Category Archives Guest Blogger

Love and awe.

Two of my favorite concepts in all of art and Life itself.

Oh, also pithy. I freakin’ love that word. It means: “a language or style that is concise and forcefully expressive.” Yeah, pithy is cool. And fun to say!

Scott Kelby… thank you for providing a place for all three of my favorite things to thrive in uncountable ways. And I don’t just mean for me – I mean for everyone who loves photography and learning. You are indeed a force of nature for Good.

BTW… I still get such positive comments about this episode of “The Chat” (a show I self-produced a few years ago, just for fun), from all the way back in 2014, I wanted to re-share it here. It was a revelation…

Which brings us in perfect full-circle manner back to Love and Awe; two of the most powerful creative forces in the universe.

Photography is Love Made Visible.
That’s a statement, isn’t it? I could also say that “Art” is love made visible. Or creativity, period – if it results in something that is actually visible.

In my opinion, if you want to take a beautiful, defining image that speaks from your soul, you have to fall in love with it. Madly, truly, deeply in love.

A picture is a poem without words.

People sometimes think I’m a little “woo-woo” about all this. They (mistakenly) think I don’t focus on the technical aspects of photography.

Mais non!

At a certain point in my life, I got busy and focused so MUCH on the technical aspects of my photography that it simply doesn’t lead the show anymore. Sufficiently internalized, technique becomes like muscle memory in photography, just as it does in sports. It’s just there, like a car with a full tank of gas, engine humming, waiting to see where to next. Which, in turn, frees you to focus upon the feeling, vision or the message of your art. I call it: Technique in Service of Vision.

Of course,  if a new technique were to present itself that I really wanted to master, then I’d get busy! I’d practice it, repeat it, over and over, till it was embedded into my nervous system, so that I could speak fluently in its language without thinking about it. Only then could I spontaneously create with it.

Mastering technique so you can go do cool stuff with it was basic to every sport and artistic discipline I’ve done to a high level, whether it was acting, singing, figure skating, equestrian sports, downhill skiing, voiceovers. I’m a great believer in “technique will set you free” in most disciplines. But only if it’s set into its proper place; which is “in service of” performing said discipline in a signature fashion – and not as an end unto itself.

Here’s how I see it…  (more…)

It’s six am and I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for an hour trying to figure out how to put onto paper what I want to express with this soap box I’ve been given, by being asked to write this guest blog.

Internally I know what I want to tell you. I know why I’ve been given this opportunity to guest blog for Scott freakin’ Kelby, I created the opportunity by believing that it would happen.

Through this journey of mine, I have been approached by many people thanking me for allowing them the opportunity to feel like they could be themselves and create art that speaks to their soul. 2018 Kelly can’t believe that anyone would feel like they are unable to express themselves and be their authentic self. 2018 Kelly needs to take a step back and remember the path she took to get to this point.

I was where you are right now….

I know sometimes you’re scared and you feel like you are not enough. I’ve been there. There are so many amazing photographers and SO MUCH beautiful work.

The question of how will you find your niche and create amazing art probably runs through your mind like a railcar… I know there are so many moments when you feel fear. 

Fear of failure

Fear that your goals won’t be achieved

Fear of stepping outside of the box

I know this, because I have dealt with those emotions for as long as I can remember.

Before I started focusing on how my internal dialog affected my every day life, I was a mess.


My childhood was not an easy one, and I used those experiences to make excuses for my drama, my emotions and– at times– my negative attitude.

I told myself it was okay to lack confidence and doubt myself because I had heard it so often as a child.

I allowed myself to be taken advantage of and allowed my creative and internal voice to be muffled to accommodate other people’s agendas because I was afraid if I created something weird or out of the ordinary, people wouldn’t like me.

There was a time, not long ago, when I would be riddled with jealousy every time someone succeeded in a way I wanted to succeed.

You’ve felt it, too, haven’t you?

It was easy to find reasons to diminish their accomplishments and make myself feel better for not existing in a space where I felt successful and happy. 

I recoiled at questions regarding my photography and art in fear of them stealing a piece of my pie, and the possibility of someone else moving ahead and creating the reality I wanted.

But that way of thinking was not projecting my passions forward…it was holding me back.

I knew I wasn’t happy, and that artistically I wasn’t even close to where I wanted to be. I needed a change, so I began engaging with others in a positive way. Even if they had negative feedback, I would try to answer and explain in the most loving way I could. Meditation and focusing on my spirituality became a driving force in my creativity, and to this day I feel out of sorts if I miss a day of self contemplation and personal focus. I realized how little effort I put into self preservation and happiness.

Every morning I set my intention for the day, and even though I may get derailed from time to time, try to live in the most positive way I can.

You don’t have to be scared. I know this because I have seen the proof in my own life and career over and over in the last three years and it has changed every aspect of who I am.

Through this journey, I consistently resonate with the belief that we create our own reality and that we have the ability to create the life we choose.

This has been a driving force throughout my entire life.

It wasn’t until I took the time to focus and realize it, that it truly changed my life.

Not long ago, the certainty of this showed itself to me.

March 2017 I created a mock-up of my art on a wall. The images were huge, and in a gallery-like atmosphere.

I felt an overwhelming sense of pride when I looked at that image.

I hung it at my desk and told everyone that within the year, it would become a reality. I was well-aware that it would be no small task, as it was crazy and completely out of the realm of what my reality would allow in that moment.

Fast forward to April 2018 I walked into the studio of RGG EDU to film my retouching tutorial, having had no input into the set that was created, the aesthetic, or the set up. That was one of the most jaw dropping, awe inspiring, amazing moments of my life.

Everything I had intended to happen was literally right in front of me.

Now, I’m not saying that you just need to print out an image, stick it on your wall and it will become a truth. It simply comes down to what your subconscious truly believes.

Have faith in yourself and your abilities. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? I still struggle with self doubt, self esteem issues and at times, negative talk. The difference is that I’m aware of how those feelings impact my subconscious, and that those feelings will attract more negativity into my life.

There is enough to go around.  I had to put aside my fear of sharing my knowledge and my fear that others would succeed in place of me, and realize that there is enough for everyone. That is definitely not an easy feeling to overcome, but once you realize the impact of sharing what you’ve learned and how you’ve accomplished it can have on others, it makes it a bit easier. 

Lending a hand and sharing our knowledge only helps to bring about amazing things, incredible people and abundance into our lives. What you do for others, you do for yourself.

Set goals. Focus and decide what you want to achieve. Understand why you want to achieve your goal and start looking for ways to get it done. Don’t wait for life to happen.

Be nice people. I don’t think this needs much explanation. Life is too short, and there is too much beauty to allow negativity into our lives. React with kindness, compassion and love always.

I want to tell you that its ok to be weird, strange and kooky, I’ll still like you! 

It’s okay if your art doesn’t fit into a box.

Rules are boring. 

Your thoughts become things—you are a product of those thoughts and it will show itself in your work. So be positive, work hard and believe that you can have the life you want.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader” – John Quincy Adams

Inspire others….become the leader!

You can see more of Kelly’s work at, and keep up with her on Etsy, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.


Hello everyone! For this guest blog post (thank you Scott and Brad for the wonderful invite to contribute!), folks are probably hoping to eek out some super slick tips and tricks about compositing, both for shooting and editing alike (and I’ll definitely deliver on those—I promise!).

But I also wanted to get a bit more philosophical about the nature of compositing and its greater possibilities and implications in my own life’s grand composite—and perhaps yours as well.

For those that could care less about the musings and meandering background of a super Photoshop wizard/nerd and just want the goods, feel free to jump down to the header “Five Tips for Shooting and Editing Composite Images” (you’re welcome :-)!

For everyone else feeling either a bit more curious, pensive, or similarly introspective, please read on!

Put Daddy Down, Please

Like creating any new image, I like to start at the beginning with sketches of the process and figure out some kind of endgame. So here we go with a medley of biography, discovery, and realization—but first, an overview!

Filtering and searching way way back, some of my earliest memories are of making art with computers—and after teaching Photoshop for over a decade at the university and college level (yes, big time-leap there!), and writing two books on compositing in Photoshop, I realize the lens through which I perceive the world and life in general has been forever altered. It’s helped me shape my own creative direction. As my (nearly) six year old son now describes his dreams to me in terms of Photoshop tools and features (and accurately I might add!), I see that my focus has even spilled (just a bit) onto my family as well (sorry, family!).

I also realize that I’ve always been a compositor in life—or at least a collector, editor, and creator in some form for nearly my entire 33 years of being. I also believe that we all are compositors to some extent, whether or not we realize it; after all, life is essentially one mega composite we piece together one experience, moment, scar, and laugh at a time… I know, deeeep, right?

But seriously, there is a lot to be said about having a creative career concept, a goal, and using the pieces you have at hand (some garbage and some pure gold)—and seeking out or creating the ones for the concept we’re after. Yes, this is one big “compositing is a box-of-chocolates” life metaphor/story (please excuse the metaphor merge here). So for those interested in going a bit deeper into these layers, here’s a bit of my own composited story… And no, it does not start with a floating feather picked up by Tom Hanks—but that was a pretty damn good composited intro for its time!

A Little Personal History Panel
Scrolling way back again into my own childhood, I was doomed to be an artist from the onset. Starting with lining beans up into a perfectly (obsessively) straight line on some craft paper, my mother had me pegged at only a year or so of age. I believe her gardening journal for that day read something prophetic such as, “he’s definitely doomed to be an artist.” Okay, she probably did not use the word “doomed” but the realization was definitely meta tagged in there.

And while my mom was hobbit level earthy, my dad was equally Tron level nerdy as he ran his own “cutting-edge” computer business in the 80s. Dual custody between the two was like going back and forth from PC to Mac every week—blast you Ctrl vs Cmd!

However, when living with my dad on his week with me, I had access to gadgets such as those early scanners (the kind you had to hand roll over your images with) and the very first digital art applications. I discovered that when bored enough, there was definitely quite a bit you could do with nothing more than a pencil tool and paint bucket.

I was constantly inspired with the fantasy garden dreamland of my mom’s place and was jacked into the Grid at my dad’s. This all happened with a backdrop of living near Yosemite as my non-virtual backyard. This combination made for some interesting early digital art to say the least! Hidden metaphor tip in this—pick out an interesting background if you can.

Fantasy Landscape featuring some good old archived Yosemite imagery. Mac OS is not the only one that gets inspiration from this place!

Learn From Failure And Success
Unfortunately though, my first memory of inspirational and creative failure hit deep (definitely a destructive edit). Apparently the local county fair art competition judges did not understand digital art of any kind (there was definitely no category for it in the early 90s). I suppose I can dismiss my “honorable mention” non-award award, in that I was perhaps a bit too ahead of my time as the crayon drawn house with a crappy looking rainbow took first place that year. Solid play on that kid’s part though—and it’s a good thing I’m still not bitter about it… because that would be one strange snapshot of childhood to travel around with waiting to use as a background to motivation.

Speaking of which, these are all literal (mental) pictures in my life I that have inserted into a number of life compositions and choices. Some imagery we just have with us, and it shapes what we can do with it, who we are, and where we’re going with the pieces. My mental archive to this day is my most cherished inspirational material. Sometimes for texture, narrative, concept, or adding some atmosphere—or revenge! Check out my composite from ten or so years ago (notice the house with a rainbow? Take that, first place-winner kid from childhood!).

Rainbow’s End, a fantasy composite of over 200 layers created from my own photography archive back in 2008.


Commonplaces – Surreal From The Real

I’m a big believer in story. Several years ago I made a 365 Project that was all storytelling based, because it’s a topic that really intrigues me. I love creating photographic stories. I find storytelling inspiration through studying paintings and painters of the past. Norman Rockwell has allowed me to see things differently in this world. His illustrations show an idealized version of life, the world as he wanted it to be.

“Commonplaces never become tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative. We find that it is not a new scene which is needed, but a new viewpoint.” Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell used photographs to help him tell stories.  His images started with a concept, were photographed by photographers he worked with, and then through a combination of tracing and his incredible painting techniques, he created the finished image. This is what I try to do with my work through Photoshop and compositing. I create several images and then arrange them in a way that allows me to layer them and create the story I want to tell. I am a photographer (because by no means do I have amazing artistic painting technique) but the key is where you start with a composite. You and I start at the same place as good ol’ Norman, with a story in mind. Trust him, he’s a genius of using common places and common people to tell simple stories with emotion and paused action.

The simpler the story the better: Norman’s paintings were detailed, but the action was always simple.

Story is how we relate to one another in visual or literary ways. In my opinion it’s what gives a photograph purpose. What story do you want to tell? That is the first question we all struggle with in our work. Headshots need to tell a story of trust or peacefulness, or warmth, or coldness for that matter (think about the actor who plays a villain). In Rockwell’s paintings it was usually a look that told the whole story. What are we trying to convey to our viewer? How can we create an image that others can relate to in their own lives? How can that most simply be conveyed? These are some of the questions I ask myself when developing a new piece.

There are so many questions that it can become overwhelming when trying to start a story. Start simply. Take a moment, stare at the clouds, sniff some orange peels, whatever you do for inspiration, then take out a sheet of paper. Yup. Paper. Write down a couple of thoughts you have about what you’d like to do in a photograph or composite. Figure out a story to place into that image. When starting I try to find the following:

  • A ubject (person, place, or thing)
  • An emotion
  • A location
  • A reason for them to all be there together

Look around the room right now. There are objects there; choose one object. Think of any emotion. The location is the room you are in right now. You are the subject. How do you interact with that object and why? Just try it for a second. You’ll have an idea. You may think it’s crummy or dumb or genius. Any of those thoughts are okay to have right now. Just choose one…be it silly, serious, playful, or any number of things. Look at this list of emotions below to find one if you need help.

After choosing subject, object, location, and an emotion, I draw up a little sketch of what I’ve come up with and see if it is feasible to do. Below are some simple sketches for a 365 Self Portrait Project I did awhile back and what they became. 

This is how they turned out in the end.  They aren’t identical, but they are pretty close to what I had been thinking when I designed them. 

Subjects: Male and cloud
Object: Leash
Emotion: Contentment

High Stakes
Subjects: Gamblers
Emotion: L to R – Concern, frustration, frustration, elation
Objects: Money
Location: Casino

Tips For A Better Story… Find The Paused Action
This is one of my secrets for compelling imagery; find the moment with your subject where they are in the middle of a compelling emotion. Viewers of art like creating their own stories based on our imagery. It is compelling to guess what is happening next in a visual story. Miss the apex of the emotion, just before or just after, and we are told too much or too little about what is happening in the scene. Allow people’s minds to fill in the gaps. Try to find examples of this in some of Rockwell’s paintings and then make it happen in your own work.

Some other examples of when I was inspired to do this is when I was living in NYC. I was living in a small apartment and found inspiration there all the time even in one room. Below are some of the concepts I used in one location and changed my viewpoint to shake up the way I saw the same room. 

All 17 of the above images were done in the same room. Look up, look down, look around a corner; different concepts, different emotions and different props can entirely change a story. Usually I didn’t spend money on props, it was all what I had in the room at the time (I’m weird, I know). 

Most of these are based on an emotion of some sort: sadness, surprise, wonder, relaxation, terror, loneliness, etc. Through changing the subject, emotion, or lighting, I was able to completely change the story.

Norman Rockwell has allowed me to see things differently in this world.  His illustrations show an idealized version of life, the world as he wanted it to be. This is what I try to do with my work, albeit in a different way. What does the world look like through your eyes? What commonplace object, location, or subject that you encounter every day could contain the most extraordinary image if you looked at it slightly differently? What if you added a different subject, a random prop or a different emotion? 

Be curious. Be appreciative. Show others the way you see the world, one story at a time.

Thank you Scott for inviting to share my view of photography and Photoshop. Your introduction into this world gave me my inspiration to become what I’ve become today.

If you have any questions feel free to reach out and ask! Find Kirk on Instagram, check out his photography at, and check him out at!

Creating a Cohesive Portfolio
As a photo agent I am constantly looking at photographers’ work, and after 20 years in business, I have seen what it takes to become, and stay a successful photographer.

A couple months ago, I created a list of the “Top 10 Secrets to Success” on AskSternRep for photographers, and this was #1:

“Create a cohesive body of work with a consistent look. KNOW WHO YOU ARE AS A PHOTOGRAPHER.”

This is such an important topic that I wanted do an in depth article on it.

What does it mean to create a cohesive body of work?
Have a statement.  Know who you are as an artist and thread your style and voice into everything you create. And when you test, each “ingredient” in a shoot can be part of how you create this “stamp”; the lighting, the environments you choose, the kind of talent you use, the subject matter, even the emotion or storyline. Each element lends itself to creating your particular flavor + style.

Every image in your portfolio should look like it is STAMPED with your name on it. It should look like your work and be recognizable as yours. If it isn’t, take it out. And if it looks like it could be 17 other photographers’ images – dump it!

Your portfolio is not your resume, it is your COVER LETTER. It shows who you are and what you would bring to the party. There is no need to showcase every image you have ever taken. Show only the best, and show the images that project boldly, “this is who I am, this is what I do!”

A photographer’s portfolio gets the job, not 1 image. 

The main marketing goal for any rep or photographer is to be easily findable by a client, when a client is looking to hire someone. We put ourselves in places that will help them see us. And one thing that we can do to help increase our visibility is hone in on that specialty and build a robust portfolio of work around it. We need to cover an entire topic like “fitness” or “hospitality” with a series of images as one stand alone image is not going to be enough.

The most important element to this branded “stamped” look of your portfolio is to showcase the work you want to be doing, not just the work you have done in the past. The goal here is to show not only a cohesive body of work but with that, focusing on showing the kind of work you really want more of, and in that way, making an impact which your future clients remember.

Find out more about SternRep at, keep up with them on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, and find photo career advice on @AskSternRep!

Don’t Let Your Love of Photography DIE!

As someone who has been working as a photographer and videographer in the wedding industry for over 20 years, I’ve been able to witness a lot of the exciting changes the industry has gone through in the last 2 decades. As the digital age has emerged, it has brought with it a myriad of possibilities that were previously unthinkable, and democratized the camera as a tool for everyday use by the common person.

Motion picture quality videos are now commonplace in the video realm, new software has made it easier for us to easily stylize our photos in similar ways to a professional retoucher, other automation breakthroughs have made handling client interactions more efficient, and designing books and ordering prints have never been easier.

However, despite the reality of these exciting possibilities, many professionals who have been part of the game for a while sometimes experience the weight of an inexplicable loss of love for the craft. What can be done to keep the love of creativity alive?

When my wife and I got married in 1998, a wedding photographer was one of a few magical individuals who knew how to operate a mysterious box with a lot of confusing dials and buttons called a camera – something that 99% of the population couldn’t do with any consistency. If you were looking for one and happened to find a good one, you had essentially found a unicorn in a field of four leaf clovers.

Knowing this, I rewarded the photographers who shot our wedding handsomely for their work, and have never regretted it for a single day. The photos taken and the memories captured that day are among some of the most valuable possessions I have ever owned.  I have always loved the idea of being a creative, and to make a living doing so. I thought I could make a go of it as a photographer, and took my first steps in my photography journey then.

Fast forward 20 years, and I find myself in the industry as a full-time wedding photographer! It wasn’t instantaneous, but I did manage to create a successful and sustainable business, and have had the pleasure of creating wedding imagery and preserving the memories for people all over the world. Though the years I’ve also had my own experiences with burnout, boredom, and disinterest in photography, even as the photography business was running on all cylinders.

As I reflected, I soon remembered the reason I got into all of this in the first place – I love photography!  I just needed to make sure that I could continue to feel that way for the long haul.

If you think you’re falling out of love with photography, or at least your photography business, here are a few things that I think might help you keep your inner photography child alive!  Apply each with the supervision of an adult:

Don’t Look At Photography Similar To Your Own For Inspiration!
Looking at your friends’ and competitors’ work is not going to be as helpful as inspiring as you think. You’ll probably either end up being jealous, or even worse, you might copy them! I might suggest exploring in other places: Photojournalism, Landscape, Fashion, Commercial, Nature, even Cosplay! Let other genres of photography inject your work with new ideas and inspiration!

Expose Yourself To Other Genres Of Art
I love movies, and I am constantly in awe of the craftsmen who help put the images onscreen. Why not take your visual inspiration from one of your favorite filmmakers? Some of my favorites: Terry Gilliam, Christopher Nolan, Wong Kar Wai, Cinematographer Roger Deakins, AMC’s Mad Men, Film Noir, Stanley Kubrick, etc. Not into film? Check out your local museum and spend the day there amongst the paintings.

Unless you’re an Instagram star or a millennial with a rich father, I wouldn’t gut your entire savings on a trip around the world, but getting outside your area of familiarity and taking your camera out for some exercise is good the soul (and the body).

Attend A Workshop!
You certainly don’t know everything, so taking class from someone who is good might help you ‘see’ from a new perspective. You’re never too old or too good to learn something new!

Shoot Your Loved Ones
Our images of our families, special events, family and friends long gone – they are amongst our most precious possessions! Help yourself or someone you care about capture their important moments – you’ll never ask yourself why you’re a photographer again.

Don’t let your love grow cold! Always be looking for new ways and new methods to nurturing that relationship with your camera and the craft of photography, and she will love you back!

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