Category Archives Guest Blogger

Greetings & Salutations!!!

Scott’s blog is a great repository of inspiring stories written by creative professionals, and I’m honored to be here on guest blog Wednesday. Thank you to Brad for inviting me, and thank you Scott for letting me share with your readers.

A few months ago I attended Photoshop World in Washington DC. It was great to have so many folks approach me, tell me how much they enjoyed my workshops, and that they appreciated my style as an instructor. It’s crazy the things people wanted to talk about such as why I go by my initials instead of my name, or how I shot a particular photo of my daughter. People seemed excited that I brought my family to PSW, and it was shortly after introducing folks to my wife that they would stop me and say, “Wait! You mean you’re not RC?”

Nope. Just another Photoshop guy with dark hair, a goatee, two letters for a name, and much love for his only daughter & beautiful wife. *chuckle*

He’s RC, you can call me AJ

But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. How are you? Are you having a good morning? Did you tell someone you loved them in the past 24 hours? Did ya throw it out there like a hi-five or did you reflect on it for just a moment? Have you been productive this week? Why or why not? Did you take five minutes selfishly for yourself today?

A while back I read somewhere that “Success = Happiness”. I think the writer had the equation reversed. I say work on being happy, and you’ll redefine your vision of success. Happiness should be easy, and maybe it is for some people, but I’ve found plenty of folks–myself included–could use more joy. Hopefully, if you can find some inspiration, motivation, and put in a little work, you’ll find the happy more often.

Inspiration is a wonderful feeling. It’s the spark that kicks off a creative idea, or a smile that leads to a beautiful photograph. It’s a good cry at the end of the movie Rudy when the football team hoists him up on their shoulders after that last play⦠uhm⦠not that I cry at movies. Hopefully, there are people you come across who leave a lasting impression you keep with you. Two people that inspire me daily are Joe & Heidi Hendricks. Imagine your wife coming down with Stage 2 Breast Cancer, undergoing two lumpectomies, then radiation & chemotherapy; treatments that continue for roughly a year. Life goes on and three years later a new diagnosis of Stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer has found its way into the bones & lungs. You would probably do all you could to support your wife, and be there for her, even after you discover you also have cancer. In 2004, they were told they would only have a short time with each other, and eight years later Joe & Heidi Hendricks through their faith in God are still fighting cancer together, one day at a time.

What inspires me are not the facts of their circumstances, but how they’ve shared their experience with family & friends on Facebook.

In Joe’s images I see the beauty of the world, the challenges in the moment, and a peace I hope to one-day find. Do they have bad days? Yes. Do they have doubts, anger & frustration? They’re human, how could they not? But they have the conviction of their faith in the Lord, which grants them courage beyond my comprehension, and a passion for living life that’s demonstrated every day–even the bad ones.

The key takeaway from Joe & Heidi’s experience is they’re not waiting for inspiration to come to them. They actively seek it. It’s not uncommon to see an image from the day’s hiking adventure after hospital treatment, or a post that talks openly about the challenges they’re experiencing. When most people are still in bed, or lounging on the couch, Joe & Heidi are living in the moment and growing closer to God.

If inspiration is the spark, then motivation is the call to action. The trouble with motivation is for many of us it’s temporary, a fleeting moment. You might be inspired by an infomercial to purchase that $99 set of fitness tapes, but once they arrive the motivation wears off after the first video workout. It requires an inherent primal dissatisfaction with current conditions to truly change. Just ask Justin Seeley. At his heaviest he weighed close to 420lbs–at 27yrs old. A fellow Photoshop guy, Justin is no stranger to blogs & the Internet. As someone who makes his living training & speaking in front of people he shared his weight loss experience online. Over a year later, he has gone through an amazing transformation to better health, and reached a reasonable weight around 185lbs.

The key takeaway from Justin’s experience should be it took over a year. He didn’t find a quick fix, despite opting for a surgical procedure. The changes to his diet, the foods he can no longer eat, the daily exercise, and this new discipline he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life. I’ve known quite a few people who tried to “cheat” diet & exercise by surgical procedures and failed. It’s because they weren’t truly motivated to get healthy.

Once you’ve been inspired, and you’re motivated to act, you best be prepared to put in the work. My sister Lesli Wood knows something about perseverance. She wrote the following years ago, “i live by the concept that i can live my life exactly the way i want and i believe everyone else has this superpower, too. i have no patience for naysayers or those that settle for less than they deserve. doing what i want has led me into some really great adventures.”

It’s true. Lesli is one of those individuals who knew from birth who she was, and what she wanted to do. Music. No doubt about it. That was the easy part. The hard part was getting through Ms. Hunt who told my sister at the ripe age of five that before she could take piano lessons she would have to learn to read. It was in that moment Lesli grabbed our family Bible and as I recall read something along the lines of Psalms 98:4 “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise.” Did I mention the part where she has an Einstein IQ?

I envy her focus. How she interacts with the world, every decision she’s made is thoughtful & deliberate. Sure, you might not know who she is, you may have never heard her music, but she’s been a working musician who's played for audiences all over the world for over 25 years. To look at Lesli is to see someone who has everything they want, because they’ve made it that way. To see her perform, you would never know she’s battled multiple sclerosis for almost ten years.

But enough about them. Let’s talk about you. I hope as a photographer, designer or other creative professional you actively seek out people, places, ideas that inspire you. I hope when you doubt your gifts, and your motivation wanes you’ll remember that at this moment there is someone smarter, more talented & better than you. However, in this very same moment, you are smarter, more talented & better, than someone else. It’s easy to envy the results and ignore the drive & dedication necessary to produce them. The people you admire? They’re fallible, they have problems, and they're human. They just show the world their best side.

Be Ambitious. Be Humble.

Call him a creative generalist or digital artisan, A.J. Wood talked so much about Adobe products they had no choice, but to hire him and put his big mouth to use. Catch his videos on AJWOOD.COM, find him on Facebook, or chat on Twitter

Filmmaking On The Edge: Tyler Stableford's New Film "Shattered"

Hi all, I am honored to introduce my short film Shattered, shot on Canon's new EOS-1D X camera. This has been a true dream project, and today I am excited to share both the film and three behind-the-scenes episodes. Thank you, Scott and Brad, for your interest in the project!

Shattered is a deep journey into the mind of the legendary high-altitude alpinist and writer Steve House. While reading Steve’s award-winning book Beyond The Mountain last year, one of his revelations really struck me. Steve confessed that after he succeeded in climbing his dream route on Nanga Parbat, he returned home bereft, more broken than when he had begun his great quest. I knew immediately there was a short film in this unexpected emptiness.

Shattered is not so much a climbing film as it is a visual poem. As the writer, narrator and star, Steve brought a deep reserve of humility, honesty and courage to the project.

Steve is heralded in the climbing world for his bold and spare approach to climbing. We shot the visuals to match. As such, we went low-fi â” no video rigs or monitors, no dollies, no cranes. Every element of our gear list was stripped to the bare essentials with one overarching goal: Connection. Connection to Steve's soul; connection to the ethereal elements of snow, ice and wind. When I was shooting up high on the ice route, I brought a single camera body and a few lenses. In climbing, as in photography and cinematography, art blooms only when we are unencumbered by our tools.

Shattered premiered at the NAB show in April at the Canon stage and has been playing at film festivals worldwide. I am excited to share it online here:

Additionally, Kate Rolston directed three behind-the-scenes features on the making of Shattered. The first episode reveals Steve's thoughtful writing process and our storyboarding â” essentially the alchemy of joining our hearts to our hands, so when we ventured out to Telluride's Bridal Veil Falls we knew how we were going to shoot.

The second episode shows the shoot itself: the challenge of working in a cold winter storm; the use of tilt-shift and shallow-focus lenses; and our team's use of rigging ropes to keep us all safe on the ice route.

The third episode reveals the voiceover and editing process. In keeping with our spare shooting style, we trimmed, edited and trimmed again to include only the essential elements. Gradually, a poetic austerity arose in the film.

We shot Shattered and the behind-the-scenes episodes to help launch Canon's new EOS-1D X camera. This has been the most memorable promotional project of my career. Colman Murphy and Erika Silverstein at Canon gave us carte blanche to make this film as personal and unique as it could be. It is rare in the commercial world to have such freedom, and I am indebted to them for their trust.

Thank you again, Scott and Brad, for the bandwidth today. And a sincere thank-you to all those who helped contribute to this film.

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

First off, I want to thank my good friends Scott and Brad for having me back as a guest blogger. It's always fun, and an honor, to here. What's more, I enjoy and learn from the feedback in the Comments section - even when someone disagrees with me.

I’m often asked, “What’s your specialty?” I reply: “”My specialty is not specializing.”

You see, I try to do it all. And, I encourage young photographers not to specialize – because being good at many aspects of photography is often better than being good at just one. Plus, what you learn in one area of photography can often be applied to another.

That said, when it comes down to it, I like travel photography the most. Diving a little deeper into that specialty, I get the most joy from photographing people, especially strangers in strange lands.

I also thrive on the challenge of getting people to accept me and trust me enough to let me into their lives for a few seconds or minutes to make a picture. That's the key when it comes to people photography.

In this guest post I'd like to share some of my favorite people pictures (click the picture for a larger view) from a workshop that I lead to Papua New Guinea. Talk about strange places and strangers in strange lands!

I'll also share my top 10 tips for making people pictures - tips that you can apply to all your people pictures . . . even when you are photographing "strange" friends and family members. ☺

1) Make a portrait and an environmental portrait (a subject in his or her environment)
Above is an example of an environmental portrait. The last picture is this post is a head-and-shoulder portrait.

2) When you think you are close, get closer
The closer you are to the subject, the more intimate the picture becomes. My favorite portrait lens is the Canon 24-105mm IS lens. Here I used that lens set at 45mm.

3) Master fill-flash
My goal when I take a flash picture is not to have it look like a boring flash shot. The key to achieving that goal is to balance the light from the flash to the available light. Here's an article I wrote for Layers magazine on that topic.

4) Compose carefully
Composition is the strongest way of seeing, which is the topic of my newest, and most popular, class on Kelby Training.

A simply and effective composition technique is to place the subject off center. That's a technical composition tip. What's more important is to compose emotionally - and to capture the mood of the scene.

5) Light the eyes
Ya gotta light the eyes. You can do that with a speedlite (as in this case), a reflector (as in photo/tip #8) or by having the subject look up toward the sky (as in photo/tip #4).

6) See eye-to-eye, or not
When you see eye-to-eye and shoot eye-to-eye with your subject, the viewer of your photograph relates most to the subject. Shooting below eye levels gives the subject a sense of power. Shooting down can look boring.

7) Consider depth of field
In travel portraiture, depth of field is important. I shoot all my travel portraits on the Av mode. Here I used a small aperture for good depth of field.

8) Focus carefully
Just because you have an autofocus camera, that does not mean the camera knows where to focus. Usually, it's best to focus on the eye, especially when you are shooting with a telephoto lens and when there are foreground elements in the scene.

9) Enhance your pictures in Lightroom and Photoshop
Use the Vignette feature to draw more attention to the subject by darkening the edges. Also: selectively sharpen the subject; selectively blur the background. Always think selectively.

10) Crop creatively
Cropping (post-capture composing) is often needed to make a good photograph. Sometimes, you simply can't get it right in-camera. That's why the first thing I do when I open an image is to crop it.

Well, that's it for now. I hope to see you all back here or at Photoshop World someday. Until then, if you'd like more people photography tips, check out my flagship app, Rick Sammon's 24/7 Photo Buffet.


You can see more of Rick’s work and get daily tips, tricks, and techniques at, keep up with him on Google+, and stay tuned for his reality show, Exposure.

Work for my passion, for money or both?

We have all heard some passionate friend say, "if only I could be a full time photographer, painter, movie director (put in any creative job there), and make enough money I would be happier. Problem is that I have a family to take care and can't afford to drop everything for my passion." Well at least I have been in that state of mind for many years.

This post is a short story about how I shifted from salesman to photographer and made a living doing something I loved. While it happened in my 40s I wouldn’t say it was a mid-life crisis (or at least I hope it wasn’t).

Ever since I was a kid I wanted to work as a movie director, or photographer. I missed the opportunity in my youth. I was not daring enough and went on to take a regular job in computers, it wasn't a boring job, but I never quite felt complete. Then at the age of 25 I went into sales for various companies as I got tired of sitting in front of a computer all day and wanted to talk to human beings.

At the age of 30, my brother created a web agency and hired me as a salesman, at first I had a lot of fun, and the company took on expansion. My dream of being an artist was parked, but things were ok. In the meantime, I was married, had four kids, one from a first marriage and my second wife had three young boys whom we raised. I bought a big house, a car and two motorbikes and had loans up to my neck!

At the age of 35, I went on holiday with friends on the Seychelles Islands. One of them was a pro Photoshop retoucher, and he started showing me Photoshop and retouched a portrait I had just taken. I was amazed. Seeing that brought back all these dreams about having a creative job. For some reason, that I day I made a decision that I was going to find a way to get into the movie industry, but I didn't have the slightest idea how.

The Decision

I had more debt than ever and it was going to be a lot harder than in my youth. Making a movie as a director is a team activity. I had no team. I figured becoming a photographer would be a start. The advantage is that I just needed a camera, and I could start creating, no team needed and it was a step toward that dream.

I went into the first bookstore, I could find and bought several books about Photography and Photoshop. Most of them seemed to be pretty hard to understand, except one author by the name of Scott Kelby. If I remember well it was Adobe Photoshop CS Down Dirty Tricks. I then "investigated" all the books and tutorials I could read from that author. Later I discovered NAPP and the Photoshop Guys.

I started doing a photo series in Paris called “Paris Cinema.” The idea was to shoot Paris in the most dramatic light possible, just like we see in the big movies, such as Gone with the Wind, Spielberg movies etc. I though this would be a good exercise to train toward being a movie director.


A little note on how I learned. I had a precise method to learn photography that worked for me, in three steps:

1. Find a photographer that inspires me.

2. Read all his books, watch all his tutorials and try to "copy" his work.

3. Find your own style around that technique.

Here are some examples of what I mean.

HDR: RC Conception/Trey Ratcliff, I bought RC's books and studied HDR, as well as studying Trey's tutorials.

Below is is my understanding of their HDR photos.

Below more my personal style.

Another photographer I learned from was, Jean Michel Berts. A French photographer who's style I love, he works with film and produces fine arts prints.

Here is one of his New York photos:

Below me trying to reproduce his type of work.

Here is my own style.

Joel Grimes, I'm crazy about his composite work. When I see his photos, I get so much emotion. What I love about it is the mixture of portraits and landscape, two forms of art in one photo.

This is my attempt to reproduce Joel Grimes’ style of work:

This is how I changed it to my own style:

Back to the story

A couple of years and thousand pictures later, I met a screen writer who had worked for TV shows for quite some time and had written three feature film scripts.

I read the scripts and loved them. There was one particular script, a comedy, that I would love to direct. The screen writer told me he was tired working for other production companies and wanted to produce these three films. He needed a partner who had some experience in sales to be the producer and help negotiate the contracts with the studios/TV Channels. That was great as I was passionate about movies and I had worked as a salesman for quite some time.

We agreed to work together and I would get the chance to direct one of the movies. The only problem was that creating a movie company meant no revenue for a couple of years, time spent preparing the cast, getting the funding and preparing the team to shoot. We also had to make some short movies to show what we could do.

But as I mentioned earlier I had bills to pay and could definitely not afford to drop all my work for a few years while the family didn't eat.

I had worked out a pretty intricate plan with my brother and his business partner how it could work out. However after a year of work the plan didn't work out. Needless to say I was devastated… Yet again the dream was disappearing. But on the plus side, I spent every possible minute shooting and retouching pictures in order to improve my skills.

I went back to see the screen writer and told him that for now I couldn't create the film production company, and that I had no solution at all. He looked at me and gave me a pep talk. He told me that I had a created such a large collection of great photography which there must be a way to monetize.

So we found a way to start selling prints to hotel owners as a decoration item for their hotel. To my amazement one of the hotels I contacted was very interested and wanted to buy a series of prints for his hotel as I had proposed. But wait… He wanted prints for two hotels! I was incredulous listening to his voice mail.

In all I sold close to $180,000 worth of fine prints, basically being sponsored by many friends and refurbished over 150 hotel rooms with photos in each room.

Below are some examples:

I was so happy, because not only I had enough money to make that transition into the movies, but I made it through art.

I would never have thought that this hobby of mine would become something I could make money from.

With the screenwriter we were now ready to create our movie production company that we named Alandra Films.


One of my last shots:

In two years, we shot eight short movies, and all three major feature films are being funded. We have major partner agreements, and we should be shooting the first movie this summer. The first is called House of Time, a thriller sci-fi movie about a man who made a fortune in Role Playing games inviting friends over for a week end to play time travelâ¦

It took a bit more time than I expected to finance the first movie; I had to learn a lot about movie production, (I knew nothing about it), as I was making no money in the film company. I became a part-time photographer, to earn a living, while learning and working on the film projects.

Today my income as a photographer comes from architectural photos, brands buying some of my photos of Paris, and tutorials. About a year ago I made a deal with a French editor to sell some tutorials about my photo techniques. It turned out to be a success. In fact, over the last months the tutorials became the number-one Photoshop tutorials on that site. I've now added English tutorials on various platforms.

Today I make almost twice the revenue I used to make as a salesman, but now I make it doing what I love, photography and movie production.

By now you may think this post is about me and some bragging about myself. Actually quite the contrary, it is rather a story about how long I waited to do something that I should have done long ago.

If I had to summarize all this into one word and try to help people at the same time it would be: Commit. As long as it was just an idea or a desire it was in my mind the day I decided to commit to that dream and go through what I had to to make it, things started working out.

I believe that a decision, a strong decision, one completely without "maybe," will create action, then it's all a matter of finding the right mentors.

Well, Scott Kelby is my mentor as well as Matt Kloskowski, RC Concepcion, and all the Photoshop Guys. Many years ago I chose to do most of the classes on and learned everything from there.

They are in my heart as I have never been happier than before doing what I love, and they contributed to that in a very big way.

Recently I had the chance to spend a week with Scott in Paris. I had never met him in person, and it was way above my expectations, in terms of fun, in the way he makes you comfortable. A few minutes after meeting him, I had the feeling that we had been friends for years.

Steve Jobs said, "Keep looking, don't settle, find something that you love and you will do great." And Confucius said, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." For me nothing is truer.

I still have a lot to learn and share, and I know the movie business is going to be a long and adventurous road, but I love it.

You can see more of Serge’s work at, check out his tutorials, and find him on Google+.

Once a year, on the anniversary of Guest Blog Wednesday, Scott generously affords me the opportunity to write another guest blog post. The gift of this yearly moment of expression means more to me than the words "thank you" will ever convey.

I believe there is a certain point in any lifetime creative endeavor when you can look at your work and know what is good and what is bad.  There is also a point in your life when come to beleive you know who you are as good as, you know who you are better than, and you know who is better than you. You can look at your work and say, "That’s crap." Or, "That’s okay." Or, "This is really good." You can look at what you have done and be able to see it for what it is. You can see without ego.

But this is just part of the story I want to discuss. What I want to talk about is my last trip to Burmaâ”the journey that led me there and the place in which I now find myself.

In April 2011 I was in New York for work. I was there on my birthday, and Anthony Ruotolo and Scott Alexanderâ”the Associate Publisher and new Editor in Chief of American Photo, respectivelyâ”took me out to lunch.  During the course of the meal, which was also a working lunch to discuss my Alaska project, the conversation turned, as it frequently does, to where was my most favorite place to shoot, what is my favorite type of photography, color or black-and-white, and am I working on any new projects?.  The answers, for me, are: the country of Burma (Myanmar), black-and-white digital infrared, and the project I was working on was a self-assignment that I had titled  In the Heat of the Light,  which was a collection of infrared black-and-white images that I had taken while teaching workshops and on assignments over the past six years.  When I showed Scott and Anthony some of the images, Scott asked if I would be interested in doing a feature for AP on Burma and, specifically, in digital infrared. It took me a few moments to answer, not because I had to think about it, but because I had just been offered my dream assignment for the magazine I have always dreamed of being asked to do a feature for.

What wound up happening is that my Alaska assignment for American Photoâ”one in which I spent two weeks by myself just shooting a Princess Cruise land and sea excursionâ”ended 36 hours before I had to be in Burma. The Alaska assignment marked the first time that I had gone out shooting in an environment like that, without a small army of either students or crew; it was just me and the camera. Then, 36 hours later I was on a plane. So I went from freezing cold to boiling hot. From nothing but landscapes, snow, and cold rain to people, monsoons, and humidity. Just me, a guide, and my camera.

Through the course of negotiating the logistics of the Burma shoot, one of the things I decided for this article was that I needed to photograph Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Medal of Freedom recipient, who was at the time just released from 20 years of imprisonment, Aung San Suu Kyi. I figured, what was the worst that could happen? I'd be told "No." If that was the case, I was no worse off than I would be if I did not ask. So I sent out an email talking about how I would love to do this formal portrait of "the Lady" (as she is referred to by the Burmese people), for this article. What I got back was, “I do not see myself as a movie star or a model.” Which, when I looked back at the email that I wrote, was basically what I was telling her I was going to do for the portrait. So her response back was a polite "no."

"No" has never really stopped me before. So I kept writing back and forth and back and forth. Eventually what I got back was, “Informal access can be granted if you promise to do right with the pictures.” "Right" was however that manifested itself for me. What I believed at that moment  what "right" was, was to do right by her and tell the story. To tell the story as I was taken by the experience of being there.

So I landed in Yangon. As I left the airport, I was informed that we were going to photograph the Lady (Aung San Suu Kyi) at the home of her father's best friend. It was his birthday. Now, I have been flying for 27 hours. I’m not all in Burma just yet.

I showed up on time, but she was two and a half hours late to the birthday party. It was 107 degrees, 98% humidity, and I was rained on twice through monsoons. When she finally arrived, I experienced something I had never seen. I’ve photographed a lot of people in my career that have the “it” quality but I have never experienced in my life the ability to take the “it” quality and put that quality in the other person. To make that other person become the person that has the “it” quality.

Whenever someone was talking to her and she was talking to them, that person in front of her became the “it” person.  And the more that they tried to put her on a pedestal, the more humble and more open and more receptive she became to connect with them.

One of the great advantages of being a photographer is that you are allowed to see a world that many people walk by. You are allowed the privilege to bear witness. I believe, as the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, “an interesting plainness is the most difficult thing to achieve.” I have really worked in my career to make my job to be about finding interesting plainnesses. From a flower to the steps you walk by, I see my job as to bear witness to the world and to say with my images, "Stop for a second, check this out, take pause."

To say that I have led and lead a blessed life is an understatement by anyone's measure.

In the course of my life I felt a prayer be heard, witnessed a prayer answered, and have felt something greater than myself move through me. I have seen people have the power to do extraordinary things, and have seen the force of greatness move through someone and touch others. What I know from these experiences is that I am just a small part of a bigger thing.

I need to go a little way out to come back to the point of this piece. So bear with me.

In addition to having gone to film school, I am also a conservatory-trained actor. It is that training that is the core of my skill set as a photographer. One of the major parts of my training was in Behavioral Effector Patterning, which is the study of the biomechanics of emotion. The training is about understanding how you physically feel individual emotions. One of the outcomes of the training is that you are very aware of the feeling of emotions and the physicality that they cause. One of the things that I have frequently felt as I shoot is something greater than me move through me. Which is the only way I can explain what it feels like to take a picture; it is also why I don’t think that whatever credit I get assigned for images I have taken has much to do with me. It has to do with connecting into something greater. Some images express greater connection than others. Another way to express this: being completely present in the moment.  When I witnessed the experience of Aung San Suu Kyi with people and witnessed the way in which, no matter how many people came at her, she was always centered, present, and humble, it was always about the needs of those in front of her.

From all that I have read about her, the job of being the imprisoned ruler of Myanmar and the sprit and voice of her people is not a job she asked for. Prior to this she was the wife of an Oxford professor and was busy raising two children. Who would ask for the life she leads now? It’s a job that she has to do because she has to do it. It’s the right thing to do. And when I witnessed that, I started to realize what doing "right" meant and what she had asked of me in that simple request.

One of the great fears of being a photographer is to miss the shot. To be in the wrong place at the wrong time, to grab the wrong piece of gear or to be so wrapped up in the moment you forget what you are there to do. Each and every one of these fears was realized for me the first time I photographed her. Rarely if ever are you given a second chance, and rarely if ever does the second time around surpass the first. But two days later I found myself again going off to shoot "the Lady."

It’s interesting how a small moment in time can have a lifetime of ramification. Or how long the journey to change is, but that the moment of change happens in an instant,  which was a conversation I had with her, my guide, and her assistant.

Every time I have traveled to Burma, I have asked, "What is the word in Burmese for â˜please'?” No matter who I have asked, what I always get back is a polite but blank stare, and no one knows what to say.

So here I am at the second Aung San Suu Kyi shoot; this time it is at a luncheon for the dedication of a library in her father's honor. So I ask once again, "What is the word in Burmese for â˜please'?” After a moment she says something in Burmese to her assistant, her assistant says something in Burmese to my guide, and the guide then says to me, “We don’t have a word for â˜please'.” I say, “You don’t have a word for please?” Again, after a moment she says something in Burmese to her assistant, her assistant says something in Burmese to my guide, and the guide then says to me, “Well, no, nor do we say â˜thank you' as much as you do. â˜Please' and â˜thank you' in our society are implied in everything we do. The only time we say â˜thank you' is when a person does something that is so life-changing, so profound, that it warrants comment above and beyond what you should do, which is right. And then the response is basically something to the effect of, ‘Why are you thanking me? I’m just doing what I’m supposed to.'"

And so, again, after a moment she says something in Burmese to her assistant, her assistant says something in Burmese to my guide, and the guide says to me, “You might want to consider doing that for a day. Have â˜please' and â˜thank you' implied in every action and to try and do right with everything you do.” While this is being said to me with the kindest of smiles without malice or ego, she looks at me. In that moment I have never felt so heard or been so present.

In that moment, I realized that it was not "right by her" that she was asking me to do; I was asked to do right, always. Since then, I go out of my way to try and have "please" and "thank you" implied in everything I do. I try to have  "please" and "thank you" implied in my pictures, and to recognize that my job now is to do right by everything I photograph.

And that really changes the way you spin things. It started with that moment, and I was damned if I was going to let this person downâ”this person who I doubt remembers me. All that, just from the experience of that energy, that presence.

It is like when an actor is on stage with an another, more talented actor; the more gifted actor pulls you up because you have to step up to the plate to be able to match their level. And when you are done, you have been changed. You are better for the experience, and that experience echoes through the rest of your career until the next time that you get pulled up to a different level.

What I try to do when I shoot is open myself up not to what it is that I think I should shoot, but to what it is that there is to shoot that will take me, which means slowing down and getting out of my head and having as little of my ego in the photograph as possible. I have never been accused of being a man of small ego, and I will not argue with that. But what I can promise you is that what you’ll never see in my photograph is that ego. Everything happens at the speed of life, and what I try to do is record the experience of life. The camera works in fractions of a second, life occurs in continuous time. So within that limitation, what I try to do is right by the moment as it unfolds in front of me.

Another thing that changed for me from my experience in Burma was the belief of knowing who you are as good as, who you are better than, and who is better than you. I know I will never be as good as Cartier-Bresson. I know I will never be as good as Josef Sudek. I know I will never be as good as Karsh. I know I will never be as good as Ansel Adams. I will only be as good as Vincent Versace. And that’s the only person that I need to compete with. Should I remove the Bresson qualities from my photographs, should I remove the Wynn Bullock qualities, the Sudek qualities? No, all of those things should exist and they exist as a harmonic. I’m only as good as the images that have moved me.

Will I ever be as good as them? No, and that should not matter.  Everybody has something valid to say, and if you are so moved by a moment to have to take a picture of it, then that need in you is important enough to be seen and heard. It should be heard. What I ask all of you who read this post to consider is this: in everything you do, imply "please" and "thank you" in the doing. With everything you do, with every image you create, simply consider doing right.

Vincent Versace

You can see the American Photo assignment here.

Hello there, my name is Alex Koloskov, I am a studio product and advertisement photographer.

When started to work as a commercial photographer many years ago, I was trying everything: from portraiture to architecture, but very soon I realized that I can be successful and “the best” only where is my passion, doing things where I can use my full potential.

It appears that such place is a quiet studio, a place where I feel extremely comfortable working with still life and motion subjects.

I love to perform technically challenging shots, where I have to engineer the lighting and light modifiers, creating custom solutions for each shot.

Today I’ll show you how I work with one of my favorite type of shots: a combination of liquid and product subjects in one composition. “Sculpting” unpredictable shape of moving liquid and adding still subject to the composition is very interesting and challenging task, and outcome is unusual and eye-catching.

The idea was this: get a white iPhone and wrap it with white milk-like liquid splash, all around, like it would happen if stream of milk would hit a phone from behind. iPhone from a few smartphones available in white, and showing with the milky splash will look really cool :-)

Here is what I mean… the shot we did:

Looks quite unusual, doesn’t it? Almost like 3D rendering, which is a great accomplishment for a photographer: it is hard to get a real shot to look as clean as it could be done in 3D.

Let me show how we did it, step by step.

First step: The Phone Shot

Usually, shots like this are a composite. Meaning we do separate shots for each piece and then assemble everything in Photoshop.

So, the first shots was a phone alone.

This supposed to be a straight catalog-like product shot, with phone screen on. Because of the shape of the iPhone, this is quite simple task, with one little trick. Because I shoot with strobes, camera is usually set to X-sync speed (1/200sec for Canon 5d mkII) and I do not care about ambient (in-studio) lighting.

With strobes, effective exposure (I mean amount of light which will hit camera’s sensor) determined by power output of the strobe and lens aperture. Shutter speed does not affect the exposure as long as it longer than a flash duration and short enough to prevent in-studio ambient light to affect the shot.

The only issue with such approach is that we can’t capture weak continues lights, such as modeling lights or.. a smartphone’s screen.

Below is the phone with screen “ON” and 1/200sec shutter speed @ F16:

Despite the brightness of the iPhone screen, it appears completely black, as given exposure time was too short to let camera to capture it.

So, how to get it right? You probably already know what should be done to get the screen exposed correctly: lower the shutter speed. Which means that any other lights should be turned off: studio light, modeling light and even the monitors (I always shoot tethered in studio). There should be no other lights affecting exposure now, only strobe impulse and phone’s screen light.

This time we had shutter set to 1/5sec @ F16:

I often call such shot is “in-studio HDR” because in one shot we are getting like a double exposure: one from the strobe at effective “shutter speed” of about 1/2000 sec (determined by a flash duration measured t.1) and a second one from the phone’s display at effective duration of 1/5 sec, determined by a camera actual shutter speed. In one shot we have captured a huge dynamic range: strobe light and thousand times less brighter phone’s display light.

The lighting setup for the shot is quite simple:
One stripbox from the left, about 45 degree from the phone, and another stripbox on the right, slightly behind the phone. Because the phone face surface is completely flat and sides are non- glossy brushed metal, there was no issues to deal with unwanted reflections often found on glossy spherical subjects.

I used a Matthews Minigrip clamp mounted to a lighting stand and iPhone cable with connector to attach the phone to it.

After we were done with phone, it was time to do some mess:

Step Two: Splash Creation

The plan was to use iPhone more than just for this shot, so we did a trick: glued iPhone case to a rod and mounted it exactly the same way as the phone was.

Clear backpanel iPhone case mounted on the rod to replicate the phone position.

We also covered with plastic the whole shooting area. We were going to use latex paint and it was necessary to protect equipment and studio from it. All the lighting was covered as well. Here is how studio looked like after such waterproofing:

Camera view: plastic screen was fixed around lens hood

Back view

I have also adjusted the lighting accordingly to a new requirements: because latex paint is not transparent, there was no reason to have stripbox on the right behind the subject, so I moved it to be front-right. More frontal light is needed for white liquid to keep it white. To smooth the shadows even more, I’ve replaced narrow stripbox with square softbox.

One more softbox was added on the left, far from behind, just to create a slight edge on the splashes from that side. Oh yes, the background lights were added as well. We did not care about background when shooting the phone, as phone will be clipped out anyway.

For the splash part, we needed the real background. We got yellow seamless roll of paper hung about 5 feet behind the “splash area,” it was lit by 2 strobes with standard PCB reflectors.

After everything was set, the very first shot I did was a shot of the color checker card:

This is a very important part of each shot to have a correct color profile. Especially when shooting on such colorful background: without a color profile it won’t be possible to get a right white balance and correct colors for the subject and background.

Even if we are going to tweak colors during a post-production, I always have to have a way to revert to correct colors when needed.

When everything was ready, we started to throw the liquid. As mentioned before, we used latex white paint, and mixed it with water to 1:1 ratio. It gave us the thickness we were looking for.

The Lighting:
I use Paul C Buff Einstein strobes, as they have great stopping power in action mode. Typical power range I use is 100-150Ws, and flash duration is 1/6000 -1/4000 of a second. Such short light impulse is what freezes the action, not a fast shutter speed.

Back to the shot:

We got as many shots as we felt that would be needed to get a set of cool looking splashes to be combined into that flower-like splash around the phone.

Here is a short “behind the splash” video, it will show you how it was happening in realtime:

The Final Composition

Hope it was interesting. If you want to learn more about stuff I do check out, this is a place where I share everything what happens in our studio: behind the scenes videos, tutorials, tips & tricks and much more.

Every Wednesday at 10 PM EST I run Studio Photography Insights, a Google+ hangout: we discuss and critique submissions for the weekly assignments, talk about lighting, gear and secrets of studio product photography shared by amazing photographers like Dave Nitsche and Bill Cahill. Join us if you love working at studio, it will be fun!

You can see more of Alex’s work at, find him on Google+ and Twitter, and come see him live at the Google+ Photographer’s Conference!