every time.

So send me money. Lots of money.

If you send me enough money I will send you the book.

If you don’t send me enough money, I wont send you the book – and don’t ask or whine about it, WUSS.

No returns / No refunds.

Get the heck outta here.

“Air” by Meggan Joy Trobaugh


At the Project 52 2014 group, the assignment was “Air”. There were many wonderful submissions. This one by Meggan Joy Trobaugh was exceptional I thought. She carefully planned out the work and made the elements for the final work with a previsualized image already in her mind.

Here are Meggan’s steps.

“I made this smokey ballerina to represent air. I wanted to make something that “felt like Monet” would like it. It might of ended up more along the lines of Degas but I will take it either way.

This image was made with only a tripod, smoke bombs, a patient husband and a well placed mask in Photoshop.

First, I sketched my idea. I would share my sketch but I actually lost it while shooting to some mud. Basically, imagine a very crude drawing of a stick figure with smoke all around it. THAT, was the starting point.

While I was sketching, I was trying to figure out what I needed to do to make it happen. I knew I could layer multiple images and mask out certain parts of them to make a negative human shape. So that was the rough plan.

But I was still not sure it would visually work. So before I spent my afternoon shooting and the rest of the evening buried in Photoshop for nothing – I did a test shoot. That way, I could figure out any bugs and if the idea needed to be abandoned I could toss it and have plenty of time to come up with a new idea.

So I went to the backyard and “volun-told” my husband to stand in as my human shape to mask out in post.

It went bad.


I learned that my background needed to be out of focus and that my human shape needed to be almost “too perfectly human” for the eye to recognize it. I also learned that I did not need a “real” human to stand in which was good because my husband was not enjoying this. We also figured out that we needed a better way to hold and manipulate the smoke bombs, because they actually get hot and can burn you. Go figure.

So while the test was ugly as all get out, it served it’s purpose. I regrouped the plan and found a better natural backdrop (that may or may not of been on private property) and made a container to hold the smoke bombs. We spent about an hour shooting different frames with smoke coming in all different directions. Also making sure to get a “blank slate” starting point to build off of.


The technique I used to layer in the smoke is hard to see with the type of images I was using if you are unfamiliar with masks, selections and the like. So I will demonstrate what I did with some solid color adjustment layers. Then come back to the actual files later.

First, I made and saved a selection so that I could apply it to my mask for each individual layer and keep it matching. I purchased and used a ballerina vector file so I could get a head start using the magic wand tool, it cost me a dollar and saved me a couple hours of work. Well worth it in my opinion. But you could easily make a selection in any shape you wanted and it would work just as well. As it were, I ended up changing the shape of my ballerina quite a bit to suit my own tastes.

At this point, I would suggest saving your selection. You can find out how to do that in a quick google search. For now we’ll just assume you know what I mean when I say that.


I am going to add a yellow fill layer to represent one of my smoke layers.

* there are a lot of ways to add a selection to a mask, this is just the way I do it *

To make a mask with my selection shape – I first, need to make sure I have the layer I want to cut out selected WHILE the marching ants are on my project.

From there, I just add a mask and POOF.


I am sure there are much prettier and sexier photoshop ways to go about this, but this is what I did.

By nature of my image – being full of smoke and all – I needed to refine this mask to feel more smokey. You can do a gaussian blur or you can feather the mask – I did different versions of all of these, but I also used a custom brush tool that was made to look like smoke.

This brush was from a tutorial from which is a go-to check every day website for me. This is the tutorial I learned this trick from it even has the brush I used there to download for free. – it really is handy.


I was being really heavy handed with the brush for this yellow layer – normally, I would have it at 10% opacity at the most and just build up into masking out parts that I don’t need.

However, my aforementioned finished image was a mix between the ballerina being shaped by negative space AND being filled with smoke in select places. So, on my next layer I need to do exactly the same thing only before I start refining it with a smoke brush I need to invert it.


Inverting a mask is rather simple. Highlight the mask and hit Command-I / Control-I or you can double click the mask and a properties panel will show up with a invert button. That is also how you can easily feather the mask as well.


These two layers demonstrate the basic principle of what I did. Only I did it with layers of photos of smoke taken on the tripod. Here is what my actual working file looked like while it was coming together. I will highlight the mask so you can see how each layer was built up.


and …


Some of my masks only included a tiny bit. This is because the smoke was all over the place. I had to create a uniform shape out of many images. To keep myself organized I cropped them and toned them all the same in Lightroom. Then I pulled each image in one by one depending on what I felt I needed.


I would like to think it helps Photoshop run smoother if I keep the files out of the program until I absolutely have to use them.

Once I got my shape the way I like it, it still had that “photoshop” feeling to it. So to help bring it together I added a few adjustment layers. Including: a few washes of color with a blending mode, a brightness/contrast layer masked to fill just my “subject smoke” with more “light” and then a vignette made with a curves adjustment layer. I also sharpened a few things and added a blur around the edges with the Iris filter run on a stamp visible layer. If any of these details interest you, or confuse you – I suggest either Phlearn (again) or reading Lesa Snider’s Photoshop CC: The Missing Manual. ( Both of these resources are invaluable to me and could not come any more highly praised.


From there, I saved it back into Lightroom and did some final adjustments there. I like to add the split toning ext in Lightroom because I have custom presets made so that my full body of work feels more cohesive together. That is my personal preference because I certainly could of finished off the image completely in Photoshop with the same results.


So there you have it. A ballerina-air-smoke thing. Made from a few smoke bombs and Photoshop.

P.S. It actually took much longer to type out what I did then actually completing the post processing, so don’t be intimidated. I also used a crappy old windows laptop and this was all done with just the trackpad. If I can do it, anyone can. So no excuses. And if you do make something similar – let me know! I really would love to see it.

Thank you so much Meggan. A wonderful tutorial for such a unique image.

Visit Meggan’s site.

A Life, A Lifetime, and a Tie


John Thomas Banta had over 200 ties.

Most were bold, loud, occasionally whimsical and always hard-to-miss.

In short, they were very much like him. He dressed for occasions, often wearing his wildly interesting ties. And he lit up the room with his presence. He was a big man and could be intimidating at first… but only for a few moments. His generous warmth won over even his detractors. Everyone liked him.

I never met the man, but from what I know about him from a wonderful letter from his daughter, I would have liked him. A lot.

He was proud and giving, fair and honest, and deeply loved being someone who was thought of as a helper.

He went in to the hospital for a simple knee surgery, and didn’t leave. His body formed a clot, and it took this great man down.

One week later, a blood clot nearly took me down… but I did come back.

Yesterday I received a beautiful note from his daughter and a beautiful tie from his collection. It is bold, colorful and unapologetically wild. Susan Barta has sent his collection of ties to people who she thinks her dad would have wanted to have them.

I am on that list. And I received this tie.

And I will wear it with pride, sir.

I will indeed wear it with pride.


Is Giving One’s Images Away for Free a Brilliant Marketing Move?


… or a very very bad idea?

Trey Ratcliff (Lost in Customs) has always given his images away on the Non-Commercial Creative Commons License. What is new today is his link to grab ALL of his favorite 500 images for free and download them in full high res form.

See more here: Free Download: Trey Ratcliff’s 500 Best Photos in Full Resolution

This is the new paradigm of photography that wasn’t really around in the old days. There were professionals with very expensive and exotic gear and the rest of the world was happy with a point and shoot that took 2 rolls a year.

Now photography is ubiquitous. From cell phones to big DSLR’s more people are engaged than ever before.

This has created a new source for photographers to benefit from; the teaching of the amateur photographer who wants simply to be better at that activity.

When you think about it critically, it is just another source – a channel so to speak – of revenue. The vast majority of them do not wish to become ‘professionals’, they simply want to have fun, make cool imagery, and be a part of the rich heritage of photography.

Nothing wrong with that. Lots of people take piano lessons who do not have their eye on Carnegie Hall. Lots of people go to painting workshops to learn how to do their art without designs on the Met. Ballroom dancing, Yoga, creative writing, scrapbooking, running, Pilates…. the list is pretty long.

These people want to be better at something and there are professionals out there to help them become better.

Trey’s always given his images as CC Non-Commercial, so they are not really seen as commercial anyway. His main revenue source is the amateur photographer who wants to make a ‘cool’ HDR shot on vacation. He has, to my knowledge, never pretended to be something he is not (and there are plenty of those folks who do out there) but has always maintained his amateur status as teacher and photographic vagabond. Actions/Presets/Ebooks/workshops.

Professional photographers will someday realize that the amateur and advanced amateur is as viable a market as corporations and ad agencies. And this new market carries no guilt or ‘wannabee’ status at all. It is a person wanting to know ‘how you do that’ so they can do it too.

Is that ‘pure photography’?

I am not sure I even know what ‘pure photography’ is these days… in fact: We must understand that what was once a “photographer” is now a different categorical definition. Where once non-photographers maybe shot a roll or two per year, they now shoot tens of thousands of images per year.

His market is a great swath of people who love making photographs that please them, and their own audience. We can sit on high and pass judgement, but that is sort of like telling me that nobody likes Rap music because it takes little to no musical ability.

True on what it takes, wrong on who likes it.

Photography is now a ‘participation’ hobby, with a possible nod to sports. It is no longer in the confines of the ‘professional’ with lots of exotic gear and expensive tools. It is open to the masses and they are eating it up with gusto.

Photography is no longer a narrow niche. It is no longer in the purview of the professional. It will NEVER go back. Never.

Trey (and others in that genre) are not interested in shooting for corporations or ad agencies or for magazines, he is of a newer breed of photographer who recognizes a market and fills that market with educational tools and intellectual property that it craves.

Where once we had two channels – professional photographers / the rest of the world – we now have dozens or more.

Professional photographers.
Professional photographic educators.
Semi-professional artists, semi-professional consumer photographers.
Serious amateurs who devote tens of thousands of dollars to participate.
Instagrammers and Hipstagrammers and the companies that print books.
Blurb, Artifact Uprising, MILK and more
Wedding pros / wedding amateurs…
Vigorous amateur participation that brings BILLIONS into the genre.

Why we continue to find fault with this new and widely diverse new model simply stumps me.

Pianists teach people who do not want to be professionals.
Guitar and drums and trumpet and french horn teachers do the same.
There are painting and poetry and creative writing workshops and education for people who do not want to be professional, just better at what they love.

Universities keep turning out people with sociology degrees, and early french literature degrees, and philosophy degrees (and hundred thousand dollar debt) to people who will never be able to make a living with that information.

Why is it wrong, or somehow devastating to some, that a guy like Trey comes along and says.. “Hey, I have a different approach. I don’t want to make money from my photographs, I want to teach and help and be compensated for that.”

As far as I know, he has never offered anyone the “Tips to a Six Figure Business” or the “Seven Secrets Every Photographer Should Know”… He has a loyal and fairly deep fan base that loves what he does and compensates him for doing it.

That his business model seems to worry so many “professionals” is far more troubling to me. We better learn to embrace the change or we will all be old farts sitting around bitching while the youngsters spin circles around our tired asses.

Book Ideas: “What If…”


What if.

What if you created a magazine instead of a book? Told a story or two in the magazine, showed a subject in depth, then printed 10 copies for influential art directors in your town and offered all who came to the site a PDF?
(Blurb does magazines for as little as $10)

What if you wrote a novel and instead of describing the house where the family lived, you included a photograph of it. Not a photographic novel, but a novel that included photographs.

What if you made a diary of your travels, made small prints and pasted them on the pages and then scanned the pages into a book, and then wrote in the book with pen and marker? What if you made only twenty of those books?

What if you made a book of screen grabs from Lightroom thumbnails? Nothing but screen grabs of thumbnails on every page. Show the process.

What if you made ten big books at Graphi ($4000) and sold them for $1000 each? Collectors items – one offs – custom books. Art.

What if you made a book of every shot you did on a roadtrip? Just thumbnails, but every stinking shot.

What if you made a book, and included 6 small and numbered prints with each book? Hand signed, and in a limited edition.

What if you hooked up with an illustrator and a poet to create a hybrid book about the mythical beasts of Slot Canyons? Just askin’…

What if you worked with a band to create a story that was half images and half rock-opera? And what if you included the CD? And what if you included some of the score? An photographically illustrated rock opera with the music attached.

What if you hooked up with a MUA, three models, a stylist and some incredible wardrobe and shot a fantasy fashion story, then printed it as a small magazine or published it on ISSU?

Books are cool. Books can be amazing tools.

What are some of your ‘what ifs’?

What Is The Biggest Problem with Your Photography?

The biggest problem may also be the one that most people focus on. No pun intended.

“So let’s get the elephant out of the bag most of you keep it in and into the room where we can discuss it: most people are complaining about their cameras because otherwise they’d have to put the blame for their photography on themselves. It’s the camera’s fault their photograph isn’t great. Or maybe the lens’ fault. Not theirs. 


Now don’t get me wrong. If you managed to take an incredible photo of a compelling subject in a way that the world hadn’t seen before and it was with a D600 that was throwing lubricant and dust onto the upper left area of the photograph, you’d be pissed. Equipment can get in the way of your enjoyment. But let me also be clear: you’d still have a great photograph, though you’d be spending a lot of time cloning out the crud the D600 put into the photo. Generally we don’t want our photo gear adding to the tasks we have to do in our workflow, which is one of the reasons why the D600 shutter issue was such a big deal and has really hurt Nikon’s credibility with users. One Nikon technical support person apparently suggested to one of this site’s readers that they not use such small apertures or take time-lapse images. Really? Then why are the features there?”

– Thom Hogan

It is always interesting to me how much discussion goes into the crap we use and how little goes into the crap we produce.

Perhaps we should change that around.