Double Portraits: David Price

Double Portraits: David Price

Bay area photographer David Price was assigned to do a double portrait. He chose some co-workers who were happy to work with him to make the shots. It is always wonderful to have people want to work with you to make images, and David took his time to make the images in the style he is working on.

You can see the delicate back light that falls from top left to bottom right on the curtains behind the subjects. This soft approach to a ‘spray light’ adds warmth and depth to the image.


As you can see in the setup below, David has used a small shoot thru umbrella to do double duty… the background light, and the fill light on the camera left of her hair. As the light falls down the curtains, it is brighter at the top and gently gets less powerful the farther away from the source. This additional gradient also helps the image keep dimension.


David also changed the direction of the light while working with the subjects. For the close shot above, he turned the umbrella to light the wall on camera right and just out of the picture. This provided a big, soft source for the face. In the second shot above, he moved the umbrella back to light the subject with it instead of the wall.

The same scheme was used in the portrait below.




A light can be used to make another light as David has done above, using the umbrella to light the white wall for an even larger source.


Make a shot with one light source… without moving the subject, modify that source to come from both directions – again without moving the light. Aim the light toward the subject, then aim the light toward something else that can be used to light the subject. Find an area that allows you to do this without having to move the subject.

Sources can include large white walls, shower curtain reflectors, fomecore boards or V-flats or reflectors.

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A Simple Portrait by Tomas Jansson

A Simple Portrait by Tomas Jansson



This portrait of a young man was shot by Tomas Jansson, Norway.



Tomas used a softlighter umbrella (a bounced position umbrella with a diffusion screen over the front) for his main light, and a silver reflector for a secondary light source from camera left. This very specular ‘fill’ added some extra shine to the subject’s arm and shadow side of the face.

By keeping the silver card at an oblique angle to the subject, Tomas was able to control the fall of the specular along the arm and (camera) left side of the face. The softlighter also provided some wonderful light to the book case behind the subject, giving the impression of more ambient lighting in the set. Notice the fall off in the setup shot. Also notice how far away the subject is from the background – far enough to keep the light from being blocked by him, and creating a shadow. This also enhances the feeling of more ambient light.


Simple lighting can sometimes do double duty. Providing not only the main light, but also a sense of more ambient. Shiny reflectors create a sense of a secondary light source since they are specular in presentation.


Using a medium to large umbrella, with or without diffusion, create a shot where the umbrella provides not only the main light, but the ambient behind the subject as well.

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“Man In The Red Coat” – Photoshop Magic by Irene Liebler

“Man In The Red Coat” – Photoshop Magic by Irene Liebler

Here is a chance to get something very cool.

One of our Project 52 long time members has created a book of images from her series “The Man In The Red Coat”. Irene Liebler is a photographer and designer in Connecticut and has been working on this project for a while now.

For many of the Project 52 assignments, Irene would find creative ways to use her man in the red coat and derby. We would often be awaiting her next masterpiece and she never failed to deliver.

liebler-2 liebler-1

In this book Irene has put together many of her favorite shots with explanations on how they were created. It is both a whimsical look at some highly creative work, and a roadmap for you to find ways to use Photoshop to create worlds of mystery and magic.

Available at Blurb.

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Still Life for a Water Repellent Company

Still Life for a Water Repellent Company

The assignment was to show two images for a company that made water repellent spray. It could not have the spray in the shot, and the client wanted a second shot for the banner across the top of the website. Type and images would be placed on it, so it was to be fairly plain but harken the senses to the main shot.

The photographer on this assignment is Jean Huang.

A single large softbox over the top / back of the set offered a very large and very soft highlight, and the angled light forward helped keep the shadow area of the orange peel in a darker luminance.

The photograph was created as part of the Project 52 Pros group.



The very large light source, close in to the subject, combined with the highly reflective nature of the cloth and water drops helps keep the image dynamic and fun. Notice the reflection of the light source on the water drops, and how differently it presents on the orange cloth background. Also notice how the light falls off on the orange peel. By having no fill card or bright surface to the front of the set, the orange peel had nothing bright to reflect. This dramatic fall off shows the texture of the orange as well as the dimension of the twisted peel.


Photograph something that has a lot of curves in it… whether a sea shell or an orange/lemon peel. Light it from back / top / side an front. Photograph it on a surface that is not reflective like a cutting board or rough hewn tile.

Then wet the scene and shoot it again – back / top / side / front. How does the photograph change from dry to wet? Which lighting position shows the most change in the presentation of the subject? Which shows the least?

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Lighting Basics, Class Two

Lighting Basics, Class Two

The Lighting Angle: Part One

Now that we are starting to understand the metering a bit better, we are going to look at how the angle of the light can create different presentations – AND different exposure situations.

The camera is a fixed position. It is where the Point of View is coming from, and it always presents one leg of our triangle. There is a straight line drawn from camera to subject when looking through the lens.



We call this the “Axis” of the camera to the subject. Since the subject is always what is in front of our lens, this is a fixed angle.

Shifting the light from front to side to back creates all sorts of interesting changes in our subject. These changes are brought about by contrast, shadows, angles of shadows, and can be used to reveal or hide texture.

Front light is coming from on axis of the camera or very near the axis of the camera. Angled light (45 degrees) can actually be anywhere from slightly off camera axis to the point where it becomes side light.

Once we move the light back behind the model any distance back from the 90 degree side light, it would be considered backlight. And something other than that light source would become the ‘main’ light even if it was not as bright as the backlight.


Front Light Example:



Briana is lit from the sun which is over my shoulders. Notice the ‘flat presentation’ of skin and the shape of her arms and legs. Dimension is not presented well, and that is the point of front light. It flattens and contains dimension. Front light can be a particular favorite of some fashion shooters as it creates something akin to studio lighting, and alleviates many distresses on the skin.

Meter from the skin at the same axis as the camera. Using your in camera meter, choose any middle gray reflectance you wish, or by understanding the exposure (see class one) you can “place” the exposure where you want it to be.

Side Light Example:



In this shot of a man I met in Superior, Arizona, I used the sunlight from a side position to give texture to his face, hair and denim clothes. Light from the side meant that I had two areas of light on his face… the direct light, and the shadow (ambient) to base my metering on. I was very careful to use the dome of my meter right in front of him with the light striking the dome the same way it was striking him… half with directional light, and half with the ‘shadow’ or ambient light.

The resulting exposure indication would be very close to what I needed, and I double checked it through my in camera meter by placing the spot meter on the white t-shirt in the sun and opening up two stops (from middle gray, the reflection that gave me the reading – to the actual placement of the white shirt at a point that would still be white, with texture; two stops brighter than the indicated exposure reading.

See the Using a Photographic Light Meter on UDEMY (Assignment One). This class is free for all photographers.

Side / Back Light Example



In this shot the light is coming from the side and slightly back. This is a ‘rim light’ use, and can be thought of as a “special”. The sun is indeed the main illumination tool here, but the “Main Light” that is providing the light on Briana is the ambient light of the sky above her and behind the camera. The sun is adding the rim affect, and is brighter than the main light.

Notice that the sun still lights up part of Briana’s hands, chest, vest and hair. Notice that these areas are brighter than she is – as they should be. Basing (or placing) the exposure on her face presents us with a slightly brighter side light. This is more natural than if we had based the exposure on the side light on her chest or hands which would have rendered  the image much darker.

Back Light Example:



The sun is coming from behind Briana, and I based the exposure totally on her face. The sun then becomes quite bright and even provides nearly overexposed skin on her shoulder and arm. By placing the exposure on her face, we keep the skin tones of the subject area correct.

I used a handheld Minolta meter for each of these shots. With the ambient exposure dome pointed at the camera, I was very careful to keep all direct light (like the sun) from spilling over on the ambient dome so it would ONLY measure the light as it was presented to the subject – and therefor back to the camera.

In all examples I point the dome directly AT the camera and on the axis line.

Alternatives would be to come in close with the camera filling the frame with the subjects face and taking the reading from the camera. Making sure that all I was reading was the face or cheeks, and that there was no extraneous bright areas or flare from a backlight, I would take the exposure meter reading (thus finding the exposure for middle gray) and open up by one stop to “place” that skin tone at the proper reflectance. (For Caucasion skin I open one stop. For Hispanic or Latin skin, I keep the exposure and for dark, African skin I stop down one stop. These are my rules of thumb and I use them as guidelines to make sure that the reflectance levels remain true to the values I want to portray in the image.

Keep working on the first nine chapters of the Udemy course linked on assignment one. (This is a free course.)

Additional Assignment:

Shoot a person in full on sun, but not “noon” sun from above. Either early in the morning or later in the afternoon so the sun is coming more at an angle to the subject. How much of an angle is up to you, but I like to work with a shallow shadow under the chin. If the shadow under the chin goes all the way to the neckbones, the sun is still too high. This is done with the subject looking at the sun.

Shoot them in the same position but keep taking two steps to your left or right. No farther from them and keep them the same size in the viewfinder, but keep stepping away from the sun on axis until you reach a spot where the sun is slightly behind the subject. The subject turns in place to keep looking straight at you.

This will take you from front light to angled light to side light to slightly back side light.

You may keep on turning if you want to go all the way to full backlight.


The first time take the reading of the full on axis sun, and leave that setting as you continue around your arc.

The second time, use either the handheld meter or the one in your camera to make exposures  come out correctly to your taste as you go around.

(HINT: a gray card should remain the same exposure as you work your way around the second time. Have your subject hold that card and base exposure on that as you go around the arc.)

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Photographer Anders Ericksson, Sweden.

A combination of several photographs, Anders Eriksson creates a ‘magical’ moment of light. The bulb was shot alone in order to get the edge lighting exactly right. A strip light was used to light either side and then the two sides of the bulbs were combined with bulb lit from in front by fill cards (see base of lamp). The hand was shot separately as was the fiery tungsten burning inside the bulb. A background with a single spray light for gradient was added behind the composite to give it depth.



The creative conception of an image can lead to many ways of creating it. Anders ‘saw’ this image in his head and then began to assemble the needed tools to make it happen. He discovered that it was easier to assemble two halves of the light than to shoot it with two lights, and creating the image he saw was now a matter of assembly.


See how you can do with this shot. Think it through. You must have a tripod and be able to match items up in Photoshop. That means attention to detail, angle and repeatability is paramount. How many different images will you use to create your “bulb”?

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Lady in Blue

Photographer Girish Bashavar, Ohio



In this photograph by Girish Balshavar of Dayton, Ohio, the model is lit with one large source to camera left, and slightly below the subjects elbow. The light source, a softbox, is only a little out of frame and providing soft, washed light across the models arm and skin. Attention to styling pays off with tightly woven hair, perfect nails and excellent makeup. Note the models excellent hand position as well. Fingers are curled and the hand feels comfortable and relaxed. The low camera angle provides the shadow side of the arms and creates shape.


There are times when a lower than normal lighting angle can be used for dramatic effect.


Using a softbox or umbrella, place the center of the light slightly below the chin and work the pose to make it look natural and glamorous.  Do not let the eyes go dark from cheek shadows, nor should you have a “horror-film” look to the image. Work the body, shoulders and pose to provide a state of naturalness to the lower than normal light source. In other words, provide context for the light.

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Through the Rainy Glass

Photographer Anna Gunn and Filipe Martins, Portugal.



A thin sheet of glass was sprayed with water to provide a bit of an out of focus foreground and create a mood for this stylish portrait by Anna and Filipe. To create the feel of a rainy day, they used a large diffuser to camera right, just out of frame. To light that scrim, a small strip light was placed only inches from it. The size of the scrim created a soft, constantly fading away light source since the strip light was so close to it. This gave a very natural main light, with ultra soft wrap from the soft, diffused scrim. No fill cards were used on the shadow side.


Moving a very large light source in close, and providing a smallish size source behind it can create a very soft, natural “window” light look for portraiture.


Using a very large scrim (cloth shower curtains from Target) bring an additional soft light into the back to illuminate it. Use a small softbox (6-10″) or small umbrella (24 – 30″) and work the distance from 16″ to 4″. Note the different ways the light falls off, and creates a feeling of soft ambient. The distance of the source from the scrim may determine the size of the ‘hot’ area. Note the difference between small softbox and umbrellas.

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Photographer Julie Clegg, Seattle.



A main light softbox from slightly to camera left provides the overall illumination. Julie added a fill card to camera right, and it is just out of frame. Directly behind the center fireman there is a gridded spot to add very sharp edges to the subjects. The ambient lights of the firehouse were turned on full, and they even fired up the “emergency lights” on top of the firetruck for the shot.

The result is a dramatic portrayal of a local fire station. Julie used a 16-35MM lens on her Canon to get a bit of a wide angle look (somewhere around 30MM on a FF body). The slightly lowered angle of the lens allowed her to include the emergency lights and get a feel for the ambient area around the truck.


Use light to sculpt and add drama where appropriate. The angle of the camera can have a tremendous effect on the overall feeling of the image, as well as include areas that can be more (or less) interesting. Attention to detail is very important.


Use a second light to sculpt the edges of a portrait. From behind the subject try an unmodified or snooted  or grid-spotted single light. Note the different characteristics of each of these modifiers… they are all different in presentation.

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Bob Knill’s “Moody Style”

Photographer Bob Knill, Maryland.



Bob Knill of Frederick, Maryland wanted a very dark, moody portrait.

Using a main light consisting of a 5-in-one scrim (the inside of a 5-in-one reflector system) with a speedlight he created a very earthy, dark but sublime main light. By keeping the strobe very close to the scrim he was able to create a bit of a hot center, while the surrounding scrim was lit up enough to provide excellent “ambient”. A second hard light (un modified speedlight) was added behind the subject to give an edge to the natural shadow side, presenting detail and shape.

Bob sent along a behind the scenes shot of his lighting setup. Note how close the flash is to the scrim.



Note how the gentleman’s head never disappears into the very dark background. Bob kept the ambient at a point where the head never falls away. The detail provided by the hard “kicker” light behind is just enough to give the image separation and depth. The overall dark, mysterious look is achieved by not letting any of the subject blend into the background.


Using a scrim or shower curtain for a main light, bring your source (flash/strobe/hot light) into a distance of about 3 – 5 inches and use that ‘hot spot’ to light your subjects face. Control the ambient with the amount of ‘spill’ you get from the light in close to the scrim. Don’t let the subject melt into the background, instead provide either fill cards or a second light for separation. Work this out… you can do it, and it can be a wonderful stylistic approach for you.

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One Light Glamour

Photographer Alicia Bonaterre (Trinidad)


For this shot, Alicia used a single strobe in a dish reflector from slightly to the left of her camera. The hard light provides a wonderful highlight on the models legs and sculpts her form well. Using a single hard light is not the easiest tool to work with. Hard lights can throw shadows from areas that are problematic (nose, lips, arms) but Alicia managed that well with a perfect pose, and the head position coming toward the flash direction. The angle of the face, being closely aligned with the flash creates a very small shadow from the nose, and wonderfully modeled cheeks.


Careful placement of the hard light, as well as attention tot he pose can create a dramatic fashion portrait. Not all light has to be soft.


Shoot a one light, hard light portrait and pay careful attention to the placement of the light and the shadows that are created by it.

Small nose shadows can be OK in fashion/glamour, but watch out for arms and hands and strange areas of darkness that can fall across areas of the subject.

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Lighting Basics, Class One: Light and Exposure

Lighting Basics, Class One: Light and Exposure


This is Lighting Basics… a way to get a fundamental instruction in the art and science of photography. It is geared toward beginners, and those who are mid level but have not had formal training of any kind. Please do all the assignments, it will help you more fully understand photography and how to make better photographs.

– Don

Light and Exposure:

Understanding the qualities of light and exposure means we have to master a tool that is part of our camera system… the light meter.

Here is a link to my UDEMY class in using a light meter. We discuss the handheld meter and the meter in your camera. The class is free, and I want you to start there.

I want you to study the chapters 1 – 9 and understand that information. The goal of this first exercise is to acquaint yourself with the power of understanding a light meter.

Note: If you do not use a handheld meter, do not worry about it. Just watch to understand the principles of how a handheld meter works. It is also important to know that your camera is equipped with a reflective light meter… so it works the same way as the reflected light meter on my handheld meter.

You only have to go through the course up through Lecture 9. Please go through all the lectures up to lecture nine so you can do the following assignments.

Camera meter settings:

I usually recommend using the spot meter setting or at least the center weighted meter setting. With my camera on spot meter, I can use it very much like the handheld meter in the videos you watched. I can pick out and choose what I want my light metering to be based on. I can move in close to fill the frame with a gray door or a black shirt… and get the reading I want. I then make the exposure based on what I know… that black is reading two stops OVER and white is reading two stops UNDER. Or damn close anyway.

For the assignments here, please use your camera on spot or center weighted and make as close to accurate reading EXACTLY on the part of the scene you want to use to base your exposure.


  1. Find something black to photograph. Car tires, black leather jacket, a small pile of charcoal… something black, but NOT shiny. Make an exposure based on what your meter says, then make an adjustment in your mind to where you want to “place” that black and take another exposure. Note where the exposures fall and what you did to compensate for the obviously incorrect exposure that was indicated by your camera meter.
  2. Find something white to photograph. Brides dress, white shirt, white brick building. Make an exposure reading based on the reading and then adjust in your head to make a second exposure. Note where the exposures fall and what you did to compensate for the obviously incorrect exposure that was indicated by your camera meter.
  3. Look around your location and find subjects that look like they are middle gray. Meter them with your camera and shoot the image with that exposure.How did you do? Is that exposure based on what you considered middle gray correct? If it is, find another subject. If not… where does it fall? If it is too light, it will be necessary to move the exposure down to compensate. If it is too dark, open the exposure till it is correct.
  4. Repeat the above for at least 30 minutes. Becoming familiar with how the meter works in your camera is very important and will be a real lifesaver when you need an accurate exposure fast.

You can see in this portrait of our dear leader… heh… where we found the middle gray reflectance to base exposure on.


And here is the image in grayscale so you can see how close the reflectances are without color involved.


Remember that the meter does not see colors, it sees the amount of luminance that the subject is reflecting. You can more clearly see in the second shot how close all the reflectances are.

When you are comfortable using the spot meter to make readings, and your mind to adjust those readings to make the exposure correctly, you can move on to the next assignment.


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Lighting Basics: The Introduction

Lighting Basics: The Introduction

It’s February 1, 2014.

This begins the “Year of Teaching” for me. I may or may not be doing any workshops, but I love to teach so here goes.

What this year long series will be:

A comprehensive look at what I call “Subject Centric Lighting” – the understanding that the characteristics of the subject have a great deal of influence over the way different light sources react with and present from the subject. Whether or not a specific light or modified light will work with a specific subject has as much to do with the subject as it does the light.

We will be covering natural light, studio light, and lighting on location. Our subject matter will range from still life and food to portraiture and product. And we will throw some curve balls occasionally.

Assignments come out every Saturday morning… things to see, things to do, things to read. If you are diligent and committed, you will be a much better photographer at the end of this exercise. We will not be grading anything here… this is YOUR chance to push forward. Push beyond procrastination and malaise and into the exciting world of imagery.

For the basis of my discussions here I will be using the techniques discussed in both of my books, Lighting Essentials and Lighting Essentials Two (available on Amazon).

We will start with an basic understanding of light and subjects and begin to shoot specific assignments based on the methods and techniques that are discussed.

What this year is not:

A discussion on speed lights, or any other specific kind of lighting gear. We will be discussing lighting, and that includes speedlights, natural light, tungsten lights, studio flash and fluorescent units as well.

Nor will we be discussing wedding photography. There are more than enough websites, books, classes and online presentations on wedding photography.

What you will need:

  • A camera with controls… your controls. DSLR’s, Mirrorless, MFT’s… whatever.
  • A working knowledge of your camera; Setting the apertures, shutter speeds and ISO.
  • A familiarity with what is called reciprocitythe shutter speed/aperture relationship and how ISO can be included.
  • A light.
  • Light stand.
  • An umbrella or softbox for the light
  • Tripod… while of course you can shoot handheld, having a tripod makes taking the notes and working with the notes much easier.
  • Enthusiasm. This is supposed to be fun.

We start tomorrow… so be prepared for a really fun and exciting year.

Jump in any time… no need to begin at any special time… the classes are free and they are specifically geared to people who want to understand light and make better images.


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And We Are Back

And We Are Back

That medical issue took more out of me than I was willing to admit.

But I am back – and so is Lighting Essentials… a new post every day.

Lighting, gear, photography and fun…

What’s gonna be new? Watch and see.

We will have a new photograph, complete with lighting information every day. From natural light to studio strobes and on location lighting, we will bring you some of the best from amateurs, semi-pros and pros out there. No matter what you are interested in, there will be something to learn here.

I decided to make this year the year of teaching so all my energy will be placed there… and here.

Starting Saturday (February 1, 2014)… Lighting Basics. One assignment a week for you to consider, work on and learn from. These are lighting assignments, NOT to be confused with the Project 52 PRO assignments that are geared to creating actual gigs. This is all technique and I will be giving you the entire breadth of my “Subject Centric Lighting” approach.

I will be continuing the “Tech Sheets” approach and I look forward to working with photographers from all over the world.

The Lighting Basics class is free… there is no signup required, although you will get more out of it if you ARE signed up for my weekly dispatch… see the column on the right at the top. It comes out every Sunday and has received some remarkable reviews from pros and semi-pros all over the world.

We will also be discussing my take on gear… a non gear-head looks at gear and the tools of the trade.

You will also get a few rants and challenges along the way, so be aware of those bumpy turns… and keep your arms and hands inside the car at all times.

So here we go… back at it full swing and full on.

Lighting Essentials is BACK!


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Going Back to Go Forward: REBOOTING Lighting Essentials

Going Back to Go Forward: REBOOTING Lighting Essentials

As many of you know, I had a pretty rocky third quarter with some serious health issues. They took the wind out of my sails, so to speak, and I had limited energy to work on the things that I loved.

Lighting Essentials is one of my favorite things, but I had to keep the newsletter going, and finish a book project in the last few months of the year. LE paid for that time allotment crunch.

In that time, I have done some soul searching, and some planning and some thinking on how better to serve the photographic community that I love so much.

Lighting Essentials was, I believe, one of the more original voices out there, with articles and content that was more personal in nature – and as such, it had a good run. It did.

Now is time for a reboot. LE will continue on with a new mission of education. Focusing on the commercial photography genre, I hope to bring a lot of fresh content here for photographers who want to be professional in either attitude or business – or both.

Lighting Essentials began as a lighting centric website, and we are going back in order to go forward.

(My more personal essays will be under the rants section, and they will continue on the newsletter for those who enjoy them.)

2014 is my “Teaching Year” and I am taking it very seriously. Project 52 and Lighting Essentials will endeavor to bring new and exciting articles to you with a special focus on commercial aspects.

More Lighting articles.
More gear discussions, but from my POV of non-gearhead. Yes, non-gearhead gear discussions. You’ll see.
More photography discussions and some introductions to some of the greats in the commercial arena.
More looking at photographs… much more.

This is the next iteration of Lighting Essentials and the reboot comes on February 1. 2014.

Lighting Essentials, V2.0. Coming soon.

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The “Help Me Pay My Docs Off” Sale… LOL

The “Help Me Pay My Docs Off” Sale… LOL

The “Help Me Pay My Docs Off” Sale



As many of you know, I was hospitalized for a week in August for a severe blood clot, and a PE which resulted in a heck of a lot of clots in my lungs. I am on the mend, and things are getting back to normal… but I also have a heck of a hospital bill to pay off.

This is the first sale I have ever done for a book, and I wanted to do it big. All proceeds will be going to my hospital and doctors. They were incredible, but I have many expenses tied to that adventure.

The bundle I am offering is:

  • All three of my books written for Amherst Media, personally signed to you as well as a fourth book specifically for this offer.
  • “Maine: Photographs” will contain some of the photographs from my “Maine” portfolio, and some you have not seen, and will only be seen in the book. I will number and sign each book for you as well. The “Maine” books are 6×8″ Softcover, and will be printed by Artifact Uprising on beautiful stock.
  • In addition you will receive a coupon for a free UDEMY course. I currently have three courses available on UDEMY, and am completing a fourth before years end. Choose whichever one you wish and a coupon code will be emailed to you ASAP

It has been a year full of challenges, and I very much appreciate your support.

Have a great holiday season, and next year will be a blast!

To Purchase:

Choose Bundle Class


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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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