It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Vincent Versace!

by Brad Moore  |  35 Comments

Once a year, on the anniversary of Guest Blog Wednesday, Scott generously affords me the opportunity to write another guest blog post. The gift of this yearly moment of expression means more to me than the words “thank you” will ever convey.

I believe there is a certain point in any lifetime creative endeavor when you can look at your work and know what is good and what is bad.  There is also a point in your life when come to beleive you know who you are as good as, you know who you are better than, and you know who is better than you. You can look at your work and say, “That’s crap.” Or, “That’s okay.” Or, “This is really good.” You can look at what you have done and be able to see it for what it is. You can see without ego.

But this is just part of the story I want to discuss. What I want to talk about is my last trip to Burma—the journey that led me there and the place in which I now find myself.

In April 2011 I was in New York for work. I was there on my birthday, and Anthony Ruotolo and Scott Alexander—the Associate Publisher and new Editor in Chief of American Photo, respectively—took me out to lunch.  During the course of the meal, which was also a working lunch to discuss my Alaska project, the conversation turned, as it frequently does, to where was my most favorite place to shoot, what is my favorite type of photography, color or black-and-white, and am I working on any new projects?.  The answers, for me, are: the country of Burma (Myanmar), black-and-white digital infrared, and the project I was working on was a self-assignment that I had titled  In the Heat of the Light,  which was a collection of infrared black-and-white images that I had taken while teaching workshops and on assignments over the past six years.  When I showed Scott and Anthony some of the images, Scott asked if I would be interested in doing a feature for AP on Burma and, specifically, in digital infrared. It took me a few moments to answer, not because I had to think about it, but because I had just been offered my dream assignment for the magazine I have always dreamed of being asked to do a feature for.

What wound up happening is that my Alaska assignment for American Photo—one in which I spent two weeks by myself just shooting a Princess Cruise land and sea excursion—ended 36 hours before I had to be in Burma. The Alaska assignment marked the first time that I had gone out shooting in an environment like that, without a small army of either students or crew; it was just me and the camera. Then, 36 hours later I was on a plane. So I went from freezing cold to boiling hot. From nothing but landscapes, snow, and cold rain to people, monsoons, and humidity. Just me, a guide, and my camera.

Through the course of negotiating the logistics of the Burma shoot, one of the things I decided for this article was that I needed to photograph Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Medal of Freedom recipient, who was at the time just released from 20 years of imprisonment, Aung San Suu Kyi. I figured, what was the worst that could happen? I’d be told “No.” If that was the case, I was no worse off than I would be if I did not ask. So I sent out an email talking about how I would love to do this formal portrait of “the Lady” (as she is referred to by the Burmese people), for this article. What I got back was, “I do not see myself as a movie star or a model.” Which, when I looked back at the email that I wrote, was basically what I was telling her I was going to do for the portrait. So her response back was a polite “no.”

“No” has never really stopped me before. So I kept writing back and forth and back and forth. Eventually what I got back was, “Informal access can be granted if you promise to do right with the pictures.” “Right” was however that manifested itself for me. What I believed at that moment  what “right” was, was to do right by her and tell the story. To tell the story as I was taken by the experience of being there.

So I landed in Yangon. As I left the airport, I was informed that we were going to photograph the Lady (Aung San Suu Kyi) at the home of her father’s best friend. It was his birthday. Now, I have been flying for 27 hours. I’m not all in Burma just yet.

I showed up on time, but she was two and a half hours late to the birthday party. It was 107 degrees, 98% humidity, and I was rained on twice through monsoons. When she finally arrived, I experienced something I had never seen. I’ve photographed a lot of people in my career that have the “it” quality but I have never experienced in my life the ability to take the “it” quality and put that quality in the other person. To make that other person become the person that has the “it” quality.

Whenever someone was talking to her and she was talking to them, that person in front of her became the “it” person.  And the more that they tried to put her on a pedestal, the more humble and more open and more receptive she became to connect with them.

One of the great advantages of being a photographer is that you are allowed to see a world that many people walk by. You are allowed the privilege to bear witness. I believe, as the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe said, “an interesting plainness is the most difficult thing to achieve.” I have really worked in my career to make my job to be about finding interesting plainnesses. From a flower to the steps you walk by, I see my job as to bear witness to the world and to say with my images, “Stop for a second, check this out, take pause.”

To say that I have led and lead a blessed life is an understatement by anyone’s measure.

In the course of my life I felt a prayer be heard, witnessed a prayer answered, and have felt something greater than myself move through me. I have seen people have the power to do extraordinary things, and have seen the force of greatness move through someone and touch others. What I know from these experiences is that I am just a small part of a bigger thing.

I need to go a little way out to come back to the point of this piece. So bear with me.

In addition to having gone to film school, I am also a conservatory-trained actor. It is that training that is the core of my skill set as a photographer. One of the major parts of my training was in Behavioral Effector Patterning, which is the study of the biomechanics of emotion. The training is about understanding how you physically feel individual emotions. One of the outcomes of the training is that you are very aware of the feeling of emotions and the physicality that they cause. One of the things that I have frequently felt as I shoot is something greater than me move through me. Which is the only way I can explain what it feels like to take a picture; it is also why I don’t think that whatever credit I get assigned for images I have taken has much to do with me. It has to do with connecting into something greater. Some images express greater connection than others. Another way to express this: being completely present in the moment.  When I witnessed the experience of Aung San Suu Kyi with people and witnessed the way in which, no matter how many people came at her, she was always centered, present, and humble, it was always about the needs of those in front of her.

From all that I have read about her, the job of being the imprisoned ruler of Myanmar and the sprit and voice of her people is not a job she asked for. Prior to this she was the wife of an Oxford professor and was busy raising two children. Who would ask for the life she leads now? It’s a job that she has to do because she has to do it. It’s the right thing to do. And when I witnessed that, I started to realize what doing “right” meant and what she had asked of me in that simple request.

One of the great fears of being a photographer is to miss the shot. To be in the wrong place at the wrong time, to grab the wrong piece of gear or to be so wrapped up in the moment you forget what you are there to do. Each and every one of these fears was realized for me the first time I photographed her. Rarely if ever are you given a second chance, and rarely if ever does the second time around surpass the first. But two days later I found myself again going off to shoot “the Lady.”

It’s interesting how a small moment in time can have a lifetime of ramification. Or how long the journey to change is, but that the moment of change happens in an instant,  which was a conversation I had with her, my guide, and her assistant.

Every time I have traveled to Burma, I have asked, “What is the word in Burmese for ‘please’?” No matter who I have asked, what I always get back is a polite but blank stare, and no one knows what to say.

So here I am at the second Aung San Suu Kyi shoot; this time it is at a luncheon for the dedication of a library in her father’s honor. So I ask once again, “What is the word in Burmese for ‘please’?” After a moment she says something in Burmese to her assistant, her assistant says something in Burmese to my guide, and the guide then says to me, “We don’t have a word for ‘please’.” I say, “You don’t have a word for please?” Again, after a moment she says something in Burmese to her assistant, her assistant says something in Burmese to my guide, and the guide then says to me, “Well, no, nor do we say ‘thank you’ as much as you do. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ in our society are implied in everything we do. The only time we say ‘thank you’ is when a person does something that is so life-changing, so profound, that it warrants comment above and beyond what you should do, which is right. And then the response is basically something to the effect of, ‘Why are you thanking me? I’m just doing what I’m supposed to.’”

And so, again, after a moment she says something in Burmese to her assistant, her assistant says something in Burmese to my guide, and the guide says to me, “You might want to consider doing that for a day. Have ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ implied in every action and to try and do right with everything you do.” While this is being said to me with the kindest of smiles without malice or ego, she looks at me. In that moment I have never felt so heard or been so present.

In that moment, I realized that it was not “right by her” that she was asking me to do; I was asked to do right, always. Since then, I go out of my way to try and have “please” and “thank you” implied in everything I do. I try to have  “please” and “thank you” implied in my pictures, and to recognize that my job now is to do right by everything I photograph.

And that really changes the way you spin things. It started with that moment, and I was damned if I was going to let this person down—this person who I doubt remembers me. All that, just from the experience of that energy, that presence.

It is like when an actor is on stage with an another, more talented actor; the more gifted actor pulls you up because you have to step up to the plate to be able to match their level. And when you are done, you have been changed. You are better for the experience, and that experience echoes through the rest of your career until the next time that you get pulled up to a different level.

What I try to do when I shoot is open myself up not to what it is that I think I should shoot, but to what it is that there is to shoot that will take me, which means slowing down and getting out of my head and having as little of my ego in the photograph as possible. I have never been accused of being a man of small ego, and I will not argue with that. But what I can promise you is that what you’ll never see in my photograph is that ego. Everything happens at the speed of life, and what I try to do is record the experience of life. The camera works in fractions of a second, life occurs in continuous time. So within that limitation, what I try to do is right by the moment as it unfolds in front of me.

Another thing that changed for me from my experience in Burma was the belief of knowing who you are as good as, who you are better than, and who is better than you. I know I will never be as good as Cartier-Bresson. I know I will never be as good as Josef Sudek. I know I will never be as good as Karsh. I know I will never be as good as Ansel Adams. I will only be as good as Vincent Versace. And that’s the only person that I need to compete with. Should I remove the Bresson qualities from my photographs, should I remove the Wynn Bullock qualities, the Sudek qualities? No, all of those things should exist and they exist as a harmonic. I’m only as good as the images that have moved me.

Will I ever be as good as them? No, and that should not matter.  Everybody has something valid to say, and if you are so moved by a moment to have to take a picture of it, then that need in you is important enough to be seen and heard. It should be heard. What I ask all of you who read this post to consider is this: in everything you do, imply “please” and “thank you” in the doing. With everything you do, with every image you create, simply consider doing right.

Vincent Versace

You can see the American Photo assignment here.


Update on Google+ Photographer’s Conference

by Brad Moore  |  4 Comments

We’re minutes away from the keynote at the Google+ Photographer’s Conference! Brad Moore here with some quick updates so you all know the latest of what’s going on.

First, as it turns out, Google will not be streaming the keynote, but it will be be re-broadcast later. More details on that when we have them.

If you would like to submit questions for Bradley Horowitz and Scott Kelby to answer during the keynote, head over to the Conference page on Google+ and leave a comment on the latest post there.

Keep an eye on that page throughout the conference to ask questions for other sessions as well!

Also, make sure you download the Google+ Photographer’s Conference App (Android | iPhone) if you’re using your mobile device. That will be the most convenient way to keep up with everything that’s happening while you’re away from your computer.


Watch the G+ Keynote Live Today at 9:00 AM PST Right Here

by Scott Kelby  |  8 Comments

Hi Gang: The keynote will be streamed lived via and our plan is to embed the stream right here on the blog, LIVE today at 9:00 am Pacific Time (Noon East Coast Time US), so check back then and see if we actually got it to work!

Also, you can watch from our Google+ page, so I hope you’ll tune in, just 2-1/2 hours from now (well, from when this was posted anyway).

See you then! :)


Live From San Francisco, It’s “Short Blog-Post Monday”

by Scott Kelby  |  11 Comments

Hi Gang, and greetings from sunny San Francisco! We arrived yesterday afternoon,; Matt grabbed a rental car and we headed down to Monterey to shoot along the coast at Big Sur.

The sunset was kind of sketchy — for a while it looked like it might be good (as seen above), but then this fog kind of rolled in off shore (they call it “marine layer”) and once the sun tucked behind it, it was not to be seen again. Still a lot of fun just shooting along the chilly, windy Garrapata State beach at Big Sur (shown above).

Today is set-up day for tomorrow’s launch of the “Google+ Photographers Conference” here at the Yerba Buena Center, but the conference kicks off later this afternoon with Photo Walks all over the city (I’m leading the one at Golden Gate State Park), and then we all meet-up at a gallery tomorrow night for a wine and cheese reception where we’ll be showcasing the work of some of our attendees, which will be on display in the gallery.

Lots of last minute details to get done, and it’ll be a busy day here. Hope I’ll be seeing you at my Photo Walk today, or at the keynote tomorrow, or in one of my four sessions (four sessions? Yikes!).

Hope you all have a great Monday!


Heading to the Google+ Conference for Photographers

by Scott Kelby  |  13 Comments

Man, have I picked up some Frequent Flyer miles in the past few weeks. As I write this, I’m on my delayed flight back from Norfolk, Virginia after speaking the ISAP aviation photographers’ conference (had a great time. Their association is so fantastic, I actually signed-up myself while I was there, and now I am a proud ISAP member). A big thanks to Nikon for having me there in the first place, and to Larry Grace and all the great folks at ISAP.

So, after back-to-back London and Paris trips (hey, I’m not complaining) I’m off this weekend to San Francisco as we kick off the first ever, “Google+ Photographer’s Conference.” We’re going to have a packed house out there, and we’re getting there early to get everything set-up, coordinated, decorated and ready to rock. I am SO excited about this has come together — it is going to be a really amazing experience, and I looking forward to meeting some of the people I’ve been following this year on Google+ face-to-face, and to making lots of new friends while I’m there.

I’m teaching a few classes, and doing some location shoots as well, and the whole gang here at Kelby Training is really psyched up for. I hope if you’re there, you’ll stop me and say “hi.” (I always get a kick out of meeting people who read the blog). :)

I’m not quite sure how much time I’ll have to blog while I’m out there — hoping to have one for Monday, but Tuesday may well be “lame-out Tuesday” but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Here’s wishing you all a terrific weekend, and I’ll be seeing some of you out West in just a few days, so safe travels to everyone!


It’s Free Stuff Thursday!

by Brad Moore  |  321 Comments

Google+ Photographer’s Conference
We’re just days away from the Google+ Photographer’s Conference in San Francisco! The Kelby offices are in the midst of all the last-minute preparations, and we’re excited to be heading to the west coast. Don’t miss this opportunity to see your favorite Google+ photographers all in one place! Head over to for the full speaker lineup, schedule, and registration details.

Use GPLUSCOMM to save $50 off registration AND get 2 free months of online training at Or if you’re a student, use GPLUSSTUD to register for just $99 (must provide student ID)! These discount codes are valid until tomorrow, May 18.

Plus, leave a comment for your chance to win a free ticket to the conference! This will be the last chance to win a free ticket from Free Stuff Thursday, and we’ll be picking a winner in the next 24 hours since we’re so close to the conference.

What’s New In Photoshop CS6 DVD
Win Matt Kloskowski’s new DVD, What’s New in Adobe Photoshop CS6, before you can buy it! This DVD is perfect for people who have experience using a previous version of Photoshop – CS5, CS4, or even CS3 and just want to know all of the “good stuff” in CS6. Leave a comment and we’ll randomly draw for 2 winners.  Full details about this brand new DVD here.

Matt has another DVD out called Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Crash Course. This title is designed to have anyone using LR4 up and running at full speed in no time. Leave a comment and we’ll randomly draw for 2 winners. Learn more about this DVD here.

Lightroom 4 Book – Spiral Bound!
Speaking of Lightroom 4, the spiral bound version of Scott’s brand new book, The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Book for Digital Photographers (Spiral Bound Edition), is here and yep, you guessed it – we’re giving away a copy here on Free Stuff Thursday. The spiral bound edition is killer if you plan to use this a lot as a reference because you can keep it flipped open on your desktop while you work. Just leave a comment and we’ll draw for a winner before next week’s installment. Learn more about Scott’s latest title here.

50% Off At The NAPP Store
Most shirts and mugs are 50% off at the Official NAPP Gear Store. Get a great deal on a NAPP shirt or mug by entering GRADSHIRTMUG in the coupon box at checkout. Some exclusions apply. Hurry because the offer ends Thursday, May 17 at 11:59PM Pacific Time.

Kelby Training Live
If you’re in Indianapolis, you’ll want to check out Dave Cross and The Photographer’s Photoshop CS6 Power User Tour on May 23!

Matt Kloskowski is also hitting the road with the Lightroom 4 Live Tour! He’s heading to Washington, DC, Lansing, MI, Richmond, VA, and San Francisco next month.

You can get dates, details, and register at

Drew Gardner Webinar
Today from 2:00p – 3:00p, join Drew Gardner and the Manfrotto School of Xcellence for a free webinar on Celebrity Portraiture! Drew will take you behind the scenes of his celebrity photo shoots in the studio and on location and talk about what he’s learned from his years of experience. You can sign up right here.

Last Week’s Winners
Google+ Photographer’s Conference
- Christopher Johnston

Crush The Composition DVD
- Hollyhockrose

A Day With Jay Maisel DVD
- Doug Evans
- Thomas

That’s it for today. Have a great Thursday!

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