Category Archives Guest Blogger

Glenn Randall atop Peak 12,847 in January with Kit Carson, Crestone Peak, and Crestone Needle behind, Sangre de Cristo Wilderness, Colorado

The Tyranny of the Remembering Self

Pause for a moment, and try this thought experiment. Imagine your perfect vacation. It could be anywhere in the world, doing anything you choose, for one week. There is a catch, however. You will not be allowed to take any photographs or make any entries in a journal during your vacation, and at the end you will be given a potion that will erase all memories of the wonderful experiences you enjoyed. How much would you pay for such a vacation, in comparison to what you would pay for a vacation you could remember?

Aurora over Mt. Monolith, Tombstone Territorial Park, Yukon Territory, Canada

If you are like me, my wife, and our two adult daughters, nothing. To us, and to most people, the most wonderful experiences have little or no value if we cannot remember them. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman points out in his excellent book Thinking: Fast and Slow that we seem to have two selves, an experiencing self and a remembering self, whose needs and wants are not always congruent. As Kahneman puts it, “The experiencing self is the one that answers the question: ‘Does it hurt now?’ The remembering self is the one that answers the question: ‘How was it, on the whole?’ Memories are all we get to keep from our experience of living, and the only perspective that we can adopt as we think about our lives is therefore that of the remembering self.” He goes on to say, “The experiencing self does not have a voice. The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keeps score and governs what we learn from living, and it is the one that makes decisions. What we learn from the past is to maximize the qualities of our future memories, not necessarily of our future experience. This is the tyranny of the remembering self.”

The full moon setting over Longs Peak from the summit of Twin Sisters, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Our remembering self tends to value an episode not by the duration of pleasurable and painful periods, but by the peak intensity of the good or bad feeling and by the feeling we experience at the end of the episode. Kahneman calls this “duration neglect” and the “peak-end rule.” We remember the peak moments of a vacation and its ending rather than an average of all the moments. Our average experience, even on a vacation we remember as great, may in fact be rather boring.

Does this help explain the almost universal fascination with photography? Kahneman writes, “The frenetic picture-taking of many tourists suggests that storing memories is often an important goal, which shapes both the plans for the vacation and the experience of it. The photographer does not view the scene as a moment to be savored but as a future memory to be designed. Pictures may be useful to the remembering self—though we rarely look at them for very long, or as often as we expected, or even at all—but picture taking is not necessarily the best way for the tourist’s experiencing self to enjoy a view.”

Mt. Sneffels at sunset, Mt. Sneffels Wilderness, Colorado
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Finding Your Superpowers & Inner Voice

First, thanks to Scott for having me back on his blog and thanks to Brad Moore for putting this all together. Love you guys!

This post is a condensed version of the chapter Finding Your Superpowers and Inner Voice in my latest book, Photo Quest – Discovering Your Photographic and Artist Voice. A book, by the way, that does not include a single photograph – only words of motivation and inspiration. Some by me and some by the team of awesome All-Star Photo Mentors I put together for this project. You’ll recognize a few of these names from Photoshop World and KelbyOne.

Enjoy, and please post your super power in the comments here.


“Batman doesn’t have any superpowers. He has to use his brain and his courage. That’s what always appealed to me.”

Patrick Leahy

Like Batman, you have a superpower (or superpowers), but you may not know what it is at this moment. That’s how I felt when I first started reading about superpowers.

I will share with you what I feel are my superpowers at the end of this chapter, but for now, let’s first explore superpowers, and then how they relate to you and your photography and art—and to finding your inner voice.

What piqued my interest in the topic of superpowers, which probably goes back to the time of Plato and Socrates (and maybe before that, although likely known by a different description), was a conversation I had with my son Marco.

Knowing more than a few successful and talented people, I was saying to Marco that people who are good at one thing are usually good at many things. Marco began talking about why people are successful and mentioned superpowers, a new term for me at the time. I was fascinated and started surfing the web for information on superpowers.

My search brought me to an article by Konstantin Mitgutsch on Medium.com. As Mr. Mitgutsch says in his article: “We have numerous hidden ‘Superpowers’ that are not just very human and personal, but really define who we are and could be on the deepest level. However, for a variety reasons, we’ve never understood this, let alone discovered these strengths and learned how to exploit them.”

On Forbes.com, Dede Henley argues that a superpower, “Isn’t a skill but a perspective, a mindset, a way of working that enhances everything you touch.”

To find our superpower, which defines our creative voice (among other things), we have to ask ourselves a few questions, taking photography out of the equation. The questions to ask are: What am I good at? What am I the best at? Why am I good at it? How did I get good at it? What do others think I am good at? Was I always good at it?

If all this talk about superpowers sounds far out (as we used to say in the 1960s), consider the following. After seeing a movie, you might say something like, “So and so is the best actor I’ve ever seen.” Sure, the actor may be a terrific actor, but he or she drew on their superpower to excel in their craft. That may be the power to influence others through their facial expression, the tone in their voice, and their ability to convey strong emotions and feelings that they drew on from their past for their performance in the film.

Another example is the guitar work of Carlos Santana. Sure, he’s a master guitar player, but his playing perhaps comes from his superpower, one of being very spiritual and mystical. You can read about his superpower on wsj.com in the article “The Mystical Journey of Carlos Santana.” In effect, Santana is playing the same notes as a million other guitar players. But his superpower makes him unique and gives him his creative voice.

Relating this concept to photography, Ansel Adams, for example, used the same aperture and shutter speed as other photographers, but he was unique because he drew on his superpower or superpowers, which may have been an affinity for getting in touch with nature, and his ability to see contrast and envision the end result, using what he called “creative visualization.”

In my quest to learn more about superpowers and our inner voice, I asked some of my well-known photographer friends about theirs. Take a look. Yes, these mentors are wonderful photographers, but their advice can be applied to many art forms.

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Photo by David Burnett

The Growth In A Challenge

The greatest growth I have experienced as a photographer was when I faced a challenge. I benefited from my willingness to feel the discomfort of taking on something new.

Since my early years, I loved photographing people, especially in public. It held an incredible fascination for me. The majority of such imagery took the shape of candid photographs while traveling or practicing street photography. I rarely approached people to make a portrait. I felt incredible anxiety at the thought of approaching someone.

However, my desire to make such photographs finally led me to approaching strangers and asking to make their image. The initial results were lackluster, but what was important was that I moved through my fear to make those photographs happen.

As I grew more comfortable with that approach, I found myself focused on a new desire. Next, I wanted to make portraits in a more formal situation. I wanted more than just capturing a few frames of a subject I encountered on the street. Instead, I wanted to spend an hour with them and work on creating a more substantive photograph.

I had never done something like this before and the thought terrified me. I felt confident concerning my picture-taking skills. However, I wasn’t sure how I would engage my subject for an extended period. Though my desire to create such images were strong, I frequently talked myself out of it by focusing on my perceived weaknesses and lack of experience.

Then came a day when my desire to make the photographs supplanted my fear and self-doubt. I asked six people who were in a writing fellowship with me if I could make their portraits. I felt significantly less fear about approaching them because I had worked so intimately with them over the year. However, I had to muster all of my courage to ask them. I was surprised by the enthusiasm with which they met my request.

For these portraits, I went to their respective homes and hung out with them while I made photographs. I had nothing more than a Nikon DSLR, a 50mm lens, and a reflector. I found a space where there was good light and a nice setting, and I would get to work. Because we knew each other, I was immediately able to build rapport and engage with them as I made their photographs. Whatever anxiety I felt quickly fell.

During our final group dinner, I displayed the 24×30 prints of each of them. They were happy and excited with the results. The husband of one of the writers was singularly impressed by the images and asked me if I would like to exhibit this work at a new gallery he was opening in the South Bay.

I explained that I only had these few prints and said that I would need to photograph more. I asked him when he would need them, and he told me the following month.

My initial impulse was to say no or delay the effort for later on in the year. But something told me that I shouldn’t put off this opportunity. So, I said yes.

For the next month, I took on the challenge of photographing a host of writers and poets in Southern California. Soliciting the help of the many writers, I had met through the fellowship, I started calling and e-mailing people to ask them to participate in this series. I was amazed how easily so many of them said yes. Some included well-known artist including Hubert Selby (Last Exit to Brooklyn), Janet Fitch (White Oleander), and Carolyn See (Golden Days).

Next was the challenge of making all of those images. I put together a list and a schedule that allowed me to photograph people during the weekends. Because of my limited window of time, I multiple sittings  multiple each day. My busiest day included a total of 5 subjects.

All the subjects were new to me. So, I not only had to build rapport with them from the moment that I met them, but I also had to find locations in their homes where I could produce the best photographs possible.

It was an intense month of photography. I was so busy and so intent on pulling it off, that the fear, anxiety, and self-doubt that had held me back for years disappeared.  I was singularly focused on succeeding and making this exhibit happen.

When I walked into the gallery on the official opening and saw my 24×30 prints on display on its walls, I was filled with so much pride. Despite the many obstacles that I had stood in my way, I had succeeded in doing something that a few years before I would have considered impossible.

It’s been one of my greatest lessons as a photographer, When I am tempted to succumb to feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, I remember that feeling of satisfaction that came from facing my fear.  I remember that I can have such a feeling again if I just believe in myself, put in the work, and see it to the end.

Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, writer, and educator. He is also the host and producer of The Candid Frame photography podcast which he has been producing since 2006. The show features the world’s best established and emerging photographers and has featured conversations with Mary Ellen Mark, Dan Winters, Douglas Kirkland, Eli Reed, Maggie Steber, Elliot Erwitt, and hundreds of others.

He has also written hundreds of articles and has authored have a dozen books on the subject of photography. His latest is Making Photographs: Developing a Personal Visual Workflow.

You can find out more about Ibarionex and his work by visiting TheCandidFrame.com.

Photo by Hannah Leigh Imagery

Time For A Change

I grew up in the hills of rural East Tennessee. As a child, I learned how to shoot a gun in Shooting Sports and did target practice at 4-H Camp. My dad kept shotguns in the closet, and carried one at his job as a prison guard. Friends, family, and fellow church members all went hunting on a regular basis. Classmates would wake up early to go hunting before school, and arrive with their gun racks in their trucks loaded with their guns.

I worked at a convenience store that also sold hunting and fishing licenses and served as a “checking station” for deer hunters. Heck, they could even drop off their game around back at the processing and taxidermy shop that occupied the other half of the building, then return later to pick up their meat and newly mounted trophies.

My brother (left) and I playing with our toy guns in the back yard.

The context of guns in my life has primarily revolved around toys, sport, and hobby. But this is not everyone’s experience in life. Many people’s experiences with guns are negative, and even the word “negative” is a gross understatement for many people’s experiences with them. Many people have lost multiple friends, family members, and other loved ones to gun violence.


I like to think of myself as an empathetic person and strive to be sensitive to others’ life experiences. No one ended up where they are in life, holding the views and opinions they hold, in an instant. Everyone has a journey through life, and no two journeys are identical.

So, when I’m having a conversation about a difficult topic with someone else, I try to keep all of this in mind. I’m definitely not always successful. But when I’m able to find out more about a person’s story and their background, it helps me to understand why they hold the opinions they hold, even if I don’t agree with them. And, if I’m lucky, I can sometimes even evolve my opinion on a topic thanks to knowing their story. It’s that added insight, that empathy, that can change your heart when you care more for others than you care about being “right.”


So, it is with that, that I would like to propose something for us all to consider. This is not a change that necessarily takes place in an instant or overnight. But just take a half a second to think before using this terminology…

Let’s stop using the word “shoot” when it comes to photography.

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Why It’s Hard To Discuss Racism

A while ago, some friends were visiting from America and wanted to meet for dinner. Since it was their first-time visiting Japan, they wanted to try some of my favorite Japanese foods and have an authentic experience. I’m from New York but I’ve lived in Japan for the last four years and have fallen in love with the culture, lifestyle and yes, the food.

For dinner, I took my friends to a non-touristy spot with amazing selections of Japanese food but when it came time to place our orders, my friends asked for something that was not on the menu, chicken teriyaki. I’ve witnessed situations like this time after time and when it comes to decisions (or discussions) outside our comfort zone very often we stick with what we know.

It’s hard to try eating something you’re not accustomed to and it’s hard to discuss or understand being treated differently based on the color of one’s skin if you have not experienced it first-hand. Racism is not a comfortable topic to discuss because it hits at our core and makes us look deep inside ourselves. For some it can be a complex issue and easier to simply ignore. This behavior is something (Samuelson & Zeckhauser, 1988) attributes to the status quo bias

Last week, I published my weekly photography podcast which has focused on the art of photography for the past 163 episodes. However, with the current state of the world, I could not make the 164th episode of the Master Your Lens podcast about photography, it had to address a bigger world issue.

A snippet from episode 164 of the Master Your Lens photography podcast focused on the racism in America. The full episode can be downloaded here.

COVID-19 vs Protesting

When I was seven years old, my family moved from Brooklyn, New York to Columbia, South Carolina where, for the first time, I experienced racism firsthand. That was fifty years ago and still, today, the issue of racism plagues America. Even as the world fights a global pandemic that has brought much of the world to a stand-still, many would rather risk catching COVID-19 in order to protest against an older virus that seems to have no cure.

In the 1960’s, the declaration of the day was I AM A MAN. Photographs of protesters during that time period show predominately African Americans marching for equality. In contrast, today people of all backgrounds march together, united in protest to open dialog that brings about action to end racism.

So how do we turn things around and begin having meaningful conversations about racism that lead to lasting solutions? When it comes to things we don’t understand, it’s comfortable to stay with what we know but we only grow when step outside of our comfort zone. I believe change first begins with empathetic listening and taking to heart the lesson of the golden rule.

You can see Matthew’s work at MatthewJordanSmith.com, and keep up with him on Instagram and Twitter. And be sure to subscribe to his podcast, Master Your Lens.

The Story of Working with Square (and how luck can play into landing your dream job) 

Like all the best and very worst stories, this story begins with Twitter.

I opened my phone one morning to see that a few friends had tagged me in a long Twitter thread asking for photographer recommendations across the country by one of the creatives running socials at Square, the San Francisco-based tech company who manufacture and process credit cards though the little white credit card readers and iPad stands you see everywhere.

Given that this was such a broad ask and the list of photographers was so long already, I didn’t think much of it – I tweeted my website back, sent a thank you to my friends, and promptly forgot all about it. About a month later, I saw I had a direct message from the official Square Instagram account, asking if I was interested in taking on a project with them and if I could hop on a call in the next few days. Hello and yes! 

Fast forward a few weeks, and I learned that Square had been creating a series highlighting small businesses across the country and partnering with local photographers in honor of commemorative months. I was so impressed by their dedication to storytelling for both small business and minority communities and I was instantly on board.

My dream work is when photography is combined with social issues and radical movements that I deeply care about, and that is truly what brings so much meaning and substance for me behind the camera. Our project was going to be profiling a woman owned small business to highlight Women’s History Month for March 2020, and it was so fun when Laura Lemon of Lemon Laine in East Nashville was chosen. See the full set here

Something that isn’t talked about much in creative circles is how random it can be to land a job like this. Sometimes (honestly, often) it really comes down to luck in our industry – like being in the right place at the right time, knowing the right person, or having a friend of yours grab drinks with someone who works at x company, and they just so happen to mention that they have a new campaign where they want to hire a new photographer (enter you). Or the right designer seeing your name tagged somewhere in a shoot you did three years ago and never thought it’d see the light of day, but then you get an email about a new project with their studio because they liked the feel of the images. Or your name gets thrown out in a giant Twitter thread and somehow it sticks. 

I always feel both a little bummed and relieved when people talk about luck influencing creative opportunities – it can be a partial breath of fresh air to feel like getting these big jobs is little out of my control, but also it can be incredibly frustrating to feel like all of your hard work alone isn’t getting you as far as you want it to. However, I’ve learned that there’s so much we can do to make sure both you and your work are ready for when those opportunities drop into your lap. 

Three quick bullet points of advice — 

  1. Keep showing up. As frustrating as it is that luck is a player in this game, you can make yourself as ready as possible when the right people find you. Trust that the work is good in the meantime! And continue to make it better – keep pushing, keep learning, keep developing your skill set in the meantime. And, make sure your online presence and website is ready for those people to find you — if your dream client were to land on your website today, would they see the kind of work they need in order to reach out to you? Keep going. 
  2. Be a good hang. I stole this from my husband who always says this about the music industry, but you and your personality are just as (if not more sometimes) important as your work when a creative team is considering hiring you. Remember, if you get hired, you’re probably going to be hanging with these people on a set for hours at a time. Make sure they’re excited to be around you as a person as well as excited about your work. 
  3. Invest in the people around you for the sake of the relationship. Are there photographers in your community that you’ve been following online for years but have never met? Reach out and connect beyond socials! Same goes for creative directors, photo producers, art buyers and more. Start with a simple email, and then see if they’re available to meet in person so you can hear more about what they do and how they do it. Not only will this absolutely lead to some great connections and maybe even a few stepping stones, but more than any of that, relationships are a meaningful life value that goes way beyond photography.

If something like this can happen to me, it can definitely happen to you. Over the last few years, I’ve found a lot of freedom in letting go of control (did I ever have it?) of trying to force my dream jobs to manifest. Instead I’m choosing to trust that if I keep showing up to the work wholeheartedly and investing into relationships in my community, these jobs will continue to show up too. 

And sometimes it pays to have friends that are on Twitter more than you. 

Nicola is a commercial and editorial photographer based in Nashville, TN. You can see more of her work at NicolaHarger.com and can keep up with her on Instagram and Twitter.

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