Category Archives Guest Blogger

Taye Diggs & Brian Smith

Huge Thanks to Scott, Brad and the entire gang at Kelby Media for kindly allowing me to hijack the Photoshop Insider blog to share a few of my favorite portrait photography tips from my new book Secrets of Great Portrait Photography

I never set out to be a portrait photographer. I started out shooting news and sports photographer but gradually made the move to magazine portrait photography when I realized that I preferred connecting with people face-to-face instead of from the distance of a 600mm lens and I've learned a lot along the way.

Here are just a few of my favorite stories from the last two decades photographing celebritiesâ”stories that reveal what really goes on behind the scenes of a high-profile portrait shoot. I learned a lot in the course of these shoots and I hope you will too.


David Hyde Pierce & Kelsey Grammer photographed for Art & Soul

The first key to successful portrait photography is finding a way to connect with your subject. Portrait photography is kind of like mixing psychology and speed-dating. You've got to quickly figure the right approach to take with your subject to connect with them and draw out their personality.

I get asked all the time how I pose people or what I say to them to bring out a great expression. There is no magic phrase or pose that works every single time. I'm not trying to be coy or hide any secrets, but there's simply no formula to this. An approach that works for Donald Trump will likely fail miserably with Bill Gates. The best way I can answer that is to say: It's Different Every Time!

When I was shot Art & Soul in partnership with The Creative Coalition and Sony as a way for celebrities to show their support for arts education, David Hyde Pierce was one of the first actors I photographed for the book. David has such an amazing face, I didn't have to do much to come away with a memorable portrait.

That photo of David was enough to convince Kelsey Grammer to pose for the book. After just a dozen frames, I'd only started warming Kelsey up when he turned to leave with the words, "Certainly, you must have what you need." I only had a split-second to save the shoot, so without pause I replied, "Yes, I suppose I do, though we got a lot more out of David Hyde Pierce." The sheepish look on Kelsey's face is his reaction to being upstaged by his Frazier co-star.

Peer pressure can be a wonderful thing.


Jack and Elaine LaLanne photographed in Morro Bay, California

When photographing an environmental portrait on location, the shot is about the person and the place, so I always spend time before the shoot getting to know the location and searching out the most interesting place to shoot.

I grew up in the 60s watching guru Jack LaLanne on TV every morning whip Americans into shape. When I got the chance to photograph Jack and his wife Elaine at their home in Morro Bay, California, I wanted to shoot the couple together at sunset with the Morro Bay Rocks behind them.

It was a landmark suitable for a legend - yet until they struck a pose flexing their biceps, I hadn't pictured that the Morro Bay Rocks would become a third bicep rising out of the sea. Sometimes you just get lucky.


Jeff Gordon photographed for Ocean Drive

Reportage and sports action photography are all about anticipating what's about to happen and putting yourself in the right position to capture it when it unfolds. Portrait photography is more about directing and creating and making something happen. It's not uncommon to hear photographers loudly debate the merits of one over the other - particularly when cold beers are involved. Honestly, one is not better than the other, they're simply different. The great thing is that the skills you learn from one can make you better at the other.

The idea for this shoot NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon was to combine the expected with the unexpected. We got approval to shoot Jeff at Homestead racetrack, which is a place you might expect to find him, but gave it a twist by shooting him in a spot he could never be during a raceâ”standing in the middle of the track along the final turn leading to the grandstands.

Anything can happen in the course of a shoot, and embracing these elements of surprise rather than fighting them can result in some unique portraits. In this case, I noticed that the wind kept blowing Jeff's tie up, but instead of pinning the tie down, I asked the stylist to pin it up to match the sense of motion in the checkered race flag. Even when directing a shoot, keep you eyes out for things that happen naturally.


Donald Trump photographed for New York Magazine

A great concept is worthless if you can't convince your subject to do it. Convincing celebrities to take the risks that make great portraits is a bit of an art form in itself.

New York Magazine, assigned me to shoot Donald Trump at his Palm Beach mansion, Mar-a-Lago. I went in the day before to scout the location with the stylist, my wife Fazia. When we spotted a pair of massive poolside swan fountains and pictured the Donald, decked out all in white and sitting on the swan so that it looked like he had angel wings.

Without hesitation, my ballsy wife called the store where she'd reserved Trump's wardrobe for the shoot, canceled the suits she had lined up and asked for every white suit they had in Trump's size.

The next day we showed up at Mar-a-Lago with nothing but eight white suits. Trump's handlers were worried since they'd never seen him wear all white and they were concerned that it might not be the best look for him. But I've always found that dealing with people confident egos is actually a piece of cake since we all want the same thingâ”to make them look good.

When Trump showed up, he took one look at his wardrobe and said, "I've always wanted to do a shoot in a white suit. Don't you think I'll look good in a white suit?" As it turned out, he did look good in a white suit. And he loved the look so much he even bought the suit!


Don King photographed for Forbes

When Forbes assigned me to shoot Don King, art director Bob Mansfield's direction consisted of two words: "Think cover."

I knew I had to bring back a bold, eye-catching image if I wanted to land the cover and figured that nothing could be more eye-catching on the cover of a business magazine than King's signature hair.

We kept the shot very simple. With King in profile, I backlit him from both sides to rim light his face and make his hair glow, and his face is lit from the front with ring flash. Right before we shot, Don did his part, combing through his hair to make it stand up. Did Don make the cover? Absolutely!


Simeon Rice photographed for ESPN the Magazine

When you're shooting pro athletes, it's virtually a given that your time will be limited. You can either panic or embrace it.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in the midst of their Super Bowl run when ESPN the Magazine sent me to shoot defensive end Simeon Rice. With only a half hour to do so, my job was to come away with as much variety as I could in the time I had to make my editor happy.

Sure, you can walk in with a high-speed motor drive and machine gun the hell out of the shoot, but often the best approach is to do the opposite. We kept things very simple, shooting outdoors in available light against a plain black background with my vintage Graflex Super D camera and Polaroid Type 665 Positive/Negative film. You shoot, pull the Polaroid to process, wait 15 seconds, peel it apart, drop the negative side into cold water, and look at the positive to see what you got. Out of the 39 frames we shot, five shots ended up in the magazine.

Shoot less. Think more. Make every shot count.


Christy Martin photographed for Sports Illustrated

Never leave a shoot without at least one shot that makes you proud. Although some magazine assignments can be very open-ended, others read like a shopping list. You always have to photograph what's on the list, but you shouldn't overlook a great shot just because the magazine didn't think to ask for it.

This Sports Illustrated shoot of boxer Christy Martin read like an endless shopping list of shots. We started early in the day and had knocked out the sixteenth and final shot and everyone was beat. When I told Christy I had an idea for one final photo, she shot me a look like, "You know I could kick your ass." But she agreed to do it if I made it quick.

I pulled out my 4×5, placed a single flash head on a boom directly overhead to mimic the tungsten spotlights you'd see at a fight, and taped a full CTO warming gel over the reflector. I shot just four frames of 4×5 and sent Christy on her way. When I shipped the take to my editor at SI, I made certain those four frames were on top.

A week later I got a call from my editor; "Congratulations, you got the coverâ”and it wasn't even one of the shots we asked for."

Always shoot one for yourself because there's often more to the story than just what's on your shot list. Those four extra sheets of film got me a cover I wouldn't have had if I'd done only what was asked.


Nude Golf photographed for Sports Illustrated

If I had to rank these points, I'd actually put this number one. Never, ever forget that photography should be FUN, both for you and the person on the other side of your lens.

One of the keys to successful portrait photography is having all the technical aspects of the shoot nailed down before the subject walks in front of your lens. Then put all the technical stuff out of your mind so that you can concentrate on the person you're shooting.

As a photographer, there's nothing better than getting a call from a photo editor who begins the call with the words, "I've got a shoot that's perfect for youâ¦" unless their next words are "nudist golf." With those two words, consider my calendar cleared. Our shoot was not only tons of fun - it also resulted in some of my favorite photographs ever.


Richard Branson photographed for Time Magazine

I'll close with this portrait of Richard Branson from the cover of Secrets of Great Portrait Photography since it encompasses so many of the points I've made in this post.

"Richard Bransonâ¦on Necker Islandâ¦in a spacesuit." That pitch from TIME magazine photo editor Dietmar Liz-Lepiorz is as good of a pitch as I've ever heard, but to be honest, he had me at Branson.

Branson is a photographer's dream subject: He's extremely media savvy, and he knows a great concept when he hears one. So when we suggested putting him in a spacesuit for a story about his new Virgin Galactic space flights, he was immediately sold on the idea.

Necker Island had a lot of great locations ranging from palm-lined tropical beaches to red rock cliffs that looked like Mars, but my favorite was a little sandbar just off the island surrounded by nothing but the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean. After discovering that I wanted to shoot on a spit of sand just off the island at sunrise, Branson leaned over to me at dinner and slyly said, "Sunrise is at 5:30 a.m." Without skipping a beat, he added, "So you and I need to be at the dock at five."

The next morning, which just happened to be Christmas Eve morning, we were all up before dawn boarding the boat to the sandbar just in time for Branson to don the spacesuit as the sun began to break the horizon. I shot from one knee so that Branson and his spacesuit rose heroically into the sky. We shot for about and hour starting at first light. The resulting portrait, blends conceptual and environment portrait with a touch of the unexpected and boy did we have fun!

You can see more of Brian’s work at, keep up with him on his blog, and find him on Facebook and Twitter.

For a limited time, you can also get 35% off Secrets of Great Portrait Photography using the code SMITH at the Peachpit Store!

Amanda Sosa Stone with Daughter Lilia. photo by Diana Zalucky

Have you ever felt that glimpse of (insert YOUR THING here)? When it’s close you want to hold onto it forever. It’s a clarity unlike any other. Everything makes sense, whether it's the purpose of life or finding your own unique vision that will make you rich.

I too have sought "it," and I, too, want to hold onto "it." But I've lost it many times.  But I know it's there, and if I know it or feel it, then it must be real, right?

Who isn't searching for the purpose of life? Who isn't trying to build up their clientele, or make it to the next level, or just maintain what they've spent years building? Every person I encounter is in one of these categories, if not all of them. But how can you feed your creative soul if you can't see straight or you don't know your own path?

I'm no master, but I have spent most of my young life analyzing the hows and whys. I learn every day from my clients who teach me through their journeys and who allow me to tag along and honor me with the opportunity to give guidance.

What I've learned is this ⦠it's all about the journey. Moments keep coming and most fade with time, but it's the "AH HA!" moments that shape our experience and help us grow.

I believe the journey always starts with YOU. Consider these recent pit stops on my own journey.

I did a student talk at my collegiate alma mater about finding your path, and it contained an "AH HA!" moment ⦠the reawakening to my own style.  When you consult, you wear many hats and you edit based on the individual client's needs. I hadn't thought of my own unique style in a long time, even though I'm thought of as the "lifestyle" consultant (although I have consulted with every genre under the sun).

So before my talk, I crawled into the attic and dusted off photo boxes (yes, those were the days we printed with developer and my nails were stained with chemicals ⦠I wasn't a glove-wearing girl). When I pulled down the images, I slowly unveiled a personal style that I'd forgotten: mostly portraits, classic, simple and slightly epic in emotion. I knew what I liked then. That was Pit Stop one.

The next stop was making over my office, an attempt to find inspiration in my own space. I pulled out all my old photo books and my old tears from years ago. I wanted to do a wall of things that inspired me. I pulled out photo gifts over the years (some with sentimental value based on who shot them, some that were simply awe-inspiring), cutouts from years past, landscapes, still life, portraits, etc. Sprawled out on the office floor with frames I recently found around the house and Goodwill (I am thrifty) and started editing - and yes, editing for myself is as torturous as it is for you.

Once I forced myself to pick the images that made me the happiest, I realized it was the same theme - classic, simple, emotionally epic. But what shocked me was the amount of portraiture I've embraced over the years. The landscapes and some of my favorite gifts were pushed to the side. What made the cut? It was some of the greats (Da Vinci, Cartier-Bresson, Callahan), some more recent but no less brilliant work (Knights, Erickson and my college roommate) and some of the actual people who've shaped my life (Weissberg by Markow), and a few recent success stories (Costanzo) ⦠even some work created by myself (that wasn't easy).

Let me explain my decorating style. I work quickly and I don't question what I do, so once I picked the images, I started cutting and sticking the images into frames. My 3-year-old son helped me stick the images up on the wall (no walls were damaged in the process) with no specific plan or layout, other than what I saw in my head. If I didn't do it right there and then, it might be another 20 years sitting on a bookshelf or in a folder.

And there I had it - a glimpse of myself. This doesn't change my editing skills. But it does make me happy, to see myself reflected back, and now I see it every day.

How does this help find the meaning of life? It was a process of reflection - a look at the past and how it shaped the present, and how it's continuously shaping my future. I got into this industry because I loved the notion of the "caught moment;" I loved the soul captured through the eyes; I loved emotion that could be felt through a shutter. It's this love that draws me back and shows me the way. It's this passion that drives me to help my clients everyday.

What is your passion? What keeps drawing you near? What is that one thing that stops you from throwing in the towel, even though you've thought about it many times)?

Discover it. Reignite it. And do it over and over again for your entire life and career.

Seek. Reflect. Keep moving forward. Remember, change is the only constant.

What I've learned about this industry is that whatever career path you choose, you must integrate it into your life. It can't be a burden. Embrace it and stop running from fear of rejection. Shine your light on it, capture it and embrace the career and life you choose. It's not about making a million bucks (but that is nice) - it's about embracing each moment you experience.

And if you're lucky, you brought your camera along to capture it!

Barbara Morgan - one of my most favorite images of all time.

Jim Erickson - From his Book Mothers he sent as a promo over 10 years ago to me as an art buyer.  A favorite book I have kept over the years.  I sinned and ripped this image out of the book because I loved it too much not to look at it every day.

Amanda Sosa Stone (circa college - aka Amanda Sosa) - this was a polaroid from a series of 4×5 portraits taken.  Orlando Weekly's award winning cover image.

Photo of Elyse Weissberg (mentor and consultant extraordinaire) by: Paul Markow

Pablo Corral Vega – (One of My Dream Clients from National Geographic Assignment Division)

Harry Callahan - A self taught master that always reminds me to capture people that are in your life.

Amanda Sosa Stone is a creative consultant based out of Orlando. You can find out more about her at or, and follow her on Twitter.

Let me start off by saying thank you to Scott for reaching out and asking me to put together this guest blog post. While my passion for photography is well known, I love being given the opportunity to talk about the philosophical and underlying importance of realizing just how fortunate we all are to be in the world of photography these days, but I digressâ¦so let's begin!

"Walking to Nirvana" - Angkor Wat, Cambodia

While my passion for photography lies with my landscape and nature work, it is actually my travel and humanitarian photography that has allowed me to carve out a name for myself in the photography industry. It has been through these experiences of traveling the globe as a photographer and photo educator that I have been able to take a somewhat unique view of both life on this planet and how it correlates to the ever changing photo industry as a whole.

These days, I feel there is no doubt that we are in the middle of a shift when it comes to photography and the photo industry. As digital cameras continue to become more affordable, photo technology continues to advance at unbelievable levels and digital editing software continues to become more accessible and easier to understand, we will continue to see a massive influx of individuals becoming interested in photography as their artistic median of choice.

While photographers of past generations seem to stubbornly focus on the perceived over-saturation of the market, they sadly miss one of the most prolific and fundamentally important virtues of this change. The simple fact that today, more people have the ability to creatively express themselves through the art of photography than ever before in the history of our species. And tomorrowâ¦.there will be even more than today.

"Lost Innocence" - Port Au Prince, Haiti

While giving more individuals the ability to capture their experiences throughout life is amazing in its own right, it is through our unprecedented ability to share those images and experiences instantly with the world around us we begin to truly see just how significant this change truly is. According to Internet World Stats in 2011 there were 2,267,233,742 active internet users on the planet. This equates out to roughly 32.7 of the planet. Can anyone guess how much of an increase this was from 2000?

If you guessed 528% then you would be correct! The advent and increased popularity of the Internet has dramatically shaped not only how we find information, but how we share content. While sitting in my office on the complete opposite side of the world I can instantly get information of a civil uprising in Syria, an earthquake in Haiti, the discovery of a new species in Papa New Guinea or simply hear about my sisters new jobâ¦.all with nearly the same amount of easeâ¦using the same pathways of instant communication that many of us have taken for granted over the yearsâ¦Social Media.

Colby Brown's image of Mt. Fitz Roy in Patagoni on his Google+ Account

As Photographers we all should all already understand the importance of the "visual element" when it comes to our photographs. All of us strive to create compelling images that are enjoyed by others, but do we really understand just how powerful our images are in influencing others? Let's find outâ¦

For the images below, I want you to take a second and asked yourself what are the first words that come to mind when you view each of these photographs individually.

Now while each of us might have different reactions to these images, the average response is fairly consistent when I give this presentation at seminars and photography events.

1st Image - Serene, balance, peace, tranquility. This image is of a set of mountains taken in a valley in Las Glacieres National Park in Southern Argentina.

2nd Image - Destruction, Earthquake, Sorrow, Sadness, Despair. This image is of the Carribean Market in Port Au Prince, just months after the devastating earthquake in 2010.

3rd Image - Happyness, Joy, Warmth, Bright. This image is of a sunflower in my home town of Denver, Colorado.

4th Image - Love, Compassion, Innocence, Peaceful. This image is of my son just hours after he was born in 2012.

The point of this little exercise is to showcase the power that a single image can have over another individual. Not only can an image invoke a particular emotion in the viewer, it also has the power to effectively change their view of a given moment, experience or scene. Think about it. How often have you been moved by an image and allowed it to change the way you think about a particular subject. It could have been an image of a malnourished child in Africa, a group of soldiers in Afghanistan or a Polar Bear floating away on an iceberg.

While these scenes are more exotic that the average photographer typically gets to experience, let's make this a little more relatable. Have you ever thought about how your images of the area surrounding your home effect other individual's impression of your state? Let's use Colorado, my home state as an example. According to Longwoods International, the state of Colorado had 57.9 million visitors in 2011. Out of these travelers, my home state brought in over $10 billion in revenue, which is no small amount, especially in a difficult economy. What does this have to do with photography?

Well every time I shared an image of Colorado, every time I wrote about my travels throughout the Rockies every time I gave a presentation on photographing this beautiful state, that content was published out onto the interwebs for the entire world to see. Was I personally responsible for the massive numbers I listed above? Of course not. But when you imagine the residents of the State of Colorado, the Colorado Tourism Board, all of the businesses that rely on tourism and the travelers themselves all sharing images and stories via the internet and a picture begins to be painted.

"Mt. Wilson in the Fall" - Telluride, Colorado

In understanding these fundamental changes, I created a new organization in 2011 called The Giving Lens. The idea is to combine photo education with supporting sustainable development initiatives in 3rd world countries around the globe. Each workshop we offer acts as a fundraiser where over 60% of the proceeds go back to the NGO's and individuals we work with on the ground to help fight for child education, women's rights, clean drinking water projects, species preservation and much more. So far this year we have worked in Peru and Nicaragua, with trips to Cambodia, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, and a second Nicaragua trip on the horizon. The idea is to find tangible outlets for your photography work to make a difference.

In the end the digital revolution of the photography industry and the Internet has changed the world. As more and more individuals are able to afford quality digital cameras and as we continue to become more globally connected through the Internet, the importance of the freedom of artistic expression has never been more visible. As artists and photographers we have the opportunity, and to some extent responsibility, to share our experiences with the world no matter if we are full time professional photographers or just picking up a camera for the first time. From receding glaciers to species preservation to the perception of the place we call home, we all have a role to play in shaping the image of life on this planet.

You can see more of Colby’s work at, circle him on Google+, and follow him on Twitter

Image © dav.d -

I’ve been reading Scott’s blog for quite a while, and a few years back would never believe that I would be asked to write a guest post for him. (Or ⦠maybe he’s just running low on options? I kid, I kid.) :) I do a lot of writing about photography, and you’ll probably see plenty of “how-to” posts up on my blog and on Google+. This, however, is my moment to share more than just the how I photograph something, but rather whyâ”my journey to becoming a photographer, so to speak. I learn so much from other’s experiences and I hope that by sharing my story I’ll inspire, motivate or maybe even help you make that one decision you’ve been struggling with. So, here goes nothing :)

My path as a photographer somehow seems to have "just happened". I know, of course, that things didn't just fall into my lap, but rather I opened doors and paved the path to get to this point. When I think about this path it seems like a straight line, but in reality it would probably be more in the shape of a labyrinth … a twisty-turny mess of a path that was a lot more difficult to get through at the time. I’m still finding my way, yet when I look back I realize that there were certain events, both big and small, which brought me to where I am today.

We all have those times in our lives where if we had gone another direction or made a different choice then things would, right now, be completely different. These moments may not solely determine who we are, but they have such a profound impact that they end up shaping, molding and pushing us to change small bits of our lives. These small bits get piled up to become big, life-changing, defining moments. Here are just a few of my very own “defining moments”.

Discovering Photography
I think all of us can reminisce about the story of how and why we fell in love with photography. I wish I could say that I’d been carrying a camera around since before I could walk, but I didn’t find photography until late into my teenage years. I’d always been a “crafty” kid who loved drawing, painting and making strange sculptures with popsicle sticks and pom-pom balls. When I was in High School I needed to fulfill an art credit in my Junior year and noticed photography was one of the options. I though, “Why not? This could be fun”. Oh, how my world was about to change.

I can remember sitting in class when we were learning about aperture and shutter speed, and I had a “lightbulb” moment. Holy crap, I GET IT! I realized at that moment that photography was my art, the method I could communicate my vision to the world (or, in the time of film and darkrooms, to my fellow classmates). If I had not decided to take that class who knows what my path would have been.

I’m a photographer today because I made a seemingly small decision when I was 16 years old.

Joining the US Navy
While I was in High School I wanted to be a professional photographer so badly, but knew it was extremely competitive. I also had this crazy idea that if I did something I loved for my job then it wouldn’t be fun anymore. So ⦠I joined the Navy instead. Another subject I enjoyed and was fairly good at was languages, so I enlisted as a Cryptologic Technitian Interpretive. I spent the next two years of my life learning Korean and going through some pretty intense training (a.k.a. Aircrew and SERE school) and then flew off to Japan for my first duty station.

Now, I thrive in structured environments, but the military is structure like you would not believe. Rank, uniforms, inspections, endless training, fitness tests ⦠you name it, I did it. And, I did it well. I learned responsibility, how to lead (and how not to lead), and also gained experience I would have never found elsewhere. I was exposed to a very large group of diverse people, both from within the military and from different cultures, and went to countries I knew nothing about. Throughout this process I learned that I can pretty much make it through anythingâ”I just have to be persistent, knowledgeable and never quit. I’m a much stronger person today because I served my country.

Re-discovering Photography
At some point during my time in the military I bought my first digital SLR. I’d been using film for quite a while, but thought it was time to make the transition to digital. And, when it came to maneuvering my way around my DSLR, not to mention post-processing in Photoshop, I was clueless. So I looked for a local photography class to fill in the gaps for me, and also to have a focus for my photography. I looked, but couldn’t find anything that was at the level I was hoping for.

Then, one day while reading a photography magazine I came across an article on microstock. I was immediately intrigued by the whole idea of it ⦠people would create photos, upload them to the site and then maybe make a few bucks from it. So, I signed up and started uploading images. Eventually I started creating photos specifically for my stock portfolio and ended up using microstock as a “focus” for my work. I was creating more images with more intensity than ever before, and was learning so much in the process. It was perfect! I didn’t even need a classâ”I was teaching myself, reading blogs and hanging out in the iStock forums and it was just what I needed to improve my images.

And then, I started making real money with my photography! Not a lot, especially at first, but enough to have another “lightbulb” moment ⦠I might actually be able to do this as my job! And I was right. I separated from the military a few years later and now my sales from stock photography make up the majority of my income. Plus, it’s opened up doors for me I never even knew existed. Who knew that one article in a magazine could change my life forever? :)

Going to Photoshop World
I honestly can’t tell you how I found out about NAPP and Photoshop World. I probably read about it in a magazine, or saw it on a blog. Whatever it was, I knew it looked interesting. It was 2008, and at this point I was in my third year of stock photography, but I knew that I had a lot to learn and PSW seemed like the right place to start. So I bought my ticket, booked my flight and hotel and was on my way to an event that would, again, change my life.

It was at Photoshop World that I met people in person for the first time, mostly those I knew through Twitter along with several other iStock photographers, and I started making a ton of friends and connections. I learned just how much I actually knew about Photoshop (which was a lot more than I had realized) and that pushed me to want to learn even MORE. After this experience I eventually became an ACE (Adobe Certified Expert) and shortly after started actually working for NAPP as a Help Desk Specialist (I’m one of the folks who answer Photoshop questions from NAPP members). None of that would have happened if I hadn’t gone to Photoshop World. And I still goâ”every year. Where else can you get the best teaching about Photoshop and be surrounded by so many amazing people at the same time?

Seeing Light
I can vividly remember the moment I first saw light ⦠I was driving down the road and it hit me like a ton of bricks. I could see the light, the shadows ⦠I knew which direction the light was coming from just by looking at the way the light wrapped itself around something. I honestly can’t believe that it took me so long to get to that point, almost as if I had been photographing while being blind-foldedâ”after all, we need light to create a photograph. The key to good photograph is not the existence of light but the quality of the light. Now I can not only see light, but I can manipulate it, communicate with it and read between the lines. That moment was the start of shaping and changing my vision as a photographer and light is now no longer the mystery it used to be.

Moments like these, the “break-throughs” we experience often come from a daisy-chain of other events. It might be from seeing something in a book, or hearing an instructor say something. I don’t know what it was that prompted this moment, but I’m glad it happened. Every little morsel of information and learning we devour matters. I think of this moment when I’m teaching or writing about photography and keep in mind that anything I explain is always new to someone. And if it’s not new, it’s probably a good refresher.

Writing my First Book
It’s not everyday you get a phone call from a book publisher asking you to write a book for them, but that’s exactly what happened to me in 2009. Up to this point I’d been blogging regularly, but didn’t know I could actually write. So I signed a contract with Peachpit and started writing my first book, and a year later I was on my second book. A year after that, my third, and now (another year later) I’m writing my fourth book with Peachpit, and I even have a few eBooks with Craft&Vision under my belt. I honestly never, ever expected to be an author. I’ve learned a bunch in the process and hopefully have helped out my readers learn more about photography along the way.

I expect to be writing books and eBooks as far into the future as I can imagine, and hopefully nudge my way into other types of instruction and education if I can. Overall, writing has extremely impacted my lifeâ”I’m more passionate about photography because of it and I get to share that with so many people. Photography is my passion and I understand how important it is in creating and sharing memories, stories and beautiful art with those around us. I’m so happy that I get to spread what I know with as many people who will listen.

Joining Social Networks
Of all of the things that have impacted my path as a photographer, Social Media is at the top of the list. At first Twitter was the “place to be”. I made connections with other photographers and businesses and had many doors opened up for me in the process. Then, just last year, Google+ came onto the scene. I thought I’d give it a try, and even though it’s just over a year old it has, by far, been the biggest influence in my life in terms of social media. I’ve made a ton of friends (some of them are even the kind you actually hang out with in real life) and even met a great guy along the way. For me, social media is not just a place to post photos and casually interact with other photographers ⦠it’s a community of peopleâ”real peopleâ”one that evolves and grows and becomes better because of the people who are a part of it. To say that my life is changed for the better from being connected on sites like Google+ would be an understatement.

The thing about all of these moments is that you don’t realize their importance until afterwards. Knowing this makes me really think about each decision and to take in and really appreciate each moment. It also helps me realize how important my relationships are and that I should do things out of love and respect instead of emotion and impulse. Everything I read, write, and photograph brings me closer to the people I meet along the way ⦠which, if you ask me, is what life is really all about.

You can read Nicole’s blog at, find out more about her books HERE, follow her on Twitter or hang out with her on Google+.

Image by Eric Barth

"Embrace risk. That is the key to improving at anything. Without the willingness to go down the uncharted path, you will not learn, you will not improve, and you will not grow. This might sound a little preachy, but it is a life lesson I have learned again and again as a climber, a mountaineer, and a freelance photographer. Safety is an illusion. Get over it. You cannot control everything in this world. I have learned to learn from my mistakes because I learn more from my mistakes than I do from my successes. When I make a mistake I own up to it, and then plot how to avoid making that mistake again. Making a mistake is just part of the learning experience. It makes me aware of certain possibilities and outcomes. Sometimes it is only by making a mistake that you stumble onto an unexpected result, or image in this case, and by analyzing that mistake, you can create a whole new look.

Creative people need risk to "break on through" to the next level; here I am making a reference to one of The Doors' most popular songs. The musical group creatively pushed the envelope, were unconventional (in the extreme), and took chances with their music and lyrics. I use the band as an example only to make the point that if you can't embrace risk, your images will never be more than mediocre. And that is a sure way to underachieve.

Red Bull is a company that embraces risk and asks their photographers to do the same. I had only nine seconds total to capture the action for this B.A.S.E. jumping assignment. In this image, Jon DeVore of the Red Bull Air Force Team, is leaping off a 3,200-foot cliff in southwestern Utah in his wingsuit. I was hanging over the edge of the cliff just next to Jon as he jumped. I wore a climbing harness and was attached to three small bushes that might have held my weight but I never fully committed my weight on the rope.

As a climber, a mountaineer, and an adventurer, I implore you to get out and experience your own adventures. They might just be the best motivator for your photography. Stepping out of your comfort zone provides everyone with a chance to grow. The next step is to take the knowledge you have learned and put it into practice repeatedly and as often as possible. Dare to fail. Aim high. Dream up an image you want to create and then go out and try to create it. If you don't get the result you want, try again and again until you do. Practice makes perfect, or at least in photography it makes your images better. Get inspired, get motivated, and get moving. That is the key to photography.”

The three paragraphs above are from my most recent book, Exposed: Inside the Life and Images of a Pro Photographer. They sum up my credo as an adventure sports photographer. Over the last sixteen years, I have pursued my craftâ”and my professionâ”with a fervent passion. I have also been fortunate to work with clients such as Nikon, Apple, Adobe, Red Bull, National Geographic, Outside, Men's Journal, and Sports Illustrated. I have crafted an adventurous lifestyle that has allowed me to witness and document some truly remarkable feats of physical prowess.

The cover of my latest book, “Exposed: Inside the Life and Images of a Pro Photographer"

In this blog post, I want to encourage you to â˜embrace risk' and invite adventure into your life and your photography. I am not advising that anyone take huge risks physically, but a â˜willingness to go down the uncharted path' and explore those things that make you uncomfortable will open up a whole new world. As an example, I will share a bit of my story and how taking on a new sport changed my life in a way I never could have imagined.

In my last year of studying physics at the University of Texas at Austin, I took a weekend rock climbing course through the outdoor recreation program. I was a shy kid. I lacked self-confidenceâ”and I was a little afraid of the risks involved in rock climbing. But I hadâ”and still haveâ”an inclination to run headlong into situations I find challenging. Little did I know at the time, but that rock climbing course would be the start of a whole new career.

Over the next few years I became obsessed with climbing in all its forms: rock climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering. As I gained confidence in my skills as a climber I also gained confidence in myself. When I was a teenager I had explored photography as part of my art studies. It was climbing that brought me back to photography and it was the confidence I gained through climbing that gave me the courage to pursue a career as an adventure sports photographer. I started out shooting rock climbing, then branched out into just about every other adventure sport.

In this image, Chris Sharma is hanging from the biggest hold on this very difficult climb while "Deep Water Soloing" in Mallorca, Spain. This image was shot early on in my career while on assignment for Men's Journal. And yes, he is not wearing a harness or a rope. Deep Water Soloing is a form of rock climbing where you climb solo without a rope and if you fall the water catches you. I am hanging next to Sharma on a rope to get the shot.

In the beginning, I shot everything "on spec," meaning I went out and created the images and then licensed them to various magazines and climbing companies after the fact. This was, and still is, a risky way of doing business. I never knew where my next paycheck was coming from or when it would show up. My first big break was an assignment for Men's Journal shooting rock climbing in Mallorca, Spain. That came to me about five years into my career. My second big break was an assignment to shoot freeriding (a cousin of mountain biking) for the first version of Adobe Lightroom. After that assignment, advertising and editorial assignments started to come more frequently and with increasing regularity.

I don't want to give the impression that my career was a joyride on easy streetâ”just the opposite, it was a constant struggle to make it work. Working as a freelance photographer involves an insane amount of hard work, stress and risk. For me, that risk was both physical, as an adventure photographer, and financial. Many of my early climbing trips were sponsored by VISA and MASTERCARD, both of which were stored safely in my wallet. It took me years to pay off those climbing trips and my camera gear but to this day I don't regret it one bit. I certainly don't recommend using your credit cards to fund your business adventure but at the time I had no other options.

Above is an image of YouTube superstar Danny MacAskill that was shot for Red Bull. Working with Danny was a supreme pleasure and his story is incredibly inspiring. His story is a perfect example of a motivated, and extremely talented individual, showing what they are capable of and reaping the benefits of being able to show that to the world, via YouTube.

Even now, sixteen years later, I can't tell you exactly where my income will come from six or more months from now. I have to have faith that, like the last sixteen years, the assignments and the work will come to me. This certainly isn't the job for anyone that wants some vestige of financial security in the form of a steady job. But for me, the rewards of this job are that I am able to see and create images of stupendous feats of bravery in the outdoors. My life of risk has also allowed me to follow my passions to places I never thought I would ever visit and being able to share these adventures with the world, through my clients, is a great pleasure.

It is only by pursuing risk on a continual basis that my career has grown, and blossomed into what it is today. I still seek out challenging assignments, new sports and even new genres of photography. I still long for that next adventure. If I don't have an adventure on the horizonâ”something to look forward toâ”I start to get a little stir-crazy. I am not an adrenaline junkie, as so many "extreme" athletes are labeled. I am just addicted to having adventures.

One of my latest passions is capturing the dynamic sport of surfing. This image of pro-surfer Dylan Longbottom surfing a barrel at Teahupo'o was shot in Tahiti specifically for my book Exposed.

When I wrote Exposed last year, I had serious doubts about the topics covered in the book and if they would be of interest to anyone at all. The idea to write about the realities of working as a professional photographer, the stories behind the images and detailing how a handful of my images were created was hashed out prior to starting the book with Ted Waitt, an editor at Peachpit. I wanted to be extremely open and honest about my experiences as a pro photographer including all of the embarrassing moments so that the reader could see how I got from A to B to C.

As an example of hard work, creating this image of professional rock climber Timy Fairfield involved lugging over 200-pounds of lighting gear and equipment up into the cave in 98-degree heatâ”not to mention that fact that Timy still had to climb this difficult route in very tough conditions.

When the first few reviews of Exposed came in a few months ago I was amazed. The reviews were well beyond anything I had imagined. Yet again, taking a risk paid off.

It is my hope that this blog post will at the very least make you sit up and think about how you can add some adventure to your life and inspire your photography. Embracing risk may not be easy, and it may not be pleasant, but it will certainly make life interestingâ”and interesting often makes for phenomenal photographs.

While shooting an assignment for Men's Fitness with the Henry 1 Search and Rescue team in Santa Rosa, California, I saw the opportunity for this image and had only twenty minutes to create it. This image was only possible because of the digital preview available on the rear LCD of my Nikon camera, which allowed me to refine the lighting in a matter of minutes.

Thank you to Scott, Brad and the gang at Kelby Media for asking me to write a guest blog post. It is a great honor to be included among the wonderful photographers here on Scott's blog. And thank you for taking the time to read this guest blog post.

If you would like to read more about the adventures behind my images and how they were created please check out my book, Exposed: Inside the Life and Images of a Pro Photographer.

You can see more of Michael's work at, keep up with him on his blog, and find him on Facebook and Twitter. Michael also produces a quarterly newsletter, which is a mini PDF-magazine that details his latest adventures, and includes news updates, equipment reviews and other articles on various topics related to the photo industry. If you would like to sign up to receive the newsletter send him an email. You can check out back issues of the Newsletter on his website here.

You can also get 35% off Michael’s book by using the code KMCLARK at the Peachpit Store!

Having It All!

How can I have it all? Well, you must first determine what "all" is! For many of us, as photographers, we want to be successful! But then again, what is success? The first thing that comes to mind is fame and fortune; you are well known and respected as photographer, and you make boat loads of money with your images! Please allow me to pull rank on you. At 66 years of age, I've learned a great deal about these questions, and more importantly, the answers! Let me share some thoughts with you.

Let's start with fame. I hate to burst your bubble, but there are no famous photographers. Now I didn't say that some photographers are not well known, some certainly are, but mostly among other photographers. It's what is called positional fame. If you were an auto mechanic who has been named America's Top Mechanic three of the last four years, you certainly would be well known among mechanics, just not to the general public! It is the same for us, we may reach a measure of recognition among our peers, but the general public has no idea who we are. Elvis was famous, the Beatles are famous, Brad Pitt is famous. As photographers we can never hope to get that kind of attention, and I say great! Would you really want to wear a disguise to go out to dinner to keep from being recognized and hounded by the paparazzi? I bet you're saying no!

O.K. so we have settled the fame business, how about fortune? Well if you find a way to become incredibly wealthy being a photographer, let me know!! Can you make a good living as a photographer? Sure, but only a handful of photographers have ever gone on to become millionaires on the strength of their work. So it would seem that both of those are goals not worthy of our time and effort. That leaves us with the task of redefining success.

Let me share with you my definition of success:
"To love and be loved, to have a purpose, goals, and aspirations that lead to a better life for those around me. To laugh a lot, smile even more, and enjoy the greatest gifts God has given me; faith, fellowship, peace, and joy!"

In the summer of 2012 I find myself smack dab in the middle of that definition. As I prepare to retire from my full time job, I'm starting another stage in my life, that of being a full time, servant of Christ! What does this have to do with photography!?

Photography is my vocation and avocation, and I love to share it. I love to teach and fellowship with others that have a love for this craft. I also have given my life completely to Jesus Christ, and my service to Him is to love others as He loves them!

I'm so excited because the rest of my life will be dedicated to sharing these two great passions with those that will allow me to be a part of their lives. Now I've actually been doing that for a long time, but with a new workshop company I've started, it will have an official home. A couple of years ago I started a company called His Light Workshops, and soon after took on a great friend, and wonderful photographer, Jim Begley as my partner in the venture. Jim is not only a world class photographer specializing in HDR, he's also a great Christian brother with the same goals as mine, to reach out in His name.

His Light Workshops will be a place where people who want to learn how to become a better photographers, can do so, in a faith based environment. I've run photography workshops for many years, eleven of those years as the director and founder of the Great American Photography Workshops. I'm very proud to say that the GAPW had one of the highest approval ratings from our customers of all the workshop series of it's time. The formula was simple, give people great instruction, from gifted leaders, in beautiful locations, have a lot of fun, and make the workshops a great value!

His Light starts where the GAPW ended, except we now have added the most important component, sharing Christ's love!  We've now run workshops in a half dozen locations and the big difference is not only do we get calls and emails from our Guests thanking us for a great learning experience, we also get a lot of messages that say, "It was a life changing experience!" That has been Jim's and my goal from the start and with each new workshop, more and more people are finding not only increased photographic skills but also a stronger, deeper, and more meaningful purpose for their lives.

We've been joined by such great photographers and leaders as Scott Kelby, Matt Kloskowski, and RC Concepcion. Many other wonderful photographers will be joining us in the future to share their vast knowledge and faith. Next year, Dr. Charles Stanley, well known pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, will join us for a fall workshop, and Country/Bluegrass Legend, and 14 times Grammy Winner, Ricky Skaggs will be our guest leader when we do a His Light Americana Workshop in Nashville, Tennessee! I'm so excited because we've met so many great people at our workshops and many have become fantastic friends, and new brothers and sisters!

For the eleven years I headed up the GAPW, I drove over 70,000 miles a year to every major national park, many, more than once per year. It has made it so easy to plan and run these great new workshops after such a wealth of experience around the national park system. What a blessing that has been!

The next workshop will be in Page, Arizona and will feature RC Concepcion as our leader!  RC will teach on social media for photographers, how to create stunning websites, (he created mine!) and will also teach from his great book on HDR! He will be joined by myself, Jim Begley and our field team, John "Snake" Barrett and Chuck Barnes. We will shoot in such great locations as Lower Antelope Slot Canyon, Horseshow Bend, Toadstool Rocks,Paria Wilderness area and other great locations around the beautiful Lake Powell and  Escalante Basin. We'll also have a dinner at the famous Paria Wilderness BBQ camp! Limited space is still available for this workshop November 7-11. It will be preceded with a optional 4 day whirlwind tour of  Monument Valley (full day with Navajo guides), Lower Antelope Slot Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park! *Very limited space still available in the tour.

So back to where we started, I've got it all!  God has provided a wonderful way for me to help support my family, have a blast in the company of great people, learn daily to be a better photographer, and more importantly to deepen my walk with Him!  You can have the fame and fortune,  He has made me a very wealthy man already!

Bill Fortney

For more information about His Light Workshops and Bill Fortney please visit and