Biggest Photo Tip of 2013 (Maybe)

Much of the Photo industry is driven by gear which fosters the notion that if I only had “that” camera, lens etc. What is more important is understanding what all those camera functions mean and how to access them. Even more important is to understand how those features help or hinder your particular type of photography.

I would ten times prefer to see a great image made by an average camera…

Light Changes


There are rules of thumb about how much time it takes the sun to rise or set but there are times when light moves faster than we think. During a storm or approaching storm as in the photo above. the light changed dramatically from the time I thought, “I need to pull over” by the time I found a vantage point I missed the initial light I wanted but the remaining light was enough to catch the mood. Sometimes you have to take the chance or not get anything at all. Changing conditions, finding a place to pull over and then dealing with the wind in a hand held situation are what makes photography, challenging and rewarding.

I can think of a dozen things to make this image better but if I hadn’t taken it, I would only have a memory that would become vague and then gone altogether. As Wayne Gretzky pointed out, “you miss and hundred percent of the shots you don’t take”.

Everyday Photography

We cannot make photos of the past or the future. What happens now in front of our camera is our canvas. We can only learn from the past. The great tragedy would be to miss now. Be ready to see, camera at hand and remember to think through the shot.

Why fall into the trap of making some macabre image to shock your audience. We see enough of that without going out of the way. Trying to shock on purpose is going to tire very quickly.

The Ten Percent Solution

With talent comes an immediacy; an ability to draw something up from the pool that resides within. It’s not always perfect or exactly what we want; it’s about 90%. Looks pretty good. The key to producing something that will make your audience sit up and take notice is in doing what it takes to make that last ten percent. Sometimes it can be very difficult because you must be brutally honest with your assessment. It might even require an outside critique; the scariest of all tests. But!

How do you get that last ten percent? There is no formula; step one step two… that will fit every situation. You must formulate your own guidelines for making that last mile of the journey. Talent is yours; you can enhance it but you can’t substantially change it. Editing what we produce is the key. Learn to edit and you will be gaining ground every time.

Photography & Recognition – 7 Things

Want to be a great photographer? Want to have that feeling of recognition? I think we all do at least on some level. It’s really true for all the creative disciplines. You can substitute Photographer with your particular gift.


So what are the components to gaining recognition whether it be simple approval or financial reward. I’m speaking of photography here but you can adjust this to fit your own situation. Rinse, repeat and see what works for you. Starring in no particular order.

  1. Talent – Huge! You either have talent that fits your goals or you don’t. Everyone has talent but it’s usually limited to certain areas.
  2. Wit – Whether it’s the ability to see irony or be quick with a line or a joke, this trait will enhance how you are received by others.
  3. Savvy – It might be gear and tech stuff or knowing all the trends and lingo of the prevailing social culture.
  4. Personality – The type of personality you have will greatly affect your relationships with clients and coworkers. Hard to categorize but a huge factor in photographing people.
  5. Tenacious – Stick with it. If you feel like quitting. Take a break and start again. Without it you won’t finish anything.
  6. Patient – Real growth, progress takes time. Don’t rush it.
  7. Hard Working – The reason people succeed is by working very hard. When asked what qualities are necessary for succeeding in photography, two top pro’s said they look for someone with a good work ethic.

None of these thing are about cameras and lighting. You can become a competent photographer and successful but to be great you need the intangibles.

iPhones, Hate Mail and How we overcome

Recently my long time digital neighbor @scottbourne posted on twitter that he had received some hate mail for posting a lowly iPhone picture on his blog.

The following is not so much a rebuttal of Scott’s critics but some insights about the creative process in general and photography as a medium.

My platform for this piece is based on thirty years in the design business, dealing with people, photographing things and really looking and thinking. Thinking and looking are far more important than tools. It matters not whether you have all the latest gadgets or simply a pencil and a legal pad. Creativity is about thinking and looking.

There’s an old saying, “it’s a poor workman that blames his tools”. I must say this is very true. It’s taken a long time to realize that if my work is not what I want it to be; it’s not my computer or my camera’s fault. The skill is between my ears. I simply failed to employ everything necessary to get the job done. Sometimes you have happy accidents but you can’t rely on that to see you through.

Taken w/ Blackberry Curve

In Scott’s case it seems that some folks were upset that he had used his iPhone and a simple light to create the image instead of all of his high end photo gear. He was only trying to demonstrate the capabilities of the phone and that you can make decent images without a DSLR.

When I decided to switch to digital all I had was a cell phone. What I learned from using only a cell phone can be found here.

Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your tools is the key, the brand, label, megapixels and ratings are minor in comparison to skill, thinking and looking. Being able to “see” an image out of all the visual cacophony is right at the top of the list.

The first photo I ever sold was made on a Canon A540 point and shoot camera that I bought at a pawn shop. In fact you can’t tell what camera was used by looking at the photo.You can only analyze the physical properties of the image.

Oh Yeah, there’s One More Thing. The very nature of the creative process is based on criticism. At some point you have to say, this is good or it’s trash and I need to do better. Criticism doesn’t have to be rude or unkind but it does need to be honest. Invariably when I’ve been criticized in the past, I’ve had some of both and lived to tell about it. The notion that we are going to live in a world where people don’t have strong opinions and not voice them is frankly unrealistic. Especially if you create for a living.

Guard your subjective bias and realize there are many new tools and means of creative expression out there.