Posts By Brad Moore

Photo by Jake Peterson

May Blue Skies Fill Your Horizon

The promise of photography the first time we pick up a camera body is overwhelming, nearly life changing! We’ve all been exposed to photographs, but to have that power within our own reach nearly takes our breath away that first moment we embrace that magical black box. Then we find our first photographic love in the viewfinder and all those feelings come rushing back to push our photography even further. For over 25 years, this was the feeling I got every time a critter filled my viewfinder! That emotional reward has kept me going out over and over again no matter the photographic reward. Then in 2008 my photographic world was blown apart and reassembled in ways I never knew were possible!

It was June of that year that my childhood of stories and model building were reunited in the viewfinder. I was incredibly fortunate to grow up spending the summer hiking the Sierra backcountry with my father, a WWII & Korean War vet. At night around the campfire when not staring at the heavens getting my nightly navigation lessons, my dad would share his stories with me being in a B-29. Those nights under the stars planted the seeds for much of my life to come, ones I wasn’t even aware were there.

What makes us the photographers we are comes from all our experiences we’ve had up to that moment we go click. I’m not talking about photographic experiences, but all of our life experiences! On that June morning in 2008, my 25 years of panning with birds to capture flight shots, along with my childhood stories around the campfire, came together in the viewfinder when that first aircraft at Reno Pylon Race School exploded my world! Just hundreds of feet away, the thunder of the engine vibrated the earth, getting louder and louder as it came closer… the explosion of air rushing by, and the thrill of experiencing 400mph up close and personal, and getting the shot. Wow! As I warn everyone I take out to photograph aircraft for the first time, “Don’t blame me if you get hooked,” because from that moment on, I sure was!

Where The Pixel Leads Us
As we all painfully know, success with one photograph or one photographic shoot means you’re hooked, but then the real work begins. I was again incredibly fortunate in my career to hook up with folks very generous with their knowledge. Richard, a gifted aviation photographer befriended me, providing some key insight he’d learned over his years. Bob, an amazing pilot and gentleman took me under his wing to mentor me as we made the real decision to add aviation to our wildlife image library. What many call “reinventing,” we simply call natural growth as storytelling is in my genes. So the challenge beckoned!

I’m sure you’ve been there, from that new camera experience, new photographic endeavor and finally the challenge. No matter the genre of photography you find continually in your viewfinder, how do you move the pixel forward? Fun, yep, fun, that’s what is key in making it all work as you go through the ups and downs it is to be a photographer! At least that’s what I do with a huge dose of passion. In this case I set my goals real high, and that’s to move from photographing aircraft from the ground to up into the skies. Like everything in photography though, getting there requires small steps.

Typically photographers start off with little if no foundation in the fundamentals of photography. Again I was fortunate in 2008 in having enjoyed some success as a wildlife and landscape photographer. For example, panning a 500mm lens hand-held with a speeding aircraft in the viewfinder was second nature after 25 years of chasing birds. And watching that background to make the most of it is landscape photography to me. And what all of these genres of photography have in common is the same as the photography you enjoy, light! In following that light I quickly went from a ground-based photographer to sky-based and over the past nine years, and it’s been a thrilling ride. It’s one you can do too!

What Is So Cool About Aviation Photography Any Who?
That’s a darn good question, thanks for asking! When I’m asked this, the first thing I tell folks is it requires no special gear to start photographing aircraft. Seriously, any camera body and lens that has 200mm in it and you’re golden! With this in hand, the next thing I tell folks is access is open to everyone. All spring, summer and fall there are hundreds of airshows and fly-ins around the nation, permitting everyone with the same access to some amazing aircraft. With this equal playing field is the next cool thing about aviation photography, standing out from the rest!

This is where your skill and passion as a photographer comes into play. At most airshows, for example, the aircraft fly when we tend to think it’s the worst possible time of day for light, noon. If you start to create images of static or flying aircraft in this kind of light that stands out, you will instantly stand apart from the photographer standing next to you shooting the same thing. How?

What are you doing for exposure? Are you under ½ a stop to play up shadows and punch up colors? Are you watching your background to incorporate the small cloud? Are your basic hand-holding and panning skills top shelf so the photograph is tack sharp? Have you spent time with the static aircraft to understand the aircraft’s best angle for the light so you can incorporate that knowledge when it’s flying? How are your post production skills? Are you fixing or finishing your photographs? And most importantly, are you incorporating a passion for photography and subject that comes out in your photograph?

This is just partly what’s so cool about aviation photography! Let’s be honest here, as we’re all photographers, first, we can’t just own one body and one lens, especially when the bug has bitten us. Then there is the speed and sex appeal of our subject. The amazing folks who are part of our aviation heritage play a huge part of what makes it cool. Many aviation photographers primarily photograph the folks of aviation, the plane being just something in the background. Then there is the challenge in getting the shot in the worst conditions that everyone loves. And finally, getting out tomorrow to do better than you did today! And the best part and what makes this the coolest is that after all of these rewards and successes, there is still so much more. What I think is the ultimate reward!

The Sky’s The Limit!
When you know that there is no limit, that the sky’s the limit. It’s an exhilaration that propels your photography to a whole new level! Air-to-air photography (not aerial) is an adrenaline rush like none other I’ve experienced! Literally hanging out of an aircraft with only a safety harness between you and the earth directing another aircraft like a remote control on a string with a camera in hand is a thrill I wish all could experience! That feeling the first time you put a camera in your hand is relived each and every time the prop turns heading off on a photo mission. That’s until the reality that you must, must produce at the very least a tack sharp image sets in. Then a panic greater than falling out of the plane strikes you!

You’ve gotta do better than the other guy, you’ve gotta do better than the last time, the next flight depends on your success of this one. What’s your secret ingredient to making it all come together in the viewfinder? Your passion for your subject. All the lessons you learned on the ground photographing parked aircraft as well as those flashing by at airshows come into play as the breeze slaps you in the face as you look out the door through your viewfinder. And hopefully you’re thinking this is all up your alley because it is!

Takeoff
There are many traditions in aviation that naturally are transferred to aviation photography like helping the new guy. It’s one aspect I truly love about aviation because I’ve been a recipient of that tradition, which is why in large part along with Scott and the team at KelbyOne we’ve brought out Takeoff. From the cover, you might think this book is about aviation photography, and you’d be right. But man, it’s much bigger than that as photography is photography no matter the genre. Gear, flash, settings and basic techniques are part of Takeoff, as a firm foundation is required. What about the business of photography, printing and the real toughie for me, walking up to a stranger and asking to make their portrait? Yeah, that’s all in the book as well, because they are universal photographic challenges.

What Takeoff includes more than anything else is what photographers love, all the secrets. I lay them all out there because I have no secrets, but more importantly, I want you to move your photography forward no matter the genre that excites you! What kind of secrets you ask? How but the biggie, just how do you get an air-to-air photo mission? How do you make your photographs stand out from the guy next to you (the answers apply to any genre of photography)? How about getting your images published? Yep, that’s in the book too.

“They belong to everyone!” The first time Bob said those words to me, they really set me back on my heals. After 25 years of guarding the slide and then the file, the idea of just giving a file to someone was about as repulsive a business concept as they come. Bob and I were talking about the ownership of aircraft when he made that comment. He went on to say that he was just the momentary steward of that aircraft. He was just the one at the moment who got to share its history, tell its story. Ever since that conversation the giving of files to pilots has been kinda basic business practice and it has paid back in spades.

Photography, just like aviation, has many traditions, and one of its grandest is the telling of stories. It’s probably why aviation photography has become so incredibly popular because we are historians, visual storytellers at heart. May blue skies fill your horizon!

You can see more of Moose’s work at MoosePeterson.com and WarBirdImages.com, check out his classes at KelbyOne.com, and follow him on Facebook, YouTubeInstagram, and Twitter.

How to Critique Your Own Photos with Scott Kelby
Learn how to critique your own photos! Join Scott Kelby as he shares with you his tools for evaluating photographs across a wide variety of genres. These tools, in the form of downloadable checklists, are only meant to be guidelines to help you learn. They are not laws you must follow. This class was born from Scott’s experience hosting blind photo critiques on the Grid, where he discovered that many submitted photos suffer from a range of technical issues that every photographer should be trying to avoid.

This class is all about gaining a strong foundation in understanding the technical problems we all encounter, whether you are shooting landscapes, portraits, sports, travel, or in the studio, and how to use that information to evaluate the photos you plan to share with the world. Of course, it is not all about the technical. You need to have strong visual elements in your photos to evoke an emotional response in your viewers. By the end of this class you’ll have a new way to see your photos, and new tools to help you curate a portfolio of your strongest work.

In Case You Missed It
Become a better photographer through editing and sequencing! Join Stella Kramer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo editor, as she teaches you how good editing and sequencing can help to do a better job of telling a story with your work. You’ll learn the basics of editing and sequencing, the importance of knowing your objective, how to deal with critique, why you should stand behind your work, and the value in letting go. Stella brings all of these points home in a series of live edit and sequencing work sessions with three different photographic projects.


Creating Magic and Whimsy

“Never let ’em see you ache. That’s what Mr. Mayer used to say. Or was it ass? Never let ’em see your ass.”
― Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge

As the only child of a university art professor and freethinker mother, I grew up surrounded by shapes and images. My love of art grew out of summer vacations filled with trips to galleries, museums, and art studios. At home I often found myself around the dinner table with an eclectic cast of characters—sculptors, writers, painters. They paraded through my childhood and I credit them all with shaping my artistic foundation and forming my eye for the candid beauty found in people from all walks of life. I’ve kind of been chasing characters ever since. I like to tell their stories through their faces, their bodies, even their costumes. I love the adventure and the challenge of making things work — the crawling around, the actual act of creating an image.

And while I like to share my work, to have the images I make – both commissioned and personal projects – find an interested and intrigued audience, sometimes I’m reluctant to give too much away, to walk people through the entirety of my process, or to talk about things in too technical of terms. Are photographs to be seen and not heard? I’ve never been one to geek-out on camera equipment. What I do trust and rely on is relationships, not only with my clients, but depending on the project, I’ve learned that the right post-production artist ensures a strong creative synergy and ultimately the best possible finish. But there always remains that little voice in the back of my head that whispers, “Doesn’t the magic disappear if you talk about it?”

So when the opportunity to contribute to this blog, to pull back the curtain a bit came my way, it got me thinking that perhaps the magic is also in the process itself. How an idea becomes a final image is a story worth telling. And storytelling is a core value in my photography. With each final image I make, my goal is for it to feel like a still out of a movie filmstrip, with its story living beyond any one frame. I’ve always believed in the vital nature of the journey, and these still images don’t exist in a vacuum. So it made sense to celebrate and share the how, the creative collaboration, the image making, and the post production, that is often a true technical marvel that elevates photography and adds magic all its own.

Yet sharing the process – the whole thing – is living on the edge for me. And while I have started to push myself and share more of my process and inspirations from project to project on both my Tumblr and @cademartinphoto pages, for this exercise I went back and chose eight different projects to show more than just images, and to tell of the experimentation and exploration, of technique and tweaking and testing and collaboration. These are my postcards from the edge.

Do keep in mind that for commissioned projects, I oftentimes choose to present a couple of options to the client, once we get in a good place image wise. It’s always a collaborative effort and we listen to the client and tweak to taste to bring it “home.” And as far as the personal projects, sometimes it’s the chicken or the egg scenario in that I get wind of something I want to do and I go do it. Everything evolves once you’re there and the thought process on post production usually happens afterwards when we can play around with possibilities until I get that little tingle – a gut feeling that something is right to me.

Wish You Were Here – The Mississippi Delta: Blues Men
While I love everything about the collaboration that comes with a commercial shoot, when it comes to my personal work, I find I am drawn to the one-on-one with real, every-day people. You can’t make any of it up or direct it – how they carry themselves or have decided to dress for the day is better than where my imagination could take it. I always go out of my way to make the subjects look their best, to present them in the truest, most sincere way- exploring the architecture of their faces, the texture of their clothes and so on.

I worked on this post-production with one of my go-tos, Sugar Digital. Our familiar relationship is great for both understanding my process and pushing me to experiment. My original intention going into this Blues project was to produce these as black and white portraits, but the more we played, the more I gravitated towards a bit of warm color that brings a little more life, as well as further defining the magnetic architecture of their faces.

Enjoying the Sights on Mercy Street! – PBS Mercy Street
Working with PBS on this project for their Mercy Street mini series was incredible and I loved every minute of it. Going in, we did not have a lot of specific creative direction other than a classical approach similar to what PBS had done with their monster hit Downton Abbey. That influence was a great jumping off point, but I was also interested in creating something a little more modern and contemporary to set this series apart. To achieve that, I set up a set within a set to create a classical look melded with a more modern lighting design and a subtly textured backdrop.

We delivered the images and I didn’t immediately hear back – crickets – I thought maybe they hated the photographs. I really liked them and wanted to plow ahead, which I did. On set (in Petersburg, Virginia) we had an old 20×20 silk as the backdrop. I also hunted down a location for the exterior images of Civil War era Petersburg, these images of cobblestone streets and buildings were layered in post with the in-photograph silks.

We used the silk as a base background and I really wanted the focus to stay on the characters so the background elements needed to be a “there but not there” type of thing – providing texture and a modern nod without overwhelming the images or the subject. Working with my partners at Sugar Digital, we worked back-and-forth to find the right layering balance so that the painterly background effect was there to support but not distract from the subjects. The colors and textures of the period wardrobe, along with the actors’ faces were a striking focal point, and I was after tones that would marry well with each other and could straddle the historical/contemporary setting of the images.

With the updated backgrounds, I now loved the images and sent them to the client. This time the client responded immediately that they loved the look and wanted to create the entire campaign around what we’d created.

Greetings From The Magical Forest – New York Philharmonic
One of the things I loved most about the concept for this project for the New York Philharmonic’s 2016 Biennial season, entitled “Let’s Play,” was how it needed to be as much about the environment as it would be about the narrative — an elegant pied-piper in an enchanted forest setting charming a group of curious characters. The resulting image combines a magical Northern California location with the Phil’s French-hornist, Leelane Sterrett, and an audience of curious carousel-horses.

Sometimes the reality of a project dictates the approach. I generally pride myself on photographing as much as possible in camera. For this project, the client wanted me to keep with that formula and that was my initial plan. I was ready to go and after a few back and forths and with a final green light it was “let’s go find a location and put all of the elements of the image out there.” While this was a doable idea, Ms. Sterrett was leaving for a tour in Europe within the week. So we went ahead and photographed her in a studio in NYC before I went to scout the final location.

Not only did I have to find the right location for the creative brief for this project, BUT I now had to find the perfect location that offered the same natural lighting that we had created in the New York studio. Working with producer Catherine Schramm, we found the forest two hours north of San Francisco and then I went to a Scooby-Doo Circus south of LA in Riverside, CA where we photographed carousel horses.

With these moving parts and challenges of time and space, the best way to answer the creative call of this project was to commit to a composite photograph. I worked carefully in each step of the shoot to ensure that every component would be as symbiotic to the whole as possible, the whole then becoming a magical sum of its parts. Aiming to have things line up seamlessly, CG horses were also created with the pros at Luminous Creative Imaging to match all of the pockets of different light that existed in the forest image – some horses are in open shade, others are backlit or side lit from the direct sun. Once each of the pieces of the image were layered and composed, the color and tones were massaged to radiate the playful feeling of a magical forest.

Our making-of is here:

Greetings From A Galaxy Far, Far Away – Star Wars for Target
Deutsch LA, Star Wars, Target. Any one of these names alone would make an attractive project. Put them together, along with a pinch of Disney and a dash of Lucas Films and I can’t be entirely certain I wasn’t dreaming.

I was completely geeked to be considered for the brief “to photograph the latest Star Wars toys for Target” – toys which would be released for the 2016 holiday season. It was a resounding “yes” for me.

From our first call, it was clear that the agency saw what I had begun to realize – that the movies and comics of my youth have been some of my greatest and most important influences in my life and my picture-making. These were key ingredients in what they sought — a photographer that loved cinema and also harbored an inner-nerd.

There are times when less is more. With a sweeping, cinematic vision for this fantastic project that could have been a candidate for a lot of post-production reworking, I pulled back and went as old school as I could. I approached this series of images almost as an old Ray Harryhausen stop action movie. I wanted all of the elements to be tangibly together, for these toys to inhabit sets that had been built with great care and detail to evoke another world.

Continuous lights were used, as were colored gels to shift the color to the worlds of the Star Wars narrative. Special effects were used on set so everything was captured in camera. In post, working again with Sugar Digital, we simply modified color and tones to play up the drama of the sets and accentuate the pop of Target red. Even when I pour myself into the in-camera construction, precise post is quietly vital to sharpen the product.

Wish You Were Here – Tea Time, Starbucks at the Greystone Mansion
I’ve been working with movie lights and crews for approximately 10 years now. When the Starbucks campaign for Tazo became a possibility, I knew I wanted to incorporate a cinematic and enchanted look and feel. Lighting and location were the driving force behind this project. The Greystone mansion is an historic and cinematically recognizable location from movies such as There Will Be Blood. The interiors had windows that never received direct sunlight so everything was lit artificially. I’m a nerd, a lighting nerd at that, and I love working with continuous lights and instruments because of the natural lighting effect they create.

As is my general preference, everything was photographed in-camera so all of the elements, including the floating teapots, were really there on set. I guess things could have been photographed elsewhere and composed in post after the fact, but I jumped through a few extra hoops to create these images in camera. Special effects such as smoke were also employed on set so that I could get the clearest picture of the whole photograph as I took it.

And an image’s magic can be in its mystery – how did they do that…?

Was the teapot really floating? Retouching with my friends at Sugar Digital in this case was mainly the pleasant task of playing around subjectively with color and tones to make the images as beautiful as we could. As with most of the projects I shoot, the heavy lifting is done on set. Pre-production, pre-production, pre-production. Good planning makes for a good production and detailed pre-production makes for painless post-production. The beauty of great post-production work can be in its subtlety – the icing on the teacake if you will.

Ultimately everyone’s commitment to the cinematic influence throughout the whole process helped achieve what Creative Director Daniele Monti described as “capturing the magic and whimsy of the new Tazo brand — something in between a modern Alice in Wonderland and an iconography that pulls from different eras, places and cultures.”

Greetings From The Four Seasons Stelara
File this one under the project dictating the process. For this shoot for Stelara, a pharmaceutical campaign, we needed to allow for an on-set curveball. The initial idea was the print campaign was going to play off of and use the same sets as the companion TV production, which had the model moving easily throughout the four seasons.

We arrived at the studio in LA the day before TV was supposed to film to see their sets and lighting setup. Everything had been built and we were all under the impression that the sets could be tweaked for print concepts after TV had completed. Once at the studio, we found out that the set elements could not be tweaked or moved at all. We marinated on all sorts of possible solutions, even the possibility of building entirely new sets just for our print project.

That night I went to bed and had the “still lying awake” idea of creating the entire background in CG. I immediately emailed the CG geniuses at Luminous Creative Imaging in Amsterdam who were 9 hours ahead of us in LA. They were game and available and I got an estimate, which I proposed and submitted to my client the very next morning.

Everything was quickly approved and off we went. We photographed the model in another studio entirely with minimal set design such as grass/snow flooring so the talent was grounded in elements she would be in for the final image. The background and field were created in CG by Luminous Creative Imaging to match the lighting design that we created on set. Color and tonal range were massaged to be beautiful, playful and pleasing as if the subject were out on a afternoon stroll. For the initial surprises, it felt so good to end up with a visually stunning image that rivaled the broadcast version of this campaign, one that ultimately surpassed expectation.

Greetings from the Bayou!
This shot was part of an impromptu personal project piggybacking a commissioned shoot in New Orleans. A location scout friend mentioned over a beer, fishing shacks you could only access by boat. New Orleans is utterly unique, its own ecosystem that’s both accessible and hidden at the same time. New Orleans and the bayou are such a draw for me, and these shacks – an hour drive and a half-hour boat ride into a different world were impossible to resist. I hired a waterman – from a line of lifelong watermen – to get me there.

The shack itself was perched low in the water and far from anything else, like a structure emerged from the brackish depths. It was somewhat improbable and otherworldly in that really New Orleans way. As I saw it in person and made my images, my mind kept wandering to what it would be like to boat up to a structure with other amenities – an even more unbelievable sight.

Besides bayous having a special meaning to me, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the comic strip Pogo. Pogo is the title character in a long-running comic strip that started in the 1940s by cartoonist Walt Kelly. Pogo is set in the Okefenokee Swamp of the southeastern United States. All the characters live in the swamp with Pogo the possum as the main character and his good friend Albert the alligator. Poetry, wordplay, puns and lush artwork all come together to create humor, wisdom and thoughtfulness that have been enjoyed by kids and adults alike all these years.

Another influence at work here was a childhood favorite, A Cajun Night Before Christmas, by James Rice and Trosclair. Here the classic Christmas narrative poem by Clement Clarke Moore is retold in a Cajun dialect with an alligator who helps Santa and then is left behind in the Louisiana Bayou. To finally bring my idea to life, I reached out to Souverein Weesp to help design and create these fun, dancing and singing alligators, jazz bands and the Bayou atmosphere.

The series has been very well received. The dance floor image which is the first one we completed was selected to be the main visual for the annual international Siggraph (Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques) conference.

My Well-Worn Chair at Sugar Digital: Wish You Were Here! – Tattoo Personal Project
When I went into this project, I knew what I wanted to capture. But as with most of my personal projects the final images were very much a product of inspiration, exploration and collaboration. On a break during another project, a client and I got to talking about tattoos. She mentioned a tattoo festival being held the following week in the Washington DC area. I don’t have any tats, but they’ve always intrigued me. And the promise of all those people with their stories essentially written on their bodies, those were the type of characters I’m compelled to chase. At the festival, I rented a space and set up a photo booth. I photographed everyone against a grey backdrop.

We had a great time, you can see more here:

I went into postproduction without a concrete vision of how to make them sing. The final images are a true testament to how much the relationship between photographer and retoucher matters. There was so much professional trust and respect involved as we threw out ideas and played around. Ultimately we sampled the tattoos on each person’s torso; from there we created a unique personal tapestry background for every subject.

Everybody I photographed had amazingly detailed, as well as personal, tattoo work, it was such a clear commitment of time – and money – on their part. In addition to capturing this in the portraits, the background helped showcase and amplify that investment in expression. This technique was nothing I’d tried before – and nothing I’ve attempted since – but it was truly right for these portraits. It felt as though these backgrounds allowed their stories to travel beyond their bodies.

And that’s it.

Thanks again to the fine folks at KelbyOne for asking me to share more about my process, present my work to such a well-respected photo community.

Say hello or follow us on Instagram or Tumblr  or check out the full portfolio at CADEMARTIN.com.

— Cade

The Canon 6D Mark II Real World Users Guide
If a Canon 6D Mark II is in your future or already in your camera bag, then this class is for you! Join Larry Becker as he gets you up to speed on everything you need to know to get started on the right foot with the 6D Mark II. Larry focuses on getting you oriented to the layout of the camera, teaching you the quickest ways to do the tasks you’ll want to do, and how to customize the camera to suit your workflow. By the end of the class you’ll have a solid grasp of what this camera is capable of doing, and where to go to make any needed changes to this amazingly powerful camera.

In Case You Missed It
Learn why the Canon 600EX-RT is a quantum leap forward in speedlite technology! Join Michael Corsentino, a portrait and fashion photographer based in Florida, as he takes a deep dive into the Canon 600EX-RT speedlite system. He’ll get you up and running with the key features and functions that will enable you to get the most out of this flash. In this class you’ll learn about the key buttons and dials, how and why to use the different exposure modes, the importance of shooting with the flash off the camera, how to take advantage of high speed sync, and so much more. All throughout the class Michael shares his insights, tips, and tricks to help you get the most out of your flash and enable you to create the images you’ve been dying to create.

Growing As A Professional Creative

When I was around 6 years old, my friend asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said “an artist,” and every chance I got I would pick our activity or game. He would want to climb trees, I’d say, “Let’s color!” (meaning our coloring books). When he would suggest we go outside and pretend to be characters from our favorite cartoons (Transformers, GI-Joe, and HeMan and the Masters Of The Universe) I would say, “Let’s try drawing them instead.” Since the beginning this is all I’ve ever known. I wanted to create things, and to craft things.

At a very young age my grandmother gave me my first camera. A 110 Fisher Price camera with flash bulbs you could mount on top. It had a snap and pop black string for a camera strap with yellow plastic fittings. The body was bright blue, and it had rubberized sides making it rugged and tough for kids. It worked really well. It went everywhere with me and I loved it!

I grew up in a family that came from an industrial part of England. Everyone had a trade skill. They could all work with metal in some way. My father was a draftsman by trade, creating the plans and drawings for big ships, but he understood the craft of building them. So much of my childhood was spent around ships, waterways, and seeing them be created, or rotting away along the shores. Wooden ships abandoned for newer metal ships. It was fascinating to look at.

My grandfather, my uncles, and even my brothers, all worked in the shipyards. My family worked with the steel and iron that formed large vessels for very utilitarian purposes. I always loved walking around and seeing the giant cranes. Often the yard crews were making the machines that became tools they would use to make the ships.

We traveled the world seeing various shipyards where my father’s projects were happening. Ireland, Germany, Holland, and more. Growing up around the people in those environments, a few things were engrained in me.

  • You need a trade skill.
  • You need to work hard. Not just in will, but in effort (blood & sweat type of equity).
  • You need to understand the value of your effort and your trade.

Fast forward many years and it became clear to me, the ship building industry was not going to be my path. In the early 90s as I got a little older I fell in love with skateboarding. The design, photography, graphics, fashion, and music, all mixing together in one lifestyle. I had upgraded my camera gear to a 35mm film setup that I used to shoot for various theaters, local newspapers, skateboard magazines, and local bands. It was the start of something that never felt like work. It felt more like a place I belonged.

I was also beginning to learn and create computer graphics with my first capable computer, a Commodore Amiga with Deluxe Paint. This allowed me to start freelancing as a teenager. I’d make graphics for local businesses. Things like flyers, clip art, menus, and more. I was off and running, but you know what I wasn’t ever taught? I was never taught my value to others as a professional creative. At this point, it was all intriguing, and it was all fun. But to have a career, it meant more than just that.

Today, at this stage in my career, I’ve managed over a few thousand people. I was a Manager at Google. I’ve been a Senior Imaging Expert for Apple, and I’ve helped multiple agencies build out professional development programs for their creative departments. For a punk skateboarding kid from the middle of nowhere, I’ve been very fortunate for the opportunities I’ve received. Regardless of projects, titles, and positions, one thing I try to help creatives learn today, is to understand your value. Not money, not hourly rates, but actual value.

I don’t think I can exclusively call myself a Photographer, or a Designer, or anything so specific. Many creatives I meet wear lots of hats. They are often generalized and feel guilt they aren’t a specialist in something. My value is in that I provide professional level creative solutions to our clients. Sometimes that makes me the Creative Director, sometimes I’m the Photographer, or even the illustrator. But it’s our thoughts, our ideas, and our service that bring value.

Have you ever wondered why someone got a project with a client and you found the final result unimpressive? I’ve heard this before: “I could do better than that! It was boring.” But maybe, that was the result of hours upon hours of collaboration with a client who together with the creative, arrived at a place of exactly what they valued. Who knows, what is impressive or boring to us, might have had a purpose and mission. A tactical result of a well thought out strategy.

What matters most is the value we add to the project, whether that’s shooting images of the Apple Cinema Displays at an Apple Developer Conference, or if I’m executing on a custom fabricated steel entrance for a gallery in San Francisco. Maybe it’s just how I direct in my photo studio. That’s the point of being a Professional Creative. The expectation is yes, that we have good Photoshop skills, good Illustrator technical abilities, that we know lighting, can control a camera, or be the retoucher the client needs. But what it really means is that we deep dive into our client’s projects so that we can suggest, and execute, on solutions. This month alone I’ve retouched photos for a National Geographic Photographer and I’ve designed graphics and shot photos for a restaurant menu. The value add was the same despite the difference in the projects.

For example, a few years ago I created a survey which received hundreds of responses. In it, I asked people to prioritize what they expect when they get a project from someone. At the top of the list creatives wanted:

  • To be creative
  • To be appreciated/respected
  • Work on something interesting/portfolio worthy

But on the client side of things the priority was not the same. When they hire a creative for a project their order of thinking was more like this:

  • Deliver on promises
  • Don’t be complicated to work with
  • Provide reasonable solutions

Here is where we often see the divide, and the struggle, for people working in creative positions. What we often see as our wants, our goals, and measure as our successes are not those shared by our clients. When I asked many people in positions who hire professionals, they said, “I expect them to be skilled and creative.” The value is no longer that you are creative or skilled, that is the baseline of their expectation. It’s the foundation of why they hired you in the first place.

So, what would make you more valuable to them? Excellent service, crystal clear communication, being collaborative perhaps? Your creative side allows you to see things that maybe they don’t. It’s not their experience to look through the creative lens. Listen to Jay Maisel talk about the gesture of objects, or the expression of color. It’s clear why he added value for his clients. Steve Jobs often spoke of this at Apple. It was even a campaign, “Think Different.”

In the current state of the world, it’s easier than ever to get information. More people are becoming excellent at their technical abilities. But are they adding value? Probably the most common question I get asked these days. “How do I make more money?” or “How do I get more clients?” There isn’t a shortage of opportunities out there, but you have to know how you add value, and getting potential clients to know about your value.

This is where you should begin if you’re looking to grow. There are lots of articles, exercises, and more about realizing your value proposition. It’s the difference maker between you, and the other person out there calling themselves designer, photographer, editor, and more. The value is in the service leading up to the finished product and the experience your client has while the project is happening. They expect the final image, or graphic, or design, or website, or anything to be good. That’s why they hired you. But what was their experience like when you were producing it?

Our company, my wife and I, work mostly in the commercial and enterprise tech sectors with Fortune 500 clients. That means understanding what is most valuable to them and how to speak in their language so they understand we are the right provider of that solution. I offer this advice to you, do the exercise of asking what would be your value proposition? How are you differentiating your solutions and services? Here are a few tips to help:

  • Speak in the language of your client (they don’t know Photoshop, Nikon, or Profoto)
  • Learn how to say “Yes, and here’s how” rather than saying “No”
  • No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care
  • Always work to turn customers into clients and then into partners

This is more than equipment and software after all. Just like a tradesman in any shipyard doesn’t talk about the welding torch or hammer they use. The value isn’t in the tools, it’s in the person holding them.

Mark Heaps is the Executive Director at Heaps LLC where alongside his wife they manage a small team of creatives who provide design communication services to their clients. Some of those clients include Capital One, Dell, Google, Apple, Coca-Cola, TEDx, Ford, Polycom, Riverbed, and more. Mark is also the creator of Reactive Exposure (www.rawplugins.com) A native exposure correction plugin for Lightroom. He also owns and runs ATX Photo & Video Studio in Austin, Texas. A low-cost community project where photographers, videographers, actors, students and more can come use their 1400sq ft warehouse with all equipment included for the same price as a date at Starbucks.

Follow him on almost any social media, like Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook (where he streams live weekly giving insights from the trenches of working in the real world), with the user name @lifebypixels.

Shooting High School Football Like a Pro with Dave Black and Scott Kelby
Join Dave Black and Scott Kelby on the field of a high school football game and learn how to shoot high school football like a pro. Building on their previous high school football class, Dave shares his tips on choosing the right gear, the camera settings you’ll want to use, and his process for deciding his field positioning for shooting the game. You’ve got to be patient, and you’ve got to be ready to photograph everything from the pre-game huddle to the game play to the interactions on the sidelines. Dave and Scott have a great rapport, and throughout the game Scott asks Dave questions to delve deeper, and even shares his own tips from shooting professional football. You’ve got a front row seat to watching Dave in action and learn how he approaches covering an entire game.

In Case You Missed It
Photograph your kids sports like a pro! Join Rob Foldy, professional sports photographer, as he teaches you the basic photographic principles that will make your subjects proud. This is not a class on gear, but Rob does show you how to use what you have, and how to configure your camera for the best results. You’ll also learn the importance of storytelling and how being prepared before you go to the game will help you take your photographs to the next level. Rob brings it all together by working with three parents while they photograph their kids’ soccer game, providing them tips for shooting with everything from a mobile phone to a DSLR.

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