I’m happy to announce that we are now accepting entries to have your own solo gallery showing at The Gallery at KelbyOne, in Tampa, Florida. Our last winner, Melanie Kern Favilla is an engineer on the Long Island Railroad. Our first winner, Mark Wegner was an art director. Our next winner could be you. If you’re thinking there’s no way you could win, that’s exactly what Melanie and Mark both said. The only way you don’t have a chance is if you don’t enter.

If you’re thinking there’s no way you could win, that’s exactly what Melanie and Mark both said. The only way you don’t have a chance is if you don’t enter.

Here’s a quick one-minute video with the details:

Here’s how to enter: 

  1. Here’s where you submit a link to your portfolio, or Facebook album, or Flickr page, or online gallery – (we’re looking for a body of work – at least 20 images) Note: this competition is only open to KelbyOne members.
  2. From the submissions, we will choose a single winner. It could be you. If it is, we’ll  fly you and a guest (from anywhere in the world) to the gallery in Tampa, Florida for a solo gallery showcasing your work, where we’ll feature approximately 18 of your images, beautifully printed and displayed by Bay Photo Lab using their amazing Xpozer system.
  3. The evening of the opening, you will welcome the crowd to a wine and cheese reception held in your honor that evening in the gallery where they can see your work, and get a chance to chat with you in person.
  4. Following the reception, we’ll move to our theater for an interview with you about your work, your life, your inspirations, and well…you. It will be streamed live around the world (along with behind-the-scenes images of the opening, and photos of your work).
  5. When it’s all over, you will receive all the prints from the exhibition (courtesy of Bay Photo Lab), and one of your images will be added our permanent collection, so future visitors can get see what your gallery images.

Note: The deadline for submissions is: September 30, 2017, at 11:59 PM EDT.

Have questions?
Here’s the link to an earlier post with a detailed Q&A on how this all works.

Hope we’ll be welcoming you to your own gallery show very soon! Good luck everybody!

One more thing…
We’ll wrap up with some photos from the opening of the gallery earlier this year:

Have a great weekend!



The Ultimate Guide to Sensor Cleaning and Camera Care with Moose Peterson
Join Moose Peterson as he dives deep into his workflow for cleaning and maintaining his cameras and lenses. Whether your camera is the tool that helps you earn your living, or helps you enjoy your hobby, keeping it clean and maintained is an essential skill to master. In this class Moose puts your fears to rest and shows you the tools he uses, while demonstrating how to get the job done safely. From packing your travel cleaning kit to staging the room for cleaning to getting right down to cleaning your sensor, Moose covers everything you need to know to keep your gear looking like new for years to come.

In Case You Missed It
These photographs are a way to help preserve history and honor the victories and sacrifices made by the men who flew them and the crews who kept them flying. Join Moose Peterson for this eye opening documentary, Aviation Photography: Warbirds and the Men Who Flew Them.

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 MatthewSimmonsPhoto.com and follow him on Instagram.

I’ve been there hundreds of times. We all have, I’m sure. We’re prowling the streets in an unfamiliar land and there they are, right there in front of us. A local character, personality oozing and dressed just how you’d ask a model to if you were epitomising the destination. You want to take a photo, right? But what’s the etiquette?! Do we pay? Do we ask? If we ask we break the element of surprise which affords us that reportage, candid shot. But what if we want to use the photo? We need a release in many circumstances so we need to go say hi and get a little signature. Well here’s how I do it!

If, for example, we’re out and about in Havana (which I hear you Americans are allowed to do now) there will be a local puffing on a Habinero and you will want a photo. But guess what… they have a price. It’s in situations like these where the person has basically put themselves there specifically for that purpose and it’s their living, so these people need paying. So here’s the first rule: if it’s someone making their living from donations, donate. Monks, street entertainers, buskers, beggars, they need paying just because. If you can get a model release signed, happy days. That leads me on to the next point.

If you’re paying and if you want to use your resulting photos to their full extent, the model release is something you should strongly consider. In my bag I have a small wedge of them for ‘just in case’ situations like these. Getting it signed, however, isn’t your consideration but theirs. If they point blank refuse and you’ve worked your way through your powers of persuasion and landed slap on the floor there’s not a great deal you can do, but then there won’t be a great deal you can do with your photos either. If the person isn’t recognisable you don’t need to deal with this at all, it then all comes down to you. So there’s the second rule: model release!

Next up it’s the fiscal aspect. How much do you pay? Well it all depends on how bad you want the shot and what plans you dream up for it’s subsequent use. If it’s someone who’s expecting to have their photo taken, they won’t ask for much. A £/$/ or two will suffice in most cases. When the stakes are raised be prepared to get value for money and get your bargaining gear engaged! Although I won’t recommend it as an option, here’s a tactic I’ve used in Cuba. Plaza de San Francisco. There was a church I wanted to go up on top of. I saw a balcony, I knew it existed, but I just couldn’t get to the right part of the building to access this balcony. That is until I found the right person, and had the foresight to arm myself with the right currency. Sure, my CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos) were good, but I had something more valuable – sweets! With the right amount of sweets, which are a rare and valuable commodity there, I was able to negotiate my way behind the special doors to the balcony for the shot I wanted!

So lastly, if you’re travelling and you think you’re going to come across some models you’ll shoot, always have coins and small notes with you separate from the rest of your money. This way you aren’t revealing to any unwelcome eyes where you keep your cash, and you aren’t showing that you’re (relatively) rich. As if your camera isn’t a beacon for that already! You could consider making it cheaper for yourself by offering a copy of the photo, which I did to get this couple to walk past me in New Jersey. A much cheaper version, and a souvenir for them.

Let me know if you have your own experiences shooting models on the go, I love to hear from you.

Much love

Above: me traveling light in Italy’s Dolomites – minimum gear packed into a minimum sized rental car. 

Recently I’ve had a flood of emails, texts, Facebook comments, direct messages — you name it — about which is the best lens to use for travel photography and so I thought I’d tackle that here today.

The lenses I’m going to recommend (it’s really just one lens, but you need a variation of it depending on whether you’re using a Full Frame body or Crop Sensor body) I came to fall in love with the hard way — by traveling with WAY too much gear. So much gear that for a few years it tended to kinda ruin either a part of most of the trip due to taking so much unnecessary gear.

My goal is to travel with just one lens that does it all — that covers such an awesome range that:

(a) I don’t have to carry a 2nd lens at all

(b) Which means I don’t have to carry a camera bag with me either (it stays in my hotel room, mostly empty) and I don’t’ have to worry about someone snatching my camera bag because I don’t have one with me.

(c) I can still enjoy my vacation, which is really important.

Today, I’m just covering Full Frame (so this isn’t the longest post in history – Crop Sensor picks next week). 

Nikon Shooters: Get the Nikon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G  VR Lens ($946 at B&H Photo). This is a very lightweight, super-sharp, freakin’ awesome lens. Jay Maisel uses it and swears by it. Enough said. It was one of my favorite lenses back when I shot Nikon.

Canon Shooters (like me): Get the Tamron 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 Di VC PZD Lens for Canon (it’s $599 at B&H Photo. A steal!). Full disclosure – Tamron is one of the sponsors of my weekly show “The Grid” but I had this lens long before then. Other disclosure: It’s not the sharpest lens in the world, but it’s plenty sharp enough, and it only weighs 190z. I take this puppy all over the world, and I love that I never have to change lenses.

NOTE: Why don’t I use the Canon 28-300mm, which is sharp as a tack? It’s because it’s not a compact lens, and really wouldn’t work for travel. It’s heavy as anything (nearly 4lbs), expensive as anything (around $2,400), and it so old it’s a “push/pull” zoom – you don’t rotate the barrel to zoom in/out – you tug it in/out manually. Not for travel. Every time I’m at Canon HQ I whine like a baby to them about not making an updated, lightweight, inexpensive 28-300mm. It’ll happen one day, just not this day. Fingers crossed it’s while I’m still young(ish). 

Sony Shooters: Sony has the Sony FE 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS Lens (around $900 at B&H), which isn’t as long as I’d like (300mm) but is wider than either the Canon or Tamron by 4mm, and you’d think 4mm doesn’t make that much difference, and at the long end it wouldn’t, but on that wide end it actually does. So, it’s a pretty nice range, and it’s fairly light at just 1-3/4 lbs. Now, if you don’t want to spend that much, and you really want that 300mm on the long end, Tamron makes a version of that 28-300mm lens I mentioned for Canon, in a Sony mount version for $599 at B&H. Worth considering.

Warning! Don’t fall into this trap!
With any one of these lenses, you won’t have to change lenses during the entire trip. If you take even one extra lens, you’ll experience a phenomenon called the “two-lens two step” where you take a shot, take two steps and then you’ll realize you need the other lens, so you switch lenses. Then you take two more steps, “Rats! I need that other lens again…” and this will continue your entire trip. Don’t fall into this trap.

Next up, Crop Sensor picks (but not today — this post is already too long).

Hope you found that helpful.

If you’re anywhere in Irma’s path…
(like we are here in Florida), here’s hoping you stay high and dry. Thanks to everyone who has reached out on social, via email, texts or calls with good thoughts and concern. We so appreciate your good words and prayers. We hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. :)

Hope your weekend is much better than expected. :)



P.S. If you’re looking for something really great to watch this weekend, we just released three killer classes in past few weeks. Take a look at Tracy Sweeney’s “Newborn Photography Master Class” and Viktor Fejes’s “Advanced Photoshop: The Psychology and Science behind Color Grading” and Serge Ramelli’s “Using Photoshop and Lightroom to Create Amazing Cityscapes.” You’ll love what you’ll learn. 

Advanced Photoshop: The Psychology and Science Behind Color Grading with Viktor Fejes
Join Viktor Fejes for an advanced look at essential elements of color theory. From understanding color models and the science of RGB, to how to apply this knowledge when performing practical tasks such as color correcting and color grading. Viktor starts with the fundamentals and works up to advanced techniques used in cinema. If you want to manipulate color at will, understand the reasons why, and make your images look fantastic while doing it, then this class is for you.

In Case You Missed It
Learn the essential elements of retouching. Join Viktor Fejes as he provides you with a solid a foundation for how to approach retouching. This is not a class on how to use the basic tools of retouching, but rather how to think about retouching in a logical and methodical fashion, so that you can develop a workflow to properly retouch a photo from start to finish. You’ll learn how to evaluate an image, how to start in Camera Raw, how to structure your layers in Photoshop, how to use techniques involving false colors to fine tune texture, tones, and color, and all the while gaining a firm understanding for why you would approach retouching in this way.