Category Archives Guest Blogger

Are you a Photographer, Retoucher or Graphic Artist?

This article was inspired by an interaction I had with a member of a Facebook photography group I belong to. A member posted an image of a bride standing in front of a jungle gym on a playground. He removed the jungle gym and was looking for praise in the form of asking for critiques. When he didn’t get the positive feedback he was hoping for, he proceeded to argue why he felt the image was his best work. I simply asked him if he is a photographer, retoucher, or graphic artist. His reply set the tone for my advice.

Proper Advice For The Proper Level

As an educator, my job is to inspire and help others, not tear them down. Before I give advice I ask what level the person wants me to critique their work — beginner, intermediate, advanced, or professional making a living — then I give proper advice for the proper level. So when I asked him, “Are you a photographer, retoucher, or graphic artist and at what level?” he proclaimed he is proficient in all three. Here is a sample of the interaction.

Guy on Facebook: Art, art, art. You know what I’m saying. That’s why you see Rihanna in the movies while she’s a singer.

Vanelli: You can be all three. BUT, for each discipline, you need to do it right. Unless there was no other way to get the shot of the bride, and I mean zero chance of moving her to a different location, then you move to plan B and use Photoshop to FIX and REPAIR. Think how long it took you to take the shot and then to edit it. Sometimes it’s quicker to fix it in post or for the sake of “ART,” you get the quick shot then manipulate it after. Again, decide which one you are IN THAT MOMENT. I hope this helps.

This statement didn’t help him and he continued to comment why everyone is wrong and he is right. I ended my participation in the conversation. I want to show his image, but out of respect I can’t. Instead, I’ll continue by using a bad image I took early on in my career when I thought I knew lighting.

Photographers Strive To Get It Right Before They Take The Shot

I was excited after I took this image. I had just learned how to use a light meter and didn’t have to guess at achieving proper exposure. I was even excited that I got the model to strike an interesting pose. I received praise from friends, local photographers, and even the model — who proclaimed I was the best photographer she had ever worked with. I was feeling pretty full of myself, until I asked the late great Jim DiVitale to review my portfolio at Photoshop World. Looking back, I realized how kind he was in choosing the right words to teach me about feathering the light, using grids, and how sometimes, to light a scene, you need to remove or redirect light. That was one of the best Photoshop Worlds I attended.

Retouching Should Enhance The Image, Not Repair It

Over the years I’ve developed my editing and retouching skills. I rose through the ranks while creating presets, looks, and creating educational content for a variety of photography-related companies. This skill set landed me a position with Skylum Software as a member of their Education Development Team. I still consider myself a photographer first. If I want to remove a blemish on a subject or ensure they have perfect skin, I hire a makeup artist. If there isn’t room in the budget for a makeup artist, THEN I fix it in post.

Recently I was asked to create a tutorial on how to develop a dramatic portrait using Luminar. This was a perfect opportunity to once again share the knowledge Jimmy D gave me many years ago. In this short 3-minute video, I show how to use Luminar to develop a dramatic portrait, and what photographers can do to achieve the same look as they take the photo.

A Graphic Artist Has The Ability To Transport Us To A Different Reality

Software such as Luminar was designed with photographers in mind and has some graphic tools — layers, masking, blending modes — to help their artistic efforts. Photoshop, on the other hand, was designed with graphic artists in mind and has tools photographers can use, making it a perfect choice to augment or change reality. I am by no means a Bert Monroy, Corey Barker, or Brooke Shaden. The graphic skills I’ve achieved came from the many years of attending Photoshop World and learning from some of the greats. When something inspires me, I do my best to be able to achieve it in camera. When that’s not possible, I enhance it in Luminar and then take it Photoshop to complete the vision.

For the image below, from my Assassin series, I didn’t have access to a rooftop with the New York skyline. So, instead, I found a rooftop image on Adobe Stock and photographed my assassin on a dark background to match the scene.

For this next image, “Shipwreck,”  I used my photography skills to achieve a beautiful blue sky by cross filtering. I set the white balance in the camera to Tungsten to make everything blue, then applied a CTO (color temperature orange) gel to color correct the light illuminating the model. Once again, I searched Adobe Stock for images of stars and the moon.

For the image below, from my Aviator series, I took images of vintage planes at an air show, then photographed the aviator on a white background to make it easier to extract her and to match the scene.

So ask yourself, are you a Photographer, Retoucher, or Graphic Artist? With discipline, you can achieve all three! But decide which one you are IN THAT MOMENT and use that skill to the best of your ability.

You can see Vanelli in person at Photoshop World Orlando from May 30 – June 1! You can also find more of his work at, and keep up with him over at PhotoFocus and on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


Over and over again, we are told to create a personal style. As we find our personal style, it starts to become recognizable and that is fantastic. What do we do when the bookings start to come in more and more and the work starts to become, well…work? Many people relish this thought, but coming to terms with the reality of creating the same type of image day in and day out for clients can become a grind.

Several photographers whom I highly respect have had this happen to them in my chosen field of compositing. I find myself struggling with this as well. It can sometimes be a long slog for an image, sometimes up to 40 hours for some of my projects, and it’s not always easy to complete them in a timely manner. Your vision doesn’t always align with the client’s vision, and it can make for images you don’t always find to be your best work.

This composite was shot in two different states. My model Jason Barnes (who incidentally just landed the ‘Earth: Shot on iPhone’ campaign-look for his lizard photo on a billboard near you!) was photographed in San Antonio and the Venardos Circus tent was photographed in Florida. Then I had to rent a bicycle and overlay leaves.
Working time: 6 hours

Another possibility is you become restless in your creativity and want to try other things, but the time isn’t there because you’re creating work for other people and for goodness sake, you’re an artist! You need to experiment and ‘art!’

So, I’m encouraging you to shake it up! If you do epic composite work, try some natural light portraiture (terrifying to me, but I do it every once in awhile). If you make natural light photographs, push your boundaries and try a strobe. If you like landscapes, mix in a human. If you only shoot studio portraits, try some street photography.

Well over 8 hours of work as well as combing through countless stock photos to match what is on the pinball machine or what this performer uses in his magic performances. Take a look at the pinball machine image and we recreated it basically in this guy’s house. This is The Amazing Arthur. Omaha, Nebraska

Make a simple personal project. For you and only you. What would you like to create? Start doing that thing now. Do it little by little, so you are creating more of what you love. If there is any way that it will make you money in the future, fantastic. If it won’t, that is fine as well. This is for you. Your own personal creativity. Getting you out of the box of other people’s ideas or what other people expect you to post on IG. The expansion of your mind, your eye and possibly even create a new portfolio are great excuses to experiment while creating new content.

What I have been doing for the past several years is to shake up my composite work with portraits and environmental portraits with one or two strobes. Simple work with simple backgrounds, and the editing must be quick. It’s about the opposite of creating a composited image. For me it almost feels like I’m cheating. There is very little pre-planning, and I use some simple umbrella boxes I made that pack really small. For me it’s almost improv photography.

Two hours worth of work plus a photo shoot with the model and capturing the moon in my friend’s amazing telescope.
Model: Bethany Bond

Most of the time it is men I’m photographing for this respite from my work as they are so much easier to photograph for me. I am not trying to recreate the portrait world in these moments. I’m simply trying to capture a moment of time, a beautiful image, and their personality in one simple click of the shutter.

This work is faster, simpler, and different than what I am known for, and on Instagram it doesn’t get as much love most of the time. That’s okay! I’m completely fine with that because it makes me look more broadly at my photography. There is less PS in these images, but there is still some because I don’t feel any shot is complete straight out of camera. Some kind of dodging/burning, color correction, sharpening, etc. is usually needed.

Suggestions For A Photo Shake-Up

Here are some suggestions for you to shake up your photography and create something new:


Some Thoughts From My New Class, “What To Shoot When There Is Nothing To Shoot,” on KelbyOne

I am so excited to have been given the opportunity to present my class What to Shoot When There is Nothing to Shoot on I’ve been around KelbyOne for a long time in a supporting role, and now I’m thankful I can contribute in a bigger way.

Let me tell you a little about my class.

Most classes out there teach you how to shoot, but very few, if any, teach you what to shoot. This class gives you practical shooting ideas that’ll help motivate and inspire you to get out and shoot more often. Face it, even when you swear there is nothing worthy of shooting at the moment, there is always something to shoot.

Case in point: Restaurants. Restaurants provide a treasure-trove of images. Most people don’t see them because they are focused on why they are there, food. I am too most of the time. But next time you are out to eat, take a second to look around and see if there isn’t an image to be had. The following image I got just the other evening.

Here are some other images all taken at a restaurant while waiting for my food.

The class gives multiple examples of places, events and times to shoot, then talks about waking up to new ideas that are right in front of you, such as Shoot Details

Too often we focus on the big picture, basically missing the trees for the forest, or, in the following example, the plateaus for the arch. On any given day at Mesa Arch, in Utah, there will be 20 to 40 photographers fighting for the perfect spot to set up and photograph the first light of the day hitting the bottom of the arch. While doing so, 99% of them will miss other images right in front of them.

By switching from a wide angle to telephoto lens, multiple layers of plateaus make a fairly interesting image. Yes, get the iconic shot, but don’t be so focused on it that you miss everything else around you. 

I’ll leave you with this tip that will force you to look, and look hard for images. Start a Self Assignment. I have several that have been going on for years. Everywhere I go I’m hunting for three things, architectural numbers, architectural patterns and reflections in shop windows. It forces me to look around all the time no matter where I am. I encourage you to find something that interests you and make it a self assignment, then see how it changes how you see things.

Here are a couple of samples of my self assignments:

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for hearing me out. If you want to see more, check out my new class, What to Shoot When There is Nothing to Shoot, on

You can see more of Jeff’s work at, and keep up with him on Instagram and Facebook.

I like to think I’m a regular guy; a husband and father who loves traveling, food, movies, and music. But of all my passions, photography sets my soul on fire, and I always wanted to turn my biggest passion into a career. 

I took my first steps into the industry working as a second-shooter for other photographers, but after a while, I wanted to go my own way. 

It took me some time to find my own style and identity as a photographer. It was a steep learning curve, and there was a lot of trial and error, but eventually I settled on my signature style – candid, cinematic, and deeply emotive images.

I took the plunge and launched my own brand, Weddings by Qay in 2017, with only one wedding on my books. Nowadays, I shoot along with my wife since last year. 

The first wedding I booked.

Because my style is so different from a lot of photographers in my native Malaysia, I got a lot of criticism from the local photography community when I first started out. I was told I’d never make it, and that the tone of my images was so dark that you’d need a torch to be able to see them. When I wanted to do my first photography workshop, they dared me to show my work to people beforehand.

Even now, I still get negative comments, and some of my critics have even claimed that I buy awards and recognition. I don’t let myself get too affected. This is my journey, and I know that I would never be happy if I wasn’t being true to myself, and taking the kind of photos that I want to take.

Being a creative photographer is different from being a businessman, and I learned about that side of things from some amazing photographers who I consider to be my friends and mentors.

I learned about marketing from my friend, Marko Marinkovic, and I jumped at the opportunity to do a mentoring session with the amazingly talented Eric Rene Penoy when he was shooting a wedding in Kuala Lumpur.

I was lucky enough to be able to second shoot for Eric in Scotland and Finland, and that’s when my career as a destination wedding photographer really began. From then on, my career has gone from strength to strength.

I did my first local workshop last year with Merve and Nils from Dirty Boots and Messy Hair, and following that, I established my own photography community, The Rebel.

Couple session during Rebel workshop

I’m passionate about photography, and I work so hard, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the accolades and recognition I would receive.

I was the Rangefinder Magazine Rising Star in 2017, US Brides Magazine named me as the Best Wedding Photographer Abroad, LooksLikeFilm awarded me Best Wedding Photographer 2018, and I also became a mentor myself, at the Rise & Shine Program at WPPI 2019 in Las Vegas.

The issue of Rangfinder Magazine where I’m featured as one of 30 Rising Stars.

I’m always excited to see where my career is going to take me next, and my next stop will be speaking at the El Cosmico Workshop in Mexico this November. Among the speakers are Oscar Castro, Pablo Laguia, Froydis Daisy and many more. More info at

But whatever comes my way, I know that I wouldn’t have achieved even half as much if I didn’t have the constant support and encouragement from my wife, my close friends and the desire to give my kids a good life. They are my motivation to keep going, and I will.

To anyone who wants to chase their dream, I’d say never give up, even the journey is rough. Work hard and earn it. Don’t be afraid to set big goals and be true to yourself, whether or not other people like it. Work on your mindset and use it to deal with the negativity that’s always going to be around. What other people think of you is none of your business, your job is to push yourself to be a better person.

Qay Majid is a destination wedding photographer from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia who travels around the world photographing weddings. You can see more of his work at, and keep up with him on Instagram and Facebook.

How I Became a Real Estate Photographer + 8 Tips to Help You Get Started

As I reflect on my 20s, I realize it probably sounds like the same story as a lot of other millennials: broke, confused, directionless, and full of wanderlust. Upon graduating with a degree in Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences from Texas A&M University in 2012, I was having difficulty landing a job and honestly had no idea what to do with myself. So, I did the only thing I could afford to do, which was move home to my parent’s house in Beaumont, Texas.

I spent the next two years aimlessly working in a daycare and then as an administrative assistant in a private school. The wanderlust I mentioned previously became too much to bear, so I quit my job and moved to Rome, Italy for a year to be a live-in nanny. When I returned home again (this time with a belly full of fresh pasta, wine, and gelato), my wanderlust was temporarily cured, but I was still broke, confused, and directionless.

My dad, being a business owner himself, has always attempted to guide me in the direction of self-employment. I had a decent enough background in photography, Lightroom, and Photoshop, so when he suggested that I try my hand at real estate photography, I was up for the challenge. I spent the next couple of months attempting to wrap my head around this style of photography and have been photographing real estate ever since.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, I think it is noteworthy to mention that there are essentially three types of real estate photographers, and it is important to figure out what category you want to fall into. Keep in mind that there are no wrong answers and you can always evolve.

The first type are ‘run and gunners.’ They are in and out of homes in a matter of minutes and handhold their camera. They may or may not have a flash mounted on top and typically take one exposure. (High efficiency and low cost.)

The second type are the most common of the bunch. They use a tripod, take multiple exposures and are most likely using at least a bounce flash. (Average efficiency and average cost.)

The third type are the artists. They definitely use a tripod, make sure each shot is perfectly composed and level, use pops of flash throughout the space with the intention of manually hand blending multiple frames in post processing. (Low efficiency and high cost.)

I fall into the third category simply because I have goals of working exclusively with designers and architects one day and am working towards building a portfolio worthy of doing so. Moving forward, you have to figure out what works best for you and the market in which you are planning to build your business.

Here are 8 tips to get you up and running as a real estate photographer:


He stared at me with a blank look on his face. It was a look of surprise and embarrassment that betrayed the fact that he had never considered this very fundamental question before. He was a marketer for a large international law firm, and the answer to this question should have informed many different decisions he made in marketing the firm. I wasn’t very surprised by his reaction.

This headshot of my youngest son is one of my favorites. Most people don’t think about headshots for children, but this is what I picture when I think about him, and I love it. It has nothing to do with the text below, but I wanted to be able to show him his face on the Kelby blog.

I used to be a trial lawyer and I am accustomed to cross examining people. This felt exactly like that. “Why do you put pictures of the lawyers on your website?” He stared blankly for a moment and then stammered out, “So you know what they look like?” I promise I am not making this up.

This answer isn’t wrong, but it isn’t very good either. Perhaps a better way to say it is, “To put a name with a face.” When I am talking to or emailing Johnny Lawyer, I can picture his lovable mug. Considering how unpopular having your headshot made can be with some people, this does not seem like a fantastic answer.

This is the worst lawyer headshot ever.

Another answer I commonly get to that question is, “Well, you just have to. Most people do.” Again, while this isn’t a great answer, it definitely is not wrong. It is true that most people do it, and if you don’t it looks strange, like you are not serious. Have you ever received a friend request on social media such as Facebook or LinkedIn where the requester did not have a profile picture? It’s like that. It’s strange. You wonder if they’re even a real person.

For the clients that I market myself to, there is often a more important reason. That online headshot is going to be the first impression they make on many potential clients. First impressions and the common knowledge surrounding them are one of those things that everybody knows is true and actually is true. The research in this area is overwhelming. First impressions are formed almost instantaneously, visuals are far more important than text, they are very sticky, and first impressions formed online carry over into the real world. Since that is the case, it is a good idea to make that first impression a very strong one.

Okay, this looks a little more like a lawyer.

The majority of headshots I see do not make good first impressions. What really makes me mad about these shots is that it is not the subject’s fault at all. They don’t deserve it. They just have no idea what to do in front of the camera, and of course they should not. It is not their area of expertise. The expressions on their faces when they were being photographed should not have been left up to them.

Just so you don’t think I am beating up on other people, I will use myself as an example.