Health, Happiness and Hope

Shortly before the holidays, Flashes of Hope invited me to participate in a photo shoot for pediatric patients with cancer and life-threatening illnesses at a hospital in the western suburbs of Chicago. It’s a wonderful charity that I had written about when I blogged for the Chicago Tribune many moons ago. The timing worked out and I was happy to volunteer. I felt a little out of place because my business is not family photography – I get some calls here and there and try to pass them on to others who specialize in it. But photographing the children and families made for a lovely time – even if you only get a few minutes with each family to make pictures. You couldn’t help but root for the families, hoping that this year, and every year, brings health, happiness and hope.

“Photographer to Video in Today’s Gig Economy”

I’m thrilled to announce that through the School of Visuals Arts and Kadenze online arts and technology courses, I’m co-teaching a program called Photographer to Video in Today’s Gig Economy. It’s for all those photographers who need focused and cohesive instruction (read: Kick in Butt:-)) as they add video to their skillsets, or reinvent themselves as video storytellers. This is a MUST DO, as I’ve told many photographers. My transition to being an independent freelancer was made possible with video as an option for my clients, and in many cases, the primary offering. I’m honored to be among distinguished faculty who are also co-teaching this course, including Eduardo Angel, Gail Mooney and Manuel Tejeda. The experience of teaching in front of a camera was new for me (reading a teleprompter to begin with!), but I got into the swing of it.

Why is this so important and why do I care? As I mentioned in my introductory video, I was once at a meeting with a room full of photographers when an agent asked how many photographers had transitioned to video. The room was packed. Maybe 5 hands went up in the room. I was stunned and sad, especially after seeing many photographers I know give up on their careers. Who could possibly miss the signs of the marketplace that point to video?  I could go on, but that’s why I lay out some of the reasons in the first class. Of course every photographer wants to be the photographer that doesn’t have to shoot video, who wants to be recognized for their vision at such an order of magnitude that video is unnecessary. I understand that thinking, but uh, good luck with that, since even the topmost photographers in the industry have embraced video in a powerful way.  It’s why I started my company Three Story Media.  It’s about not just about video, it’s about scaling up video productions in general. But you have to start somewhere.

From the course description: “Today’s gig economy demands that creatives draw from a wide range of knowledge and frequently adapt to new tools and workflows. Having a strong foundation in photography is a good start, but having solid video production skills will expand the number and kind of jobs you can be hired for. Photographer to Video in Today’s Gig Economy provides five courses to give today’s digital photographer a working knowledge of video as well as projects to extend your portfolio. Starting with Camera Essentials, you will gain an understanding of the camera settings and gear that is used in professional DSLR and mirrorless video production. The second course, Working with Motion and Time is a deep dive from photography to videography and shows you how to think in motion, add motion where there is none, and control focus, light and sound. Sound Essentials is the third course and, as the name suggests, covers an entirely new dimension that can make or break your video work. Next, the Fundamentals of Video Production course will get you ready for your first shoot covering everything from storyboarding to managing the crew, location and lighting. Finally, in Fundamentals of Video Post-Production you will jump into the art of editing your work.”

This program starts with the basics, assuming you have a foundation of knowledge about and experience shooting digital photograph. So if you know little or have dabbled with video, or if you’ve learned video on your own and need some confirmation of what you’ve learned together with deeper insights by other faculty, I’m confident that this program is for you.

For those people who might want to take this class as evidence to a school or employer, the Kadenze program offers this: “Completion of a program or credit-eligible course appears on your Kadenze resume/portfolio, which can be valuable for presentation to potential employers, or schools to which you might apply.”

Here are the 5 courses that are part of my portion of the program. The first session is more of an essential overview, on the way to other meatier topics:

Session 1: From Still Photographer To Videographer 
Understand the importance for photographers to incorporate motion into their skillset, and the essential steps towards rethinking their creative process to create videos.
Session 2: Recording And Seeing In Motion 
Understand the basics of recording video and how the different types of motion, both of the camera and subject, create meaning, mood and purpose as it contributes to the story that a director wants the viewer to experience and understand.
Session 3: Motion Methods 
To deepen one’s knowledge about how to create the motion needed for a particular scene through an exposure to the different equipment and technologies that exist and the critical success factors needed to execute a director’s vision.
Session 4: Managing Focus, Light And Sound 
Grasp the special significance that audio, light and focus have in a motion environment, and how the success of a video project can literally depend on controlling for the variables posed by these elements.
Session 5: The Documentary Project 
Experience through hands-on practice how a very commonly done video with an interview and b-roll, combined with motion, sound, and lighting come together to create a unique experience for a viewer.

The program also offers a forum for students to interact with each other.

I’m hoping this program might be helpful for you, or someone you might know who would benefit. Please share as you might.

Thank you!



On the Advisory Board of Northwestern Magazine

People who know my background know that I bleed purple for Northwestern University. I studied there as an undergraduate and got my start in photography at the yearbook, Syllabus, and the Daily Northwestern newspaper. I  taught photojournalism to master’s degree students at the Medill School of Journalism. I was also married at Alice Millar Chapel and….well, you get the picture.

So it was with much delight that after photographing a few assignments for the magazine, I was asked to be on the alumni board of the magazine. It’s a great honor for this alum. We recently had an annual meeting where we reviewed back issues of the magazine and the great work that is done by the nimble and talented team of Executive Editor Stephanie Russell, Art Director Christina Senese and Senior Editor Sean Hargadon. We also looked forward with a strategic eye to meeting our readers in areas and channels that most interest them.

Overall I’m delighted to be a part of the magazine and look forward to giving my input on a school whose history I know very well.

Included here are some of my recent assignments from the last couple issues:

“I have never heard of you,” and the Realities of Getting Known

Keeping visible during a TEDx event presentation in Chicago.

“I’ve been working in this town for 30 years and I’ve never heard of you”, the head of production at a Chicago ad agency said, impressed by my work but mystified about my perceived invisibility. A well-known commercial and editorial photographer who works for the same editor as I did as a staff photojournalist at the Tribune for years, had no idea who I was at a mixer.

This was shortly after leaving the Tribune. I knew then that things were going to be a little more uphill than expected.

The problem with working at one of the largest circulation news organizations in the country is that you assume people in your backyard creative community might know your name.

I didn’t think it unreasonable. I was one of the more public photographers at the paper before leaving three years ago. I had a Sunday column for years sharing photo tips. I was interviewed on radio and television numerous times, and presented work before thousands at events such as TEDx Midwest, Chicago Ideas Week and Chicago Lit Fest.

I had even worked large commercial jobs while freelancing during my free time from the Tribune, of course under the watchful eyes of that friendly person in Human Resources who would call me on Christmas Eve to make sure my freelance gig was approved by my supervisor.

So to any photojournalist looking to transition to the commercial world, that should be something to think about. You certainly shouldn’t wait until your buyout money starts to fade to get yourself going, because it can take a year of getting to know people before work starts coming your way. The one mistake I regret was not marketing right away after leaving, mostly because I was busy with a big client who helped make the leap possible.

One experienced commercial photographer seeing that I had prepared myself for freelance remarked, “It takes photographers normally 5 years to really get things going. It might take you 3.” I’m at 3 years now and finally things are jelling. I’m very grateful for the projects that come my way through relationships, many of them friends and colleagues who know and trust my work. It’s a lot of fun. It’s been a continuation of our relationships, in different stages of our lives.

So it doesn’t matter if you were a star in your industry. You might have a Pulitzer, put your life on the line in combat and worked in awful and dangerous conditions that would make a studio photographer crumble in fear and stress. You might have won awards in World Press Photo and been asked to mentor the next generation at some of the most prestigious workshops and universities in the world.

But once you leap into commercial or advertising worlds where you may not have as many contacts, prepare to prove yourself all over again to each and every new client. They may have heard of you. They likely haven’t. Either way, they assume you have set patterns and might not understand the sensibilities of project or client management or how to be guided by a creative brief, or more importantly, how to get along in their culture. I’ve written about the similarities of production between news and commercial work, but really, that’s all logic. In the end, we all make decisions based on gut and emotion.

The good news is that, if you ever learned to accept the editor phrase, “what you have done for me lately?” you’re well-prepared for future humility and the constant need for self-promotion.

There is another silver lining – proof you can have a career in photography without being known whatsoever. It’s not uncommon for me to stumble upon a commercial photographer or director I’ve never heard about, happily and successfully working for years in the city, oblivious to his need for a big reputation. He just knows the right dozen people to make a great career.

So I hope this is a great kick-in-the-pants about getting known before you hang out your shingle. One person’s “superstar”, which I was once called at a photo conference (true story), is another person’s unknown character lingering at an APA networking event (also true).

In the end what I’m discovering is a truism:

Being known helps create a relationship. Having a relationship brings trust. Trust brings work. And that process takes time.

Many photographers feel that social media fame is the way of the future. You see twenty-somethings getting offers of work from brands eager to connect to their audiences. Indeed, on assignment, I was impressed by the kitchen that McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook had devoted entirely to Instagram influencers. But I know a lot of very busy commercial photographers whose Instagram followings are abysmally low by superstar standards. It’s because they are proven talent – experienced, reliable and dependable. Your real life social network can be just as valuable as your online social network.

It all reminds me of a surprising conversation I had after a talk about storytelling I gave at the SoHo House here in Chicago. I was sitting with a group of photographers, talking about self-promotion. After I finished saying something about what it took to find new clients, a complete stranger across the table said to me, “You really disappoint me.” I stared at him, mystified.

Then he says, “If you, with all your experience and reputation, still have to work hard to find clients, how am I ever possibly going to make it? ”

I felt bad for him and didn’t know what to say. Honestly, I imagine it would be hard to start from scratch in today’s competitive photo world.

The first thought that occurred to me, sitting at an exclusive club of creatives from various industries, reflects a reality any self-employed person can relate to:

“Welcome to the club.”

What Makes for Compelling Images? Reflections from the Pictures of the Year Contest

This past week I was a judge for the Pictures of the Year International contest at the University of Missouri, where we sat in a room for 12 hours a day, for four days, viewing over 18,000 images from thousands of photographers across the globe. Per contest coordinator Rick Shaw’s guidelines for judging, we viewed each image three times, in order to give every image the benefit of the doubt. (So it was more like 54,000 viewings). At one point it felt like I was in the “Star Gate” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey as we hurtled through images from all over time and space, inundated with light, color and scenes of intensity from around the globe, filled with awe.

I was absolutely delighted to fulfill a professional milestone, alongside Elizabeth Krist, Bruce Strong, and Moe Doiron. Our job was to evaluate the Reportage multiple pictures categories on our way to choosing the Photographer of the Year. I had been to a POY judging – but only as a participant. This time, I was out of the armchair and into the hot seat – especially because our comments were at times recorded on Facebook Live.

As someone who has written about, taught and presented on effective visual communication, it was also a great opportunity for me to gain further insights into the urgent question that I often think about as a visual creator helping clients reach audiences.

What makes for compelling images?  

What images not only win contests, but also break through the visual noise and clutter to make a viewer stop, linger and look?

So as our group propelled ourselves through the images, I tried to answer this question. I paid attention to what was going through my mind (and gut) as I experienced the multitude of amazing images. It was not easy. We made split-second decisions that were often visceral.

I concluded that it came down to four criteria. They reflect image perception from the eye, to the mind and ultimately and most importantly, to the heart.


1. Beautiful

When your eyes are inundated with images, beauty always makes you stop and fill with awe – an underlying character of many viral images. So in this case, it became a bare minimum to move forward with an image.

Images had to combine light, mood, emotion and composition in a visual coherence that were just plain beautiful. If it was color, it had to be beautiful color – not necessarily bright and beautiful, as it could be high key and muted, or even dark and brooding. It just had to be done skillfully to heighten an aesthetic.

We had long discussions about post-production and color treatments, etc. As a photojournalism contest, it’s generally frowned upon for ethics reasons. If it supported the content, I was all in favor of it. If it became a look for the sake of a look, then I would argue against it. The winning portfolio had a series of images with a post-produced look that I felt was completely unnecessary. But I voted for it anyway on the strength of the content.

I will say that post-produced images are more likely to be given a second look, as you first experience the style and what it has to say, and then dig deeper into the image itself. In that pause, there is likely an opportunity.


2. Storytelling

Storytelling creates motion between images – a narrative thread that engages a viewer. We started with overviews of essays, where we could experience their overall context. This is where editing really became key.

Visual variety, identifiable faces or characters to put a face on an issue – all of these things help when viewing a body of images. Photographs shot at a distance were not quick reads and were a bit of a challenge to appreciate when viewed as a grid. Nonetheless, we lingered on them to give every entry its due.

When there is a push-and-pull between images shot at different distances and focal lengths, it produces a narrative motion that propels a viewer forward through a set of images. You can see the flow and it enhances a story. (This translates to sequencing for videos as well)

So it was very easy to quickly scan a grid of 12 or 40 images to tell whether there was a breakdown in the story in the form of repetitive or weak images.  The flow was also interrupted when a photographer put together two images that were just too similar to each other, but were likely separate in his/her own mind.

Because we all have short attention spans as humans, you don’t want any of these things to distract from the motion or sequencing of a narrative.

If images are all photographed in a similar manner that can work too, as long as the viewer is brought to an unexpected place by the repetition and uniformity. But it’s a delicate dance to make sure images are not redundant to the point that you lose interest.


3. Engaging

Images had to engage the mind. For this, a cognitive reaction of, “What’s this?” had to happen. New and fresh always get more attention in visual communication.

If an image makes you ask questions, all the better, but not to the extent that you walk away without enough information to understand what you just saw.  Then it’s just an irritation to your cognitive curiosity and the image gets dropped like a rock.

Rodeos or boot camps or any number of clichés got passed over quickly, unless they were exceptionally and uniquely presented. We’ve seen it. No surprise.

Engaging stories are ones that usually relevant to the cultural conversation at large – images that speak to ideas, thoughts and emotions that are swirling in our world.

For example, we all admitted to leaning forward in our chairs looking for picture stories that spoke to some of the bigger news stories from last year, such as Standing Rock or the Fidel Castro funeral.

For the stories about drug violence in the Philippines, we saw many photographers’ work. Which won? The story with contextual scenes that showed how the deaths intruded on daily life. Those were more engaging. We wondered what it would be like to have to deal with that on a day-to-day basis.

Another takeaway was that it’s important to relate any story back to shared human experience, to stir a connection (see below).


4. Emotional

Perhaps most obviously, emotion was the rule. It was the ultimate arbiter, how images made us feel, after all was said and done.

As a photojournalist at my news organizations, I always keyed on the emotion of a story in the limited time I had. You have to find the heart of a story.

But there’s a very important caveat that I think eludes a lot of people.

Emotions are only valuable to the extent that it makes the viewer care.

The images had to spur compassion, fun, anger, injustice, inspiration etc. Yes, it’s great if the subjects are emotional in the frame, but capturing emotion was not enough. As viewers we had to care about the subject to care about their emotion. Otherwise there is a disconnect. We have to know enough about the story and the context to be able to relate

Foreign ceremonies, unusual events, strange traditions, fetishes, or ethnic group profiles can all be interesting, visual and even emotional. But does it really matter to a viewer except in an anthropological – external observer kind of way?


As busy humans with short attention spans, we need to feel the urgency of caring, now.

That’s the challenge of any contest – to thread a narrative through beautiful and engaging images that make jurors care.

But that goes for just about all visual communication, and the everyday jurors who make split-second decisions that can determine your future.




La La Land, the Creative Dream and a Little Bit of Madness

Waiting, watching, wondering on the California coast.

(All lyrics in italics from the original motion picture soundtrack of  “La La Land”)

I still remember the exact moment a quarter century ago, thousands of miles from my family in Chicago, sitting on the edge of my bed in my socks in a studio apartment in Long Beach, CA. I had just woken up to the reality of my life choices. I wanted to be a photojournalist and had taken a job on the edge of the country. I had given up most everything I knew. The question presented itself:  “What the heck am I doing?”

“Without a nickel to my name
Hopped a bus, here I came
Could be brave or just insane
We’ll have to see.”

I left my family and comforts in Chicago for a part-time job at a newspaper in California, desperate to get my start. I knew no one. I hadn’t seen my newspaper in Long Beach, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, before coming out. The paper was well-regarded. That’s as much as I knew.

“Still I did what I had to do
‘Cause I just knew.”

Like many creatives who take risks and sacrifices for their art, in this case I was socially isolated. I was at the whims of circumstances beyond my control. The area had just suffered through riots. Was it all going to be worth it? How would this all end?

“City of stars, there’s so much I can’t see.
Who knows, is this the start of something wonderful and new?
Or one more dream that I can not make true?”

Ira Glass of “This American Life” made a brilliant observation about storytelling and the creative life – about “The Gap” that exists between where you want to be, “your taste” and where your creative vision aspires, “your work.”  It’s a conceptual state, but it’s a very real one. Bridging that gap can be slow. In that time, our emotional, financial and spiritual lives have to survive the messiness. And it’s not pretty. “The Gap” has very real consequences in the daily lives of ourselves and the people we care about.

“Here’s to the ones who dream
Foolish as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that ache
Here’s to the mess we make”

It’s a time of waiting, wondering, and watching. Doubts, questions and feelings manifest. So many things can sour. Will destiny favor my future?

“Somewhere there’s a place where I find who I’m gonna be
A somewhere that’s just waiting to be found”

Ambition and creative frustration can be convulsed by feelings of insecurity – of being an imposter as you pretend to a higher state of achievement.

“I’m reaching for the heights
And chasing all the lights that shine
And when they let you down
You’ll get up off the ground
‘Cause morning rolls around
And it’s another day of sun”

At some point, in the darkness of frustration, all can be for naught. Your life revolves around work, and when work is bad, everything is bad.

Should I just give up, or am I on the verge of success and don’t realize it?

“A bit of madness is key
To give us new colors to see
Who knows where it will lead us?”

And then sometimes imperceptibly, you catch yourself experiencing a renewal, and improbable rebirth.

One day, out of the blue, I got a call from the Director of Photography of the Los Angeles Times. He had seen my work in the paper, liked it and offered me a job. Up until that point, I was just another face in the crowd. I had never met him.

My career took another leap.

“Someone in the crowd could
Take you where you wanna go
If you’re the someone ready to be found.
Do what you need to do
‘Til they discover you”

More doors were opened, and the wanderings led to more opportunities. A job offer brought me back to my home in Chicago.  It seemed like divine providence.

I met my wife on the first day of work.

Her nickname was Lala.

“City of stars
Are you shining just for me?
City of stars
You never shined so brightly”


New Gallery: Wildlife Foundation Image Library

I finally had some breathing time this month to upload photos for a picture gallery of a non-profit foundation project that I just loved working on. Over a year ago I was contacted by a former colleague who realized that his organization really needed to showcase the tremendous work it does, for members, supporters and the general public. Since then, I dropped in during different seasons to document the beautiful landscape in a creative photojournalism style for an image library for its internal and external communications. Their annual report is about to be published, which I’m excited about because it makes ample use of this imagery. I also shot some aerials and edited a video for the organization’s anniversary, which can be found in the motion-video category of my site, but also on their foundation’s page. Give them some view-love:-) if you have a few minutes. For visual consistency, I gave the images a creative treatment that reflects the feeling and mood that I experienced in my wanderings there, which was often during the Golden Hour. Hope you enjoy!

How to Make the Most of Your Next Trip to Cuba


Next month over the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll be leading a group to Havana with School of Visual Arts colleague Jaime Permuth for a week long exploration of the capital city and the surrounding area. Our last trip was fantastic. I’ve been going there for years, but I was amazed we were able to photograph things I hadn’t ever seen.

Now that everyone is talking about going to Cuba, the question you might ask is:

Would such a trip be right for you?

I would ask it a different way. If you’ve never been part of a destination photo workshop before, the better question might be:

What kind of a visitor do you want to be?

Your experience could be wildly different from someone else, depending on the answer.

I’ve experienced Cuba in very different ways. I was a family member looking to reconnect. I was in a months-long people-to-people exchange. I was a student in Havana. I worked in a news bureau. I led a New York Times Journeys in which I gave hour-long talks ranging from revolutionary photography to Cuban healthcare. Now I’m leading groups for SVA. So I’ve seen and experienced Cuba in different ways and through the eyes of visitors alongside me.

As a visitor to a country, do you enjoy a little bit of surprise and risk or do you want everything planned out?

Do you seek to “get in there”, or do you keep a safe distance?

Are you seeking creative opportunities or more rigorous intellectual stimulation?

The New York Times Journeys trip I helped lead earlier this year was by most measures rigorously intellectual. Everyone was ushered around to a schedule of speakers in a big, modern air-conditioned tourism bus with a Cuban guide who spoke on many topics. It was a comfortable, safe, experience. Meals were pre-arranged with tables waiting for us when we arrived, facilitating discussions. The group was an older crowd, smart and very well traveled. We had amazing access to officials. The group asked good questions, and were fascinated to know more.

But for some it lacked flexibility and the time to explore on your own, to see and meet people on the street or in their homes. You often heard: “Let’s go! The bus is leaving!”

The SVA trip a few months later was very different. With photography being the priority, it was more experience-driven, rather than intellectually-driven. The SVA goal was to get you seeing, talking with, and photographing the Cuban people in real-life environments. You are in the streets and in people’s homes, making friends and learning the realities of the Cuban experience with your camera.

I have a cousin there who is a producer for commercials and music events, so she draws on her network of contacts to make things happen. Visiting a ballpark and getting access to a dugout (during a game no less) was not originally on our schedule, but for a few participants that’s all they wanted to do. So we made it happen.

One participant on our last trip needed help finding a long lost family member. My cousin and I helped to connect them in the evening and it was awesome. I absolutely related to seeing the family ties that bind.

But perhaps the most instructional moment for me, which also motivates this post, was watching one participant in our exchange jump onto the back of an open-bed truck with a big group of guys to have a photo made.

It was a hilarious moment. Everyone in the truck went wild to have their picture taken with him (it might have helped he was wearing a Yankees cap). You just don’t expect a tourist to climb on the back of a truck and to rev everyone up for a group photo.

As a photojournalist, I’m using to keeping something of a professional distance between the subject and me. (As a group leader, I was afraid the truck would take off, leaving one less student). It’s my fly-on-the-wall orientation.

But my friend blew up that distance and my concerns, showing me something I had forgotten about any cross-cultural exchange.

We’re all mostly looking for moments that bring people together – to forget our differences and the monotony of day-to-day life. If it’s a crazy, unexpected spectacle, all the better. Months later, I still think about that experience and smile at the joy it brought everyone.

Will there be another such spectacle on our November trip?

Who knows, but when it comes to making the most of any trip to Cuba, it’s your readiness to enjoy the unexpected that can make all the difference.

Printed Portfolio or iPad? It Could Depend on Your Genre…


When I first started attending portfolio reviews as a commercial and editorial photographer a couple years ago, I was faced with the question: Printed portfolio or iPad? I wanted to position myself among others who I perceived were mostly using books, so I created a printed portfolio. I even enlisted a friend who is a wood artisan, to create a gorgeous portfolio book made of black walnut. I loved it (and strongly recommend his work). I had something that was unique. On a conceptual level, it suggested the “real nature” of the “real people” that I generally work with. 

I spent days printing work at great expense, after making difficult choices about what to include and what not to include, mindful that a reviewer has a compressed period of time while turning oversized pages.

I wanted to distance myself from the digital media of an iPad. I thought printed material would convey a certain seriousness of my work as an artist, which is also something I had read in some interviews of portfolio reviewers.

But in the end, I decided to use an iPad Pro. Why?

Having gone through a few reviews with both a printed book and an iPad, this is what I’ve personally found:

  1. You can’t control for the light in the room when viewing prints. There’s no doubt that prints can be impressive. But if you’re stuck in a dark corner with a reviewer, your prints could appear dark and suffer from the lack of radiance they had while making your gorgeous print. If you’re stuck in an incredibly bright part of a room, your prints can look washed out. At least when you’re printing for a gallery show, you have some control over user experience. You can’t really say at a review, “Well, trust me, this looked fantastic in the room where I printed.”  Yes, it’s true that the iPad can have glare, but usually by tilting the screen, using a non-glare surface screen, that goes away. I personally haven’t found that to be an issue. I’ve certainly found that colors on an iPad will often sing more than on a printed page.
  2. Having a reviewer slow down to see every detail of your large print may work for your genre but it may not. In fact, it can steer the conversation away from the strengths of your abilities. I’ve observed that a reviewer will take more time and consideration with a print than a screen they can swipe. This is great if you’re the kind of photographer who invests hours or days into making a single image with detail, complexity and a level of production that you want the reviewer to notice and appreciate. But if you’re a storyteller like I am, “real moments” are more important. You might want someone to see a number of photos on the way to a mood, feeling or sense of intimacy. I also like to show I can work quickly, creating image libraries with emotion and action.
  3.  An iPad offers more potential to customize your presentation. This is more important when you attend a portfolio review event with multiple reviewers.  I happen to have many bodies of work, some with more commercial flavor, some with more editorial flavor and others in between. But at reviews, you can’t bring five printed books with you easily (just the optics of that raises eyebrows) but you can quickly customize your portfolio based on the research you’ve done. Easily customizing your galleries helps keeps your conversation on target with your reviewer and leads to less confusion about who you are as a photographer.  
  4. If you have a lot of work to show, an iPad is less overwhelming. At my most recent review, I showed far more work on my iPad than I ever could have shown via a printed book, and it still wasn’t enough for some reviewers who enjoyed the pictures and wanted to see more. Conversely, some reviewers appeared overwhelmed when a photographer’s voluminous portfolio book landed with a thud on the reviewing table. I would think the more you can show while respecting a reviewer’s time, the better. 
  5.  If you have motion to show, you’ll have an iPad there anyway. 
  6. There will be reviewers who enjoy printed books, and there will be some who like iPads. But will it really affect whether you get work? I’m guessing the greater influencers are whether they have need for your type of photography, whether they like your work and whether they trust your skill sets. I would think your conversation and your personality, more than the style of presentation, would give someone a greater edge.

If you do decide to bring an iPad, however, here are a couple tips I hope will be helpful:

  1. Be sure to completely charge the iPad, and to bring a portable battery charger or long battery cord. Or both. Like with any photo shoot, back-up your back-ups.
  2. Bring a soft cloth to wipe off fingerprints from the screen in between reviews.
  3. Turn off all notifications, update the system software and put the iPad into airplane mode. The last thing you need is a text or system message to pop-up during a review.
  4. Turn off the auto-lock, so you won’t have to deal with punching in your code in front of the reviewer. If you end up chatting for a few minutes in between viewing images,  the iPad may decide to take a breather.
  5. I personally use Foliobook, but there are many different types of iPad apps out there for photographer portfolios.


Don’t Fly Through Fireworks and 16 Other Ways to Avoid Crashing Your Drone


It’s the Fourth of July and there was a UAV flying over our town’s parade. Maybe he was taking a lead from that viral video of a drone flying through fireworks on the Fourth of July that made a stir awhile back. Was it a hobbyist flouting laws this time or a professional with permission? I was too busy selling lemonade for the Cub Scouts to investigate.

Either way, I’m hoping they’ve taken all the necessary precautions.  As I grow my experience with UAVs, my caution has only grown. It’s not just about protecting your investment, it’s protecting people on the ground, including the pilot. I know of a photographer whose octocopter took a chunk of skin off his leg, to the extent that he’s written them off as “flying chainsaws.”

I’m sure others have more tips to add, but from what I’ve learned, here are 14 observations about how to avoid a drone crash that could do damage to yourself and others on your very first flight.

1. Treat Murphy’s Law as if it ends with heavy fines passed by the FCC. To avoid the worst that can happen, learn all you can about flying and your drone in particular. Consult all the manuals and follow all federal and local laws. The Know Before You Fly is a great website to start with.  An educated pilot is a better pilot and a more skilled aerial photographer/videographer.

2. Don’t ever panic.  The physiology of fear will cause you to either freeze up or freak out.   I’ll never forget helping a friend fly a drone. When it started to veer away, he threw the controls in my hands and shrieked, “Get it under control!”  It’s up to you to have steely nerves even when everyone around you is flipping out – not unlike Denzel Washington in the movie “Flight”. (Just don’t get coked up beforehand).

3. Eliminate reflections on your control screen. I’d suggest either using a hood, or even better, a non-reflective screen protector for your tablet or phone. Or both. Either way, I’ve had to make split-second or fast decisions while flying and making pictures. Making those crucial decisions while struggling with reflections is like trying to see the road at 65mph while driving into sunlight.

4. Remember that inasmuch as you should always fly line-of-sight (LOS), you can’t gauge the distance of obstacles from a distance. Always refer to the live view which you use for photos and video, but don’t trust that either. The wide angle view of the camera lens can fool you, the delay of transmission can delay imagery if you’re flying fast, and power lines can escape notice of your screen’s resolution until it’s too late. 

5. If your flight path is straight, don’t assume you can fly UAV backwards to retreat safely. If your drone ever flies out of your LOS – never on purpose right? – there is a very good chance that, whether by wind or by controls, its flight path has subtly shifted. Flying it backwards in retreat could fly it right into an object you passed safely on the way out. I narrowly avoided making a drone into a Christmas ornament on a 100 foot tree this way.  

6. Don’t rely on DJI’s safe flying website. It’s helpful, but if you want even more detail about determining safe flight paths, consult Yes, it really is intimidating, I totally agree, but we’re all pilots now.

7. Don’t fly over people, especially crowds. It may not be news yet, but the FAA has stepped up its enforcement of risky UAV behavior by making examples of those who flout laws, especially on the East Coast.

8. An obvious one, but don’t fly over places that might generate electromagnetic interference or interfere with signals to your craft. You don’t want to have switch flight modes mid-air when the GPS mode loses its bearings.

9. Set an appropriate altitude for the Return to Home or Failsafe mode of your drone.  You don’t want your UAV to automatically fly into anything on the way back to the home point. 

10. Moreover, make sure your home point is set correctly every time you fly.  You don’t want the Return to Home function to send your drone to the home point from your last flight. Keep as much clear airspace around your home point, because the UAV won’t necessarily navigate automatically back to the precise spot of departure.

10. Wear bug spray before you fly outside. If you’re outside photographing in a rural area mosquitos will come over and feast on your hands and face while you’re trying to fly an expensive object in the air. It really can be a dangerous distraction.

11. Perform test runs in the days leading up to your flight. Update the flight app, calibrate the compass, the gimbal, the batteries and even the cardboard box if you could. You’ll likely find that there are new updates to firmware that could be useful or warning alerts you should investigate. I would check forums to see if there are complaints before you update because you know how that goes. You don’t want to be struggling to revert back to a previous version of system software on the day of a flight.

12. Batteries, batteries. Make sure they are securely positioned in the drone. Vibrations from flight have been know to exacerbate loose connections, causing a drone to lose power mid-flight. That would be a bad thing. Also make sure your batteries are retaining charge well. Checking up on your batteries every dozen flights is not a bad idea.

13. UAV’s can defy even those with the most experience, so resist the urge to be daring. The minute you get over-confident about its safety or your control is followed a few minutes later by the sounds of you screaming inside, “ABORT! ABORT!” 

14. Avoid wildlife. I was flying once in a private nature area and a few birds parted from their flock to flirt with my drone.  I’m hundreds of yards away and I was trying to shush it away like teenage boys from my daughter. “Go away! She’s not your type!

15. Just like any vehicle, I would recommend not flying angry, drunk, scared, or with too much swagger.

16. I would also agree with what Know Before you Fly tweeted today on our nation’s holiday, “Leave the fireworks to the professionals this holiday weekend & keep your drone at home, #KnowBeforeYouFly on #July4”