Category Archives Guest Blogger

Photo by John Michael Cooper

First of all, what the heck am I doing posting on Scott Kelby’s blog? I haven’t shot for any major magazines. No advertising jobs have come my way. I’m not involved in any speaking circuits or training seminars. Haven’t published any DVDs about lighting. So basically, there’s a pretty good chance you have no idea who I am.

Although this may or may not be true, I am determined to make sure that you know who I am through my work, whether it is sooner or later. My determination to succeed has got me this far into my career and I only see it bringing much more success as time passes. I always say to myself “I have to succeed. I have no choice otherwise.” But I also know that it takes a lot of hard work and time.

Tim MacMillan, a NYC playwright, photographed in a bar in Queens, NY

I come from a graphic design career of 10 years. I used to work for my family’s bread manufacturing company on Long Island. Sounds exciting, right? NOPE. Not so much. Not for me anyway. It did pay my bills, put a roof over my head and food on the table though. It was a comfortable job but it wasn’t fulfilling my creativity in a way that I needed. So about 9 or 10 years ago I picked up my first digital camera and started shooting landscapes and abstract/macro type stuff. It was fun but I still wasn’t really happy with my photography. This is mostly due to the fact that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing with a camera. Then it happened. I created my first portrait and fell in love with photography.

A composite photo of Korn

From that point on I have been studying portraiture and the technicalities of photography. I figured that if I could get such a great reaction to such a bad photo, imagine what people would say about a decent portrait or…dare I say…a great portrait. My research into photography brought awareness of many great photographers, many of which have posted here on this blog. I became a member of NAPP, read tons of magazines, attended a bunch of workshops, and kept creating portraits of anyone who would get in front of my camera.

Tommy Sica of Sweet Cyanide (NYC) photographed in my studio

I attended a seminar at PhotoPlus in New York City. All I knew going into this seminar was that it was based on portraiture. I didn’t know who the speaker was or what he has done in his career. I was immediately blown away by his unique take on how portraiture. He told stories of his conversations with his subjects and how he photographed some of the most important people in the world. I was inspired. The photographer I’m speaking of is Platon. If you don’t know who he is, stop reading this post and Google his work. Go on. I’ll still be here when you’re done.

Bill Wenner, my uncle, photographed in my studio

NYC actor Doug Drucker (Law & Order: SVU). Yes, they’re real

From that point on I’ve been working my butt off to create compelling portraits. I put up a website, blogged a little bit, and posted photos on Facebook. My work was starting to get recognized by local musicians and actors (a.k.a. potential paying clients). I took the advice of a friend and kept my pricing low in order to get paid gigs while developing my skills. The only reason I was able to keep my pricing low was because I was still working for the bread company. But guess what, all those low paying gigs got me more work. I was developing my skills as a portrait photographer and shooting often.

Tavish O’Keefe, NYC actor and model, photographed in his Brooklyn apartment

As time went on I was able to put together a decent portfolio of portraits, which consisted of mostly bands and models. I signed up for a portfolio review event and got my portfolio in front of 10 different art directors and photo editors. Looking back on it, I now know that I was nowhere near the point of putting my portfolio in front of Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sony, and Island Def Jam but I did it anyway. The critiques that I got from those reviewers however were more valuable than any workshop, blog post, or magazine that I ever read. I want to shoot for these companies so it was important to know what they thought of my work, what they liked, disliked and why they felt that way. After my reviews I went back to the drawing board and decided I had to push even harder to succeed.

A Polaroid from a shoot with The Como Brothers Band

I kept shooting bands, actors and model test shoots. My work was getting technically better and I started to get more emotion and interaction in my portraits. Then I got a phone call from one of the creative directors from that portfolio review event I mentioned. It was Roadrunner Records and they wanted me to shoot Dream Theater. I have to be honest with you, I had no clue who the band was, but I immediately took the job. I researched everything about Dream Theater and found out they are a big deal around the world. This made me pretty nervous, but that research was important for me to get to know whom I was shooting. I spent the day in the recording studio with the band, shooting documentary while they recorded their new album and got to shoot some portraits as well. I was most interested in the portraits that day, since that’s what I do, so I really pushed myself to create the best work I could. The record label loved the work and those photos have been seen by millions of people around the world. That still blows my mind.

Dream Theater at Cove City Studios. Each portrait was shot separately and then composited together in Photoshop

Portrait of Jordan Rudess, keyboard player for Dream Theater

I was still working a full time job at my family’s company and my photography business was picking up to almost a full time job. I kept the graphic design job because it was paying my bills but I really loved my photography work. I was extremely fortunate to be able to change my working hours at the company so that I could split my days between my two jobs. This change was the best thing I could do to move my business forward. I was able to work more on my personal project, “One Question”, and meet with potential clients at more reasonable times for consultations and photo shoots.

Portraits from my One Question series. “What does music mean to you?”

About two years passed as I split my days between the bread company and my photography business. I was getting progressively busier each month. After a couple years of splitting my time between the two, I decided that it was time for me to leave my job as a graphic designer. As much as I wanted to leave that job, it was still very hard to do. It was a comfortable job and paid well. Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do in order to be happy. I left that job 6 months ago.

I shot this hanging out the back of my SUV while a friend drove his custom motorcycle over Robert Moses Bridge in Long Island

Portrait of Lindsay who was diagnosed with Alopecia, a disease where hair is lost very quickly

Since I went full time with my photography, I’ve been working harder than ever to be successful and keep a roof over my head. I still take on personal projects because I feel that it helps me improve my skills and create work that I’m not getting hired to do yet. Some examples of personal work that I’ve shot is the biker riding over a Long Island bridge, the portrait of my friend Lindsay who has alopecia, and the owner of a high end antique & art store in The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC. These portraits were a lot of fun to create and they’ve also helped me get more work creating similar portraits for new clients. I’m currently working on a personal portrait project that I think is going to be the best one I’ve created yet. I am not releasing any information about it just yet, so keep an eye on my Twitter and blog for updates on that.

David Assoulin, owner of Elliot Stevens Ltd., in his antique & art store in The Waldorf Astoria Hotel NYC

So after almost 10 years with a camera in my hand, I’m starting to shoot what I want to. I emphasize the word “starting” because I know there is still a lot of work to be done. I still haven’t had any major movie stars in front of my camera (you reading this De Niro?). I haven’t created a portrait of the biggest musician yet (preferably Jay-Z or The Black Keys). I’m still working on getting my first big advertising campaign. I know that as long as I keep saying to myself, “I have to succeed. I have no choice otherwise.” those jobs will come soon. Work hard and you will get what you want!

Portrait of Eric B., a Long Island hip hop artist, in a dirty bus stop

Photo of NY rock band The Given Motion

I think I’ve talked enough here on Kelby’s blog. If you made it to the end of this post, I thank you for allowing me to waste some of your time. I am incredibly appreciative of Brad and Scott allowing me to talk about my work and how I’ve made it to this point in my career. Scott’s blog is one that I’ve read daily for a very long time, so this is a honor. Thank you.


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

When I moved to Florida, I needed to find something to get me behind the camera regularly, so I took up concert photography. With lots of advice and help from Alan Hess (whose new book you should order), I made the leap into the world of high ISOs, slow shutter speeds, long nights, and tight spaces between rowdy crowds and sweaty rock bands. And I loved it!

A fan sings along with The Word Alive during their performance at The Ritz in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida

Shooting concerts has helped me learn more about how I see, and to develop my vision. Through shooting regularly, I’ve been able to find my style, and to hone in on the type of lighting scenarios I enjoy having in front of my lenses the most. I’ve learned where to position the camera in relation to the light to get certain effects, like lens flare, in shots. It’s taught me how to tweak settings in post production to get the most impact out of the images. It’s opened my eyes to complementing and contrasting colors. To the impact of showing a full range of coverage, from close-up detail shots to wide coverage The list goes on.

Michael Maddox of Kill Hannah performs at The Ritz in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida

A fan body surfs over the crowd while A Day To Remember perform during 97X Next Big Thing in Tampa, Florida

Fast forward a couple years to today. I still love concert photography, and plan on continuing to do it. But this year I’m going making an effort to transition more into portrait photography. That doesn’t mean I won’t be bringing part of my concert photography with me, however.

Through honing my vision, I hope to bring a unique take on portraiture. By translating certain aspects from the stage to the studio, I plan on exploring new possibilities (to me anyway) in portrait photography. Thanks to all the lessons learned above, I have ideas sloshing around loosely in my head that I’m noodling on, trying to figure out how that translation is going to look when it arrives in the studio.

Can I make studio strobes mimic the effects of stage lighting?

Olga Yagolnikov of Kye Kye performs at The Roosevelt 2.0 in Tampa, Florida

Can I make a large empty warehouse look like a dance club?

Will anyone notice the large brick wall I’ve built where the cyc used to be? ;-)

Roger Waters of Pink Floyd takes the stage at the start of his “The Wall Live” tour at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, Florida

Like learning any new craft, it’s going to take a little while to find my footing. While I’ve had the honor of working with a couple of the greats in McNally and Kelby, I haven’t had much experience directing subjects from behind the camera on my own. There’s a HUGE difference between being told where to put a light and making the decision of where to put it, much less pulling certain expressions, or more importantly, emotions from a subject. Through years of experience, these guys know how to connect with their subjects, make them feel comfortable, even confident, in front of the lens.

Sean Gadd and Andrew Wessen of Grouplove goof around backstage during 97X Next Big Thing in Tampa, Florida

And that’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s something I’ll have to work on. Which means setting up shoots and having subjects waiting on me to direct them to figure it out. Like I said, I’ve been watching Joe, Scott, and others for years. But there’s a big difference between the water boy and the quarterback… And there are only so many tricks you can pick up from other people before you have to find a way to make them your own.

Which is why it’s important to stay behind the camera, working to make the ideas in your head reality. Even if you don’t get it right on the first try, keep working on it until what’s on the screen matches your mind’s eye. It’s a process, and not something you can learn from a book or video. Those are great for learning the technicalities of photography, but not always for finding your vision.

Derek E. Miller and Alexis Krauss of Sleigh Bells perform for a sold-out crowd at State Theatre in St. Petersburg, Florida

Vision can’t be taught. It has to be discovered.

And once you’ve discovered your vision, keep feeding it with new work so it can continue to grow and find new possibilities to explore.

So, here’s to a new year, new possibilities, and new goals that will keep pushing us all to grow creatively!

You can see more of Brad’s work at, follow him on Google+ and Twitter, and come see him at Southwestern Photojournalism Conference February 24-26.

Hey guys, RC jumping in the line over here to just share out a couple of things that came across my Google plus feed.

Amazing Nikon D4 Video

WHY – Nikon D4 Release Video from Corey Rich on Vimeo.

I know many of you are interested in the Nikon D4 as much as we all are over here. That said, the biggest question that i’ve had on the brain is just how good will the video footage be coming out of the camera? Thankfully I didn’t have to plunk down the 6K in order to find out. Corey Rich has made a phenomenal video not only highlighting the features of the D4 from a video POV, but showcasing three amazing people in sports. I dont know about you guys, but the saving of the pennies has been on for me to land one of the pro level Nikon cameras for video. This one just makes me want to chomp at the bit even more!

Upcoming Notable – The Fuji X-Pro1 (RC’s Impressions)

This has interesting written all over it. The X100 definitely put Fuji on the radar in terms of Rangefinder type cameras with impressive optics, and while I may not have warmed up to it in the end, it cannot be denied that it certainly made a splash. One of the things that I couldn’t get out of my head was “a Fixed lens? Really? We havent heard that last of this one.. there’s GOT to be more to it.”

Well, say hello to other shoe dropping. It appears that Fuji will be dropping the new X-Pro1 cameera pretty soon (some say today!). Checking the Photorumors website, the X-Pro1 looks like an X100 on Steroids, giving you a 16MP APS-C sensor in a small rangefinder body – complete with interchangeable lenses. It’s also rumored that Fuji will be making an M-mount to fit Leica lenses onto this. Interesting indeed! Click on the link below to get more inffo on this:

Photorumors – All Details about the X-Pro1

Changing Metadata Copyright Information for 2012

With it being the new year and all, it goes without saying we need to start changing our copyright data in our Lightroom and Photoshop installs. I figured id make the requisite reminder video to make sure you guys had those changes all taken care of!

Wanted to thank Scott for letting me pitch in here! Should you want to follow more of what i’m doing, please feel free to visit me on my website at or circle me over at Google Plus

RC –
RC on Google Plus!

Why choose photography as a career?
In general terms my interest started from a very early age, 7, but was first in the printing side of things, I loved the magic of the print starting to come up in the developer, to some degree the first part of my life in photography was very much based on the printing side and as such I still approach my work with the final print in mind when I shoot, looking at the tone and texture of a scene to light it so that I achieve as much as possible in camera but know what I will do in post edit to get the final image that I require, the image that I have in my head firmly before I even unpack the equipment and start the shoot.

I worked initially within the newspaper industry as a printer, then went on to work as a photographer for some UK picture agencies shooting mainly press related and editorial work. At the age of 20 I made a drastic career move and joined the Royal Marines, serving 6 years before moving back into media as senior operations manager for Virgin Media. Just over 4 years ago I was made redundant, and at this point I took a long hard look at my future and decided to move back to photography. After a long 5 days drawing up my business plan, Ambient Life was born. A lot of people don’t realize when they look at my client list and my work that we started just 4 years ago and that what we have achieved so far has all been done in the last 4 years… From that point I have not looked back.

How has photography changed your life?
I count myself as very fortunate that I do something that I simply love, I get paid well for my work and also get paid to do something that I am extremely passionate about, the old adage that if you do a job that you love you will never work another day in your life is very true in my case. I see the world I think slightly differently than others, and as a photographer that is a key gift I feel. I travel the world and work with some amazing people and see some amazing sights. Sure it is very hard work, and there is a lot of pressure that people don’t always appreciate, but it’s what I was born to do and I think if you are lucky enough to find that one skill that you were born to do, then life is somehow complete…

You have spoken previously about being self taught in photography – how did you teach yourself?
I did what I believe is the best thing to do in learning photography, getting out there and shooting stuff, even if it’s just to see what something looks like photographed… Looking at light… no camera required, trying to understand light and how to use it to create a scene that you want, shape it and change its property for the photographer’s benefit. I think that photography is a little like riding a bike, you need to get on the bike and start riding and falling off, not reading books about it only…

There is no secret. It’s a case of learning your craft and exploring the possibilities yourself as this will often be the building blocks to you developing a strong style of your own.

What are your secrets to obtain such a strong style of images?

Getting Ready for 2012 – Or 12 New Year’s Resolutions for Photographers

When my friend Brad Moore at Kelby Training emailed and asked me to do a guest blog post about getting ready for 2012, I said, “Absolutely.” That’s after I said “thank you” to Brad, Scott and RC for thinking about me for this post.

Saying “thank you” is important. More on that topic later in this post.

I said “Absolutely” because that’s exactly what I have been doing for the past few months. As a photographer, professional or enthusiast, you gotta plan ahead.

After carefully considering the many things we, as photographers, need to do in the planning process, I picked my top 12 recommendations for 2012.

Here goes.

1. Set goals
If you don’t set goals, you really don’t know where you are going – and how you are going to get there. Perhaps more important, once you set a goal, fine-tune that goal as you move toward it.

For example, say you want to become a better people photographer. That’s a good goal for sure. But setting the more specific goal of making better portraits or environmental portraits (showing the person in his or her environment) is a more specific goal. In this case, study the work of well-known pros – and painters – to see how they create wonderful pictures and paintings. Study light – shadows and highlights.

To make my “Girl with a Pearl Earring” photograph, I studied the painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” by the Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer.

Put some shooting dates on your calendar. Put what you learned to use. You really have to take a lot of people shots to get better at it, and get more comfortable working with your subjects.

Evaluate your goal. Regularly. Be tough. Ask yourself if you are reaching or achieving your goal. Ask your family members and friends if they think you are improving.

2. Socialize
Use Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc. to get your name and your work “out there.” These free marketing tools are essential for the working pro and aspiring pro.

See how other photographers are using these tools to their advantage. Daily.

These marketing tools are also a great way to share a favorite picture and to make new friends.

Look at these tools as building your fans and friends customer base.

Once you start, you should post new photos on a regular basis.

3. Network
You can use social media to network, of course. But actual face time (as in showing up in person as opposed to FaceTime on the iPhone/iPad) is also a great way to network.

Photoshop World is a great place to network. So is the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City and the California Photo Fest in Los Osos, CA.

Joining local Meetup groups is also a great way to network. Meetup photo groups are like camera clubs. They offer great opportunities to go out shooting with other photographers. Some host monthly meetings as well. If there is not a Meetup group in your town, start one – and start networking.

4. Plan Ahead
Here is what I tell freelance photographers, like myself: Being a freelancer is like being on a roller coaster. The highs are high and the lows are low. However, that’s much more exciting than being on a merry-go-round.

To be a successful freelancer, you need to plan ahead. Way ahead. I am planning my 2012 and 2013 workshops and seminars right now. One reason: I know many of my friendly competitors are doing the same thing. And, the groups that sponsor these events need time to promote dates to their members.

Make a plan and stick to it. Remember: dates in your “review view mirror” are closer than they appear.

Check your e-calendar daily. Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

Here is something else I tell freelancers: Never give up. Believe in yourself. Follow your heart and don’t listen to those, especially on social media, who want to put you down.

5. Think “Free”
Get this book, Free by Chris Anderson. In the book the author talks about the importance of giving away stuff for free… in the hope of making a connection with a potential customer and making money down the road.

It’s a good philosophy. Give a free lecture or photo seminar. After the lecture, promote your workshops, prints, etc. Also, post free videos on YouTube and give free webinars. Again, promote your paid work at the end of the video or webinar.

And while we are on the subject of books, read, The Thank You Economy by Gary Vaynerchuck. It’s a great reminder of the value of saying “Thank You.”

6. Embrace Technology
You can make a few bucks by embracing technology. For example, pick your best work and create a PDF e-book. Sell it through E-junkie and promote it on your site and blog.

Also consider apps. As more and more iPads and iPhone are sold, more and more people are getting into app development.

Apps are more affordable than books. They are also available in every home with an Internet connection on the planet – which means you have a tremendous customer base.

After writing 36 books, I have now moved mainly to apps. I gotta tell ya, they sell way better than books these days.

7. Be Healthy
If you are not in good health and good shape, you can’t make the best possible picture and run the best possible business – and have the most fun possible. I know this because I recently hurt my knee, which slowed me down for a bit. A good New Year’s resolution would be to get in good shape and stay healthy throughout the year.

8. Create Your Own Reality
This may sound silly to some, but you can create your own reality, and you are responsible for your own reality to a great degree. If you want to be a photographer … you have to move toward that goal and invest your time and energy in photography. You might have to start with small jobs or volunteer to help other photographers, but you will be gaining great experience along the way. Remember the old expression, “you have to pay your dues.”

Also, read, Real Magic by Dr. Wayne Dyer and you’ll see what I mean.

Hey, it worked for me. For 10 years I worked in a NYC ad agency in a suit and tie. I dreamed of becoming a travel photographer. I read Real Magic and put the ideas in the book to work in my life. It might work for you, too.

Here’s another quote that may help you create your own reality: “It’s never too late to be who you could have been.” I know it sounds funny, but in many cases it’s true. Try to create your own reality.

9. Update Your Blog or Site
If you want to keep your customer’s attention, and if you want to attract the attention of new customers, you must keep your site current. Post new pictures as often as humanly possible.

I post new stuff on my blog almost daily. No matter how tired I am, I post. For example, I was teaching a photography workshop recently in Bosque del Apache, New Mexico, and I posted new work at 2 A.M. – when our wake-up call for the week was 4:30 A.M.

Posting every day has an added benefit: You need to make new pictures to post, and to find interesting stuff to write about. You’ll learn a lot, which brings us to tip #10.

10. Learn Something New
Learning is health, or at least that’s what the Buddhist say. Learn a new plug-in or software program. Learn a new photography Photoshop technique. For example, thanks to Matt Kloskowski, I recently learned how to make a better montage.

Learn HDR. Learn about travel or wedding photography. Learn, learn, learn. The photo field is filled with opportunities for learning; there are books, apps, DVDs, online training, workshops and seminars. Choose one and get started.

11. Practice
Read the book, Outliers by Malcolm Galdwell. In his book, the author talks about the importance of practice. Hey, I know you already know that, but this book really drives home the point. Strongly. Recent research, however, confirms the importance of natural talent and ability in the equation. Seems like combining practice with talent is the best formula for success.

12. Love What You Do
Here’s my final quote for this post: “If you love what you do, you never need to work a day in your life.”

I, like you, love photography! So the question is: “Why am I still working my butt off?”

Seriously, follow your passion. Even if you can’t do it full time, photography is still a creative outlet that simply can’t be beat.

Happy New Year fellow photographers! Hope you have a great year. Let me know how these tips work for you through my blog:

Myself, my daughter Isla, my wife Nichelle, and Oliver the Pomeranian in our 2011 Christmas family portrait

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone.

Four years ago, my friend Jessica asked me to take a picture of her and her boyfriend Brian to send out to friends for the holidays.  This was not really the type of thing I typically do, but Jessica is a good friend and a really creative person, so I agreed.  It would be fun.  Jessica happens to be an amazing producer with a great sense of humor, so I knew it wouldn’t be your typical family portrait.

When the shoot day arrived, the studio was filled with bags of old sweaters, tights, tutu’s, suspenders and some pretty funny props.  It looked like tacky Christmas threw up all over the studio.  It was awesome.

It didn’t take long until I was laughing so hard I was crying during the shoot.  It was a completely new experience for me.  I have had some laughs at photo shoots before, but never to the point where I was crying.  When it’s personal work, and you have total freedom, you can laugh so hard you cry.  Who knew!?  That shoot got me thinking about photography in a different way, and really opened up my eyes to something new.  Humor, and laughter have always been a big part of my life, but learning how that can be integrated into my photography was an exciting thing.  It was also a good reminder of why I like photography so much, and why it is so important to shoot what you enjoy.

I took so many pictures that day, it was hard to narrow them down.  But eventually I landed on a few selects I liked the most.  After thinking a little about the shoot and how much fun it had been, I really wanted to do something similar with my family.  How fun would it be do do something like that every year.  Especially when you think about 20 years from now, and how great it would be to have a collection of amazing family pictures.  It would be a really great way to look back and not only see how people have grown and changed, but also how I have developed as a photographer.  And also to see how my interests and style adapted over the years from picture to picture.

Over the next few years, I continued to take a Holiday picture of Brian and Jessica, but we also did a shoot with my family.  The first year of our family photograph, we went the Christmas sweater route,  but I wanted to add some additional subtle plot points. I decided to be in a wheel chair with a sling and a neck brace, which came about from a sledding accident with my pomeranian Oliver, who also had a bandage on his leg. And my sister Allison is holding him.

It went over really well, and it was fun to see the picture up on walls and refrigerators when I visited friends and clients. The next year, I put a lot more thought into our picture, and came up with the idea to do a snow scene with yeti.

Having mostly been a portrait photographer at that point, I had been developing a new interest in environmental images, and that interest ended up working its way into our family picture.  Our annual Christmas pictures are not only becoming a fun family tradition, but they are a great way to show potential clients my style, as well as who I am as an artist.  Photography is not just something I do for work, but it is literally an extension of who I am and how I think.  I am already looking forward to next year’s shoot.

The pictures of Brian and Jess from our very first shoot have gone on to heights I never imagined.  TV shows, magazines, billboards, posters, Holiday party invites.  I wish most of these uses were legal and approved by me, but that’s the power of the Internet I suppose, and a story for another time.  As I look back on 2011, I am happy to say I am enjoying photography more than ever thanks to fun personal projects like this.  Each year is more fun than the last, and I look forward to taking on new challenges and ideas in the new year.

So what new things are you interested in?  Who are you as an artist, and how does your personality influence your work?  In the coming year, I encourage you to look for new ways to challenge yourself and try something new.  I never would have thought family pictures would be something I could tie into my commercial work, but as they say.  You never know until you try.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you are able to finish out 2011 laughing in a cheesy Christmas sweater.  It’s the best way to end the year.

You can see more of John’s work at, follow him on Twitter, and “Like” him on Facebook