Category Archives Guest Blogger

In February of 2012 I did my first post for Scott's guest blog called It's All About The Jaw! I'm not particularly keen on writing, so I decided to do it as a video blog on the very first direction I give everyone who steps foot in front of my camera. It ended up being a huge hit and was his most popular guest post of 2012.

Having outdone myself the first time, I found myself pushing off a second attempt in fear of not being able to live up to the hype. Well, I finally got the courage to create my second effort and you can judge for yourself whether it makes the cut or not.

It's the second in this little series I'm doing and it's called It's All About The Squinch! I know what you are thinking… What the heck is squinching? Truth is I made it up. You'll have to watch the video to get a sense of it, but I believe it is the single reason behind me being able to talk to you right now.

13 years ago I picked up a camera and started shooting models and actors in New York. I had no formal training, and only a camera in my hand and my desire to become a successful portrait photographer. Being a former model, I knew that whenever a camera was pointed at me I had to do something; create a look, make a move, fire out an expression, whatever. Anything but sit there looking blank and lifeless.

As a fledgling photographer I began looking at other's work, specifically the headshot industry here in New York. I saw one thing that was repeated over and over again. Blank lifeless images with absolutely no juice coming towards the camera. Why didn't I see the same thing when I looked at celebrities in magazines? Was it the photographer or the celebrity that made the difference in those shots? I believe now that it's a bit of both, but it was then and there that I decided it was my mission to create interesting expressions for my clients.

That's right, I had to create it for them. I couldn't leave it up to my clients to do it on their own. It was my work and I was going to infuse it with life if it was the last thing I did. It became my responsibly, so no matter how stiff or uncomfortable anyone was, they weren't leaving my studio without what I considered a Peter Hurley headshot. No way, no how. This was my domain and my biggest weapon became the squinch.

My biggest fear was that other photographers would find out about the squinch. Well, over the past few years I've been teaching squinching up the wazoo in my Headshot Intensive, my Kelby Training class, Mastering The Headshot, as well as on my DVD, The Art Behind The Headshot. I've been drilling the point home the best I can that to me all my success is simply based on making each person squinch in front of my camera. No other way around it, this is a biggie and the fact that I'm here to tell you proves that for me. So enjoy the video and next time someone's in front of your camera why don't you try having them fire in a little squnch!

I'll be throwing out more of my signature stuff down the road, so be on the lookout. Scott and I are working on a book and I'll be speaking at Photoshop World in Atlanta. If you want to see my current teaching schedule then check out my coaching site for headshot photographers worldwide at

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

Life On Set
One of the most common topics that I get questions surrounding is what happens on set for a large production. All too often it is a personal aspect of a photographer and kept secret from those that are just making their way into the industry. While I do believe that learning through trial and error strengthens our overall knowledge base, I do not like the idea of keeping my approach secret when I could help others from experiencing some of the snags that I have hit along the way.

I figured I would take a few moments today to give some of the young photographers an idea of what to expect and what will be expected of them on a production and some ways to be successful.

I wish I could say that this one goes without saying, however it sadly does not. I hear all too often from assistants that I hire about other photographers that scream at crew and talent alike. It is the ultimate expression of insecurity and there is no place for it in the studio, or life for that matter. If you want to be a photographer that impresses a client on set treat your crew and talent with genuine respect.

At the end of the day there will be an image that gets published with the photographer’s name in the credit line or an award won by said photographer. However, the part that is often unseen is the sacrifice made by his or her crew to make that shot possible.

Know The Crew
This one carries off the idea of respect and takes it to a more personal level. Whenever I am shooting a production, I make it a point to know every person on set, from styling hair, makeup and wardrobe in the dressing rooms. The reason for this is two fold. As the photographer, you are the leader or coach of this team and their success is on your ability to give good instructions. In order to do this you need to learn each person’s limit or workload and stressors. Most importantly, let everyone know that they are doing a good job, build them up and the work you produce will show it.

The second reason for knowing everyone individually I discovered on a shoot this year. I was shooting a very large sports drink campaign and the day before my dog had suddenly passed away. To be honest, my driver picked me up and I cried the whole way to the studio. The idea of putting on a professional face as if nothing had happened was incredibly tough, but it is what the client deserved. While it was very hard for me to talk to people I knew well, I found that I was more comfortable talking with crew that I had not worked with prior. I entrusted my first assistant with overall management and spent much of the time talking with a grip that we hired just a week prior. Conversation was very topical, but it was the help I needed to keep my sanity on set and I all always be grateful for that.

Produce Your Own Shoot
This is not necessarily an option for every campaign, but if you have the opportunity to produce a shoot it can be one of the more valuable lessons you will find. By producing your own shoot, I mean handling everything from payroll to prop sourcing. As your jobs get bigger, you will not be able to do this without sanity walking out the door, but there is no reason that a small shoot (less than 20 people on set) can’t be handled by a photographer. In doing this you will learn where budget will make the most impact on the image and it will allow you to deliver more to your client for their budget than a photographer that takes a hands off approach.

Now with this said, when the bigger shoots come along and you have a 40 person crew, a producer (and usually assistant producer) is a must. I have worked with many and the ability of focus that their behind the scenes work affords me is invaluable. If you have quarter million dollar campaign on the line, there is no other way to handle the sheer undertaking of the numbers as a whole without a producer you trust.

Make The Set Comfortable
For many AD’s and CD’s, the photo shoot is the fun aspect of the campaign for them and therefore making it as close to a vacation as possible is very important. The creativity that is afforded by relaxing is immensely greater than that given under duress. As much as we want to believe that the shoot is only about the images produced, it is often just as much about showing the client and agency a good time. Whether this means hiring a sushi chef for the day to cook for them, or hiring a DJ to keep the environment relaxed, you must deliver. I often look at these expenditures as investments in future campaigns. At a beginning level these aspects may not make sense, but as one progresses to larger clients, more freedom to spend on making it fun will become available. It is all a matter of progression⦠In the beginning I had Xbox’s on set for the clients to kick back and play in the downtime of a lighting change, now I send the Xbox’s home with the client.

Some may say that this is “buying work” or at least pandering and I don’t disagree. However, at a certain level it is the norm for photographers or artist reps to send art buyers and other creatives lavish gifts such as nice wines, iPads, etc. Heck, I know some that send prospective clients on vacations. At the end of the day, the commercial photography business is just that, a business and letting your client know how important they are is just as important as lighting.

Be Grateful
Perhaps the most important part of this career is to stop, think about what you have, and be grateful. Being an advertising photographer, while sometimes stressful, is fun, is freedom⦠it is a privilege.

Thank you for reading,

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

Photo © Charlotte Richardson

I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts and experiences here as a guest blogger on Photoshop Insider. I’ve been blogging regularly for over six years over on my blog Photo Business News. Aside from the various photo business related news, one of the common themes I blog about is the business side of photography.


Simply put, if you love photography – and want to earn a living at it – if you don’t include in your daily routine an attention to the business-side, you won’t be earning a living at it for very long.  If your dream is to one day change careers to become a professional photographer and earn a living at it – then attending to the (sometimes) hum-drum nature of estimates, invoices, bills, and receipts is critical, alongside with the matter of pricing your work to survive and thrive. In the early years I stumbled along the way. I’d like to save you some of those lumps and struggles.

Often one of the hardest things to do is to have a client tell you what their budget is. Now, there are many occasions where they will – the key is to ask! Sometimes, a client will tell you they don’t know, but more often than not when they say that, they do.

There is a point in the conversation where you have had a good dialog with the client and you feel like you’ve made a connection with them. At this point, as you’re letting them know you’ll send along your paperwork, I typically will ask:

“Did you have a budget you are trying to work within for this?”

Can you guess the operative word in that sentence? Usually when I ask that question during a presentation people say “budget” or “within,” but as the process of elimination works it’s way through the sentence, someone says “trying.” If someone asks for a portrait to be shot, and they say $100, there’s no way we’ll be able to work within that. $2,500? Yes. $1,500, maybe, it depends.

Photographing Register of Copyrights Maria Pallante for her official portrait. Photo ©Lindsay King

Consider that you’re a really good architectural photographer. There are many levels of photography within this realm. There’s the “realtor with a camera” that snaps a shot of the front of a house at high noon when the light is at it’s worst. Then at the other end there’s the high end commercial real estate photographer who will do a site visit to scout the location, identify the best time of day to take the photo for the front elevation and an alternative outside view. They will work with the building manager to ensure all the blinds in the windows are at just the right height, and that all the lights are turned on. They will get permits to clear the street in front of the building of cars, and if it’s a winter shoot with deciduous trees in front of the building, they will ensure that the finished image has a tree with leaves on it through the magic of Photoshop.

Photo © John Harrington


When you run into a client who says they don’t have a budget, this is when you can start asking questions:

YOU:  “I’m trying to understand the level of production to bring into play for this shoot. Were you trying to keep this to under $5,000?”

CLIENT: “Oh my. I didn’t think it would cost that much. I figured it would be about $500.”

So here we have a huge disconnect. If this client came to you, the really good architectural photographer, because there were amazing shots of all sorts of buildings and high-end home exteriors, shot with just the right balance of dusk daylight and warm glowing windows, clearly you’re not the $500 level of photographer.

YOU: “You’ve had a chance to look over my website, and for what you’ve budgeted, I can stop by the next time I’m in that neighborhood and shoot a shot. Did you want me to worry about if the sun is on the front of the building, or did you just need a snapshot?”

CLIENT: “Oh, I really want the sun on the front of the building.”

YOU: “Ok, well, in order to know that, I’ll need to do a site visit. That takes extra time and effort.”

CLIENT: “Ok, well I might be able to afford $1,000.”

YOU: “I understand that you came into this project with a few ideas as to what it would cost to do the photograph. You’ve seen my work, and those images have been used to encourage builders to build, buyers to buy, and renters to rent, all sooner rather than later.  One extra month’s rent from one tenant is a significant amount of money, and this shoot, even at $5,000 is a small fraction of that.”

CLIENT: “I just don’t understand why it costs so much.”

YOU: “There are a number of factors. The first is time, but not just in the ‘by the hour’ type of thing. Not only do we need to do a site visit, but we need to coordinate with the building manager (or current tenant if it’s already occupied and/or a home). We then need to schedule our time to be there not just for the exteriors, but the interiors you want as well. We will then get a permit to block off the street so people can see the entire building and we don’t risk a large truck being parked outside all day. I’ll have an assistant working with me to get everything looking just right as well. Then, once we’re done with all the photography, we spend a fair amount of time on each image back in the studio making it look its best, adjusting color and light. We’ll also remove the parking meters and street signs that are visual distractions. We’ll add in green leaves to the tree as if it were Spring since this picture is being taken in the Fall after all the leaves are gone. If everything goes well, it’ll take a day. If not, it’ll take two. Then if we have weather delays when it’s overcast or rainy, we have to reschedule.”

And the explanation can go on and on. There are a myriad of variables here. Maybe you don’t need to pull a permit. Maybe it’s Spring already. In the above example, a $5,000 budget would be great for a large commercial building in a business district. It would take us time to do all of the things necessary. If we had to cut costs perhaps we’d shoot fewer interiors, or one exterior view. Maybe a permit isn’t needed, and maybe maybe maybe.

No, that's not a family member of mine and my second cousin. That's two hired stylists staging and styling a home for a photo shoot. Photo © John Harrington

Some portraits call for a level of production that includes wardrobe, separate hair and makeup stylists, and so on. Some on-location photo shoots call for a production trailer (usually a customized motor-home that goes for about $800 a day including driver) so models can change in the back while the client has a place to work and review images in the front. Catering comes into play when there are a number of players on the shoot and we are shooting across a mealtime – who wants everyone scattering to find the nearest Subway or Quiznos? At some point your shoot will call for a producer who will make all these arrangements for you, for a fee of about $750 a day.

A separate talent trailer and one for the client means that honest and candid conversations about the talent can be had discretely, and the client doesn't have to hear if the talent is displeased with something. Photo © John Harrington

Asking “what budget are you trying to work within?” isn’t a trick question – an honest answer from the prospective client gives you an understanding as to the level of production they expect. If it’s a portrait shoot where the client only has $750, then it’s a pretty lean shoot with a small seamless, a few small soft-boxes and one final image as a deliverable and a limited rights package. If the client wants to be able to review the images on-site and see some basic or conceptual retouching, then having a digital tech using our digital workstation with a 30″ external monitor along with a Wacom tablet adds in anywhere between $750 and $1500 to the shoot production. Adding in a makeup person for the day adds in $500, a separate stylist doubles that. Separate hair? Yep, another $500. So a lean shoot at $750 adds in $750 for a digital tech to $1,500, and then separate hair and makeup brings it to a $2,500 portrait. Yes, your take-home remains $750 plus whatever markup you have, but the production level more than tripled the bill.

There are countless things that take place before a shoot is brought to you via a phone call or email. More often than not, the intermediaries in the PR department of an organization have been tasked with finding a photographer for a project. Perhaps there’s an ad agency and a publicist for the VIP talent, and so on. The more intermediaries, the more pressure for it to work perfectly. Even on the smallest of CEO shoots, their PR person is on the hook for you doing a good job and not making them look bad. So, if they call you and say:

“Hi, this is Jane Doe with ACME Widgets, and we need a portrait of our CEO with the production line in the background. Are you available next Wednesday?”

Saying anything other than something like this doesn’t instill confidence:

“Sure we can do that. We do executive portraiture all the time. In fact, we just wrapped up a series of executive portraits last week. Wednesday works well for us too, but we’ll need to check in with the regular makeup person we use for portraits of this caliber, unless your CEO has someone they prefer to use whenever they do media appearances?”

This sentence said smoothly and with a confident tone, demonstrates a level of professionalism and attention to detail that will set you aside from others.  Then there are a myriad of questions to ask next that will further demonstrate your experience here:

“Does the CEO have a vision for the shoot? By that I mean – is s/he trying to demonstrate they are a hands-on CEO that is connected to the production line staff, or an authoritative CEO in full command and control? A few ways to illustrate these two styles would be without a suit jacket with sleeves rolled up, or with a buttoned up dark suit and crisp white shirt shot from a low angle to demonstrate power and authority.”

“Do we need to ensure that the production line is running next Wednesday at the time s/he’s available, or is it a 24/7 operation?”

“Is the CEO approaching this with enthusiasm or are they reluctant to do the portrait? Knowing this helps us understand how to approach them on the day of the shoot to get the most out of them.”

In one instance, we were called on to do a portrait of a duo in three separate locations, within 45 minutes. What seemed as a logistical nightmare actually was an opportunity for us to sell the client on our problem-solving abilities. We demonstrated how we would pre-set all the lights with a producer for each location. Our budget was north of $10,000, but we were the only photographer who demonstrated we could do it within their timeframe. Afterwards when we asked how they came to select us, that's how we learned that not only were we the most expensive, but also, the only one they were confident could accomplish the shoot within the available window of time.

One of the three setups for this duo we photographed. Photo © John Harrington

Realizing that you have to exude comfortable and cool confidence during the initial phase of the conversation, as well as enthusiasm for the shoot will start you off on the right foot. Your job is, yes, to make great images, but also, to make the person who hired you look great too. In doing so, not only will they be happy with the results, but they will be sure to book you in the future.

Last week we got a call on Tuesday for a shoot on Wednesday. The company – which I won’t name but you’d know their name instantly – was coming to Washington DC for a last minute photo shoot. It was a big deal for them – as their top communications person who handles all of it and reports directly to the President and CEO, was flying in. We had two hours to do two shoots. No lights, one assistant. No permits, no time. During the course of the back-and-forth we talked through our creative ideas and our solutions for the shoot, as well as the workarounds to the permitting issue. We had a signed contract by 5pm, and re-adjusted our schedule for an early morning start. At 7:30pm in DC, an email came in (they’re on West Coast time so it's still working hours for them) saying the client needed near real-time images to put out on social media. We responded by 8pm telling them “no problem” and added in our digital workstation to the mix to handle that. After the shoot, we sent an invite to the image gallery on PhotoShelter, and got back a really wonderful email:


I don't even know where to begin thanking you.

Everything could not have gone more smoothly for us because of you.

Our clients were THRILLED to have you along for the ride, and super impressed with your experience and credentials in D.C.

You made everything super seamless, and I can't thank you enough for your flexibility and go-with-the-flow attitude.

So glad we found you⦠thank you {referring colleague who was CC’d} !

All the best-

This is exactly the type of client we not only strive to have, but also, strive to deliver for. This is a client who recognizes the value of a premium service, and for whom price is not a deciding factor, but instead, only a detail. They CC’d their colleague within the firm who recommended me, which makes him look good and so he’ll be sure to refer me again. The firm, in turn, looked great to this company who was doing a very high profile project that the CEO wanted executed, so the in-house guy who reports to the CEO gets kudos from his boss too.

Warren Buffett said it best: "Price is what you pay. Value is what you get." He also said "Your premium brand had better be delivering something special, or it’s not going to get the business."

If you’d like to hear more from John, check out this interview he recently did with The Photo Brigade!

Washington DC Photographer John Harrington has covered the world of politics, traveled internationally, working as an editorial and commercial photographer. He has completed assignments for or his work has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today, Time, Life, Newsweek, The National Geographic Society, and Rolling Stone. Author of  Best Business Practices for Photographers, John has lectured across the country to every major trade association. He currently serves as a National Director on the board of the American Society of Media Photographers, and concluded serving his second term as the President of the White House News Photographers Association in May of 2011.  A 2007 recipient of the United Nations’ Leadership Award in the field of photography, he also received the NPPA’s Morris Berman Citation in 2007 for special contributions advancing the interests of photojournalism, and in 2013 he was awarded the J. Winton Lemen Fellowship Award  for continuing outstanding service in the interests of press photography and for outstanding technical achievement in photography.

Fishing from a kayak in the Florida Keys with a GoPro camera

There is nothing like securing a contract to photograph an event like the one I was blessed with in June.

Nik Wallenda was going to walk a high wire across the Grand Canyon, untethered, and the Discovery Channel was going to broadcast it to more than 200 countries with an estimated viewership of 200 million people.

Nik Wallenda walks a high wire across the Grand Canyon June 24, 2013

I had been hired to document the event, Nik’s family and friends who were there, and add to the already-vast Wallenda family legacy, archives and heirlooms. I would also feed to Getty Images.

Nik Wallenda gestures into the abyss on the first day of on-site training.

Nik sits on the edge of the Canyon at sunrise on the first day of on-site training.

All in all, it would be a demanding, pressure-filled shoot, four-day shoot, yet with a built-in cushion: Great visuals guaranteed. How could it get better?

By taking my near-80 year old father along.

Dad made friends easily. He laughs with Jack Hanna’s wife, Suzi, at the Grand Canyon within five minutes of meeting her

Nik Wallenda is a nice, kind, sweet, friendly, talented, charming, devoted family man. I didn’t steal that line from any press release. I learned it on my own. This year he let me photograph him nearly a dozen different times.

Nik Wallenda walks a high wire over downtown Sarasota on January 29, 2013

Nik Wallenda poses holding a piece of the cable he used to walk a high wire over Niagara Falls February 15,2013

His family is always there. Most times it’s the physcial presence of his wife and three children, his mother and father and many other family and close friends who rig his cables, handle his media calls, guarantee his safety and hundreds of other details that go along with being part of the most recognized high-wire family in history.

Always present is the shadow of his great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, and others who carved out history in the 200 years the Wallendas have been performing.

Nik’s wife Erendira (Left) and his sister, Lijana, share a hug after the Grand Canyon walk.

I really like breaking rules. The big one on this trip, if Nik would allow it, would be to bring my father along. It’s not professional to have family and friends along on shoots. We all know that.

Nik Wallenda tugs on the wire that he’ll use to walk across the Grand Canyon during a training session two days before the actual walk.

When I thought about Nik’s devotion to family and legacy, I couldn’t help but think how great it would be to have my 78-year-old father, Marvin, along with me. He was a truck driver for most of his adult life. He’d never seen a TV stage in real life, much less one that crossed the Grand Canyon. But, he is in good shape, he is warm, smart, funny, charming and very sweet. He is devoted to his family.

He is much like Nik, in other words. I had to ask.

“Nik, can I bring my dad along?” I wrote in an email two weeks before our journey was to begin. “I’d be honored to have your dad along,” Nik wrote back.

With Nik in the backround, my father Marvin and I pose for a photograph. Photo by Thomas Bender

So, for three of those days, my father was at my side as we followed Nik Wallenda and his family and crew to press conferences, training sessions, meet and greets with fans, rehearsals, meals, horseshoes and hijinks, and finally to Sunday, the day Nik was going to create history and put his life on the line in front of 200 million people on live television.

Nik Wallenda walks a high wire across the Grand Canyon

My father became a minor celebrity himself along the way. His hometown newspaper, The Altoona Mirror, wrote a story. Dad said he couldn’t go anywhere without people asking him about his trip with Nik Wallenda to the Grand Canyon.

He developed a true friendship with Jack and Suzi Hanna who invited dad to visit them at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. (We went this month)

I never asked Nik to pose with my father until the after-party. Dad was tired. We had been working together for about 12 hours by the time this photo was taken.

I think a lot of people were moved about seeing my father and I hanging out together at the biggest event in the world.

Two other photojournalists there told me they had lost their own fathers recently. One teared up, I believe from the wish that he could have been in my sooty shoes, with his own father. I was reminded how blessed to have mine there.

The successes were huge. Nik finished the record-breaking walk despite immense heat, windy updrafts from the Canyon floor, slippery desert dust on the wire and a thousand other challenges he and his team faced and conquered.

Nik blows a kiss to his wife and children as he nears the end of his historic high wire walk.

My dad and I had a great time, bonding and making memories and photographs that will be around long after we’re all are gone. One thing I didn’t plan on, but was incredibly satisfied to find out: Not only did I add to and enhance the Wallenda family heirlooms and legacies, but those of my own family as well.

My father and I at the Grand Canyon. Photo by Douglas Hay

iPhone close-up of Nik’s autograph on the 16×20″ I printed for my father.

iPhone shot of note we received from Jack and Suzi Hanna. I sent them a 20×30″ print of their choice. He said he wanted it signed. I told him, “you know Nik, you ask him to sign it.” He said, “I want you to sign it.”

Show hosts Willie Geist and Natalie Morales pose with Nik at sunrise on the morning after the walk.

Nik back on the wire at sunrise on the morning after the walk.

Thank you to Scott Kelby, David Hobby and Joe McNally for showing me the light.

Thank you to Nik Wallenda for saying yes to just about anything I ever asked him and for always giving me something interesting to shoot.

Thank you to my Jack and Suzi Hanna for treating my father like he’s the most important man in the world.

Thank you to my father, Marvin, for always having a sense of adventure and my mother for things I could never put into words.

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

Honesty, integrity, originality, and good old fashioned hard work. I like to think I possess all these characteristics, but there’s a good chance I don’t, at least not all of the time. It’s a difficult balance to maintain, a quest for the righteous at times; indeed, even the best of us can fall from grace. Jumping on the failures of others is so easy for many of us to do. It’s easier than producing your own content. And it’s not unique to photographers or our community, but by the nature of our work, out there for everyone to see, it’s a lot easier to be exposed to the potential negativity.

More and more sites are scraping every single set of images they can possibly find to showcase, blog about, and expose; like Flickr, 500px, Fstoppers, Petapixel, Tumblr, Buzzfeed, and Reddit.  This is wonderful stuff; absolutely anyone can have their work viewed by millions of people around the world. There’s pressure in this, for some, to perform. To produce content that’s as good as the last “big thing,” to get noticed like your friend did last week. “He has a million views on his photos, mine are better, why can’t I?” I think we could even mistake this for being competitive… but is it? Does it even matter? Is it a big distraction?

Let me be honest. I’ve struggled. I’m still trying to figure out my work, to find my place, to make a living. I’ve been incredibly fortunate this early in my career to have more positive than negative feedback, and a great amount of support from those around me to keep doing what I’m doing. I work hard when I’m on the job and I try to do right by my clients. I show and share my work actively in the hopes of getting noticed, of having someone see it and maybe getting that next big job from that someone. If nothing else, the big group-hug that is Flickr can make me feel good about myself for a day. Is that how it works?

Maybe it has for a few lucky folks, but in my case, I’m not working nearly hard enough. Doing a good job for my clients isn’t enough anymore, it’s the bare minimum of what’s expected of me as a professional photographer. I need to work hard for my next client; I need to work to GET them. And they’re not going to come from, being explored, or the editors' picks On a website. I need to find them myself, and I need to show them my work, and I need them to know that I am the right person for the job. That’s really putting myself out there, and I’m terrified of taking that necessary next step. I’m scared because it’s hard, and I’m scared because I might fail.

Integrity comes in many forms but to me it is an extension of an outward honesty. I give credit when and where I can, I pay my assistants faster than I get paid myself, I share openly and freely knowledge that I have and methods that I’ve used, trying to help mentor the next group of photographers coming up behind me. Secrets, in this industry, seem to be a way of trying to protect yourself, to make sure nobody can copy your work or business model like you’ve done something particularly unique or special. You’ll notice, as savvy readers, that the most unique and special photographers are absolutely comfortable sharing their methods because really, many of us couldn’t compete if we tried.

I’ve also copied. I copy David Hobby’s lighting setups. I’ve copied Scott Kelby’s Lightroom workflow. I’ve copied Joe McNally’s… sarcasm and love for naps. Little ideas, little methods: these guys have all shared their work and knowledge for years and I’ve copied them until I got it right. Then I went and I took their methods until they became my own. Now, I couldn’t work without the things I took from them if I tried. And still – STILL – I’m not as good as them. How come? Maybe I’m not good enough. That’s a pretty terrible outlook, though. How about the possibility that I just need to work harder?

There’s no escaping the time you have to put into this industry. There’s work to be done. People need their pictures taken. They need them taken well, or poorly if that’s their taste. On a tight budget or one that can afford a guy like Jeremy Cowart (I love his hair). I’ve had my photos seen by hundreds of thousands of people. My work is published, it’s been stolen, it’s been paid for. My mom thinks I’m great, and my wife thinks I take good photos of the kids though, oddly, never of her. I’ve been told all sorts of equally wonderful and horrible things about my work, and even about myself. I’m not a bad guy, I just pretend to be one on Twitter.

Is my work even good? Does "good" even matter? There are better photographers than me, by a long shot, who aren’t working and haven’t had the opportunities I have. There are also some photographers we all wonder how they got to be where they are. Are they even good? What actually matters in professional photography? Who gets to judge my work and, by some weird extension of my mind, me and my self-worth? Who gets to tell you your work is worth doing?

I do.

My clients do.

And both can get it wrong. So, let’s just get back to work. Work hard, be honest, have some integrity, and do the best we can; the rest is just a distraction.

If you’re up to the challenge, you can follow my over-share of a Twitter feed, check out my blog for the occasional tutorial and read my lens reviews on

Lessons from the Help Desk

Greetings! I can't tell you how excited I am to have a chance to give a little something back to you all. Many thanks to Scott and Brad for the opportunity. You see I have been answering Help Desk questions for NAPP members since 2005. I started out assisting Peter Bauer with Photoshop questions, but once Lightroom 1.0 hit the scene I was tasked with handling all of the Lightroom questions sent to the Help Desk from that point forward. It was truly one of the greatest gifts I've ever been given.

Sure, it was a job, but that is not what I mean by the gift I was given. The gift was the education I received as a result of the countless interactions I have had with so many NAPP members over the years. I did indeed learn a lot about Lightroom, and that alone has lead to a number of really great opportunities, but even more important was that I learned a whole lot about how to interact with people; people in a hurry, people at their most vulnerable, and people at their most-frustrated-end-of-their-rope-worst. Believe me when I tell you this is a skill that has served me well in my 16 years of marriage. :-D

It has also served me well in other Help Desk roles I've taken on, such as answering customer support tickets for a new stock photography co-op (Stocksy United) I am a member of, and even helping people in the field with The Digital Photo Workshops. Oh, and I answer all of the tech support questions for Kelby Training too.

So, when Brad asked me if I would be interested in writing a guest post for Scott's blog I thought I could take the opportunity to share some of the most important lessons I've learned in my many roles as a helper in the hopes that perhaps it may inspire you to become a helper in you own way. I've also included a few photos taken around my backyard just to share some of what I do beyond answering questions.

1. You'll become a better listener.
When you truly step into the role of helping someone the first and most important thing you can do to actually help him or her is to understand what he or she is really saying. I get a fair number of questions that are full of a lot of information that is really not relevant to the core reason this person is reaching out to me. I see it as my job to step back, really read (most of my interactions with folks are via email) what they are saying then focus in on the key issue. Sometimes this requires me to ask a few questions to ferret out the right information, but the rookie mistake is to reply too quickly to what we think someone is saying, and then spiral off into a rabbit hole that leaves both parties feeling frustrated.

Newly hatched bluebird chicks.

2. There's no shame in knowing what you don't know.
We pride ourselves on being experts and in being able to solve any problem that comes our way, but the reality is that there are a lot of things I just don't know. I used to be afraid of those three words (I don't know), but now I embrace them. I feel it is far better to let the person asking the question know that I honestly don't know the answer, than to try and bamboozle them with bull-oney to cover up the fact that I don't. I just come clean, and then we can work on trying to solve the problem together, and hopefully at the end they'll have a solution and I'll have some new information for the next person that comes up against the same issue. The person asking the question ends up actually helping himself (or herself), helping me, and then passing it along to others. It just doesn't get any better than that.

Me tending to my bees.

3. There's no shame in asking for help.
My wife will get a big kick out of me saying this as I am far better at giving help than asking for it, but I am working on it! I have had the privilege of helping people from all walks of life, all types of professional backgrounds, and a wide range of ages, and what they all had in common was they had a question that I could answer and the self-confidence to ask it. The moment I gave them that one thing they didn't have before they were free to move on, to stop spinning their wheels, and to get stuff done. Why waste your time digging yourself into a deeper rut when there are so many ways of asking for help these days? I know, I know, I'll try it myself one day. :-)

A beech leaf floating on the pond.

4. Always remember there's a real genuine human being on the other end of that question.
Except when I am on a workshop or standing in at the Help Desk Live booth at Photoshop World, most of my help interactions are done via email. As we all know email and text communication can easily become very impersonal. I'm lucky in that I have gotten to meet a great number of people by working at Photoshop World that previously were only emails stacked up in my inbox (see photo below).  However, I will never meet the vast majority of the people I help, but I strive to always conjure up a picture of them in my mind's eye when replying to their emails as a way to remind myself that they are not just another problem to deal with, but rather a person reaching out for a little guidance. I feel that this comes through in my response, as I have never been accused of talking down to someone or of being disrespectful. I also try to remember this in all those small frustrating interactions we have with each other while standing in line at the grocery check out, waiting at the doctor's office, and driving on the highway.

My good friend Ed Law at Photoshop World 2013.

5. Answer the question, but also try to increase their understanding.
When someone asks a question there is almost always an opportunity to give them something more to help increase their overall understanding, and quite possibly head off the next question before they even knew they were going to ask it. If job one is understanding the question, and job two is answering the question, then job three in my book is providing them a link, resource, tip, or tidbit that gives them something more to chew on. If someone asks what is the keyboard shortcut to show/hide the Lightroom adjustment brush mask I tell them (press O), then I provide a link to all of the keyboard shortcuts too. It would be quicker in the short-term to just answer the question and hit Send, but by taking a few seconds longer I can give them a resource that gives them more and saves them from having to send in five more questions. That's a win for both of us.

The view from the side of my house one snowy morning.

Beyond those five things I can tell you that working on the Help Desk is one of the most rewarding jobs I've ever had, that it must be good for my karma, and it has allowed me to learn Lightroom inside out and upside down. For all of that, and so much more, I am grateful to you all for the opportunity to serve. Hope to see you at Photoshop World!

You can see more from Rob at and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He is a photographer, trainer, and author. Aside from also being a NAPP and Kelby Training Help Desk Specialist, and instructor for the Perfect Picture School of Photography and the host of Peachpit's Lightroom Resource Center. He is a founding member of Stocksy United (a stock photography co-op). Rob writes the "Under the Loupe" column for Photoshop User Magazine, is a regular contributor to Lightroom magazine, and is the author of many photography related books.