Category Archives Guest Blogger

First off I would like to thank Scott (and Brad) for inviting me back as a guest blogger.  It was an honor the first time and it’s an even greater honor to have another opportunity to be here again.

Before we get started, here’s a little bit about me…

I am a professional wildlife and nature photographer. My images have been published in Outdoor Photographer, Outdoor Photography (UK), Photoshop User, Elements Techniques, and Layers magazines. My work also appears regularly on Audubon calendars and National Park Service postcards, calendars, and posters. I lead popular wildlife photography adventures in North America.  I am also a moderator for the Nikon Digital Learning Center on flickr. Prior to working as a professional photographer, I spent more than two decades in photographic sales, helping pros and hobbyists decide which equipment suited their particular needs.

In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to the making of highly successful people in many fields.  There are the genetic and the geographic factors but it’s the 10,000 hour rule which states that “A person must put in 10,000 hours of work on some skill to become not only proficient at but, in the top of their field.” That got my attention.  If you do the math that’s 250 weeks at 40 hours per week, factor in a two- week vacation and that’s five years working full time to become proficient at any one thing. Thinking along those lines led me to ponder the four stages of consciousness known as the Conscious Competence Ladder.  If it takes 10,000 hours to become proficient at one thing, what are the stages along the way that track our progression?

Unconscious Incompetence (You Don’t Know that You Don’t Know): At this level you are blissfully ignorant: You have a complete lack of knowledge and skills in the subject in question. On top of this, you are unaware of this lack of skill, and your confidence may therefore far exceed your abilities.1

I traded in my accordion for my fist SLR when I was ten years old.  My dad handed me one of his Pentax Spotmatic cameras with a 50mm f/1.4 lens attached.  I stood there looking at my dad and back at the camera, at my dad, the camera, dad, camera, dad… now what!  Little did I know at the time that the hobby I was about to embark upon would take me on a journey that would shape my life and career.

I didn’t have a clue what to do with this object in my hands. I was an Unconscious Incompetent.  I didn’t realize just how little I knew about the workings of my new camera.  I knew that it made photographs but I had no idea what dials to turn, what buttons to push, what was involved in adjusting the camera so that an image would be made.  Not just any image but an image that was composed and exposed properly.  One that represented my experience at the moment I clicked the shutter; an image that took your breath away when you looked at it, one that brought the scents, the sounds even the taste of the moment flooding back.  An image that transports your viewer to that precise time and place at the moment you clicked the shutter…

How did my dad get the exposure right every time?  How did my mom make images that captured my imagination, took my breath away with their vibrance and beauty?  It looked pretty simple: aim, focus, center the needle by turning a couple of dials, fire, wait a couple of weeks and when the yellow box arrived from the lab, review all the beautiful images.  But wait, where did those beautiful images go?  And, what was this out of focus,  shaky, underexposed, poorly composed junk that was mounted in little cardboard frames with my name on them?

Even with my first weak attempts, I was captivated.  I couldn’t get enough of this thing called photography.  I saw something, I aimed my camera and viola!, I captured a moment in time with the click of my shutter.  My camera became my constant companion over the years.  I had found a wonderful way of sharing my world with others through my images but, I had a lot to learn about f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO, depth of field, focal length…is your head spinning as fast as mine did at the mere thought of learning it all?

But wait, stop and think about that last sentence, if your head is spinning, you have moved to the next level of Conscious Incompetent!  At this point I knew that I had a lot to learn, that I knew so little about making beautiful images.  I was conscious of my photographic incompetence and was taking steps to become competent.  So, I immersed myself in photography.  I went to my dad for guidance on the technical aspects of photography, I joined the local camera club, I got a part time job in a camera store; I lived, breathed, and slept photography.  It was my life.  Photography opened doors for a shy little girl. As photography editor for my high school yearbook, I was given carte blanche to go where I wanted, when I wanted.  I was right there on the sidelines of the games, I prowled the hallways clicking photos of fellow classmates, I attended many school functions with my trusty Pentax along at all times.  I wasn’t shy when I had my camera in hand.

Conscious Incompetence (You Know that You Don’t Know): At this level you find that there are skills you need to learn, and you may be shocked to discover that there are others who are much more competent than you. As you realize that your ability is limited, your confidence drops. You go through an uncomfortable period as you learn these new skills when others are much more competent and successful than you are.1

Over the years I got better and better as I shot more and more.  With each series of failures, came the few successes that drove me to keep photographing.  I learned what works and what doesn’t by pouring over books and then by trial and error.  I learned about f-stops and their relationship to depth of field…

I also learned the basic differences between the different shutter speeds.  Knowing when to select a fast shutter speed to stop action…

or a slow shutter speed to blur motion…

and the relationship of ISO in the equation.  Low ISO for higher resolution, needs more light, tripod, fast lenses…

Or, high ISO for low light, which results in some noise

Through hard work, determination and a great deal of curiosity, I was progressing from a Conscious Incompetent to a Conscious Competent.

Conscious Competence (You Know that You Know): At this level you acquire the new skills and knowledge. You put your learning into practice and you gain confidence in carrying out the tasks or jobs involved. You are aware of your new skills and work on refining them. You are still concentrating on the performance of these activities, but as you get ever-more practice and experience, these become increasingly automatic.1

I now felt skilled enough to make creative images of my chosen subjects.   I could anticipate behavior and be prepared to capture the peak of action, I knew how to take control of the settings on my camera, how to work the light and create pleasing compositions.  I was constantly aware of my settings and their effect on my images, all the while watching for unusual behavior, combining photographic skills with knowledge of my subject put me in position to capture peak of action…

Unconscious Competence (You Don’t Know that You Know – It Just Seems Easy!): At this level your new skills become habits, and you perform the task without conscious effort and with automatic ease. This is the peak of your confidence and ability.1

After all the years I have invested in bettering my craft I feel that I am at the top of my game when it comes to wildlife and nature photography, I have reached my comfort zone.  And yet, I still have so much to learn.  Each time I pick up my camera it is with the anticipation of what the new day will bring, what wonderful moments will present themselves for me to document for the viewing pleasure of myself and many others who follow my work. At this stage in my career as a wildlife photographer I feel that I am a Subconscious Competent as I don’t feel that I am unconscious when I photograph but rather that I run through the technical functions sub-consciously in the back of my mind while concentrating on my subject rather than worrying about my camera settings.  That doesn’t mean everything I do is perfect but, it does mean that when the action is hot and heavy, I move quickly and naturally through the settings on my camera, selecting the aperture/shutter speed combo that best captures the defining moment.

or the subtle beauty in a scene…

I look forward to each new challenge that presents itself and to improving my skills to best capture a given moment in time so that you, too may enjoy the magical moments in nature that I am fortunate enough to experience…

Where is your photography on the Conscious Competence Ladder?  Are you blissfully unaware of all that you don’t know and happily clicking away?  Or, are you aware of all that you don’t know and frustrated with this lack of knowledge that will take your photography to the next level?  Are you on top of your game and sub-consciously operate your camera to achieve the best exposure for the given situation?  Do you still stop and think the settings through before proceeding?  Wherever you are in the photographic process, remember that it’s the journey, the people we meet along the way and our reaction to life experiences, not the destination that makes us who we are today.

In a few words, share what subjects you like to photograph, where you feel you currently are on the Conscious Competence Ladder and why…

Thanks again for tuning in and following this thread to the end.  Be sure to say hi if you see me in your travels.
Snapshots to Great Shots: Composition

1Quoted from the Conscious Competence Ladder at Mindtools

I’m honored to be Scott Kelby’s publisher and proud to publish Scott’s books under both the Peachpit Press and New Riders imprints. Today I have a piece of exciting and important news to share with you that hasn’t been made public yet, so you’re the first to know.

Drum roll, please…
The numbers are in, and for 2010, your friend and mine, Mr. Scott Kelby, has been recognized as the top-selling photography book author! This has been confirmed according to Nielsen BookScan, which is the industry standard for tracking the book industry’s sales.

Congratulations, Scott, so well deserved. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I can’t tell you how amazing it is to work with someone who has consistently written so many best-selling books that truly transform people’s lives. In my entire publishing career, I’ve not seen any single author make and beat so many industry records. You’re an inspiration to all of us. (And hats off to the incredibly talented team at Kelby Media, too. Simply a joy to work with all of you!)

Publishing Industry Insights:
For those of you who are interested in this kind of stuff, I’ll give you a little background. For many years, the photography book category on Nielsen BookScan had been limited largely to books about “traditional” photography. Sales of most of the top books didn’t come close to sales of the top books in the much larger computer book category (a neighboring category, because that’s where all Photoshop books and some Lightroom books reside, for example). Even when DSLRs started coming down in price and the number of amateur hobbyists and serious shooters hit critical mass, still no single general digital photography book seemed to lead the pack in any significant numbers.

Until 2006
That’s the year Scott’s wildly popular The Digital Photography Book was published. It was—and continues to be—an incredible success. In my business, we call that a “breakout” book. A “barnburner.” It sets the bar for the whole category. Scott set that bar while still holding the Number One position in the computer book category (six years in a row!). As Scott’s leadership in the photography category grew, he/we made a strategic decision to move away from more general computer books (a hard decision given how many best-sellers he was authoring in that space—remember The iPod Book?). Anyway, it turned out to be a brilliant decision. Scott puts tons of passion and hard work into his photography and Photoshop books, and he hits them all out of the ballpark. He’s helped millions of shooters all over the world improve their skills, grow their business, and get the shot.

But there’s more…
What’s really interesting about the 2010 results is that the number of actual copies of Scott’s books sold in the photography category alone exceeded the total number of books sold by any author in the computer book category. And if you add the number of books Scott sold both in the photography category AND in the computer category, he soars above any author in either category by more than 50%. Any way you slice it, Scott is making a lasting and meaningful impact on a whole lot of people’s lives and livelihoods.

Again, Scott, congratulations on being the #1 photography book author for 2010. Here’s to many more years of best-selling books, happy readers, and being #1!

Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel
Publisher, Peachpit Press and New Riders

First off, thanks to Scott and company for asking me back for another guest blog. It is an honor to be a part of your network and ever-growing vault of information. It is amazing to me the outreach and sharing within the photo industry and how much we can learn from each other if we take the time to look and listen.

I receive many emails a year from photographers interested in shooting sports that ask me what type of camera and lighting I use. The truth is I use a wide range of cameras and a wide range of lighting techniques. I was fortunate to be the studio manager and first assistant for Dean Collins for several years. Dean was a master technician and taught me not only how to see light, but how to control it.

Terry Norris shot on 4×5 film with an 81B warming filter, 1992.

When I started my formal photographic education at Brooks Institute and early career with Dean there was no digital capture. Everything was shot on film and most commercial shoots were proofed with Polaroids. For all formats at Dean’s studio, 35mm, 120mm, 4×5 and 8×10, there were Polaroid backs that attached to the camera so we could test lighting and composition. Because this process was both time-consuming and expensive, you really had to think and react quickly to the desires of a client. The learning curve was much longer than shooting digital and I attribute much of my success as a shooter because I came from the “old school” of photography. Many of the techniques and creative processes I use when shooting today developed from this way of working and I believe have helped me to succeed in an ever changing and challenging industry.

Clayton Kershaw shot on location in Arizona for
Sports Illustrated

Understanding the relationship between ambient light and strobes can help to create drama in your portraits. Here the daylight behind Clayton is way over exposed to create the glow behind him while a strobe next to camera is used as the main light source.

When I am given an assignment, I make my best effort to shoot what the client needs and then also get at least one image for myself.  These personal photographs have helped to shape my career and often are what now lead to more assignment work.

Since time is limited working with athletes, this is not always possible.

This image of Drew Brees was taken on the set while I was shooting the cover of EA Sports, Madden 11. The shot was lit with a Mola beauty dish that was located very close to Drew. The photo was converted to black and white with Nik Silver Efex Pro.

For the game box cover, we shot a large selection of action photos. Since there was a need for both video and stills for this shoot we elected to light the set with a series of “9 Lights” used primarily for motion picture. These tungsten light sources are very bright and would emulate lighting similar to that of a football stadium. This was not as critical in the stills, because of the ability to retouch, but more important for the reflections that would be visible in video in his helmet. Six of these lights where set up, three on each side of the set. Two large Chimera lightbanks with a 1K in each were used to add fill light from either side of the camera and help reduce shadows from the facemask.  To give Drew a stable area to run on, artificial turf was rented and laid down. Because the shoot needed to be very discreet, the client wanted to shoot indoors.  Not only did this environment give us control over the lighting, it allowed us to shoot action images from angles that would be impossible to create in a real game situation. Drew was a total pro and one of the nicest athletes I have ever had the pleasure to photograph. The final files were delivered to the client and the post-production and retouching completed by the design firm.

The shoot was very involved to coordinate and involved me hiring a video, sound and lighting crews, wardrobe and make-up artists, extras, a producer, a digital tech, assistants, catering and a motor home. In addition, a second shoot was done for the sports fans that appear on the box. This shoot also involved casting, wardrobe and make-up and a still crew. I think a photographer’s ability to produce and finance a shoot of this size is just as important to clients as your ability to shoot it.

Another shoot from last year involved shooting two MMA fighters, Randy Couture in Las Vegas and Fedor Emelianenko in Russia. In each case, both portrait and action images were captured using strobes on location with the final images being used for a variety of marketing and promotional materials.

An interesting opportunity that also came from this job was to create a game release trailer for a trade show. Since this was not part of the original assignment, I worked with a video editor and shooter, Jeff Wiant to create the piece. Using interview and some video footage Jeff and I shot on location, we integrated my still images by reshooting them in studio with the Canon Mark IV. 8×10 prints were made and then shot while we made focus and lighting changes to create dramatic visuals of the stills. We also contracted the music composition and oversaw the script recording.

I always enjoy using unique formats of cameras to shoot. Here are a few Polaroids I took while on assignment. The images were lit with a large Super Pro Chimera softbox. To get the Polaroid camera to fire the strobe, a strobe “slave” was attached to the end of a sync cord and it was taped to the small flash on the Polaroid camera. When I fired the camera’s flash, it triggered the softbox resulting in this nice window light.

When I have limited time with  subject, my “go to” light is usually a large, Chimera Super Pro, which is 4×6 feet in size or a Chimera Octaplus. Both are beautiful sources for both studio and location and can make just about anyone look good. This photo of Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre was lit with a Super Pro and shot with my Wisner 20×24 View Camera on Polaroid film.

I love shooting outdoors with both strobe and daylight. Here a triathlete is lit outdoors with a large softbox and the daylight ambient exposure is slightly underexposed.  This is the straight capture without Photoshop. Sometimes, less is more.

For this series of images, we shot 30 players in one day. This was one of two set-ups we shot for The Upper Deck Company. With only a few minutes per player on each set, I kept things simple and went with a Profoto ringflash with a soft white reflector and just let the guys be themselves.

This shot of Lance Armstrong was taken on Kodak EPP 4×5 transparency film and lit with four Kino Flo double, daylight tube sources. The transparency was then re-photographed onto Type 55 Polaroid. This black and white positive Polaroid was then re-shot back to 4×5 EPP during a long exposure. The only light source was a small flashlight that backlit the Polaroid. The tungsten source created this warm lighting effect on the daylight balanced film.  Since Type 55 is no longer available, I have tried to achieve the same feel of this image using Photoshop, but can’t quite get the softness and light quality that this process created.

A few new images for Easton Hockey, shot on location on a white sweep on 35mm digital. Two Chimera striplights were used on either side of the set to create edge lights from 45 degrees behind the subjects. The main light was a Mola beauty dish on a boom arm positioned just above the athlete.

I shot the backgrounds on location on a separate day and added them in Photoshop. Using Nik Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro, multiple layers of the images were merged together for the final images. The client requested this style of post work for the final images.

This year will mark my twentieth year since I graduated from photography school and I still love making images just as much.  My best advice is just to play, explore and, most importantly, to grow into becoming yourself.  Find your own voice in your work. If you don’t love what you are shooting, stop! Go shoot people, places and things you love and are passionate about, I promise that it will show in your images. Work on finding out who YOU are as a photographer and don’t get too caught up in all of the technology. Ansel Adams didn’t use Photoshop and said it best, “There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”

Thanks for reading.

You can see more of Tim’s work over at, keep up with him over at his blog and on Facebook, and check out his previous guest blog here.

Dave who?

As humbling as it is to be here, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that I have been asked to be a guest blogger on Scott’s site. It’s an honor to have this opportunity and be the little guy standing in line next to such ‘big leaguers’ as Jeremy Cowart, Joey L, David Hobby, Drew Gardner, Zack Arias, David duChemin, Joe McNally and so many others I look up to. Needless to say I have some big shoes to fill. It goes without saying, I’m truly grateful to be here. I really am.

Some people may ask themselves, ‘Who the heck is David Jackson?’ In fact, it’s a question I’ve been asking myself for a long time. Well, I’m just a regular dude from a small town in Wisconsin, who pays his bills with a camera, trying my best to make a living for my family. You see, I haven’t spent time on speaking circuits or been featured at international trade shows. I don’t have a timeless success story to share, a marketing tip or harrowing tale from behind the camera. I don’t have a lengthy client list riddled with celebrities and acclaimed publications. Heck, I’ve barely made a name for myself in the creative industry. Who I am however, is an emerging photographer struggling to have my voice heard over the roar of a very intimidating crowd. I’m standing in line to get on the roller coaster of my career and I need to find a seat before they’re all spoken for.

A few years ago a friend of mine called me out; (more…)

Good Morning Everybody,

Once again I want to say THANKS to Scott Kelby for letting me step up to the plate the second time for part two of my post, “Wedding Photography: The State of the Union – Part 2”.  You can find last week’s post right here.  I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest it raised among the readers.  And my sincere thanks to all those folks who took their time to add to the conversation with their thoughtful comments.

Wedding Photography: State Of The Union – Part 2

So where does that leave us today?   (more…)

Sitting here in front of the computer having just come off an 8-day assignment, I’m struggling to come up with an opening to this post. Beginnings are often the hardest part of any venture and this seems to be no exception. I have a pretty good idea of what the substance of this post will be, just not how to begin it. Glancing over some previous guest blogs, there seems to be two different approaches to the opening – either dive right into the main topic or start off slowly with a thank you. The second option sounds like it’s as good a way as any, so let me firstly thank Scott, Brad and the team here for the opportunity to contribute a guest blog. It is indeed an honor to be here amongst so many talented, creative photographers.

Introductions are probably in order about now, so I should mention that I’m not the funny guy on TV. We share a name but that’s as far as the similarities go. What I am is an Asia (Taiwan to be specific) based travel, cultural and environmental photographer. I actually come from Australia but it’s been close to a decade since I’ve called it home.

In late 2009, I started giving some thought to a long term project that would promise to be a test of patience and discipline. Initially I was thinking along the lines of a 365 photo a day type project but it didn’t really gel in my mind. My aim was to start something on January 1st 2010 and have it run for a year. A 365 fits perfectly but I felt that the idea of such wasn’t right. I needed something more and so hit on the idea of putting together a daily phototip series. A bit of Googling suggested that no one had started and finished something so strictly defined although plenty of people have certainly posted more than 365 tutorials over time. It excited me from the outset, and promised to be a bit more of a challenge than just creating a daily photograph. I promised myself that I’d try to offer more substance than a simple one or two sentence tip. It would be quite easy to simply write something like “obey the rule of thirds” or “when shooting portraits, shoot wide open to create a nice bokeh” and pass that off as a phototip. More of a challenge would be to explain why it’s useful to do these things, and expand on those basics. And so it began. The first week of 2010 saw tips concerning creative white balance, metadata presets in Lightroom, off-center portrait composition, sunsets, vintage filter effects, access and leading lines.

The aim was to mix things up. I wanted the phototip series to appeal to photographers of all levels and abilities. For every entry-level tip such as sunny 16 and basic workflow, I tried to balance it with advice that’d be of use to working photographers with things such as copyright, business resources and shooting for your book.

For the first few months, coming up with a daily tip was fairly easy. In the weeks prior to starting the project, I made a list of as many areas to cover as I could think of, and then slowly worked my way through them. Ideas were jotted down in notebooks while riding in taxis, or recorded in Evernote on my phone and synced back to my computer. Others came up almost spontaneously as I sat down to write. Some stemmed from workshops I gave and classes I taught while others came from workshops I attended (thank you Joe McNally) and books or blogs I read.

That was the first few months. Then it got harder and a lot more time consuming. By the end of the year, it got to the point where I was spending 2-3 hours a day trying to think up and write a tip. Trying not to repeat myself, and also to keep it interesting for readers became a real challenge. I was determined however not to give up. My progress was marked in 50’s. I’d only look that far ahead which allowed myself to think “only 30 (20, 10 etc) to go. Once I reached a 50, I’d start again. It made it seem a lot more achievable than if I’d thought “250 to go”. The final month though ended up being perhaps the easiest of the lot. I had leftover ideas that had been jotted down earlier in the year that needed covering, as well as ideas that were fitting for end of year tips with topics like fireworks photography and best-of roundups. I actually managed to draft the final 15 phototips in a flurry of activity in mid-December which meant that all I had to do during those last two weeks was upload a photo and post the tip.

When embarking on a project of this nature, it was encouraging to see the level of support I got from the photographic community. The wonderful team at Black Rapid sent me a couple of R-Straps to use as giveaways in a competition, I was invited to become a beta-tester for IGVP (International Guild of Visual Peacemakers), the guys at Phottix sent me prototype flash triggers to test and review, and photographers everywhere shared, linked, Tweeted and Liked the phototip posts.

In carrying out the phototip project, I had to learn a lot myself. At some point, I wanted to cover video and although I’d bought a 5D Mark II soon after its release, other than learning which buttons to press for video, I hadn’t used it for anything other than stills. To teach is to learn, and learn I did, throwing together a behind the scenes video shot during a group photoshoot. Whether it’s any good or not is probably not something I can tell you but feel free to watch it yourself and see.

Ultimately this ended up becoming an immensely rewarding project. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend other photographers who want to try something similar and in fact, if you do, let me know and I’ll check it out. Thank you.

You can see more of Craig’s work at, become his friend on Facebook, follow him on Twitter, and check out his photo tips here.