Category Archives Guest Blogger

Photo by Sam Haddix

I Believe In Magic – Discovering the Magic in Your Photography
You are a magician, a sorcerer, an illusionist. You wield power that can inspire the soul and expand the imagination. Are you using it? Like any good story, you are yet to unlock its full potential. You overlook the opportunity sitting right in front of you. No, sadly, this is not your new age letter to wizarding school, nor is this the beginning of your superhero origin story. This is an invitation. An invitation to start wielding a type of magic that can suspend disbelief and change the impossible to reality. You are a photographer, and this is your chance.

My journey into the world of photography started six years ago. Like many of you reading this, I started by taking pictures of everything. Friends, family, landscapes, pets, wildlife, events, products, and weddings… you name it, I shot it. I waited for something to stick. I narrowed down what I shot, but nothing set my soul on fire. When the “real world” got busy, my hobby was put on the shelf. There it sat until 2016 when I moved to central Florida and became a Walt Disney World local. Here I rediscovered the magic of photography and found the spark I searched for.

November 1st, 2016, months after my move, I was bored. I settled into my new job, apartment, and life. I wanted to start something big. A soul-searching endeavor to help fill the void in the creative side of my life. I longed to find beauty and joy in my surroundings. My mind felt dull and sluggish, so I made a commitment to form a new habit. I forced myself to create something on a daily basis. My goal? Post once a day on Instagram for thirty days. With nothing but my cell phone and a mission, I set out on a new adventure that felt oh so familiar. I searched for a subject and found myself drawn to the theme parks.

My life changed.

Disney World was the setting of my dreams. Fireworks for long exposure, the dynamic lights of Tomorrowland, the beauty of princes and princesses that came alive on a daily basis. Yup, this is something I could get in to. I was a fan of Disney and Walt Disney World practically since birth, so it was natural that I gravitated there searching for inspiration. After thirty days of posting consistently I had built a habit, I kept posting, I couldn’t stop. I purchased my first DSLR in six years so that I could continue to do more with the subject I fell so deeply in love with. The theme parks of central Florida had awakened in me a desire to shoot and create again.

After hundreds of photos had passed through my workflow and out onto the web I felt stuck. All my pictures looked the same. The spark of creativity that was once a roaring flame dulled to the somber glow of embers. Something had to change, this is when I discovered the magic hidden in my images.

How could I take the same subjects I fell in love with and turn them into something new? Walt Disney World was less than likely to let me start construction in their parks, set up massive scenes with props or bring large groups of people in costumes to take my pictures… so I turned to post-production.

My first attempt? I added stars to a blank sky, adding some “pixie dust” to an image that needed something extra. It looked strange. I posted it anyway. I braced myself for ridicule and relentless comments for faking part of my image.

What happened? Nobody noticed.

The real kicker? My audience felt something. They loved the image. They believed, even just for a moment, that the beautiful starry sky behind Cinderella Castle was real. They got their fix of Disney magic for the day, and for those who can’t visit the parks often that is a big deal. This was exactly what I wanted. I made people who loved Disney as much as I do feel “Home” for just a moment.

I continued to add stars, change skies, and add sunsets to my images. Every so often I get a respectful private message asking what had been changed and how I did it, but never the outrage I originally expected. My social media platform became a mix of images edited to different extremes. Many images I barely touch, slight changes to exposure, contrast, and colors and I’m set. Others I’ll add a small sunburst, lens flare, or stars. In a select few I’ll create a composite with many photos to create a complete fantasy scene.

The variety of edits has created an environment where the lines of reality are blurred. What is real? What has been faked? Is empty Main Street USA really empty or were people removed? The end result for me can only be summed up as Magic. My camera is my wand and my computer is my spellbook. Together with a little creativity, we wield the power to awe and inspire. This magic has opened doors for me, and taught me some very valuable lessons.

The first lesson is that by using different techniques, post-processing, or just by traveling to somewhere new, we can create an environment where fantasy and reality meet. Our viewers can escape the norm and allow themselves to get entangled in the world that we have created for them. This escape is not only welcome but often sought after. Who doesn’t love searching for something impossible? Remember your way doesn’t have to be my way. Think back to the first time you saw star trails or long exposures of fireworks, it was almost otherworldly! These did not come from post processing but different techniques.

The second is that our images don’t have to be perfect; mine rarely are. What they should be is something we enjoy doing. The emotion we put into the process is felt by the viewer in the images we share. Do it with love even when you’re frustrated. Don’t beat yourself up when you’re on a downswing either. We all hit those and have to fight our way out!

The final lesson is to embrace the journey, not just the end result. I’m not ashamed of my beginnings. If you’re brave enough to venture deep into the early photos of my Instagram feed, there are some horrendous things lurking with far too many HDR filters and vibrancy that could blind you. If I submitted them to the Grid for a portfolio review, it’s likely that the studio would explode. I keep these images there as a reminder of where I’ve come from, and the potential of how far I can go.

With each new step you take in your creative journey, take pride in your failures. I fail often, more than I would like. Each time I fail, I try to learn something from it and apply it to my next image. Consistency in your work ethic is the key. There is no magic formula, just keep pushing forward! There will be a moment where you finally produce an image you love, look back on all those other images and realize the follies of your past were just the stepping stones to that moment.

Thank you for reading and being a part of my adventure. It has been an honor and a privilege being a guest blogger and will go down as a milestone in my photographic journey. I truly hope you find your own brand of magic in your photography and it brings you as much joy as I’ve found in mine.

Have a truly magical day,
Doug

You can view more of Doug’s work and connect with him on Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook.

Rick & Susan Sammon Hit the Road – The Mother Road
Route 66 has been called The Mother Road – because it offers one of the most awesome road trips, filled with endless photo opportunities, in the United States. Although Route 66 runs from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, most of the iconic Route 66 photography locations are in Arizona and New Mexico.

Truth is, there is no more official Route 66. Rather, as you drive along Interstate 40, the super highway that basically caused Route 66 to be almost totally abandoned, you see brown signs indicating exits for towns along Historic Route 66.

In this guest blog post (thanks a ton Scott for having me back), Susan and I will share with you some of our favorite photographs from our two Arizona/New Mexico Route 66 road trips, each illustrating a photo tip. These tips are from our latest book, The Route 66 Road Trip – How to Eat, Sleep, Stay, Play and Shoot Like a Pro.

We hope these photographs, just a small sampling from our book, inspire you to make a road trip and photography pilgrimage on what we call “the prime cut” of Route 66.

Let’s go!

Hurray for HDR
When shooting into the sun (sunrise here), and when you want to see both the inside and outside of a building, HDR is a must. Sure, you can pull a lot out of the shadows and tone down the highlights in Adobe Camera Raw and in Lightroom, but in very high contrast scenes, it’s HDR to the rescue. Location: Blue Swallow Motel, Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Make Pictures; Don’t Just Take Pictures
Here’s another shot of the Blue Swallow Motel. I took this non-HDR image at sunset. I made the photograph by hosing down the area in front of the motel. My goal was to create an image with a nice reflection of the neon lights.

Here’s another example of making pictures. Susan drove our rental car past the front of the diner several times so I could get these cool red streaks from the taillights in my image. Location: 66 Diner, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This image is a combination of making a picture (I rearranged the tables and chairs) and using HDR to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene. Location: 66 Diner, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Picture People
People pictures make slide shows, photo books and guest blog posts come alive. When it comes to people pictures, you basically have two choices: a portrait or an environmental portrait, that is, a picture of the person in his or her environment. Without the environment of the interior of Absolutely Neon, a portrait (a head shot) of owner Robert Randazzo could have been taken in my garage. Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Speaking of people pictures, here is a photograph of Angel Delgadillo – the angel of Route 66 and founder of the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. Through his hard work, Angel has inspired many travelers to preserve Historic Route 66. This picture was taken in front of his barbershop. When I told his daughter that I was in town to see her dad, Angel rode his bicycle from his home to the store. Kind of cool for a 92 year-old! Many Route 66 travelers visit his barbershop and gift store in the hope of meeting this kind and gentle man. Location: Seligman, Arizona.

Foreground Elements are Essential
Foreground elements add a sense of depth to an image. When you don’t have a foreground element, use the ground as your foreground element. Location: A famous corner in Winslow, Arizona.

Seek Separation
We see the world in 3-D, while our cameras see in 2-D. To isolate objects in a scene, seek to separate them. This composition technique will add more depth to an image. Location: Wigwam Motel, Holbrook, Arizona.

Tell a Story
Pack a variety of lenses to help tell the story of your road trip. Here I used my Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens set at 15mm on my Canon 5D Mark IV to show the interior of this vintage car, as well as some of the outside surrounding area. Location: Route 66 Auto Museum, Santa Rosa, New Mexico.

Here’s another view of the Route 66 Auto Museum. It’s a hand-held panorama. The idea here: make panoramas indoors as well as outdoors – again to tell your story.

Use Border Patrol
Before you take a photograph, run your eye around the border of the frame to make sure what you want is in the frame, and what you don’t want is not in the frame. The same goes for when you are cropping a photograph. Location: Trading Post, Tucumcari, New Mexico.

Make a Plan
The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico is famous for its “Miraculous Staircase,” a beautifully curved spiral that appears suspended without support.

We were first on line and, as the saying goes, “the early bird catches the worm.” We made pictures that capture the beauty of the amazing structure . . . before several people with Route 66 t-shirts would have been standing in the frame. So the tip here is to check the opening times, which vary throughout the year, so you are first in line. We arrived ½ hour before the church opened.

You can take a hand-held shot in chapel, but you’d need to boost your ISO to about 4000, so you may get some digital noise in your image. I used a tripod, which let me shoot at ISO 400 in the relatively dark church. I used my 16-35mm lens on my Canon 5D Mark IV to get as much of the chapel in the frame as possible. To enhance the beauty of the scene, I made a sepia tone image in Lightroom. Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Play with Plug-ins
Susan shot this photo with her iPhone, and then processed the image with Snapseed. It’s good fun to play with plug-ins. Trains and old cars are wonderful subjects for the grungy look. Location: Williams, Arizona.

Take the Fun Shots
Sure, work hard making great photographs on your road trip. But also take the fun shots! They will help bring back great memories of your time cruising down the “memory lane” of Route 66. Location: Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, Kingman, Arizona.

You can see more of Rick’s work and see upcoming workshops at RickSammon.com, check out his library of classes on KelbyOne, and connect with him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.


How Far Do You Need To Travel To Become A Travel Photographer?
I have been very fortunate, even blessed, to have received a lot of GREAT advice throughout my life. But very little has been as life-changing and eye-opening as the advice I received from my good friend and mentor, photographer Gary S. Chapman, over a breakfast in Panama City, Panama. 

I don’t think he knew it at the time, but I was in one of many “professional soul searching” moments of my life. I had recently, within the last two years, decided to become a full-time photographer, and to make my living out of this trade. However, I faced several perceived problems: No formal education in photography; No real connections in the field other than a few photographers who, like Gary, had showed mercy on me and befriended me; No editors or steady clients; Little equipment; Based out of Panama City, Panama, a small Central American country with a very small and traditional photographic scene at that time. 

And as if all of that wasn’t enough, I didn’t want to just be a photographer and make my living with a camera. I could have easily chosen to specialize as a portrait or wedding photographer and gotten jobs right away, but that seemed too easy for my stubborn self. I wanted to become a travel/documentary photographer just like the ones that I saw and read about in Nat Geo, Life, Time Magazine, etc.  I wanted to see interesting people, explore the world, and tell stories. How was I going to do that? Where would I start? Who was I to even think I could? That’s where Gary’s words came in to change my perspective. 

As I expressed to Gary, my desire was to travel the world, maybe move to Asia, or at least see how often could I visit in search of good and interesting pictures. Gary looked at me and in his calm, soft way of speaking he said, “Why? Why would you want to go there if there are hundreds of thousands of photos coming out of those places every day?” He continued, “How many stories coming out of Asia or Africa do you see in the big magazines a year? Lots, right? But how many stories do you see coming out of Panama? Not me, or anyone that comes in can or will know Panama, its people or culture better than you or any local. Who can tell these stories better than one of her own? There are lots of stories to tell that you are already here with all the time to tell them the right way.” 

A man rides his bicycle early in the morning at the Cinta Costera in Panama City, Panama.

It sounded so basic, so simple, yet it blew my mind. I had been so caught up in and inspired by all the stories I saw from around the world that I never even considered the stories from home could compete. I was wrong. I began to focus my efforts on three things: 

1) Trying to find interesting stories, people, and places  

2) Using the internet for exposure so that the world could see my work. 

3) I also applied and got a job at a local newspaper to gain experience as a storyteller since I was completely self-taught. I had done my research and figured at least 8 out of my top 10 favorite travel photographers had one thing in common: they all started at a newspaper, I didn’t have that. I put all my energy into that job and considered it my schooling. It paid off.  

It wasn’t much later, after only 2 years at the newspaper, I received an offer to work as a “stringer,” or freelance local photo correspondent, for the Associated Press (AP). Soon after, a fellow AP photographer recommended me for a story in the Travel section of The New York Times. From then on, editors, local and international, began to discover my work via recommendations, my website, and professional accounts like Flickr, and offer me assignments in Panama. 

With time, those same editors would gain more trust in me and give me international assignments in the neighboring countries of Costa Rica or Colombia, later the Caribbean and eventually they would send me around the world. By no means was this a fast or painless learning process, but it is one I think all photographers should go through in order to understand the trade. It helps those of us who have been through it to push ourselves, to think outside the box. It’s a process that makes us humble and value our jobs.

One of the most common mistakes beginners make in photography, myself included, is thinking we need to travel to remote locations to find an interesting subject or moment. But the whole world, regardless of where you are, is filled with interesting people, subject, light, moments, and stories to tell.

Over the last almost two decades, I have worked hard to remind myself and to teach others the concept of “from ordinary to extraordinary.” Regardless of where you are in the world and whatever you are looking at, that one person, place, activity, time of year or day that may seem boring and “normal” to you may blow the mind of someone on the other side of the world who had no idea that place existed or that unique moment happened. To people in Nura, Kazakhstan, looking at traditional eagle hunters may be an everyday “ordinary” thing, just as it is for me to see the Panama Canal, one of the eight wonders of the world. My failure to take notice of a place I see daily doesn’t make the Panama Canal any less photogenic or impressive. And although they may bore the people in Central Asia, I still love a good picture of a traditional eagle hunters.

Traditional Eagle hunter. Nura, Kazakhstan.
Aerial view of the Panama Canal and Panama City in the far back.

The biggest challenges for a good photographer are not about having all the right gear, travel arrangements or even money… It’s trying to always be creative, to keep your eyes, emotions, and senses aware enough to capitalize on the good subjects and moments. 

Casco Viejo, in Panama City is probably the second most photographed part of the country, competing with the Panama Canal. It’s a place I frequent for many reasons, professionally and personally. Magazines, both local and international, are always looking for “Casco” photos It’s challenging to continue photographing this familiar place in a way that is interesting to me. 

The first time I was contacted directly by TIME magazine was for a story about Casco Viejo focusing mainly in that little area rather than on Panama City as a whole. I have to always, regardless of how often I see something, try to think of places as if it were the first time or the complete opposite. Because I know it so well, I find that one spot of light in a particular corner that only happens once a day for a few minutes that most people don’t notice. That’s what I did for TIME and it got me a double truck in the magazine. 

Layout of how this Casco Viejo photo of an everyday moment ended up in TIME Magazine.

By now I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel a lot for work, mainly throughout my region of the world, but also in Asia and Europe. I can tell you, based on my experiences, whether you are in Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Manhattan or Brazil, teenagers are teenagers, people love their pets, the old ladies at the local market will act pretty much the same (either loving to have their picture taken or hating it and sending you to hell), and moments of good light happen everywhere.  

A teenager jumps from the water on the island of Old Providence in Colombia.
Left: A friendy lady at a market in Belem, Brazl. Right: A not so friendly old couple at a market in Ho Chi Ming, Vietnam.
Left: A woman and her pet Llama in Cusco, Peru. Right: A teenager and his pet sheep in Kazakhstan.

I have found the same purple / orange afternoon “magic hour” light in Peru, Panama, Puerto Rico, Havana and Ho Chi Ming. I have found as many interesting subjects inside the kitchens of the Guna Yala (San Blas Islands) of Panama as I have inside the rural kitchens of Trinidad and Tobago. 

Same afternoons. From left to right, clockwise: Guna Yala – Panama, Mancora – Peru, The Pitons – St. Lucia Island and Crash Boat beach – Puerto Rico.

If you can’t find inspiration in the familiar; If you can’t identify a good location, good light, an interesting subject or a good moment in your own town: If you don’t have the drive, the curiosity, chances are you won’t find any of it anywhere else in the world either.

Travel photography is not so much about getting to a place as it is knowing when to go and when to wait. Sometimes all you need to do to find a great story is go to the next town over.

I have had the chance to work with many editors and one thing I have learned is this: exotic locations don’t “wow” editors as much as intimate, personal, close-to-home stories. It’s easier to get a good picture of a native in most parts of the world. Usually they even pose for cameras. But a good inside story of a person or a place with intimate, non-traditional points of view, draws attention to special moments and says a lot about you as a photographer and your ability to connect and gain access. 

When I have the opportunity to shoot one of the many festivals in my country, as I often do, I am usually able to identify the experienced shooters quickly. Instead of fighting for a spot on the road where the parade is sure to pass, we are moving all around the town, behind the scenes in search of a unique or interesting subject.  Everyone will see that parade on the news, in local newspapers, and on social media. How can I, as a photographer, make this “ordinary” event into something interesting to you? What can I show them that will help them notice something new about this event they have being looking at for years? Those are the types of photos that will make you stand out.

The “Congos” are a century old traditional form of dance from the province of Colon in Panama. Every Ash Wednesday they come out to parade and dance all over the streets of their respective town.
Traditional Cuban dancers take a break and talk away from the eyes of tourist in central Havana city, in Cuba.

You can do much more with one camera, one lens and an open mind, than you can with a backpack full  of the latest gear and no idea what to shoot or where to start.

Be yourself and shoot what you love. It sounds incredibly cliché, but it’s so true. If people really move you, people will move you regardless of where in the world you are. If you are not a people person, forget about it.

There are a lot more things that I could tell you, based on my experience, but let me end with this:

Travel photography is not so much about the subject itself (place or person) as it about how that subject is presented. Anything can be interesting and anything can be boring. It’s up to you, your creativity, and your determination to try and make, for your self, something that is ordinary into something extraordinary by the way you present it in your images. 

A man and his bicycle cross from Guatemala to Mexico. This form of illegal international crossing in this makeshift raft is a normal sight at this particular border point.

If you can see a photo of a place you see everyday and think, “Wow, I have never seen this like this,” you may be off to a good start. That’s what the viewers of your images, be they clients, editors, family or friends, expect to be shown. They want to see the world in a way they have never seen it before or at a moment of light they never expected.

Travel photography is not about going to exotic places, but about captivating viewers with the places you are, regardless of where in the world that is.

St. Thomas Island in the US Virgin Islands.

There is a world waiting to be documented. Go out and find it. It is not about “being big” or “making it big…” it’s about loving what you do and doing it with passion. Eventually that passion will reflect in your work and people will notice. I have done so many things I never believed I could, and worked for clients I used to only dream of, and now I’m a guest writer here… imagine that.

You can see more of Tito’s work at TitoHerrera.com, and connect with him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Awesomeness Of Being A Second Shooter

Whenever someone messages me about “How do I get better at ____,” I often suggest a few things like simply putting in more hours, a couple of tutorial options or maybe some books. But one thing I probably don’t mention enough is how amazing being a second shooter or an assistant can be.
(Note: I wish I had more content to share where I assisted some of my favourite projects, but alas I do not have the rights to the final products.)

Touring with photographer Richard Powazynski (in frame)
My final image

I’ve learned so much over my career from being willing to be a second shooter or assistant to photographers/videographers whose work I admired, or maybe it was just the person themselves I enjoyed. Early in my career, I took a few second shooting positions with wedding photographers. It was an amazing experience, despite my utter dislike for the events themselves. The experience of the very long creative day, with a massive bouquet of personalities, emotions, and tight timelines was something that would help me in commercial jobs in the future. Being open to assisting put me in places I would not have ever imagined, and my work has always benefitted from it.

Location scouting with photographer Curtis Jones (in frame)
My final environment design I made with footage primarily from that location

My favorite thing to do is to find friends who work in careers completely out of my world. I’ve assisted on product shoots, weddings, beauty sessions, festivals, automotive, music videos, dragged gear for landscape shooters, even just handed supplies to VFX artists who were making a build for a movie set. It’s so interesting to see how other creatives in our world do that thing they do so well, and to see them just be awesome at it. There’s just something about that process that really speaks to me in ways tutorials and online blogs rarely do.  (more…)

Brian Worley is a photo tutor, from the UK. A specialist in the workings of almost all things with a Canon logo on

Photography is easy; buy the best gear and it will do it all for you…

By now, I should have stopped being surprised at photographers who buy gear and expect it to be the secret sauce that takes their pictures to the next level. The reality is that modern camera gear is, “the best you’ve ever had,” but boy is there a lot to learn.

Cameras Packed Full Of Capabilities
Here’s the problem; gear is complex, and nobody has time to read or process the instruction books. I keep PDF files of the Speedlite 600EX II-RT and EOS 5D Mark IV open on my Mac all the time. That’s 750 pages of quick reference material. The biggest challenge for all photographers is mentally converting the manual’s ‘how to change a setting,’ into the, ‘why you need it,’ and, ‘how to remember it exists.’

For me to be able to train photographers, I need to use the equipment. I find it is the only way I can convert the instruction book into transferrable knowledge for other people. Sharing knowledge and training satisfies my inner engineer. Being able to provide solutions to questions, and help people enjoy their photography.

Catching the fastest driver in Finland in full flight last summer. A great way to refine your knowledge of AF settings

Last summer, I held an in-depth EOS 5D Mark IV autofocus and Wi-Fi workshop with a Helsinki-based photo dealer. I spent the whole day with my camera menu set to Finish language. The attendees were convinced I could read Finnish, until I hit cancel, instead of OK, while setting up FTP image transfers. I may be a little extreme, competitive about this even. However, if you can’t change your camera from one-shot focus to AI servo without looking it up, then buying a new lens to improve your focus hit rate is just a bit foolish.

It’s all Greek to me, but beneath the date/time on all EOS DSLR cameras is where you can change the language back to something you can understand.
Even in bright light I’ll make use of flash to refine my photos

Flash Is All About The Light, Not Science And Magic
Light is the key to photography. If you only study one thing, make it light. Even better is that light behaves predictably. To me a Speedlite flash is the “extra paintbrush” in my bag, and with it I can bring something different to my pictures. I’m a firm believer in the David Bailey thinking on available light. Available light is any source of light that’s available to you.

Historically, Canon’s Speedlite flash system has taxed many photographers, but in the last ten years I’ve found it to be something that has rewarded me with pictures I couldn’t have made any other way.

We don’t see the sunshine that often in the UK, so it was a pleasant surprise to need high speed sync for this backlit portrait

One subtle change in my own work came along with the launch of Canon’s radio Speedlite flash system. I found that I was using flash more often in daylight than in low light. If the subject is in low light, then usually there’s little contrast range, so you can get away with raising the ISO a bunch. But in bright light I often try to control the contrast range, filling in shadows. Radio links made all this possible, reliable, and easy.

I run a number of Speedlite workshops each year, it is the topic that so many photographers struggle with, or are simply afraid of. Which I find a little strange as light is straightforward and the essential component of all photography.

A bit of ingenuity overcomes limitations. I like creating solutions!

The photo of the car was an interesting challenge. I only had three Speedlites available, and even if I had 18, the Canon system only works with up to 16 devices, one of which is the transmitter. I put three flashes on one light stand using super clamps, and took the first shot. Moved the light stand and took another shot, then four more moves and shots. I used the remote camera shutter release on the flash to trigger the camera for each shot. I put the individual frames in Photoshop and made the resulting picture you see here. Next step will be to shoot it all in-camera using multiple exposures.

Combining four Speedlite flashes in to a single group gives me enough power to light motocross. I’m cheating, this is TTL automatic flash too

I saw some photos of motocross riders online that were clearly lit with extra lights. I found the photographer and spent a day learning how he was using Speedlites to shoot motocross. Suitably inspired, I headed out to another track and set up four Speedlite 600EX-RT flashes on a single light stand. I aimed it across the track, so that it would illuminate the shadow side of the rider. Another hit of the rare English sunlight provided a backlight. Soon I realised that I could use TTL flash, making it simpler for me to move around the track for different vantage points.

Setting the main light to do most of the work took minutes. Lining up the background and accent lights took a little longer

After studying the ways of Joe McNally and Gregory Heisler, I have found that I set up my main light quickly, giving me most of my intended result. The bit of the pictures that takes the time is all the small details. The light behind the guy in this shot was snooted, gelled, and then needed a couple of position changes to hit the right spot. It is fortunate that you can fire a modeling flash from Canon Speedlite flashes, using buttons on the flash itself.

I want to thank Scott for asking me to write a guest blog for him. I also hope that my words and pictures have encouraged you to take one more look at your instruction book or seek some training before you spend money on gear trying to create photos when you already have the perfect equipment you need. Remember that your question is the start of the solution, so please ask away.

Brian Worley took a position at Canon Europe in 1995, and was converted to digital photography overnight. He was part of a team launching PowerShot and Digital EOS camerasin Europe until 2010. Since leaving Canon he’s focussed his attention on being a freelance photo tutor, writer and photographer. He has encyclopaedic knowledge of Canon’s EOS system and loves to share his knowledge with all photographers; beginner to professional. You can find more of his work and connect with him on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and on his blog P4Ppictures.com.

Presenting and Selling Your Photographs as Fine Art ‘One-offs’
I’d like to thank Scott and Brad for the opportunity to share a few thoughts on how I’m trying to up the game in presenting my photography. Specifically, finessing the finishing elements and the inkjet print itself to project an appearance of a one-off art piece.

Selling art is one fickle endeavor. Ask any dealer or gallery owner and they’ll tell you, “it always has been and always will be.” More on that later and to start things off I have a quick question for you. We all agree photographic prints are art, don’t we? Of course they are, but history reminds us it wasn’t always that way.

From photography’s humble commercial beginnings in the mid 19th century the evolving craft was destined for a long, drawn out debate to be accepted as art. It became an ongoing war of recognition that had to be fought across not one, but two fronts. First the new medium was quickly regarded as a threat by both traditional artists and the art establishment – viewed as an ‘industrial process’ that could dilute the business of painting or worse, perhaps even replace it. When the art community wasn’t wringing their hands of photography they were insulting it. Photography was generally viewed as simple documentation and certainly not an original ‘artistic thought’ like painting or sculpture.

The second attack was a full on assault addressing the photographer’s one deliverable – the finished print. Questioning its monetary worth the evolving process of hand-produced darkroom prints was mistakenly viewed as nothing more than a simple mechanism for easy replication. A mere copy.

It was nearly another hundred years later (in the 60’s and 70’s) that photographic prints began to be accepted as fine art and more importantly, a collectible. An object-of-desire worthy of being purchased by real dollars.

When Ansel Adams was a young creative photographer his original prints sold for $10. By the 1960s they sold for $50 – $100. Eventually the price for a print of his iconic Moonrise, Hernandez in the early 1970s rose to $500. Then a seminal moment in photography occurred! At a Los Angeles auction in 1981, the sale of a large Moonrise set a record price for a photograph at the time – $71,500. And Ansel was still alive!

Although a handful of artisan fine art photographers still produce highly crafted prints in the darkroom, the rest of us are living in an inkjet world. The quality improvements over the past 10 years have been substantial and when professionally produced the results are exquisite! Rich saturated colors and substantially improved B&W tones – all supported by archival pigment inks and elegant heavyweight cotton rag papers. Today even exotic hand-made papers and various manufactured substrates are being run through large inkjet printers. But even these superior prints at times are still subjected to the all-to-familiar ‘perceived value battle’. Buyers and collectors realize compared to the effort it took to produce vintage prints in the pre-digital era, this inkjet reproduction process seems effortless. Maybe too easy?

When traveling and gallery hopping around some of the country’s epicenters of contemporary art (Los Angeles, Santa FE,  New York), I always try to query photographers and gallery owners on this issue.

They’re quick to point out that price-points for inkjet prints involve a sliding scale. Factors include a  photographer’s reputation, collectability along with the stature and reputation of the gallery, art center, or museum itself who is promoting and selling the work. For the lone photographer, overhead and production cost can seem never-ending. Beyond the artistic and intrinsic value of a photographic print there are travel costs, postproduction time and of course the materials including papers, inks, matting and framing materials. If you’re using museum quality archival materials add another 30%. If you aren’t selling your work direct, then gallery, dealer or representative commissions can slice another 40-60% right off top.

From personal experience and the photographers I’ve talked to, one hears variations on the same theme, “I’m practically giving my work away.”

Creating the ‘One-off’ Appearance
Even though I was finishing my photographs to museum-quality standards, I wasn’t going the extra mile – compared to the effort I put into my paintings. My rationale was the time spent on the painting warranted it – weeks if not months were invested into a single work, depending on the ebb and flow of my motivation or frustration.

It was driven by a financial bottom line. Even the my best inkjet print wasn’t going to match the price point for an original painting. At the end of the day this mindset and the lack of presentation wasn’t helping my medium sized photography prints.

As a side note, I spent most of my career working within the creative services field. A highly competitive commercial realm that resembled a ‘cage fight’ at times. It was a life of pitching clients and always trying to close the deal. It taught all of us in the biz – project managers, production personnel, graphic designers and art directors alike ‘you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression!’

Standardize on Size, Materials and Workflow
Production wise, consistency in inkjet print size, mat size, and frames will be your new best friend. Materials in bulk can be purchased at discounts and your workflow begins to breed a familiarity that increases output. The ‘ole time is money saying never rang truer.

For my one-offs I’m now ‘floating’ the prints (for both paintings and inkjet prints). I like the resulting dimensional look and subtle shadows that showcase the print. Being larger pieces I now exclusively use quality plexiglass. With these sizes, glass is simply too heavy and potentially too fragile.

Backing the print and frame with a fairly neutral colored linen or textured cloth (mounted to a ½” foam core board) adds to the appearance. It’s another real world material added to the mix – a subtle, classy touch that’s content to take a back seat in the overall presentation.

My material list includes:

  • Frames –I’m primarily using hardwood maple frames but at times will use less expensive, painted frames with the same dimensions.
  • 3/16” Plexiglass (UV coated).
  • Inkjet Paper – Epson Hot Press – Bright White 18 ml (deckled by hand). The paintings are produced on pre-deckled 300 lb. Arches watercolor paper.
  • Inkjet Print (float mounting) 1/4” foam core board (use acid free board since this comes into contact with the print).
  • Frame 3/8” Spacer Strip’ for separating Plexiglass from the surface of the Inkjet print.
  • Textured Linen cloth.
  • Mounting foam core board for texture linen cloth is ‘Spray Mounted’ to board. (note: the folding of  the fabric for tight corners is a critical step.
  • Overall assembly backing board (1/4” construction board is fine here)

Finishing Touches by Hand
I was lukewarm for years about the the deckled-edge look but it started to grow on me when I saw examples that were ‘tastefully’ implemented. Small torn edges vs. the larger pronounced ones I’d usually see.

I was never a fan of ‘numbering’ prints as an edition or for that matter giving an image ‘a name’. Vintage prints tradition dictated that a small, humble signature in pencil was the norm. I’ve flipped on these practices and feel these small additions add yet another hand-made touch. If your hand printing technique isn’t up to snuff find a style you like and start practicing. Trade secret: I’ve learned that not all photographers hand print on their own inkjet finals (except for the signature).

Using a One-off to Help Sell your Unframed (smaller) Inkjet Prints
There are dollars to be spent producing a one-off like this, but there is a method to the madness (and potential payoff) to investing into this level of finishing work. You may only need to create one or two for promotion and selling purposes.

The large one-off becomes the draw (or come-on if you will) to sell your individual smaller inkjets versions – all conveniently available to the buying public at an affordable price. A potential buyer may fall in love with the large, pricey original one-off but is offered the option to make a purchase and leave the gallery or store with a smaller, affordable, unmated and unframed version. I utilize this approach for paintings as well. It only takes one but realistically only a small number of patrons are prospects for purchasing a $1,350 one-off. My ‘affordable offering’ includes the smaller inkjet print, hinged to a board with large plastic corners along with an instruction sheet outlining my mat/ framing dimensions – handy for the consumer to take to a framing vendor of their choice. It’s all encased in a archival clear acetate sleeve and packed within two sheets of single weight cardboard.  It’s a pretty clean little presentation in its own right and the same process I use when shipping prints.

A Visually Powerful Alternative to the Expense and Time of Producing a One-off
Let’s change gears regarding presentation and make things easy. GO LARGE – format wise with your inkjet prints through the services of an established printing company. I’ve produced a few 60” x 30” prints and they are one dramatic presentation – pretty much anywhere you hang them. In a corporate office, a retail space, a private residence and certainly in your own living room right behind that couch or yours. A hassle-free solution delivered straight to your door in 3-5 days.

There are plenty of quality inkjet print producers out there. One I’ve had nothing but a great experience with is Bay Photo (thanks KelbyOne). My two favorite large scale offerings are their plexiglass ‘flush mounts’ and the very innovative, portable and durable  XPozer System. A very affordable combination print and wall-hanging system. The innovative shipping packaging even becomes a reusable packing/travel box for yourself or when shipping direct to your customer. Stretch it out, snap the hanging system in place behind the print and it’s on a wall in 15 minutes. Bay Photo’s current pricing for a 60” x 30” print and the hanging system is $173.00 without discounts. At that price you will find the wall space.

Find New Venues for Selling
I’ve done a 180 degree turn with my own photography selling targets. I was regularly entering open art calls, juried shows and showing in some small galleries thinking I’d slowly build some exposure, recognition and eventually sell in those revues. I did have some success with that direction but it was hit and miss. I’m now researching, visiting and evaluating higher end home and office interior furnishings and accessory retailers. Boutique, independent shops that are already in the business of  selling higher priced items. These are locations where large one-offs selling for $1,200 – $1,500 (or more) are right at home (pun intended). Hip and cult restaurants are another good source but in these cases politely grill the restaurant proprietor to make sure their ‘art intent’ is genuine vs. their need to simply fill blank wall space. I’m approaching these retail outlets and offering a 30%-35% commission so there is no commitment on their part regarding an outlay of cash. A consignment proposition and a win, win for both of us.

The game changer in moving away from traditional art outlets is these retail boutiques generate much higher traffic than a small isolated art gallery. In short your work is being seen by more eyes. Eyes that are already in a buying mode. In many cases your small promotional brochures, post cards or business cards can accompany your work in these retail venues as well.  I still enter select competitions but I’m committed to this current path.

Finally, a Short Disclaimer
Just so I can keep faith with my ‘traditional brethren’ of print framers, I’m not advocating tossing the standard of traditional museum quality finishing work under the bus. Bright-white Rising museum board and the forever classic Neilson #11 flat black frame remains a very elegant and proper approach for presenting photographs. It’s time tested, minimal, understated and promotes a familiarity that continues to appeal to photographers, galleries and museums alike. A purist’s approach!

But as I’m learning and accepting (at least for now) perhaps at times, it can be a bit too vanilla for the general art buying public.

Thanks to everyone (who read this far) and hopefully I’ve offered up a thought or tip that will help your own current efforts or future plans.

Mark Wegner is a photographer and painter based in Sonoma County, California. You can see more of his work at MarkWegner.com and connect with him on Facebook.

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