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EVERYONE NEEDS A HERO
For the last two weeks I had the distinct honor of being one of four photographers involved in judging the graduating class at a high-end photography school.  The students pay 60K to learn and master the art of photography and come from all over the world.  Before graduating each student must produce a twenty seven-image portfolio of his or her finest work.   The student portfolios are judged by an outside panel of working photographers who judge each photographer on the merits of their work.  During the judging process the students have their work critiques and receive helpful advice to guide them in the transition from student to working photographer.


In this image of a beautiful model, you almost don’t see her. She becomes the canvas and the hero of the image is the Butterfly.

By the end the judges worked with 160 students and viewed 4,320 images.   Hopefully the lessons learned will last a lifetime for all involved.  The two lessons that stand out the most to me are the importance of starting a portfolio, or website, with your most powerful image and finding the hero in your image.  Starting your portfolio with the most powerful image is critical if you want to make a great impression with your work.  You can never assume any potential client will look at all of your work.


This is from a recent ad I shot for Wells Fargo.  In this image shot on location, the focus and hero of the shot is the father and baby son.

Equally as important is finding the hero in your image.   The hero element is the focus of your image and helps the viewer understand your reason for creating the photo. The hero element can be as simple as a great smile in a portrait or an intense stare in the portrait of the Mona Lisa.  The image of the model show has the hero element focused on the hair but the hero can be complex, subliminal or screaming from the image.


This is a group of three celebrity subjects. But the focus is all about the guy, actor Shemar Moore from “Criminal Minds,” who has two beautiful woman kissing him on the cheek.

Take the photo of Hillary Clinton taken during the mission to capture Osama Bin Laden. There are many people in this image, including President Obama but the hero in this image is actually Hillary.  Take a good look at the focus of this image and her expression.  Everything else in this image works to create this powerful moment but the photographer focused directly on Hillary and she is the hero or focus of this powerful image.


This is a group of horses in Iceland, but the hero of this shot is the horse in the center of the image that looks directly into the camera.

Who’s the hero of your images?

Today, start thinking about how you can make your images stronger by finding your hero.  There are many ways to do this from using depth of field, to lighting to direction of your subjects when possible.  For the landscape photographer the hero might be color, or shape but every image has a hero and from this day forward I hope you find your photo hero.

You can see more of Matthew’s work at MatthewJordanSmith.com, and get photography lessons at Gallery.MatthewJordanSmith.com

Hey everyone!  RC here doing a quick blog post on this Friday to see if I can convince some of you to do something I just recently did.  Go Fishing with your camera!

I was inspired to do this after watching “Another Day With Jay Maisel” over on the Kelby Training website.  I’ve been an admirer of Jay’s work for a while, and as a friend I try to visit with him when he’s available in New York City.  Every time that I do, I’m always nervous as to whether he’ll ask if I have been carrying my camera around everywhere I went.

I’ve always seen my relationship with Photography as a “I will decide to do it at key points” – and to that i’ve always been quick to leave my camera at home.  Because of that, I am always the guy who runs into a scenario when I see a great shot, i’m never able to get it.  To counter that – i’ve made myself a little bit more disciplined in carrying a camera.  While it’s not all the time, it’s certainly a lot more than it used to be.

I was traveling into New York City to give an interview over at School of Visual Arts with Katrin Eismann.  I figured, while I was there, I would take advantage of the time and try to make some images.  After watching Jay’s event – I became tempted to do one thing:

The Challenge

Take my camera – nothing else – and wait for a moment to come to me.  While i’ve heard this concept before – Find your stage – the actors will come to it – I’ve never really been confident enough to actually give it a shot.

I took to the streets of Manhattan, and just walked around until I found a place that I thought was interesting – a colored wall.   Standing across the street, I aimed my lens to this newly found stage.  Rather than run around and try to find the killer image that I would put into X – I took a deep breath and said to myself “Lets wait here to see what kind of moments come to me.” I also gave myself a limit. I wouldnt go out to find a great place in the city. I could only choose the location of the scene between where i had lunch, and Penn Station – where I was boarding the train back to Long Island.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I cant stand being in hot weather.  Anxious as I was – I noticed that the feeling of frustration that I had was replaced by anticipation. Excitement.  It almost felt like a fisherman – setting up a spot and casting into the water, and wondering what kind of story you will be able to tell your friends at the close of the day.  Some of the shots that I got from the day are in the collage that I have above.

Watching The Stage

I noticed that as I started working on getting these shots, I became more focused on the types of color relationships that were coming down the street.  Blues on Greens, Reds and whites on Blues.. things like that.  I also started looking at things like negative space – and how biased I was for one direction versus another.  I changed its usage and saw images that I thought were cool become that much better for me.  I started looking at how people could affect these relationships, and I nervously sat around waiting for magic moments to occur.

For example – I had my camera trained to the picture of the windows of this post for a long time.  That picture on it’s own doesnt really do a great deal.  However, I stayed fixed to that spot for two reasons:

If a person wouldve shown up in this general area, I would have been incredibly happy.

If a person wouldve shown up in THIS spot and looked down to that center window I would’ve been overjoyed!

Unfortunately for me – neither of those things happened.  As much as I wanted to make these moments happen – luck just wasn’t on my side.  There were no fish to catch today.

Packing it Up

I got to Penn Station  with a mixture of disappointment and intrigue.  I sooo hoped to have that Henri Cartier-Bresson moment of the man jumping the puddle but all I got back was a bunch of OK pictures, and a lot of sweat.

Then I sat and thought it a bit more:

I sat at these places and wondered about color and the relationship between the subject and enviroment.  I played around with space, lines and composition in a quick paced enviroment.  I exercised my technique by moving focus points around, and tried to relearn hitting my automatic “Center Focus” button.

I spent time looking at scenes and wondering what kinds of things would make them more interesting. In effect – I was pre-visualizing my scenarios and making calculations on this.  It was as if I had gone to the photographic gym and went through a workout on my technique.  Yes – for me I looked like a chubby guy doing a half a pushup – but it was MY half a pushup.  I went out with a goal to try something, and in the process was inspired to get a bunch of other lessons.

I was also reminded of one thing we often forget as photographers. Try as we may – luck is still a portion of being in the image.  The more practice we have, the luckier we can get, this is true.  But sometimes luck just doesn’t hit.

Or maybe not in the way you originally intended it.   Happy Friday everyone!

Introductions are in order…

I am Pete Collins…”The New Photoshop Guy,” or, as I am called around the office, “Monkey Boy.” I have done a bunch of stuff in the past… from surviving cancer, teaching tennis, competing in Disc Golf tournaments in the U.S. and overseas as well as living in Bangkok, Thailand for over 6 years. I have a Fine Arts degree and I have been a graphic designer for the last eight years. I am a Canon shooter and I have shot just about every type of photography you can imagine. The sole reason why I got this job is because Scott lost a bet and I was the booby prize. Can I use the word booby in this blog? I guess following after Jay Maisel and Moose Peterson, I can get away with it. :D

Ok, so once I was given the privilege of writing this post, I had to decide what I was going to say. This is big stuff! My plan was to write this hilarious post where you would laugh and think what great a guy I am and my name would become synonymous with cool. My picture would be put into dictionaries next to the word cool, and people around the world would talk to their friends and say, “Did you read that super cool blog post by Pete?” Isn’t that the goal? Isn’t that what we all want?

The truth is… we all long for acceptance and will do almost anything to avoid rejection. I will try to become the person that everyone will like, and I will easily compromise my principles if it means that they will think I am cool. And I bet just about every one of you reading this is the same way. Our lives are lived behind masks that we project to the world and we live in fear that someone will see the real us behind the illusion and reject us. Being rejected is one of our most painful experiences, because it says that we are not worthy and there is something inherently wrong with us. Once we feel rejected we just want the hurt to go away, but unfortunately, the heart remembers that pain so we seek out ways to distract ourselves from the pain and do things to ensure we are not rejected again in the future.

However, the very things that we are doing to cover up our hurt and our pain are causing a greater sense of isolation. We have traded our pain for numbness, but the cost is loneliness. We are so alone and we are not truly alive. The crazy thing is that we think we are the only ones who feel this way. I know because I am one of them… I know I am screwed up, but I am pretty sure that you have your act together… and since you have your act together I must pretend I have mine together too so you won’t think I am worthy of your rejection. So we pose and pretend and act like everything is ok, and yet inside both our hearts are dying. So in order to numb the loneliness, I stay busy, I find things to entertain me, I strive to find that perfect niche in society, or that perfect photograph that will validate my life. I put on a fake bravado, I make people laugh so that they won’t see my fear, or I spend countless hours trying to craft my words in a blog so that it will give people the impression of how important and smart I am. But, all that does is strengthen the masks that hide my real heart from you.

Have you ever watched a child get lost in the joy of a moment? They are not burdened with any sense of shame and they are not concerned with what others will think… they are free and full of life.

I want my life to be like that, and I bet you do too… I am trying to regain that joy… I want to be stirred to tears by the beauty that surrounds me, and not be so critical of others. I want to let go of my masks and let you see the real me, and have you accept me despite my warts and my fears. We have this awesome power to come alongside each other and encourage one another yet we don’t do it because of fear. If we will dare to allow those close to us to start getting glimpses behind our masks, I bet they would start to do the same, and before you know it… we might all be living real lives and with real joy. Imagine how much more wonderful our art, or music, our relationships would be if we were really alive and not caught in the self-imposed Matrix. What if I did things because I loved doing them rather than doing things based upon whether or not it would be accepted by the masses? Am I going to live a life of fear or joy…? That is the $64,000 question.

One final question before I go…

How comfortable are you with love? Are your masks keeping you from really being honest and intimate with those around you? I bet someone near you could really use a loving word from you right now… and the crazy thing is when you push past the fear inside and say it to them, it chips away at the masks in your own life and opens your heart to be free a little bit more. At the end of life, do you want people to say? “He was a great photographer, but his life was a mess” or would you rather them say… “He was full of life and look how that showed in his relationships and his work.” Do me a favor, instead of taking time to comment on this post, which will do you no good… since I can’t read; call up someone you love and just let them know they are special to you. Then go take some pictures, or draw or sing or dance and do it with a sense of wonder as if you were a kid again. Give yourself permission to be real and alive!

You can find Pete on Facebook, and keep an eye out for him on Photoshop User TV, Photoshop User Magazine, and other random places he might pop up :)

Taking a Closer Look…….

 

It’s always an honor to stand in for Scott, and I’m already so indebted to him for his many acts of kindness to me, I better do a good job!!!!  Is that fear that I smell?  Something’s burning, must the gears in my mind!  Actually I do have an idea I think might work.  I just finished taping a two part Close-Up class for Kelby Training and spending weeks preparing for that studio shoot, I came up with an idea.  The point to any close-up class is to teach someone how to approach a close-up subject, and what techniques are needed to capture it effectively.  For this blog entry I would like to take the same concept and move it in a different direction,  looking more closely at life.  With your permission, I will sprinkle some close-up images throughout the entry.

The thing that is shocking about making a close-up image, especially one in which you get really close to your subject, is just how much detail you see, that you never realized was there.  The richness of many subjects is almost indescribable!  A very close look and life reveals much of the same textures that we don’t see in a quick glance.

Let me share a story that will help you understand how I came to have this “new” vision of life.  About thirty years ago, when I was 35 years of age, (I know I look much younger than 65!),  I was diagnosed with cancer, and was told I had about a 5% chance of surviving.  It was a devastating blow.  I was madly in love with my wife (still am!), I had three young children, and all my hopes for my life, and my career were only beginning.  I wish I could say that I was very brave, but, if the truth be told, it knocked me to my knees.  I went through the three common stages.  First, because I was a Christian,  I blamed God.  Why me?  With all the evil people in the world, surely he could have picked someone else!  It didn’t take very long to figure out that wasn’t a very good idea to go down that road.  Then I felt sorry for my self, but that too, soon wore thin.  Finally I just admitted that I was scared.  On the third night in the hospital after my surgery to remove the tumor, after my wife had gone home at my insistence, I simply prayed and asked God to give me the courage to face this disease with all the bravery he could supply, I simply didn’t want to make things even harder on my family than it was already going to be.   I further asked God if we could make a deal, I told Him I was sure he didn’t cut deals, and I was pretty sure I wasn’t eligible for one, even if He did.  But this was my offer; If He would allow me to live long enough to see my young children grown and not in daily need of a father, I wouldn’t serve Him every day for the rest of my life, I would serve Him every moment for the rest of my life.

After my prayer I felt a peace that passed all understanding, and slept well for the first time in several nights.

The next morning my doctor, who was also a dear friend, came into discuss the results of the pathology report with me.  He had a big smile on his face which certainly puzzled me.  He said, “Bill, I have some good news and some bad news.”  I asked for the bad news first,  he responded, “Bill the tumor we removed, about the size of man’s fist, was definitely cancer.”  My heart sank, then he said, “the good news is that it is not the kind of cancer we had feared, multi-strained, it was, instead a single strain form that was very curable, in fact he elevated my chances of survival to 95%!

I was, of course, overcome with joy.  Later when I had time to think about what had happened I had a revelation that changed my life forever.  First I wondered if my cancer, had in fact, been the kind my doctor and feared and God had changed it!?  With more thought I came to the understanding that it didn’t matter.  I came to realize that what I had just gone through has a technical term in heaven, a wake up call!

This is the hard part of my story to share, but if the story is to have any value, it must be shared, for I am certainly not proud of it.  I was a Christian and loved my wife and family, and tried to be a “good” man, but I had put myself in first place in my life.  I was obsessed with becoming a quote, “famous photographer”.  Looking back,  I now realize that I was insecure and felt I needed that to make me feel okay about myself.  It became apparent to me that during all my time, after I found out I had cancer, I never once thought about being a famous photographer.  All I could think about was missing growing old with Sherelene, and seeing my children grow up.  God had changed my priorities.  I made a solemn commitment to keep my word and serve Him every moment for the rest of my life.  I started by trying to be the best husband and father that I could be and, though I worked hard at being a good photographer, I no longer concerned myself with how my work, or I, for that matter, stacked up against all the others out there pursuing our shared career.  I had been cured of the desire for fame.

So what has all this led to?  I’m a happy man who experiences real peace and joy.  I love photography and have never enjoyed it more, it just is not how I see myself being defined now.  I now know that I’m defined by how much I love others, after all that’s what my Heavenly Father does, and by what kind of partner I am to my wife, father to my children and grandfather to my six grandchildren!  Did you catch that?  “6”, I’m so blessed! I enjoy life for the sheer joy of being here.  I know that my earthly treasure is family, friends, and many professional associates.  Most of all I delight in a daily walk with Him,  and the changes are not over.  Everyday I get new insight into how I can make life better for others, and in turn it makes my life better as well!

Am I preaching?  Absolutely not!  I’m just like a man that saw and incredible movie and can’t wait to tell everyone they meet, “You’ve got to see this film!”  Every dream I ever had for my life, and career, and many more, have all come true, except the famous photographer part!  I finally realized that they don’t really exist!  Elvis was famous. The best a photographer can ever hope for is recognition, or respect among their peers.  I’ve found something worth a great deal more, a life worth living and sharing with others.

So sometimes, it’s a good thing to look a little closer……….

May your adventures of looking closer, richly bless you,

Bill Fortney

Galatians 2:20

You can see more of Bill’s work over at BillFortney.net, and keep up with him over at his Pilgrim’s Chronicles blog. If you’d like to get in touch with him, just send an email to billfortney@earthlink.net

Let me start by saying that I’ve never blogged.

In fact “Blog” was one of those odd words that seemed to creep into our social consciousness one day completely out of the blue. No one had ever heard of a Blog and then all of a sudden everybody had one. It reminded me of the word ‘scud”. Nobody had ever heard of a ‘scud’ missile and then one day everybody seemed to have one of those too.

My using the word scud as an analogy is really no coincidence because the meaning of the verb ‘scud’ is: to move fast in a straight line because or as if driven by the wind: “we lie watching the clouds scudding across the sky”.

This represents what Scott has been kind enough to let me blog to you about today; how the digital world has scudded into our lives and not only changed the images that we’re making, but completely changed the process by which we make them.

Next, I’d like to say that I am not a hippie. The fact that I’m writing this blog from a tiny cabin in Woodstock is a coincidence. I’ve lived in New York City for 29 years and never really been to Woodstock. I’m here for the weekend and it’s pouring rain, so how better to spend my time than to blog.

I’m not a hippie, but I do have one or two strongholds in my soul that were spawned by a kind of “hippieish” psychology referred to as “Gestalt” that was founded in Germany in 1912 but developed into a type of therapy used by the psychologist Fritz Pearls during the late 60’s in Northern California.

One of the cornerstones of Gestalt therapy is attempting to be truly present, to attempt to live in the ‘here and now’.

I recall this being something that was actually doable and a philosophy I tried to practice from time to time throughout my life with some success…up until several years ago.

But before I go on, here’s a very brief synopsis of my career for those of you unfamiliar with my work.

My Dad was a very good amateur photographer and he gave me his 35mm Pentax camera when I was ten or eleven. He let me take photos then edit them from a contact sheet using a loupe and a grease pencil to outline my crops. He went to great expense allowing me the chance to choose and emend how I saw.


My Mother and sister photographed by my Father in 1958

By high school I was taking pictures regularly, mostly for the yearbook. I applied to Art College and by the end of my third year had taken every photography class in the program, so I moved to New York.

It was 1982 and just as difficult to break into the industry then as it is now. After a few months of working for whoever would hire me a fortunate set of circumstances landed me inside Annie Leibovitz’s studio. I had no idea what I was doing so I started out loading film but over time learned the ropes and became her first assistant. I worked alongside Annie for three years.
In the two years that followed, I freelanced for several other top photographers including Robert Mapplethorpe and Steven Meisel.

When I ventured out on my own, my first assignment was to photograph a dance company. Those photos became the basis for my first portfolio. When I showed them to magazines they saw bodies in tights and promptly assigned me fitness stories to shoot. Which wasn’t so bad because those exercise pictures helped get me a job photographing a series of twenty books for Time/Life on health, nutrition and fitness. The fitness work led to taking beauty pictures, which led to photographing actresses, which led to photographing mostly celebrities, eventually resulting in what I do now, which is primarily magazine work, television advertising, and movie posters.


New York Magazine, 2006


ABC Family, Los Angeles, 2010


Buena Vista Pictures, Los Angeles, 2006

I still shoot dancers and have been working exclusively with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater since 1999.


Alvin Ailey Dancers, New York, 2006

That’s the shorthand version of my ten-year overnight success. Let’s return to the idea of “here and now.”

(This post contains minor PG-13 nudity/sexiness beyond this point. If you’re offended by such things, please don’t click “Read More.”) (more…)

Find a Niche — And Fill It

As much time as editorial photographers spend bitching and moaning about how things just aren’t the way they used to be, you’d think we were witnessing the death of an entire genre. Personally, I think nothing could be further from the truth. I actually think we are in the midst of a renaissance that will prove to have been one of the most exciting times to have ever been a photographer.

True, newspapers and magazines cry poor house as the pool of available assignments slowly drains. That’s because along with the digital explosion there has been a massive repricing of information. Presses, trucks and dead trees are no longer needed to disseminate information. So the economic pricing moat that used to surround the publishing process no longer exists.

Publishers used to be guys who sat in corner offices and wielded great power along with their printing presses. In 2011, my ten-year-old kid is a publisher. He doesn’t have a blog. He has three blogs. And he won’t even let me help him. He does it all himself, and for free. This low-infrastructure model is the future of publishing.

Which is to say, that while the bad news is that newspaper and magazines are having a hard time supporting their now-bloated infrastructure, we no longer need the infrastructure. Photographers and writers are now near-zero-infrastructure publications waiting to happen.

If you think about that for a moment, it starts to reset your compass. You can either be a pawn in an outdated economic model or think of yourself as a near-virtual company, ready and able to run on a shoestring. The challenge is figuring out a niche that exists that you can fill, and then how to create value by doing so.

That process is happening all around you every day, and will continue to do so until every bit of information — both visual and otherwise — exists in every form possible and available to everyone. That is a tall order, and it is not even close to being filled yet.

At the large end of the scale, companies like Twitter and Facebook didn’t even exist just a few years ago. The niche they filled was to facilitate the ease of connection between people. On a smaller and more industry-specific scale, SportsShooter did the same thing for sports photographers. Ditto Strobist, for people who want to learn about light — which also did not exist until 2006.

As photographers, we have the ability to discover and create publications that fill visual niches. We live in a visual world, and we are content producers.

Nearly twenty years ago, I created all of the photography for a traditional coffee table book on Columbia, MD. It was on assignment for a publisher, but I had enough visibility into the process to see that the economics of small-press book publishing were brutal even then. So much so that I almost felt bad taking royalty checks.

But with internet publishing, the costs and infrastructure all goes away. If you have the commitment to produce something of value and quality, there are many ways to monetize the value that a comprehensive local project can produce. The hardest thing is probably finding a niche about which you are passionate that is ripe for exploration.

For a couple of years now, I have been divorcing myself from the idea of shooting editorial for other people and instead learning to think more entrepreneurially. I am thinking hyper-local, and looking at the inefficiency of coherent, quality visual information about the county where I live. It just seems logical to explore the options that exist right at my doorstep as publishing continues its major upheaval. And the more I study it, the more opportunity I see.

I have been gathering words and photos for a while now, and I am just starting to see the organizational structures that will help to build it into something that can be of value to a large number of people. And that will be important when it comes time to monetize it. As an entrepreneur, you are a one-man (or -woman) band. You have to learn everything you can about the business ecosystem you create.

If you are still thinking, “Who will pay me to take pictures?” you are heading down a very, very competitive path. Better to think, “What can I explore, define and create with my camera that will create value?” And then, “How can I monetize that value?”

As information continues to decentralize, those photographers who can learn to think entrepreneurially will be in the driver’s seat to create and capture new business models. And those who don’t will have more and more to complain about every day.

You can read more of David’s musings, ramblings, tips, tricks, and other stuff over at Strobist.com

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