Category Archives Guest Blogger

The Intrigue of Complexity

Art seems rarely achieved through complex techniques, hidden features or secret workflows. This is particularly true in the digital era where the distraction of the software itself can make the creative process become stymied in menus and self-doubt regarding using the program to its fullest potential. Add to this a steep learning curve inherent in the current transition to digital photography and you have a situation where “tricks” can effect results more than vision.

Any state of technology in flux, and in demand, also produces many willing to share their expertise. The seduction of photography as a career, combined with the vast reach of the internet, has produced a unique opportunity for those interested in a platform from which to pontificate, some well informed, some anxious to be noticed. It could be said that my words here are such a platform.

My concern is the level of distraction I am seeing in people struggling to understand this new medium of digital photography. I’ve seen people expend hours and hundreds of dollars pursuing complex solutions to problems that really didn’t exist. They were sure though, that they had to follow some special path because they read it on the internet, usually from someone with little or no reputation as a photographer or educator. These “special techniques” are often employed before an understanding of Photoshop’s built-in capabilities are understood, adding inexperience to sometimes questionable information, wasting aspiring photographers’ money, time, and more importantly, their emotional commitment which can be heavily impacted from great effort and less than remarkable results.

Contributing to this seems to be a conspiracy of unrealistic expectations. Manufacturers often contribute to this by promising print sizes well beyond their camera’s resolution capability. The seduction of big prints from moderate files leads many to lower their image quality expectations, rather than raise image quality, which is what I think can happen with digital imagery. There is a reason large-format cameras have traditionally been used, to achieve large prints with great detail. That really hasn’t changed. Also contributing is the “Tips and Tricks” mentality that has permeated the Photoshop experience since the early 1990s. Solid image editing is far less about secrets, trickery, hidden features and shortcuts, than it is about starting with a strong photograph, knowing your goals, and methodically working toward them. Craft is not tricky; it is most often plain hard work and care.

In the same sense that many software packages have promised to transform photographs into “art” (without even realizing the insult that statement carries), many workflows, plug-ins and Photoshop Actions now promise truly innovative and professional results if only you will use their stuff instead of the mere pre-packaged Photoshop capabilities. While there is real innovation and sophisticated interaction with digital images made easier by many of these offerings, far more seem to be distracting users from the real issues at hand--making better photographs, heartfelt and strongly seen. There is a presumption that one can process a photograph into significance. Editing rarely creates beauty and saturation controls are not beauty sliders.

More energy seems to be expended on editing the photograph in Photoshop than spending time making the photograph. If a day ends with hundreds of images having been made, you are either in the midst of exploding events, in a place beautiful and complex almost beyond belief, or possibly you are being haphazard in your making of photographs, hoping for one or two to be successful. Casually seen photographs are usually casually appreciated at best. Intensity and strength far more often comes from time spent and care expended.

I would strongly urge people to see simply, and edit simply. Your photographs are your asset, much more so than your Photoshop skills. Those image-editing skills may well be critical to your craft, but they are secondary to your photographic vision. “Fix it in Photoshop” is a prescriptive attitude that often leads to making images not worth investing time trying to salvage through image editing.

Stephen Johnson is a photographer, designer and teacher. His photographic work has concentrated on landscape projects – exploring wild, endangered spaces, and human altered lands, while focusing on soft color and abstract design. He has also worked on refining the new tools of digital photography with the hope of empowering individual artists to use these tools to express their ideas. He has been teaching photography workshops since 1978, digital imaging since 1989, and served as a consultant and advisor to many of the companies involved in the development of digital imaging including Adobe Systems, Agfa, Apple Computer, Eastman Kodak, Epson, Foveon, Gretag-Macbeth, Hewlett Packard, Leaf Systems, Microsoft and X-rite. He is the author of five books, including his seminal “Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography” in 2006. He was named into the Photoshop Hall of Fame in 2003 and by Canon as an Explorer of Light in 2006. For more info, click here.

A couple of weeks ago Scott proposed a simple, seductive idea: Why doesn’t Adobe simply let users tell us what they want, then pick the top X features from their list & agree to implement them? Seems like the most obvious thing in the world, doesn’t it?


“The customer is always right”–right? And yet I’m reminded of a pair of quotations:


  • “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” — Wayne Gretzky
  • “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” — Henry Ford


Democracy, in product development, is not a recipe for innovation. (Think the original iMac & its missing floppy drive were the product of democracy?) Groupthink produces evolution, not revolution. It may well be a recipe for customer satisfaction, at least to some degree, and we don’t discount it. But it’s not enough.


If you’re using Photoshop every day for work, you’re likely concerned with getting the next job done & putting bread on the table. You know the handful of changes you’d like to see made & why they’d make a difference. That’s cool, and we care–a lot. But you’re probably much less concerned with pondering the program in the abstract, thinking about how all the pieces connect & how it could be made holistically better.


That’s where we come in. My job is to talk to people from across the insanely diverse range of those who use Photoshop–and some who don’t, but who we think should–and to figure out the “next next” thing.


Let me give you an example from Photoshop’s history. It’s hard to imagine now, but for many years Photoshop supported only a single level of undo. Customers rightly clamored for multiple undos. They didn’t ask, however, for the History palette, much less the History Brush, snapshots, and related other features. It’s possible that the PS team (of which I wasn’t a part until later) could have delivered a simple, straightforward multiple undo system sooner than they did. By looking beyond the immediate requests however–by really thinking about what we needed, not just requested–they were able to deliver real breakthroughs that remain unmatched more than 10 years later.


Simply doing what your customers say carries significant risks. For one thing, it tends to paint you into a corner: you add ever-tweakier refinements for the same vocal group, neglecting the customers you don’t have (but whom you need in order to grow). For another, what customers say they want and what they actually need often differ. James Surowiecki nails it: “The strange truth about feature creep is that even when you give consumers what they want they can still end up hating you for it.”


Our job is to strike a balance, offering a mix of sizzle (“Oh my God,” only-in-Photoshop breakthroughs) and steak (sigh-of-relief, block-and-tackle stuff) while working like hell to enable the “next next” things.


It’s frustrating that laying plumbing for the future often takes a number of years during which progress isn’t visible. In the meantime we’re vulnerable to the perception that “Adobe just doesn’t get it; see, they haven’t touched filter X in ages…” It’s of course not obvious that we’re toiling away behind the scenes, working on, say, a fast-as-hell filter mechanism, or on changes that will make Photoshop massively more configurable and task-based over time. These things take a while. (I’m reminded of the line, “It might look like I’m doing nothing, but at the cellular level, I’m really quite busy.”)


If we didn’t invest for the future, however–if we just did what people request–we’d shortchange customers in the long run. It’s worth withholding short-term fixes in order to deliver what we know people really want and need, albeit sometimes a little later.


Now, turning to the Top 10 list of requested features that Scott posted on Monday, I’ll toss out a few thoughts:


  • Points 2 & 4 (both requesting filters as adjustment layers) are seductive, but very tricky. When the CS3 public beta launched, I wrote up a detailed piece called The Secret Life of Smart Filters, in which I explain why we specifically didn’t implement what people say they want–namely, filters as adjustment layers. Short story: We try not to put big “Hurt Me” buttons into Photoshop. Read my post for more background.


  • Point 8 says, “Make everything ‘Smart’ by default.” Ah–another one where many devils are in the details. Kill a few brain cells reading my discussion of Simplicity vs. Power to learn about the challenges of non-destructiveness in Photoshop. In any case, though, point taken: it’s important to make “best practices” the norm, and for that we have to grind away the remaining rough edges. This is far from an overnight change, but we are working on it.


  • It’s interesting that faster performance didn’t rate higher on the list. On the one hand, I’d like to take this as a good sign that our work in CS3 to speed up Photoshop’s launch time, take advantage of multi-core systems, etc. has paid off & that people are happy. On the other, there’s no such thing as “too fast,” and quicker performance is the best possible feature: there’s nothing to learn. Therefore I think all the muscle we’re pouring into R&D to leverage graphics hardware acceleration & 64-bit computing will make folks happy.


  • Much to my eternal frustration (and probably yours), we’ll never have enough time to implement even 10% of the good ideas that come our way. That’s why I’ve championed extensibility: let’s make it radically easier to customize & build upon Photoshop. I got an earful when I talked about using Flash to extend the Photoshop UI, but that’s because people haven’t seen what it’ll enable. (I can at least tell you that Scott likes what’s planned–a lot.) I have a lot of faith that if we make it ridiculously easy to tune the application and share one’s work, we’ll unleash a new wave of innovators. Let the Photoshop Nation rock out.


  • Matt Kloskowski made a number of good suggestions, but I have to push back on two things. One, I think translucent interface elements generally suck: they make it harder to see both what you’re adjusting and the controls for adjusting it. (Remember the hard-to-read menus in early OS X, the maligned translucent menu bar in Leopard, or the pointlessly blurry window borders in Vista?) Note that this is different from offering in-context, on-canvas adjustment tools. Two, the answer to old & suckful dialog boxes isn’t “make the dialogs better.” Rather, it’s “kill the dialogs.” Photoshop should do more things non-modally, previewing right on the canvas, more as they’re done in Camera Raw, Lightroom, and After Effects.


I’ve rambled on long enough, I think, but I hope I’ve provided at least a little useful perspective. Thanks for all the suggestions, and to Scott & co. for organizing the survey and giving me a chance to post here. It’s an honor, a battle, and a pleasure to wrestle with the challenges of trying to make Photoshop into just what you want and need.


Thanks for listening,



PS–Oh, and by the way, lest I forget: yes, we’re changing the default stroke color to black. Just thought you’d want to know. :-)


If I could design/redesign Photoshop’s dialogs and palettes

Hi everyone. I’d like to first thank Scott for having me as a guest today and I’d like to thank you for giving some of the most valuable asset you have – time. To that end, let’s get right to it. There’s two aspects to this post. The first is very passive – you sit and read and look at my ideas. But the second part is very much active. See, I’ve created a PSD file with all the makings of a skeleton dialog box in Photoshop. You can try your hand at making your own and share them with everyone. More on that later though.

If you’ve ever read Scott’s Photoshop Channels Book you’d have seen that he totally redesigned the Calculations adjustment dialog to one that is a little easier to understand. I remember seeing it and thinking what a neat idea it was. Since then, every once in a while we’ll kick around ideas at the office about how we’d design or layout a dialog or palette or even ideas for new dialogs we have. Well, I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is and actually design them as well as share them with thousands of people. It could be a smashing success or a huge failure but I have to say I had a total blast doing it. Let’s take a look:

1. Layer Style Dialog – Set as Default button

I’m kicking it off with an oldie but a goodie. One simple button added to one dialog would make such a huge difference. Yep, the Layer Style dialog. Lots of people poke fun at it – especially the default red color for the Stroke setting. But there’s lots of other little things in there that don’t look right either. Like the Drop Shadow. It’s default settings are too fake for most applications and if you don’t change them then you can spot your fake Photoshop drop shadow a mile away. But here’s the thing. I don’t think it’s Adobe’s responsibility to predict the settings we like best. They’ve got enough on their plate. We all like something different and there is absolutely no way that they’ll please everyone. You can bet that as soon as they change the default red stroke, the community of “Red Stroke Lovers” will cry out like you wouldn’t believe. So I propose this. Add one simple button to the dialog that always stays in the same place – Set As Default. That way, when I’m messing around and I come up with a combination I like I just click “Set As Default”. Next time I go in there, those are the settings that I see first. If I need to change ’em I can, or I can set new defaults if I prefer. Either way, we all win. Adobe doesn’t have to worry about pleasing everyone with their choices and we are freed of the dreaded red stroke and fake drop shadows.{guestmattk} Layer Style

2. File > Automate > The Watermarker

This is one of my favorites. Seriously, think of the hoops you have to jump through right now to watermark a folder of images. First you need to create an action. One that watermarks regardless of width and height. Oh yeah, throw resolution into there as well and good luck coming up with ONE action that does it all. Then, you need to know how to use the Batch dialog which really isn’t that hard but when you couple it with the fact that you need to make an action it’s just too much for a task that photographers and designers on the web absolutely need these days. So my dialog is affectionately known as The Watermarker (you have to say it in a deep radio announcer voice though – with reverb preferably). I know, the name is kind of lame but it makes sense. It’s very similar to the Image Processor. You choose which images you want to watermark and then where you want to save them. Next you pick what formats you want to save in and whether or not you need to resize (which for web you would). Finally, you choose your watermark style. The default is just a big copyright symbol. However, you can choose text or even select your own logo. Then you can control the size of the watermark as well as where you want it placed. It even has a nice big preview.the-watermarker2.jpg

3. Camera Raw Palette

This one is simple in nature but very likely extremely difficult in implementation. Doesn’t mean I can’t dream though. See, if I work on a raw photo, I’d like to not go back out to another dialog to adjust something in the raw settings. I’d love to have a little palette or dialog right there in Photoshop that I can adjust and have my image update. I realize this is totally crazy and defies the laws of everything raw but you never know what those Adobe engineers can pull off. They’re some of the best in the world and if anyone can do it I bet they can. Think about this… 5 years ago, did you ever think you’d be able to do non-destructive retouching and selective edits on a raw file? Probably not, but if you take a look at Lightroom 2 beta you’ll see it’s happening today. {guestmattk} Camera Raw

4. Blend Mode Dialog/Palette

This is probably one of the oddest dialogs I’ve designed. Mainly because I can’t exactly tell why I want it but I really think i do. I’ve always thought it was a pain to have to cycle through all the blend modes in the Layers palette. Then, what happens if you find 2 that you like and want to compare them. You really have no way of seeing them next to each other. So I thought up a little icon that you could click on the layer in the layers palette. This would pop open the Blend Mode Viewer window or dialog. Then you could see all of them in one place. I’ve also reordered them to put the most useful at the top and even left a few out. And you’d be able to see a larger view of the current selection at the top of the dialog. It’s a big dialog I know but I’d love some type of blend mode helper. blendmode.jpg

5. Grunge Filter

Let’s face it. Grunge has been around since the 90’s (made popular by rock bands that didn’t shower and wore flannel shirts that could practically walk around themselves they hadn’t been washed in so long), and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere. Especially when it comes to Photoshop. For years we’ve had to come up with these convoluted ways to create this effect so I’ve decided to create my own Grunge Filter. Complete with a Basic option which lets you set your Amount of grunge and an Advanced option that let’s you really drill down into the texture and settings. But it goes beyond Grunge. I think the concept of adding some trendy filters could really be cool here. If there’s a new, hip, stylish trend out there then go ahead and add it as a filter (or whatever). It’s a way to keep Photoshop a little edgier and remove the need for folks to apply 7 filters at a time to achieve a popular effect. {guestmattk} Grunge Basic{guestmattk} Grunge Advanced

6. Resize Handle for Filters

Here’s a really quick one. While I’m on the topic of Filters, I had another thought – adding a resize handle to the filter dialog box that resizes the whole thing. That way, if you want a large preview and you have the screen real estate for it then go for it. If not, then you can keep it sized down. Again, it’s one of those things that puts the control in our hands so some one else doesn’t have to decide what screen size we have or how large we like our dialogs. {guestmattk} Resize

7. Semi-transparent and get-out-of-the-way dialogs

This one applies to everything. I’d really like for my dialogs to be semi-transparent like iPhoto’s are. That way I can see what I’m working on if one gets in the way. I’d also like them to scoot, or disappear or just plain get out of the way as my selection tool or brush comes close to it so I can continue working without having to stop and move the dialog. That’s more of a functional thing then it is a redesign thing and it’s really hard to show in a static graphic but I thought I’d see if I could sneak one past ya :) {guestmattk} See-Thru

7b. A Dark Interface and Dialogs

Keeping with the same theme of making the interface look cooler, I’d love to see a gray or black Lightroom-like interface. I know that’s really pushing it but think of how cool Photoshop would look if it were black!dark-interface.jpg8. White Balance adjustment layerI’d also like to see a White Balance adjustment layer. Personally, I use Camera Raw and Lightroom but so many folks out there don’t. I think the White Balance selector tool as well as the presets and sliders in Camera Raw work really well for color correction. Plus, the addition of having this as an adjustment layer would give us a mask which means we can selectively edit parts of the photo instead of everything. And I really like Lightroom’s implementation of the White Balance selector. When you hover over a part of the photo, the preview shows you what it would look like if you selected that point as the neutral gray point. It takes a lot of the trial and error away from color correction. We could simply use the image preview in the dialog for just that purpose. It would constantly update as I dragged the eyedropper around the photo. whitebalance3.jpg

9. Black and White Dialog (Like variations but with an Advanced tab)

I really like the way the Smart Sharpen filter is laid out and I especially like the Basic/Advanced tabs. I think it would be great to see this concept carried over to other dialogs. Not necessarily to dumb them down though. I like the fact that those who don’t know or need all of the advanced settings can just move a slider or click a thumbnail (knowing full well, they won’t have control over the effects). But then those that really know the details can drill into the Advanced tab. I also like the idea behind the Variations adjustment a lot. Basically you just click the one that looks better. So I propose marrying the two in the Black and White adjustment dialog and maybe even in some other dialogs as well. In the Basic tab, you just click the one you like. In the Advanced tab (which looks like the B&W adjustment does now), you have full access to all the sliders to mix the B&W any way you want. {guestmattk} Black and White Basic{guestmattk} Black and White Advanced

10. Before/After View

This one is a bit more of an interface change then a palette or dialog. However, I think we’re in dire need of it so I wanted to include a quick design on how to get it in there. Right now, there’s really no easy way to see a before/after view of your image. I’d like to see the Before view be the image as it was when I first opened it in Photoshop and the After be the point where I’m at now. You could toggle between seeing the before/after view side by side, side by side split, or top to bottom. Even if it were just a button I could press to momentarily show me the before image that would be great. Anything is better then having to go to the History palette to see it now. beforeafter2.jpg


Yep, you’re not getting away that easy. You have a little homework here and you get to pick on what level you want to contribute. 1) Just leave a comment here on the site as to which one(s) are your favorites (if any). 2) I’ve included a PSD file for you to download. It has all the makings of a skeleton dialog box. Download it and make your own. I’ve even got instructions on what font to use in it to make yours look like Adobe’s do. Then a) Upload it to the flickr site I created for these dialogs (or your own website if you’d like) and. b) Leave a comment here telling us about the dialog you created and a link to the flickr/web page where it’s at. I know it involves some work but I (and I’m sure everyone else out there) would love to see some of the things you guys come up with.

– Here’s the PSD file.

Here’s a link to the Flickr website group for these dialogs (

Well folks, that ends my guest blogger day here on Scott’s blog. Thanks again to Scott and everyone who reads and comments here at the blog. Take care! – Matt Kloskowski


What It Takes to be a Complete Wedding Photographer

It’s Friday and a quick check of the calendar reminds you of what you already knew – you have a big wedding on Saturday. How do you react to the calendar reminder – is it just another darn wedding, or is it news that fires you up with the photographic possibilities of the day. Many photographers I meet are pretty excited about being involved in wedding photography. But too many other photographers I have met over the years answer with a negative attitude, and that is just too bad. Too bad for them and too bad for the client who has hired someone who may not put their heart and soul into the job.

What makes a good wedding photographer, or better yet, what makes a complete wedding photographer? What do I mean by complete wedding photographer? I mean a photographer who is involved enthusiastically from the first consultation till final delivery of the product with his/her client. I mean a photographer that’s on top of their form both artistically and creatively. I mean a photographer who understands the craft of the profession as much as the art. I mean a photographer who brings their heartfelt passion to the profession, to the event and to the client – they love what they do.

I watched on TV as Tiger Woods played in the U.S. Open this past Saturday, Sunday, and Monday – yes, finally winning on Monday. From one stroke back he tied the leader with a very long birdie putt on the 18th hole Sunday evening – his last opportunity to remain in the competition. After 18 holes they were still tied after Monday’s play-off round and went into the “sudden death” playoff. Tiger won on the 1st hole, but the reality is that Tiger didn’t win on that one hole of “sudden death.” It took him 91 holes to emerge the winner of the US Open. Anybody who watches Tiger play golf can easily see his focus, concentration, skill, talent, and creativity he brings to the sport. Tiger studies the sport and practices the fine points relentlessly. The payoff is that he has become the most complete golfer of all time. The complete wedding photographer must think the same way and do the same things if he/she wants to be at the top of their profession.

It’s not just about shooting a wedding that makes us a complete photographer. It’s how we are constantly preparing ourselves for that role. Do we just run through a rote series of images each wedding that we could do in our sleep, or are we constantly refining and enhancing our style. That’s a BIG problem with a lot of the seasoned pros these days. Many of them have seen their business erode from under them because they were late to the digital game, and even more than that, resistant to the changing styles and trends the new digital world introduced to our profession.

We also need to be a different kind of wedding photographer these days. We can’t be a “I know it all” photographer. We need to be a “I want to know it all” photographer. We constantly need to be exposing ourselves to the broad range of styles and creativity we are now seeing by photographers from around the country and the world. We need to see what might fit with our own style and how we may incorporate it into our own routine. Being a complete wedding photographer demands that we are always learning, always trying new things, always trying to raise the bar on ourselves.

More specifically, the complete wedding photographer needs to be quick on their feet, stalking the action, always with their sixth sense and that extra set of eyes behind their heads, ever ready to anticipate and capture the quick reactions. Capturing both, the actions and the reactions, is essential when capturing the moments, and folks, that’s our job as wedding photographers – to capture the moments and as many of them as possible for our clients.

How well do we know our gear? Too many of us have never even read the manual and only have a superficial understanding of all the capabilities of these modern marvels of Harry Potter digital magic we hold in our hands. But that’s the point, our gear should not only be in our hands, it should truly be an extension of ourselves, all it’s functions almost directly wired into our brains, ready to perform effortlessly on the job for us. If we spend some time reading the manual and understanding all those new functions, we really do make that magic our own.

How much time do we practice the art and the craft of our profession? Is it only on weekends during the actual wedding? Think Tiger!! There are so many resources available on line that make it easy for us to enhance and fine tune our style. Just tune in to any number of them easily available at your fingertips. It’s so easy, skip an episode of Law and Order or CSI and tune into some online training. Set the alarm for an hour earlier in the morning and just enjoy a quick web cruise for wedding inspiration. Here is a quick 7 inspirational wedding sites you can check out right here over at my blog DigitalProTalk. Want another quick hit of inspiration – check out this Flickr link to the Inspirational Wedding Photography pool right here – many of these images are simply gorgeous.

Staying inspired as a wedding photographer is part of the work you need to do to be a complete wedding photographer. Here are 10 ways you might try right here.

It amazes me when I hear photographers say, “I’m doing the best I can.” I always thought that was a cop-out remark. It is kind of an excuse for doing exactly the opposite. Most of us have no clue what our best really is until we are under the gun to do better. And, most of the time we do succeed at stretching ourselves a bit more. At each wedding, we should want to do a better job for our clients than we did for the previous client. Don’t rest on your laurels. It’s the only way we grow and in turn broaden the boundaries for others to grow too.

After reading an article in Time magazine a few months ago, I decided to do a post on what it takes to be great. I applied what I gleaned for the article to photography and listed some ideas for all of us to be great. You know, it’s really easy to be the best – you just work a lot harder than the competition and most of the competition doesn’t want to work that hard. It’s all about being a complete wedding photographer. It’s more than just shooting. It’s pro-actively staying passionate about what you do; it’s your willingness to learn; it’s your sharing of your knowledge with others, it’s your desire to constantly improve; it’s pro-actively juicing your creativity from time to time; it’s practicing your skills and your talents; it’s your wanting it bad enough; it’s you’re reaching for the stars and knowing you can get there!

P.S. I want to thank Scott for the invitation to be “Guest Blogger” this Wednesday. It was truly an honor and a privilege. Hey, maybe you can sneak over the DigitalProTalk some day ;~) Thanks again, Scott.


A Lifetime in the Making

The old, green, "retired" warden's Bronco stops with a lurch. The door swings open out of my hand, the truck is pointing down the steep grade. "The road is washed out beyond here, gotta walk the rest of the way." I got up at 02:20, drove thirty minutes to meet up with the biologists and then drove another forty minutes to get to this point. The sun is a rumor on the horizon when I grab my camera gear and head off while attempting to keep up with the 24yr old springbuck biologists I'm working with this day. Down we go at an alarming rate and speed in the darkness, alarming because we'd have to hike back up the same grade to get back to the truck.

A mile down the grade, the antenna goes up and the signal is found. Cross-country we go, hurdling sage brush in a marathon race with the sun. First, down a gully and then up a hill, my guides moving like pronghorn and quickly pulling away from me (oh to have young legs). Our route is precarious at best as we zigzag, following the signal. We reach a rise to get another sounding; I look over my shoulder to see the road way below us. Not even catching my breath, we're off again still cross-country, but now following the ridgeline we had climbed to. The biologists come to a quick halt; the signal has exploded, which means the quarry is less than 10 meters away. This routine is familiar, just did it the morning before, so I froze. Spotting the object of our quest, the biologists crouch down, walk very slowly towards the tan colored lump at the base of a sage. Less than a meter away it explodes in the air and down the slope and the biologists freeze. When they stand up and I see their faces, they look like they'd just swallowed a lemon.

"There's none here, must have been predated upon between 17:00 last night when we last checked and this morning." "She's broodless." With that, we head cross-country again, at least at a little less feverish pace and work our way back to the truck. The three mile jaunt netted all of us nothing, the biologists weren't able to collect any data and I not a photograph. Mother Nature still rules the roost and for the moment, the Greater Sage Grouse has five less chicks to booster its falling numbers.

At this point you might be saying to yourself, "Man, you got up mighty early and walked a long way to come back empty handed." As one of my first biological mentors always use to say, "There's data in no data!" For the biologists, the question is now to determine what happened with the five, four day old chicks. For me, the "dry run" provides more insight into the situation and sets my mind to working on how I'd photograph the event next time. And if you're a wise photographer, you make a plus from the negative.

I've been at this wildlife photography gig for thirty years and even with that, each and every day I learn something new about my craft (which joyfully means I don't know everything). This is key if you don't want to fall victim to the Darwin Theory of Photography, "evolve or perish." To get to the point where I could get skunked on the hillside, thirty years had been put into the craft. Practice wasn't needed to get skunked, but rather to learn that being skunked is part of the craft. The learned craft is what you fall back on when you do succeed and the chicks are there and for a moment Mother Nature let's you peek inside her very mysterious world.

It's really quite simple, this mastering of photography. There's only one unspoken secret in this quest. It takes time! You've gotta put in your time and learn from your mistakes as much as your successes and always, always look for the silver lining. There are days you're going to walk those three miles up and down hills only to get skunked. There are going to be those days when you fall out of bed and the image smacks you right in the face. In between is an incredible journey that if you only take a deep breath, smell the roses and every other bad clich© about enjoying life, time will make your photography as meaningful and as powerful as you want it to be.

Two years ago, every time I came up to a landscape photo opp, my mind would race and inside the word HELP would be screamed. "Where's the subject, how do I compose it, folks are watching me for inspiration and the best I can do right now is a joke." HELP! Then, just as it was for me and flash twenty years ago, the switch was turned on so for the last couple of years, making the decent to spectacular landscape photo requires no real thought on my part other than how I want to finish it in post. All the pieces of the puzzle have fallen into place. They just happen, life's experiences have finally taken over.

This, my friends is what's waiting for you and your photography! I know this for a fact. Playing is the heartbeat of passion. If your passion is photography, any kind of photography, play until you're exhausted because with time, and time is the most important ingredient (not f/stop or Photoshop plug-in), you WILL experience the same joys, same rewards, same quality images that get me up at 02:20 and walk three miles only to be skunked. The same love that you'll get up again the next day at the same time to walk the same distance to see if this day, you'll win. Great photography is a lifetime in the making!


First things first. It’s an honor to be invited to be a guest contributor here on Scott’s blog and to follow terrific guest posts by both Vincent Versace and Joe McNally. Cheers to what I hope will become not only a long happy tradition but also an industry trend. I know I’ll be guest blogging for other industry luminaries. And I’ve invited them to make guest appearances on my blog. My blog? Yes! You heard it here first. Not even my Insights enews members know this yet. My new blog is live! Check it out here. (After you read the great posts on this blog!)

Many take the view that pictures should be seen and not heard. I did. After being called to comment on my work time and time again, I realized that learning to comment on my work not only made my work more effective but it also helped me understand my work better and solve certain creative challenges. In fact, I realized that there are many types of writing and many uses for writing. Writing is now an integral part of my creative process from start to finish. Making the Visual Verbal is a useful skill that can benefit everyone, including you. You don't think you can write? Anyone can finish a sentence. Finishing it well just takes practice. And some kinds of writing don't need finished sentences. While it's true there's only one Shakespeare, we can all write. After all, think of all the great writing (fiction and nonfiction) that's been written since Shakespeare. Personally, I don't want to receive love letters written by Shakespeare. I want love letters written to me by my wife.

How have I been called to talk about images? Here are 5 ways.

  • You can read Interviews I’ve given here.
  • You can read conversations I’ve had with other great artists here.
  • You can read statements I’ve written here.
  • You can see related images here.
  • You can find my workshops here.
  • You can find my DVDs here.
  • You can find my tutorials at Kelby Training here.

Making the Visual Verbal

“Pictures should be seen and not heard.” “If we could communicate what we want to communicate with words, then we’d be writers not artists.” The words had rained down on me so many times that my mind had been saturated with the idea. While it reflects some truth, chiefly that a text (written or verbal) can never be a substitute for an image, it can also be misleading. Pictures have always been, continue to be, and will always be talked about-particularly by artists.

Growing up in an artistic family, the parade of visitors and people we visited included many types of artists from musicians to sculptors and most frequently photographers. The topics of conversation were far-reaching and colorful. Often there would be complaints about what had been written about their own work, sometimes about what had been written about each other’s work, or … (more…)