Category Archives Guest Blogger

When it comes to portrait retouching, there's no shortage of tools, techniques, tutorials and most notably, results. Retouching is both a blessing and a curse as I've seen it turn good photos into a great ones but also decent ones into a complete disasters. During my time teaching retouching I've noticed a common set of mistakes that people make that ultimately keep them from reaching a polished yet natural result. My goal in this article is to give everyone from beginner to intermediate retouchers and photographers a roadmap for creating beautiful images and change your mindset towards various concepts you may already be familiar with.

Your Starting Point is Critical
I'm sure you've heard this many times before but I would like to reiterate the importance of working from a high quality source file. Retouching isn't a contest to see how well you can turn a bad photo into an acceptable one. It's about enhancing the beauty of the original image and minimizing the elements that may be deemed undesirable by the specific target audience or client. My photo below demonstrates just how little change needs to be made, and how even a few subtle enhancements can lead to a much more pleasing result. Given that I shoot the majority of the photos that I retouch, the starting point is entirely within my control. If however you're a retoucher only, you may not always be provided with a great source file. Poor quality raw files are to be expected, but it's important for you to manage expectations for both yourself and your client. There are a myriad of things to look for in a good source file but let's touch on some of the most important ones.

Skin Texture – One of the key ingredients to a great looking portrait is clearly visible and pleasing skin texture. I'm often asked "how do you create the skin texture in your images?", and the simple answer is – I don't. The skin texture that's in my final image is the skin texture that I started with. While I may repair some of the texture that's there, I never create it from scratch. Although skin texture brushes exist, the result is never natural since texture varies across the subject based on a number of factors. The area under the eyes has different texture from what is on the forehead, cheeks and nose (see close-up below). Similarly, texture on one side of the face can differ from the other side due to lighting factors. A soft light source makes texture look more subdued compared to those areas lit with a hard light source. Areas of shadow, midtone and highlight also render texture differently, as does the direction of light and depth of field. With such a wide array of factors, it's nearly impossible to reproduce convincing texture from scratch.

To achieve good texture in camera you'll need three key elements: model, makeup and light. The state of your model’s skin is of course the basis for everything. If the pores are overly large or harsh, or there is a lot of scarring or acne, no amount of makeup or flattering light will produce great out-of-camera texture. Assuming the model has reasonably good skin to begin with, the foundation and other products used by your makeup artist is the second most important factor. Be sure to use an experienced makeup artist and good quality products. As mentioned previously, texture renders differently depending on the light source used. If you're shooting natural light on a cloudy day, the multi-directional and diffused light will leave you with rather muted texture. If on the other hand you shoot with a hard light source such as a beauty dish or gridded reflector at an indirect angle, the texture will be much more aggressive. Remember that texture is simply contrast created by the interaction of light and shadow at a near pixel level.

Dynamic Range – Today's professional cameras can capture a staggering amount of information and detail but even they have their limits. If an image is over or under lit to the point where areas of skin are completely blown out or in absolute darkness, little can be done. Be sure to use reflectors to fill in shadows and use the clipping warning (blinkies) on your camera to spot blown out highlights. We'll talk a bit more about getting the most out of your raw files once we get into our discussion of workflow.

Quality of Light – Altering the interplay of light and shadow across the subject’s face is one of the most difficult tasks for any retoucher and borders more towards digital painting than retouching. Given this challenge, it's much easier to light your photo properly from the start so that the light and shadows need only be enhanced rather than replaced. The difficulty of your retouch increases with the hardness of your light source due to the rather unforgiving nature of hard light. Most retouchers prefer to start with a less contrasty image and add contrast gradually as opposed to the other way around. This isn't to say that you should avoid hard light sources, but simply that you need to factor this into your decision and balance it with your skill as a retoucher.

The Little Details – While things like stray hairs, crossing hairs, or unpressed clothing aren't deal breakers and can be fixed in post processing, they become a huge waste of time so nip them in the bud before they show up in your camera.

Recognize that Retouching is More Art than Science
The majority of people starting out in retouching look for those magic tools or techniques that will help them to create beautiful images in a snap. The belief is that professional retouchers know some closely guarded magic tricks that give them that flawless finish. The reality of the situation is that the more advanced you become in retouching, the more you rely on the basic tools and adjustment layers and less on shortcuts. Don't get me wrong, these techniques and tools aren't a bad thing, nor are they useless. The problem is rarely with the technique itself, but rather the application. This gap exists for two reasons.

The first is that beginners often search for solutions to specific problems as they work through various images and apply the techniques naively without understanding the mechanics behind them. By ignoring the details you're doing yourself a disservice as these solutions can often be extended across multiple use cases. The second and most common problem is simply a lack of vision. Without a clear vision of what makes a good photo or retouch, it's impossible to apply tools appropriately. Although the majority of retouching is localized changes, these localized changes need to ultimately produce a complete image, and it is your vision as an artist that brings it all together.

The lesson to draw from this is two fold. First off, spend some time understanding each tool and technique as opposed to applying them on a problem by problem basis. The second is to move from a local to a global mind-frame. Study the interaction of light with objects, read make-up tutorials about contouring and face shapes, and study colors. Most importantly, find images that you love and figure out what makes them great. Learn to identify the gaps between your work and theirs and gradually reduce them with each new photo. This may seem like a lot of work – and it is – but I assure you that once you're able to visualize the end result, the path to getting there is that much easier.

Find the Right Balance
Regardless of how many plug-ins or action packs you have, trying to reproduce a magazine quality retouch in 10 minutes is simply impossible. That's not to say that every photo demands three hours of retouching to make it acceptable. It's about setting realistic expectations for yourself and developing a workflow that balances time and quality to produce the best image you can for your specific style and target audience. Skin smoothing plug-ins like Imagenomic Portraiture or Portrait Professional are a good example of this. They will never produce the same level of quality as a skilled retoucher but they also cut the time required down dramatically. It's not a sin to incorporate these into your workflow but be aware of the trade-off you're making and come to a happy medium. The below image demonstrates a more beauty oriented retouch and the time various steps took. Notice how interestingly, the color grading step makes the most dramatic impact with relatively little time.

I always tell my students that retouching is a game of diminishing returns. The greatest impact can be made in a relatively short period of time under each technique. For example, with Dodging and Burning – which is the process of lightening and darkening local areas – it's conceivable to spend an hour or more to achieve a flawless result. You can however get to 80% of the result that most viewers will be able to see in the first 10 minutes. Perfection isn't always necessary so focus on targeting the most important areas and budget your time. Also keep in mind the intended use of your image. If you have a 36 megapixel file that you only plan on displaying at web resolution, leave the small issues and focus on the most noticeable ones. The best way to do this is to set a zoom threshold for yourself. Keeping your zoom fairly wide will give you a better idea of what your viewer will see and prevent you from spending unnecessary time on minute details.

In addition to balancing time and quality, you'll also have to balance polish and reality. Contrary to popular belief that retouching is about creating unrealistic standards of beauty and turning humans into porcelain dolls, a proper retouch is as much about what you leave in as what you take out. The subtle contours around the mouth, the nasolabial folds, shadowing under the eye, lines under the eyes, all these elements should remain in a portrait retouch and merely be toned down to a flattering level. Too often these small areas are identified as flaws when in reality they are important parts of the human anatomy. Learn to distinguish the bad from the necessary and exercise restraint.

Learn to Break Apart Your Image
Each image is composed of several elements. At the basic level we have light and color. Light is simply the level of brightness, while color is the combination of hue and saturation. A black and white image is composed of lightness (or luminosity) only. While this may seem like an obvious point, too many people ignore the implications of this concept. When retouching a photo, we're ultimately making changes to one or more of these elements and a good result requires a harmonious balance between them. Below you'll see an image broken down into the respective elements. Note that the hue and saturation blocks are overlayed on top of a red background to make them visible.

The reason this matters is because knowing how to identify and manipulate these three elements allows you to fix the majority of issues using only a curves and or hue/saturation adjustment. While these two tools may not always be the most efficient solution, it demonstrates just how basic the process can be. A practical example of this workflow is using dodging and burning for evening out light and dark transitions across the face and then using selective hue/saturation or curves adjustments to correct any remaining color issues. For more information on HSL corrections, visit this article from my friend Lulie Talmor.

One of the best tools to flush out color based issues is none other than the simple color picker. By opening the color picker and sampling colors across a variety of areas, we're quickly able to visualize any shifts in luminosity, hue or saturation and develop a game plan for fixing them. For example, the below image demonstrates that we have a color shift going from the top to bottom in the dress.

Sampling two areas using the color picker, we can see that the top has much more green than yellow as indicated on the hue bar on the right. Similarly, the square block shows us that the top portion of the dress is less saturated and also lighter. Having this insight, we know now that all we need to do is mask in a hue/saturation adjustment on the bottom portion of the dress and offset the shift by pushing the hue slider towards green and turning up saturation and brightness. While I generally recommend using curves or levels to fix luminosity based issues, I've corrected all three using one HSL adjustment as shown below for ease of demonstration.

Once again, this concept can be extended well beyond clothing and will apply equally to correcting patches in the skin, or mismatched skin tones across the subject. You're also not constrained to the HSL adjustment. Having a strong understanding of colors, you could make the same correction using curves or levels, albeit not as intuitively.

An alternative view is to look at your image from the standpoint of high and low frequencies, or simply tone and texture. The below image demonstrates this idea with all the detail separated onto one layer and the color information on another. Notice that areas that are naturally blurred by the shallow DOF have no information in the texture layer.

While manipulating these two individually typically falls into the realm of advanced concepts and tools like frequency separation (more on this below) and high pass filters, it's still important to understand the implications behind it. If we have an area of discoloration and attempt to fix it with something like the clone-stamp tool, we'll be replacing both the tone and texture in whatever area we paint. From what we learned above, a curves or hue saturation adjustment over that area would correct the discoloration while leaving the texture intact. By understanding whether we're dealing with a tone or texture based issue you'll better be able to select the appropriate tool to tackle it. From a practical standpoint, this is how many skin smoothing tools work. They separate the skin tone areas into high and low frequencies, operate on them separately and then assemble them back together.

These two views may seem both logical and overly theoretical, but they form the basis for all of retouching. If you learn how to visualize and manipulate them, you can tackle just about any issue thrown at you without relying on Google to guide the way.

Your Roadmap to Retouching Greatness

Let's face it, you're not going to produce an amazing looking image in your first attempt. Getting it wrong many times is all part of the process. What we want to avoid is getting it so wrong that we get completely discouraged and not try at all. A lot of people fail by getting in over their head with all the tools and techniques that exist. They jump into advanced concepts and end up with an image that looks nothing like the original. For this reason it's important to start with the basics and leave the advanced tools for later study. Here is a guide to the various techniques and steps you'll want to master in order to become a proficient retoucher.

Build a base – Remember that each step in the retouching processing builds on the last, so each one has to be done carefully and masterfully. Nothing is more important than getting the most out of your raw files since this forms the basis for all the corrections still to come. Although more commonly seen in landscape or architecture images, you can also process multiple raw files to extend the dynamic range of your portraits. You can open up shadows and recover highlights by blending multiple raw conversions together using either simple painting masks or more advanced tools like Luminosity Masks. Your highlights should still be highlights and shadows should still be shadows, but you should have visible detail to work with in the areas that are important. Be sure to balance shadow noise issues during this process and avoid muddying up highlights. Your raw file is also where you'll want to correct any white balance issues so get it to a pleasing point before diving into Photoshop.

Create balance – Use the HSL tools we talked about above to fix any larger discoloration issues. It's not uncommon for a model’s face to have a different tone from her chest, arm or hands, so learn to identify these inconsistencies and correct them. Nothing gives away an inexperienced retouch more than having mismatched skin tones in your image. In addition to the curves and hue/sat adjustments we discussed above, you can also use the Subtracted Average Color Adjustment technique I developed to help take the guesswork out of it.

Heal – The healing brush is one of the best tools for fixing minor blemishes. Use it carefully to remove any smaller scars, acne or stray hairs. Avoid using tools like clone-stamp on skin – unless the healing brush fails – as it can gradually destroy texture. When using the healing brush, sample areas close to your problem area so that the source texture is similar to the destination area. After completing these three steps, you should have a clean image that looks nearly identical to the original but with more polish. When toggling your layers on and off, you shouldn't notice any changes in face shape.

Fall in love adjustment layers and blend modes – Before going any further, you should become comfortable with critical adjustment layers such as Curves, Levels, Hue/Saturation, Selective Color and Black and White. Experiment with each of these using common blend modes such as Luminosity, Color, Overlay, Soft Light, Lighten, Darken, Screen and Multiply. Here is a video I recorded about blend modes to give you a better understanding of these. These five adjustments and eight blend-modes comprise the most common ones you'll use and put a ton of power into your hands. Once you've become comfortable with them, try to apply blend-if adjustments to your layers. The combination of adjustment layer, blend mode and blend-if will allow you make targeted adjustments to specific colors and luminosities and make color grading and correction a breeze.

Make small corrections with dodging and burning – The majority of blotchiness found in the skin is a result of luminance shifts so Dodging and Burning can be a great way to eliminate them. Knowing what we know about diminishing returns in retouching, focus on just the most glaring problems and lighten or darken them gradually until they blend with their surroundings. This may still leave minor color based issues but that's a problem you'll tackle as you develop your skills.

Build contrast with dodging and burning – Dodging and burning is without a doubt the most important skill that any retoucher can master. It's not something you'll become good at overnight, so take baby steps. What makes a portrait really pop is building depth and dimension through contouring. Contouring is essentially selectively brightening highlights and deepening shadows to create a more three dimensional feel as well as enhancing facial features. To ensure that you don't make the subject look like someone else, start by simply building on the light and shadow that exists in the image already. Don't overdo this process. Build up the effect gradually through soft and low opacity brush settings. Study make-up artist contouring theory to understand what areas of the face should be dodged or burned for specific face shapes. Toggle your adjustments on and off constantly to ensure that the subject’s features are in-tact and that you've enhanced rather than altered. Also note that for B&W portraiture, D&B contouring can be pushed much further than in color images without looking overdone and helps to enhance the sense of drama.

Add refinement – After applying dodging and burning you'll likely be left with some existing discolorations. These are often too minor to be noticed by the majority of viewers but should be fixed nonetheless. Using visualization tools called check layers (as shown in the HSL breakdown above) you'll be able to spot areas of changing hue or inconsistent saturation and correct them using the appropriate adjustment layer and masking. As you become more skilled, dive into complex topics like frequency separation which can help to expedite this process. Frequency separation will allow you to operate on the tones and texture as we discussed above, but also makes it easy to completely destroy an image due to the lack of safeguards. Use this technique sparingly and responsibly. It can be very powerful, and hence tempting to beginner retouchers, but should be avoided until your vision is properly developed. Remember that advanced techniques are advanced for a reason.

As you work through the above list, be sure to constantly flood your eyes with images. Find inspiring photographers and retouchers and learn to identify what makes their work great. Have patience, practice constantly, and seek advice and feedback to measure your progress objectively. Everyone has a different style and goal in mind so find a workflow that balances time and result for your situation. Above all else, when starting out, always apply a degree of conservatism to your work and err on the side of under-retouched to over-retouched.

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

October 5th, 2011 was a Wednesday, and the Cache Valley Photographers were gathered at my studio for their weekly lunch time meeting to discuss Scott Kelby’s Guest Blog, and I remember the day well. The Guest Blogger was Jodi Cobb, who wrote about her project documenting modern slavery. Unfortunately, the group didn’t spend as much time discussing this as it deserved because it was also the day that Steve Jobs passed away.

We did discuss this iconic image made by photographer Albert Watson. Watson’s work is varied and inspiring, and this photograph of Jobs has come to define an entire generation. It’s the cover of Steve Jobs’s Biography, it was the landing page of for an entire month, and it hung billboard-sized at Apple’s campus. Few people have not seen this photograph. I’d like to share what I’ve learned from it, how it’s changed my life, and an idea for how it may be used to change others’ lives too.

Subject as Object
We examined this picture, making suppositions about how it was lit, the lens used, etc. But no matter how much you dissect it, it’s clear that the subject is the object of the image, and that’s a lesson I’ve tried to keep in mind in all my portraiture since. This picture isn’t about Watsonâ”an internationally renowned photographerâ”and his fancy lighting knowledge and camera-craft. It’s all about Steve. Viewing it, you’d never think, “Man that’s a cool lighting technique,” or, “Interesting background,” or, “I bet he used a full frame camera.” Watson masterfully removed everything from this image that might distract from Steve, including himself.

After lunch, my buddy Justin Wasden and I set out to recreate the image, and that was fun. Then someone else came into the studio, so we invited them to make a portrait, too. That evening I invited any and all to come in to make a portrait similar to Steve Jobs, and you know what? 100 people came.

You gotta understand, this was a small farming town in Northern Utah, so it was pretty cool to get so many people involved. Some people called it a tribute portrait, some didn’t like Steve but couldn’t deny his impact on the world, and several were teachers who talked about how wonderful it had been to have computers in their classrooms (I had Apples in school, and earning a few minutes to play Oregon Trail was a great incentive in my elementary school classrooms). It was fascinating to hear so many stories and perspectives on the man.

Since then, I’ve made similar portraits for hundreds of people, and every time is marvelous. I’ve shot in my studio, in businesses, at conferences, and in casinos in Vegas. When people use this portrait for their profile image, they get a big bump in traffic and attention, which helps them build their businesses. Maybe you could get good results from making similar portraits, too.

Character vs. Person
When you make these portraits, it’s essential to remember that you’re working with a person, and people are shy of being photographed. Being photographed is hard! I know many of you have said, “I bought the camera so I don’t have to be in front of it,” and if you have, you’re missing out on a great opportunity. Being photographed helps you to empathize, and that will make you a better person and a better portraitist.

On the other hand, the great thing about this picture is that it gives people a chance to be a character, like an actor. It’s as if they are freed from their self-consciousness and embarrassment. They usually open up and we have fun. “Channeling Steve” is liberating.

Still, you’ve got a responsibility to help people look their best in your portraits. How? Start by watching Peter Hurley’s guest post videos. Besides helping people hide their extra chins, you’ll also notice that Peter has his camera on par with the person’s face, not shooting from above. In this portrait, it’s important that your lens be positioned  level with your subject’s nose. This helps your viewer engage with the portrait from a respectful position. Shooting from above, as we may have been taught to do, is a mistake in this case. If you do, the viewer is now looking down on the person, and that’s the wrong relationship. We ought to present people as equals. Use Peter’s tip of pushing the forehead toward the lens. You’ve got to help people look their best. It’s not a picture of a guy with his thumb on his chin; it’s a portrait of a person.

This video demonstrates a few key tips for making these portraits, including how to work with a person. You can see my setup with a beauty dish (though I often use a 26″ Rapid Box when I travel), and a 105mm lens. I strongly recommend you shoot these portraits at a minimum of 85mm.

The Steve Jobs Portrait Project
Watson’s portrait of Steve Jobs is iconic, which means this simple portrait represents something larger and more important than the picture or the man alone. Maybe this single image recapitulates the last four decades. Maybe it represents the Baby Boomers. Maybe it represents prosperity and ingenuity and determination and capitalism and whatever else you think of when you consider one of the most influential men of the last 100 years.

As photographers, our place is to make photographs that mean more than the sum of their parts. Beautiful sunsets are great, and pictures of babies are cute. The value of those pictures, though, is in the power they have to stir emotions and move people to action even when they’ve never been to that place, or met that child. Scott Bourne has named us the High Priests of Memory Protection, and that’s a serious responsibility and it requires us to act. I mentioned Jodi Cobb’s post earlier, which is just one example of powerful imagery moving people to action.

I’m trying to use this Steve Jobs Portrait Project to make photographs that mean something and move people to action. I’ve identified local organizations that do good things, and it seems that what they need most is more money to do more good things. We’re making Steve Jobs Portraits of the beneficiaries, and we’re making portraits of the benefactors who help make the good things happen. We invite people to a gallery reception (perhaps at a local business) where they may interact with the people of the organization, both the benefactors and the beneficiaries, and invite them to see how a little money can make a big impact. When we bring portraits and stories and people together, good things happen.

These portraits aren’t mine. It’s clearly a tribute to Watson’s work, and Steve Jobs used the same pose in portraits many years ago. I’m having a blast, however, affecting people’s lives with it. Maybe it’d be fun for you, too. Maybe you can even use it for something good.

One More Thing
I’ve always thought that being asked to be a guest blogger on Scott Kelby’s blog would be the biggest honor, and that only the big league players were invited. Well, I know I’m still just a newbie, but it is an honor, and I’ve realized that the big leagues are full of people who give more than their share to others, and I can’t imagine better company to be in. Thank you, Scott and Brad, for establishing a giving culture and letting me be a part.

You can see more of Levi’s work at and, and follow him on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

Hey everybody – RC here.  First off, I wanted to thank Scott for the opportunity to jump in here real quick and tell you about something that I am really pumped about.  This September 14-19 2014, I will be joining the legendary Joe McNally once again at the Anse Chastanet / Jade Mountain resort for a Workshop in Paradise.  This is my third time teaching the workshop with Joe and I feel like every year there are new things to find and explore- not just in the beauty of St. Lucia, but in the techniques we use as photographers.

This is a 5 day workshop intensive that covers a ton of things for the emerging photographer.  From advanced speedlighting techniques in the jungle, to one light cover model assignments.  In depth critiques to the best workflow and post processing techniques.  We even go into the worlds of post production, video, and HDR .


The classes are small.  These classes work you hard.  You also relax and play hard in one of the most beautiful places i’ve ever seen.

One of the things i’ve been really in love with is how tight the group gets towards the end of the workshop.  By working really hard in small groups – you’re guaranteed to come out with a killer set of techniques.. some great memories.. and some good friendships. These are some stills from the actual workshop.

I could go on and on about this..  but I sure wish you guys join us.  Click on this link to be taken to the page where you can get more of whats in store on a day to day basis.  It will also take you to the Eventbrite page for registration to the Workshop.


A Slideshow Tutorial for Photoshop

This brings me to our tutorial.  One of the things that we talk about in the workshop is the ability to use Photoshop for making quick videos.  Its no Premiere – but it can really make something cool with some creative thinking.  One of the other things that it can be used for is the creation of slideshows.  While I dont mind the slideshows that Lightroom does, I dont think it offers a great amount of customizing in terms of the timing of the slideshow.  I’d rather do this by hand, and Photoshop makes it pretty easy to do so.  I figured i’d share how to do that right here.

Thanks for stopping by!  I hope you have a great weekend!

i am admittedly the least technical and gear-minded photographer i know, so to be featured on this blog is a pretty humbling experience, so first off, thanks.

Photo by Ashtin Paige

my name is andy barron and i live in LA. most of the stuff i shoot is music related, and more specifically tour related. my mindset of capturing images has always been to be a person first and a photographer second, so that combined with my love of music and travel has helped me get to doing what i am now. i love just being in a situation and observing, being a fly on the wall and just documenting what happens. some people might balk at this, but i love having limitations put on me when i’m shooting. whether that may be a dark backstage, a small tour bus, a tv show that doesn’t allow professional cameras; anything like that just makes me try and figure out solutions within these so-called “problems,” and that’s where i love living and shooting.

for the nerds out there, here’s what i travel with: canon 5d mark2, 24-70 f/2.8, 15mm f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, canon g12, fuji instax. that’s it. i’ve had the same setup for years now and i love my gear. i’ve tried new lenses, prime lenses, different cameras, but always come back to this setup which i can easily throw in a backpack and go at a moment’s notice.

currently i am on tour with the band foster the people, and i could not ask for a better group of guys to tour with. they are my brothers and i am so thankful for the role they have played in my life. i also run their instagram, so while we’re on tour, a lot of my shots go up there. here’s one from this year’s coachella.

for this post i figured i’ll just show some of my favorite shots over the last few weeks of tour. sweet.

a few years ago i took a shot backstage at the roseland theater in portland during a 20 second photo shoot sitting on this couch. that photo ended up being their promo shot for a long time and i believe is still the image that comes up for them on iTunes. we were back at the same venue years later, and the couch was still there, so we had some fun recreating the shot (well, almost).

there are so many surreal moments on tour with a band that make you question what you do for a job in the best way possible. the day we went to NASA and were led on a tour by an astronaut was definitely one of them. a couple instax shots from that day (including the original apollo 13 desk, crazy.)

being able to travel a lot is a definite upside to touring (i only have two more states to go, maine and alaska i’m coming for you) and hands down one of the most gorgeous venues in america is the gorge in eastern washington. we were there the other day for sasquatch festival, and i snapped a couple photos of the guys on this back porch with a fairly decent backdrop.

later that night the guys played to about 20,000 people and then we got to watch outkast before hopping on a bus to seattle. definitely a fun night.

speaking of fun, we definitely have a lot of that out on tour. we play a lot of mariokart on n64 and we even have a few crazy carts out on the road with us. our drummer mark did some drifting at cain’s ballroom in tulsa before soundcheck. this was shot with my g12 and sometimes i just love how a point and shoot looks.

i also end up using a point and shoot a lot whenever bands i am working with play tv shows. a lot of studios have restrictions about SLRs in their space, so i usually lay back and try and get what i can with whatever i can. a few weeks ago the guys played letterman along with a children’s choir and i took this after their performance.

natural light has always been my favorite and even when doing a proper shoot for people i tend to shy away from any strobes or external light. some of my favorite natural light i have seen in a long time was a few months ago at the ryman in nashville, tn. such a historic and beautiful room.

speaking of beautiful rooms, during every show i at least try and get a nice wide shot of the room to showcase the actual venue, and the fillmore in detroit was definitely worthy of a good showcase.

to end, here’s a few of my favorite live shots from this last run. i love shooting the same show over and over trying to perfect and improve on shots i’ve taken from previous shows.

see you on tour. cheers.

to find andy and keep up with his photos, his travels, and his thoughts on this season of the bachelorette, head over to, his instagram, foster the people’s instagram, and his twitter.

When you're in high school, you're on top of the world. You have everything figured out; a plan for everything. You're told the next step in the road to success is collegeâ¦. I started my college experience at a large university. It only took me a semester to realize that I was wasting a lot of time and money, cutting out shapes and gluing them on paper in my "introductory" art classes. Not to mention, everyone around me was more interested in the party scene. I felt like an outsider. Like, I wasn't where I was supposed to be. I was more focused than my peers and had nobody to relate to. I felt isolated and dark, with only my art and music to turn to. So I came back home, took a semester off and continued working in a retail job. I attended a local community college that fall where I majored in graphic design. It was in those classes that I realized I enjoyed creating images for my designs, more than the design itself. But it was too late to change majors, so I stuck it out and pursued photography outside of class. I began freelancing in 2006 shooting local bands, products, portraits and weddings, eventually winding up as a freelance retoucher for a local commercial photography studio. But freelance work was far and few between, so it’s not like I could sustain myself at that time.

As your life unfolds, things don't always go the way you plan. I graduated college in 2007 and guess what? Companies weren't handing out photography jobs. I went door to door in various cities looking for someone to give me a chance. But nothing was happening. Sure, I got to sit down with some agencies – but they weren’t hiring. So I continued working my retail day job while freelancing at night. I was no stranger to hard work. In fact, I learned what hard work was at a very early age. If I wanted something, I had to earn it. I bought my first electric guitar by mowing lawns in the summer of 97'. Teaching myself how to play guitar through the years taught me three things: discipline, patience and the ability to become a self-learner. These three qualities have transcended into other avenues of my life, including my career as a commercial photographer.

My wife Jill (girlfriend at the time) bought me my first Scott Kelby book, the 7-Point System, for Christmas in the winter of 2007. Reading that book was a mind altering experience for me in terms of my Photoshop education. For the first time ever, I had experienced a fun way to learn the software that would help me create the type of imagery that I had in my head. Scott's approach to teaching was like nothing I had ever read before. It was fun to read, easy to comprehend and also entertaining at the same time. By completing the tutorials in the book, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. It also made me realize that I didn't know as much as I thought I did. Through Photoshop User Magazine, I learned about NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals). I quickly became a member and subscribed to Kelby Training. Scott’s original portrait retouching class blew my mind. It was full of “WOW" moments for me. Things just started to click. After graduating college and several failed attempts to land a job in a creative field, I became burned out. Kelby Media Group single handedly reignited my excitement and fueled my creativity again.

When you're a hard worker and you work in the retail industry, they want to promote you. And promote me they did. In 2008, I landed a job at the corporate office of the largest retailer in the world. Nothing was happening with my photography at that timeâ¦what did I have to lose? My job was to create open flight 3D simulations of new and existing stores. Not a bad place to be in my early 20's. My wife (girlfriend at the time) and I moved our entire lives 12 hours away from everything we had ever known for me to take that job. Although I had met some great people there, it didn't take long for me to realize that the lifestyle of Corporate America just wasn't for me. Sure, I was making great money, but I was sitting in a cubicle all day, behind a computer that never worked, having meetings about meetings. I never really felt any sense of accomplishment at that job. The only escape I had were my lunch breaks.

I had an hour. Everyday at lunch, I would go out to my car to get out of the office environment and clear my mind. I would spend that hour watching things like Zack Arias' OneLight Workshop on my iPod, reading issues of Photoshop User Magazine, and Scott Kelby Photoshop books. That hour always flew by. So, if you think about it, I spent about 260hrs on my lunch period alone over the course of that year immersing myself in sea of photography and Photoshop related education. This is a trend that continues even to this day. I have a real passion for learning new things, not only in photography, but other areas as well. I studied studio lighting for a solid year and used nothing but cheap painters lights from Lowes before eventually buying real studio strobes. Experimenting with these cheap lights taught me how to really "see" light. As Joe McNally says, "Light is the language of Photography."

After working at that corporate office for a year, I just couldn't take anymore. I wasn't happy. I wasn't being fulfilled creatively. It was a soul sucking experience in my life. Something had to change, so we moved back to our hometown in Northern Indiana. I left the corporate life, and corporate wage behind, only to return to my old life as a retail employee. Only this time it was different. I felt like I had taken a step backwards. I felt like I had made a mistake. I had a perfectly good job, and made great money. I should have been content. But I wasn't. I could have stayed there and worked my way up the corporate ladder. But it wasn't about that. It was about something deeperâ¦

Upon my return, I took a management position and took a large pay cut. Yes, I was manager and took a pay cut, you read that correctly. Things were pretty rough for a while. One day I remember being pulled into the office by my retail store manager. He was very adamant about having me join the upper level management team in his store. He told me that I was “wasting my time” with my freelance work, and that I should be focusing on inline management within the company. I had a decision to make… and it was an easy one. Needless to say, I traded that retail job for another one before finally landing a full time job as a retoucher for a commercial photography studio that I had started a relationship with back in 2006. I worked there full time for about a year before transitioning into a full time career as a commercial photographer/digital artist at an advertising agency.

My parents once told me when I was a kid (as most parents do), "When you grow up, you can be anything you want to be." Today, I'm fortunate enough to say that I'm doing what I feel I was meant to do, at least at this point in my life. I'm Brian Rodgers Jr. Commercial Photographer/Digital Artist. I've been a dreamer my whole life, but I've also been a realist at the same time. One of the reasons I think I’ve gotten this far, is because I have two things going for me. In the words of the great Joel Grimes, “I have a passion for the creative process, and I’m a hard worker." I'm always working towards my next goal.

Every artist has a different path. You must realize however, that the path never has an ending. "Life is a journey, not a destination" as the saying goes. Sometimes it's almost easy to just give up on your dreams when you have people in your life telling you that “you’re wasting your time," and that you should just do something else. Those people are detractors – don’t let them steal your dreams! It's so easy to get comfortable in your unsatisfying day job. It's so easy to put things off. So stop doing it! You alone have to fuel your fire and keep your dreams alive. Set goals, and push yourself to achieve them.

If you’re not getting the type of work you know you’re capable of doing, go out and create that work for yourself. Do it totally unpaid. Build your portfolio. You have to practice if you want grow as an artist. This is also how you get experience. This is how you become an expert in your field. Create the type of work that you eventually want to get hired to shoot. Building a portfolio of those types of images is the key to getting hired. Create your own opportunities.

Don't stress over gear. You will acquire essential gear over time as you build your career. Gear is not nearly as important as vision. A little bit of gear can go a long way when you have vision. Nearly every image I'm posting today was shot with a Canon Rebel t2i, and 3 or less strobes. Two of the images were lit with a single LED pen light. Can you guess which ones they are? At the end of the day, the only people who really care about what camera you are using are other photographers. Gear is great, but only when it helps you achieve your vision as an artist. My personal work/self assignments are what landed me a job at the advertising agency I currently work at. My personal work also allows for freelancing opportunities. (All of the images that I'm posting today are self assignments, btw). Not only have self assignments opened up awesome opportunities for me, they have also helped me develop my own way of shooting and retouching; my own process.

Douglas Sonders wrote a great post on Scott’s Blog a while back about the important of self assignments. Go read it! Everything he is saying has merit. In retrospect, my college portfolio was not great. It was full of school assignments. It didn’t really show who I was as a photographer. So I had a lot of work to do over the years. I'm still working on new things all the time to take my work to that next level.

Through the past 7 years, my wife has been one of my biggest influences. She has always believed in me and pushed me to be better. She bought me my first Scott Kelby book. She made sure that I had a Wacom Intuos tablet for retouching (which completely changed the way I work.) When I needed a model to practice portrait lighting, she was always the first person to sit in front of my camera. She still to this day brings home cool things for me to shoot. Through everything, she has always been my support. She’s awesome!

I believe that everything in life happens for a reason. Why? What if I told you, that I met my wife in pre-school? It's true! We first met when we were just 4 years old. And boy did we like each other. After pre-school, she was gone. I didn't see her for many years after that because we went to different schools. All I had to remember her by were fragments of childhood memories. Fast forward 20 years from pre-school, we recognize each other at a Taco Bell drive through. She left her business card at the drive thru window with her cell number on the back. The Taco Bell employee gave me that card and the rest is history. That girl I had met in preschool, is now my wife.

Oh yeah, and those years of retailâ¦.it turns out that I learned all kinds of skills including how to communicate with different types of people. And wouldn't ya know it, those communication skills that I learned over the course of 10 years in retail, are now coming in pretty handy in my career as a commercial photographer. Because I talk with all types of people on a daily basis. The year I spent in the corporate office, actually helped me develop a lot of Photoshop skills I may not have otherwise acquired. I had built a lot of retail products (including the boxes) from scratch in Photoshop, those products ended up being placed on shelves of retail store layouts in the 3D models my team and I were working on. The ability to create objects and products from scratch has helped me immensely in my retouching abilities. Furthermore, because of my struggles and hardships throughout the years, I have a deeper appreciation for what I do professionally. Because I really had to work for it. Photography is hard work!

The experiences that you will encounter throughout your life, help shape the work that you create. For me, it's really prevalent when I’ve got that perfect playlist going and I’m in my creative zone. The frustration, the angst, the happiness and sadness; all behind those pixels we today call digital imagery. The images you create are a reflection of you. Which is probably why we as photographers get emotionally attached to our images.

If you’ve ever worked in a job that you dread going to everyday, keep your head up. If you have a passion for something, pursue it! Don't make excuses. Keep putting everything you have into your craft. If you want it, you’ve gotta work for it. Being a photographer for a living is not an easy job. In fact, it's damn hard. Photography has become somewhat of a fad these days. But I believe the artists that really work on their craft, and think like entrepreneurs, are the ones who are more likely to have the opportunity to do it professionally. It's a very rewarding career, but it's very hard work! I'm nowhere near the skill level I'd like to be, but I'm on my way.

Here's a time-lapse retouch video that I created of a recent self assignment:

More info on about this self assignment on my blog.

Dream Big. Stay inspired. Never stop learning. Be honest. Be genuine. Be yourself!

I wanted to give a shout out to my buddy Melvin, who I met in Chicago at Scott’s “Shoot Like a Pro” seminar. Good guy!

Finally, I wanted to thank Scott Kelby & Brad Moore for the opportunity to share my thoughts on a stage shared by some of the best photographers in the world! And a special thanks to Pete Collins!

Brian Rodgers Jr. is an Addy Award winning Commercial Photographer/Digital Artist based out of the South Bend, Indiana area. When he needs to take a break from photography (and we all do from time to time), he's writing and recording his own guitar driven music. You can see more of Brian’s work at and connect with him on Google+, Twitter, & Behance.

Photo by J. Tom¡s Lopez

"We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
â”Martin Luther King

I have come to treat this, my annual installment on the anniversary of Scott's "Guest Blog Wednesday," the same way I treat my birthday. I try to spend my birthday the way I want my year to be. For this annual blog post I endeavor to write it the way I want my heart and spirit to go for the rest of the year.

Change takes but an instant. It is the journey to change that often takes a long time. The moment of change, the defining instant, when you are at your core different than you were the moment before. It is as if in comparison to all other moments in your life, it feels like you have just had a momentary lapse of reason. An island of understanding in the sea of confusion.

So I want to tell you about the momentary lapse of reason that occurred when this picture took me.

It eventually came to be chosen for the cover of Asian Photography magazine. (Read the article here)

I was asked to come to India to teach Indian photographers how to "see" their country differently. It was an amazing experience, more for me than for my students, truth be told. I was interviewed about my work for the article in Asian Photography after having done a radio show interview on Mumbai's Radio One 94.3 just before we left to travel to Varanasi for the workshop. But that's not the story I want to discuss. What I want to talk about is the moment that this picture took me.

The journey began a few years back when I photographed Aung San Suu Kyi.

To get the opportunity to photograph her as part of the American Photography feature on Burma that I did for the 2012 January issue, the promise I made was to do "right" with my pictures. It was not until over a year later I discovered what that meant. (You can read the guest blog I wrote about the experience here)

Journey As The Destination
It was early January, just before sunrise, a very long way outside of the city of Mandalay. It was myself, Kyaw Swa Minâ”"Joe" for shortâ”and our driver. It was a chilly 85 degrees (it was January after all), and we had spent three and half hours driving on what the locals affectionately refer to as the "Burma Super Highway," which is a dirt and gravel road so full of pot holes and cliff-like ruts that you are frequently thinking that Columbus was actually wrong and the world is indeed flat. We arrive at 5 a.m., half an hour before first light and about an hour before sunrise.

How we wound up here is because Joe said he knew this placeâ¦. FYI: for the 12 years I have known Joe every one of my great Burmese adventures starts with him saying, "Vincy⦠I know this place." This time "the place" was just outside a village that makes bricks. The village was located next to a bend in a river that had a huge clay deposit.

The reason I was told I wanted to be there was because of the profound lack of motorized vehicles and the amount of morning fog that happens on the river that time of year. So off we went and there we were. After shooting the moments just before sunrise and the sun rising, we are now faced with having traveled three and half hours and having basically  captured two "pretty" shots. Which means we have three and half hours to get back to where we started and I have two shots. Parts of my backside still hurt from the ride there and the thought of going the same we just came was not exactly something to be looking forward to. Which is when I saw smoke that was now coming up from over a hill, which means fire, so I followed the smoke.

What was over that hill was a village that makes bricksâ”bricks upon bricks upon bricks as far as the eye can see to a perspective point. Keep in mind that it is 6 a.m., and the brickyard is in full swing. They have been up for awhile. Making bricks, stacking bricks, "firing" bricks (baking them), gathering clay. I even watched a boy and a girl in the process of falling in love.

I found myself lost in these moments, witnessing moments happen in front of me at the speed of life. All of which was happening in beautiful light. When you have moments like these, who needs coffee to get your heart racing and your mind to wake up?

As we started moving into the city of never-ending bricks and light, there were children everywhere playing in the bricks. Keep in mind it is 6 a.m. And the morning is filled with the laughter and giggles of children.

So as I am blissfully clicking away in snot-encrusted child photography heaven, Joe starts talking to the adults who are amused by the big tall goofy "hello person" playing with the children. (The reason the Burmese refer to Americans as "hello people" is because Americans always wave and say "Hellooo" no matter where, what, or when. So the Burmese wave and say "hello" back. If Burma is anything it is a polite society). During the course of his conversation, he finds out the reason why there are so many children about at 6 a.m. There is no school, not because there is a holidayâ”there is no school in this village. So the children play amongst the bricks while the parents work. What this also means is that most of the villagers do not know how to read and write well, if at all. It is also the responsibility of the older children to look after the younger children.

The highest anyone was paid in the village was $3.00 a day for a 12-hour workday. The factory ran 7 days a week because of the demand for bricks, which was due to the lifting of sanctions and the growth happening in the urban areas of the country. If you think about it, we spend more for a cup of coffee than these highest paid workers make in a day. The life expectancy age of a Burmese man is 57 and the life expectancy age of a Burmese woman is 62. The life expectancy age for men and women in this brickyard is 50.

5 years old

15 years old

35 years old

As Joe was telling me all this, the moment that the picture of the girl who became the cover of Asian Photography magazine took me. It was that moment that I realized what Aung San Suu Kyi meant when she said to "do right with your photographs." Her request was not about putting your money where your mouth is, it was about putting your art where your heart is. At that time I experienced a momentary lapse of reason. I was changed. At that moment I decided that I am going to build a school. I had no idea how; I just knew I had to do right by these people.

"One person can make a difference, and everyone should try."
â”President John F. Kennedy

We have traveled in different ships to get to this moment in our lives, but we are all in the same boat now. At this moment, if you have read this far, you and I are literally on the same page. The issue I'm about to discuss is not an issue of liberal or conservative, or the religious belief you hold. This issue is about the one defining thing we all share. We are all humans that live on the same planet. Whatever affects one directly, ultimately affects all of us indirectly. Are there many things that need fixing in our human experience? There surely are. Can you fix all of them? You surely cannot. But the best you can do is fix the things you can. So do that. If everyone did that at least once, just think where we would be today? Tomorrow? A year from now?

So my goal is this: I want to use the power of the camera to build a school in this village. I want to use the power of the camera to create something that will take the experience that affected one person directly and use it to affect as many people as directly as possible.

The etymology of word "photography" means to write with light.  Thomas Jefferson (among others) said, "The pen is mightier than the sword." Wellâ¦TJ did not have a digital camera. Because the camera is mightier than the pen. Which means that a photographer wields a light saber.

I have started the site The first goal of the site is to build a school in this village, using art to do it. My plan is to first create a limited edition set of four 17×22 portfolios, then to create a book from the 137,000 captures I have of Burma to help keep it going.

What I need is help.

I am asking for help from the collective all of you. From straightforward legal advice, to help and ideas about book layout, to ideas of how to expand the thought of fixing things that we can with our art, creating a forum to show the things that take us. If you have an idea, send an email to
. If you want to help the school project send an email to

In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King said, "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits." Next time you drink a cup of Starbucks there is someone in this world we all live in that has to toil all day to make what you spent in a moment.  If not for them, take pause for a moment and think of their children playing in a brickyard whilst they work. That you, one person, have within your power to make a difference in life. All you need do is try.

You can see more of Nikon Ambassador Vincent Versace’s work at, follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr, and find out more about his latest venture at