Category Archives Guest Blogger

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The Good, The Bad, and The Great – How To Vet Your Clients In Order To Save Your Time, Your Sanity, and Your Career

I don’t think there is a moment associated with as many jumbled emotions in a creative’s career as the first time you tell a potential client, “No thanks, I’m going to have to pass on this assignment.”

On one hand, we want to work, shoot, and create. But on the other hand, we want our relationships with clients to be positive experiences that move our career goals forward and leave us feeling valued and respected – allowing us to make a living without bringing unnecessary stress into our lives (or in the case of some truly toxic clients, waking nightmares.)

Some clients are a dream come true – they value your contribution to their projects, are enthusiastic to work with you, have similar communication styles to yours, and are eager to pay your rates because they understand the inherent value of what you do for them. These clients are rare and beautiful – so hold on to them when they come along.

Most other clients are just fine. You may have a hiccup here and there along the road, but for the most part they act in good faith, are easy to communicate with, and are open to resolution when misunderstandings or disagreements do arise. With a good process in place that establishes realistic client expectations you will have no trouble dealing with clients like this throughout your career.

But there are some clients you should run from – the ones who devalue your work/process, overstep the boundaries you set in your professional relationships, make unrealistic demands based on unrealistic expectations, operate in bad faith, and drive you crazy with little to no rewards. There’s an old saying about “the clients who cause 90% of your problems will generate 10% of your income.”

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The simple fact is that most photographers get so excited by the prospect of even being offered an assignment that they rarely stop to think if the assignment is something that will be helpful or harmful to their careers in the long run. This lack of foresight is why you see photographers excitedly start relationships with toxic and in some cases abusive clients for little more reason than they are offering work (and in the worst cases, those photographers will end up working for these clients for free – either through getting on board the free work carousel or by plain being stiffed on payment.)

You need to put a system into place for identifying which types of clients and projects are the right ones for you. This system should be integrated into your client research/on-boarding process, be data driven, and based on key attributes and values that are important to you in a client. Some things that you may look for in a great client are:

  • Enthusiasm for working with you and your specific style
  • Trust in you and your skills
  • An understanding of what you offer that leads to them understanding its value
  • Responsive to questions about project specifics
  • Their deadline is one that will allow you to do your best work in the time allowed
  • An understanding of how your rates correlate to your output
  • An understanding of the goals of their own project
  • A realistic understanding of their budget
  • Are verbal and written communicators

A client who possesses many of these attributes is highly likely to be a dream client, while one who does not (or even exhibits the opposite tendencies) is one that, at best, may require a great deal of education and, at worst, may be a client you should be hesitant in working with.

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Another important skill to develop is learning to recognize red flags in how your potential clients communicate. A few months ago when I was developing Project Prescription For Photographers with Shauna Haider and Paul Jarvis we focused a lot on what data points and warning signs one could identify in client behavior to help them decide if the client was a good fit or not – and this became the core of our client evaluation module, a data-driven scorecard of sorts for photographers to use internally when deciding if they should work with a new client. Here are just a few of the major red flags we identified and what they could signify.

Have they at any point in your relationship used the phrase “We can’t pay you, but…”
I’m not a fan of working for free, except with a select group of non-profits where I truly believe in the organization’s mission and WANT to donate my time to it (mostly animal rescues these days), and never because of a vague promise of future work or credit. This is one of the easiest and most visible warning signs of a client who needs photography but simply does not value it (or you). And the worst part is that once you work with a client like this, they will have a tendency to call again and again – often increasing the scope of the free work and breeding further resentment over time that can lead to a very toxic relationship.

Have they asked you to provide prices before outlining the scope of the project?
While not always a deal-breaker, these clients have a tendency to see all photography as one-size-fits-all arrangements. You will often receive inquiries from them that are accompanied by almost zero information and followed by an immediate request for a price. These clients tend to be focused on price rather than value, service, and results.

Do they make a lot of “just” or “only” statements?
Clients will often use statements that include the words “just” and “only” as a means of devaluing their own needs as a means of getting you to lower your rates. Classic example phrases include “We JUST need a few portraits,” or “We JUST need you to shoot for an hour or two,” and “We are ONLY using them for social media.” By creating the sense that they don’t value the assignment/usage themselves you may be more inclined to assign less value to the work they are requesting when assembling your estimate.

Are they asking you to do work way outside of your specialty/comfort zone?
You likely have a goal in mind regarding the type of work you want to be shooting – and while they may be offered out of good intentions, not all assignments will move you towards that goal. For example, if you want to primarily shoot portraits, it is unlikely that you will want to take on several product photography assignments (unless you have a dire need for the money) because it will divert focus away from your primary goal, provides little opportunity to develop portfolio work, and may be time better invested in marketing to relevant clients. This can also indicate the client is unfamiliar with your work and just looking for ANY photographer.

Do they respect your boundaries?
This is a huge red flag that encompasses a large scope of behaviors. In its most extreme form it may include being inappropriate/rude towards you in speech or action during your collaboration, or asking you to do things that you find unethical. And in lesser examples it could include not respecting your business hours or calling you at inappropriate times. It is very important to be vocal and firm in setting the boundaries that you expect your clients to adhere to.

Do they want you to work without a contract?
This is business 101 – never work without a contract. I would be highly suspect of any client who actively insists that you work without some kind of agreement in place that sets the terms of your working relationship.

Are they asking you to do spec work?
Block their number.

All of what I just wrote comes with a caveat – I totally understand that rent needs paying, food needs buying, and families need taking care of. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and deal with an a**hole for a while in order to take care of your responsibilities (and hopefully these will be the first clients you cut loose once your situation is more stable). But once you are in a position where you are comfortably able to turn down work when it isn’t a good fit, being picky about your clients will allow you to do all of the above with more clarity and success as your business grows.

So say it out loud right now: “Not every client is the right client for me!”

You can learn more about the entire Project Prescription system here – as well as download a free copy of our client evaluation worksheet to help you find the types of clients you are best suited to collaborate with. You can also see Luke’s work at LukeCopping.com, and follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Vimeo.

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[Editor’s Note: On October 7, 2016, we lost not just one of our favorite photographers, but one of our favorite people, Tim Mantoani, to his battle with cancer. In his honor and memory, we wanted to share Tim’s first guest post from 2009 again today. Tim, thanks for all you did over the years, for your kindness, and for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us. You’ll be greatly missed.]

A few weeks back Brad Moore, Photo Studio Manager at Kelby Media Group dropped me a line inviting me to be the Guest Blogger. I first met Brad while he was working with Joe McNally in New York. Brad came with Joe to the 20×24 Polaroid Studio, while I photographed Joe for my Behind Photographs Project. So, thanks Brad and Scott for giving me the stage for the day.

Photography is part of my soul, it is not my job. Simply put, I love it. Richard Avedon said it best, “If a day goes by without me doing something related to photography, it’s thought I’ve neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up.” So today I will share some images and some thoughts that help put a smile on my face and make me feel complete.

BE WHO YOU IS
Ian Summers is a great business coach in our industry. He loves the quote, “Be who you is, cuz if you ain’t who you is, then you is who you ain’t.” As a photographer it is easy to try to imitate another shooter’s work and to try to be all things to all people. I am based in a smaller photo market in San Diego and often have to shoot a variety of styles to satisfy my clients. However, when it comes down to the work, I always try to give them what they want, then shoot something they way I see it. At least at the end of the shoot, you have something YOU are happy that you created. Put YOU into your work. It is important to sing in your own voice. Think of yourself as a musician. You can place a guitar in the hands of any person and it is just a box with a hole in it, the same is true of a camera. What is the sound of your photography? U2 does not sing Rap, Folk, R&B, etc… They don’t sound like another band, they sound like U2. Be YOU too!

There are people that shop for “photography” and people that shop for a “photographer.” If you are just selling photography, then the cheapest price will get the job. Make your clients buy YOU. Find time to shoot personal work and promote it.

These Polaroid shots were taken on an assignment where I had very limited time with each player and a specific shot that the client needed. Once I knew I had what my client needed, I snapped two Polaroids of each player. In the end, they were my favorite images from the shoot.

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These images of Luchadores are part of an on going personal project. I love the funkiness of these characters. What do you love? Go shoot it.

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ROLL THE DICE
When I was a student at Brooks Institute, Gregory Heisler was a guest speaker. I remembering him say, “Take the biggest chance when you have the biggest opportunity.” It is easy in this business to play it safe. If you do so, people will not remember you or your photography.

I started my Behind Photographs Project in 2006. I had always wanted to try shooting with the 20×24 Polaroid camera, so I rented it for an afternoon. It was expensive to rent and I knew I wanted to shoot something that was important to me. So, I called Jim Marshall and Michael Zagaris. Both legendary photographers, I asked them if I could make a portrait of each of them holding one of their iconic images. Jim told me I was “f***ing crazy.” It was intimidating, expensive and challenging, but it was also exhilarating, priceless and contagious.

Over the past two years, I have shot over 100 photographers and now own a 20×24 Wisner camera. It has been the most rewarding project I have shot to date. I do not have a trust fund, I am not independently wealthy, I refinanced my home to do this. (Did I mention I have the greatest wife in the world?) Believe in yourself. Remember, the rollercoaster is more fun than the merry-go-round.

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Jim Marshall
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Greg Heisler
Dog Legs, 6/19/08, 11:53 AM, 8C, 7308x11688 (948+312), 150%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/60 s, R69.3, G45.0, B60.2
Elliott Erwitt
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Nick Ut
Water Polo Team, 6/19/08, 11:13 AM, 8C, 7308x11688 (948+312), 150%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/60 s, R69.3, G45.0, B60.2
Joe McNally
Mary Ellen Mark, 6/19/08, 11:03 AM, 8C, 7308x11688 (948+312), 150%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/60 s, R69.3, G45.0, B60.2
Mary Ellen Mark
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John Filo
Harry Benson - Beatle Pillow Fight, 8/25/08, 11:30 AM, 8C, 6996x11904 (1104+72), 150%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/40 s, R60.2, G36.1, B51.2
Harry Benson

YOU ARE THE AUTHOR OF YOUR OWN LIFE STORY
One thing I really enjoy about teaching workshops is not what my students learn from me, but what I learn from them. At the end of one of my classes, a student approached me to say thanks and told me that she was a teacher. She said, “I tell my kids that they are the author of their own life story.” I though it was such a simple idea, yet so true. If you don’t like where you are in your life or with your photography, turn the page tomorrow and start taking it where you want it to be. If you don’t, no one will.

A few years back I had hit a creative wall and wanted to shoot some new images for my book. I took off for five days on a trip with a friend from Brooks and we traveled to Cuba. There were many reasons not to go, time away from my family, the cost, etc. But, there were far more reason to go. The trip pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me to look at a new place in a new way and got the creative juices flowing. It made me feel alive. This image of Leonard is one of my favorites from the trip. I later sold it as stock to a national car company for an ad campaign.

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JUST ASK
Years ago, my friend Greg had just gotten out of the Navy as a photographer and was taking a motorcycle trip down the California coast. When he got to Carmel, he stopped at a McDonald’s and thought to himself, “I think Ansel Adams lives here.” So he picked up the phone book and looked up his name, dialed the pay phone, it rang and Ansel answered. “Mr. Adams? I didn’t think you would answer, well…..I am a fan of your work and was in Carmel and just dialed your number.” Ansel asked where he was and it ended up being a few blocks from his home. He invited Greg up to the house, gave him a tour of the darkroom and later had him up for workshops as an assistant. I believe people in general are good and want to help. If you are afraid to ask, you are probably onto something interesting. Don’t be afraid to ask.

When Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour, I really wanted to photograph him. So, I called an editor that I knew at a sports magazine and asked him if the opportunity came up, would he please consider me for the job. A month later we did the shoot.

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PLAY AND REJUVINATE
When I worked for Dean Collins, he used to say, “You get into photography the same way you get into being a prostitute. First you do for fun, then you do it for friends, then you do it for money.” Remember the feeling… The first time you picked up a camera. The first time you saw your image published. The first time you watched an image appear in the darkroom. These moments made us feel alive. Shoot things that make you feel this way again, the energy and passion will become apparent in your images.

One of the greatest things about being a father is watching your kids play and discover the world. Through them you see the world from a fresh perspective and you can become a kid again. I watch cartoons, play with Legos, draw with crayons and make funny faces at myself in the mirror. Become a kid again. The world is less complex, more fun and the food is more colorful. Play.

This series of portraits was taken for USA Softball of the Olympic Team.

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A while ago, I took a wetplate workshop from Will Dunniway in Corona, California. I have always been amazed that early photographers figured out how to make tintypes. At the time, most of my assignment work had become so “digital” I was thirsting to get my hands dirty again. Each plate is a unique image that cannot be repeated. They are hand-made. They are special. Find a way to make your work special.

Tintype Portrait of OJ Mayo

LISTEN TO THAT VOICE
I’ve been in this business for almost 20 years and learned the hard way in some cases. If someone is calling you for a job and it just doesn’t seem to be a good deal for you, it probably isn’t. If it looks like a turd and smells like a turd, guess what? Walk away or you will be sure to step in it. Conversely, when you have an idea that you think is good, run with it. Trust your instincts and shoot it. Make the time, spend the money, see if it has legs.

For this image of Tony Gwynn, I had the idea to reflect baseballs in the top of his silver bats. These bats are given away each year in MLB to the hitter with the highest batting average. To achieve this, I took an image of a baseball on a black background and made a 3×3 foot backlit enlargement of it. This print was then placed over the top of a 3×3 softbox, turning the light source into a giant baseball. The light was then positioned to reflect in the top of the bats. I shot this with a 90mm on a Sinar 4×5. It is now part of a featured exhibit at The Lousiville Slugger Museum.

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PUT IN THE EXTRA TIME
As I write this, it is now 12:30 a.m. My family has been in bed for hours and I am putting in my time. If I don’t someone else will.

For this shot of triathlete Linsey Corbin, I was hired by a magazine to shoot the cover of their annual wetsuit issue. They originally wanted to do a shot that was similar to a image they had run on the cover a year prior of a woman running out of the ocean in a wetsuit. I could have easily shot this type of an image, but I really didn’t want to because it wouldn’t be anything special. Linsey was the top finisher from the US at the Ironman World Championships so I pitched the magazine with the idea of doing an under water shot of her with a flag. This idea required far more production, testing, scouting and time, but in the end it was different and made people in that industry talk. As Yoda said, “Do or do not…there is no try.”

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HALF FULL
My friend Mark Mosrie is a photographer in Nashville and is one of the most positive minded people I know. He came out to visit me in January and had on a t-shirt that had a simple line drawing of half full glass with small type in it that read “half full”. So often, I hear photographers say, “If only I had a ______( Insert: new camera, a new website, more money, the latest light, gizmo or gadget here), I could ________ (Insert: show my portfolio, start my project, get more work, get a rep, etc. here.” Work with the gear you have, market with the resources you have, show the portfolio you have. You will always be waiting for something and if you wait for that new website, that new promo piece, that new camera, you will be missing out on NOW. You can take some amazing images with the sun and last time I checked, it has a much faster recycle time than any strobe system on the market. Focus on what you do have and what you can do, make your glass half full.

Oscar Pistorius is a world-class runner, enough said.

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THIS IS NOT A DRESS REHERSAL
Nine years ago I was playing in a soccer game. Late that night, I had a sharp pain in my knee that lasted through the night. In the morning, I called my doctor and he told me he was out and I could go to the Emergency Room if needed. I wasn’t shooting that day, so I decided to go in and have it checked out. Within the course of several hours, I found out that I had a tumor in my left femur, it was most likely cancer and that the doctors would do their best to “salvage my limb.” At that moment, nothing else mattered. I underwent five weeks of radiation, had half my femur and knee replaced with titanium and spent six months in and out of Chemotherapy. Just in case that was not enough to handle, my wife gave birth to our son, Lucas, 10 days after my surgery.

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This life experience has taught me that you need to do things that you dream about NOW. Every photographer reading this blog has a project they have always wanted to shoot but haven’t. Start it tomorrow. No matter how many reasons you have not to, start it. Make that first call, send that first email, make that first picture. You will be amazed how your life will change and how you will grow both as an artist and as a person. You only get one chance, one life, this is it! You can’t change yesterday, but you can change tomorrow.

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Hey! It’s great to be back on Scott’s blog. Thank you Scott for the invite, and thank you Brad Moore for setting up this extra-long guest blog post.

I’m here with an excerpt from my new (and 37th) book: Evolution Of An Image – A Behind The Scenes Look At The Creative Photographic Process.

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The concept of the book: For each end-result photograph I share my goal, thought process, behind-the-scenes story, original image, outtakes, my Lightroom processing techniques and an unexpected result. I also talk about the photographic conditions. Detailed camera info and my original goal are also included.

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I also demonstrate how plug-ins can help you transform a snapshot into a much more creative image, as illustrated by this giraffe photograph from the Using This Book section.

I have chapters on several different photo specialties: action, scenic, wildlife, people, landscapes and seascapes.

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Here are just two of the opening pages for the more than 30 chapters.

Following is a condensed version of my Wrath of Khan chapter, which is in the Action section. Yes, there are a lot of words in this guest blog post, but there are even more words in the chapter, as well as more images. So as you can imagine, this is a reading/learning book, and not just a book of pretty pictures.

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Location: Mongolia

Goal: Get at least one killer photograph that captures the action and intensity of Mongolian soldiers charging at full speed during the Naadam Festival.

Thought process: Get in the best possible position to make a photograph in which it looks as though the riders are charging toward the camera.

Behind-the-scenes story:
I was about halfway through teaching a private photo workshop in Mongolia. My student, Jack, and I were getting good shots, but neither of us was thrilled with the photographs that we were taking.

Things were about to change, big time. While downloading some files in my hotel room, I noticed a promotional card on the desk. It showed an action photograph of Mongolian warriors on horseback. The tag line: Experience the Naadam Festival – ride with Genghis Khan.

I immediately called our local guide to make arrangements to get us to what looked like an awesome opportunity for action photography. The next day we were at the festival at 8 A.M, an hour before it was scheduled to start.

When we arrived at the festival, I thought I could talk our way onto the field – the best position for realistic photographs. I used all my PR skills, but to no avail. We were told we had to buy tickets and sit in the bleachers.

I ran off to get tickets. I asked a security guard to tell me a little bit about the action on the field, specifically about the direction in which the riders would run onto and across the field. After getting the lowdown on the action, we chose seats in the front row of the bleachers that would give us the best view, the best background and the best light.

The idea here is to ask show organizers and helpers about where action will happen, and then to choose your shoot spot wisely. In festival (and sports) photography, location is very important.

Right on time, at 9 A.M., the festival began with some soldiers – the soldiers you see in the opening image for this chapter – charging across the field. Many elements came together for my favorite photograph of the festival, my favorite photograph from Mongolia – and one of my all-time favorite photographs.

My Favorite Shot – The Making Of A Good Photograph
The elements that make the opening image one of my favorite photographs are the same elements that, I think, make a photograph a good photograph. Listed below are those elements, elements you can consider when deciding on whether one of your photographs is a “keeper” or an “outtake.”

Mood – The mood, emotion or feeling is the most important element in a photograph. The dust, the background and the intense look (gesture) on the face of the lead rider created the captivating mood in the photograph. The body language (another gesture) of the lead rider, and the way he is holding his bow and arrow – while riding at top speed – also add to the impact of the image.

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Good Composition/Cropping – I zoomed in as tightly as possible with my 70-200mm with 1.4x tele-converter set at 200mm (effective focal length 280mm), but the subjects were too small in the frame. Cropping out the boring areas on the top, bottom, left and right of the image helped me to create an image with more impact. Remember: cropping gives us a second chance at composition.

Good Exposure– The flat, and flattering, lighting, created by the overcast sky and dust, made getting a good exposure, with detail in the shadow and highlight areas, easy. The fast shutter speed “froze” the moment in time, and the aperture showed the two main riders in sharp focus, while the surrounding riders were in semi-focus, drawing attention to the two main riders. (Yes, this was luck, but I did have depth-in-field in mind when I was photographing.)

Separation – Notice how in the opening image all the horses and riders are separated from each other. That separation helps to cut the clutter, and makes the photograph more pleasing to view.

In this photograph, the group of soldiers in the middle of the frame is separated from the groups of soldiers on the left and right of the frames.

When composing, look for separation between subjects. Separation helps to add a sense of depth to a two-dimensional photograph.

Being There – A photograph that gives the viewer the feeling of “being there,” or “I’d like to be there,” is another quality that makes a good photograph. Here, I think I accomplished that goal by shooting at a low angle, which gives the soldiers a greater sense of power, and by filling the frame with the subjects.

Peak of Action – The horse in the middle of the frame has three of its four hoofs off the ground – almost the peak of action.

The Subject and Story – Never underestimate the importance of a good subject. These subjects were awesome, and the photograph tells a story even without words.

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Image Processing Technique
Because I had a good in-camera exposure of the Mongolian soldiers, I only made the following Lightroom adjustments (after cropping my image):

  • Increased the Contrast – for a stronger image;
  • Opened up the Shadows – for a better view of the soldiers faces;
  • Increased the Blacks – also for a stronger image.

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This particular charge that morning lasted only about two minutes. I took 15 images, and the last image is my favorite.

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Unexpected Shot
While we were leaving the festival, happy that we finally had some good photographs, I saw this monk on this cell phone and this woman, her identity hidden, perhaps trying to sell the monk a phone. I think it makes an interesting and entertaining image – and a good photograph.

This shot is what I call a “being there” photograph. Because I was shooting close to the subjects with a wide-angle lens, and because everything in the scene is in focus, you feel as though you are in the scene. So the tip here is this: the closer you are to the subject, the more intimate the photograph becomes.

Closing Thought
Be your own toughest critic. Consider all the elements that comprise a good photograph. Then, as I mentioned, follow your heart.

Tech Info for Opening Image
Camera: Canon 5D
Lens: Canon 70-200mm with 1.4x converter @ 280mm
Camera settings:

  • AI Servo focus – to track the subjects for a sharp action shot;
  • ISO 200 – fast enough for the aperture/shutter speed combination I need, 1/640th second – needed to stop the action of the charging soldiers, f/8 – needed for good depth-of-field.

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My Sammonisms
The book also features my favorite “Sammonisms” (my quick tips) along with my latest photographs from India and Botswana. Here’s just one.

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Mood matters most. Sure, cameras and camera settings, as well as lenses and accessories, are important. When it comes down to it, however, it’s the mood of the photograph that matters most.

Color, light, brightness and of course the subject all affect the mood of a photograph. The pleasing mood of my photograph of Chinese fishing nets in Cochin, India that opens this preface is created by the warm glow of the sun and the warm colors in the sky. Shadows also create a pleasing mood and add a sense of mystery to a photograph.

Always keep mood in mind, and don’t get too caught up in the technical aspect of making pictures.

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Evolving as a Photographer

The book closes with a chapter on evolving as a photographer. Here’s an excerpt.

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So in closing this chapter and in ending this book, I’ll leave you with a final image (taken at Trout Lake outside of Telluride, CO), a thought and two quotes.

The Thought: Always take time to reflect on your photography and image processing techniques. Ansel Adams felt at though a photograph is never really finished. It keeps evolving, through the eyes of the photographer.

The Quotes:
There are three methods to gaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is imitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is the bitterest. – Confucius

We don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience. – Thomas Dewey

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Thanks for reading this guest blog post! I hope you enjoy my new book.

If you have any questions, please contact me through my web site: RickSammon.com.

You can see more of Rick’s work at RickSammon.com, order his brand new book Evolution Of An Image – A Behind The Scenes Look At The Creative Photographic Process, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

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Photo by Nathan Rocky

Group Shots: A-List Country Artists for People Magazine

The Job
I was recently asked to shoot a group portrait for People Magazine showcasing the performers, presenters and executives of the ACM Honors broadcast at Ryman Auditorium. When I got the list of talent we’d be photographing I got quite excited; several artists I had worked with in the past, and it would be great seeing them again! But overall, just an A-List group of country music talent together in one room would be a thrill for any Nashvillian!

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Bottom Row (L to R): Miranda Lambert, Cam, Chris Young, Dierks Bentley, Cole Swindell, Luke Bryan, Dan + Shay Top Row: Thomas Rhett, The Band Perry, Keith Urban, Kelsea Ballerini, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town

We would have 2.5hrs to pre-light and 30minutes to shoot. We had 3 phases of the groupings to get through, the Performers, the Performers and Presenters, and finally the Performers, Presenters and the ACM executives. A lofty task right out the gates, but I oddly enjoy shoots that have a time challenge aspect to them, it’s a bit of a rush.

I would be working with set designer Britt Johnson, who I had worked with on prior photo shoots, to start planning on how we would stage so many people. The room we were given to shoot in was a great size for just about anything you want to shoot, outside of a 40 person group shot! We spent a lot of time working out that specific issue over coffee and emails.

The Shoot
Doing a photo shoot alongside a television production means that things can be a bit chaotic. It isn’t normally anyones fault, more that there are multiple companies (venue, magazine, network, production company, etc..) all working their own agendas that at the end of the day end in the same place, but communication can get mixed up and difficult fairly easily.

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That being said, we were about a half hour late getting the grip truck unloaded and multiple loads of gear up the elevator. A great thing to keep in mind when working alongside productions like these is that you need to make bumper time for delays. It’s almost inevitable, and if you don’t consider them a possibility while scheduling your shoots setup, you may easily find yourself running behind.

I had my A-Team on set that day so the delays were no problem. To add to that, the talent was going to be late getting to set (supposed to be 6:15pm, ended up being 6:35pm).

Because we were the last stop before they went in for the show, we were on a VERY strict time frame and from first shot to last, we had talent and shot all 3 groups in 8min. Quiet the rush!

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The Set
As I said before, I was working with rockstar set designer and decorator Britt Johnson on this shoot, and the room we were working with was a bit smaller than we would have preferred. So, how do we give each of these large personalities the proper amount of space when space is one of our main issues? We decided to go the layering route with 2 different heights of risers from our rental house and chairs from the prop house.

We knew the main image People Mag was going to run would be the 1st grouping, 28 people, but that by the end of the shoot we would have about 40 people, so the set had to be a bit versatile. Can’t feel empty with 28, but needs to fit 40.

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The Lighting
I personally love the challenges that come with lighting people and groups. I can inch light stands around all day long till it’s perfect if you let me!

Large groups can be tricky when you’re trying to do a lot of light shaping in-camera. We had four key lights for this shot, and we viewed it as lighting in quarters. The difficult part is that every time you move a single key light, it affects the sections to the left and right to some degree. So we might have the first 2 sections lit well, but when we move the light for the 3rd section you’ll now have to got back to section 2 for tweaks. Quite a bit of small changes in light direction, a lot of back and forth.

For me, the important part was getting a good highlight on the face with a nice shadow to help shape facial features.
We did this by using medium Photek umbrellas as the key lights positioned well above the talent, up to the ceiling. We went with Photek because the ceiling height was an issue and, when horizontal, the umbrellas are fairly shallow. Once we started to position lights we gave most a strong angle and it still worked with the ceiling height.

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The Key lights were on mega booms which we launched from the fill lights. We needed to keep all stands and grip as far back from the set as possible:

1) Because when the talent poured in, the room was about 150 people deep and we needed room
2) With the angle and focal length we were working with, we had about 2 inches on either side of the frame of negative space before we saw grip. It was a very tight set so having those mega booms to keep stands away from the set was absolutely crucial.

In addition to our key lights we had three 74-inch Elinchrom Octas for fill light, positioned to the right and left of camera. I love a good fill light, really helps with large groups to pull out a lot of otherwise missed details.

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The Camera
Possibly my favorite part of this shoot, well at least for the inner detail nerd in me, was using the new Phase One XF 100MP system!

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The beefy files this bad boy puts out are truly amazing and fun to work on. For a shoot where head swapping in post was almost inevitable, being able to work with that type of resolution is a dream for compositing. We shot at 1/800s at f/12, ISO 200. That aperture gave us the ability to focus toward the center row of artists and have the ones in front and behind still fall into focus. Shooting at 1/800s made sure all those wiggling artists were nice and frozen in the frame.

If you aren’t familiar with medium format systems you might be asking how we can flash sync at 1/800th of a sec when your DSLR can only sync at 1/160-1/250. The Phase One cameras are made with leaf shutters that allow them to sync at speeds up to 1/1600th of a second. A lot of medium format cameras can’t shoot at high shutter speeds like 1/8000th the way DSLRs can, but for what I shoot I’d take that sync speed over shutter speed any day!

What makes the final image even more exciting is that it is made up of 2 separate images. A left frame and a right frame. All artists were present at the time of the shoot, but we would pan left and right to fit everyone in. The decision to shoot two frames goes back to dealing with the size of our room. We could have used a 24mm lens, but didn’t feel that it would give us the look we wanted. A 120mm lens would have been great, but I would have needed another 20ft of space to backup and shoot from, just not possible. So we shot at 80mm and doubled the image, which makes for some incredible detail when you stitch together two 100mp images into one.

Below is an example of the resolution power of the XF 100MP! Notice Charles Kelley’s face on the left side of the screen grab from Capture One; that’s at 100%. And at 100% there is every bit of detail you’d want to find and work with!
Bravo Phase One! This is one fantastic system!

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As wild as this shoot was, the controlled chaos of it all is why I love working with big names in high pressure situations. It puts you in a place where you have minutes, or sometimes less, to perform and get the job done or fail. It’s both a rush and a unique time of being extra focused and a grade A problem solver.

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One thing I feel like I relearn every time I have a shoot like this, and something you should always remember, is that when chaos is in the air and you have 100 people asking questions, keep your cool. As the photographer, it’s your set, you’re the captain and everyone is looking to you for direction. As long as in the chaos, or at least perceived chaos that those not in the know of things may see, you remain calm and un-flustered, giving strong direction (and maybe even with a smile), people will calm down, talent will trust you and a successful shoot will follow.

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You can see more of Robby’s work at RobbyKlein.com, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

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Photo by Branden Harvey

When There’s More Than Photography
In 2005, I made the cold-turkey switch from graphic designer to photographer. I had no idea what I was doing and didn’t even know what an f-stop was. But I was all-in and had found my identity.

I was off to the races. Within three months, I landed a photography agent in LA. Within four months I was meeting with the biggest TV and movie studios in Hollywood. And within six months I was hanging out on set, photographing the likes of Sting and TV shows like FOX’s Prison Break.

The past 10 years has been a continued blur of album cover shoots, editorial shoots, a few weddings, a couple three month tours (one with Britney Spears), six-figure advertising shoots, three-figure shoots for friends and everything in between. I even became a photo industry leader. I’ve spoken at every major photography conference. I became a KelbyOne instructor. And I’ve built a good following among photographers over the years.

I had found my identity as a “photographer” and was convinced that would forever be my thing.

But something funny happened along the way.

I had other ideas. Ideas for things that didn’t even involve photography. Books, apps, TV shows, education ideas, speaking ideas, invention ideas, the list goes on and on.

What I realized was that if I’m creative as a photographer, then I’m creative period.

And so are you.

We tend to latch on to one identity don’t we? “He’s a photographer.” Or, “She’s a graphic designer.”

But what if we can still be anything we want? I’m almost 40 years old and I’m dreaming bigger and harder than ever.

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Four years ago, I had a dream to build a hotel. What?? Yeah. That was my thought too. It just came out of nowhere and it’s haunted me for the last four years. “But I thought I was just a photographer?”

What I ultimately realized was that photography was a bit self-serving for me. I’m only building my name, my brand and making myself “famous.” Not that there’s anything wrong with becoming famous as a photographer (as far as fame within photography goes). But what if I could build something that was bigger than myself?

I don’t want to be an old man, bragging to my kids that I once photographed the Kardashians. I want to be an old man, telling my kids about the bold risks I took… That I stared fear in the face and overcame it time and time again. I want to tell them about all the times I failed. About all the shoots that sucked. About the ambitious crowd-funding campaign that failed and how we immediately stood back up and tried again. I want them to learn more from my attempts at success more than the success itself, just as I have.

What are you learning as a photographer today?
What have you failed at?
What other dreams are you pursuing?
What have you been too afraid to try?

I love thinking about these things. I simply refer to it as curiosity. I’m always curious. I love walking into the dark and exploring the unknown.

I’ve never been more in the dark than I am right now, pursuing this dream to build a hotel. I mean, I’m in meetings and conference calls right now with people who are using words that I don’t even understand! I’ve never been stretched more than right now, and I’m loving every minute of it.

Are you growing right now? Stretching yourself?

The biggest thing I learned two years ago when I lost my brother is just how short life is.

Good grief it’s short.

Pursue your curiosity today. Those little whispers of ideas you have? Those are your most valuable assets. Listen. Document them. Pursue them. That’s all I’m doing these days.

And while you’re at it, help me navigate the dark today. I can’t do this on my own.

We need your help reaching our “Step 2 Goal” on our Kickstarter campaign for The Purpose Hotel. Here’s the full vision for the hotel:

Let’s do something bigger than ourselves.

P.S. If you want to check out my full life story, see below:

Keep up with Jeremy and The Purpose Hotel at ThePurposeHotel.com and JeremyCowart.com, and follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Vimeo, and YouTube.

First, I would like to thank Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photo Walk for again supporting Springs of Hope Kenya (SOHK) in giving hope to children who have no one—children that have been abandoned and abused or orphaned.

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This event has become crucial for SOHK and our children. Those that participate and donate help us provide the necessities that every child deserves: food, shelter, and an education. But, most importantly, the Photo Walk gives us the means to move forward in our endeavors to grow and care for the children of Kenya. The Photo Walk also provides children with security, self-esteem, and a place to call home—a place to love and be loved; a place where they don’t have to worry about where they will sleep at night, or if they will eat, or if they will survive this life at all. Through you, they now have a place where dreams don’t have to die, but where they are nurtured; a place where these children won’t be a statistic, but where they will know a future and most of all, hope.

I moved to Kenya in 2008 to start this adventure. Our dream of starting a children’s home in Kenya had finally come to fruition. But, I soon learned that this dream would bring with it many heartaches and difficulties, and it was not going to be easy. These demands took a toll on me, and forced me to rethink my vision of doing this with my husband and family. I eventually realized I was going to be doing this on my own.

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I wasn’t aware of the depths of the issues I would be dealing with — I guess I naively thought we would have all these sweet children who no one wanted, and that we could make it all the better for them. Little did I know that I would be dealing with not only orphans, but also children who had been abandoned and brutalized — physically, emotionally, and sexually. Some issues I had only read about in the newspapers; problems that happen to “other people,” not to people I know and not to children. I didn’t know that these issues would become commonplace for me. I did not think about all the death I would see and experience, or that I would see children that I’d grown to care for and love die before my eyes—something you can never get accustomed to.

I realized these children come with emotional and psychological scars
 that need to be addressed, and they would need healing. I have found out that cute little street boys grow up and can turn into angry young men, and they need counseling and healing. I know now that these children have been hurt deeply — some have been tossed away like rubbish their entire lives. They have had no love or guidance by a parental figure, man or woman. These children have been failed in every way imaginable. These are young people who have been fending for themselves and looking for someone or something to hold on to all of their lives. I did not know that that person would be me.

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I am happy to say that we have worked hard, and through experience SOHK has become a place that with love, care, professional counseling, and encouragement we are turning the tides for these children. We diligently work hard to reunite children with extended family members within healthy home situations, so that these children can have real family experiences to thrive and grow. Some of our children have found forever families through adoption, but in many situations, this is not an option.

Many cannot be reunited or adopted, and that is when we step in and be the family they so desperately need. We have so many success stories, like Dennis and Anthony, who had no future but the streets or death. Maliaka Faith came to us malnourished and we later found out needed two major heart surgeries. Grace and Alex, whose mother died tragically, had nowhere to go. Sometimes I fear to think of where these children would be, or if they would even be alive, if it were not for SOHK and people like you supporting us through the Photo Walk.

Springs of Hope Kenya is not only a home to all of these beautiful children, it is a beacon of hope and opportunity in our community. We employ more than 50 people, which helps the people in our community support themselves and their families, and enables them to educate their children. Our sewing center, Bagamoyo, trains women and men living with HIV, and once they are trained we provide jobs for them. They can then support themselves, go to their clinics, and support their children (see Lillian and Terry’s story).

Our goal is to help keep them healthy and prevent their children from being the future orphans of Kenya. We are working with Professor Tiffany Chenneville Ph.D., from the University of South Florida, to create a program called SEERS (Stigma Reduction Through Education, Empowerment, and Research) in our community, along with youth in schools and colleges. The goal is to educate them on HIV/AIDS to reduce the stigma among the youth in our community.

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We also help many people living in poverty in our community. We provide education for locals who cannot afford to go to school. We work with the Lions Club to facilitate eye clinics for children in our local schools. We provide local education and training for caregivers and teachers dealing with children who come from traumatic backgrounds. These are just a few of the ways you are helping SOHK to make an impact in the world.

Our goals are big and, again, we are so grateful to Scott Kelby’s Worldwide Photo Walk for helping us attain them. We are determined to be self-sustaining, and we know that we need a viable plan for the future of SOHK and our children. We are currently working on these three projects:

  • Bagamoyo: Again, this program creates jobs and training through making beautiful bags from African materials. We are working on selling them in the U.S. online and locally in Kenya. While we’re also helping the people making the bags, the goal is to use the funds made from selling them to support our children.

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  • Farming: We have started to grow our own crops—agriculture is the number one business in Kenya. Our goal is to cut food costs and sell food to our community, which will help with the cost of our children’s home. We have a vision of milking cows and raising chickens, along with maintaining two greenhouses. We also plan to use this program as an educational opportunity for our children.

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  • Kambi Amani (Camp Peace) Eco-Camp: This project has been in the works for a few years. It is a beautiful camp built to sustain, train, and provide hope for our children. While we have been able to open the camp, we have had to work in stages to complete it. This program creates jobs for our former street children and orphans through training and through tourism and hospitality. It also serves the local community through employment opportunities, and revenue from this project goes to the future education of our children. By building basic camping and luxury camping experiences for tourists and missionaries, this will, in turn, bring awareness to SOHK, and the orphans of Kenya, along with the beautiful natural environment of Kenya. SOHK plans to make the camp available during downtime for locals to rent for weddings, company retreats, and other events. This will enable us to raise funds year-round and not just in high season. Kambi Amani (Peace Camp) is a labor of love for our children.

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Looking to the future, we want to make sure we can continue serving children who have no one in this world. We want to be able to support them and their education without asking for donations in the future. But, we have found the old saying to be true, “It takes money to make money.” To Complete Kambi Amani Eco-Camp we have to raise $100,000 USD. This is a lot!!! I know. But, we really wanted everyone who has diligently donated through the Photo Walk to understand and be fully aware of what we are all about, and to also let you know that you are making a difference!

So, despite all the suffering, the heartache, and the questions of “why?” 
because of you, we get to see children who have no one being loved daily! 
Babies that come to us malnourished and near death become healthy and full-of-life and hope. Boys who once had no hope of education are now looking forward to attending college and having a future. Women and men who lived with the stigma of HIV/AIDS and no self-worth are building their self-esteem and getting a new lease on life.

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We get to witness God’s miracles everyday. You are making a difference! Large or small it all matters in the end!

Love and Peace,

Molly Waits
Springs of Hope Kenya

Editor’s Note:

Check out the #WWPW2016 Springs of Hope Fundraiser Here

The Fundraiser is hosted with IndieGoGo’s Generosity.com, which allows 100% of the donations to go directly to the Springs of Hope. All your donations are secure and protected via IndieGoGo’s Security and Safety.

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