Photographers You Should Know: Guy Bourdin


Guy Bourdin was an early influence of mine. His approach to making images that resembled no one else made his work easily noticed. He was meticulous in his shooting, with sets that were overflowing with creativity. But always with him in charge. His whimsical approach to shooting made me want to try all kinds of things.

From Wikipedia:

“Guy Bourdin was born 2 December 1928 in Paris, France. He grew up in an age of war and experienced challenges represented by the philosophies of surrealism. During his military service in Dakar (1948–49), Bourdin received his first photography training as a cadet in the French Air Force. He was fascinated and assimilated Surrealism in its broader senses. From the mid-1950s, Bourdin experimented and refined his distinct vision, produced fashion images, photographed and filmed his observations of the world.

In 1950 he returned to Paris, where he met Man Ray, and became his protégé. Bourdin made his first exhibition of drawings and paintings at Galerie, Rue de la Bourgogne, Paris. His first photographic exhibition was in 1953. He exhibited under the pseudonym Edwin Hallan in his early career. His first fashion shots were published in the February 1955 issue of Vogue Paris. A contemporary of Helmut Newton, they both worked extensively for Vogue and greatly influenced in different ways what would become contemporary photography.[2] “Between him and me the magazine became pretty irresistable in many ways and we complemented each other. If he had been alone or I had been alone it wouldn’t have worked.” He continued to work for the magazine until 1987.

An editor of Vogue magazine introduced Bourdin to shoe designer Charles Jourdan, who became his patron, and Bourdin shot Jourdan’s ad campaigns between 1967 and 1981. His quirky anthropomorphic compositions, intricate mise en scene ads were greatly recognised and always greatly anticipated by the media.”

Guy Bourdin Website (Memorium)

“The Eye of Guy Bourdin”

“Guy Bourdin: Film, Paintings, Polaroids”

Michael Hoppen Gallery (Guy Bourdin)

“The Burden of Being Bourdin” : Interview Magazine

“Unseen Guy Bourdin”

Guardian Article on “When The Sky Fell Down” – a film about Guy Bourdin

That time a hack pop artist tried to rip off his images and was forced to pay in federal court…

Vogue article.

Some video… (perhaps a bit NSFW)



Here are a few Guy Bourdin photographs:

Books for your collection:

“What Do You Charge For? EBook


Last summer I wrote four articles based on the five scariest words a beginning photographer can hear…

“What do you charge for…”

It ended up being nearly 20 pages, and it can definitely help you work through some of the myriad questions that haunt us when we don’t know the territory.

I invite you to download it here, my compliments.

Inspired by Sarah Moon: 8 Week Portrait Class Student Work

This week we studied the work of Sarah Moon for inspiration. The students looked at Ms Moon’s work, analyzed it, found what they liked and used it for inspiration. The goal is not to copy the masters, it is to understand them and let that understanding inspire the work.

Some photographers may never use what they learn in their personal style, and others will let the influence become a part of their unique vision.

As the legendary jazz musician Clark Terry said; “Imitate. Assimilate. Innovate”. A time tested way of finding your own voice. Congrats to the photographers in the class. This is a very creative and beautiful set of images.

“Protectionism” is NOT The Way of Professional Photographers


The “Protectionist” Attitude Among Photographers

Well, not all photographers, but a considerable few. Enough that they can make a lot of noise and bluster.
I don’t suffer that attitude well, never have. The whining about how there are too many photographers and how we should NOT be helping them enter the business or ‘feeding them dreams’ or whatever, is simply a lame, self-serving sort of sod that never sits well with the facts.

Here are Five Myths of Protectionism in Photography.

If we do not teach the young photographers entering the market, they will flounder and get out.
Wanna bet. You cannot keep people from doing what they want to do. Not yet, anyway. And many people want to be photographers. They crave the craft and live every moment thinking about making images. Not teaching them the correct way to enter the market, and compete fairly, is folly beyond imagination. They will enter anyway, and have more chance to screw it all up than if they KNOW what they are doing.

And when did we photographers become so, well, mean. I have no appetite for watching people flounder and fail. I love it when they succeed and win. Creating winners amongst us is exactly what we ALL should be doing. To turn from that path is petty… and pathetic as well.

Training more people will hurt the industry because it will create a glut.
Wrong. There is and has always been a glut. Simply stated, that argument doesn’t work because it is putting a false parameter on something that has no parameters. There is no finite amount of work to be divided equally among the anointed players. Each photographer gets the work they get. It is either enough to sustain them or not. Artificially stating that there is some sort of ceiling is not logical.

There isn’t enough work to go around.
Well, maybe not for you. Or her or that guy over there. But there is a lot of work to be had out there. We know and follow too many successful photographers to even think that there is not ‘enough’ work out there. And even if that were true, and it is not, who is to say that the same shooters who are working now wouldn’t have those jobs all to themselves. The market picks winners and losers, not artificial quotas and protected participants.

Prices are plummeting because of the influx of talented photographers.
Yeah… so? Why would photography escape market forces. I paid $2500 for my Mac Classic in 1986. In today’s dollars that would be about $9,000. Anyone complaining about computer prices? Or memory? Or music? A single song on a 45 RPM record was a buck (I say single cause the other side was likely crap). And today at Amazon that single song is.. a buck.

However, I will say this. In 1984 I was getting day rates of $1500 – $2000 and those day rates have not gone up in any significant way since. (No, I usually do not charge day rate these days, but many do and I am pointing out the stagnation, not the method.) Was it because of digital?

Hardly. It was because things were changing and lots of photographers were entering the market. The market I wanted to be involved in. I had the choice to do that or get a job that no one wanted. I briefly thought about being the conductor for the New York Philharmonic… but the competition for that single position was pretty stiff… So I opted for competing for a lot of jobs instead of just one.

If we could somehow keep the beginners out, there would be more work for us.
No. There would be more for the folks that are already working. If you are not working and blaming it on the newbies, you will still not be working when the newbies are actually thrown under the bus.
Talent always wins when it is bundled with good business skills, marketing plans and a driven, nothings gonna stop me mentality. Thinking that somehow shutting off the spigot would stop those for whom photography is a calling, not just something fun to do would make ones life easier is simply looking past the problem into the face of a cure that has no merit.

I tell photographers who are complaining about how tough it is and how they can’t get work because of all the other photographers out there to take a look at the real culprit. Look right there…

In the mirror.

Protectionism, unions, state licenses and such are simply ways to garner income and keep out the competition, whether or not the competition has the talent to actually compete.

A photographer told me on twitter once that he was comfortable and loving being a photographer, but didn’t want any more people in the business because it was cutting down on his ability to get work. They were “talentless hacks” or something like that.

So what he told me in essence is that his work is so lame that talentless hacks were beating him out at his game and he didn’t want to actually have to improve above the level of talentless hack himself.

That was simply sad. I thought his work was pretty good, and that he should be doing well. Unfortunately, people with that mindset are usually not excited by the mornings, driven to make new work, striving to become better and better with all they create. Instead they brood and whine and look for people to blame for their own intransigence.

I love working with new photographers. After forty years in the business, I know I have stuff that can help, knowledge from the trenches that can answer questions – or even cause questions to be answered in the new world we find ourselves.

Be a mentor. If you can help a struggling photographer, do so.

What you give is so much more powerful than what you hold back.

Creating a Photo Portfolio That Represents Your Work

“What makes a photograph “Portfolio Worthy”

I want to talk about what makes an image worthy of your portfolio today, and have you think about your work in possibly a different sort of way.

What is your portfolio, anyway?

It is the repository of the work you have made, and limited to be the outstanding pieces from the volume of work created. It is the instrument you use to say “this is what I do.”

Whether it is a printed book, a ‘traditional portfolio’, an online gallery or your website, your portfolio is a collection of your best work. And hopefully one can see a style emerging from that collection.

A portfolio is not a congregation of your most popular shots, nor is it the ones your mom or boyfriend think ‘rock’. Those are great compliments of course, but the portfolio images should show more of another viewpoint.


The images should be chosen with care and the knowledge that they reflect your sensibilities, with your unique vision stamped across them clearly.

In fact, they may not be the most popular shots in your collections. They may be a bit on the obtuse side, or more challenging in composition and design. They may show your more experimental choices or they may be the quiet nature of simplicity that you love so much. They can range from mild to wild, black and white to HDR, people to landscapes to interiors to food.

But they are yours. They represent the images you want to make, how you want to make them and with all of the parts genuinely yours.

Why? Because that ‘genuinely yours’ approach will help you as you begin to develop a style, a vision and a body of work that you will be proud of.

Shooting what other people like will make you madder than the proverbial hatter. There is no style in the world that will satisfy everyone. No matter what you shoot, someone is not going to like it. Changing your work to match their needs only means you will alienate someone else.

So don’t bother.

Shoot your work. Shoot it your way.

Find out what the images you love have in common.

Here’s a little assignment for you;

Put 20 of your favorite images onto a single large image… a collage. Photoshop can do that for you now (again) with a tool under the File menu.

File/Automate/Contact Sheet II


Put the twenty images into a single folder and run the Contact Sheet II script. Choose the largest paper size you can print (or take to Costco/Sams Club/Walmart… whatever) so that all of the images are displayed together on one sheet.

This one is done on 8.5 x 11 and I used a setting of 12 images per page.


Now take that sheet and look at it closely, with the intent of really seeing each image.

What are the similarities between your images?
What are the differences that jump out at you?
Which images, if any, look out of place in the selection?
Which images, if any, look wrong or not as good as the others that are similar?

Show the sheet of images to people you trust to give honest feedback. Even your mom, BFF, buds, and the guys you hang out with and discuss photography. As long as it is honest, it will be good feedback.

It is not a good critique, however. Critiques are done with intentions in mind, goals determined, and a frank discussion of what the images were created to do.

But feedback is good, and if you don’t know anyone who can give a good critique (yet) they are a good place to start.

The last thing to do is to analyze the ways the feedback made you feel about your work. Do you agree with their assessments? Do you believe they see what you shot the way you see what you shot? Does an image still stand up in your mind as being a strong image even if others say it was not their favorite?

Do this repeatedly with 20 images at a time. Find the ones that really resonate with you. The ones you want to show to everybody, everywhere, every day.

I’ll close with this quote by Photographer Bela Borsodi:

“If it touches you, if it excites you, if it makes you cry, if it makes you smile. A good photograph is something you cannot resist looking at. There might be a sense of surprise or discovery. something pleasant or painful. There is this quote by Oscar Wilde: “I can resist everything except temptation” In a way a good photograph is what you can’t resist and want to engage with. It doesn’t matter if you take photographs of your dog, or girlfriend, or whether you’re in a big studio with supermodels in it. If it speaks to you, then that’s when you know you have a good photograph.” 

(Thanks to Hiram Chee for finding this great quote.)


6 New Books I Have Ordered

From Amazon:
“W magazine is renowned for its avant-garde fashion stories, those elaborate confections of magic and mystery that have inspired and captivated readers for more than two decades. This volume gathers 10 of the most remarkable stories, each in its entirety, along with never-before-seen outtakes. Each story was the centerpiece of the issue it appeared in, and together they ride the razor’s edge between outrageously provocative and enchanting, from the bizarre (Steven Klein’s “One for the Ages”) to the alien (Tim Walker’s “Planet Tilda”) and whimsical (Paolo Roversi’s “Carnevale”). These and other stories by Klein, Walker, and Roversi, as well as Steven Meisel, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, and Alex Prager, are featured. A special code inside the book provides access to short films shot on the sets of the featured stories by Meisel, Walker, Klein, and Prager.”

Awesome book if you like new fashion photography.

From Amazon:
“How can a photographer of internationally known stars create iconic portraits that linger in the memory–especially since these actors have already been photographed and filmed millions of times? Vincent Peters–who has been working since 1995 for magazines such as Vogue and GQ and fashion brands including Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Yves Saint Laurent–relies entirely on the classic art of portrait photography for his pictures. Focusing on small gestures and subtle productions instead of prominent poses, he ensures that his subjects do not disappear into the backdrop and that their faces are the focal point. Emma Watson’s features are lent a tragic note with white makeup. Annie Lennox appears like a stern missionary in a suit and fedora. Photographs of stars such as David Beckham and Christian Bale are markedly masculine. Even more intimate are the images that Peters has taken in private surroundings, like when he accompanied Monica Bellucci during her second pregnancy. His sophisticated lighting has the most impact in his black-and-white photos, bestowing them with a breathtaking cinematic quality.”

Cinematic lighting, classic style of the 40′ – 50’s given new life with Vincent’s contemporary approach. I was not all that familiar with is work, and the book is expensive – but worth every nickel. Wow.

From Amazon:
“Moss’s magic has been captured by the world’s leading photographers, and this volume spans the entirety of her unparalleled career, from model to fashion designer, and muse to icon. Told through images that Moss has personally selected, KATE shows the influence of her collaborations with top photographers and artists over the last two decades, and clearly demonstrates why her career has had, and continues to have, such incredible longevity.

Photography by Arthur Elgort, Corinne Day, Craig McDean, David Sims, Hedi Slimane, Inez & Vinoodh, Juergen Teller, Mario Sorrenti, Mario Testino, Mert & Marcus, Nick Knight, Patrick Demarchelier, Peter Lindbergh, Roxanne Lowit, Steven Klein, Terry Richardson and others”

You see that list of photographers there, right? And the incredible Ms Moss?
This one is so full of ideas and brilliant photography that it addles the brain. Simply astounding.

From Amazon:
“This new collection of Peter Lindbergh’s photographs presents his work from the past ten years. The prolific fashion and portrait photographer is one of the leading commercial artists of our day. His special subject are women.”

Because Peter Lindbergh… duh. If you are not familiar with Peter’s work, and love fashion/beauty… well, you need this book.

From Amazon:
“Stephen Shore has had a significant influence on multiple generations of artists and photographers. Even for the youngest photographers working today, his work remains an ongoing and indisputable reference point. Stephen Shore: Survey includes over 250 images that span Shore’s impressive and productive career. The images range from 1969 to 2013, with series such as Early Works, Amarillo, New York City, American Surfaces and Uncommon Places, among others. Stephen Shore: Survey elucidates Shore’s contributions, as well as the historiographical interpretations of his work that have influenced photographic culture over the past four decades. The narrative of the catalogue is conceptualized around three particularly revealing aspects of Shore’s work, including his analysis of photographic and visual language, his topographical approach to the contemporary landscape and his significant use of color within a photographic context.”

Stephen Shore is an enigma to me. I both love and dislike his work… for sometimes the very same reason. He will challenge your beliefs in what makes a photograph as well as show you ways you have never thought about. Not an instant attraction, Shore takes a bit of time to digest. This is, in my opinion, some of his best photography.

An older book, and still available at a decent price. I loved this approach, and look forward to hopefully seeing another book on a select group of women by legendary photographer Peter Lindbergh (who we are studying next week for the 8 Week Portrait Class (see workshops tab).

Yeah… I done spent all my Christmas money. But then I love books, and books full of photographs… how can you beat that?

A Simple Tool for Shooting To Layout

Shooting for the web has created some interesting configured imagery. From very wide and narrow images for banners to tall and skinny images for side bars, shooting to layout is as important as ever.

Here is a simple video for making a viewing tool that can help you when shooting for banners or whatever layout you may have.

Portraits Inspired by Victor Skrebneski

In the 8 week portrait class we looked at the work of famed Chicago photographer Victor Skrebneski. The students were asked to make a photograph inspired by what they saw in Skrebneski’s work. Not to copy it, but to be inspired by it.

Here are the remarkable expamples created by the students:

Photographers You Should Know: Jake Chessum


Jake Chessum is a portrait/celebrity photographer working in both editorial and advertising. I like his style and his approach to portraiture.


Jake Chessum Website.

Interview with A Photo Editor.

Jake Chessum’s Rep (Supervision)

Interview with Jake Chessum by Professional Photographer Magazine

“What Makes a Good Portrait” – Jake Chessum.

Jake Chessum Instagram

“The Daily Chessum” – photo a day.

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.

Trends to Watch in 2015


Trends I am noticing:

Social Media Thinning.
Photographers are becoming more selective in where and how they spend their time in social media. This is a good thing. Not every SM platform is right for you and what you do.Facebook may be find for consumer shooters, but for commercial it is pretty much a bust. Some photographers have built huge groups but watched those numbers tumble after FB’s recent algorithms that force paying for views. Not worth it at this point, I believe. Flickr is more and more irrelevant. Not sure why, but it simply is.If you want to blog, but have not started one at this point, I would suggest Tumblr. Absolutely the place to be for photographers. Whether you post an image only or an image and brief text or a set of images, the people who visit there are more infused with clients than FB and G+. In short, it is where to be seen.Instagram is very important as well. Especially for editorial and commercial shooters. Clients love Instagram… you should love places that get your work in front of prospective clients.

Vine may be a perfect platform for small, BTS videos and other random personality driven videos.

One of the most important, and often overlooked platform is Behance. Stories, sets, complete shoots, process… all work well on Behance for photographers. More clients there than on any other platform. Be there NOW.

Content Driven Websites.
Instead of the usual ‘here are my photos’ websites that photographers have used for over a decade or more, we are seeing content within and new frameworks to help inspire contacts.Vanessa Rees blogsite is a prime example.Yes, it is important to show the work, but it is becoming even more important to show the brand – the personality – and the depth of the photographers offering. Get more engagement by being more engaged.

Personal Brand.
More and more important as we find more and more platforms that need our attention to gain others attention. Without a strong personal brand, being remembered becomes more challenging. Just as rock stars, authors, actors and others in the public eye create branded personalities, so should photographers. it is absolutely important.

Behance. Be there.
Yes, it is so important I am mentioning it twice.

Wider variety of lighting.
No more “I only shoot ____ for my lighting”, photographers are expanding into all sorts of lighting choices for all sorts of images. The “natural light only” or “storbist” approach is feeling a bit thin. It is more important to use the right light for the vision you want than it is to adhere to some sort of ‘mantra’. The waning interest in compartmentalizing the production is a good thing, and there will be a stronger emphasis on the image than on the production.

One word:
Film. Yeah, it is an old technique, but it is a unique technique that is becoming very boutique in its approach and interest. I will not say you MUST shoot film, only that you consider some other forms of image making that can set you apart… (brand?).

Smaller, more targeted lists.
We pared down over the last decade, now we will see micro list marketing, where ultraniched workwill be marketed tomuch smaller groups of potential buyers.Let’s say you have a targeted list of 500 magazines. It may be time to narrow those lists to different approaches or images to be sent. 500 names is not a lot versus back in the 90’s when lists of 3500+ were normal. But the way that media works today may make it more important to separate out the different magazines into segments… and perhaps you end up with a list of 250, one of 150 and one that is only 100 names.Smaller, more agile and specifically focused marketing.

More geographical freedom.
Live where you want, work where ever the work takes you. Shoot globally and regionally. Mobility gives us more freedom. And where you live helps establish a bit of your ‘brand’ as well.

Gear will be less of a factor this year.
More emphasis on the images and creating work that sells will be the focus of much photographic press. Gear will always be a big draw for many photographers, but for those who are working toward creating a unique brand or vision it will take less and less gear to create the work they want. Technology is leading the way to less need for gear and more need for vision. I notice that so many more articles are featuring the work of photographers with hardly any mention of gear or technology.

Fees will begin to rise again. I see little signs of it here and there… and the need for excellence is finally beginningto be seen by the clients who NEED to know this stuff. With the focus on brand that is replacing a lot of traditional advertising there is more of an emphasis on photography and how visualsare being used in the marketing. This trend will continue throughout this year and the next and will end up affecting design and ad agencies as much as photographers and illustrators.Uniquely crafted imagery, with the ability to show the brand in ways that engage the public will replace the single page ‘Ad’ in periodicals. This will become a sea change. I believe it will be a sea change in the industry and could end up benefitting photographers more than we can see at this point.

For those of you who are simply struggling to stay up with all that is going on, pare down. Simplify and focus.

There are a lot of other trends out there that we should be looking at. Neil Patel has a list of marketing trends that will affect all of us. Spend a few minutes with his list and see what you think about the changing shape of marketing – especially online marketing.

Some cool books to consider:

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 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.


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