Category Archives Guest Blogger

Creating Magic and Whimsy

“Never let ’em see you ache. That’s what Mr. Mayer used to say. Or was it ass? Never let ’em see your ass.”
― Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge

As the only child of a university art professor and freethinker mother, I grew up surrounded by shapes and images. My love of art grew out of summer vacations filled with trips to galleries, museums, and art studios. At home I often found myself around the dinner table with an eclectic cast of characters—sculptors, writers, painters. They paraded through my childhood and I credit them all with shaping my artistic foundation and forming my eye for the candid beauty found in people from all walks of life. I’ve kind of been chasing characters ever since. I like to tell their stories through their faces, their bodies, even their costumes. I love the adventure and the challenge of making things work — the crawling around, the actual act of creating an image.

And while I like to share my work, to have the images I make – both commissioned and personal projects – find an interested and intrigued audience, sometimes I’m reluctant to give too much away, to walk people through the entirety of my process, or to talk about things in too technical of terms. Are photographs to be seen and not heard? I’ve never been one to geek-out on camera equipment. What I do trust and rely on is relationships, not only with my clients, but depending on the project, I’ve learned that the right post-production artist ensures a strong creative synergy and ultimately the best possible finish. But there always remains that little voice in the back of my head that whispers, “Doesn’t the magic disappear if you talk about it?”

So when the opportunity to contribute to this blog, to pull back the curtain a bit came my way, it got me thinking that perhaps the magic is also in the process itself. How an idea becomes a final image is a story worth telling. And storytelling is a core value in my photography. With each final image I make, my goal is for it to feel like a still out of a movie filmstrip, with its story living beyond any one frame. I’ve always believed in the vital nature of the journey, and these still images don’t exist in a vacuum. So it made sense to celebrate and share the how, the creative collaboration, the image making, and the post production, that is often a true technical marvel that elevates photography and adds magic all its own.

Yet sharing the process – the whole thing – is living on the edge for me. And while I have started to push myself and share more of my process and inspirations from project to project on both my Tumblr and @cademartinphoto pages, for this exercise I went back and chose eight different projects to show more than just images, and to tell of the experimentation and exploration, of technique and tweaking and testing and collaboration. These are my postcards from the edge.

Do keep in mind that for commissioned projects, I oftentimes choose to present a couple of options to the client, once we get in a good place image wise. It’s always a collaborative effort and we listen to the client and tweak to taste to bring it “home.” And as far as the personal projects, sometimes it’s the chicken or the egg scenario in that I get wind of something I want to do and I go do it. Everything evolves once you’re there and the thought process on post production usually happens afterwards when we can play around with possibilities until I get that little tingle – a gut feeling that something is right to me.

Wish You Were Here – The Mississippi Delta: Blues Men
While I love everything about the collaboration that comes with a commercial shoot, when it comes to my personal work, I find I am drawn to the one-on-one with real, every-day people. You can’t make any of it up or direct it – how they carry themselves or have decided to dress for the day is better than where my imagination could take it. I always go out of my way to make the subjects look their best, to present them in the truest, most sincere way- exploring the architecture of their faces, the texture of their clothes and so on.

I worked on this post-production with one of my go-tos, Sugar Digital. Our familiar relationship is great for both understanding my process and pushing me to experiment. My original intention going into this Blues project was to produce these as black and white portraits, but the more we played, the more I gravitated towards a bit of warm color that brings a little more life, as well as further defining the magnetic architecture of their faces.

Enjoying the Sights on Mercy Street! – PBS Mercy Street
Working with PBS on this project for their Mercy Street mini series was incredible and I loved every minute of it. Going in, we did not have a lot of specific creative direction other than a classical approach similar to what PBS had done with their monster hit Downton Abbey. That influence was a great jumping off point, but I was also interested in creating something a little more modern and contemporary to set this series apart. To achieve that, I set up a set within a set to create a classical look melded with a more modern lighting design and a subtly textured backdrop.

We delivered the images and I didn’t immediately hear back – crickets – I thought maybe they hated the photographs. I really liked them and wanted to plow ahead, which I did. On set (in Petersburg, Virginia) we had an old 20×20 silk as the backdrop. I also hunted down a location for the exterior images of Civil War era Petersburg, these images of cobblestone streets and buildings were layered in post with the in-photograph silks.

We used the silk as a base background and I really wanted the focus to stay on the characters so the background elements needed to be a “there but not there” type of thing – providing texture and a modern nod without overwhelming the images or the subject. Working with my partners at Sugar Digital, we worked back-and-forth to find the right layering balance so that the painterly background effect was there to support but not distract from the subjects. The colors and textures of the period wardrobe, along with the actors’ faces were a striking focal point, and I was after tones that would marry well with each other and could straddle the historical/contemporary setting of the images.

With the updated backgrounds, I now loved the images and sent them to the client. This time the client responded immediately that they loved the look and wanted to create the entire campaign around what we’d created.

Greetings From The Magical Forest – New York Philharmonic
One of the things I loved most about the concept for this project for the New York Philharmonic’s 2016 Biennial season, entitled “Let’s Play,” was how it needed to be as much about the environment as it would be about the narrative — an elegant pied-piper in an enchanted forest setting charming a group of curious characters. The resulting image combines a magical Northern California location with the Phil’s French-hornist, Leelane Sterrett, and an audience of curious carousel-horses.

Sometimes the reality of a project dictates the approach. I generally pride myself on photographing as much as possible in camera. For this project, the client wanted me to keep with that formula and that was my initial plan. I was ready to go and after a few back and forths and with a final green light it was “let’s go find a location and put all of the elements of the image out there.” While this was a doable idea, Ms. Sterrett was leaving for a tour in Europe within the week. So we went ahead and photographed her in a studio in NYC before I went to scout the final location.

Not only did I have to find the right location for the creative brief for this project, BUT I now had to find the perfect location that offered the same natural lighting that we had created in the New York studio. Working with producer Catherine Schramm, we found the forest two hours north of San Francisco and then I went to a Scooby-Doo Circus south of LA in Riverside, CA where we photographed carousel horses.

With these moving parts and challenges of time and space, the best way to answer the creative call of this project was to commit to a composite photograph. I worked carefully in each step of the shoot to ensure that every component would be as symbiotic to the whole as possible, the whole then becoming a magical sum of its parts. Aiming to have things line up seamlessly, CG horses were also created with the pros at Luminous Creative Imaging to match all of the pockets of different light that existed in the forest image – some horses are in open shade, others are backlit or side lit from the direct sun. Once each of the pieces of the image were layered and composed, the color and tones were massaged to radiate the playful feeling of a magical forest.

Our making-of is here:

Greetings From A Galaxy Far, Far Away – Star Wars for Target
Deutsch LA, Star Wars, Target. Any one of these names alone would make an attractive project. Put them together, along with a pinch of Disney and a dash of Lucas Films and I can’t be entirely certain I wasn’t dreaming.

I was completely geeked to be considered for the brief “to photograph the latest Star Wars toys for Target” – toys which would be released for the 2016 holiday season. It was a resounding “yes” for me.

From our first call, it was clear that the agency saw what I had begun to realize – that the movies and comics of my youth have been some of my greatest and most important influences in my life and my picture-making. These were key ingredients in what they sought — a photographer that loved cinema and also harbored an inner-nerd.

There are times when less is more. With a sweeping, cinematic vision for this fantastic project that could have been a candidate for a lot of post-production reworking, I pulled back and went as old school as I could. I approached this series of images almost as an old Ray Harryhausen stop action movie. I wanted all of the elements to be tangibly together, for these toys to inhabit sets that had been built with great care and detail to evoke another world.

Continuous lights were used, as were colored gels to shift the color to the worlds of the Star Wars narrative. Special effects were used on set so everything was captured in camera. In post, working again with Sugar Digital, we simply modified color and tones to play up the drama of the sets and accentuate the pop of Target red. Even when I pour myself into the in-camera construction, precise post is quietly vital to sharpen the product.

Wish You Were Here – Tea Time, Starbucks at the Greystone Mansion
I’ve been working with movie lights and crews for approximately 10 years now. When the Starbucks campaign for Tazo became a possibility, I knew I wanted to incorporate a cinematic and enchanted look and feel. Lighting and location were the driving force behind this project. The Greystone mansion is an historic and cinematically recognizable location from movies such as There Will Be Blood. The interiors had windows that never received direct sunlight so everything was lit artificially. I’m a nerd, a lighting nerd at that, and I love working with continuous lights and instruments because of the natural lighting effect they create.

As is my general preference, everything was photographed in-camera so all of the elements, including the floating teapots, were really there on set. I guess things could have been photographed elsewhere and composed in post after the fact, but I jumped through a few extra hoops to create these images in camera. Special effects such as smoke were also employed on set so that I could get the clearest picture of the whole photograph as I took it.

And an image’s magic can be in its mystery – how did they do that…?

Was the teapot really floating? Retouching with my friends at Sugar Digital in this case was mainly the pleasant task of playing around subjectively with color and tones to make the images as beautiful as we could. As with most of the projects I shoot, the heavy lifting is done on set. Pre-production, pre-production, pre-production. Good planning makes for a good production and detailed pre-production makes for painless post-production. The beauty of great post-production work can be in its subtlety – the icing on the teacake if you will.

Ultimately everyone’s commitment to the cinematic influence throughout the whole process helped achieve what Creative Director Daniele Monti described as “capturing the magic and whimsy of the new Tazo brand — something in between a modern Alice in Wonderland and an iconography that pulls from different eras, places and cultures.”

Greetings From The Four Seasons Stelara
File this one under the project dictating the process. For this shoot for Stelara, a pharmaceutical campaign, we needed to allow for an on-set curveball. The initial idea was the print campaign was going to play off of and use the same sets as the companion TV production, which had the model moving easily throughout the four seasons.

We arrived at the studio in LA the day before TV was supposed to film to see their sets and lighting setup. Everything had been built and we were all under the impression that the sets could be tweaked for print concepts after TV had completed. Once at the studio, we found out that the set elements could not be tweaked or moved at all. We marinated on all sorts of possible solutions, even the possibility of building entirely new sets just for our print project.

That night I went to bed and had the “still lying awake” idea of creating the entire background in CG. I immediately emailed the CG geniuses at Luminous Creative Imaging in Amsterdam who were 9 hours ahead of us in LA. They were game and available and I got an estimate, which I proposed and submitted to my client the very next morning.

Everything was quickly approved and off we went. We photographed the model in another studio entirely with minimal set design such as grass/snow flooring so the talent was grounded in elements she would be in for the final image. The background and field were created in CG by Luminous Creative Imaging to match the lighting design that we created on set. Color and tonal range were massaged to be beautiful, playful and pleasing as if the subject were out on a afternoon stroll. For the initial surprises, it felt so good to end up with a visually stunning image that rivaled the broadcast version of this campaign, one that ultimately surpassed expectation.

Greetings from the Bayou!
This shot was part of an impromptu personal project piggybacking a commissioned shoot in New Orleans. A location scout friend mentioned over a beer, fishing shacks you could only access by boat. New Orleans is utterly unique, its own ecosystem that’s both accessible and hidden at the same time. New Orleans and the bayou are such a draw for me, and these shacks – an hour drive and a half-hour boat ride into a different world were impossible to resist. I hired a waterman – from a line of lifelong watermen – to get me there.

The shack itself was perched low in the water and far from anything else, like a structure emerged from the brackish depths. It was somewhat improbable and otherworldly in that really New Orleans way. As I saw it in person and made my images, my mind kept wandering to what it would be like to boat up to a structure with other amenities – an even more unbelievable sight.

Besides bayous having a special meaning to me, ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved the comic strip Pogo. Pogo is the title character in a long-running comic strip that started in the 1940s by cartoonist Walt Kelly. Pogo is set in the Okefenokee Swamp of the southeastern United States. All the characters live in the swamp with Pogo the possum as the main character and his good friend Albert the alligator. Poetry, wordplay, puns and lush artwork all come together to create humor, wisdom and thoughtfulness that have been enjoyed by kids and adults alike all these years.

Another influence at work here was a childhood favorite, A Cajun Night Before Christmas, by James Rice and Trosclair. Here the classic Christmas narrative poem by Clement Clarke Moore is retold in a Cajun dialect with an alligator who helps Santa and then is left behind in the Louisiana Bayou. To finally bring my idea to life, I reached out to Souverein Weesp to help design and create these fun, dancing and singing alligators, jazz bands and the Bayou atmosphere.

The series has been very well received. The dance floor image which is the first one we completed was selected to be the main visual for the annual international Siggraph (Special Interest Group on GRAPHics and Interactive Techniques) conference.

My Well-Worn Chair at Sugar Digital: Wish You Were Here! – Tattoo Personal Project
When I went into this project, I knew what I wanted to capture. But as with most of my personal projects the final images were very much a product of inspiration, exploration and collaboration. On a break during another project, a client and I got to talking about tattoos. She mentioned a tattoo festival being held the following week in the Washington DC area. I don’t have any tats, but they’ve always intrigued me. And the promise of all those people with their stories essentially written on their bodies, those were the type of characters I’m compelled to chase. At the festival, I rented a space and set up a photo booth. I photographed everyone against a grey backdrop.

We had a great time, you can see more here:

I went into postproduction without a concrete vision of how to make them sing. The final images are a true testament to how much the relationship between photographer and retoucher matters. There was so much professional trust and respect involved as we threw out ideas and played around. Ultimately we sampled the tattoos on each person’s torso; from there we created a unique personal tapestry background for every subject.

Everybody I photographed had amazingly detailed, as well as personal, tattoo work, it was such a clear commitment of time – and money – on their part. In addition to capturing this in the portraits, the background helped showcase and amplify that investment in expression. This technique was nothing I’d tried before – and nothing I’ve attempted since – but it was truly right for these portraits. It felt as though these backgrounds allowed their stories to travel beyond their bodies.

And that’s it.

Thanks again to the fine folks at KelbyOne for asking me to share more about my process, present my work to such a well-respected photo community.

Say hello or follow us on Instagram or Tumblr  or check out the full portfolio at

— Cade

Growing As A Professional Creative

When I was around 6 years old, my friend asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said “an artist,” and every chance I got I would pick our activity or game. He would want to climb trees, I’d say, “Let’s color!” (meaning our coloring books). When he would suggest we go outside and pretend to be characters from our favorite cartoons (Transformers, GI-Joe, and HeMan and the Masters Of The Universe) I would say, “Let’s try drawing them instead.” Since the beginning this is all I’ve ever known. I wanted to create things, and to craft things.

At a very young age my grandmother gave me my first camera. A 110 Fisher Price camera with flash bulbs you could mount on top. It had a snap and pop black string for a camera strap with yellow plastic fittings. The body was bright blue, and it had rubberized sides making it rugged and tough for kids. It worked really well. It went everywhere with me and I loved it!

I grew up in a family that came from an industrial part of England. Everyone had a trade skill. They could all work with metal in some way. My father was a draftsman by trade, creating the plans and drawings for big ships, but he understood the craft of building them. So much of my childhood was spent around ships, waterways, and seeing them be created, or rotting away along the shores. Wooden ships abandoned for newer metal ships. It was fascinating to look at.

My grandfather, my uncles, and even my brothers, all worked in the shipyards. My family worked with the steel and iron that formed large vessels for very utilitarian purposes. I always loved walking around and seeing the giant cranes. Often the yard crews were making the machines that became tools they would use to make the ships.

We traveled the world seeing various shipyards where my father’s projects were happening. Ireland, Germany, Holland, and more. Growing up around the people in those environments, a few things were engrained in me.

  • You need a trade skill.
  • You need to work hard. Not just in will, but in effort (blood & sweat type of equity).
  • You need to understand the value of your effort and your trade.

Fast forward many years and it became clear to me, the ship building industry was not going to be my path. In the early 90s as I got a little older I fell in love with skateboarding. The design, photography, graphics, fashion, and music, all mixing together in one lifestyle. I had upgraded my camera gear to a 35mm film setup that I used to shoot for various theaters, local newspapers, skateboard magazines, and local bands. It was the start of something that never felt like work. It felt more like a place I belonged.

I was also beginning to learn and create computer graphics with my first capable computer, a Commodore Amiga with Deluxe Paint. This allowed me to start freelancing as a teenager. I’d make graphics for local businesses. Things like flyers, clip art, menus, and more. I was off and running, but you know what I wasn’t ever taught? I was never taught my value to others as a professional creative. At this point, it was all intriguing, and it was all fun. But to have a career, it meant more than just that.

Today, at this stage in my career, I’ve managed over a few thousand people. I was a Manager at Google. I’ve been a Senior Imaging Expert for Apple, and I’ve helped multiple agencies build out professional development programs for their creative departments. For a punk skateboarding kid from the middle of nowhere, I’ve been very fortunate for the opportunities I’ve received. Regardless of projects, titles, and positions, one thing I try to help creatives learn today, is to understand your value. Not money, not hourly rates, but actual value.

I don’t think I can exclusively call myself a Photographer, or a Designer, or anything so specific. Many creatives I meet wear lots of hats. They are often generalized and feel guilt they aren’t a specialist in something. My value is in that I provide professional level creative solutions to our clients. Sometimes that makes me the Creative Director, sometimes I’m the Photographer, or even the illustrator. But it’s our thoughts, our ideas, and our service that bring value.

Have you ever wondered why someone got a project with a client and you found the final result unimpressive? I’ve heard this before: “I could do better than that! It was boring.” But maybe, that was the result of hours upon hours of collaboration with a client who together with the creative, arrived at a place of exactly what they valued. Who knows, what is impressive or boring to us, might have had a purpose and mission. A tactical result of a well thought out strategy.

What matters most is the value we add to the project, whether that’s shooting images of the Apple Cinema Displays at an Apple Developer Conference, or if I’m executing on a custom fabricated steel entrance for a gallery in San Francisco. Maybe it’s just how I direct in my photo studio. That’s the point of being a Professional Creative. The expectation is yes, that we have good Photoshop skills, good Illustrator technical abilities, that we know lighting, can control a camera, or be the retoucher the client needs. But what it really means is that we deep dive into our client’s projects so that we can suggest, and execute, on solutions. This month alone I’ve retouched photos for a National Geographic Photographer and I’ve designed graphics and shot photos for a restaurant menu. The value add was the same despite the difference in the projects.

For example, a few years ago I created a survey which received hundreds of responses. In it, I asked people to prioritize what they expect when they get a project from someone. At the top of the list creatives wanted:

  • To be creative
  • To be appreciated/respected
  • Work on something interesting/portfolio worthy

But on the client side of things the priority was not the same. When they hire a creative for a project their order of thinking was more like this:

  • Deliver on promises
  • Don’t be complicated to work with
  • Provide reasonable solutions

Here is where we often see the divide, and the struggle, for people working in creative positions. What we often see as our wants, our goals, and measure as our successes are not those shared by our clients. When I asked many people in positions who hire professionals, they said, “I expect them to be skilled and creative.” The value is no longer that you are creative or skilled, that is the baseline of their expectation. It’s the foundation of why they hired you in the first place.

So, what would make you more valuable to them? Excellent service, crystal clear communication, being collaborative perhaps? Your creative side allows you to see things that maybe they don’t. It’s not their experience to look through the creative lens. Listen to Jay Maisel talk about the gesture of objects, or the expression of color. It’s clear why he added value for his clients. Steve Jobs often spoke of this at Apple. It was even a campaign, “Think Different.”

In the current state of the world, it’s easier than ever to get information. More people are becoming excellent at their technical abilities. But are they adding value? Probably the most common question I get asked these days. “How do I make more money?” or “How do I get more clients?” There isn’t a shortage of opportunities out there, but you have to know how you add value, and getting potential clients to know about your value.

This is where you should begin if you’re looking to grow. There are lots of articles, exercises, and more about realizing your value proposition. It’s the difference maker between you, and the other person out there calling themselves designer, photographer, editor, and more. The value is in the service leading up to the finished product and the experience your client has while the project is happening. They expect the final image, or graphic, or design, or website, or anything to be good. That’s why they hired you. But what was their experience like when you were producing it?

Our company, my wife and I, work mostly in the commercial and enterprise tech sectors with Fortune 500 clients. That means understanding what is most valuable to them and how to speak in their language so they understand we are the right provider of that solution. I offer this advice to you, do the exercise of asking what would be your value proposition? How are you differentiating your solutions and services? Here are a few tips to help:

  • Speak in the language of your client (they don’t know Photoshop, Nikon, or Profoto)
  • Learn how to say “Yes, and here’s how” rather than saying “No”
  • No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care
  • Always work to turn customers into clients and then into partners

This is more than equipment and software after all. Just like a tradesman in any shipyard doesn’t talk about the welding torch or hammer they use. The value isn’t in the tools, it’s in the person holding them.

Mark Heaps is the Executive Director at Heaps LLC where alongside his wife they manage a small team of creatives who provide design communication services to their clients. Some of those clients include Capital One, Dell, Google, Apple, Coca-Cola, TEDx, Ford, Polycom, Riverbed, and more. Mark is also the creator of Reactive Exposure ( A native exposure correction plugin for Lightroom. He also owns and runs ATX Photo & Video Studio in Austin, Texas. A low-cost community project where photographers, videographers, actors, students and more can come use their 1400sq ft warehouse with all equipment included for the same price as a date at Starbucks.

Follow him on almost any social media, like Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook (where he streams live weekly giving insights from the trenches of working in the real world), with the user name @lifebypixels.

Can I be honest about something? Can you share a little secret?

I’ve been burned out on commercial photography for a long time. Don’t get me wrong. I’m always crazy honored when any client anywhere chooses to hire me to photograph something for them. I realize that a client has hundreds if not thousands of choices when it comes to choosing a photographer. So I’m not bitter, I’m thankful. Always.


There are still a lot of downsides to commercial photography that can drive any artist crazy.
Here are few things that come to mind, in no particular order:

They often end up using and publishing the WORST image or images from your shoot. 
It’s like they go through and ask themselves “Hmmmm, where is the most horrific photo Jeremy took that day? BOOM. There it is! There is our album cover!!”

So then other photographers ask “So why not trim the fat? Why not only show the good stuff?” Well, it doesn’t really work like that. The client was there for every setup and every wardrobe change. And most of my clients do buyouts of the shoot so they legally get everything. And even if you DO quietly delete the bad stuff, they’ll still choose the worst from what’s leftover. It’s just science. The cool stuff doesn’t get picked.

“Wait, Jeremy, aren’t you the artist? Don’t you get full creative control??”

Ummm, no. I’m one small part of a huge process with many cooks in the kitchen. Sure, I can give my opinion of what was best but that doesn’t weigh very much in the overall decision-making process. So in the end, images get published that are technically mine, but I’d pay good money for them to take my name OFF of the credits haha.

Most commercial images get released long, long after you’ve taken them.
You know that excitement you have after you finish a shoot and you instantly want to share your work with your audience? Well, you can’t do that as a commercial photographer. You have to wait weeks and usually months to show/release commercial work. And by the time, you’re able to show it, you’re usually over it. At least I am… but who knows, maybe that’s just me.

Other people mess with your images.
In my line of work, my images get handed off to a record label or ad agency where my images get passed off to graphic designers. Usually these designers are fresh out of college so they have all kinds of their own ideas of what crazy filters or retouching to do to my work. The final product is usually, well… you can only imagine. Not good. So once again, I find myself not even wanting to show the final product.

Experimentation can be a challenge
Sure, you can experiment and try all different types of lighting but at the end of the day, you still are selling a product or person. You still have to make them look good. This ends up ultimately killing a lot of the weird ideas that an artist like me wants to explore and I end up giving them the super flattering (but also boring) light that I know they’re going to want anyways.

Big sets = a lot of cooks in the kitchen and too many opinions
Working with tons of people on commercial shoots can be overwhelming and exhausting. Sometimes I don’t feel like an artist at all on commercial shoots. I feel like I’ve been hired to just push a button and follow someone else’s creative direction.

So what does one do?

Personal work.

“But personal work doesn’t pay the bills.”

Exactly. Therein lies the challenge.

What if you could get paid for personal work? Hmmm…

That’s exactly what I figured out how to do recently. I figured out how to get people to pay me for goofing off… for experimenting… for creating the artistic portraits that I’ve so been wanting to create.

For as long as cameras have been around, there has been paid portraiture photography for the public. It’s nothing new. But it’s always seemed kinda lame so I’ve stayed away from it. It seemed boring and trivial. Glamour shots from the 80’s comes to mind.

But I wondered… what if people would want to pay for weird, dark, experimental portraits? What if they’re wanting the portraits of themselves that I’m wanting to create?

Worth a shot.

We live in an age where everyone needs new, cooler photos of themselves. For social media, for websites, for whatever. And everyone wants to look cool.

So… I announced this website a while back…

Super simple premise:

$#x2022; 15 minutes of shooting for $250 ($1000 hourly rate, which competes with some commercial rates these days)
$#x2022; All experimental, dark, dramatic lighting
$#x2022; Intimate experience – no massive teams or cooks in the kitchen. Nice and simple, one on one.
$#x2022; I choose the final, released images – No image galleries sent, nothing
$#x2022; I release them when and how I want to release them
$#x2022; I own them and do what I want with them

Sounds fun right? Basically I call the shots. 100%.

It’s working!

To be fair, I started the pricing at $150 for a bit and then $250. And they’re still booking!

And guess what? I’ve made $51,100 for a total of 61 hours of actual shooting time. Crazy right?

You might say “well what about editing time?”

I shoot tethered in the studio and have my editing already dialed in, so as images come up on my monitor, they’re mostly already good to go. I might do subtle tweaks but for the most part, they’re good. Then I do a quick review with the client before they leave and we star our favorites. Then I export them to dropbox and I’m done! So there is not much editing time at all to answer the question.

So I made $50,000+ for 61 hours of shooting, I did all my weird experimenting, I controlled the edit, I released when I wanted to release and guess who’s happy as could be?

It’s me!

“Well, you’re a known photographer and you have a platform. I could never do this” some might say.

Sure you can! Follow the same process, just start with a lower price point. Maybe it’s just $10 per session or $50. This model can scale at any price point and as demand goes up, raise your prices.

Let’s round my numbers to make this simpler. Let’s say I made 50K for 50 hours of shooting…

What if you could make 25K for 50 hours? That’s $125 per 15 minute session.

10k for 50 hours? That’s your rate of $50 per 15 minute session.

5k for 50 hours? That’s your rate of $25 per 15 minute session.

Heck, 2.5K for 50 hours? That’s your rate of $12.50 per 15 minute session.

Surely can you can charge some of these rates right?

You can continue to run the numbers but you get the idea.

The freedom and fun of getting paid to essentially do personal work and learn as I go has been priceless.

Honestly, it’s been more fun than the majority of my commercial work.

So what about you? What can you do to eliminate some of the rules you don’t like in your own work?

What type of photography makes you feel alive but also pays the bills?

That’s a hard riddle to solve but it’s possible!

You can see more of Jeremy’s work at, and follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. And if you happen to be in the Nashville area and want him to shoot your portrait, you can sign up right here!

A Loose Collection Of Thoughts From An Emerging Photographer
I’ll be honest, I spent way too much time trying to pull all of these thoughts together into a semi-cohesive blog post. I’ve revised the whole thing about seven times now. I was going to write something practical and easy to read, something that might show off my work or my process, but after a while I just felt like I needed to get some things off my chest. The following is a loose collection of thoughts I have put together about my last few years spent trying to break into the photography industry.

Being a creative comes with its own unique set of challenges and obstacles, many of them tangible and plain to see, many of them deeply personal and harder to overcome. I think one of the most pervasive things artists have to wrestle with is self doubt and self defeatism. As creatives, we are all intrinsically and emotionally tied to our work. Our work is a direct representation of who we are. It’s a piece of ourselves that we willingly give to the world to admire, or rip apart.

David Bayles writes in his book Art and Fear:

“To the artist, all problems of art appear uniquely personal. Well, that’s understandable enough, given that not many other activities routinely call one’s basic self-worth into question.”

This is one of my all time favorite reads. It’s informed much of my worldview as a creative. The rest of the quotes in this blog post are from the same source. Consider the above quote my guideline for this write up. I want to talk about the ridiculous mental gymnastics young and emerging photographers in particular have to attempt just to survive. I want to open up about what goes on inside a young photographer’s head, and hopefully show some of you out there that you’re not alone in your struggle to find your place in this amazing industry.

Before I jump into things, a little background on me. My name is Matthew Simmons, and I’m a photographer based out of Nashville, Tennessee. I work primarily with the music and entertainment industries. As I said already, I am in fact young… ish.  I’m 27 years old, and I’ve been a photographer for 8 years. I spent the first few years of my career as a lighting assistant, working for some of the biggest names in the photography world.

Right now though I’m smack in the middle of trying to make a name for myself. I haven’t “made it” yet or done anything sensational or worth mentioning. I’ve never photographed Taylor Swift or traveled the world. I am completely unremarkable. One thing I do have though is experience fighting tooth and nail to keep my head above water in this industry. I’ve been through the highs and lows of being a professional creative full time, and I’d like to open up about those experiences and lay bare what it takes to survive as a young photographer.

Comparison Kills The Artist
I originally entitled this blog “Don’t Listen to Successful People.” I wanted to make a whole list of points about why it’s dangerous to blindly follow those that preceded you, and why making your own path is important. I also wanted to drive home the point that comparing yourself and your work to the work of others is one of the most vicious and malignant tumors that can grow on a young creative. Seeking out the wisdom of those who are better and further along than you is one of the very first things young creatives do, but so often we can get entangled and trapped by the fear that we will never be as good as those we look up to.

However, after writing for a few hours I realized that my overall subject here is bigger than just this one facet, so I’ve just made it one of the main pieces of the greater whole that is this blog post.
So, prologue and introductions out of the way… Don’t listen to successful people?

Ok, that might have been a bit of a sensationalist title if I’d followed through on it, but I do stand by it to some degree. The internet and social media has allowed us to connect with successful artists in a way we never used to be able to. We see success stories daily. We see photographers get big features in online magazines, we see behind the scenes videos of photographers shooting big celebrities, we see creatives offering e-books and workshops and tutorials on how to be successful just like them. Social media has elevated some artists to the status of celebrity, and many of us yearn for that success, we want to be just like them and live their lifestyle. The problem is, you can’t live someone else’s life. You can’t use their career as a roadmap for your own, but so often that’s what young photographers buy into.

I fully comprehend the irony of me telling you not to listen to people who say they know what’s best for your career, while I sit here and tell you I think I know what’s best for your career. All I know is, I’ve seen behind the curtain. I’ve worked closely with many of these hyper famous photographers. I spent years behind the scenes soaking up all that knowledge and I know their real secret: Work hard, get lucky.

There’s simply no substitute for those two things. Every big talk/speech, every workshop, every video tutorial about how to “make it” as a photographer should boil down to those two ideas. The problem is, everything young and emerging photographers hear from their elders is often the opposite. Everyone seems to have a 5 step plan for success that they want to sell you. Buy my presets, buy my workshop, buy my e-book that’ll show you how to shoot just like me. Those are the things we see on a daily basis.

The truth is, all of those photographers worked their damn butts off to get to where they are. Most of them weren’t handed anything, and absolutely NONE of them blew up overnight. That’s something I hear all the time, that one artist or another just “blew up” all of the sudden. No, they did not. You missed the years of hard work and suffering they put in to get to where they are. It’s no surprise then how it makes my blood boil when I see those same creatives that worked so hard to achieve their goals try to package their life experience into a neat and tidy step-by-step process and try to make money off of it.

I don’t want to make it sound like anyone selling a workshop is a bad person. Don’t hear me say that. The practical lessons you can learn from tutorials and workshops are invaluable. I’m merely cautioning you away from anyone who claims to own the road map to your career path. Only by working as hard as you possibly can, and by giving yourself as many opportunities as possible to be noticed (aka get a little lucky) can you achieve your goals. You have to make it happen for yourself. You have to put in the hours. There are no shortcuts.

“But the important point here is not that you have — or don’t have — what other artists have, but rather that it doesn’t matter. Whatever they have is something needed to do their work — it wouldn’t help you in your work even if you had it. Their magic is theirs. You don’t lack it. You don’t need it. It has nothing to do with you. Period.”

The reason I think these things are dangerous for young photographers is because we are often extremely susceptible to comparing ourselves to others. Comparison is the thief of joy. I’ve heard that old proverb many, many times, and it’s true. I’ve seen close friends with similar or equal experience get better work, better opportunities and bigger paychecks than me. I’ve seen photographers who I (wrongly) consider worse than me get handed huge gigs that I’ve been dreaming of for years.

Tell me you haven’t thought to yourself that you deserve a particular gig more than one of your peers. You’ve worked harder, your work is stronger, your personality is more effective and your client relations skills are out of this world, right? Well… Yeah, maybe that’s true. But brooding on those thoughts won’t make that art director call you and give you the job instead. You have to stop comparing yourself to your peers, and especially your heroes, if you’re going to maintain a healthy head space.

So again, “don’t listen to successful people” was probably too much of a simplification. Rather, I’ll say this: If a hero of yours is trying to sell you advice or information, and that advice neglects to tell you that the price of success is anything other than hard work and determination, tread with caution.

Anxious Mornings
I don’t know about you, but waking up in the morning is the hardest part of my day. I’m not a morning person. I need three or four cups of coffee before I can even think about getting started. My bed is my sanctuary. I’ve specifically built it in such a way that it is so remarkably comfortable that the thought of leaving it pains me. I’ve got a memory foam mattress, high thread count sheets and more pillows than I actually need. It takes me about an hour every morning to drag myself out of my happy place.

But that’s not why waking up every morning is so difficult. My mornings are difficult because I open my eyes every day and immediately feel the crushing weight of anxiety in my heart. It feels like someone is standing on my chest, trying to crush the will right out of me. Immediately my head floods with worries and lies.

You’ll never make it…

You’ll never be as good as XYZ photographer…

You’ll try and try every day but you’ll still fail…

Being an artist truly is unlike any other occupation. No other profession demands such a high toll on one’s self worth quite like being a creative. As I said in the intro, we sell ourselves in a way. Our art is a piece of ourselves that we willingly sacrifice for the world to partake in. When you also tie your livelihood and your ability to feed yourself to your art, that high toll on your self worth only grows.

So, what gets me up in the morning? Well, I have to. That’s it. I simply cannot NOT continue my work. Not because I need a paycheck, or because I need the affirmation that comes from creating good work, but because I am incapable of not creating. It’s one of the only things in this world that truly gives my life purpose and meaning. It’s what I’ve been gifted with and by the grace of God I will use the gift I’ve been given.

“What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit. Each step in the art making process puts that issue to the test.”

My graduating class in college had 28 photography majors. Of those 28 young and emerging photographers, only four of us are still currently working in this field, last I checked. What I’ve always found interesting about that statistic is, it wasn’t the grind of breaking into the industry that broke the other 24 photographers. No, they never even made it that far. They took their degree in photography and ran to safer, more sure territory. The remainder of us, well, we were stupid enough to take the leap into this industry and have struggled and fought every day just to keep our heads above water.

I don’t ever wonder what my life would be like if I’d taken a different path, like my friends from college. I don’t ever wonder, because that was never an option for me, and I truly don’t believe it’s an option for any artist. Those of us that wake up every morning not knowing where our next paycheck is coming from, those of us who wake up wondering how long we can even keep this up… We chose these bitter mornings, and we attack them willingly, because we don’t know anything else.

For a long time I thought I was just a tightly wound person. I thought I was alone in my anxiety and genuine skepticism about my own career. After years of sharing my struggles with other artists, and hearing their stories I learned that I’m not alone, not alone at all.

“Fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.”

What do you fear? Do you fear ridicule and criticism from the masses? Do you fear that you won’t ever be as good as someone else? Do you fear failure? How about success? I fear success, very much so. Every step I take, I know I have to take one more. Every photo I take, I know the next photo HAS to be better. My clients expect greatness from me, meanwhile I expect perfection. None of these fears can break us though. None of them can stop us from doing our best work. We have to wrestle these fears into submission, if only for a time, and say “not today.”

I believe that it’s critical for us as creatives to stop hiding behind the tough facades we put up for the outside world to see. Our lives aren’t perfect, and neither are our careers, much less the art we make. It’s invaluable for us as a community to be honest and transparent about this: Art is hard. Making art is a career belittled by many, and completely written off by others.

What we do is often very much unappreciated, and much more often completely misunderstood. Unlike most of the rest of the world, our careers are more than just a job, and even more than just a passion. Our art-making is intrinsically part of who we are, and that takes a toll on us, and that’s okay.

My question for you, reader, is this: Is your art part of who you are, or is it just something you do? Do you wake up every morning and buck the doubt and self defeating tendencies that tell you you can’t? When you fall, do you stay on the ground or do you get back up, time after time?

I hope you do. If you don’t, I hope you learn to. I hope this rambling essay lets you know that you’re not alone, I hope it helps you. We’re all in this together, we have to build each other up and be honest and transparent about our struggles. We need to share our trials and hardships with younger, greener artists so they know that what they’re in for is a tough, painful road, but one that yields so much joy. Because that’s the reward; true and meaningful joy.

There’s nothing quite like creating something you’re proud of. There’s no better feeling than making something beautiful out of nothing. The best feeling in the world to me is showing someone a portrait I’ve taken of them and see their eyes light up. Everything melts away for me in that moment, and I’m reminded that what I do is important, not just to me but to others. All the pain, all the self doubt is worth fighting through if the reward is being able to make a career out of doing the one thing that makes you happy.

Matthew Simmons is a music and entertainment portrait photographer based in Nashville, Tennessee. See more of his work at and follow him on Instagram.

Try The TDN Single-Layer Sketchy Technique


Now I’m not going to break with guest-blog tradition in my opening paragraphs, so before introducing myself and delving into the topic of my post, I’d like to say a massive thank you to Scott for having me over to guest on the blog, as well as to my good mate (and @vectorgenerians co-host) Dave Clayton for arranging it.

So, I’m Tony Harmer, a.k.a The Design Ninja (#TDN); a Specialist Solutions Consultant at Adobe UK, looking after the design/mobile ideation segments. In my day-job (I’m also an author for LinkedIn Learning and a YouTuber in my spare time) and as far as Photoshop is concerned, I’m about 20% Photographer, 50% Illustrator/Digital Artist, 25% Designer and 5% 3D (actually, at the moment I’m too 3D for my liking, but that’s another story); so I deal with most of the designery, paintery, brushy, filtery stuff, in short.

What I’m most about however, is efficiency—my thinking is that people should perhaps spend their time more on meaningful, creative decisions than on fighting with the tools, and hopefully this will also make them more profitable, too. So I spend at least 15-30 minutes of every single day looking at techniques and tutorials, seeing what people want to do, how others are teaching it and asking myself, “Can this be done faster, and ideally better?”

And so another TDN tutorial is born.

Enough already—Let’s Dive In:

And that brings us to what I would like to share with you today—what I call the TDN Sketch Technique; it is my recipe for an effect that pops up every now-and-then: turning a photo into something that resembles a pencil sketch or piece of hand-drawn art; there are over three-quarters of a million videos on YouTube showing ways to do this, so I’m guessing it’s at least a bit popular (anyway hear me out—it’s my first time here).

As I’m only a little bit photo (and a whole lot rock ‘n’ roll—pardon me) I have decided that for this article, that a bit of stock imagery will save me from any potential embarrassment in the face of such an esteemed audience, so I have selected some images from Adobe Stock:

  • File #103142589 “Rothaarige Frau” (“Red-haired Woman”) By drubig-photo
  • File #38908186 “Closeup man” by CURAphotography
  • File #15354239 “Rusted Abandoned Car in Desert” by ASP Inc
  • FILE #100684757 “Abandoned Shipwreck in the Bay” by swoodie

And that’s the first thing you should look at. Not every photo lends itself to becoming a sketch-like image immediately; connect with your inner-Leonardo and be critical; for example, sketches do not often have really busy backgrounds around the subject—sometimes there’s an indication of an environment, but keep it simple—so you may have to work your image a little, but you’ll see suggestions for that towards the end of the article.

The Basic Technique
All of the techniques that I’ve found use at least two layers, the most prevalent usually with a duplicate of the original that’s blurred, inverted and colour-dodged, or similar. So what’s wrong with that method? Well, technically nothing—it works perfectly well—but it’s inflexible, and potentially destructive, which means if you are working on a series then you will have to do each one manually; the TDN technique is infinitely flexible, and is ultimately based on one, simple thing: working on a smart object (and that means this uses one layer).

Stage 1: Blur and Divide
So we have this image to begin with and of the many ways to create a smart object, I’m going to right-click on the background in the Layers panel and choose Convert to Smart Object.

Then select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and go for a value of around 4 or 5 to start with—it’s of no consequence though as you can revisit and tune it as many times as you like afterwards—so relax and apply the filter.

Here’s the bit that does the magic—changing the blending options for the filter you’ve just applied; go to the filter in the Layers Panel and double-hit the sliders icon just to the right of the filter name; change the blending options to Divide, then hit OK.

The Divide blending mode divides pixel values between the target and blending layers (or as in this case, the target object and the filter) and works using simple arithmetic: any value divided by itself will equal 1, which with 0 being black, means white. Now, hopefully you can see where the blur comes in, and you can double-hit the gaussian blur filter effect in the Layers Panel and tune your blur, if you wish; don’t worry about the colours right now—we’ll deal with them in the next stage.

Stage 2: Raw Power
Now invoke the Camera Raw Filter: Filter > Camera Raw Filter… or SHIFT+CMD+A (SHIFT+CTRL+A on Windows) and the mini-application launches in dialog form; if you like, tap F on your keyboard to make it full-screen.

You can now use the power of the ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) engine on your smart object; in my opinion this is the most powerful thing to have arrived in Photoshop since layers, and it is truly magnificent. From hereon in, you can pretty much create almost infinite variations to suit your image, but we’ll take a look at what’s been used in this example, starting with the Basic tab:

  • The image temperature has been cooled down quite a bit (that lovely sloping histogram all the way over to the right is just what we’re after with this technique)
  • There’s a lot of green in the image so the tint has been moved in the opposite direction
  • The exposure has been lowered, and the contrast increased
  • Some negative clarity brings removes some definition, but we’ll improve that further momentarily

Now moving to the Sharpening tab, a little tuning there may be helpful, as it is here; if you want an accurate preview, don’t forget to make sure you’re zoomed in to 100% or more

Then on to the HSL / Grayscale tab, and check the Convert to Grayscale box (Boom!)

The Fx tab enhances what we have already:

Dehaze brings back some contrast and detail, if required

Grain can enhance the sketchiness, especially with clumpier roughness

Some positive vignetting lightens the edges of the image, where not a lot of drawing takes place often in a real sketch

If you wish to apply these settings to other images with one-click, then go to the Presets tab and create your own preset based on those settings; hit the icon at the bottom of the tab and in the resulting dialog, name your preset and choose which settings you want included in it. This is a smart move, and if nothing else it gives you a springboard to getting the technique done even faster next time you use it.

You can revisit any step in the Camera Raw filter now and tune as desired; hit OK once you’re done.

Optional Stage 3: Filter Gallery
At this stage, you may well be happy with your results, but the final tweak that often clinches the effect for me is to add some slight tuning using an effect from Filter > Filter Gallery… and using something like Angled Strokes from the Brush Strokes set, as has been done here, shown in the image above.

Optional Stage 4: Colouring In
My favourite application of this technique is that of an image dissolving into (or maybe out of) a sketch, and that is easily achieved by using the layer mask that is automatically added to your smart filters. In the example above, a brush with some cool dynamics has been used at a reduced opacity to reintroduce some of the original image (the brush used here is from the Aaron Blaise Hair and Fur set) but I urge you to experiment (it’s fun, anyway).

The TDN Technique: The Movie
If you’d like to see a variation on this technique in movie form, you’ll be pleased to know that Steven Spielberg, Ryan Reynolds and Halle Berry teamed up to make a movie just for you (okay, it was just me, really) and you can watch that here:

Cranking It Up a Notch (Bam!)
All right. That’s all good for the folks in the cheap seats, but I know I’m dealing with some hardcore NAPP folks here so you’re going to want a bit more, and I have plenty but you can start with these three:

  • Replace the Gaussian Blur with Filter > Other > Maximum; this can actually help a lot with some images
  • Add a second instance of the Camera Raw Filter if you’re reaching limits in the first

  • Use the local adjustments in the Camera Raw Filter, and selectively fine-tune your results
  • If you’re working on a design project—rather than your own photography—and using Adobe Stock, you can work with this on the preview image until it is approved, then license the image and all your edits are transferred to the full-resolution unwatermarked asset without any effort on your part!

Wrapping Up
We’re done for this time, but I really hope you’ve enjoyed looking at this technique; as I suggested at the start, it doesn’t perhaps come out of the box too often, but at least when you next need it, you know there’s a much faster, and flexible way to achieve it.

Columbo Moment
Oh, one more thing; the TDN Technique can be applied to video smart objects, too—with the exception of local Camera Raw Filter adjustments—so I’ll be interested to see if there’s a resurgence of A-Ha “Take on Me” videos in the near future.

Tony Harmer is a Specialist Solutions Consultant at Adobe. His specialism is in interoperability and he has a massive enthusiasm for the integration of mobile tools with design workflows. With more than 160 technical certifications , Tony has presented and delivered training related to graphic production across the EU and US.

Tony offers tips, tricks and techniques weekly on, and you can see more of his work at

Five Lessons Learned from Hosting the Behind The Shot Podcast

First things first, thanks to Scott and Brad for having me as a guest here, a blog I have read so many times over the years. My name is Steve Brazill. I’m a Southern California based music photographer, and the host of a podcast called Behind the Shot (BtS). Hosting the podcast has taught me more about being a photographer than any of the research I have done, not necessarily the technical aspects, but the heart of photography. Let me explain…

Don’t just take a shot, make one. Everyone else was shooting from the right, but I wanted to get the festival logo, and position the jump between the lights. One OK Rock at Self Help Festival.

I have always been fascinated by the path people take in the pursuit of learning photography. When we first start taking photos we seem to just be happy if we capture something… anything. Then, as we develop our technical skills, learn about composition and exposure, and refine our photographic eye, we actually start to critique our own shots in the hopes of improving further.

The problem is that the better we get, the more issues we find in our own images. Sometimes I look back at my early work and cringe, but at the time I loved those shots. Now that I have been doing it awhile, there are days I come from back from a shoot feeling like I don’t like anything I shot, like I have lost my touch. Why?

Because I have a broader knowledge base to critique from, and a better eye to judge from. While that can be frustrating sometimes, it’s what makes photography amazing! You will never fully learn photography. Yeah, you may get better at the technical aspects, but there is always something you can refine.

Be prepared! I always have a 15mm on my second body for times like these. Barb Wire Dolls at Vans Warped Tour 2017.

When I started learning photography, I found information everywhere I could. I used KelbyOne, browsed YouTube, bought some great DVDs, and became a huge podcast fan. I was already listening to a few tech based podcasts, and once I turned my attention to photography I found Scott’s shows, like The Grid, as well as podcasts by people like Rick Sammon, Scott Bourne, and Frederick Van Johnson.

I learned so much from those shows, but I also found a hole in my studies – the images. I would listen to these great interviews, with some of the best photographers and educators in the business, but never saw their work.  That’s like watching a cooking show and wondering if the food really tastes as good as the people on the show say it does (if the chef is Bobby Flay, yes, it does).

Another example of “making a shot.” When Heart played with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience I knew I needed to document that story. I positioned myself to fit Nancy Wilson and Jason in the frame.

Don’t misunderstand me. There is a place for the type of interview where you learn about some talented person, but I found myself wondering if I was listening to talented photographers or just friends of the host. The reason a photographer is interesting to us should be because of their work.

That got me thinking…. every time I see an image, I have questions about how it was made. And that’s when it hit me. What if we flipped the interview around. What if we interviewed a photograph to get a better understanding of the photographer’s mind. Why did they make the choices they made, did they pre-visualize, how did they create and edit the shot, and what issues did they overcome? So often I see a shot where I feel I could learn a lot if only I could ask the photographer a few key questions. And so I started Behind the Shot. Now I get to ask the questions I want, and get to learn more about the art of photography.

Experiment when you can. I had no idea if it would work, but with no front light I thought a silhouette, with the name KORN on the fan, would be cool.

Has it worked? Oh yeah. I thought I would share some of the things I have found as common threads throughout the shows. Most are just simple things, things we may all know about but forget under the pressure of a shoot.

Don’t Just Take A Photo, Make A Photo
This is one concept that shows up over and over when I talk to great photographers. I have heard Rick Sammon say something like this so many times over the years, and in the episode below he uses that approach perfectly to capture his image “Sunrise at the Blue Swallow.”

Travel photographer Peter Levshin used this idea to great effect when photographing a young monk in Burma. I’ve never done this trip, but I have always heard how dark some of the temples are. Peter, rather than do what most people would and just take the shot, asked if they could bring in more candles. So simple, and the final shot turned out fantastic.

Know Your Gear
The second episode of BtS I recorded was with London based music photographer Christie Goodwin. Christie is one of the best there is, and the shot we discussed was an iconic image of singer Katy Perry called “Fireworks.” This image is amazing, but once you hear how little time she had to capture it, and the fact she had no idea what the fireworks would do to the exposure, the shot seems almost impossible. Knowing her gear made a difference because she was able to adapt quickly enough to capture the shot.

Be Prepared
I mean really, this almost goes without saying, but sometimes it’s the little things. Wedding Photographer Troy Miller was shooting a wedding on a rainy day in Southern California. It happens, but he was ready. He knew he needed to get some images of the bride and groom outside, so he used an app that gives up to the minute rain status. When the app told him there was about to be a break in the rain he got the couple ready, and then just as predicted the rain stopped. The result was a beautiful photo, with amazing colors and sky, he calls “Stormy Kiss”.

The lighting for Judas Priest was very dynamic. Knowing your gear makes adjusting to changing conditions much easier.

Don’t Be Afraid To Be Creative
Sometimes we forget that photography is a visual art. We could capture the most technically perfect and well composed image, and it might speak to no one. A great image has impact, a story, and feeling. When doing a shoot with rocker Tommy Lee, of Motley Crüe fame, photographer Dustin Jack did everything right. He made sure he got the safe shots he needed first, but then he asked Tommy to put on some glasses. Seems simple, right?

Those glasses unlocked Tommy’s personality, and the results were great on their own. But the experimenting didn’t stop there. Dustin had an idea to combine three of the shots to tell a totally different story, resulting in his image “See No Evil, Hear No Evil, and Peace.” Sometimes, it just takes being willing to experiment.

Stay Relaxed
This one sounds so easy. You most likely already know photographer Alan Hess through KelbyOne, this blog, or through Photoshop World. The first time I shot a music festival with Alan Hess was a huge learning experience for me. I walked up to him to introduce myself, but honestly was a bit star struck. Alan is one of the best music photographers out there – he literally wrote the definitive book on it. He was so amazingly nice to someone that was a fan of his work.

The rest of the day, while photographing the bands, I watched Alan and tried to learn whatever I could. The one thing I noticed more than anything was how calm and composed he was. Everyone else – myself included – was scrambling to get tons of photos during the limit of the first three songs. Not Alan. His shooting was relaxed and calculated.

When I had him on the podcast we dissected one of his Pro Bull Riding shots, and the same thing came through. The fact that he was able to stay relaxed, calm, and composed during 8 second rides was a key to his success. He was able to adjust his technique, position and gear on the fly to make the images he wanted through careful thought. Yes, there is that idea of making, not just taking, an image again. Amazing how often that comes up.

I know I said five lessons, but here is a bonus…

“Be Aware, Be Astonished, Share Your Astonishment”
OK, so this is one I almost didn’t include because the episode won’t air until about 3 weeks after this post goes up – it should go live on 9/21/17. Why include a tip from an unreleased show? Because it stopped me in my tracks when my guest said it. Trey Ratcliff is such an amazing talent, but you knew that already. When I got him on the show, thanks to Rick Sammon, Trey was so generous with his thoughts on photography and technique.

Throughout the interview he would share bits of knowledge that left me speechless. He talks about his editing, and even touches a little bit on color theory, but this phrase was the one that got me. It immediately meant something to me. I’ve been in radio for almost 40 years, and there was an old story I’d heard related to doing Voice Overs. The way it’s told, a legendary Voice Over artist was asked how he finds inspiration when he has to do a commercial for some common and mundane product.

His answer was that he imagines he is hearing about the product for the first time. In that sense even shoes are amazing. These three things Trey mentions are the same concept, but for photography. A Voice Over lesson I have shared hundreds of times, and yet never thought to apply it to photography. “Be aware, be astonished, and share your astonishment.” Wow. So watch for the episode, or subscribe over at the This Week in Photo site.

The Art of Photography is alive and well, and we can learn and become better photographers with every image we see.

Again, thanks to Scott and Brad. Such an honor to share this space.

You can see more of Steve’s work at, listen to his Behind The Shot Podcast, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.