Category Archives Guest Blogger

Thank you, Scott, for the invitation to write a guest blog. I’m truly honored. I hope that I can hang with the rest of the amazing talent that have graced these pages. Also, a big thanks to Brad for helping me get my story to you.

When I was 17, I never imagined where I’d be today. I was young, naïve, energetic and optimistic about my future. I enlisted in the US Air Force as a basic still photographer. I went to basic training, also known as boot camp, and then to the Defense Information School. The brief photography course taught me how to process film of all types, black and white, C-41 and E-6. I learned to read light using a hand-held meter and make a manual exposure with my Nikon camera. After learning the basics of camera operations, I learned the concepts of composition, content and storytelling. The classes lasted six months in total, which also included a brief course on how to process U-2 reconnaissance aircraft large-format camera film. I loved the photography classes, but the film processing – not so much. As luck would have it, the Air Force sent me the Joint Intelligence Center to process thousands of feet of infrared spy plane film. If that torture wasn’t enough, I had a follow-on assignment to the Joint Analysis Center for more darkroom shenanigans. Needless to say, I spent four years tucked away in a vault, within a vault, within another vault.

I had to get out of the darkroom, so I plotted and planned my escape. During my research and scheming, I came upon one of the best-kept secrets, Combat Camera. I had not touched a camera outside of my own personal projects, since that wasn’t part of my duty description. I scrounged together some pictures that resembled a portfolio and submitted them along with my military evaluation reports and full-length photo of me in uniform. Combat Camera was made up primarily of very talented male photographers with years of experience. Furthermore, someone in that unit had to die or retire for a position to come available – they were coveted. At the time, I was 21 with moderately acceptable quality images and no technical background at all. The odds were stacked against me – or so I thought. After the tragic events of September 11th, I received word that I had been accepted into the premier Combat Camera unit.

Weeks later, as I was prepared to move from England to Charleston, S.C., I watched troops make their way into Afghanistan. My first few months at “COMCAM” were the most challenging both personally and technically. I learned how to ingest digital files from the camera and transmit them via satellite all over the world, how to take images from the open ramp of a C-17 Globemaster cargo aircraft at 14,000 feet, how to fire a weapon on a target while moving, how to tactically drive armored vehicles and how to navigate terrain using only a topographical map and a compass. I felt the pressure to perform without error, because I had the critical eyes of my male peers watching me closely – ever ready for me to make a mistake. Whether that was reality or perhaps my perception of reality, it drove me to work harder and harder.

BAQUBAH, IRAQ – Images by Stacy Pearsall

By the time I was considered to be combat ready, I was aerial qualified and had attended ground survival and evasion courses, prisoner of war training, water survival school and close quarters combat training. I was hammered with photography training and techniques as well as workflow and accessioning. I was certified on multiple weapons and knew just about everything there was to know about war… without the real war experience. Before sending me off to document the real thing, I was sent to South America and Southeast Asia. I also ran re-supply missions to the combat zone with a senior photographer. Basically, I had to prove that I could not only take pictures but also perform under fire when it really mattered.

DEADLY DIYALA – Images by Stacy Pearsall

My first combat deployment was Iraq in 2003 followed by a series of combat deployments, which included Somalia, Lebanon and a couple more trips to Iraq. I spent 280 days a year away from home covering Special Forces operations and humanitarian relief missions. It was a far cry from my think-less and thankless days in the darkroom processing film. My primary goal was getting real-time combat imagery from the battlefield to the Joint Combat Camera Center in Washington DC. The President, Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff used my pictures to make informed decisions on military tactics and maneuvers in the battle space. The photos were also disseminated to news agencies such as the Associated Press and Getty Images and were picked up by several newspapers, magazines and online newsgathering sites. All of the images I took while in the military are considered public domain, so you, the taxpayer, own them. As a sidebar, I’ve seen my pictures sold as posters, mouse pads, mugs and screensavers. I had no control where they end up. Actually, I’ve seen my pictures used by anti-war and anti-military websites – go figure.

As a general rule, combat photographers adhered to the National Press Photographers Associations (NPPA) rules, guidelines regarding the photojournalism’s code of ethics. I did my best to remain unbiased and document what unfolded in front of me without judgment or prejudice. Even though I wore a uniform, I strove to stay objective. As I gained more experience and grew more confident in combat, my outlook of photography began to grow and change. I was taking more risks and pushing myself photographically. During my basic courses, I was taught just that – the basics. I began to realize that there was so much more to understand in order to truly capture artful, colorful and memorable pictures. After losing several friends in combat, I also realized that there was more to my pictures than just news worthiness. In many cases, I was the last person to take their pictures. That was pretty heavy stuff.

BROTHERHOOD – Images by Stacy Pearsall

Once I grasped that concept, my vision as a photographer changed immensely. From the age of 21 to the age of 27, I captured over 500,000 images from over 41 different countries. I was considered the best photographer in the military and was the first woman to have won the Military Photographer of the Year twice. I was giving the boys a run for their money. I was awarded one of the military’s highest honors, the Bronze Star, for saving the life of several soldiers during an enemy ambush in Iraq. However, I was wounded in action and my combat photography career came to a screeching halt. My life had changed in an instant.

I spent around 18 months recovering from my wounds, during which time I could barely lift a camera, let alone take a picture. It was determined I could no longer wear the 80+ pounds of body armor and tactical gear, which meant that I could no longer deploy to the combat zone. The Air Force retired me from service in August 2008 – I was only 28 years old.

Simply because I was disabled did not mean I was unable. I didn’t give up. I figured if I could survive six straight years of combat, then I could survive this transition in my life. I brought my skills as a seasoned combat photographer to my photography assignments stateside. Specializing in the armed forces, I began to shoot commercial and editorial assignments related to police, fireman, soldiers, sailors, airman and marines.

DSM DYNEEMA CAMPAIGN – Images by Stacy Pearsall

I advocate on behalf of veterans and concentrate my personal projects around raising awareness for disabled veteran’s groups. During my rehabilitation, I started a portrait project, which featured veterans from South Carolina. I photographed vets from WWII all the way to Vietnam and the current conflicts. I’m continuing this project all over the U.S.

VETERANS PORTRAIT PROJECT – Images by Stacy Pearsall

My time on the battlefield has provided me an appreciation for life and an infatuation with photography. No matter what happens, I’ll continue to push myself.

You can see more from Stacy over at, keep up with her on her blog, and follow her on Twitter.

Thank you Scott and Brad for inviting me to be the guest blogger this week.  It is quite an honor.

I have photographed a wide variety of sports throughout my 25 year career including the Olympics, U.S. Open and French Open tennis, PGA Tour golf and college football.  However, I am probably best known as a motorsports photographer, which typically represents about 70% of my corporate and editorial work in any given year.  With the racing season now in full swing I thought I would offer some insights on how I approach a typical assignment.

Most of my 2011 racing season will be spent covering endurance sports car racing – these are high-tech, multi million dollar prototype cars with the typical race lasting between 6 and 24 hours.  The 12 Hours of Sebring and the 24 Hours of Le Mans are two of the best known sports car races.  LeMans is the Indy 500 or the Daytona 500 of sports car racing.

I prefer shooting sports car racing for a number of reasons.  The venues are great – whether shooting in Monterey, California or Imola, Italy – no two tracks looks the same.  The tracks are road courses, so the cars turn left and right, and go up and down hills. Le Mans, for example, is 8.5 miles long and much of the track are public roads through the French countryside. And the races take place rain or shine. Shooting in great, magical light is the norm, especially at the longer races.  At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the sun sets around 9:45 and rises at 5:45.  These races give the photographer a rich, ever changing palette. Locations are only limited to your imagination.

My kit for most assignments consists of three Nikon D3s bodies, a 500mm f/4, 70-200mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 14-24mm f/2.8, two 1.4x tele-converters, two SB-800 flashes, two 77mm circular polarizer filters, a 52mm drop in polarizer, a Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter (1-8 stops of neutral density, two spare camera batteries, and a Nikon remote trigger.  All of this gear, with the exception of one camera body and one flash, is carried in a Think Tank International Roller (yes it all fits!); and the other body and flash go into a Think Tank Airport Check In along with my laptop, card readers, and external drive.  I carry both of these bags on board, so if my luggage gets lost, I can still work.   My checked luggage carries a monopod, battery chargers, magic arms, super clamps, and radio slaves.

Photo Mechanic and Photoshop are the two most used programs on my MacBook Pro (15 inch, anti-glare Matte screen).  I use three different online photo library systems, depending on my client’s needs – Photoshelter, PhotoCore, and MagImagebank – and charge every client for the space they use on these systems.

I feel the key to good photography is location.  I always try and scout every track, even if I have been there 30 times before.   And quite often my scouting is from the public viewing areas or something off the beaten path.  Photographers David Burnett and Bernard Asset were big influences early in my career. Burnett said if 50 photographers were in the same location looking the same way, he would turn in the opposite direction and seek out an angle others did not see.  Frenchman Bernard Asset thinks much the same way.  He is like a sniper, working alone away from the pack of other shooters, but returns at the end of each event with killer images.   So part of my scouting routine is to seek unexpected, undiscovered locations – which could be in the middle of the woods, the top of a building, or simply driving my SUV to a spot and standing on the roof for a different perspective.  The dented roof is well worth the results.

I also feel it is important to tell a complete story with my images.  Motorsports photography is far more than shooting cars on the track.  It is important that my photographs give the viewers a sense of place, a feel for the ambiance, and insight to the people who encompass this sport.

I receive a lot of questions regarding technique.  I have some general rules, but like every rule in photography, I break them all of time.  But here are a few guidelines.

a) When shooting head on or font 3/4 car shots, the aperture needs to be at  f/6.3 or f/8 to insure the front of the nose to the drivers helmet is sharp.  This is important when shooting for corporate clients who want to see their sponsor logos clearly.
b) The majority of my head on or front 3/4 car images are shot at 1/640th or 1/500th of a second.  I want the tires to be moving and shooting faster than this usually freezes the car too much.  It is a race car, it is not a parked car.  The exception to this is ground level shots at the Indy 500.   The cars are going 230mph, the cover the length of a football field in one second – shutter speeds need to be at least 1/1250th and the wheels are still have motion.
c) Change your angle.  Race cars are low to the ground,  shooting them from a standing position tends to get boring in a hurry.  Shoot as low as possible, shoot as elevated as possible, anything to give you a different perspective.
d) As the weather gets warmer, heat haze becomes an issue when shooting ground level.  The easiest solution is to shoot from an elevated position, above the heat haze.
e) Experiment with slow shutter speeds – 1/125th to 1/15th of a second should be part of your comfort zone.  And don’t just shoot pan shots at slow shutter speeds.  Front and rear 3/4 angles work great with slower speeds, especially if you find a corner where the lead car is exiting the corner in one direction and another car is entering the corner from the opposite direction.

Motorsports photography is the best place to take chances, experiment, and to stretch yourself.  If you mess up a shot, wait a couple of seconds and another car will be in your viewfinder.  Take advantage of this.

I hope to see you at the races!

Rick Dole

You can see more of Rick’s work over at

Above photo: © Greg Lawler

My name is Chris Orwig and I am a photographer and a teacher. While this post is about photography, my goal is not to help you take better pictures but to help you become more creative and alive. I hope to stir things up a bit with a few simple ideas, some pictures and quotes. Here’s to breaking out of our routines and to starting something new!

Photographers are an interesting bunch. We are different and diverse yet bound by a common desire to capture and captivate. The best photographers are those who have discovered the key to a full and vibrant life. It is the insight that comes from making photographs. For by doing this we discover that life’s small mysteries and moments can be magnified. Somehow we get more out of life with a camera in hand. When we take pictures, we see more clearly, we remember more deeply, and we live more fully.

Above photos: Jeff Johnson is an accomplished photographer, big wave surfer, mountain climber, skateboarder, and adventurer. He is not one to settle for the ordinary life.

I like things that are hand made—my young daughters’ drawings, pencil-written notes, and the old driftwood gate in our backyard. There is something special about those things that cannot be mass-produced. This interest is one of the reasons I make pictures. As photographers, we aren’t technicians who repeatedly follow the same steps. We create our own path. We are driven to create something that is one of a kind. We want to expresses our unique voice and vision. It is something we have to do. Taking pictures satisfies an internal thirst. It is an essential part of who we are. (more…)

Next Chapters

I’d like to show you how two events helped to propel me into changing my thinking and improving both my life and my photography.

Here’s what I looked like as a young tyke

On Valentines Day of 1984, my mother passed away. I was in high school at the time and lived with her and my brother, as our parents were divorced. That day I was forced to start a new chapter in my life. I suddenly started to think a little more independently and started to focus a bit more on how my future might unfold.

Multiple exposure light painting lit using flashlights and sparklers

After high school, I enrolled in college where I tried to conform to the expectations that I receive an official education (since I didn’t have an obvious alternate path), find a reliable job and build my career. Near the end of my college experience, my live-in girlfriend decided to leave me and move in with my best friend, which was quite a shocker. That was the second jolt that caused me to re-evaluate my life and correct course. At the time, I was planning to become a graphic designer and continue on a traditional trajectory toward career success. That’s when I decided to start another new chapter in my life.

I’ve followed the full length of Route 66 many times. Here is one image of a series I hope to one day publish in a book on the subject

At that time, I stopped focusing on using design to make a living and started focusing on how I could design my life. I realized that I was in the driver’s seat of my own life, and should be steering it in the direction of my liking, regardless of what other people thought was the right thing to do.

Stitched panorama of waterfall in Iceland

That’s when I quit my job and started teaching Photoshop full-time. I designed a brochure, rented the Adobe mailing list, did a mailing and waited to see if people would sign up for my seminar. I had no idea if anyone would show up, but was happy to see that dozens of people decided to give the seminar a try.

Two monks at a temple in Burma

After being jolted twice, I didn’t need any more external motivation to get me to design my own lifestyle and start a never-ending quest to optimize my life. Back then, I would read at least 52 books a year (one a week) in an attempt to feed my never-ending thirst for knowledge.

Northern Lights shot in Iceland

I’ve shifted enough that I now make creating new chapters a regular part of my thinking. Here are a few other the other chapters I’ve designed over the last few decades:

1) Moved from Minnesota to Colorado to enjoy the mountains and get to a mellower climate and great views, even though I didn’t know anyone in the area.
2) Moved into the mountains of Colorado to escape the city (which I was visiting three times a month with my seminars).
3) Moved onto a tour bus so that I could explore America and photograph all the areas that I’d been dreaming about.
4) Found a special woman to share my life with and began to adapt in an attempt to create an optimal lifestyle for both of us.

Packed all my possessions into a tiny trailer and went off to live full-time in a tour bus

My next chapters will include restoring and then living on a vintage bus (details at and eventually living on a yacht that is capable of taking us around the world.

1963 Flxible Starliner that’s being restored and will eventually become our new home

I would have never imagined that I could design my own lifestyle as much as I’ve been able to, but it all came down to having the desire and not being afraid of taking chances.

Photographically, I’ve had many chapters, all that seem to overlap, and I’m constantly searching for my next chapter. Some of the things that I’d consider to be photographic chapters include: experimenting with light painting, exploring HDR photography, following the full length of Route 66 multiple times, developing unique panorama techniques, and using Photoshop to help direct a viewer’s eye through my images.

The above video is of a 14-shot stitched panorama that was created in Bagan, Burma.

I’ve found this “next chapter” mindset to be one of the most life-altering things that has ever influenced me and I think that adopting it has the potential to radically transform your life. What’s it going to take for you to start designing the next chapter of your life?

What is calling for the largest change in your life? Your mind, your relationships, your finances, your body, your photography? How important is that compared to watching TV or playing X-box games, or doing whatever you do to merely fill your time?

Canons in Moscow

Here are a few books that have been essential in my process of taking control over my destiny: Linchpin by Seth Goden, The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss, Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez

Birds at Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico

-Ben Willmore

vintage bus restoration:

Hello Scott and friends of Scott:

Forgive my intrusion today. I feel especially bad taking you away from Scott’s amazing photographs of guys with sculpted abs and veins popping out of their luridly developed biceps. (Good grief, I’ve got to get my comparably itsy-bitsy jiggly-wiggly body into a gym!)

But today, I offer you a body of an entirely different nature.

This body is round. Round as one half of a baby’s bottom. With rings around it. And it has a name that you might have heard of: Saturn.

Aw, don’t you feel better already? No six pack, no gruesome musculature. Heck, you can achieve a body like this just by lying in a tub all day and eating donuts.

But here’s the catch. Saturn is not something you’ll get a chance to photograph. Not in this lifetime, or the next, or the one after that. Perhaps you’re thinking, “You don’t know, I might. Some smart genius person could invent a commercial hydrogen cruise liner and I might buy a few tickets and take the kids and we can all shoot photos out the window of the Lido deck.” In which case, you’re nuts. Saturn is 8.5 times farther away from us than the Sun. You planning on taking the kids to the Sun? What is wrong with you?

And yet this image, it’s the real thing. It’s 100% got-my-geek-on scientifically accurate, with surface texture and ring opacity data straight from NASA, JPL, and Caltech.

And it’s created, not using a camera, but entirely from scratch. In true 3D space. Using Photoshop CS5 Extended.

I’ll say that again: You need Photoshop CS5 Extended, not the standard non-3D version of the program, to follow along. Otherwise I give you everything you need. Including those scientifically accurate data files and a wickedly detailed step-by-step video:

The video lasts roughly 28 minutes. But believe it or not, it goes by fast. And by the end, your mind will be blown. Let me clear: Your skull will fracture, your head will leak blood, and there will be bits of brain all over the walls. Which is actually a good thing, because after some light mopping, your few remaining bits of brain will magically grow into something 8.5% larger than what you had before.

Of course, I mean that figuratively. But keep a mop handy just in case.

And let Scott and me know what you think!


Developing Personal Projects

As a fine artist, I advance my career with personal projects. Personal projects also create a clearer direction for and develop greater meaning in my life. My life would be unfulfilled without them.

You don’t need to have a fine art career to benefit from personal projects. Many commercial photographers find that personal projects re-energize them, add purpose to their lives and quite often lead to new assignments or whole new streams of income. Many amateurs, making images purely for the love of doing it, find greater satisfaction and personal growth through personal projects.

As an artist who mentors other artists in workshops and seminars, I’ve often been called to speak about the importance of personal projects; how to find them, start them, develop them, complete them, present them, and promote them.

Here’s an overview of what I share.

Personal Projects

Defining a project is one of the single best ways to develop your body of work. When you define a project you focus, set goals, set quotas, set timelines, create a useful structure for your images, collect accompanying materials, and polish the presentation of your efforts so that they will be well received.

Focusing your efforts into a project will help you produce a useful product. A project gives your work a definite, presentable structure. A finished project makes work more useful and accessible. Once your project is done, your work will have a significantly greater likelihood of seeing the light of day. Who knows, public acclaim may follow. Come what may, your satisfaction is guaranteed.

Create a mission and set goals.

Define the purpose of your project and what you’d like to achieve through it. Many times, people adopt the mission and goals of others without first checking if those goals are personally beneficial. Some have professional aspirations, others don’t. Your goals will help you determine projects and timelines that are appropriate for you. The few moments (or hours) you spend clarifying why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you’d like to see come of it will save you hours, months, even years by ensuring that you’re going in the right direction – a direction of your own choosing. When you take control of your personal projects, you also take control of your life.

Make a plan to achieve your goals.

A plan will help make your project a reality. A simple action plan is all you need to get started. Action plans define the steps that are required to achieve completion. Action plans should be clear and practical. Action plans should be flexible; odds are, things will not go exactly according to plan and you’ll need to modify your plan to accommodate surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. Reality happens. Grace happens too. Having defined what you need to accomplish, your unconscious will go to work on the task, generating many ideas. You’ll find yourself ready to make the most of unexpected opportunities as they arise.

Set a timeline.

A timeline can be used to combat procrastination and/or distraction and encourage you to produce work. Set realistic timelines. Unrealistic timelines simply produce frustration.

Identify where and when you’ll need and who will help you.

While many artists define and produce projects themselves, some artists engage a curator, gallery director, publisher, editor, agent, writer, or designer to help them realize a project, in part or in whole. Finding the right collaborator(s) can improve any project. Above all, seek feedback. Seek feedback from people with diverse perspectives whose opinions you value and trust. One thing you can always use, that you can never provide for yourself, is an outside perspective. People with different perspectives may identify ways to improve, expand, or extend the reach of your project. Remember, feedback is food for thought, not gospel. In the end, all final decisions are your decisions; it’s your project.

Stay focused and follow through.

You can work on multiple projects at a time. Be careful that you don’t get scattered. Starting projects is easy. Finishing them is hard. Make sure you’re working on the best project. List all your possible projects and identify the ones that are most important and the ones that are easiest to finish. If you’re lucky enough that the same project fits both criteria, focus all of your efforts there. Otherwise, you’ll have to strike a balance between what’s practical and what’s most important to you. Only you can decide this and the balance is likely to shift as time passes and circumstances develop. Look for a common theme among projects. Often your projects will be related. Focus your efforts in related areas. It’s very likely those areas have greater relevance for you than others. Your work will be perceived as stronger and more cohesive if your projects relate to one another, implying evolution.

What’s your project?

A project is a wonderful thing. It gives direction. It brings clarity. It increases productivity. It produces tangible results. It brings personal growth. It presents your work in the very best light. You and your work deserve this. Pick your projects well. They define not only how other people see you but also what you become. You are what you do. Take the first step today; make a commitment to create a personal project. (Write something right now – put your words somewhere where you’ll constantly be reminded of them and can continue refining them!)

You’ll find an extended version of this content and many other related resources here.

Now, let me speak in more specific and personal terms, as a way of sharing a few more of the insights I’ve found over the many years I’ve developed personal projects. (more…)