Category Archives Guest Blogger

Making History Come to Life

Ten months ago I was attending Photoshop World in Orlando, FL. It was the second time I had been to Photoshop World, but after the blast of Vegas the previous September there was no way I was going to miss the one that Spring. One morning in the instructors’ lounge Jay Maisel, someone who I knew of but had never met, was sitting at a table. I introduced myself and we started to talk. Afterward Jay went up to my Dad and said, “You have failed as a parent if you let your kid go into photography as a career.” He smiled and my Dad just laughed; that’s Jay!

Growing up I understood the challenges of photography and the affect travel had on a family. When your Dad is B. Moose Peterson it’s hard not to pick up on what’s going on or notice when he was gone. That’s one of the truths to photography, travel is an inevitable reality. It was also a good thing, as often my parents brought my brother and me out into the field with them to work with biologists and other photographers. This of course fueled my passion to work with wildlife in their natural habitat. Back in 2007 I was given my first chance to truly put what skills I had to good use; alongside my Dad, as we started working with the Collared Pika.

This amazing little critter, not much bigger than a tennis ball and just as bouncy, lives up in the mountains of Alaska where over the last fifty years the changing of the climate has forced an evolutionary change in the species. Working with a grad student, Hayley, and the head of the Mammalogy department from UAF, Dad and I chased these little guys around for days. Chased being a loose term here, for they live in talus slopes where the vegetation meets the rocks, once we found a burrow we basically sat and waited for one to come out. The Collared Pika is asocial, which means they don’t hibernate, so they spend their spring, summer and fall creating giant hay piles of grasses and shrubs in the rocks.

Due to the change in temperatures, the Collared Pika is moving up the slope in order to stay in the cool temperature range that they thrive in. Vegetation on the other hand is receding, so the critters have to move further and further away from their food source and winter survival nutrition. The evolutionary change was proven by Hayley, by comparing an early study done on all the known Collared Pika spots from Canada up to Alaska with a new study of the same locations, and what was found was that a bone in the skull of the mammal had gotten dramatically smaller. Fifty years is a very short time to make such a change.

The work Dad and I did was not only to benefit the Museum of the North, Hayley and those involved in the project but also to bring attention to a species that didn’t get much at the time. Photography was at the root of all of this.

We had the pleasure of working with Link Olson and another grad from UAF, Aren, on another project. Instead of chasing Pikas, we went after another local Alaska inhabitant, the Alaskan Marmot.

In 2010 we went to the Northern edge of the Brooks Range, Alaska to find what was just discovered as a “new” species. The Alaskan Marmot had for years been mistaken as a Hoary Marmot due to similarities in appearance. Genetics proved that they were different. Well it was also proven that they only live at a certain temperature range, if it’s too warm they go higher up the mountains where it’s cold enough to survive. Unfortunately they are at the peak of those mountains, any further and they go into arctic tundra.

Now I had some relative idea of what my Dad did in order to photograph a species preserving its history, but when I got up there I learned a whole new lesson. These guys don’t exactly live in civilization, so we had to drive out of Fairbanks to a place where there was nobody. No cell, no wireless, nothing; we camped the whole time under an oil pipe line. That was the start.

For two days we sat in the rain, on a mountain side waiting for one of those little buggers to come out. We would get up, climb a 700ft vertical climb with 600’s on our shoulders, in the rain and then sit on a burrow. Two days we waited and nothing. Finally on the third day, the rain stopped and they came out. Apparently they also liked the sunshine. It was a great few hours working with a species that people six hours away knew nothing about.

Photography made all of this happen and continues to make more happen. It’s not just about the capturing of the moment but also about the connection it can make for others. No matter what road you go down or what field you are most passionate about, the photographs are there to light people up.

During my first couple of years of college when I decided to go down this arduous journey, my focus was set on wildlife photography, funny though how in such a short period of time that focus can change.

Now if someone had said to me during that time that I would be working with planes over 70 years old along with the people that flew them, I would’ve said they were crazy. That’s not the case today. Although one of the most common questions I get is, “How did I switch from wildlife to aviation?” the answer is I didn’t switch. My passion is still there for the critters, I am just preserving the history of the planes.

In 2009 I started playing with aircraft and the ride since has been unbelievable! One trip to the Reno Air Races sealed my fate with these planes. My Dad said at the beginning, “If you get hooked, it’s not my fault.” Well I did get hooked, and I still blame him. But it’s all good.

It isn’t so much the machines themselves, although the more you work with them the more beautiful they get, it’s the people behind the machines that are amazing. Every plane has a unique story and capturing that story along with the people involved is a whole new set of challenges that makes for one awesome adventure.

This past July I was working a new venue, Oshkosh, WI for one of the world’s largest Airshows. Every plane imaginable that can still fly is possible to end up there. The place is packed beyond belief. It goes for a whole week but even that’s not enough time to photograph a third of the planes there.

One couple I worked with, The Bergens, had a Stinson L-5 Sentinel, a rather common and unimpressive looking plane when you walk by, but the history is unbelievable.

The plane flew in World War II as an observation and ground attack plane. Three bazookas would be mounted under each wing for strafing runs on ground troops. Hard to imagine since this plane’s max speed is 145mph. It has two giant lights, one under each wing for search missions. Well this particular plane was part of the VMO-4 Squadron. They flew during the invasion of the island of Iwo Jima, and watched the battle from air as it happened on the land. Well if it isn’t amazing enough the plane survived, considering it had 11 bullet holes in one wing, but one of the pilots that flew the plane, a man named Tom, was at Oshkosh with his whole family, a fellow friend of the Bergens.

Tom is 89 years old, sharp as a tack, and still in charge. He was there with his plane, which he hadn’t seen in decades, and his family came out to support him. It was only fitting to do a photo shoot, with Tom’s blessing of course. This is the power of photography. Forty-two family members and a WWII veteran captured in time with the plane that Grandpa flew. No big studio production, no pre planning, just being there and talking with the people made history come to life yet again. For Tom it was a kick, and as I’m told the prints are hanging on his wall.

The next day we did what’s called an Air to Air shoot. Dad and I were in an A36 Bonanza shooting out of the plane as the L5 flew for us over Wisconsin.

The challenge of working with these planes lies not only behind the camera but also in the processing work afterward. Now I inherited the discipline to do nothing to my wildlife work in post, but that same rule doesn’t apply to aviation. With planes it’s all about bringing back that lost romance that surrounded aircraft. There was a time when flying was nothing but a dream. Kids would look up at the sky and wonder what was out there. Now everyone looks down at their phones to see what will happen next.

In order to bring back some of that romance, a lot of work has to be done in CS5 and Adobe Camera Raw, especially with static aircraft. If you’ve ever been to an airport, then you know it’s surrounded by houses, hangars, poles, telephone wires and a whole bunch of other junk. Not real attractive. Back in the heyday of these planes, that stuff wasn’t there. A lot of time goes into removing whatever is necessary and then really making the planes just jump out of the photograph!

It doesn’t really matter what the subject is, the goal is always to make it come to life. Whether it’s working with a B17G Flying Fortress with an escort of “little buddies,”


Or a rare trainer P-40 parked outside of its hangar waiting to fly again,


The challenge will always be to capture not only the moment but also to share it with others.

Even now, writing for Scott Kelby’s blog, it amazes me the power a camera can have and the good it can do for a community. For this is a community, and believe it or not the aviation world is an even smaller community than photography. Making anything happen is never a solo project and that goes for everything. Without the biologists there would have never been a request to go sit on a hillside and watch marmots. Without the Bergens, there wouldn’t have been a plane to do an air to air with, and with no plane, Tom wouldn’t have been there. It’s a team effort and no matter what else you learn in this business that’s one of the most essential things.

Despite the amount of time, the fun, and the great stories I have working with aircraft; the desire to be out shooting critters grows ever stronger. Looking over me in my office is this guy, Dusty.

This now nine year old male Grizzly Bear is a constant reminder of what lies out there waiting to be discovered. We photographed him back in 2008 at McNeil River Wildlife Sanctuary, Alaska. He didn’t do much except eat fish and sleep. It’s a tough life.

Writing this now only further inspires me to push harder in every aspect, as I hope it is an inspiration for those reading to push harder with your own passions. Following your passion never fails nor leads you down the wrong road. A hard road maybe, as is common for all photographers but never wrong. The stories along the way are ones that are cherished forever.

My thanks go out to those at NAPP for what they have done for the photographic community, and special Thanks to Scott for giving me this chance to share a bit of my passion.

You can see more of Jake’s work at JakePeterson.org, follow him on Google+ and Facebook.

Between Light and Shadow

As photographers, we are an interesting bunch of people.  We tend to disagree on just about everything in terms of what makes a great picture.  We all have opinions on image content, composition, what we like and dislike in an image and the choices we each make in terms of equipment and post processing.  But we all agree when we see a great image.  Even if it is something we don’t usually do in our own work, we know a good picture when we see one.  And one of the main characteristics present in every great picture is great light.  And light is, well, everything.  An image without good light may be interesting and it may be a good record keeping documentation of someone or some thing or some event. But unless there is great light present it tends to fall a little short and not stay in our own personal image memory bank.  You all know the image memory bank I speak of.  We all have one.

I like movies.  I mean really like movies and see more than most people I know.  I study the work of great cinematographers and listen to their interviews and techniques of lighting they utilize.  While they all tend to agree with photographers on how light can most effectively be used, they almost all agree across the board that they place as much or more emphasis on shadows as they do on light.  As we discuss light heavily in this post let’s also try to keep in mind the importance of shadows and how they play an important role in the making of an image.

By its nature light has to exhibit sufficient illumination to record an image and it has to direct the viewer’s attention.  It has to provide depth and dimension.  What it can do is make the viewer feel a certain emotion, tension, warmth, and more.  Coupled with composition, camera technique and subject matter, light helps to tell the great story. Let’s take a close look at the foundations of light.

I generally tend to begin my workshops discussing the three specific things I call the “Elements of Light:” Light Quality, Light Quantity and Light Direction. Creating a systematic way to approach these elements is key to creating predictable results.  Clearly I am not talking about removing anyone’s creativity in the face of image making.  But I am talking about a quick sort of mental checklist of all the things you have available to use in making a great image.

Light Quality

Light quality can be summed up quite simply if you break it down to the lowest common denominator.  For example, to me light quality is usually about selecting the right lighting tool and the right lighting application for the job or task at hand.  In every picture I have ever seen or have ever taken there is always one of these following tools used along with one of the following applications.  Think of it as “one from column A and one from Column B.” I have found that it breaks down to a 4 X 4 thing.  There are four Tools of light and there are four Applications of light.

Lighting Tools

  • Sunlight
  • Speedlight
  • Studio Strobes
  • Ambience

All of the lighting tools available fit into one of these four categories.  Once we understand what these tools are we have to master their use.  Of course, as working photographers we need to know not only what each of these tools can do for us but also what they cannot do. For example, I would not suggest photographing a group of 300 people with a single speedlight.  But advancements in speedlight technologies have pushed their capabilities further than some realize and if you haven’t used them lately, give them another look.  At the same time, studio strobes coupled with sunlight can yield amazing results. And certainly my tool of choice in the studio for a headshot will tend to always be the studio strobe with the appropriate light-shaping device for the job.  I added ambience to the list as a catch-all of things such as the light reflecting off of a warm toned building, light bouncing off of a projector’s screen, mini-spots in the ceiling in a hotel bathroom, soft window light on a rainy day, or light from a computer screen, lighting the face of an office worker.  Each tool of light has a right to exist and it’s own specific need and has a proper time to be used.  Understand each and know not only when it is appropriate to use each one but just as importantly, when not to use each one.

Lighting Applications

  • Additive
  • Subtractive
  • Transmission
  • Reflective

These applications of light are plugged into my head and when I get onto a location for a shoot I know I have these four to select from.  As the location, client’s need and opportunity is revealed I then make the decision on which application to couple with which light tool from above.

Additive is the use of flash in an ambient situation.  In my world this is most effectively used when I need to change the brightness of the ambience, specifically the background, to add drama and to overcome the limitations of the dynamic contrast range of today’s digital camera.

Subtractive refers to the technique of removing light from a specific area of a picture to either create more drama or improve the light quality, such as on a face.  A good example would be to move a portrait client under a porch or doorway in order to redirect light falling on the face to less top light and more front light in an ambient situation.  Subtractive can also define or describe the use of a black panel to redirect light away from a face on an overcast day.

Transmission might describe any light that travels through an interruption of some type, such as a diffused material.  Transmission light is best used in high-contrast lighting conditions and while improving on the light quality on a face by making it appear much softer, will change the light quantity on the face and in the background.

Reflective light ideally is used when strong directional light needs to be redirected back to the subject or object of a picture.  A strong backlit subject will often need a reflector to bring the dynamic range of contrast under control to prevent the clipping of highlights from strong backlighting.

Light Quantity (the appropriate exposure)

To my way of thinking light quantity is the most elementary aspect of what we do in the world of photography and knowing how to effectively utilize exposure to help tell the story is of critical importance in our image making.  Its not the easiest thing to master but we have to be able to place an exposure correctly in an image to record reality or create a stylized look. And the more we can do this at the time of capture the better off our lives will be.

The Light Meter

As we made the transition from film to digital we were faced with an interesting situation.  For those who were working with color negative film the transition was much more difficult.  Working with the less forgiving range of exposure in digital capture created clipped highlights, blocked shadows and lots or problems for many.  However, for those who were working with transparency film the transition was much easier.  The tighter exposure controls were a given and easier to understand. They were also use to working with a light meter more effectively or more accurately, based on need.  I remember hearing a well-known photographer state that he was so glad digital came along so he didn’t have to use a light meter anymore.  I happen to disagree.  I feel we have never needed a light meter more.  The use of a light meter can save so much post-production time if the photographers of today would just settle into to using it as a discipline.  Think of a carpenter using his or her measuring tape for every thing they do throughout the day.  We should treat our important exposures no differently.  I know we can see the back of our camera, I know we have the histogram there to aid in getting it right and I know we have the flexibility with shooting RAW to bring exposure up and down depending on the need.  But the fact is that all of this takes time.  And of all the things I possess, additional time in my world is not one of them.  The closer I can get to getting the exposure correct, the closer I can come to getting out from in front of a computer and back behind the camera.  Understanding correct use of the light meter is paramount to the successful photographer.

The Histogram

Of course we all know the importance of the histogram and the role it plays in getting us on track in terms of our exposures.  The histogram on our camera, the histogram in our post processing software.  They both allow us to know where we are in terms of relative brightness levels throughout our image.  So allow me to simply say that since the early inception of digital capture I have thought of the histogram and more importantly the window in which it is displayed, as a rectangular tube or pipe.  Anything within the tube will print properly.  Anything outside of the tube will not.  This is how I tend to think of the histogram as I see information slammed against the right or left of the representative window of the histogram.  Whatever is inside, GOOD.  Whatever is outside, BAD.

Light Direction

Light travels in a straight line.  Yea, I know how basic that sounds but it might help to dispel the rumors and myths about light wrapping around a face.  Light doesn’t wrap and in fact doesn’t bend unless it goes through water.  But the direction from which light strikes the surface of a subject has a lot to do with creating impact in our work.  I know that early on most of our photographic careers we learned the old rule that says “the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflectance.”  Basically light comes off of a surface at the same angle it hit the surface.  The efficiency of the surface to either absorb or repel light has a lot to do with how we perceive it.  A highly polished black 8-ball has a completely different way of returning light than the porous of an unpainted ceramic mask.  As the surface changes so do the angles we can “get away with” in terms of light direction.  In addition, we learn through trial and error that as a given light source travels further away from the camera, more towards the background, it becomes more efficient in terms of its brightness as seen from the camera. Therefore as the direction of light changes, even if the distance does not change, the exposure can be affected.

I have learned over the years that anytime I use an accent light, hair light, “skim” light the exposure of that light as measured with an incident light meter aimed at the source from the subject, should read at least 1-2 stops BELOW whatever I am shooting at based on the key light on the subject.  This will prevent clipping the highlights of the accent and light and provide a big difference in image quality.

Light direction is a big part of the controls over which we have command Understanding more about the things we can do with light direction can keep you testing a lot but can also result in great creative work.

The Wrap-Up

Light can be controlled, enhanced and even created during post-production.  All who know me know how much I live and die by the use of Nik Software.  When I discovered Color Efex Pro in 2004 it literally changed the way in which I work.  And of course today I work with Nik Software in their San Diego office and understand the tools better than ever.  Within these tools I can create light effects and paint them in certain areas, I can also utilize very specific control points to apply an effect to a specific subject or object and generally optimize my “look.”  But to best understand the appropriate use of the software I must start with the best quality image possible and that takes discipline.  I can apply an effect to any image.  But to enhance an already top image is far more rewarding than to try to save a bad picture in post-processing.

Spend time learning light.  Watch it, read about it, test it.  Oh, and don’t forget the shadows.  Anytime there is a great light, there will also be a great shadow waiting to be explored.

Tony Corbell is a 32-year Veteran Photographer and Sr. Manager of Industry Relations and PR at Nik Software, Inc. You can see more of his work at at CorbellProductions.com

As much as I appreciate the invite, it likely seems odd that somebody who shoots on automatic with a Nikon D60 would be writing anything on Scott Kelby’s blog.  Despite my own ineptitude behind a lens, many of my close friends are photographers.  Just don’t ask me what an ISO is or how to use a speed light, and don’t expect me to join you on a 3am photo walk in Vegas.  Fool me once.

I’m a cartoonist, illustrator, and painter, and in addition to a pencil and sketchbook, my tools of the trade are Photoshop and a Wacom tablet.  What may surprise you is that I had never planned on being an artist, and I didn’t go to art school.  For most of my life, I only doodled and rarely created any finished work.  I didn’t start down this path with any kind of effort until I was in my thirties, and I’m only 40 now.

My wife and I were living in Banff, Alberta, Canada, and I had a decent job working at a hotel.  In 1997, the local weekly paper advertised for an editorial cartoonist, and I figured it might be something fun to do on the side.  Nobody else applied, so I got the gig.  In 2001, I became nationally syndicated and four years after that, I quit my job.  These days, my editorial cartoons run in papers across Canada, I’ve had illustrations in international magazines, and my paintings are selling in galleries.  Summed up in a couple of paragraphs, it may seem like I knew what I was doing.  Let me assure you, I did not.

Over the past decade, I tried adding a few other skills to my creative repertoire.  For awhile I attempted graphic design, because that’s what people told me I should do and that’s where the money was.  The fact that I disliked it intensely and wasn’t very good at it probably should have been taken into consideration.

When the newspaper industry began to struggle, many of my colleagues figured that online animation was the future.  Wanting to get in on the ground floor, I learned all I could about Flash, created a weekly animated cartoon and even had a couple of TV networks and newspaper chains wanting to run it on their websites.  They did not, however, want to pay for it.  After five months of no time off, I found out the hard way that I didn’t want to be an animator.

As a cartoonist, I’ve always tried to improve my caricature skills, and eventually I became pretty good at painting detailed caricature portraits.  For awhile, there were a few commissions, but the economy suddenly tanked and the price I had to charge to justify the work, had become unaffordable for most people.  I just couldn’t provide detailed studio paintings for a quick-sketch price.  Looking into my future, I didn’t see this being a big part of it.

When I returned from my first Photoshop World in 2009, I found myself inspired.  For years, I’d been looking at what others were doing in the cartooning industry and I’d somehow convinced myself that I had to follow them, even though they weren’t actually leading me anywhere.  I finally asked myself the most important question. “What unique work can I do that I will really enjoy, and be able to sell?”

Having lived in the mountains for so many years, I knew that tourists came here for the scenery and the wildlife.  As painting landscapes didn’t interest me, the choice between the two was easy.  In the Fall of 2009, I painted a portrait of a funny looking grizzly bear, and it changed everything.

It felt completely right, and best of all, people loved it.  After the Grizzly came the Raven, then the Elk, and I was hooked.  In February, 2010, browsing in an art gallery on a slow day in Banff, I got to talking with the assistant manager.  She asked what type of work I did, and I showed her the three images on my phone.  After only a moment, she offered to sell the paintings in the gallery.

With another area gallery wanting them as well, the next year was a crash course in the business of canvas and paper printing, limited editions, live painting demonstrations, and everything else I didn’t know about selling work in a gallery.  And I kept painting.

In September of that year, I was a finalist for the Guru Awards at Photoshop World in Las Vegas.  Not only did my Moose Totem win the Illustration category, but to my great surprise, the Wolf Totem took Best of Show.  In a moment of reflection, I recall thinking, “All this time, I’ve been painting people…”

I’ll always be a cartoonist, editorial or otherwise, and I’ve no plans to give that up anytime soon.  Commercial work, portrait, caricatures and cartoons, all still pay a good chunk of the bills, and it’s not like I’m working in the salt mines.  I’ve got a pretty sweet gig.   But that which I am most proud of, that I can see being a big part of my future, are these animal paintings.

This work has opened many doors for me.  The prints sell well in the galleries, I’ve recorded training DVDs on cartooning and painting, and I’ve twice been a guest on Wacom webinars this past year. They even hired me to represent their tablets last summer in Calgary at Scott’s ‘Light it, Shoot it, Retouch it’ tour.  Personally, I can think of no better validation as a digital artist than being noticed by Wacom.

So what are you supposed to get from this odd story?  Well, here are some things I now know for sure.  There is no one map to success.  When it comes to finding your creative niche, learn from everyone, but copy nobody.  Never be completely happy with your work, because you will always have room to improve.   Take risks and be willing to fail.

People may tell you that you’re doing it wrong, and while it’s wise to consider that they might be trying to help you and could be right, there is an equal chance that they’re not.  When I first started promoting my Totems, more than a few people told me I should do more realistic paintings of wildlife, because they’d probably sell better.  Asking my galleries for their thoughts, they told me they weren’t interested in that, because that’s what everybody else was doing.

While working on my latest painting this month, the Cougar Totem in the video above, I woke up at 4:00am on a Sunday, because I knew that I only had a few hours left before the painting was done, and I was excited to finish it.  When you find that which you would do even if nobody paid you, that creative work that feels indescribably right, then that is the work you’re supposed to be doing.

If you haven’t found it yet, keep moving forward.  Challenge your own assumptions, be willing to experiment and get comfortable with rejection.  I’ve always learned much more from my failures than my successes.   Most importantly, keep trying new things, because the next one could be it.  And even if you are lucky enough to find the work you’re meant to do now, it’s still only a stepping stone to the work you’re meant to do later.

You can see more of Patrick’s work on his website, keep up with him on his blog, follow him on Twitter, and like him on Facebook.


Portrait of Lindsay Adler, Photo by Bob Trautman

10 Tips for Improving your Portfolio in 2012

New York City is filled with thousands of amazing fashion and commercial photographers, all fighting for similar clients and resources. Because of this I must constantly improve my portfolio and strive to stand out from the crowd.  Yet this is not an easy task! I need to push myself to be creative on each and every project, and find ways to make my images exciting.

I’m always striving for my next shoot to be the best shoot I’ve ever done. Yes, I like my work and portfolio but I am never ‘satisfied’… and I think that’s a good thing!

I have the best job in the entire world. Hands down. I photograph beautiful people, in beautiful clothing, in beautiful locations. No complaints about that! Yet one of the biggest challenges is always getting better and finding a way to distinguish myself. I’ve always got to be improving my portfolio and defining my style. I must find ways to stop viewers in their tracks and engage them with my images.


I frequently utilize the color red as a very aggressive and visually compelling color to help give my images impact.

Below are 10 tips that I use to improve my portfolio, and I always keep these tips in the back of my mind. They help me to weed out bad images, to challenge myself creatively, and ideally to become a better photographer. Hopefully they will help you to improve in 2012!

1. Cut Weak Images
People remember your best images. They also remember your worst images. You are much better off cutting weaker images and having fewer images in your portfolio than padding your portfolio with mediocre images. Cut, cut, cut! Having 12 incredible images in your portfolio is a lot better than having 12 incredible images plus 12 average images. Aim for impact, and cut the weakest.


This image was in my portfolio for several months. Although I liked the clean yet aggressive feel of the image, it simply was not strong enough to stay in my portfolio.

2. Get Outside Critique
When deciding which images to cut and which images to include in your portfolio, get outside critique.

Sometimes you can be too emotionally attached to your images to realize that they should be cut from your portfolio. Let’s say that you hiked 7 miles in a blizzard to photograph a beautiful mountain scene. If the image is just an average landscape, then your suffering and pain doesn’t make it any better. As my friends say, “Sometimes you have to kill your babies”… referring to photographs of course!

When you get outside critique, be sure it is from someone you trust and respect. I often get outside critique from other photographers, my photo agent, and even my mom (hobbyist photographer too!). Between the several critiques I get, I can usually determine which images have the highest impact and are most successful, as well as which images need to be cut.

3. Look at Other Photographers’ and Artists’ Work
It’s not cheating to be inspired by other photographers’ and artists’ work. You can get inspiration from anywhere. When you look at other photographers’ work, you may be inspired by the lighting, composition, styling, posing, or any number of different elements.

In fact, many of my shoots are a combination of elements from many inspiration images. I save thousands of images on my computer to help communicate (visually) my ideas to my creative team when I do a shoot. I might use lighting inspired by one image, a pose from another image, and styling inspired by another photo. In the end the photograph is 100% mine regardless of the inspiration!

Obviously it’s pointless to copy an image… if it’s already been done, then there is no point in you creating or ripping off someone else’s ideas! Yet inspiration is completely legitimate whether you get inspired by a photographer, painter, location, movie, or any other source.


This image (of an environmental activist) was inspired by the fashion photographer Tim Walker who regularly uses grand scenes and fairytale props to create striking images.

When I look at other artists’ work, I try to really analyze what’s compelling about the images and what I can do to incorporate these elements (see #9). In the image above I was inspired by the work of Tim Walker, who regularly uses fairytale props and dramatic scenes.

4. Experiment
Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try new techniques or types of photography. If you are landscape photography, try portraits. If you love photographing at sunset, try painting with light in the middle of the night. Look at other photographers work and try different techniques. Don’t be afraid to try new things!

For example, I saw many excellent photographers who were using paint with light as a technique for painting landscapes, urban scenes and even portraits. The images were beautiful, but looked challenging. I decided to experiment with paint with light for my fashion images, and was THRILLED with the results!


After seeing many photographers utilize paint with light in their work, I decided to experiment and use this technique for my fashion photography.

5. Define Your Style, Specialize
While I urge you to experiment, eventually you want to define your style and specialize. If you’d like to make photography your profession, you don’t want a website that has portraits, landscapes, macro and fashion. You are more likely to get a job or be memorable if you have a specialty or niche.

Even if you aren’t a professional, if you wish to exhibit your work it will be more appealing to galleries when you have a cohesive body of work. People don’t remember the ‘photographer who photographers everything.’ They remember the “food photographer” or “fairytale-inspired portrait photographer”. The more you specialize, the more you will be remembered.

I go back over and edit my portfolio ALL THE TIME. I really look at the weakest images, and attempt to replace them. Next I look at the strongest images. Why are they so successful? I try to use those same successful elements in future shoots.

I personally feel my style is clean, graphic and bold. When I shoot, I try to stick to this style, either using high contrast or bright colors to emphasize my compositions and poses.


This image, shot for Papercut Magazine, fits into my style of fashion photography that is clean, graphic and eye-catching.

6. Make Mistakes
Some of my favorite images and techniques started with a ‘mistake’. We have all spent a lot of time learning the ‘rules’ of photography. Yet I often see that that images that break the rules are the ones that stand out. When I experiment I try to remember that it is okay to make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes I like best! In fact, many photographers use these ‘mistakes’ to make their signature style.

Try adding lens flare, or motion blur, or something considered ‘wrong’ by traditional photo standards. Once when doing a shoot, someone’s clothing got in front of the lens, and it created this very interesting blur effect in the frame. Now I purposely create this blur effect, as seen in this image which recently appeared in Z!NK magazine. Sometimes ‘mistakes’ make the most interesting images.


Sometimes allowing yourself to make mistakes can help you discover truly interesting effects. Here I held colored plastic in front of the lens to create this blur effect.

7. Give Yourself Assignments
Give yourself assignments and deadlines to meet those assignments. Especially if you are not a full time photographer, it can be hard to find time to shoot for yourself. By giving yourself deadlines and assignments it gives you something to work toward and concentrate on.

When I give myself assignments, I try to analyze ‘what’s missing’ in my portfolio or what I could do to improve.

Assignments can be single words like “Red” or techniques like “Religion”.


For this image I gave myself the assignment of shooting the theme “Religion.” I decided to take the ‘religious’ warrior route and utilized a Lensbaby and Photoshop to create the final effect.

8. Enter Contests
If you are struggling to come up with self assignments, look for contests to help give you assignments. You can find contests online, in magazines and much more. They might give you subject matter to focus on. Furthermore, if you do win the contest, it helps get exposure for your work and perhaps some cool prizes.

For example, my good friend Brooke Shaden has a monthly contest on her blog. The contest themes vary but always seem to spark my creativity. Find blogs, magazines or websites with competitions and shoot to win! Ok, well if not to win at least to challenge yourself and explore your creativity!


I entered this image in the PDN’s “The Look” competition and was named one of the finalists.

9. Analyze Images
Most of us know an image we love when we see it. But do we really stop and ask why? Is it the lighting that is striking? Or is it powerful subject matter? Or do you love the composition? If you analyze photographs you can start to see which elements attract you to an image. From there, you can set the goal to incorporate these elements into your own work!

For example, I find that I love really graphic compositions and bright colors, and so I always try to incorporate this into my own work. Sometimes it happens naturally, and sometimes I make a conscious decision.

I look at the photographers I truly admire, and try to figure out what makes their work so incredible, and see if I can infuse that into my own!

10. Shoot personal work
If you are a professional or aspiring professional looking to improve your portfolio, don’t just shoot client work. Put together your own creative shoots that reflect the type of work you’d like to be hired for. This shows potential clients your creative abilities. I can almost guarantee that if you ONLY shoot when you are paid to shoot, your portfolio is suffering.

Furthermore, by shooting personal work people can see your creativity and vision and perhaps open up more opportunities. I try to shoot 1 personal project a week. When I first moved to NYC to pursue my fashion career, I dedicated each Sunday to shooting some sort of personal project, and the rest of the days to getting paid gigs. My portfolio improved 10x, and really helped kick-start my career!


This image was inspired by a Japanese artist who projected floral patterns on a face. This started as a personal project, but later ran in several international fashion magazines.

You can view more of Lindsay’s work at LindsayAdlerPhotography.com, keep up with her on her blog, and follow her on Twitter.

[Bill Frakes was one of the first photographers in the world, alongside Joe McNally and Corey Rich, to get his hands on the Nikon D4. Here’s his story on shooting Istanbul and Its Many Faces.]

We had an intense 10 days in Istanbul making this short documentary shooting exclusively with the Nikon D4. Exhausting and invigorating. Crazy great fun.

It’s a wonderful place. The only major city in the world spanning two continents. Divided by the Bosphorus, this place is packed with activity and people, but yet is comfortable and calm.

This is where East meets West. It is an ancient city with modern rhythms. It has been inhabited for more than 5,000 years, every stone is steeped in history — while every day new fascinations emerge combining eastern style with European flare.

I picked Istanbul because of its history. A city of one thousand names, it has been the capitol of two major civilizations. The Ottoman and the Byzantine. It was the eastern Capitol of the Eastern Roman empire. For thousands of years, it has been a cultural and religious center.

Our challenge was to really put the D4 to the test. And to challenge ourselves to extend our vision, to use this incredible new technology to not just make our lives better, but to honor the people who gave us the opportunity to have these chances by making better images.

This is photojournalism. We controlled nothing. Everything is candid. Reportage.
It’s real world solutions to real world problems.

In post we did virtually nothing to the files. We edited the video native.  On the stills we did minor corrections so that they would fit with the video when we put them together. No sharpening nor grain reductions. Some burning and dodging. Cropping. That’s pretty much it.

We used the cameras 18 hours a day for 10 straight days. We used it as a still camera, a video camera, an audio recorder and an intravolometer.

What stands out for me most about this camera is the power of subtle changes. Small ergonomic changes make it incredibly comfortable to hold. You can activate backlight on all of the buttons and controls, now you can see everything on the camera in the dark. The video controls are the best of any DSLR I have seen, and I think I have seen them all. Audio, always a Nikon strength, is better than ever. They dominate this just like they do small flash.

The camera is amazing. The high ISO files exceeded my expectations, and after the D3S I had huge expectations! The new video and audio functions have transformed this camera into something beyond what we have seen before.

It is a rock solid, well crafted, easy to use machine. The menus are simple and elegant. The autofocus is extremely fast and accurate. The sensor delivers perfect, very sharp images.

I didn’t have any concerns about the technical, the Nikon engineers had taken care of that for me. I was free to concentrate on the creative, which is exactly as it should be.

We had a tight team of four.

Laura Heald. My creative partner in Straw Hat Visuals. She is everywhere on these projects. She shoots video and stills. Collects audio. Carries gear. She just makes things happen in the most positive way possible. When we get back to the studio she puts the pieces together. Having her on location making creative decisions is incredibly helpful both in the field and then in the edit bay because she has such a great feel for the material. She is the calm in the storm.

Andy Hancock. Our good friend and long time associate came to Istanbul for the first half of trip to help with the stills and video for the backstage video. Andy’s only been out of the country a few times, twice with us, and it’s great fun watching a Texas cowboy on the loose. If you meet Andy ask him if he remembers his first trip abroad., it’s a really good story.

Jana Erb joined us from Munich to do data management and run some of our robotics. Like Laura, Jana doesn’t understand the word no. Whatever needs to get done, she figures it out. Always in motion she is, as my good friend Paolo Frisson from Manfrotto says, “an EXPLOSION.” Although she was constantly scolding her mobile for it’s imprecision, she managed to navigate us seamlessly through the labyrinth of the city once known as Constantinople.

My job on these things is to do the connecting. I figure out what we need to do and keep pushing until we’re done. I do the lion’s share of the shooting both stills and video. I am in charge of quality control. In the edit process, I do the rough edits for concept and style. And then I try to stay out of Laura’s way until she is ready for me to weigh in on the final edit.

Things happen for a reason. We were ready to go. Spent seven hours packing 14 cases of gear. Left for the airport with plenty of time for our 3 p.m. flight home. We got to the counter, nobody there. Jana took off to find her gate for the flight to Munich. Laura found an agent. We missed the flight out of Istanbul. I had looked at the wrong flight. Back to the city, tired, cranky and annoyed at what this was going to do to our post production schedule -which was too tight.

We got to the hotel. Checked back in. Rescheduled our flights. And went for a walk. Two cameras for me.  Laura took her beloved P7000.  Headed into the center of the old city for an hour. We got lost. Ended up walking for seven hours, slowly covering 12 kilometers, and we made my favorite images of the trip.

Lost and slow. Lovely way to see a new city.

You can see more from Bill on the Nikon D4 over at StrawHatVisuals.com, see his work at BillFrakes.com, and follow him on Twitter.


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.

Rick.

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

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