Category Archives Guest Blogger


So what’s a typical day like assisting Joe McNally? First things first. When you’re a photographer’s assistant, especially for someone like Joe, “typical” goes right out the door.

To start, here’s a bit of the back story:
While I was in school for my undergrad, I was lucky enough to get a summer internship with Joe. In retrospect, I can confidently say that I learned more in those three months than in my entire college education. Now, people ask me all the time how I pulled off an internship with such a person, and my answer really comes down to persistence. I had seen a presentation of Joe’s at the Maine Photographic Workshops, really loved his work and became a fan.

Communication Arts Magazine puts out a great photo annual each year, and lists the contact info for everyone who makes it in… So that next summer, when browsing through, I saw a photo of Joe’s, called the studio, interviewed, and (more…)

10 Tips For Aspiring Bird Photographers
All photos Copyright Scott Bourne – All Rights Reserved

Photo by Carolyn Wright

Thanks to Scott Kelby for the high honor of being invited to post on his popular blog. I’m in some pretty nice company here, so it’s a bit intimidating, but I’ll do my best to inform and educate. I wish I could give you something as emotionally compelling as David duChemin or as stunning as Vincent Vercace. But hey – I’m just a guy having fun wearing Tommy Bahama shirts everyday and chasing the birdie – literally – so I’ll stick with what I know.

If you’re familiar with my work you probably already know I am nuts about birds. I have a passion for avian photography that I’d like to share with everyone. I really like the challenge of photographing these beautiful creatures, so here are 10 tips that might interest anyone who would like to get better at photographing birds. Some of these tips work for any situation, birds or not.


1. Research and read everything you can about birds. This tip is good for any subject, but especially birds. I wanted to photograph eagles in flight. I found out they often defecate right before they fly. And that’s how I get so many eagle flight shots. The more you know about any subject, the better off you’ll be when it comes time to press the shutter.

2. Have the right gear. Avian photography is one of the rare photographic pursuits where the equipment can often make the difference between getting a shot or not. Very long, fast lenses of 400 to 600mm (or even 800mm) at f/4 or f/5.6 are required for bird portraits. Fast 300mm lenses with image stabilization are required for flight shots. A good heavy tripod is a must and a camera with a fast burst and buffer rate really helps too. You’ll also want autofocus lenses and a body with great autofocus. If you don’t have all this stuff don’t worry, you can rent it at most pro camera stores.


3. Know your gear before you go. The first time I went out to make avian images I took my new Canon 600 F/4 IS lens with me (I shoot Nikon now but that’s a different story). I was unfamiliar with all the switches and the IS. I didn’t get any keepers. I took the lens home and practiced on coke cans in my back yard before my second outing and it made all the difference. Also, if you’re going to use a new camera, read the entire manual and play with all the features BEFORE you go into the field. Birds move fast. They won’t wait for you to remember how to set the aperture.

4. Photograph with your back to the sun. Birds look best when front lit. Sidelight may be the landscape photographer’s friend, but the avian photographer’s enemy. To get detail in the feathers and great color, point your shadow at the bird. You’ll never be sorry you did.


5. Make the photograph at the bird’s eye level. I got down on the ground to make one of my best-selling bird images and the editor told me it was the ground/eye-level shot that made the difference. When you shoot down on the bird, you miss the drama that you can capture at eye-level. You also risk making a mediocre shot that looks like lots of other bird photos. The eye-level shots are the ones that tend to stop the viewer in his/her tracks.

6. Backgrounds, backgrounds, backgrounds. Having a clean background is a must. When I photograph birds against a clean blue sky, I often get the most compliments. Also, the further your subject is from the background, the better. Busy backgrounds detract from the subject. Simple background draw the viewer’s eye to the subject.


7. Practice at local zoos and/or bird refuges. Captive birds will give you a chance to study behavior, hone your skills and become familiar with bird photography and guarantee enough keepers that you won’t be frustrated. Even if you don’t bring a camera, time spent observing bird behavior under controlled conditions can provide you with an amazing learning experience.

8. Take it slow and be quiet. Birds are very easily disturbed. Sudden movements, loud noises and anything out of the ordinary will spook them. Take your time. Birds take off when they see nearly anything move quickly. If you want tame birds, some places offer you a better chance than others. The gulf coast of Florida for instance offers ridiculously tame birds. Young birds are also more likely to be tame since they haven’t learned to fear people yet. But don’t get so close as to disturb or threaten them. It’s not worth harming a bird to get a photo, ever.


9. Like many subjects, birds are best photographed early in the morning and late in the afternoon. These are the times that most birds are active. Fortunately this corresponds with the best light. Be there at the right time and you’ll increase your chances of getting a winner.

10. Look at lots of bird pictures. Writers read if they want to become better writers and photographers look at photographs if they want to become better photographers. Look at avian images in books, magazines and on the Web. See what the photo buyers are selecting. Use those images as your benchmark and then go get some of your own.


I hope this post has inspired you to go out and try to make some great bird images. I have found photographing birds to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. While there are certainly things you’ll want to know and techniques I didn’t have time or space to list in this article, I’m hoping the few quick tips I’ve provided here will get you off to a good start.


I’d really like to thank Scott Kelby again for the chance to share with his audience. This is a must-read blog for me every day and I am glad to have the chance to contribute.

Feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions about bird photography –

…….is a guy I really want to buy a beer, and give a big hug to. He’s a tremendously well known photographer, journalist, Podcaster, and industry icon, but this week he’s something more (see below). He’s the man behind, it’s Scott Bourne.

Tomorrow Scott has a very cool post because it’s a photography learning topic that hasn’t covered here before (and a lot of folks will be interested in), but I’m so honored to have Scott here not just for what he brings in the way of education, but also for what he did for contest winner Alex Walker this past week. I think that says more about Scott than anything. :-)

Join me here tomorrow for Scott’s guest blog, and make sure you visit his site and give him a big high-five for me!

I thought I would follow Zack Arias’s lead and do a video instead of a written blog entry. Don’t worry, I realize the level of awesomeness is nowhere near Zack’s video but hopefully it gets the message across.

Thanks to Scott Kelby for allowing me to use this platform for such a great cause.

A few additional thanks:
-My business manager, Michael Moore, for his hard work filming and editing this video.
-Brad Henderson for helping me figure out how to say what I wanted to say.
-Kyle Chowning for putting the Help-Portrait Website together.
-Matt Lehman for the great logo.

Thanks for listening friends. I hope you can join me this Christmas in serving our neighbors!

[Ed. Note: The information form on is now up, so if you checked earlier and it wasn’t working, check back now!]

Photo by Tyler Stalman

A couple of weeks ago, we had a party here in Calgary. Which isn’t so out of the ordinary – we have quite a few parties. This one was special though. We had more iStock members together in person than at any other time before. There were more than a hundred of us: photographers, videographers & illustrators, from as far away as Argentina, South Africa, and Russia. People came to meet our staff, see our office, and have a few beers and laughs in person with the people they spend so much time with online.

For the most part though, people came to work. They came to shoot, create, and talk about stock images. We’d organized a solid weekend for them, with a full squad of art directors, stylists and models, plus lots of time for talking and teaching with each other, and our artists came to make the most of it.

Creating and selling stock online can be a bit of a lonely calling. So having all these iStockers in one place, to meet and learn and work together, to discuss and practice their profession as a group, was a real treat. It’s one thing to talk shop on a website forum. It’s another thing to stand around in a knot looking at the LCD screen after someone’s clicked the shutter on a great concept, and being able to say ‘that’s great stock’ with other people who know exactly what you mean.

Image by Rob Dabisza

Great stock. What does that mean? It’s not just about taking a better photograph of a handshake. It’s not all about smiling business teams and finding new ways to say ‘Success’ in a picture.

Stock is about distilling the world around us into ideas and concepts, and then finding new and compelling ways to illustrate those things. It’s about representing things in idealized, generic ways. It’s about utility and being useful. A good stock artist has to not only be a technically excellent photographer or illustrator. They have to be a bit of philosopher – to see through to the hearts of concepts and coming up with innovative ways to visually explain them. They have to be savvy business people, they have to stay abreast of technology and trends, and always be learning and improving. Above all, they have to be professional. I think professionalism is more than just a matter of whether or not you’re being paid for what you do. It’s about committing to a craft, about self-criticism and constant personal development.

Image by Andrew Rich

All of that takes a heck of a lot of hard work.

Maybe that’s why iStockers get so antagonized when that other word – amateur – gets applied to them. It usually gets worked into the initial of who we are and what we do, something along these lines: “Take a site like iStockphoto, where amateur and hobbyist photographers offer images for a dollar…” Let me tell you, there is nothing that gets under the skin of an iStock contributor quite so much as being called an amateur. Watching them work over the weekend, it’s no wonder. They’ve come a long way from amateur and hobbyist.

Your average iStocker 8 years ago was a self-employed web designer who’d been enticed by our Free Image of the Week. They hung around to find some more images for other projects, talked a bit of shop with the other designers in our forums, and then got to thinking about that Canon Powershot sitting over on the end of their desk. They took some shots of the bell peppers in their fridge and fired them off our way, just to see what would happen.

Image by Rob Dabisza

That bell pepper might have netted them a few dollars. But it probably sparked a question for them: how can I do this better? What other subjects are there out there that will make for good stock? How can I shoot them better? What do I need to improve? So people worked at it. They learned to make the best of the light in their home. They put away the peppers and talked their spouse into getting in front of the camera. The dollars and cents started to grow and as soon as there was enough, the Powershot got traded up for a Rebel. Now when they went to the iStock forums, they were talking less CSS and more prime lenses.

It’s that attitude, that dogged professionalism, that created the artists I got to watch at work here in Calgary. The camera is now a 5D Mk II in a lot of cases, and the spouse has graduated to full-fledged photographer’s assistant, metering light, holding reflectors, and directing models. When the CF card is full there’s probably a long night ahead of them in Lightroom and Photoshop, finding the best shots from the day and processing them. But if the gear and the skills are different, the dedication is still the same. They’re still asking themselves ‘How can I do this better?’

Image by Todd Keith

We have 85,000 contributing artists at iStock now, and we pay them out about $1.2 million every week. They create all kinds of things: illustrations and 3D artwork, and animation and video clips and even songs and sound effects. They create a lot of great stock. So what does that mean? I guess it means, they find new ways for all of us to visually communicate our ideas. Every day they come up with new ways of saying things with pictures. It sounds simple, but let me tell you, it’s a calling, and its a calling you can dedicate your whole life to and always find new things to learn about.

Our party up here in Calgary is over now and the members who came have all headed home, however near or far away home might be for them. We had a great time seeing them all and it was tough to say goodbye when 2 AM rolled around on Sunday night. But not so tough I guess, because we’ll all see each other again soon. You know, at work.

iStockphoto COO, Kelly Thompson!  Scott’s out of the office, but he asked me (Brad) to let you guys know that Kelly will be tomorrow’s guest blogger.  I’ve read his post, and he has a peek into a very special event they held recently that sheds a whole new light on micro stock photography that I’ve never even thought of!  Swing by tomorrow and see what Kelly has to share.