Category Archives Featured

I was inspired to write this post after Wednesday’s “Blind Photo Critiques” on The Grid (Rick Sammon was my in-studio guest, and he was awesome, as always). When it comes to The Grid, we often get hundreds of submissions for these monthly Blind Critiques, but we only get to show a handful on the air. One reason is many of the images are the same because many photographers are stuck in a particular stage of their development, so their photos (even if they are different types of subjects) look essentially the same. That’s why today I wanted to break these stages down so folks might see which stage they’re at, and I included my advice on how to level up to the next stage.

I’m kinda “telling it like it is” here, speaking frankly and honestly — not to hurt feelings, but sugar coating this message doesn’t help move anybody move further down their path. In fact, it almost reinforces why they should stay right where they are. So…here goes:

STAGE ONE: Camera Owner
You’ve been getting lots of good comments from friends on your Instagram posts taken with your cell phone’s camera — so much so you decided to buy a “real camera.” You were pretty sure buying a nice camera was going to take your photography over the top, and your friends can’t wait to see you blow it up on Instagram now, but…not only do your photos not look better — they look worse. This real camera thing is way more complicated than you thought, and just using it as a heavy-cell phone replacement isn’t giving you the amazing shots you thought you’d be getting. Here’s why: buying a DSLR or Mirrorless “real” camera doesn’t make you a photographer any more than buying a saxophone makes you a sax player.  At this stage, you are simply “A camera owner,” and you’re just taking pictures (and you still call them “pictures”). Since you’re not getting the results you thought you should, you’re focused on trying to figure out which setting, buried deep in the menus on the back of your camera, turns on the secret feature the pros use for making great photos. You know it’s there somewhere — but where?

How to Level Up: If that sounds like the agonizing stage you’re currently at, here’s how to level up: Stop looking at the menus. Ignore all the other stuff. Just focus on learning what the Aperture (f/stop), Shutter Speed, and ISO mean, and how they work together. Forget everything else for now, because once you understand those and get used to adjusting them on your camera, you can stop worrying about the settings and start working on making great pictures (and yes, you still have to call them “pictures” for a little while longer. It’s the law). 

STAGE TWO: Snapshot Maker
You’ve got a feel for how to use your camera, and you’re taking time to go out shooting. Maybe you’re doing some street photography, or heading out to the countryside and actively looking for shots. However, at this stage, you’re making tons of technical mistakes. Your horizon line is always in the center; you’ve got trees growing out of people’s heads; there are distracting things pulling the viewer’s eye away from your subject, and the rule of thirds is what you employ when you order one dessert, and the waiter brings you three forks. Since you haven’t learned the basic rules of composition yet, you don’t realize your photos have all these mistakes, so you’re actually in a fairly good place. In fact, you’re in one of the happiest places you can be as a photographer. You stink, but you don’t know it, but it’s OK because your friends aren’t any good either, so they can’t recognize that you’re making all these mistakes, so they don’t point them out. In short, you’re taking snapshots — they look like the same shot a stranger with a cell phone would get if they walked up beside you while you were taking yours. If you compared shots, they would look pretty similar; yours would just have more megapixels. The good news is at least you’ve stopped calling them “Pictures.”

How to Level Up: If that sounds like you (if you thought to yourself, “what’s the rule of thirds?” it’s you), you need to do some learnin’. Buy a book – take an online course (I know, it sounds like I’m plugging my stuff, but this is what I’d tell a friend), or join your local photo group and tell them right up front, “I’m new to this.” You need local photography friends. You can help each other, share what you’ve learned, and you’ll have someone to go shooting with and so you’ll go shooting more often. Photographers at these groups are really happy to help new photographers when they meet them in person. However, for your progress and self-esteem, I would absolutely stay out of public online photography forums. This is where angry people gather to attack anyone showing even the slightest sign of weakness. You might eventually find an answer you were looking for, but it may exact an emotional toll along the way. Make local friends, do a photo walk, attend the local group. You’ll level up much faster, and have more fun doing it. 

STAGE THREE: Photo Taker
You’ve learned the basic rules; you’re very comfortable with your camera, and you’re going out shooting pretty regularly, but what you’re spending your time shooting at this stage are photos that you think you’re supposed to shoot. Things that you think more accomplished photographers would shoot, and you convert your images to black and white because they feel more ‘serious’ and more ‘artsy’ to you, (but most of these images don’t really make great black and whites anyway). It’s like you’re saying to yourself, “This is what a good photographer would be shooting…right?” You’re shooting dead tree photos, homeless people in town, railroad tracks, the old bridge, and while they are technically good, they’re not interesting (well, they’re interesting to you but only because you’re experiencing what they call the “Gee, I made that!” effect.  You’re excited at what you made because you made it, and you’re impressed that you could do that. Everybody else sees a black and white photo of a bridge in bad light – one they drive past every day, and to them, it looks just like it looks. You want people to look at your images and say “Wow!” Not, “yup, there’s the old bridge.”

How to Level Up: To move up at this stage, you need to figure out what type of photographer you want to be. Think about where are you are focusing your time and energy today photographically. It’s important to take a moment to think about that because that’s where you’re headed. You can’t be great in every genre — you’ve got to pick some topic, some category and really focus on it. Be it flower photography or portraits; landscape or travel, wedding or commercial products — if you want to get really good at something, you’ve got to find what that something is. What’s the thing that really excites you — the thing people tell you-you’re really good at? What do you seem to really have a knack for? Listen to that voice inside you, and follow where it leads. Once you figure out what that genre is, you need to go all in. You need to study everything you can get your hands on; you need to read the top three books on the topic; you need to start getting the equipment together you’ll need to be a success, and you need to pour your time, energy, and most importantly practice into that nailing that genre. Don’t just read about it, and watch courses, that will make you an authority on the topic — but that won’t create great images. Practice will. That’s the secret at this stage — find out what it is you want to be, and focus on that; practice that, dive into that. You’ll be amazed at the results. 

STAGE FOUR: Emerging Photographer
You’re getting there. You’re doing lots of projects you see on the Web. You’re photographing water splashes, and you’re doing the ‘steel wool at night spark trick,’ and you’re doing long exposure shots of cars driving by; and you’re adding edgy film-look borders around your images. You’re learning lots of different, fun techniques one after another. These personal assignments make you feel like you’re really growing, and if a client were to call and they needed a steel wool sparks photo or a water drop, you’d get that gig in a heartbeat. You’ve upgraded your gear, you’ve bought some really nice lenses (and you call your lenses “glass”), and you’re not taking pictures, and you’re not taking photos, you’re creating “images.” You’re starting to think about getting a camera body that’s been converted for infrared, and you have long conversations with other photographers about the type of bokeh certain lenses have. You feel like you’re really making progress, but inside you know you still have a lot to learn (which is why you’re talking about bokeh — it makes you feel “next level,” but in reality, the next level shooters don’t talk about bokeh). In fact, the more you learn, the more you realize how much there really is to learn about the bigger picture of photography, and when you watch a course from Jay Maisel, you realize how truly far you have to go. The good news is: you now fully realize there is no setting in your camera that makes great photos. In fact, you’re almost at the point where you realize how little the camera make and model even matter.

How to Level Up: You’re good at all the technical stuff, so put down the camera, and start looking at the work of photographers you admire. Don’t just look at it. Study it. Break it down. Become a photographic detective — figure out where they put the light, or where they positioned their subject. Look at their subject. Look at the scene, how they composed it. Figure out what it is about their work that makes their images so special. If you can’t figure out how they’re doing it, what chance do you have of stumbling upon it in your work? You have to study and learn how the masters do it, and you have to learn how to emulate their looks, so your own look and your own style will emerge from it (by the way, none of your personal style and look will include steel wool). Remember, you’re not just looking, you’re studying — study the work of the type of photographer you want to be — that’s how you level up. You know what your goal is. What you’re aiming for, and now perhaps even how to get there. The agonizing part of this is simply that there is no shortcut — you have the road map now, but you have to make the trip to get there. There are no shortcuts for experience — you get experience by doing it again and again. Through practice. Through trying and failing, and you keep on trying. I think it was Caesar who said, “Experience is the teacher of all things.” He also said, “This salad could really use some croutons.” This is the 2nd most agonizing and frustrating stage of being a photographer because breaking out of this stage isn’t something you buy. It’s not a camera. It’s not a lens. It’s seeing. It’s creativity. It’s things they don’t sell.  

STAGE FIVE: Frustrated Photographer
You’re an accomplished photographer at this stage. A pro-level shooter. You’ve entered photo contests, maybe even won a few. You’re getting some paid work here and there, too. You’re confident in your skills, you’re getting the most from your gear, and you know it inside and out. In fact, you’re so confident that you don’t have to even think about it that much — it’s all second-nature at this point, in fact, it’s becoming routine. You should be absolutely delighted at this stage, but in reality, this is the #1 most-agonizing stage. You’re perhaps more frustrated and disappointed with your own work than any time in your career. It’s because you know in your heart, your best images are still inside you, but you can’t for the life of you coax them out. You look at the best image in your portfolio, and you think to yourself, “I know I can make a better image than this one.” And you know what? You’re actually right. But it’s going to take some work. The better you get, the harder it is to get measurably better. When you were in Stage Two and Stage Three, you were making big progress. Now, you don’t learn something new every day. Maybe you pick up something new just once every couple of months. How do you make amazing images when you’re learning so little?

How to Level Up: You’re going to need to stretch yourself, but do it in a way that’s relevant and meaningful to the type of photographer you are. It’s time to invest in yourself. It’s time to invest in making the kind of images you’ve always dreamed of. This is serious, personal work, and something that can propel you and keep you engaged and growing for years to come. For example, if you’re a landscape photographer, don’t buy another lens or a better camera body. Buy an airplane ticket. Travel to Patagonia, or Greenland. Head to the Sahara Desert or Namibia or Antartica. Go to places that will inspire you; places that will challenge you; places where you have opportunities to make the shots of a lifetime. It’s not going to happen at that barn in Wyoming or at Delicate Arch in Moab. You need to go “next level.” If you’re a fashion photographer, go to New York, LA, Miami, London or Milan. Hire a brilliant stylist, an incredible make-up artist, and a fantastic model, and shoot in a world class location. You need a great team, and the best ones are literally in those cities. It will transform your work more than a new body, or a new lens will ever do. If you’re an automotive photographer, stop shooting Camaros on top of an empty parking garage. Fly to an amazing location (maybe the Scottish Highlands, or even Mount Tam or the Pacific Coast Highway in California); rent a Ferrari (or a Bentley or a Jag), and do it right. It’s time to invest in yourself and into creating those images that push you, your images, and your career forward. 

I hope you found that helpful, and if you saw yourself in one of those stages (we’re all in one of them, or transitioning between them, right?), don’t get upset or be defensive, especially if one hit really close to home, and it’s a stage you’re not happy identifying with. We all just want the same thing. We want to make great images, and we want to have fun doing it. Wherever you are in your journey, whichever stage you’re at, just know you’re simply passing through it. Don’t focus on where you are; focus on how to level up, and you won’t be at that stage very long.

I wish you the very best on your photographic journey. :)



Master High Key and Low Key Lighting with Lindsay Adler
Join Lindsay Adler in studio for a class all about the extremes of lighting! From low key to high key setups, Lindsay starts you at the beginning where your shoot’s purpose determines the type of lighting you will use, and all the choices you make from that point onward.

In the first half of the class Lindsay focuses on low key setups, with a look at the characteristics of low key photographs, to the modifiers you can use, to examples of her favorite setups. In the second half of the class Lindsay builds on what you’ve learned about low key lighting to morph into a variety of high key setups.

All throughout the class Lindsay shares her perspectives on why and when she uses a particular set up, the gear she uses, the positions of the lights, and so much more. By the end of the class you’ll have a new repertoire of low key and high key lighting setups you can add to your studio offerings.

In Case You Missed It
Direct sunlight for portraits is typically harsh and unflattering, full of dark shadows and bright highlights. Fashion photographer Lindsay Adler takes on the midday sun at Central Park, where she teaches you how to take control of the light. You’ll review tips to get out of the direct sunlight as well as ways to use diffusers and reflectors (including natural reflectors) to conquer the harsh light and still get beautiful portraits. This class is perfect for anyone needing tips on how to conquer harsh sunlight for portraits.

So, what am I doing writing a blog post for Scott Kelby’s website? Scott Kelby’s website is the big league and I’m just an amateur photographer. Asking me to write this blog post is like asking a minor league rookie to take his first at bat in the World Series. However, I do have a story to tell. It is not often an amateur photographer has to hide the names of people and places to protect the life of a local guide in a foreign country. 

I travel a lot, mainly in Asia and always with my cameras looking to photograph people. In this blog I am going to describe my most recent trip to two countries, Myanmar and Bangladesh. My narratives from the two countries are quite different.

Also WARNING – there are descriptions towards the end of this blog that some may find disturbing. 

Planning this trip began a few days after I was awarded a solo show at “The Gallery at KelbyOne” on December 9, 2017. I received an email from a filmmaker who had seen my Instagram Site and was scheduled to do a documentary for the United Nations starting as soon as in three weeks. She wanted me to take stills that could be used for publicity and to create a poster for her film. The documentary was to be about Rohingya, the ethnic group in Myanmar that has been the worldwide subject of many recent reports. I was most interested.

Both the New York Times and BBC had been writing extensively about the Rohingya fleeing for their lives into Bangladesh as the Myanmar Army burned down their villages in southwest Myanmar. Doctors without Borders estimated 6,700 had been killed since last August. Horror stories were being recounted daily, straight out of the mouths of the Rohingya as they flowed into Bangladesh, by the hundreds of thousands. 

Children in Rohingya Refugee Camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh

The photography would be pro bono work for a good cause and it was a way for me to gain entrance into the Bangladesh refugee camps run by the United Nations. I agreed to work with the filmmaker on the promise that I could get four days in the camps, two days shooting with her, and another two days of independent shooting with a guide/translator I was planning to seek out once I got to Bangladesh.

I also decided on a side trip to Myanmar, a place I have taken some of my best photographs. I wanted to make the trip to the other side of the world worthwhile and four days in Bangladesh was not enough and so I contacted my guide in Myanmar, who works at Santa Maria Travel and Tours in Yangon. His name is Mya Min Din but I call him M.M. He is simply the best photographic guide in Asia. He was available and we made plans to meet-up in Yangon and fly together to Bagan, Myanmar. Bagan is the home of 4,000 ancient Buddhist temples. This would be my fourth visit to Myanmar.

Normally, before I go into a new country, I seek guide recommendations from other photographers. I then contact the guide directly who would handle the arrangements for hotels, a driver, and a car. By not going with a photo tour group I save several thousand dollars, have a private guide, and the flexibility to change my schedule at will. Photo tours do however offer professional photographers to help you improve your skills and also offer an additional layer of security. I recommend Karl Grobl of Jim Cline Photography Tours for those wanting a photo tour group in Asia. But if you are more adventuresome and don’t need a professional’s help you can save money by traveling without other photographers. 

This trip was different. While I knew M.M. from trips to Myanmar, I knew no guides in Bangladesh. As I had to be there in three weeks, I was not able to find and prearrange a guide. I would have to play it by ear when I arrived in Bangladesh, which in the end, was to prove challenging.

Part 1: Myanmar
It takes three flights, two layovers, and 24 hours to make my way to Myanmar from Phoenix, Arizona. The longest leg is the fifteen hours from Los Angeles to Guangzhou, China. I spent a night in Yangon, and then flew with M.M. to Bagan.

This is one of the first pictures I took in Myanmar during this trip, a novice monk standing at the doorway of an eight hundred year old Buddhist temple. He was asked to turn around and face the camera. No other instructions were given.

M.M. is the reason I take my best photographs in Myanmar. He travels through his country many times a year with eyes open for places with good light and good backgrounds. He also has good relations with the monastic Buddhist schools throughout the country. This allows us to borrow novice monks to serve as our models.


That’s right — come to beautiful Venice, Italy and join me and Venice photography expert (and KelbyOne Instructor) Mimo Meidany for an unforgettable four-day “Magic of Venice” travel photography workshop in one of the most amazing locales on the planet. First, watch this short video:

Get ready for an unforgettable hands-on travel photography workshop in one of the most magical and photogenic cities in the world, — beautiful Venice, Italy. The beautiful canals and bridges of Venice will be your home for four delightful days of creating captivating images, learning important camera techniques, composition, and the latest post-processing techniques. All this while enjoying wonderful meals, remarkable views, and making new friends.

What: The Magic of Venice Travel Photography Workshop
Instructors: Scott Kelby and Mimo Meidany
When: April 6-9, 2018 (with an informal get-together the night of the 5th)
Where: The Hotel Concordia, Venice, Italy
Price: $3,450 Per Person (includes accommodations – see below)
Tickets: More details and tickets here (limited to 10 participants maximum)

Your home for the workshop is the wonderful Hotel Concordia; a charming boutique style hotel (with excellent wi-fi) located in the heart of Venice, and just steps from San Marco Square. It’s close to many of Venice’s most iconic shooting locations (and some incredible little-known spots and vantage points) with lots of great shopping and restaurants nearby (including some of my favorites).

We’ll be shooting each day on location
Then heading back to the hotel for post-processing our images where we’ll learning new techniques in Lightroom and Photoshop; learn new camera techniques; have time for critiques before we head back out to make more gorgeous images. Lots of learning, lots of laughing, amidst the incredible views and scrumptious food of this truly enchanting floating city. After sunset each day you’ll be free to explore the city on your own, and its charming restaurants and cafes.

It will be an extraordinary experience — one that will inspire, inform, stretch you, and challenge you to try new techniques, new ways of thinking, and do things photographically you never thought you could. You’ll come home with lots of stunning images, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Mimo and I look forward to welcoming you to Venice and getting to know you as we spend a few days together making images, learning new techniques, and uncovering the Magic of Venice.

NOTE: This workshop is limited to a maximum of 10 participants.

What’s Included:
Workshop fee includes four nights accommodations at the Hotel Concordia, double-occupancy, including Four continental breakfasts at the hotel. Additional meals are on your own. (If you prefer more privacy, single rooms are available for an up-charge. See the sign-up page for details).

Activity Level: Light to Moderate
There are no roads in Venice — it’s a walking city, so we’ll be traveling by foot. One of Venice’s nicknames is “The City of Bridges,” and you’ll be crossing many of them during your stay. They are small bridges (across tiny canals), but just know ahead of time — there are plenty of them. Workshop Participants should be in good health; wear comfortable shoes and clothing, and be ready for lots of walking and standing for extended periods of time.

The weather in Venice in April is beautiful — it’s not too hot with highs in the low 60s F°, but it can get a little chilly at night, so bring at least a light jacket or coat. As with any outdoor event, the weather is somewhat unpredictable, so also be prepared if it rains.


What do I need to bring to the workshop?
A DSLR or Mirrorless Camera; a sturdy tripod with ballhead; wireless remote or cable release; a wide-angle lens (24mm or wider); a telephoto lens; a neutral density filter (10-stops or higher) would be ideal for long exposure techniques. You’ll need a laptop with either Lightroom or Photoshop (or both) for the post-processing segments.

What level of experience is required?
All levels of experience are welcome, but participants should be familiar with their camera and lens and have some experience in either Lightroom or Photoshop.

What are my transportation/parking options for getting to and from the event?
The Hotel Concordia hotel offers Airport Transfer from Venice Marco Polo Airport for an additional fee.

What if I have questions that aren’t answered here?
You can post a comment below, or you can email me directly. 

What’s the refund policy?
If you have to cancel the workshop, as long as you cancel before March 28, 2018, you will receive a 100% refund, minus a $300 cancellation fee. After April 1st, 2018 refunds will not be available.

Where do I sign up?
Right here (you’ll be taken to the sign-up page).

Reserve your space now — and we’ll see you soon in beautiful Venice, Italy.

I’m out in Houston today with my Lightroom Seminar
Looking forward to meeting some of you there. Then I’m off to Las Vegas for a quick visit to the WPPI Expo – hope to see you there. :)

Have a great Monday!



P.S. See how I worked that Italian word in there? That’s pretty much the extent of my Italian language skills. You’ll be glad Mimo is with us — his Italian is quite a bit better. ;-)

Today we’re announcing the official winners from our KelbyOne/Lexar Architectural Photography Contest. From the hundreds of entries on Instagram, here’s our Winner, Runner Up, and our three Honorable Mentions (who all win prizes, courtesy of our contest partner Lexar Memory )

Winner: Rolf Hartbrich
> Rolf wins a 128GB Lexar Professional 2000x SD Memory Card and a Lexar USB 3 Card Reader


Runner up: Cory Lerr
> Cory wins a 64GB Lexar Professional 2000x SD Memory Card and a Lexar USB 3 Card Reader

Honorable Mentions: 

David Queenan  | @davidqueenan
David wins a Lexar Professional 2000x SD Memory Card and a Lexar USB 3 Card Reader

James wins a Lexar Professional 2000x SD Memory Card and a Lexar USB 3 Card Reader

Lori Novak@laurinovakphoto
Lori wins a Lexar Professional 2000x SD Memory Card and a Lexar USB 3 Card Reader

Congratulations to all of our featured artists above, and high-five to those who didn’t win for entering the competition. It takes moxie to put your images out there like that in competition, and I have great respect and applause for all the photographers who took submitted images. There were a lot of great images submitted, which made my job that much harder, but I can’t complain — I got to enjoy all these wonderful entries during the judging process.

Special thanks to Joey Lopez and the crew at Lexar Memory for being our partners and sponsors on this contest. Make sure you all follow @lexarmemory on Instagram and Twitter. 

Have a great weekend everybody!


P.S. Shout out to the awesome folks in San Antonio who came out to my seminar there yesterday. Really fun crowd, in a really great town. Next stop: Houston on Monday! 

User’s Guide For The Sony A7R III with Larry Becker
Attention all Sony A7R III owners! Larry Becker has a fantastic guide to help you get the most out of this full featured camera from Sony. This class is designed with the advanced enthusiast to pro photographer in mind. Larry starts off with a look at the things you need to know to get up and running quickly, and then proceeds through shooting modes, autofocus options, video capture, customizations you can make, and a whole lot more.

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.