Category Archives Guest Blogger

Today I would like to share a journey to one of the most challenging and fascinating places on earth.

Want to stand on the edge of a crater and watch lava flowing beneath your feet? Want to explore the ancient churches of Lalibela? How about witnessing the culture and rituals of the lip plated Mursi people? Well, then this place is for you – welcome to Ethiopia.

I first learned about Ethiopia when a friend showed me a photograph of Erta Ale  – one of only six active lava lakes in the world. At the time I had no idea there is a place on Earth where you can stand right on the edge of an active volcano. How exciting! I knew right then and I must visit this place.

Little did I know how much more there is to see here – I explored centuries old churches of Lalibela, survived the scorching heat of the Danakil Depression and witnessed unique customs of the Omo Valley tribes.

Traveling in Ethiopia is not exactly comfortable – extreme heat and humidity, long hours in the car to get to most places, very basic accommodations with electricity and running water not always available. Almost every day I was pushed to my limits physically, emotionally and photographically.    

Some of you may wonder if it was worth it? There were moments on the journey when I wondered the same. What I have learned as a travel photographer is how important it is to test your own boundaries. Just when you think you cant take that next step, when you just want to give up and go home, when you are feeling frustrated and exhausted – that’s when you need to push yourself even harder, that’s when you will grow the most and transform. Your whole world opens up and you are never the same. One of the rewards of travel I welcome even more than breathtaking landscapes – learning to live in the moment. So is it worth it – absolutely! Never stop pushing yourself beyond the boundaries.    

The Salt Trade of Northern Ethiopia
Each day the salt miners make a 100km journey to Mekele – the nearest hub of the “white gold” trade.  Starting from the Danakil Depression where the salt is mined, it’s a three day trek through one of the hottest and cruelest places on earth with temperatures rarely falling below 40-60 C (104-140 F) during the day. This has been the livelihood of the Afar people for hundreds of years, and still continues to this day. Barren landscape, dust storms, unbearable heat and lack of water – after spending just a few days here – I’m truly fascinated by the resilience of the people living in this region.

Erta Ale Volcano – Staring Into The Mouth Of Hell
After a nine hour drive over lava fields, salt flats and sand, it’s a three hour hike in the dark until you finally reach the rim of the caldera. Not too far in the distance, you see the red smoke and ash coming from the ground – a mere 500 meters and you will witness what you’ve traveled so far to see – Erta Ale’s active crater.

Excited, you forget about exhaustion and want to run to it as fast as possible, but the local guide cautions you that this is the most dangerous part. As you descend there is no trail – you are walking on freshly crusted lava that cracks under your feet, one false step and you can fall into an air pocket – who knows what’s underneath?  Finally you made it – it’s a live volcano right in front of you  – you feel the heat, hear the lava bubble, see the ash and sparks flying up in mini explosions… It is one of nature’s most mesmerizing and dangerous shows.

The Faces Of Lalibela
Lalibela – the center of Ethiopian Christianity – is famous for its monolithic churches built underground. To this day the exact details of their construction remain a mystery. All the churches are active and priests still use century old books to pray, with the only source of light shining though small windows cut in the massive walls.

The Tribes Of The Omo Valley
Over 20 tribes live in the Omo Valley in the south of Ethiopia, close to the border with Kenya. Each tribe still follows unique rituals and traditions passed on from one generation to the next. Decorative scars, lip plates, being here feels like a time capsule to a foreign traveler.

I hope you enjoyed reading about Ethiopia. For those interested in joining me on adventure trips to some of the most unique corners of the world, feel free to send me a message at natalia@nataliastone.com.

Natalia Stone is a travel photographer based in New York City. Her passion for adventure and photography has taken her to over 40 counties and some of the most remote corners of the world. Whether standing on a rim of an active volcano in Ethiopia, photographing the northern lights in Norway or navigating through glacial waters of Greenland, her goal is to tell visual stories of the incredible treasures our planet holds.

You can see more of her work at NataliaStone.com, and follow her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

First of all, I would like to thank Scott Kelby and his wonderful team for this amazing opportunity.  Like many photographers I am self taught.  The classes and learning resources Scott has made available through the years has served as a foundation from which I built a career doing what I love.

Sometimes the light finds you. It was playing tricks with me all morning at Anse St-Jean on the Saguenay River
This is a compressed version of a much larger 36 megapixel stitched panoramic. Many don’t know that you can stitch images natively up to 60 megapixels. Do you know of any 60MP DSLR’s? Try this at home and shoot vertical when you do.

I have so many passions in life but three bubble up to the top: photography, travel, and teaching. I’m truly blessed to be able to do all three full time. They feed off of each other, as I write this blog post I’m in a motel in West Virginia making my way across the country from NYC, working on a personal project and scouting several locations for future workshops.

My first RAW photo taken with my iPhone 6S plus. Capturing dynamic range like this was simply not possible. This opens up many more creative possibilities.
Taken in the old city in Quebec. Embracing simplicity and color.

I have a very close connection with my students; there’s a real bond there. I understand that fiery passion of the creative process, that unyielding obsession and the frustration that inevitably comes with it. They’re two sides of the same coin. That frustration, that struggle, as Scott has said once, is a good thing. The frustration is the result of the recognition that we’re not where we want to be creatively. Yet! It’s also, however, an acknowledgement that we have a creative direction, we know where we want to be, if only (fill in the blank here).

Beauty truly is all around us. You just have to look harder sometimes.
Nature peeking through. The best part about being a photographer is recognizing the beauty in scenes like this. Capturing it is a bonus!

That frustration is an acknowledgement of our potential. Imagine the alternative. Take the top performers, in any creative endeavor, if there’s one thing they have in common, they’ll tell you their work is not finished, there’s more to the story. It’s a game of continuous improvement, with each step up the ladder a result of struggle, failure and success. There is no top to this ladder, it just gets higher and higher, the view just gets better. We’re all at different points on this latter. Joe McNally has a great view. No matter where we are and how good the view, we all get stuck.

This shaft of light produced a beautiful pattern, shining through the enormous windows of the NY public library.
Looking back into the streets of SoHo. Part of a project I’m working on for a gallery show just down the street from here later this year.

The Unplayable Piano
In Cologne, Germany in 1975, American jazz legend Keith Jarrett, already world famous, sat down to give the performance of his life. The recording of this session produced the best selling piano album and best selling solo jazz album in history. Just hours before however, he refused to play. There was a problem; the piano was the worst he’d ever seen, half the size of a typical piano, the keys stuck, the pedals broken. It was an unplayable piano. Sitting in his car outside the concert hall, listening to the pleas of a desperate teenage promoter standing in the rain, begging him to play, he agreed.

Taken in an abandoned hallway at one of the many pre-war buildings in Chelsea filled to the brim with art galleries. The light and color reflecting off the glossy walls of this dark corridor caught my immediately.
The blue hour just after sunset from an elevated platform on The High Line in NYC.

Playing in the middle of the range, no pedals, standing up and literally banging on the keys at point for bass and to project the sound, that unplayable piano allowed him to give the performance of his life. This story is recounted in a recent Ted Talks by Tim Harford, which I highly recommend. During the talk, he states, “We don’t want to be asked to do good work with bad tools. We don’t want to have to overcome unnecessary hurdles, but Jarret’s instinct was wrong.” Had he been playing on the best piano, if everything was finely tuned and working perfectly, that magical night never would have happened. He certainly wouldn’t have chosen those circumstances intentionally. None of us would. Perhaps we should. That frustration, that limitation, that hurdle makes us more creative.

Last year I discovered my unplayable piano.

Reflections are one of the scenes best served by the smaller sensor of the phone and the deeper depth of field it provides. I often shoot scenes in a way that takes advantage of this rather than to consider it a disadvantage. Macro photography is another area that benefits from this.

Apple reached out to me last year and asked me to give a presentation for them on iPhone photography, to simply inspire people to go out and shoot more with their iPhone. And so I did, using it as an excuse to embark on a road trip with my DSLR and my iphone and put it to the test. Before then, honestly, I would never have considered shooting with my phone. I’m a professional photographer, I take what I do very seriously, no self respecting photographer would… My instinct, like Jarret’s, was wrong.

Over the past year, my unplayable piano has taught me much about photography, about the creative process, about myself as a photographer. Ultimately, the experience has helped me to reflect who I am as a photographer and what is important to me, the quality of the image and the quality of the experience.

It’s still crazy to me how we’re supposed to capture our vision, our unique vision with this ridiculous piece of glass and metal and circuits we call a camera. I now know what every setting is, I know what every menu means, I know what every dial does. Who cares? Now what? The ability to create a meaningful image is much different than actually creating one. If you’re like me, the achievement of technical perfection and gear lust and acquisition is a comfortable safe distraction. Technical mastery is not the top rung of the latter, it doesn’t even have a good view.  It’s the start of something more. I feel like I’ve been stuck on this rung of the ladder for a while now, pursuing perfection over creativity, knowledge over experience. My unplayed piano helped me climb higher.

Taken with an app using a Photoshop process know as stacking to merge multiple photos. This allows not only for longer actual exposures but the ability to stack multiple short exposures. which comes in handy on windy days. Taken during one of the worst storms in recent history in Nova Scotia a few weeks ago.

My iPhone is handicapped compared to my full frame 42 megapixel DSLR in every way. Paradoxically however, these limitations, the lack of choice and options, are the very things that have challenged me, inspired me and helped me grow as a photographer. The limited resolution has forced me to carefully consider my compositions, the fixed focal length, severely limiting my options, has forced me to use my feet more, the lack of depth of field has required me to pay more attention to all of the details at the edge of the frame as well as more carefully considering the background.

Up until recently, shooting RAW wasn’t an option, shooting compressed jpegs required a more careful consideration of color balance and exposure control. The lack of a viewfinder has been incredibly helpful in breaking the habit of pulling the camera up to my eye and taking every picture from the lofty perspective of 5’7”. Holding the camera away from my body, the very thing we’re taught not to do, has allowed me to see a scene and compose with much greater freedom of movement. Also, a funny thing happens when you don’t have a big camera and lens in front of your face… you’re more approachable. This is me banging on the keys, flexing my creativity, making the system work for me.

A single RAW capture shooting directly into the sun rising over the St. Lawrence river. This should not be possible with a mobile phone. Taken with the iPhone 6S Plus the day after the 7 was released.

Consider again Jarrett’s performance. What made it the best selling solo jazz record ever, was how much it resonated with the audience. It was that what was being played was much more important than how it sounded, the bass was muffled, the treble sharp, it didn’t matter. If we can just suspend the importance of edge to edge sharpness, frame rate and ISO performance long enough, then maybe we can focus on what really matters; our vision, what initially caught our eye. Then, the light, the color, the composition, the gesture, the moment.

These are the timeless ingredients that truly comprise a great photograph and they have so very little to do with the camera we sling around our neck or the lens attached to it. If we can redefine, for ourselves, what image quality truly is, then maybe that camera we all have in our pockets is all we need to create meaningful work. Maybe, like that unplayable piano, it’s exactly what we need to create our best work yet.

I’d like once more to extent my gratitude to Brad Moore, Scott Kelby and the team at KelbyOne for this opportunity as well as Ron Martinsen from Ronmartblog for making the connection.

For those interested in learning more about my capture and post-processing workflow, I will be teaching several workshops this year in NYC and around the world this year. For those in NYC, in March, I’ll be leading my annual two-day Lightroom Bootcamp in NYC, in April I will partnering with world class street photographer Steve Simon in a special iPhone street photography workshop in NYC, October will be a very special and unique photography workshop on the island of Cape Breton in Nova Scotia in concert with the Celtic Colours festival and in November, an active adventure photography workshop in Bhutan with Zephyr Adventures. More information can be found by clicking the links above, signing up for my newsletter or reaching out to me directly at cliff@cliffordpickett.com I’d love to hear from you.

You can see more of Clifford’s work at CliffordPickett.com, and follow him on Instagram@cliffordpickettphotography and @eyephonephotographer, Twitter, and 500px.

Hi Gang: it’s my annual tradition to kick off the New Year with a look back at the best, most popular, and most commented-upon posts of the previous year, (and if I don’t sneak this in before January ends, well…it would just be bad form, so I’m squeaking this in just under the wire).

Today we’re honoring my picks for “Best Guest Blog Posts of 2016”

It was an amazing year for guest posts, and I cannot tell you how hard it was to narrow it down to just ten, because it was one of our best years for guest blog posts ever!

By the way: If you’re wondering how many posts we put up in the course of a year, in 2016 it was 248 posts (Whew!). Also, in case you were wondering: I actually do write all my own posts with the exception of Guest Blog Wednesday and Free Stuff Thursday which are handled for me by the awesome Brad Moore, for which I am boundlessly grateful (thank you so much, Brad!). :)

OK, here we go for “The Best Guest Blog Posts of 2016” (in no particular order):

Stephen Bollinger (above)
His post, “See like a dancer” was inspirational, insightful, and included some absolutely beautiful dance (and sports) images, and his message is spot on.
Luke Copping
His post “The Good, The Bad, and The Great – How To Vet Your Clients In Order To Save Your Time, Your Sanity, and Your Career” is hands down one of the best straight-up business posts of the year. Every photographer should read this one.
Jeremy Cowart
When There’s More Than Photography — Jeremy’s post about his dream to create “The Purpose Hotel” reminds us that we can think beyond our photography and grow in ways we never imagined. When you read this one, be sure to watch the videos in the post. This is so worthwhile. You’ll dig it.
Glyn Dewis
His “Photograph Like a Thief” is a wonderfully empowering, informative, well-researched and illustrated story that will change your perception on so many things. Brilliantly done. You will learn a lot (and a lot about yourself).
Monica Carvalho
Don’t let the first image in her post creep you out (even though it is a bit creepy) you’ll smile, laugh, and love her compositing, and her story. Very well done.
Chris Hershman
He titled it, “A Guide To Becoming A Filmmaker Using DSLR Cameras: Helping Photographers Transition Into Filmmaking” This isn’t just a guest post — it’s more like a Master Class for photographers on shooting video — I’m serious, this is one of the best articles I’ve ever seen on creating professional video. His examples are amazing, and he breaks it down on a level that is just incredible. If you’re interesting in getting started in shooting video, this should be your first stop.
 
Alan Hess
Alan’s post on Photo Releases for shooting concert photography, and his “day in the life” type of coverage of one of his photography gigs takes you “behind the curtain” to see a side of the business you rarely see. If you shoot bands, or dream of shooting concerts, this should be required reading.
Mike Olivella
It’s All About Perspective, Mike’s post about why you should be considering different angles, and even different lenses, to get more epic sports shots (and exactly how it’s all done, with lots of great behind-the-scenes shots), was so well illustrated, written, and received.
Sean Berry
What a fantastic post! It was about Sean’s “first week as the photographer for the Dallas Stars” which he said, “was one of the craziest weeks in my professional career. In the span of 5 days, I became a new photographer.” First, great story. Secondly, his examples, videos, and the step-by-step GIF of how the group shot you see above came together, and all the post processing stuff is just absolutely outstanding. So, so well done, and a great read. You will love it.
Seamus Payne
He gets right to the point with “What Makes Twilight So Vital to Great Architectural Photography” and if you’re into shooting real estate, or fine homes, or architecture, you will learn a lot in a very short time. Very well written, and very informative.
There’s an incredible amount of knowledge, passion, inspiration and soul shared in these posts. I’m so grateful to all the photographers and Photoshop experts who shared their thoughts, teaching and ideas through the my Guest Blog program, and of course a big thanks and high-five to the awesome Brad Moore for wrangling, managing and producing them all. It’s a lot of work, and he runs it all like a boss.
Hope you enjoyed this look back. Tomorrow it’s the 10 most popular posts of 2016 — hope you’ll join me for that.
Best,
-Scott
P.S. Peter Hurley’s “Top 10 Headshot Photography Questions Answered” class that was released last week is killing it! The comments we’re getting are just incredible. Peter is a national treasure! :)
Photo by Levi Sim

If Your Goal Is Income from Photography, Your Approach MUST Be to Learn and Evolve —
That’s Why I Teach Video for Still Photographers

A lot of pro shooters who are making their living with still images, along with shooters who are looking at photography as a source of income, can get discouraged with income potential these days. Sure, a bunch of people are making a good living, but it’s not as easy as it used to be.

A big part of the challenge is because so many people take pictures with their phones. And another challenge is that affordable DSLRs available at big box stores can capture some amazing images. There are all kinds of automation and intelligent algorithms in modern DSLRs and that help average shooters grab some really solid shots. Some could even pass for ‘professional’ images.

It’s no secret that making money as a photographer requires professionals to bring something extra to the table. There’s technique. Customer service. Unique style. Post processing skills. And there’s no question that an understanding of lighting can make your images stand out, especially if you know how to use speedlights or constant lights, and you have a real understanding of photographic principles like depth of field and composition.

Larry in a training video for Canon USA

The problem is human nature; how we want to learn and understand something and even “master” it, and then we want it to stay that way because we’ve mastered it. Look at the school system… You go there. You learn. You get a diploma or a degree. You finish learning. And then you get a job.

Things don’t work that way. They always change. And if you really did stop learning instead of making lifelong learning a part of your life, you will limit your potential and probably put yourself out of work.

I’m thrilled by all the learning that’s available online these days. — No, this isn’t a commercial for KelbyOne, where I have some excellent classes about lots of camera models and DIY money-savers for photographers. ;-) — It’s really my belief system. And it’s the reason I worked at Kelby Media for a decade, and now I’m out on my own, continuing with online training. I see the things that can be done to help photographers be better. To make a great living at photography. And I get EXCITED!!

I happen to believe that simple videos can be added to a still photographer’s business and make clients happier while future-proofing business for photographers. Whether or not you decide to go down that path, you need to do something to keep learning, growing, and staying ahead of the masses. You need to keep learning so you can always be better and smarter than (or at least as smart as) your competition, so you can stay in business and thrive. Lifelong learning will future-proof your success.

Before you freak out and start yelling at Scott’s blog, “Hey Becker!! If I wanted to shoot video I’d go to film school!!” Just slow down for a second and hear me out…

I’m not talking about crafting a film, or learning cinematic camera angles, or cinematic storytelling, or even editing. I’m talking about flipping the toggle on your DSLR while you’ve got a standard portrait setup, and just grab a few minutes of your subject talking. Granted, you’ll need to use constant lights instead of strobes, and you’ll need a better microphone than the one that’s built into your camera, but there’s not much more to it than that.

There’s a kind of very simple video still shooters are uniquely prepared to capture, and it’s in super high demand. In fact, you’re BETTER prepared to do this kind of video than a video production company is. And if you’re a photographer with a modern DSLR and a little experience with headshots, you have almost everything you need to add a simple, profitable service to a regular headshot session. No camera moves or film school techniques.

It’s no secret that video is a HUGE part of web based online marketing and social media. And just about every business out there, small and large, knows that they need professional looking videos for their online marketing. They understand that they can’t get away with smartphone shaky-cam videos.

What those businesses DON’T know, is that you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars hiring a video production company, to get talking-head videos. And most still shooting photographers don’t know that this kind of video is incredibly easy to deliver, and that you can charge hundreds of dollars for a little extra shooting time, tacked onto a standard headshot session. And whatever you charge for your headshots can more than double when you do this kind of video work.

What’s Really Involved and What Can You Charge?
First you need to know what kind of video I’m talking about, and what kind of videos I’m NOT suggesting. Then I’ll give you the details so you can add it to your services list starting next week.

The videos I’m talking about are simple promotional videos for your business clients. Videos that are short and can be posted to a company website or social media or a YouTube channel. There are a handful of simple formulas or templates you can follow, to create something your clients will love.

And what I’m NOT suggesting is traditional video production. Things that require camera moves, multi-camera shoots, actors, capturing scenes, or anything approaching cinematography. My guess is, if you wanted to be a videographer, you’d start with film school training. The challenge is that there aren’t many sources of training out there that are designed to help still photographers understand simple business video capture without starting down the slippery slope toward film school.

Some of the formulas/templates you can follow to start making videos are talking headshots, product promotional videos, customer service solutions, and the incredibly powerful Facebook video ads category.

Talking headshots are essentially a standard portrait session with constant lights instead of strobes. Go ahead and do your regular portrait session, and then clip a lapel microphone on your subject, flip your camera dial/switch to video capture, and record the person talking about their business for a minute or two. There’s no need to spend more than $30 on the microphone, and if you already have some nice constant lights, all you need to do is capture your client with video. It’s pretty straight forward.

Larry on the popular FocusEd Training series from B&H

With product promo videos, you don’t have to be especially fancy. Start by shooting a bunch of good product stills. Then use those stills as visuals during a narrated description of the product. The key with video is movement, so you take one simple step beyond narrating a slideshow. The video should slowly pan or zoom with each image. This is called the Ken Burns effect and it’s a simple, engaging way to craft a professional looking finished video, by using your still shooting skill set.

Customer service videos are “gold” to some businesses. If you’re working with a client who has customers with a common question or problem, you can create a video that answers the question or solves the problem. Typically businesses have FAQ sections on their websites, but if you can create a video that uses the same ‘moving still images’ style as the product demo we just covered, customers will be happier. People are much quicker to watch a video than plow through a bunch of FAQs or a “knowledge base” on a website. And your clients will appreciate the drop in human resources needed to answer all those common questions.

And yet another simple style of video, is to create Facebook video ads. Consider that 70-80% of Facebook videos are watched with the sound off. That means still images with interesting pictures, paired with text on screen, are an incredibly effective style of Facebook video ad. And because of how people consume Facebook ads, photographers are once again positioned to gather the materials for great Facebook ad campaigns.

So what can you charge for these videos? Generally, hundreds. Assuming you charge over $200 for a typical headshot session, go ahead and add 150% to it. Consider that the going rate for professionally captured and produced video from a video production company is well over a thousand dollars, sometimes several thousand, if you charge less than a thousand, that’s a big savings for your client and solid income for you.

The only thing we haven’t covered here is editing. This is a lot easier than you might think, but you don’t have to do it yourself if you don’t want to. In the same way that some photographers invest in expensive, wide printers… large format printing could be done in-house or it can be handled by a company like Bay Photo, MPIX, Millers, etc. The same is true for video editing. But since learning video editing might take a little while, start out by using a hired editor while you look into whether or not you want to do your own editing.

I’d suggest looking for a local freelancer or someone online to help. And I’d suggest that you stay away from local video production companies because their prices will almost always be cost-prohibitive. They come at video from a much more involved perspective.

Larry hosting NAB Show Live

Should YOU Really Add Video to Your Mix?
Maybe. If you’re primarily a landscape photographer, your clientele may not be in the market for video. If you have a style of still shooting and a reputation for a particular look, and that’s drawing a solid client base, there may be no need to add video to your mix. But if you’re a portrait shooter, or product shooter, and you have business clients, and you’re trying to stay ahead of the competition… adding simple videos that follow a standard template, could do great things for your bottom line.

Something I Learned from Scott A Long Time Ago – FREE Stuff
When you look at online business, it’s getting more common over the past few years, but as long as I’ve known Scott, he has been doing this… To build a following, you have to give away good information. Scott does this all the time on this very blog. There’s The Grid. There are webinars and YouTube videos. KelbyOne is built on a foundation of helping people and I wanna be like that when I grow up.

With that in mind, I’ve started a website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, etc. all hoping to reach out to small business people who need help doing their own videos. And along those same lines, in December I launched a coaching service for professional photographers, to help them do professional videos for their clients and improve their bottom line.

Here’s A Bunch of Free Stuff on the Topic of Simple Business Videos
I want to give you links to all kinds of stuff you can use to get going with video. This first set of resources has to do with simple video creation for promotional purposes. These documents and videos aren’t specifically targeted at photographers. Rather, they’re targeted at any entrepreneur who knows they need simple promotional videos and they want to tackle those videos themselves, in-house.

Here’s Even More Free Stuff that’s Normally Paid Content…
In December I launched a small private coaching program to help photographers. This included a lot of personal Skype coaching, editing services for shooters who didn’t want to edit their own video editing, and some other stuff. At this point, there aren’t any more openings for this group PLUS, I don’t want this guest blog post to be a commercial for that group. But there are some great resources I created for this group that can be really helpful, and I want to give you access to some of this training for free. No strings attached. The link is below, but just a few things before we get to that.

The main training video is all about helping photographers create their own promotional talking headshot video. The idea is to help them (and you) do exactly what you need to, in order to capture a great promotional video for yourself, and then later turn that experience into a guide for when you capture clients on video, and coach them through their own promotional talking headshot.

There’s a section at the end of the video, that is dedicated to telling my clients how to package and upload their videos for editing. This won’t really pertain to you, so you can stop watching at that point.

Finally, because there are links on my clients’ page, to special resources for them, I’ve created a separate (similar) page on my site with the links I can share to the public, so you don’t need a password to access anything. So to get the training video and the other cool links, just go to LarryBecker.tv/kelby.

You can see more from Larry at LarryBecker.tv, and follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Photo by Casey Cosley

(Editor’s Note: Some links to artist websites may contain artistic nudity)

The Hidden Blessing and Stigma of Failing
Just today I realized that I have been using Photoshop for half of my life. I remember being 16 and unaware at how fortunate I would be to discover Photoshop! I was in high school during a class I took for computer animation. It was an elective and one that allowed me to come across Photoshop while fiddling around with the programs on the school computer. Notably, it wasn’t even part of the curriculum and I was cheating on another program just to go on dates with Photoshop.

Photo by Djinane Alsuwayeh

Fast forward to today, this love affair with Photoshop has consumed me whole. Charles Bukowski wrote in part, “Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all…” The end message being the idea of being totally immersed in what you love, far outweighing partaking in what you’re not passionate about.

Photo by Bella Kotak

Being wildly immersed in the pursuits of your passion, there comes many a time where we have to face the ugly face of failure. My beginnings were the perfect backdrop for my message. It started in school, a place where failure isn’t really celebrated. It’s precisely why my level of growth happened away from school entirely. As we grow up, we’re taught that getting an A+ is sought after, and that failing is a terrible thing. Anytime you make a mistake, it’s looked down upon and the stigma of failing is one that needs a different light.

Photo by David Benoliel

No one really celebrates you failing in school. They don’t exactly give you bonus points for expressing why you thought a certain way and congratulating you for thinking outside the box. But they should; creative ideas happen in that exact space! Grand ideas are not built on memorization, but creatively thinking outside of typical constructs that we’re so used to.

Photo by Bella Kotak

The Idea Of Failing

It seems as though it is ingrained in us that failing is an inherently bad thing. Even in school, we’re judged by our grades and not our intentions. Not by what we learned from it, but what we didn’t get right. Even in business, it applies. As creatives are already hard on themselves, I want them to know that failure is beautiful and becomes the canvas for igniting better ideas.

Photo by Eric Michael Roy

I was never the brightest student in school. I felt that I always needed to spend twice as long studying something to make a lesser grade than my counterparts. I tried so hard but barely made it into the top 30% of my class. In college, I always questioned every answer but many of them could have been the right one. Granted, you don’t really get any bonus points for critical thinking if the answer is A and not B.

Photo by Alexander Saladrigas

I found out once it was all over that school itself wasn’t for me. Being a perfectionist, I didn’t feel proud of not succeeding to the best of my abilities. I was hard on myself and school didn’t make me feel better. It wore me down mentally and I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere in life, until I found retouching.

Photo by Bella Kotak

A Personal Connection

The problem with how we perceive failure is not being able to grow from it. My mental state truly changed the moment I grasped the idea that failure is actually great. As a retoucher, I’ve been fortunate to network with some outstanding photographers in the industry. What I learned from being around them was how they approached failed shoots or ventures. They truly brushed it off and expressed exactly what benefit they attained from it.

Photo by Anushka Menon

For me, the first huge failure came early. There was a major retouching agency that I wanted to work for. Within a short period of time and progress, they took note of my work and approached me to do a test. Excitedly, I took the opportunity and did my best. I spent the entire night and I felt so proud of what I had produced! My layers were filled with joy I tell you.

Photo by Andrew Fearman

To my surprise, I was told that it wasn’t good enough. What? I was in denial to be honest.

At the time, I was extremely disheartened. I even contemplating giving up as a retoucher all together. I felt like it was my only long term goal and I failed miserably! I mean, I did my best couldn’t they see it? If top talent couldn’t see my talent, then what was the point? Maybe I’m really not that good then. I should quit!

Photo by Hagop Kalaidjian

I had just quit my job to pursue retouching as well, so in my mind, it was all gloom and doom. Yeah, I was being a drama queen, but for me that agency was one of the best.

Photo by Scott Hugh Mitchell

What it did for me was motivate me in improving my own work and being better with my own business. A few years later, it turns out I was more applicable for certain opportunities that even they had failed at. Ha! I was so proud and thrilled that I stepped up in a situation that they weren’t suitable for. At that moment, I realized that failing to that degree was such a gift. It pushed me in achieving a greater height than simply being comfortable!

Photo by Susanne Spiel

At the moment that you do not get something you’ve been aiming for, do not consider temporary failure to reflect on your future and your current worth! Take it from me, stay the course! Failure is truly a gift, one that will bring forth opportunities and growth that you wouldn’t have discovered if you hadn’t failed. You’ll soon learn to celebrate it.

Photo by Michelle Fennel

The Stigma Needs To Change
The reason I write this message is because many creatives are extremely hard on themselves. Even when it comes to inquiries, if a potential client doesn’t accept their rate, they feel they aren’t good enough and deserving of that rate. So many of us are even closed off from being critiqued that we consider it personal attacks. I used to be one of them. If none of these apply to you, then consider yourself lucky. The best way I’ve learned is getting critiqued by my clients. Not being open to that would have put me behind. For many of us, it’s something we need to work through.

Photo by Hagop Kalaidjian

Failure is a beautiful thing. Know that it’s okay to not please every client at all times. Know that you won’t be suitable for every opportunity that comes your way. It’s okay to not succeed at creating your vision for every shoot you do. As long as you focus on what you did wrong, and acknowledge that there’s room for improvement, you should celebrate it.

True growth can only come from failure as an artist. It’s not defined by how many likes you get on Instagram either. There are layers and masks in Photoshop for a reason. Put a few layers on your career and know that it’s okay to delete some as you build the PSD of your life!

Photo by Hagop Kalaidjian

You can see more of Pratik’s work at SolsticeRetouch.com, and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

I know this is a line that’s probably really expected from me, but I’m gonna say it anyway:

I am so EXCITED!!!

Why, you ask?! Because I just recently got back from spending an amazing week down in Tampa, Florida with the KelbyOne crew filming my new class, and somehow, by the power of the god of lightning and those little greek shoes with the wings on them that make things go really fast, the video has already been edited, made into magic and released!!!

We designed this new class around the one question that I get asked most often when people see my images:
“How are all the dogs you photograph so incredibly well-behaved?”

You want to know the big secret? They’re not. :)

We thought – what a brilliant idea it would be to take a look behind-the-scenes, to pull back the veil and show you what it’s truly like to photograph dogs in real world situations. (And not just any dogs – no, we’re talking extra challenging, extra wild, extra wacky dogs!) The class was an absolute blast to make and, harkening back to my earlier sentiment, I am SO excited to share it with you! Here’s a quick way to get there if you’re dying to see!

I thought – before I get into telling you about all the things I really want to tell you about today – it would be fun to share a few behind-the-scenes shots from the class filming. (forgive the quality of these photos, they’re just iPhone snaps. Because, you know, why would you use one of the 6 or 7 high end DSLRs that were just hanging around within a 10 foot radius of you when you could use a cell phone? HA!!) Oh, and you should be especially excited about that puppy. Because I am.


Now let me get in to what I’m here to talk to you about today:

The Immeasurable Importance of Personal Work

This is a really, really good time for me to be writing this blog post and I’ll tell you why.

In January, everything feels new. I get to start again, wipe away the slate and build everything even bigger and better than I ever have before (of course, I could do this at any time, during any month or any day of the year  – but like the rest of society, seeing January 1st pop up on my calendar usually kicks my butt into gear in a way that any other date on the calendar could only dream of). So all of this being said, in January, I tend to do a lot of dreaming. I do a lot of thinking up big ideas, of making tremendous plans and setting goals that are so high they scrape across the sky. I have all these wild schemes to travel here, to journey there, to chase the last bits of yellow light across faraway landscapes, to follow my heart to shelter dogs across the world. I want to share more stories and give a voice to countless more voiceless.

I guess what I’m trying to say is; I have a heck of a lot of things I want to do. :)

So what’s my point here? When I think about all of these big dreams and adventures, I realize that almost every single one of them wouldn’t fall under the category of ‘commercial’ or paid client work. I suppose that’s the thing about chasing down that flickering light that’s causing such a burning in your heart – its intentions come from a place unmotivated by money or material things.

So, I have this great big pie-in-the-sky dream for this year. And that is to do more personal work.
And when I say ‘personal work,’ I’m talking about the kind of work that sets my soul on fire. The kind that makes my heart beat just a little bit faster. The kind that fills my stomach with little yellow butterflies just thinking about it.

See, here’s the thing about commercial and private, commissioned work. That stuff is great. Brilliant, actually – and I’m endlessly grateful for it. It pays the bills, keeps me sheltered and warm during these miserable New England winters, and keeps my favorite little four-legged dude’s bowl full of food.

However, commercial work can be creatively limiting. Commercial work means having a client that you have to please and whose preferences and opinions must be considered. There are deadlines and invoices and approvals. And most times, this translates to creativity and vision being controlled and ultimately, compromised.

But personal work? You know what’s so impossibly beautiful about personal work? It’s all up to me. I can make magic as big and as colorful and as absolutely unapologetically ‘me’ as possible. It’s limitless.

I have had the lucky privilege of traveling quite a lot and working all over the world. Throughout my adventures, I’ve been blessed to have met a lot of talented photographers. But here’s one thing I’ve found quite commonly in a lot of the creatives that I meet: It strikes me to discover that a lot of photographers seem to forget the immeasurable, unmatched value of personal work – only shooting for their clients, but never for themselves.

So here’s my secret for you: You don’t have to be being paid to be shooting. Just go outside and shoot.
When I was sitting in my studio today, thinking about all of the things I wanted to say in this blog post – something really big hit me. But don’t worry, I’m okay. …

(That was a joke. How’d I do?)

I realized that I have built my entire career on a foundation of personal work. It is at the very core of how I got to where I am today.

Say Whaaat?!

It’s the truth. I got my start in photography by volunteering my time at my local animal shelter. There was no motivation for money. There was no end game or specific intention to do anything other than share the stories of the animals that I loved so much. I watched them as they patiently waited for their families to come find them and I was fueled by passion. I was fueled by the way I felt when I looked through the bars of those cages and saw the big, round eyes of the forgotten looking up at me. Nothing more, nothing less.

If you have enough passion for the thing you’re photographing – for the moments that you’re capturing –  being paid or not being paid to make those images is an irrelevant detail. Because you can’t fake passion. You can’t change it. You can’t control it. And that is what’s so brilliant about it. That kind of authenticity brings people from miles. When you’re shooting personal work – you’re shooting something you’re passionate about – no rules or restrictions or regulations. It’s the closest you’ll ever come to your one true voice as an artist. And thats why it’s just so damn important.

So you’re reading this and you’re probably saying — “well, this is all well and good Kaylee, but I’m a professional photographer, and I need money to live, I can’t just be shooting personal work all the time.”

You’re right.

But here’s the thing. Personal work pays off in a huge, huge way. It’s the magic in your body of work that moves the hearts and minds of clients.

It’s the icon – the face – that defines you and what you stand for. It’s the visual representation of exactly what it looks like on the inside of your heart, and it will very likely be the most moving reason that a client will dig into their wallets and hire you.

You know when you wake up in the middle of the night with an idea? And that idea is so big it fills your head and spills over the edges of the piece of paper you’re furiously scribbling on to document every last detail? And you think of it for days and days and it makes your heart beat faster and it makes your head buzz with the feeling of possibility? That’s where the magic is! Put your finger on it and hold it right there!!! That’s exactly the thing that you need to be shooting! Money or no money. You go, you chase that idea down and grab it by its tail and you create it. You breathe life into it. JUST SHOOT.

So, getting back to that whole ‘extreme value in personal work thing…’ I thought, sure, I could write this blog post and rattle off all my thoughts and feelings and leave you with a million pretty adjectives about why I think personal work is important, but maybe I should put my money where my mouth is and actually show you some real life examples of what personal work has done for me.


This sweet girl here is Abby. I met Abby last year when I was visiting a friend’s ranch property down in Southern California. We were there to relax. Hike. Have campfires. Walk under the stars. You know, just generally get away from the madness of business and emails and deadlines, etc. We were there to be simple. To ‘vacation’.

Here’s the thing though — a funny little thing I’ve found throughout the years —  you can’t take a vacation from passion.

I saw Abby happily chasing the rancher’s tractor as she was transporting bails of hay out of the barn. I looked up and saw that fairytale sky – those sweeping clouds, dancing through the deep blues of the late afternoon. The California sun was sparkling overhead, swirling through Abby’s fur and warming our skin. When I have moments like this — moments where inspiration strikes me like a dagger in the chest – they feel so familiar. My heart begins to slam against my rib cage in a syncopated rhythm – reminding me that moments like this don’t come twice. So I shoot. I just need to shoot. That’s passion. There’s no rhyme or reason or formula that can make any sense of it. No. It’s nonsense of the absolute best kind. It’s actual magic. So, I did what I needed to do and was suddenly on a mad chase back to my cabin as quickly as my feet would carry me to grab everything I needed to make Abby’s photo.

I spent about 20, maybe 30 minutes, photographing Abby that day. The resulting images brought me no money, no fame, no special awards or accolades — they just brought me joy in my heart. They simply brought me pride and satisfaction for bringing and idea to life and capturing that spirit of canine that I love so much. That’s all.

Well, fast forward a few months later – I got a call from the editor of one the biggest dog magazines in the industry. My heart skipped a beat when they told me they had seen Abby’s photo and wanted it on their cover. Not only did that opportunity bring me a paycheck – but it also brought me that unbelievable feeling of walking into a Barnes and Noble and seeing my work staring back at me from the shelf.


How about this next one? This is my own dog Joshua. That basically means that every photo I take of this magical little creature is really just personal work. It’s me wanting to document every moment of silliness and joy that he so selflessly brings me on a daily basis, just as one would want to document their wedding or vacation. No one is paying me to photograph my own dog. When I create his images, all I know for sure is that, while not getting paid in dollars, I’m getting paid in beautiful, tangible memories that I’ll be able to put in my pocket and hold close to my heart for the rest of my life. And that’s all I need for motivation.

Well, one hot Summer day, I took Joshua to his favorite lake for a swim. We got into the water and started splashing around, playing fetch and just being generally silly and carefree, as we like to do. But then, minutes in – I got that familiar feeling again — that pang in my heart and that pounding in my chest when I know I absolutely must capture a moment. So right then and there, I left Joshua with his Dad and I hopped in the car, wet bathing suit and all, and went flying back home to grab my gear just as quickly as I could so I could return and make this image.

Since then? Not only has this image brought me countless smiles on a personal level – but it’s also been featured in multiple commercial ad campaigns across the world – – bringing me a sum of well over 5 figures in licensing fees to date.


If you’re not convinced on personal work yet, hang tight, I have a few more for you…

Here’s Joshua again. It was another one of those times – the kind of vision that would wake me in the middle of the night. An idea that brewed in my head, taunting me in every quiet moment, until I took the time to give it life. I took Joshua to a local park, bought a comical amount of balloons from the local party store on the way, and with the help of one of my best friends  – made this image. (If you’re thinking ‘it cant be that simple’ – you’re right — don’t let me fool you –  this image was an absolute marathon of frustration and obstacles and audible cuss words to make. ha! But I suppose that’s another post for another day.)

Now, I have this photo of Joshua as a 40 x 40 piece of artwork hanging in my studio. I look at it everyday and his joy and spirit infiltrate and inspire me like absolutely nothing else does. But, what has this image done for me, professionally, you ask? Fair Question.

Last year, it was featured in an ad campaign by a large pet food company bringing me income and brand awareness. It was also the cover image on The Unexpected Pit Bull calendar — an organization whose work I care very deeply about.

It was an interior image in my 2016 calendar ‘Pawsitive Thinking’, it’s in circulation on the front of a Birthday greeting card, and it’s printed on the new Dog Breath Photography clothing line that was just released this past Fall. WHEW! (oh, and shameless clothing line plug: BOOM!)


Okay. As I said above – what’s all this personal work talk without real life examples, right? Right. So, I saved the best for last, because here’s my favorite one ever.

A little while back, I took a special trip down to a quiet little city in Florida called St. Augustine to visit my grandmother. When I was in town, I got in touch with an old friend of mine who I knew lived in the area and we made time to meet. This friend of mine has 4 beautiful dogs and we decided to take them on a walk. I casually brought my camera along, thinking I might be able to do a little practicing of photographing multiple dogs together while we were out there. I snapped this photo on the forest path just as we started walking in. I delighted in the image as I looked at the back of my camera, but then counted that moment as nothing more than a documentation of a special afternoon with a dear, old friend and 4 beautiful canine souls. And that was all I needed.

I never, in a million years, would have imagined that this image from our walk in the forest would soon be solely responsible for making one of my longest-standing, most surreal dreams come true. Earlier this year, I was contacted by National Geographic who had seen this image and wanted it as their cover photo for the premiere issue of their brand new magazine  – Nat Geo Wild. (hang on a second while I go sob joyfully and uncontrollably for like 30 or 40 minutes..…)


So, here’s the thing. Personal work MATTERS. It matters more than I can ever say. It creates untold opportunities. What is inside your heart is far more important than any client plan or commercial call sheet for any shoot that could ever happen. So, that’s why, this year, I plan to do a heck of a lot more of it.

If I could recommend one thing, it’s this: Don’t sit back and watch your email inbox, waiting for something big to happen to you. You go happen to IT. Go make yourself opportunities. Go find those dreams.

‘Cause heres the thing about dreams; they can be elusive, sneaky little devils — but take it from me, if you chase them down with every last breath in your chest – you can catch them,

…and they do come true.


Now that I’ve inundated you with some of my favorite images, I would LOVE to see some of the personal work that you’re most proud of. Post away in the comments and I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for your work! I’m excited to see what you’re all up to!! :)

From the very bottom of my heart, thank you for reading this and for filling this world up with color and creativity. Grateful to be living, breathing and creating alongside all of you!

-Kaylee

You can see more of Kaylee’s work at DogBreathPhoto.com, and follow her on Facebook, Instagram, 500px, and Twitter.

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