Category Archives Guest Blogger

To grow our photography businesses, we make images that serve specific, narrow functions. For example, our wedding photography needs to attract and satisfy a specific demographic with a certain look in order to allow us to charge a particular price and create a consistent brand. Our commercial photography needs to assist clients in generating specific feedback from their customers that are in line with business goals. Even though my photography offered me creative expression, it was being undermined by a mechanistic approach that treated photography as a utility. I realized my photography needed to participate in something.  My photography lacked a community and I needed to have an outlet where my photography could give and serve.

I thought this personal crisis was more widely shared among photographers, so I was a little surprised to find out that so few professional photographers have volunteered their time to serve their local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club. I cannot speak broadly about philanthropic photography, but my goal here is to highlight why the Boys and Girls Club is one of the best organizations for your consideration.

With over 4,100 club affiliations spread across America, the Boys and Girls Club is likely the most conveniently located nonprofit organization that you could serve. I called my county-level organization for the first time, two years ago, and was met with gratitude and opportunities to photograph almost immediately. When I said I wanted to offer service on a continuing basis, they were justifiably skeptical. Pro photographers are known to serve local nonprofits infrequently and only when they need to create an inflated tax writeoff.

By offering my photography at the county level, I was able to work with the administration team and became involved with multiple Clubs. That is a great strategy. If you volunteer exclusively at an individual Club, they will appreciate your service and your images will be put to good use, but there may not be enough opportunities to sustain your service for multiple occasions.

Most people think that the Boys and Girls Club is just afterschool care: a place where children go to hang out or do homework until for their parents finish their long hours working.

Yes, there is homework, and academic mentoring available, but you'll be pleasantly surprised to see that the Boys and Girls Club is filled with broad opportunities. This will give your photographs variety and you'll see yourself as photographing the life of the Club rather than repetitive stock moments.

In fact, many Clubs offer genuine outlets for play: like summer camp and networked computer gaming. And in our case, we've created a strong relationship the the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team, where professional athletes frequently mentor and play with our kids.

"The Club" or "teen centers" are Clubs that cater specifically to teenagers. I teach photography at my local teen center, and if teaching photography is your passion, many teen centers will welcome you with open arms.

Jay, for example, is one of my photography students. He doesn't own a camera, but with a little networking, we got him a media pass to photograph alongside professional photographers at a Duke University Football game.

The Boys and Girls Club has an internal, nationwide photography competition for it's Club members, sponsored by Sony. And this year, Jay entered and won 1st place in two categories at our local level. We're hoping he'll win again at the regional and national level.

Some teenagers like to be expressive and playful in front of the camera, so if you're interested in practicing your commercial photography techniques with teens you're mentoring, some of them will be happy to model for you. This is also valuable if you become involved in teaching photography because your teenage photography students will frequently want to photograph other teens.

Since the Boys and Girls Club is a nonprofit, they fundraise and need donations. But that means they need to schedule events for donors and create an atmosphere of celebration for successful contributions. This creates opportunities to provide event coverage photography.

Internal to the Club organization is a structure created to allow youth to overcome a classic leadership phobia at these events: public speaking.

I hope these experiences and photographs I've shared have encouraged you to find a nonprofit organization worth serving. The Boys and Girls Club, in particular, is both locally available and historically underserved by the photographic community. If you decide to serve a local nonprofit on a continuing basis, the life of the organization will unfold in front of your lens. You'll experience a satisfaction that will sustain you through the routine affairs of operating your photography business.

You can see more of Shaun’s work at, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

On the field pre-game

Last Sunday I shot my 39th Super Bowl.  I know that sounds like a lot of Super Sundays, but it pales in comparison to photographers Mickie Palmer, Tony Tomsic, John Biever and Walter Iooss, -each of whom came into last Sunday's game having photographed all 48 of the previous Super Bowls.   (For more of their stories check out Neil Leifer's cool new film Keepers of the Streak on ESPN.)

My first Super Bowl was 9 (I'll spare you the roman numerals).  It was supposed to be played in the brand new Louisiana Superdome-the historic first indoor Super Bowl.  Unfortunately the â˜dome was not completed in time and I found myself shooting in rusty old Tulane stadium with the game-time temperature hovering in the 40's and a steady rain coming down.

New England's Ron Gronkowski makes a touchdown catch in the second quarter - Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS Series II lens, f/2.8 @ 1/1600, ISO 2000.

Leading up to Sunday, Phoenix had a pretty rainy week. Fortunately for all of us, the photographers, the players, and the fans, the sun came out on game day. In fact the weather was so good that they opened the roof to the University of Phoenix Stadium (aka "the big toaster"). While it lacks the grandeur of AT& T Stadium in Dallas, the U of P is a pretty good place to shoot with its roomy sidelines and good light.

“The flyover" - Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 lens @ 15mm, f/4 @ 1/8000, ISO 1600.

Most of my winning images have come from shooting on the sidelines, so let me take a moment to explain the setup here. Sideline space at any game is precious, but especially at the Super Bowl. There are several hundred credentialed field photographers and at least as many TV, video, and NFL Films personnel all sharing the same space on the field. Most of the crowding happened in the corners of the end zones. The end zone space was at a real premium due to the fact that there were at least 10 television cameras in permanent positions in either end zone. Crossing an end zone was a little like running an obstacle course requiring stepping up and over photographers, assistants and film runners, then back down to your knees for a few feet to duck under a camera, then up again, then down again. To avoid the gymnastics routine, I decided to shoot almost exclusively from the Patriots side of the field.

Seattle's defense gets a piece of New England running back LaGarrette Blount - Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF  400mm f/2.8 IS Series II lens, f/2.8 @ 1/1600, ISO 2000.

Locations aside, my gear selection is just as important because there isn't a do-over opportunity to run back into your car to grab that extra lens or accessory. So what gear did I use for the game? My go-to sports action camera has been the Canon EOS 1DX since it was introduced in 2012. On Sunday I used three of them to capture the game. My backup was my new favorite lightweight action camera, the Canon 7D Mark II. With a burst speed of 10 fps and incredibly fast auto-focus, the 7D2 makes a great companion to the 1DX.

My gear packed for the game

My long lens for the game was the EF 400 f/2.8 IS Series II exclusively. I went with this lens over my beloved EF 200-400 f/4 because if you add the Canon EF 1.4x Extender to a 400mm, it will give you a 560mm f/4, while the 200-400mm built in extender will drop it to f/5.6.  The extra focal length is a big help with shooting at a crowded game like Sunday's. And although the light at the beginning of the game was sufficient to shoot f/5.6 at ISO 4000, it soon started dropping as the sky darkened.

Seattle's Marshawn Lynch runs after a catch in the fourth quarter - Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS Series II lens, f/2.8 @ 1/1250, ISO 2000.

My exposure for most of the game was set to 1/1600 @ f/2.8 at 2000 ISO. When I shot at f/4 with my 70-200 zoom or with the extender on the 400, I cranked the ISO up to 4000. My physical set-up was the 400mm with the EOS 1DX set on a monopod, and one 1DX with a 24-70 on a short strap and the other 1DX with a 70-200 on a longer strap below it both around my neck. This is my favorite set-up for accessibility, although it does eventually take a toll on my neck.

Leading up to the Super Bowl this year, a number of my Twitter followers asked me how would I approach shooting the "biggest game of the year"? My answer: "Hopefully not any differently than I did any other game I shot this season." After my first Super Bowl I had a conversation with Dave Boss of NFL properties.  Dave was a friend and mentor, a multi-talented artistic genius who founded NFL Creative Services. I told him how disappointed I was with my photos from the game, how I thought they should be somehow better. Dave made the point that the Super Bowl is, at the end of the day, a football game. The teams will play 60 minutes, or more if you are lucky. Passes are thrown, tackles are made, touchdowns are scored, balls are fumbled and field goals are made, or missed. Players will play with intensity and brilliance and sometimes they make mistakes that will stay with them a lifetime.

New England's Tom Brady drops back to pass - Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 IS lens, f/4 @ 1/1250, ISO 2000.  The low angle was achieved by shooting from ground level using the Canon Angle finder C.

When I am not shooting from the sidelines, I teach workshops around the country to aspiring sports photographers or photographers looking to build on their craft and I always tell them the same bit of advice Dave gave to me:  "As a photographer, your job is to cover the action that takes place on the field and not to be distracted by the hype, the hoopla, and the shear tsunami of bullsh*t that goes on around this game."

Sunday's game was a fantastic NFL football game. From the comfort of your home, there is a lot that you don't see of what photographers have to go through on the field. Here's what you missed:

– A two-hour bus journey to the game including mysterious waiting around and being transferred to other buses.

– A thorough security check. I get the importance of heighted security during an event like this, but it took some folks up to an hour to go through and lay their gear out on the ground to be sniffed by bomb dogs (I'm glad I left my doggie bones at home!).

– The chaos during the Katy Perry half-time show. Photographers who were trying to shoot Ms. Perry were moved from spot to spot and moved again and again until it was nearly impossible to shoot anything except the very end when she flew above the field.

– The double chaos during the last few moments of the game. In an effort to keep photographers off the field at the end of the game, the NFL places hundreds of security personnel shoulder-to-shoulder on the sidelines. Did you see at the end of the game where some photographers almost reach the line of scrimmage with 18 seconds left on the clock? Yeah those photographers probably ended up missing the most important shots of the game. After so many years, you'd think they'd figure it out.

– The worst trophy presentation (visually speaking) since they started doing them on the field (as opposed to the locker room). The presentation was aimed away from everyone except for a stand of television cameras and the background of LED advertising boards when usually it's the darkened stands with showers of confetti.

New England DB Brandon Browner tires unsuccessfully to break up a Russell Wilson pass to Seahawk WR Jermaine Kearse - Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS Series II lens, f/2.8 @ 1/1600, ISO 2000.

The chaos, and waiting aside, being on the sidelines is definitely worth it. This past Sunday's game had the Super Bowl's usual series of difficulties and distractions, but unlike so many of these games, it was, I think, one of the most exciting Super Bowls ever. It was a great 39th for me and it left me looking forward to next year's game in San Francisco.

The rarest moment of NFL action-a happy Bill Bellichick - Canon EOS 1DX, Canon EF 400mm f/2.8 IS Series II lens, f/2.8 @ 1/1250, ISO 2000.

You can see more of Peter’s work at, pick up his book On Sports Photography, and follow him on Twitter and Facebook for updates on his latest shoots and workshops.

I've been afraid to admit this for a while… afraid to say this out loud.

But this is a safe place right?

For years I felt like a fake. I would be so nervous the night before a shoot that I felt like tomorrow was the day that I was going to come undone.

Tomorrow the world will discover that I'm faking this. I'm not really a good photographer. They really shouldn't pay me for this. I'm not worth anything.

I'm pretending to know what I'm doing. When really, I'm scared as hell.

You may or may not know this, but I'm a celebrity, music and advertising photographer in Nashville. I make most of my living shooting album covers for musicians and photographing advertising campaigns for companies like Pepsi, March of Dimes and Cracker Barrel.

But I owe all of my clients an apology.

A few years ago I had some big breaks. I shot an album cover for a band that sold over a million copies. I probably copied an idea from someone else or slightly altered someone else’s style and claimed it as my own. Regardless, I was the new hot thing in Nashville for a minute or two.

After a few more successes and working my butt off trying to take amazing photos… I realized I could just keep doing what I was doing. I found a couple of things that worked. Like shooting on a white backdrop and a specific lighting set-up that would look killer every time. It became my "old faithful." I became more confident in my craft… or at least a few of my tricks.

I didn't want to feel insecure anymore or worry that I'd be discovered as faking it, so I started playing it safe. We've probably all experienced this right?

I found myself saying by default, "How about we shoot that band on a white seamless backdrop. That would be cool and original!" Even though I'd already done it a hundred times.

If you've been shooting for a while, I bet you can relate to having a specific set-up that you know will work. Maybe you shot a killer senior portrait session in your secret location, or a bride in a beautiful backlit garden, and you kept replicating your past successes.

No one knew it wasn't your best. But you knew. You knew it was only a copy of your previous best.

Sometimes early success is not good for you (or at least me). We turn to coasting on the momentum we luckily gained from a big break.

I've heard it said, "If you're not growing, you're dying.

Well, here's my confession:

I've been stale. I've been coasting. I've been lieing to you. Cheating my clients.

I told the artist, I loved the idea. I told my clients this was my best work, I told you… well, what you wanted to hear. I didn't want to be vulnerable, I didn't want put myself out there again, I wanted to be comfortable. Frankly, I wanted stay on my couch where it is warm and cozy.


The world needs your art. It needs all you have. It doesn't need my half-assed effort anymore. It needs my best. It needs me to push limits. To do things that scare me.

DON'T WITHHOLD YOUR BEST. If you're not absolutely spent after a shoot… you've cheated the world.

I've had a few moments of being shaken back to reality in the past few years… but then I fall back into the same creative rut or safe zones.

Until recently, I hadn't done any test shoots for myself in the last 3 years. I hadn't gone out and tried something new. In contrast, my first couple of years, I was shooting every chance I could to build my portfolio, to learn, and sometimes just to create something beautiful.

Everything I've been doing recently has been from techniques that I learned years ago… and I kept doing the same things over and over.

Maybe for you, you need to stop shooting the same backlit portraits at the same location over and over shooting at f/2 to get that same super shallow depth of field. I need to stop shooting on the same white seamless background.


I love Jon Foreman's lyric in the Switchfoot song: "This is your life. Are you who you want to be?"

I've been in a creative rut. I've been doing the same old things over and over… because they are safe and I know they work.

But that's lame. I've been a coward.

I dare you to join me. I dare you to get uncomfortable. Let's push the limits.

I dare you to risk being discovered as a fake… again.

You can see more of David’s work at, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

When I was a teenager, I was a Canadian expat living in a US border town whose main interest outside of a rapidly growing fascination with photography primarily consisted of the acquisition and digestion of as much music as I could get my hands on. I mainly listened to a lot of punk, and even as I grew up there were certain things about that movement that stuck with me: bits of lyrics, simple lessons, a strong DIY ethic, etc.

But it was the saying Talk – Action = 0, a slogan of Vancouver band D.O.A. that always resonated with me most. Even though it was originally meant to relate to politics and activism, the idea of words that aren’t backed up by taking real action being meaningless always felt appropriate when I thought about my photography and other creative endeavors, and I think it's a lesson that a lot of photographers would benefit from taking to heart.

We've all run into the photographer who has a million good ideas and two million excuses as to why they'll never pull them off:

“Plane tickets are too expensive.”
“I don’t have a studio.”
“My camera isn’t good enough.”
“I need better lights.”
“People won't like my images.”

They can talk themselves out of anything before they even get close to starting. Others might be so tied up in their past successes that they spend most of their time talking about a shot they took years ago and might have difficulty moving on to new projects. Sometimes the reasons for not pursuing ideas are more internal and might be due to dealing with some issues related to self-sabotage or impostor-syndrome (both of which can affect photographers at any time in their career, not just emerging shooters), that can leave them frozen in place and verbally beating themselves up, talking more about why they think their work sucks rather than making new images or improving their skills.

There's a good chance that all of us, at one point or another, are going to deal with some of these issues. It's a natural part of being in a creative career, and despite our best intentions and discipline we sometimes slip into bad habits and negative patterns of thought that can really throw us off our game. Some people talk about their work and creative issues as a therapeutic and cathartic action, seeking advice and working through problems with others so that they can move forward, and having a discourse about how photography interacts with culture, commerce, and art is hugely important. But, sometimes, we start to use talking about our work as a surrogate for actually making it. People tend to take the path of least resistance. Talking about making work is a lot easier than actually doing it, and it takes a lot less effort to sit still than to start walking. But as Mark Twain supposedly said, “The best way to get ahead is to get started.”

Up until very recently I shared a studio with a guy who is a perfect example of putting your money where your mouth is. Scott Gable has self-funded a number of high risk trips around the world to capture some amazing stories. He's traveled to Alaska to photograph the commercial salmon fishing season, and most recently he spent four months trekking through China, Taiwan, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam to create a series on the rice harvest (the first part in a planned trilogy about the world's staple food products of rice, corn, and wheat).

Photo by Scott Gable

I could think of a million reasons someone might talk themselves out of going to China, Alaska, or even across their own state – people can talk themselves out of anything, especially when money is on the line. But rather than looking for reasons to say no, Scott wholeheartedly said yes to every opportunity he had, and where he didn’t have them, he made them.

Don't speak the language? Scott took Mandarin lessons for months leading up to the trip.

Don't have a client willing to send you? Scott saw this as an investment in his work and funded these projects himself, often with his credit card (he calls it his most valuable tool).

Don't know where to start? Scott reached out to programs like the Cornell Rice Intensification program who helped make introductions with several of the programs and contacts he worked with during his trip. He also hit the books, doing extensive research on rice production in the region.

Photo by Scott Gable

Sometimes you have to get dirty to chase the images in your head. This wasn't a trip full of luxury hotels and creature comfort, on the contrary. And despite all of his careful preparation, Scott often found himself hiking inaccessible footpaths for days at a time, being sheltered and fed by people he met on his trip, and getting close to his subjects.

The results were unbelievably intimate portraits of people in all aspects of rice production, from rural cultivators to industrial workers in larger cities who were involved in the later stages of the process. Scott created stunning portraits of the people he met and created gorgeous landscape images of farmlands and valleys where huge amounts of the world's base nutrition come from. He's also created a short film about his work and experiences on this trip.

While you may not be in a position right now to self-fund a trip across the world to photograph the rice harvest of a half dozen countries, the spirit of what Scott did is accessible to everyone, at any point of their career.

Whereas Scott is fairly established in his niche, I also want to talk about a photographer who is just entering this business. Valerie Kasinski is one of the most exciting young artists working in Western NY right now. She recently graduated from Villa Maria College's photo program and has been an active part of WNY's ASMP chapter, which is where I first met her. Val even interned for me for a little while, and I've always been really impressed by her work and her dedication to making the images in her head real.

Photo by Valerie Kasinski

While Scott Gable has traveled the world to document and connect with other communities, Valerie has had her own share of journeys and adventures in her efforts to connect with a community she already belongs to. Part of a loose group of creatives that she originally met through Flickr, Val and her online friends have become something of a real life photographic family.

At a time when a lot of students were focusing on taking the easy way out with their work, or focusing only on their given assignments, Val was taking days long cross-country train trips to create work and collaborate on projects with this group. When other photographers can't find a reason to interact with their local photo community, Val has traveled all over the United States and Canada to create work that explores portraiture, nature, and her own fascination with self-created worlds. Her current project, Together We Are, has grown out of the relationships that she's built and the community she's worked hard to be part of.

Photo by Valerie Kasinski

She could have stayed home.
She could have slept late.
She could have decided to try something easier.

But she worked at it, built those relationships, took those long trips to get where she wanted to make the images she was chasing. I know thirty-year veterans of this business that aren't that dedicated to their work, who won’t pick up their camera unless they're getting paid for it.

I've seen too many photographers with ambitions like Scott and Valerie stall. They talk a good game about what they want to make, where they want to go, the endgame is right there for them. But the product never seems to materialize – It's like their own goals are outrunning them. Eventually it starts, that litany of excuses that we talked about; a million reasons why they can't, won't, or shouldn't see their vision through. They can't go anywhere because they never really get started. They’re so mired in the holes that they have dug themselves into mentally.

But you have got to remember that big things start with small steps. So send that email, set that date, take that first shot – do whatever you have to do to build momentum. Yes, there are going to be walls, but you can break through them, if not all at once, then brick by brick. And once you start, once you begin to generate that momentum it is so much easier to break through those walls, the ones that circumstance puts there, and more importantly, the ones we put in our own way.

So right now, this second, make a commitment to yourself to stop talking about that project you always wanted to pursue, and take those first actions towards actually doing it.

Luke was kind enough to share the work of other photographers he admires here today, and you should also check out his work at, and follow him on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

5 Lessons From A Nomadic Photographer

I didn't intend to become a travel photographer. In hindsight, perhaps it was obvious, but it wasn't something I originally set out to do.

In March 2007 I turned over the keys to my house and set out to travel around the world for a year.  Like many people who travel, I purchased an expensive SLR that I didn't know how to use in the theory that an expensive camera will take better photos.

I was wrong.

After only a few weeks on the road, I quickly realized that my camera wasn't going to take good photos on its own. I was committing all the rookie mistakes: shooting in jpeg, shooting in program mode, not editing my photos and not putting any thought into my images.

Over the next several years I slowly figured out what I was doing by reading blogs and forums, and a whole lot of experimentation. I went through all the stages which most photographers go through, including an HDR phase.

Since I started traveling, my year around the world has turned into eight, with no end in sight. I've been to over 170 countries and territories around the world and all 7 continents. I've done photography underwater, in caves, and from helicopters.

I've shot dog sleds teams in the Canadian Yukon, and sand dunes in the Namib Desert. I've captured holy week in Jerusalem, a Holi Festival in Singapore and New Year's Eve fireworks in Sydney.

My work over the last 8 years was eventually recognized when I was named Travel Photographer of the Year by both the Society of American Travel Writers and the North American Travel Journalists Association.

What I have learned over the last eight years of traveling around the world and growing as a photographer is something which any photographer can benefit from.

Lesson One: Be Brutally Honest With Yourself
You will never improve unless you are honest with yourself about where your photos are at. This doesn't mean simply being hyper critical with your own work, but also recognizing when you've created something good. You also then have to try to distill what made a given photo good or bad, so you can try to replicate those techniques in the future, or at least when circumstances are similar. Simply pressing the shutter button isn't going to improve your craft unless you are pressing it in a conscious manner. Every time you go out you need to be conscious of what you are trying to accomplish and how you are trying to accomplish it.

Lesson Two: You Don't Need A Lot of Gear
I've spent the last eight years traveling around the world with a single camera body, 3 lenses and a tripod. That's it. My camera isn't even a full frame camera, which shocks many photographers. While there are some limits to what I can do because of my gear, there aren't many. Cameras and lenses are technical items designed to solve technical solutions.

Unless there is something you physically cannot do with your current gear, upgrading probably won't do much for you. Technique and being at the right place at the right time will do more than new equipment ever will. When I do need a longer lens or something I can't carry with me, I will just rent it.

Lesson Three: Get Out And Shoot
All the gear and technique in the world won't help you take a great photo of a landscape or an animal if you aren't there. At the end of the day, the great photos are taken by those who are willing to go out of their way to get great photos. Opportunities for great images will not come to you. Photographers tend to obsess about gear and settings and forget that in the end, you have to be in the presence of a great photo opportunity.

Many of the most iconic photographs of the 20th Century are not technically perfect. They are slightly out of focus, overly grainy, or suffer from other problems. What makes them great is that they captured a moment in time which was special, and that couldn't have happened if the photographer wasn't there.

Lesson Four: Make Your Work Public
For over 7 years now, I have posted a daily photo on my website. Over 2,500 consecutive days of making my photos public. Not every one is a home run, but the fact that I know I have to show my photos to the public is a huge incentive to improve and make sure I'm taking quality images. If no one sees what you are doing, you'll never know if you are getting better and it allows you to coast.

Because I travel full time, I never had the benefit of being part of a photography club or other network of other photographers. I was able to get feedback by sharing my images with the public, which in many ways is a much stronger feedback mechanism than even sharing with friends.

Lesson Five: Love Your Subject
I love traveling. I'd travel even if I couldn't carry a camera with me. I know many wildlife photographers who would go and spend time observing wildlife even if they couldn't capture an image. One of my persuasions is photographing UNESCO World Heritage Sites and North American National Parks. Whatever it is you are shooting, if you have a passion for the subject, it will improve your images.

You don't have to travel around the world to improve your photography. The skills I've learned from 8 years on the road can be replicated by anyone with a camera and a passion for photography.

You can see more of Gary’s work at, and follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

I'm with the band. Not just tagging along to take photos of a live show, I'm literally in the band. I'm Chris Hershman from Chicago and I'm a rock n' roll filmmaker, photographer, and musician. Being the bassist of my Chicago-based band, Tall Walker, doesn't always make it easy for me to film or photograph my own band. After all, I'm the photographer and filmmaker that produces nothing but rock n' roll content for a living and here I am now facing the challenge of having to visually brand the band, all while playing my instrument and being equally as effective as a musician; A challenge that I imagine faces many photographers who are also musicians.
Nikon Cinema: Filming a Music Video Feat. Tall Walker

I'm honored to be asked to speak on the Kelby Guest Blog. I'm 27 and I've have lived through some really excellent adventures all due to picking up a camera. So I'd love to share all the things that seemed most important to my success as a young creative making a living with his camera alone!

I've been shooting stills since my junior year of high school, so it’s been a full decade of working with DSLRs. Photography was only a part time job for me, and I was working at a music store selling instruments to bands like Mos Def, Sigur Ros, Angus Young and even Slash. It was a great place to be surrounded by musicians but I knew I was meant to take my photography to the next level and turn my passion into my profession. I figured it was time, and I was done making excuses for not becoming a professional photographer, so I went to a federal credit union and took out a loan for my first semi-professional camera body. And that’s when much like the Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air, my life got flipped turned up side down.

I was 24 and a proud owner of a Nikon D300s and a 50mm f/1.4. It was time to start making my mark and defining myself as a photographer, not just a music retail employee. One day when I was managing the drum shop, a fresh professional walked in doing some tire kicking on some drums. After striking up conversation, he mentioned that he was from out of town and here to supervise a photoshoot. I immediately lit up! I was talking to a professional photographer, perfect! I'll never forget the moment he said, "I work for Nikon." All of a sudden, this man became the greatest rock star that I had ever met in my music store. I had so many questions and so many awesome things to tell him about my new camera and my journey into professional photography. After working around so many professional musicians and famous rock stars, I learned that the key is to keep it cool. So, I kept conversation light and just made mention of my new camera purchase and that I'm excited to test it out. Right before he left he handed me his card and said, "Keep in touch." Little did he know, he just gave me the open door that would change my career forever.

I bought the D300s because it was one of the cameras in my price range to offer video recording features. My brother was a video editor so I figured if I shot some video maybe he and I could work together one day or at least I had someone to go to if I needed help with video. It was time to test out the video function on my camera so I asked a good customer friend of mine from the music store if I could film his band performing live at their next show in Chicago. He granted me all access to film them where ever I'd like. On stage, off stage, in the green room, full access! I had overheard them say that they've been wanting a music video for one of their new songs so I made sure to film the singer as much as possible when I heard the song they mentioned begin to play. Since I only had one camera but all access I filmed from every possible angle of this venue to make it feel like I was using several cameras. I wanted to have a surplus of footage to fool the viewer into thinking this was a live multi-camera shoot. I shot behind the drummer on stage, from the balcony, and everywhere imaginable on the main floor of the venue. By the end of the night I had captured about an hour of this band’s performance. I took the entire next day to edit the video and ended up staying put for over ten hours mashing together footage and syncing it all together to look like a proper multi-camera shoot! I had caught the fever, for more video!

That day I had created my first music video. After delivering it to the band to check out, they immediately asked if they could use it as their official music video and post it online. I said, "heck yes!" Soon after, that band went on to compete for the chance to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. The competition lasted several weeks and drew a lot of attention to the band. The best part of it all is that they submitted the video I shot of them to be in their band's bio for the Rolling Stone competition. Which is how, in a strange round-about way, my first music video made it straight to! This is when I started feeling like filming bands and music was going to be a big part of my next move to become a professional photographer who recently tagged on "and filmmaker" to the end of my title.
Empires "Hello Lover" Live in Chicago

I immediately sent the video to the Nikon executive that I had met in the music store and sent him a link to the video. He then told me he was passing it around internally and everyone was really enjoying it. The important thing to remember is that Nikon was specific to still photography cameras up until recently when they began releasing video into their cameras. They're not like Canon who have always made video cameras, printers, scanners. They were just still photographers at corporate and were happy to see what people were doing with the video features in their cameras. This was also at the beginning of their introduction of these features in the cameras and they were not quite meant for professional filmmaking. The camera only shot 720p and had no manual control over the exposure of the video.

After my new Nikon friend started passing my video internally, he suggested that I add it to Nikon's Vimeo Cinema group. Its a collection of videos that users on the Vimeo platform can add their videos to if they were shot on a Nikon. After posting the video another Nikon employee commented on my video and asked me how many cameras I shot this music video with. I replied by saying that it was shot with only one camera. He then replied again saying that we have to get lunch and talk about how I put that video together.

That’s when Scott Diussa, Nikon Professional Services Field Manager, became my new best cinema friend. Scott was kind enough to make some time to sit me down and encourage me with my work, letting me know that I was onto something and he also said the he was excited to see where all this will lead me. He was onto something himself by making that statement and 5 years later, I'm here getting to the story of how I quit my day job to follow my passion and to make visual art my career.

That's the story of how I transitioned into what I'm doing now, professionally. I took so much time going into detail about it because I think there are several extremely valuable and pivotal things that happened in that process. It was about surrounding myself with what I love, what makes me happy, and inspires me the most: Music! I listened to my heart and followed the opportunities that opened once I applied myself. The funny bit of it all is that I began this journey to become a photographer, not a filmmaker. However it was a hidden talent and once discovered, became the most valuable skill I had acquired. I used my ability to socially network to reach the people who could help me reach the next level in my career. The people at Nikon have been so kind to believe in me so much, that it's been like having an entire company mentor me and cheer me on as I take on new territory. You never know who you're going to meet and what that connection might do for your life. So smile, shake some hands and be genuine about getting to know people. Establish authentic relationships with people and they'll see that you're someone they can trust and invest in.

Let’s fast forward to right now. We just rang in the new year and it’s 2015. I'm currently several days away from giving a presentation at the CES show in Las Vegas. One of the world's largest consumer electronic shows. I'm speaking on making music videos with Nikon cameras in the Nikon Theatre set up in the Nikon Booth. I love speaking and sharing all the great information I've learned throughout the past few years and I feel that its equally important to share what I've learn to others eager to learn about it.

Back to my opening paragraph… I mentioned being in a band and needing to create content for my own band’s branding needs. That was the result of me creating an entire presentation earlier in 2014 about how I had stepped out from playing in my band for a day so that I could create our live music video. It was a collaboration I did with Nikon and their Cinema Blog, which is amazing and full of inspiring articles from excellent filmmakers that use Nikon cameras specifically for cinema use. It’s a great resource if you're looking to learn all about what you can do with Nikon cameras when you flip them into video mode. Nikon asked me to speak at NAB earlier in 2014, and that’s when I gave my first presentation as featured director at the age of 26. I had only begun using video features on my camera four years previous to that moment.

From the moment I began making videos on my Nikon camera to right now, I've created over 400 videos consisting of live performances, interviews, gear demos, and inspiring music performances like the one I made called "100 Riffs." This video is super simple, just one guy, one camera, and in one take plays 100 guitar riffs in a row without stopping or messing up. This video has over 10 million views and continues to be one of the most inspirational videos to many aspiring musicians.
100 Riffs

The fun doesn't stop there! Nikon reached out to me again in summer of 2014 and asked if I thought it would be possible to make a music video using the Nikon 1 v3. However, I wouldn't be able to use the video function. They wanted me to use rapid fire burst of RAW images and string them together like video clips to make a full music video. Well I wasn't going to say no before I had even tried it, so I took on their challenge and ended up creating a 4K music video that is made completely out of still images. This took several months and over 20,000 RAW images to create. There is a whole article and behind the scenes look at how we accomplished this film.
Tall Walker "Dance All Night" 4K Music Video

I've been a massive fan of a band called Switchfoot. I grew up listening to this band in High School and probably attended upwards of 8-10 of their shows. I was a huge fan. Recently, my aspiration has been to travel and document rock n' roll tours. So one day I reached out to the band and asked if I could join them for a small leg of their tour to take photos and videos of whatever they needed. Several emails later I ended up snagging a bunk on their bus and joining them on the road. I've worked some of the band members on projects outside of their band, so we were not complete strangers by any means. Establishing a relationship previous to scoring that tour was totally needed in order to make that happen.

Every night I would get to stand right in front of these guys pouring everything they got into their music and performance. It reminded me of why I fell in love with this band in the first place, because they were the definition of rock n' roll to me. All musical taste and preference aside, you can't attend a Switchfoot show and leave there without your heart pumping and your neck sore from rocking out with the band. The frontman, Jon Foreman, surfs crowds and runs through crowds to make them part of the experience. When you watch this band, you understand that music performed live is incredibly special. It's worth buying tickets and experiencing in person. To actually "feel" their music and the sound waves rush through your body is not something you can get in your car or through headphones. Ever since that tour I've gotten the itch to do it again to help preserve the live performances of bands and the lives they live on tour.

A lot of these opportunities happened, not because I'm the best or most talented creative out there, but I can contribute some very important attributes that I learned about myself that helped get me to where I got in my career in visual art. There will also always be someone better than you, more qualified than you. But if you let those things cloud your vision, you're unable to realize that talent doesn't always get you there. People don't care how talented you are if working with you is a pain in their ass because of your attitude or rude behavior. One of the most important things I've ever been told was by my mentor at the age of 16. He said "Chris, talent gets you there, but character keeps you there." I have found this to be more and more true as I get older and further both in my musical and visual career. I work hard on keeping healthy relationships and a balanced lifestyle so that no matter where I am with my career, I'll always maintain a level of professionalism and believe in myself that will keep me working hard toward accomplishing my professional goals.

F#@& Fear!
If there is ONE, just one thing you walk away with by reading this article, it should be that you cannot let fear stop you from the flood gates of awesome opportunities waiting to swing open and pour out into your life. I have countless people ask me daily how I snagged certain opportunities like joining a tour or filming a music video for a popular artist, and I always some back to same answer, which is to live bold and without fear.

Fear can so quickly prevent you from reaching out and taking what you want. Whether it’s getting photo passes for a show you want to cover, or a band interview you want to do, or if you want to join a band on tour and live on their bus. We don't ask, mostly because we fear they will say no, resulting in some form of embarrassment. I can live with embarrassment, but what I can't live with, is regret. If I hadn't taken bold moves in reaching out  to people who seemed very out of reach or intimidating, I wouldn't be writing you, I wouldn't be shooting photos and videos for a living. I'd be retreating back to living at my parents’ place in rural Indiana, working behind the counter of a music store! Which is exactly where I started and loved working there, but just knew I had a passion for photography and video that needed to be pursued in order for me to feel completely fulfilled with my work.

Living with the parents is not a negative thing for all people, however I moved to downtown Chicago eight years ago, immediately after high school, to surround myself with other artists and musicians. I knew that I was meant for something bigger than what a rural town could offer me when it came to opportunity. If I had decided to give up and move back when things got tough and full of financial struggle, I wouldn't have been able to sneak into greenrooms at my favorite Chicago rock-venues. I wouldn't be able to be surround myself by bands, music industry professionals, and rock shows that occur every night of the week in our lovely city. I threw myself into the music scene by boldly introducing myself to bands after their sets. Not to just tell them about how great they sounded, but that I'd love to work with them and help create a video with them next time they pass through town. I reached out to bands’ management and shot them emails to ask questions like, "Would your band like some new press photos when they swing through Chicago?" or let them know, "I have a studio that your band is welcome to come film and perform live in to make a music video." Even if they didn't have time to film a video or take some new photos, I'd ask if my band could open for theirs.
Alabama Shakes "Hold On" Official Music Video

The most inspiring thing about what I do has got to be the fact that anything I work on, is based around my first passion and love, music. If I'm using my camera to film or shoot stills, you can bet it’s mostly music related. Press shots, live shots, music videos or tour updates. At some point you realize what kind of work brings you the greatest joy, and you try to focus in that arena. Mine was music and I made the decision to not try and be the jack of all trades, but to pick one direction that I knew inspired me the most and to strive to be come an expert in that thing, which for me, became anything related to rock n' roll!

One of my favorite quotes, which originally came from a Nuclear physicist named Niels Bohr, brilliantly phrases his opinion on what its means to be an "Expert". It goes as such: "An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a narrow field." This rolls into my second point of what contributed to me getting from where I started to where I am now with my actual skill level. I didn't go to film school or take photography classes. I just picked it up and messed with every knob on the damn thing. Ten years later I still have not tried every available function on my camera or in my editing software. However I try on nearly every photo to take a different approach. I know that I have to push myself to learn the things I don't know, and for me I learn through personal discovery and attempting it on my own. I don't think I've nailed down my exact post process, however I try every which way to edit and to snap an image with a different approach. And yes, sometimes I make massive mistakes, but each time I screw something up, I learn what not to do next time around. And I'm not afraid to make "mistakes" by being bold with new approaches to finding angles or for coloring images, because through that process I've found all the different and small characters that are embedded in my films that make people enjoy what they see in my work.

Live Performance Music Videos
Small examples that led to me having my signature "Chris Hershman look and feel" were things like putting large DSLR cameras directly over top of the drummers drum kit in my live music video performances. As a musician I have a huge appreciation for musicianship and I don't like to "glam" up a live music video as much as I want to clearly show just how talented a band's performance can be, not just by showing cool rock moves from low positioned wide angles but showing close-ups of the musicians actually playing their instruments. Their performance is the important factor in live music videos. So by focusing on the actual musicianship of the band by choosing angles and positioning cameras in places that you can show a musician's precision and actual talent to play their instrument, I think you're putting more purpose, more heart into what you're filming. People need to be captivated and that doesn't have to be by flashy lights and awesome denim jackets, but by giving them the reason why they came to watch the live performance video, to see music performance with authenticity displayed in a way that respects the music and musician. Of course they need to look cool in the process, but if you stay true to capture the honest and real moments that happen in live music performances, you get to show the love that musicians have for music, and again, add purpose to your work.
Brian Blade and The Fellowship Band (Live) at Chicago Music Exchange

Find Your Fight
Are you happy with what you do? Are you madly in love with the work that you’re producing, and if not, why not?! It's just my opinion, but I firmly believe that photography and filmmaking is one of the most enjoyable jobs to ever have. But I've been in places where I was working with my camera and still wasn’t completely satisfied with what I was doing. A good example of how often I see this is when I asked one of the young photographers I mentor to tell me what she's hoping to accomplish in the next year of her life when it came to her work. She began with a dollar amount, then broke that dollar amount into how many gigs and of what sort that she'd need to do in order to hit that goal. I stopped her right there as she was sighing about how much time she spends on gigs that she has no aspiration or drive to do, just to make a dollar figure. I asked, "Why are you shooting things that you don't enjoy?" I explained that I think she could keep that kind of mental attitude toward photography for about a year before she would become too burned out on photography that she may never want to pick her camera up again. Don’t let photography always be the source of your income, but the source of your inspiration.

When you talk about what makes you happy, I think it’s important to ask yourself, what's going to continually make you happy and have longevity? To answer that I think you can just look at happiness when it comes to your work, however it's inspiration that continues to constantly drive ourselves to keep going, keep growing, to keep feeling like the work that we're doing matters most to us as artists.

I have to look at what I'm doing all the time to make sure the work I'm accepting is work that’s inspiring me, not dragging me down and wearing me out. That may mean less work at the beginning, but when you find what you're most passionate about, you quickly thrive in that area and can end up becoming an "expert" in that field. When you find your deepest aspirations in the work you choose, you find that it's somewhat that that can sustain you, fill you with propose and drive you further than you ever thought you could go before. So find your fight, find what makes you truly driven, and make sure that every time you pick up a camera, you realize that you have the best job in the entire world.

You can see more of Chris’s work at, and follow him on Instagram and Twitter,