Are Photographers “Lonely”?

Do we think that by having a great twitter feed and a bunch of cool likes on 500pixies or GPus is the same as having buds? Friends?

People to hang out with – and NOT at a keyboard while in our underwear… real interactions.

I can say unequivocally that the difference that being connected 24/7 has made in the photography business (BEYOND the cameras) is profound.

My studio in Phoenix was always the center of a lot of social activities. Models, MUA’s, stylists, photographers, people in the arts… they would drop by, especially on Saturdays. Just to chat. Just to hang out.

It was a really fun time.

Now… not so much. The studio is there, but the people are hooked to their devices, their networks… and the effort it takes to go ‘somewhere’ is not worth it because when they get there, everyone would be on their devices anyway.



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Oh Yeah, We’ve Seen That Before…


Iconic images.

You know them. The ones everyone has seen.

Mather Point at the Grand Canyon.
Zabriskie Point in Death Valley.
Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado.

The bridge over the Virgin River in Zion is one of those iconic photographs as well.

A shot most everyone takes after finding a place to park. Some folks hike more than a mile to get on the bridge for this shot of sunset in the summer. A Google Image Search turns up dozens of this scene (and quite a few of the footbridge at another location). All are similarly taken from the same bridge, but all of them have nuances both large and small that change the image in seemingly magical ways.

When we are confronted by these iconic images, right there in front of us, there is a tendency to compare and contrast with all those we have seen before. The ones on bright spring afternoons, or with dark and foreboding winter skies. And all of the weather/time spectrum between.

Photographers gathering on the bridge over the Virgin River at the mouth of Zion Canyon. Some times of the year find this bridge nearly impassable for the tripods and photographers!

Photographers gathering on the bridge over the Virgin River at the mouth of Zion Canyon. Some times of the year find this bridge nearly impassable for the tripods and photographers!

I always wonder if I should take the shot or simply pass with the knowledge that someone else “got it”?

I nearly always take the shot. I don’t know why, really, other than it is my record of being there. My version of what it looked like that late afternoon with the wispy clouds, and warm light. Mine.

Perhaps it is because I make photographs for myself. I am not looking to ‘please’ others, nor am I young enough to think that everything I do is unique and ‘cool’. It isn’t. Probably never was.

But those images are ones I like, and they add visuals to the memory of some wonderful new friends, an excellent experience, and for the brief moment that the image was all mine.

While I may never set the world on fire, I can kindle up a few sparks of my own… and that is one of the things that I love so much about photography.

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Why I Like My Nikon Df, And Don’t Care What Others Think

Why I Like My Nikon Df, And Don’t Care What Others Think

Yeah, it seems strange to write an article on why in particular I really love my Nikon Df. Why would anyone give a shit what someone else likes as far as a camera?

And yet, they do. And I kinda get that on some level.

I have heard this camera derided as being too “retro” by people who like the Fuji X-100… yeah. OK. (I love the Fuji as well, but this is not about the Fuji… so I am digressing.) I have read the litany of complaints from those who list no video, dials, slow to operate… blah blah. Yeah, them ‘grampacams’ are like that.

So let’s start out with what I do not care about. If you do care about all this stuff, then this is definitely NOT a review you want to read.

- High ISO (for me, shooting ends so there’s more time for drinkin’…) Shooting at 267,842 ISO means little to me.
- File size. Meh.
- Speed of the camera controls. Actually, I LIKE that they slow me down. More on that later.
- Ergonomics. Fits my hand just fine.
- Controls. Seem easy enough to me. I am fairly smart and can learn to twist a dial. Try it… not that hard actually.

So what do I care about?

- Image quality. Dayam this thing rocks.
- The size/weight of the kit. I already have a bigass kit of Canon DSLR’s in a huge roller bag. We good.
- The way the camera invokes a shot in my mind.

The way the camera itself invokes a shotand that is IT, man. THAT is what I love about this camera.

Some background… I have been a photographer since before dirt was completely made. I have been a photographer since the Kodachrome days. And being a photographer meant that we had different formats of cameras for different types of work.

In my line of work, a generalist with a specialty of people, that meant a lot of kits.

I have an 8×10 Deardorff, a 5×7 Linhoff, a 4×5 Toyo and 5 lenses for that group. I also had a full set of Mamiya RB67′s, a Hassy Superwide, and a bigass kit of Nikons with 4 bodies all motorized.

When a brief would come in, there would be choices to be made. Film, processing, location/studio?

But usually there would be the first inkling of the system choice. Was this to be a view camera shot, or was this a shoot that simply called for 35MM? Should we go MF with the Mamiyas, or could it be time to haul out the big Deardorff?

The images in my head were inexplicably tied to the camera I chose. The camera I chose was absolutely indicative of the images I would make.

Fast action fashion? 35MM probably.
Portraits of cowboys on location? Medium format… even view camera possibly. And the choice would dictate the kind of work that would be produced.
Food would usually mean the view cameras, and model work would usually mean the 35 system.

Personal projects were many times created with the format of the camera in mind – sometimes chosen first. Along with the film of choice.

I did a shoot of old mines in southern Colorado on 8×10 B&W, and the next week shot Navajo coal miners in color on the Mamiyas. A week on the road for Motorola shooting executives in out of the way places was a 35MM shoot, and following that we shot stills of the first cellphones on both view camera and medium format. I would even pre-visualize the final print, as well as the look of it from the choice of film and format as well.

Contact prints of the 8×10 negatives were stunning, and the prints coming off the Mamiya were amazing… and different.


Shooting with a view camera is slow, deliberate and exacting. Each exposure takes a considerable amount of time. Focus upside down and backwards on the ground glass – under a black cloth, tilt the lens board, shift the back, adjust and focus again, shut down the aperture, prepare the shutter, insert holder, pull dark slide, wait for camera to settle, make exposure, insert dark slide, remove holder… prepare to do it again. Slow. Deliberate.

And the work that was created was deliberate and exact. There was no ‘rushing’ when using a view camera. A tripod was absolute, as was the preparation before going out to shoot. One shot at a time. One shot.

Medium format was a bit faster. We had a roll of film and a winder tool to advance it to the next frame. But this camera had something else that was unique: We held that camera at waist level, looking down into it. I had viewfinders for eyelevel work, but honestly used them rarely. It was the configuration of the camera that was tactile to working with it that made it part of the choice.

I liked looking down into my SuperWide Hasselblad, and the Mamiyas. I had a stack finder (a vertical tube to look into that kept out the ambient light) but still looking down.

Working with the medium format cameras was also deliberate, although we could move quicker than with a 4×5, and occasionally shoot off-tripod, it was still more meticulous than the 35MM cameras. We had fewer lenses to work with, and yet that too was part of the creative attraction. The big, bulky medium format cameras harkened to me a particular kind of photograph. There was something that the tool brought to the making of the image that I simply cannot explain, other than to say it was real.

The 35MM’s were the most dynamic. Shooting from eye level on a wide assortment of lenses, the work tended to be looser, more fluid… like the tool in the hand of the photographer would allow. Because of the faster cameras, I would make images in bursts (not really easy to do with a 4×5) and from places with difficult access (not easy with the MF cameras). The 35′s were an extension of my eyes. The MF’s an extension of my brain.

The view camera was an extension of my heart.


I don’t know if I have explained it well enough for others, and really, not a big deal.

I loved that tactile /creative part of the process. Still do.

Sometime along 2000, it all went away.

The DSLR replaced it all. Food shooters, architectural shooters, fashion shooters, portrait and product shooters all began to use the DSLR for ALL of the work. And the work started to show it. There was something missing from my imagery that was – at the time – unexplainable to me. I did not see the loss of the formats as big of a deal as it invariably was. I have learned over the years that it was indeed a love lost quietly, in the stills of time.

I think it explains my Df attraction.


I love it precisely because it is NOT another big DSLR. It is slower to operate, with deliberate dials and knobs. That slows me down, and it makes me think differently about the image. Holding it feels different as well. It is the first DSLR (SLR) that I have been happy with without a grip. Seems to fit my hand well, and feel very good in the way it handles both at the eye and in the resting position.

I would not have purchased a Nikon (although I do love the D700/D800 and secretly have pined for a D3400 in Ferrari Red… ). It would not have been a move up, but simply another big DSLR that – for all their differences – is really not any different than what I already own.

But the Df feels different and that makes me think differently about the photographs I would use it for. The lenses I have for it are all old model AF so they are tiny in comparison to their bigger, newer siblings. I like that as well. A tiny bag (in comparison) with four lenses and I am out the door. No shoulder stress, and no bag on wheels to find a place for.

The slowness, the deliberateness of the camera means a slower, more deliberate approach to the images. Earlier this week I went out to shoot a project for a client. I knew that the Canons were the right choice. Tomorrow I am doing a set of environmental still life and the Df will be on my shoulder. This coming weekend is the Renaissance Fair with my daughter. Nikon V1 is the chosen tool… great images, fast and easy to carry.

I would like to have a Fuji X-100 as well, and a fixed lens 35MM equivalent rangefinder… more choices for different ways of shooting.

So now I find myself with a big DSLR Canon kit (6 lenses – 20MM – 200MM), a single Nikon Df kit (4 lenses – 28, 35, 50, 85) and a Nikon V1 with 24-200 35 equivalent zooms (2). Different strokes and different approaches.

Not the same as before, with all the widely differing variances of tools, physical sizes, film choices, processing choices and more that was such a big part of the mystique, but it will have to do and for the most part, it does rather nicely.

So there you have it. My big reason for the Nikon Df is that it makes me think differently about the images I want to create because it IS different.

Nothing to do with the ‘retro’ of it, or the cool dials, or the amount of megapixels, or the shutter speed or buffer or yaddayaddayadda…

Yeah… big deal, eh?

(Oh, I like the new Sony Quattro system as well. So sue me.)


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“Everyone is a Photographer Now…”


A recent quote by photographer Mary Ellen Mark has had some angst-driven controversy:

““People are bidding on something that has no value. I thought it was a joke, so I just took a cell phone picture of a real photograph. It is easy to take a good picture and so hard, almost impossible, to take a great picture. It takes years of labor to do this well. Photography is a craft, an art, a point of view. Instagram is not meant to be fine art or a beautiful object; it is social media—a means of communication.”


And no.

As photography itself becomes ubiquitous, and slides farther and farther from the ‘craftsman’ column of definition, those practitioners of the craft will bitterly hold on to it – as a drowning person will a life-preserver.

They allowed their self-worth to be determined by the tools, the experience and the learning that they put into the creation of the image.

What used to take days now takes a half second. Or less.

What was a long and somewhat arduous road of practice/failure/practice is now an escalator with rest stops and arcades along the way.

What used to take a year’s salary to purchase can now be done on the phone you use to find out what time it is, or where the local diners are, or check on your favorite sports team’s score. Oh, and make calls too.

Those that fought for every new advance in film ability, or camera technique feel as though their very being was wasted. What good is it climbing up the mountain if at the top there is a parking lot with a mini-mall.

I always cringe when I hear someone say something along the lines of “everyone is a photographer now” with a bit of venom or resignation in their voice.


Tis true… but I don’t think that is bad. On the contrary, the amount of imagery, what that imagery is used for and how it is perceived is wonderful, uplifting and socially, personally exciting.

As with anything that has to do with technology, the changes usually end up making the process easier, the outcome more predictable, and the learning curve flatter. This is a sword with two edges – it has always been so.

I think she is right about one thing.

Photography is now communication. Language. A link between people and peoples.

Photography is no more in the residence of those who built it, painstakingly slow and with precision. That was photography as a ‘child’ – to be taught with rules and guidelines and arduous facts.

Photography is now a young person striking out on its own… and it has new rules, new tasks, new sensibilities.

Growth and maturity means a new entity.

What we called photography will endure, but it has a lot wider embrace, and a far deeper pool of practitioners.

That’s cool.

Reposted from Facebook.

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Impatient Patience

Impatient Patience

Impatient Patience…Keeping The Momentum While Learning the Ropes

You know how you think about things around the edges, trying to formulate the thoughts into some kind of pattern that makes sense and can be challenged and won from various angles? You do?

Cool, then I’m not nuts. I do that all the time.

Recently I have been thinking about what I see as a disconnect between the level of competence beginning photographers have and their expectations.

We all know that the divide exists, but so often it is approached from a negative or insulting way… “Newbies! Killing the industry!” And that doesn’t work for me.

Not at all.

I am more concerned about people losing their dreams than the ‘health of the industry’. I really am.

The ‘industry’ will get along just fine, thanks, while some people will be devastated, demoralized or worse – and all relating to photography.

And I love photography. I don’t want making images be the catalyst for despair and regret. I would rather it be the beginning of a great love affair. It can be you know.

But we have to manage expectations, and managing them with what I call “impatient patience”.

“Hey Don, that doesn’t make any sense, partner… What the hell do you mean impatient patience?

Well, sit down for a moment and let me chat you up a bit about being impatient enough that you are totally immersed, but patient enough to know that it will still take some time to get ready.

First the impatient part.

Shoot. Shoot every opportunity you can get. Immerse yourself in weekend road trips and meetups and workshops and events and wherever you find yourself with your camera.

Don’t be patient… you want to learn it all. As fast and deep as you can. From exposure to Lightroom, lens selection to Photoshop Curves… it is all there for you to master. And it takes some time.

And that is where the patience comes in. Be patient with your impatience… KNOW that it takes more than a few shoots to get people to the place where they want to spend money for you to shoot them.

It doesn’t happen overnight. Even with impatiently shooting every other Saturday when it doesn’t rain because that is the only time LIFE has left you to work on your craft.

I was asked to review some work by a photographer through Facebook. She was trying to make it in the consumer world, and had put together her ‘best work’ on a website and was quite sad that no one was wanting to hire her.

I took a look and within four shots I knew why she was not getting hired.

Her pictures said “I am not ready”… and they said it quite loudly. On further discussion with her, she admitted that those were the best 23 images she had shot over her entire career as a photographer.

Which was nineteen months.

I asked her how many shoots she had done in that time and she responded with ‘twenty seven’.

Twenty seven shoots, and 22 photographs that ranged from snapshots of her kids to badly underexposed portraits and people photographs.

She was totally unhappy with the business and complained a bit about the “Craigslist shooters” who were taking all the work away from real professionals like herself.

Now she is a lovely person and I think she has the talent to do something cool, so I slowly talked her off the “cliff of insanity” where she was ready to chuck her gear and helped her understand that 27 photoshoots in 19 months was pathetic. That in order to make a dent in the life/learning/art curve she needed to multiply that number by a factor of 10.

270 photoshoots in a 19 month time frame makes more sense to me.

Impatient: 270 photoshoots.
Patience: 19 months.

Get it?

Understanding that it takes a certain amount of real world work and field study and a crap load of exposures to make a dent in the learning/artistic expression curve is powerful knowledge. And it would have ultimately been far more beneficial to her. I explained that at 27 photoshoots she is still a babe in the photographic world, and that there is a difference between a body of work and 22 images that are thrown together.

And to her credit, she got it. Definitely got it.

She is now much more committed to the work and is starting to understand what she doesn’t know – and then fix it. That is the most important part, you know, the part where you get it that what you are doing is your call, and the failure you are experiencing is the result of the hard work you are putting (or not) into the making of that call.

I wonder how many talented photographers quit before they ever had the opportunity to know what it feels like to have a strong body of work? Or how it feels when an AD calls and says, “I want you to shoot these images for me?” How many photographers misunderstood the nature of the business, and were then flummoxed and frustrated by it at every turn, only to give up because they think it is those CL shooters that are sucking up all the oxygen in the room?

That makes me feel a loss. I wonder how many incredible photographers were lurking deep inside waiting for some impatience to find them and pull them to the surface?

Now lost to us.

And to themselves.

I am not a patient guy. I know what I want to do, and I want to do it NOW. But I also realized that doing it before I am ready will create more headaches than if I know what I am doing. Or at least have more than a clue…

So I patiently spend impatient days learning and testing and re shooting to get it right.

And only when it is right, can I (we) say “I’ve got it.”

At least until the next thing comes along that we decide we want/need/must learn.

(This article first appeared in the Lighting Essentials Newsletter: “In The Frame” Subscribe on the right side bar to get it delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday.)

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An Excerpt From New E-Book

bri-in-beam-of-light 2

Chapter Eight

Becoming Exceptional

As we move toward the beginning of our business plan, I want to take this time to
discuss becoming exceptional. Being exceptional means you are a cut above.
Maybe two. Being exceptional means you do things differently, and better. Your
business is better, your work is better, your relationships are better and the clients
who expect the mundane are always surprised by exceptionalism.

Unfortunately too many of us shy away from being exceptional. We keep hearing
people telling us that being that good is the same as being conceited or
egomaniacal. The movement all across the land is to denigrate the exceptional in
lieu of the mundane. No hurt feelings, or truama of having to deal with the fact that
you may not be as good as that other guy. The exceptional one.

What a load of crap. The ones who make it to the top of the mountain ARE the
exceptional ones. And anyone can go up the mountain, they just have to put one foot
in front of the other and not quit.

Not. Quit.

Never quitting is one of the prime ingredients in being exceptional.

(I feel I must state that sometimes one must withdraw, whether temporarily or for a
longer time. Withdrawing to regroup for a myriad of reasons is not quitting. When we
quit, we emotionally destroy any link to the goal we were chasing. And a little part of
us dies in the quitting. Withdrawing can be a strategic decision that leads to a
different path. Only you will know whether you are indeed quitting or withdrawing. I
just implore you to be honest with yourself if you have to make that decision
regarding anything that is important to you.)

Sure – some will get there in record time, and others may arrive late to the party and
exhausted. So? The feeling that only ‘special’ people are allowed in will be one of
the most debilitating thoughts we can ever have enter our mind.

And exceptional people are not conceited, they are good at what they do. That
others may INFER that they are somehow elitist cannot be helped these days. The
striving for centerline mediocrity seems to be surrounding us on many fronts.

I simply believe it is a ruse to keep people from trying to do the hard work. And
without the work there is no success. And without success there is no exceptionalism.
And without exceptionalism we can all experience the fairness of lowered

Recently a photographer published a ‘manifesto’ on becoming a great photographer.
It was full of ‘don’t bother learning’ and ‘just spray and pray’ and ‘sure, you’re good
enough if you think you are’ crap. I hardly think that the words contained within that
piece were helpful. To be fair, there was some good advice mixed in with what is
such a terrible hi-jacking of the ‘becoming a professional’ meme, but it was mostly
overshadowed by the silly, faux new agey approach.

The point is to be a stand out in this business, you must stand out. In all ways – from
your work to the way you treat your staff and even to how you follow up with those
you may NOT have to ever follow up with.

When we establish a pattern of exceptionalism, that pattern follows us into other
areas of our personal and professional lives.

I think our goal setting exercises from the previous week’s assignment must now be
tempered with some cold hard facts on how we will do those things with

And the cool thing about being in the ‘exceptional’ mode is that it is really pretty
easy, and it flows so smoothly. I think it is because being exceptional is the normal
state for us humans. The extraneous forces that push it away from us are quite
powerful. From pop-culture to politics to entertainment to where we get educated, to
stand out and work to be better is seen as a problem. “Go along to get along” can be
the prevailing process. Striving is seen as too ambitious, too ‘full of themselves’ – too
‘arrogant’ to think that they could actually do something cool.

Something big.

Really big.

So for this exercise we are going to look at being exceptional and then we can take
this exercise back to our goals and further make them real in our minds. How? By
envisioning each goal as being something we will achieve with exceptionalism. We
will also define some exceptional tactics to help get those goals off the ground and
into the air!

It’s time to fly.

(excerpted from Chapter 8 of my new book – as yet untitled)

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