Rocky Mountain School of Photography » Guest Post Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:48:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Second Season of Shooting Dragonflies in Natural Light: Three New Lessons Learned – Guest Article by Steve Russell Mon, 20 Jul 2015 22:04:48 +0000 8H7A5680Dragonflies have survived since prehistoric times with their extraordinary hunting prowess and prolific procreation (I highly recommend the excellent You Tube video, “Sky Hunters,” to drive home just how remarkable they are). But as a macro photographer I am drawn to them because of their vast array of colors, their always-surprising behaviors, and the fact that with their size they can fill the frame of a telephoto lens shot relatively close. It is the peak of my second full season of shooting dragonflies and the opportunities for variety still seem endless.

There are three upgrades I’ve made this year that have upped my game:

  1. I am using Canon’s 100-400mm II lens this season as opposed to using my very capable 70-200mm last year. My new lens has increased my range and number of opportunities, which means that I can shoot from further away (or shoot as close as 30”) and I don’t scar off nearly as many dragonflies getting ready for the shot.
  2. I routinely add on a 20mm extension tube to my lens to magnify the subjects even more. The trade-off is that the lens will not focus on subjects in the far-off distance like flying birds, but it will still reach halfway across a decent-sized pond and in the macro world that’s plenty.8H7A8184
  3. Shooting with a relatively heavy telephoto lens from further away makes holding it steady that much more important, but there is rarely enough time to use a tripod. I had been using a collapsible hiking pole to brace my lens against, which served me well, but I found something better! A Sirui aluminum monopod (manufacturer’s #BSRP2045) with feet that fold out, a pole that expands from 27” to 63,” and a base that allows the pole to flex in any direction (or not). It’ll hold up to 17 lbs. but don’t count on it for landscape photography. At 2.9 lbs. it’s light enough to lug around and the base can be separated from the pole (and also easily converted into a mini-tripod). Manfrotto makes a similar product and there are others, but the research I did pointed toward the Sirui for its build quality, flexibility and price (~$160) and I haven’t been disappointed.


R22A4927With these three improvements my opportunities for shots have increased and the overall quality of images I can get has improved. I still pull out my 90mm macro lens once in a while (mostly for the smaller damselflies or some fearless dragonflies), but the bulk of the opportunities is further away. It’s been a bumper crop for images this season and many of these simply would not have been possible without the upgrades, which reminds me that one of the things I like most about photography is that there is always something new to learn.

Steve Russell


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EXPERT ADVICE: LinkedIn FOR PHOTOGRAPHERS Mon, 22 Jun 2015 15:00:21 +0000 WonderfulMachine-logoTo bring a new voice, a valuable perspective, and great advice for all photographers to our blog, we have teamed up with the fine folks at Wonderful Machine. Once a month, a blogger from the WM team will be contributing to this expert advice column. For this month’s installment, Dana Ratliff contributed this article on using LinkedIn as a marketing tool.


As a photographer, you may have overlooked LinkedIn as a marketing tool. Maybe because it’s not as visual as some other forms of social media. Maybe it seems too daunting to recall and write out your entire work history. Maybe it’s still a site that you just haven’t taken the time to explore yet. Whatever the reason, here’s some information to change your outlook on one of today’s greatest – and most undervalued – resources for photographers.



LinkedIn is an incredible virtual resume allowing you to emphasize your abilities in great detail. The best part of all–your personality and interests become the icing on the cake! This is your opportunity to stand out from the competition.


Your headline counts. Instead of writing “Photographer” or “Freelance Photographer,” make it specific. Try “Photographer Specializing in Corporate and Architecture Photography.” Quick changes like this can take you from one of many to one that’s above the rest.

Make sure your profile image is of you, not a model you’ve photographed. Keep it professional and in-line with the rest of your branding. Clients want to see who they’re talking to without having to guess.

Customize your URL to make it even easier to include your link on promo materials and emails.

Use your summary to share your background and tell your story. Be personable and speak to the reader – engage them so they’re interested in learning more about you.

Upload your resume or type out your work history. Include relevant links, photos and projects from each job and be sure to thoroughly list what you did in each role. You can also include clients you’ve worked with in this section.

LinkedIn allows you to include images, documents and links throughout your page. You can post a direct link to your website (or specific pages within your site), upload photos, include video, and connect your Behance portfolio to your page to show off full projects.

Add Sections is a recently added feature that gives you the option to showcase even more work by including projects, organizations, publications, etc. you’ve contributed to in the past. For example, use Publications to show off your writing samples, it could prove especially beneficial for reportage photographers and documentary journalists.

Include interests and hobbies, certifications, causes that you’re interested in and volunteer work you’ve done; even if it was years ago, it may work in your favor. Like here for instance, a client’s narrowing down the candidates for a shoot, all of them have the desired skills they’re looking for and they can’t make up their mind. A common interest or passion could change that indecisiveness into a no-brainer and land you the job. Remember, everyone’s more than just a photographer or an art buyer, and showing you’re multifaceted will give you an edge.



Handling your LinkedIn network is much different than other social media outlets. It’s not about adding as many people as you can. It’s about making genuine connections with the people you’ve worked with or would like to work with in the future. LinkedIn is the perfect platform to reach out to creatives at ad agencies, magazines and other businesses to get you on their radar.

Use the advanced search option to search job title and find photo editors, art buyers, art producers and creative directors – these are the people who are most often in charge of hiring photographers.

If you’re a corporate photographer, you can reach out to businesses to offer your services for staff headshots. For larger companies, this could mean over 100 portraits at a time and could easily turn into a recurring gig. If you’re going to try this approach, the most appropriate contacts to make will be within the HR department.

Be sure to add a personal note when you reach out – let the person know that you appreciate their work or hope to build a professional relationship with them. Treat each connection with care, just like you’d treat a potential client if you were to meet them in person. You can see San Francisco-based photographer Vance Jacob’s LinkedIn below:



With each connection you add (these are your 1st connections), your 2nd and 3rd connections will also grow. You can ask someone in your immediate network for an introduction to a 2nd or 3rd connection if you see a connection that has great potential. As your network expands, more people will see you and your searches will yield more results.

Follow companies that interest you. Once you follow a company, you’ll receive updates including job opportunities and other news that it shares on your LinkedIn homepage.

Join groups that align with your interests, profession and goals. There are groups available for professional photographers with Q&A and then other groups that will have the clients you’re looking to target. Try searching a few keywords and see what comes up. For example, when searching photography jobs and choosing Groups, this came up in my search:



While Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are incredible for building a following, showcasing your images, and casual interaction; clients may not be able to get a sense of what it will be like to work with you. LinkedIn serves as a recommendation letter. Users can easily endorse the skills and expertise you list on your page, in turn, it’s an easy way to confirm what you can do. Even better, users you’ve worked with in the past can write a recommendation discussing their experience with you. Nothing is more valuable to a client than seeing that you’re professional, experienced and a pleasure to work with.

So, how do you get a recommendation? You can contact up to 3 connections at a time to ask them to recommend you. Try writing a thoughtful recommendation for some connections you had great experiences with. This might inspire them to do the same! Recommendations double as a great way to say thank you and make an impression that will help you stay on someone’s mind. Not only will recommendations show up on your LinkedIn page, they will be visible on the page of the user who wrote it for you – allowing all of their connections to see you shine as well.

To request recommendations: hover over your profile image in the top right corner. Choose Privacy & Settings. From there, click on Helpful Links and then Manage your recommendations. Here you can ask for, give or view existing recommendations.

LinkedIn is full of networking opportunities to help you find the right professionals. And like many other social media sites, you have access to it right at your fingertips through its mobile app making it easy to stay connected and active almost anywhere in the world.

StephensStantonJ_LinkedIn_A free account offers all of the great features above and if you decide to upgrade, you’ll gain access to even more connections, have the ability to make more targeted searches and receive more information on who’s viewing your profile. You’ll also be given a number of InMail messages– these allow you to directly contact people even if they aren’t in your network. There are a few different options available and LinkedIn sometimes offers free trials to see if an upgrade is right for you.

LinkedIn is essentially marketing you can do yourself as a photographer and your profile is a representation of your professional self: keep it current, let your personality shine through and dedicate a little time each week to update its content, search for new connections, and send personalized notes.


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From Larva to Lunch: The Brief Life of a Dragonfly Caught on Camera – Guest Article by Steve Russell Tue, 09 Jun 2015 15:33:13 +0000  

8H7A2866Nature can be cruel. After living three years in the muck of a marsh and finally crawling out and miraculously exploding out of its larval exoskeleton in the course of an hour, the life of the brown-eyed dragonfly I had been photographing up close was cut short by the beak of a bird. From larva to lunch in and hour and 14 minutes.

It was last year about this time when I witnessed my first dragonfly “birth” but the larva had attached to my bike tire, not exactly the most natural setting for photographs but fascinating nonetheless. It was also mostly in the shade and I shot it with my macro lens and twin flash. This year’s encounter was in a small marsh and I shot 5-6 feet away in natural but high, mid-day light, and I used my Canon 7D II and a 100-400mm Mark II lens and a hiking pole for additional stability. Dragonflies are big enough to fill a telephoto lens if shot close and with this lens I can get as close as 30 inches or so. As far as I know, nothing beats the versatility of the new 100-400mm II lens for both birds at a distance and dragonflies up close.

At any rate, this year’s shoot was a total surprise – within a few minutes of arriving at my favorite local spot, the larva crawled out of the water and up about six inches on the marsh grass across the tiny pond area and I knew right away that magic would happen. The challenge was finding a sight line through the wind-blown grasses that was compatible with the location of the sun (behind or to the side of me) and low enough to keep my lens parallel to the larva. All this while trying to keep my feet out of the water and timing my shots to when light splashed on the subject as the surrounding grasses waved in the breeze. Photography is hell sometimes.

8H7A3200The event was truly remarkable in and of itself, but reliving the detailed images afterwards had my jaw dropping and it hammered home once again the power of photography. Oh, the bird. After the show was over and I had moved on to other things, I happened to glance over and see a bird land about 20 feet away with a winged insect in its mouth. I snapped a few shots before it flew off and later discovered it had the same variety of dragonfly in its beak as my newly born dragonfly, the only one of that type I’d seen in the area that day. Could it be the same one? Maybe. If so, I hope it enjoyed its 14 minutes of freedom before becoming that bird’s lunch. Nature can be cruel for sure, but I don’t think that’s the way the bird saw it.


Steve Russell
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EXPERT ADVICE: HOW TO BUILD YOUR WEB PRESENCE Fri, 22 May 2015 15:03:16 +0000 WonderfulMachine-logoTo bring a new voice, a valuable perspective, and great advice for all photographers to our blog, we have teamed up with the fine folks at Wonderful Machine.  Once a month, a blogger from the WM team will be contributing to this expert advice column. To kick things off with this newfound partnership, Alex Rudinski contributed this article on building your web presence.



Years ago, simply having a good website was enough for a photographer. Updating your site once every year was okay, and it basically existed as a digital version of your print portfolio. It was not the primary way that potential clients evaluated you.

Today, it’s a vastly different landscape. You’re no longer limited to just having a website – or at least you don’t have to be. The web offers savvy and ambitious photographers dozens of possible avenues to make themselves known to potential clients. To take advantage of them, you need to build an online presence. Self-promotion is essential to creating an online presence – increasing your visibility and establishing yourself as an authority, expert, ninja or whatever. After all this time, you finally get to tell the world how great you are!


One point that bears mentioning – a lot of people dread self-promotion. It can feel arrogant, or tasteless to some folks, and others just have no clue how to do it. Maybe this is not you – maybe you’ve never feared public speaking, had stage fright or dreaded cocktail parties. But if this is you, resist the impulse to simply wait for the clients to appear. Promoting yourself is a core part of any modern freelancer’s business. There is no one in the world who can do it quite so well as you, and if you don’t do it, you are handicapping your business significantly.

You can politely and tactfully promote yourself online by sharing content that’s interesting or useful to your audience, and avoiding over-the-top self-promotion. Don’t try to be an orchestra, but if you don’t blow your horn a little, no one will know you have one.


You’re competing against thousands of other people who want the same connections and the same jobs. So what makes you different? There’s a lot to be said for just showing up, but that’s not quite enough. You need an intelligent, clever strategy for building your online presence, or you’ll risk being lost in the great heap of mediocrity – and you’re not mediocre, right?

The key is to make stuff that people find useful, insightful, interesting or funny and then share it with everyone you can. By establishing yourself as someone worth listening to, you drive traffic to your main site and hopefully increase the number of leads that your website produces. Your topic or strategy doesn’t need to be unique, but you do need to make something your excited about. Don’t dwell on whether or not your plan is perfect or different – just execute it, and improve it as you gain more experience and expertise.

At the end of the day, you are the person most interested in who you are and what you think, and the responsibility for promoting yourself rests on your shoulders. You’ll be creating something out of nothing, but there will be a pay-off and it may help target certain clients without any direct effort.



Every photographer has a website showing what he or she feels is their best work. As much work as that is, it just isn’t enough to create a superior business. Even if you follow our recommendations and consistently update your site with new, high-quality work, people are unlikely to become repeat visitors. For this, visitors need content that’s valuable and useful.

So, what can you give people in addition to your portfolio? In virtually every case, the first step is a solid blog.

It takes a lot of work to have a good blog. Lots of photographers heaped in the middle of the pack have a blog they update once or twice a month with a few behind-the-scenes photos from their most recent shoot and a quick blurb about how much fun it was to shoot with so-and-so and such-and-such. This is better than nothing, but the possibilities available to you are exponentially greater.

For inspiration, here’s some top photographer blogs:



A blog can be many things – you’re not limited to text posts. Write in the style that suits you best – or write very little and post mainly videos (Google loves videos). Or make your blog a collection of the best snowboarding/fashion/beer photography. Write about trends, personal experiences and industry events. Figure out what you’re excited about, what you enjoy talking about, and tell people about it. If you try and write about things you don’t care about, you’ll find a thousand ways to avoid it. So stick to making something that your excited about.

Publish substantial posts at least once every two weeks, but preferable more frequently. Unless you decide to become a full-time blogger, don’t post more than once a day. Make sure your content is useful, insightful or interesting – both to you and your readers.

Ideally, your site’s navigation or visual language should not change too much when the user visits your blog – this can be confusing. The page layout may need to change a little, since a portfolio site and a blog need to perform different functions, but make sure key elements like the logo, navigation, background and font stay consistent.

Be certain to include a link in your navigation bar to your portfolio. It’s is still your primary tool for sharing your work with potential clients, so don’t neglect it. Make significant updates to your site several times a year, and once a year reconsider the website as a whole, including your site format and organizational structure. Don’t forget that the reason you have a blog is to get visitors to your portfolio, so make sure that when they do arrive, you’re showcasing professional, marketable work.

The best way to get visitors to your blog is to share great stuff frequently and make sure people see it. Create quality content that people want, update it frequently, engage with your followers and blow your horn as loud as you can – without being a jerk. Create something that people want to see and share – enthusiasm spreads. Seth Godin, author and professional cheerleader, sums up your mission well:

“Connect, create meaning, make a difference, matter, be missed.”



When it comes to creating content, a lot of fledgling bloggers focus on writing about their own lives and experiences. This is okay when you’re still trying to find a voice or theme, but it’s a mistake to devote your entire blog to your own photography projects or awards you’ve won. It provides little benefit to readers, and doesn’t compel visitors to share your content.

If you’re not a great writer, don’t stress about it. You’re not writing literature, or for a school assignment. Do your best, and have a writerly associate edit your work. Play to your strengths – if you don’t like to write, don’t make it your goal to produce 1,000 word posts. But if you think you have a novel inside of you, now’s your time to shine.

Take a break from selling yourself when you’re writing your blog. Readers dislike content that’s really self-promotion in disguise, and they won’t come back for more of that. Instead, establish your identity as an expert and leader on the web, with a voice and tone that reflects your personality. Don’t try to imitate anyone else, or adopt a persona of Most Valuable Photographer – let your potential clients see who you are. People want to work with people they like, and no one has ever been best friends with someone who has no opinions, passions or expertise. It’s like what your over-indulgent teachers told you – follow your heart.

If you’re short on ideas, here are some possibilities:

  • Aggregating top content (photographs, photographers, articles on photography, gear)
  • How-to posts or videos
  • Smart lists
  • Self-assigned projects that aren’t appropriate for your main portfolio
  • Traveling posts
  • Industry news
  • Analysis of industry happenings
  • Photographs or photographers that you appreciate

Every working professional has something unique to contribute. Don’t be afraid to (politely) express strongly held opinions; people love to argue and debate topics in their own profession. Even better, pick one or two very niche topics and become a de facto expert in them. It will help increase your visibility to search engines and provide an indispensable resource to those who are interested in the same things.

If you’re having a hard time getting started, read this great guide from KISSmetrics on the foundational aspects of writing exactly the kind of posts you’ll want to create:


Writing alone is only half of the circle. To be complete, writing must be read. And the grimy truth is that getting your work in front of an audience requires a basic understanding of SEO, or search engine optimization.

When talking about search engines, let’s be clear – Google is really the one that matters. It’s also the one we know the most about, and the one that other companies try to emulate. So, here’s a rudimentary introduction to Google’s functioning.

A search engine keeps its users happy by providing the best content for their search terms. So, when a user searches for a particular term, the search engine keeps track of what site the user clicks on. If 80% of users searching for “Best Mac & Cheese” click on the fourth link rather than the first, the fourth link will soon be at the top of the macaroni heap. The way to get yourself higher in those search rankings is to make your website worth visiting and relevant to those searching for content like yours.

User visits aren’t the only thing that we care about, though. Sophisticated machine that it is, Google also has a team of robots crawling the web, looking for new and updated content. When it finds this content, the robot reads it (and the robots can only read), evaluates it, and uses that information to adjust search rankings accordingly.

When the robots read, they are on watch for posts filled with spammy characteristics. If the robot finds none of that, then it will use the words in your article to decide what it’s about, and attach it to the appropriate search results. This updated content refines Google’s understanding of what your site is about, but it also gives your page rank a bump – the more often you update, the better. Frequent updates alone will not get you to the top, but they are part of a good strategy. Other parts of a good strategy include accurate titles, clear URL text, proper META tags and a host of other details. You can get more info on how to optimize your site for Google from Google itself – get it from the horse’s mouth here.


Generally, we’ve found that people either love social media or they hate it. Regardless of how you feel, it’s another vital tool for online marketing.

At minimum, you’ll want to share your new blog posts on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. WordPress and other blogging platforms offer this sort of cross-promotional tool built in, so it’s not hard to set up. But going beyond the bare minimum, you should engage with your audience of followers. Strive to be a regularly visible, well-known presence in the world by posting to social media frequently.

Try to have status updates just for Facebook and Twitter – you don’t want all of your channels to host identical content. For example, you might share a quick snap on Instagram, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be on the blog. Having unique content in various channels encourages people to keep tabs on all of your digital personas. This stuff doesn’t have to be brilliant, but if you don’t keep up with it, you’re potentially leaving your Internet storefront dark and abandoned. We generally recommend interacting with your social media accounts at least two to three times a week.

Make sure you’re engaging with other users. Follow other photographers, like and share and retweet and favorite and comment. No man is an island.

Being at the top of your game requires doing some hard work. By staying on point with social media, you’re standing out from the pack, making yourself better known and easier to hire than those less visible. As much as talent matters, art buyers want to work with photographers they can get along with on set. If they feel like they already know you and like you through your blog and social media presence, you’re going to be the first pick in that triple-bid.

One tool that can make this all a little easier, Buffer, a smartphone appbrowser extension and website. It allows you to post to all your social media accounts from one place, saving you the trouble of recreating the same post on all your social media sites.


Don’t delay. Even if you don’t have the perfect marketing plan, and even if you’re not sure how to approach your web presence, starting now is better than starting tomorrow. Follow your mediocre ideas until you get a great one – the perfect idea may not fall from the sky.

At its core, building your web presence is about putting yourself out there, and the possibilities are endless.

Establish your personality and voice then speak with it. The web is a place of little bureaucracy and incredible depth. The barrier to entry has never been lower, but that also means there’s more noise than ever before. When starting out, you might be part of the noise yourself, but the more you work at it, the more attention you’ll get and the more rewarding your hard work will be. As Dale Carnegie, the original social media maven, wrote:

”Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.”

While we’ve tried to lay out some general guidelines, this is far from a definitive marketing handbook. There are nuances that haven’t been addressed and whole channels we’ve skipped over. Regardless of the channels you choose for promoting yourself, inventiveness and dogged determination are always your ticket to the top. And remember to focus on what you care about – enthusiasm is infectious.


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RMSP Graduate Profile: Ben Reed Mon, 06 Apr 2015 19:47:26 +0000

This is a post by contributing author and RMSP Career Training graduate Charlie Bulla

It’s always exciting to chat and visit with RMSP folks, whether that means staff, instructors, your classmates or other alum. So, does that make hanging out with multiple RMSP’ers in Hawaii extra special? It sure did for me!

The RMSP family is strong, and part of that family made my amazing trip to the islands possible. It all began with an invite from graduate and former teaching assistant of the Career Training Program, Ben Reed and his girlfriend and my fellow classmate Robin, who are now living on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii. I was also blown away with the amazing hospitality of another fellow classmate, Jen and her husband Aaron who made an incredible visit to Maui possible for me. Many thanks to all of them for making an amazing trip extra special and for sharing the Aloha spirit!

While visiting with Ben and Robin, just out their front door, I would take daily walks along the beaches of famous surf breaks. Beaches such as Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and Pipeline. As a young kid learning to surf in North Carolina, I was always stoked to pick up magazines and dream of being right there. Now, I was there! And, I quickly realized that I was witnessing a good friend follow a dream and doing so by taking risk, utilizing an education, maximizing relationships and remaining passionate about the future. This made me think about how Ben’s story and his path could be shared with others who have an adventurous and creative path.

Ben was kind enough to spend some time with me chatting about his photographic path, his decisions, his bag of gear, and the idea of motion from an RMSP graduate’s perspective. Here is the conversation I had with Ben during my incredible trip to Hawaii:


CB: So Ben, how long has photography been a part of your life and how did it all start for you?

My story is both similar and very different from most attendees of RMSP. The road to RMSP was a bit rocky. I had attended college, graduated, and was working in the so-called “real world” selling rebar. I’ve always had the desire to create, but I felt like I was wasting away and not creating anything. Then, several unfortunate events took the lives of half a dozen friends within a two-week period. It was a wake-up call and I needed to make a change. Thus began a year-long self evaluation of what I wanted out of life. I had taken several surf trips to Nicaragua and Costa Rica and having experienced different cultures, I knew I wanted to travel more than anything. I knew there is a lot more to this world than what I was currently experiencing.


I looked into options, which included grad school, marine biology, Coast Guard and the Peace Corps. I was open to just about anything, but nothing really felt right. Photography never played a large part in my life. I didn’t have the experience of having a father or mother handing down their camera when I was a youngster and I’d never really had a desire to pick up a camera. A photographic career was not on my mind. It really boils down to one fateful night. It hit me, suddenly and abruptly. While reading my monthly issue of Surfing Magazine, I thought,

“Someone has to be taking these pictures.
If someone else is doing it, there’s no reason why I can’t be.”

Within a month, I was signed up for Career Training at RMSP. Within three months I was there. I’m pretty sure it was a shock to my parents when I informed them of my plans!

Photography truly started for me on the second day of the 2010 Summer Intensive program at RMSP. That was the first time I’d picked up a camera with true intent. People seem to be pretty baffled when I tell them this. I knew nothing. I’d never even heard of aperture, shutter speed or ISO. I didn’t know the difference between a full-frame and crop sensor. I look back now and laugh at how little I actually knew. I bought my camera five days before attending RMSP. The first pictures I took were with my mother on our cross-country drive to Montana. They were complete crap!


CB: How did you first hear about RMSP and what was your process like in deciding to attend a photography school in Montana? Quite a difference from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, right?

Reed_Ben_Reed_03525You know, I almost missed out on RMSP altogether. Seriously, it was super close to not happening. I had several criteria for what I wanted out of a photography program. I knew I wanted a program that’s focus was solely photography. I didn’t want to go back to a college and have to spend four more years in school. Nor did I have the desire to be in a class that didn’t pertain to photography skills. I was determined and focused on photography and photography only. I was looking at schools from Maine to California. Ultimately, I decided I wanted to go west of the Mississippi, to experience a part of the country I hadn’t spent much time in.

Originally, the winner was The Brooks Institute in California. I had reservations about Brooks though. With Brooks, you took classes three times a week. To me I didn’t feel like that was enough. I wanted to immerse myself in photography, and to me that wasn’t immersion. But, at the time, it was the only real option that I could find. Then, a friend of a friend, Perri Shelat told me about her experience and RMSP. She told me to give them a call before I fully committed to The Brooks Institute. What she didn’t know was that I was already a registered student at The Brooks Institute. Perri had so many good things to say about RMSP. She promised it would change my life. To me that’s a pretty strong statement. I felt like it was deserving of at least a call.

After doing a little research on RMSP and looking at the website, I realized that it offered the same content I was looking for as Brooks, and RMSP solved all my issues I had with Brooks. So, I figured, what the hell, I should give them a call. Within minutes of talking to Bob McGowan, I knew RMSP was where I was going. There wasn’t a school that could compare to the friendliness and knowledge that I received from Bob. I remember it like it was yesterday. After that phone call, I knew I was going to RMSP and I had a gut feeling, it was going to be something special.


CB: After finishing up as a student of RMSP, you returned to become a teaching assistant. Can you share a bit on your experience as an assistant and how it’s helped with your path?

Reed_Ben_Reed_04727-EditHaha, yes, that’s correct. As a student, I actually told my peers and instructors in my final presentation that I was coming back as a teaching assistant the following year. It got quite a few laughs. At that time, it was wishful thinking and more of a joke. However, before I left Missoula, I made sure I went to visit with every faculty member at RMSP and let them know that if there was any chance of coming back as an assistant that I really wanted the opportunity. For me, it really felt like the next step in achieving my goals. It was a long shot. I lobbied the hell out of myself for that spot!

Becoming an assistant helped me in so many different ways. It’s almost like attending RMSP for two more years, but better in some ways. I met so many wonderful people and some of my best friends while assisting. I take yearly trips with Jimmy White and Dan Doran, both RMSP graduates and fellow assistants. I still do a lot of work with fellow assistants, and assisting at RMSP is 100% the reason I am where I am today.

I knew my stuff coming into the assistant position, but I still questioned my abilities. It helped solidify everything I learned as a student. I was receiving the information again and this time I had a foundation to build on. Coming back as an assistant really made me believe that I knew more than what I gave myself credit for. It was a huge building block and confidence builder.

It also allowed me to build relationships with individuals in the photo industry outside of RMSP. This was absolutely vital to my success. Connections are everything in this world. I asked the pros as many questions as possible. I made it my mission to find out how the pros became successful. Every pro told me that they shared their goals with others. It’s so important to openly share what you want out of life and your career. It’s all about how your connections can help you achieve your goal. You can’t expect others to help you in your journey if others don’t know what you’re after. That sounds a bit self-centered and selfish, but it’s true. I ease my conscience by trying to help others as much as possible. Looking at it this way really helps me to justify asking others for help. It’s full circle and you have to keep it turning. I really do owe my surf photography career to assisting at RMSP. I was assisting RMSP graduate, Mike Tittel during the Adventure Photography Pro Studies course when he asked me what I wanted to do after I left RMSP. Little did I know, his question and my answer would change my life. I was open with Mike about wanting to be a surf photographer. He introduced me to his good friend Michael Clark who was teaching a surf photography workshop with Brian Bielmann. Michael told me I needed to attend this workshop and that it could possibly lead to a job working with Brian.

It was the break I needed!


CB: Now you’re living on the north shore of Oahu! Can you share a bit about your decision on moving to Hawaii and your relationship with Brian and the doors that are opening because of your move?

You know, things came so close to not working out that it’s not even funny. I met Brian through the surf photography workshop he and Michael Clark held in February 2013. We hit it off the first day during introductions, when we realized we grew up in the same geographic location. After that, I drifted a bit from the group and Brian. I really had the desire to create images that were a little bit different from the rest of the group. At one point during the workshop, I remember Michael Clark encouraging me to spend more time getting to know Brian. I wasn’t spending enough time building that relationship. It wasn’t until the last night of the workshop that I actually went up to Brian and asked if I could work for him. I remember him chuckling and saying “Sure, why not?” We had a brief conversation about me moving out to Hawaii in October of 2013. That was the extent of the conversation. That was it. I started looking for rentals on the North Shore later that summer. It quickly became apparent that it was ridiculously expensive and there were very few places to rent. I had reached out to Brian multiple times and hadn’t received a response. A couple months went by and still no response. I was getting a bit worried. The winter season was approaching fast and I hadn’t found a place to live or even knew if Brian was serious about me working for him. I had to make a decision soon.

Brian Bielmann is considered one of the greatest surf photographers of all time. At the time he was senior staff photographer for Transworld Surf Magazine and was a staff photographer for Volcom. The surf industry is all about who you know and it can make you or break you. This guy knows everybody. He’s been a surf photographer for 40 years. Very few surf photographers, if any, can claim that. So, I knew I had to go.

Without any response from Brian, I signed a 6-month lease on the North Shore. Within hours of signing that lease and faxing it to the landlord, Transworld Surf announced they were closing their doors effective immediately.

Panic set in.

How am I going to survive in Hawaii if Brian doesn’t have a job and there’s nothing for me do? I remember thinking at that point that it was over and Hawaii wasn’t going to happen. That afternoon I sent Brian an urgent message asking what to do. He finally responded with a short but deliberate note, “Need you now more than ever.” I still had my doubts, but I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass. I’m glad I decided to go. It’s been one of the best decisions of my life. Brian is one of the most humble and kind human beings out there. Not only has he been a great mentor but he’s become a great friend. I feel incredibly honored and lucky to be in the position I find myself in.

As for doors being opened, I credit a lot of my success to Brian. He has relentlessly advocated for me and my work. Since moving to Hawaii, I’ve worked with him on most of his jobs and on many occasions he’s split his check down the middle with me. What photographer does that? It’s amazing. Jobs that he hasn’t been able to do for various reasons, he’s made sure I got them. I think he advocates more for me than he does himself. As a budding photographer it’s essential to have someone like Brian. I’ve gained so much so quickly because of him. It’s unbelievable. I’ve accomplished a lot in under two years because of my connection with him. I’m eternally thankful for all the opportunity he’s given me. It wasn’t that long ago, I would’ve never been able to imagine my life the way it is now. There was little back then I was excited about and I never imagined I’d be living on the North Shore of Oahu. We recently attended a private Volcom party and I was pinching myself. I was always a Volcom fan. As a kid, I worked in a surf shop and I’d always try to push their clothing on unsuspecting mothers. I never imagined years later I would be invited to a small private function attended by all the top guys at Volcom. It was an honor and I think that’s when it started to sink in. I’m actually making this whole thing happen!


CB: It’s pretty obvious hanging around you nowadays that your focus has switched to motion. What’s the mindset you have for your motion work and have there been certain factors that led you to video?

Reed_Ben_Reed_09095I think for me, one of the important things in life is being able to recognize opportunity when it arises and being able to make adjustments to take advantage of those opportunities. It sounds like such an easy concept, but I think most people struggle with this. Not being afraid to change is essential. Producing photographic work with Brian is an unbelievable experience and in the long run I’d eventually have to break away and focus on my own work.

We travel together and it’s really not a great business model to have two photographers shooting the same subject at the same time. We work so well together that I felt it would be advantageous for both of us to figure out a way to continue the relationship. There had to be an option that would allow me to continue working with Brian and still be successful in the surf industry. Shortly after coming to this realization, I was slapped in the face with an opportunity. It was one of those situations of being in the right place at the right time.

Brian and I were shooting stills for a film John John Florence was working on. Hurley had hired a production company from outside the surf industry to produce the film. There were some issues with the production; the hired company didn’t understand surfing, and it hit me that there was a need for a high-end production company that understands surfing. There are definitely other cinematographers out there doing amazing work and I feel like I can bring something else to the table. I know with bringing Brian on board for large projects we will have a one-two punch that nobody will be able to offer. I think Brian is so unique and my desire to succeed and produce something different will help set us apart.


CB: I see the new gear. Can you tell us about the setup you’re using today and what cool stuff it enables you to do?

Ahh, yes. I invested in a RED Dragon made by Red Digital Cinema. This camera is pretty damn incredible. It has a dynamic range of 16 or 18 stops and can actually shoot video in HDR, giving even more dynamic range. It’s also the first digital video camera that shoots in 6k. I can actually pull still frames from the video that are print quality. There are many magazine covers out there shot with a RED that had a still frame pulled to be included in print. It’s been used for a plethora of major motion pictures including but not limited to The Hunger Games, House of Cards, Jurassic World, Chappie, Marvel Avengers, Star Trek Into Darkness — you get the idea. It’s a very powerful tool and we’re very excited about the future. I can easily go from shooting an interview on location, to shooting surf from the beach, to shooting underwater in my CMT waterhousing. It’s impressive. It’s opening a whole new world of possibilities. Now I just have to learn how to use it! Hahaha.


CB: What’s next for Ben Reed? Any new projects or big plans on the horizon?

Haha, that’s such as loaded question. Immediately speaking, I just signed a deal with ISA (International Surfing Association) to shoot their contests for 2015. I’m so pumped because they’re sending Brian and I to Mexico, Nicaragua, California, the Canary Islands, China and Chile.

The entire reason for leaving the 9-5 job was to travel more and it’s really cool that’s starting to happen.



I can’t wait to see what other doors this opens as well. That’s huge in itself. I’m also planning on traveling to Teahupo’o in mid-summer to film surfing and underwater scenes. The water there is incredibly clear. It should be an amazing experience. I’d have to say that I’m most excited about starting our production company. I have a lot of ideas, projects and collaborations that I’d like to shoot. I definitely want to spend some time documenting stories that need to be told. I have a strong desire to share stories with others and I feel like motion gives me more opportunity to tell those stories. I definitely want to start submitting to film festivals, but that’s a couple years off. I’m still learning Adobe Premiere and how to properly use the RED. Ultimately, I want to produce work that’s important to me and hopefully strikes an emotional connection with others. I’d like our work to help motivate people to change their lives if that’s what they wish to do.

I definitely have a vision of where I want to be in the future, but I’m also keeping it really open. I don’t want to be so focused on one thing that I miss an opportunity somewhere else. Again, I think it’s important to be flexible and not be afraid to change. So, who knows what the future holds. I’m just excited about everything. I’m so thankful for what I’ve already been able to accomplish and excited about all the potential of the future.


CB: While spending time around Ben and Brian during my visit in Hawaii, the strength of their relationship stood out. When I asked Brian to share his thoughts about Ben, he had a few things to say …. 

“I’ve got to say one thing about Ben. He is the smartest, coolest, and the most honest guy I have ever had the pleasure to work with and be friends with. That’s more than one, I guess. The point is, I have never wanted to help anyone or see someone succeed as much as I do Ben. He came to Hawaii a couple years ago to assist me and has been the most helpful person in my whole photography career. I don’t think of Ben as an assistant anymore. He is a partner now and some of the stuff we have accomplished because of that partnership has been some of the coolest stuff of my career. Thank you, Ben. Sounds like a man crush, huh? Well, Ben is like Sam from Lord of the Rings. Frodo could not have done it without Sam. Ben is my Sam…”


Thanks for sharing the update with us, Ben.

Keep going after it!

And thank you so much Charlie for helping to share Ben’s story.


You can view a few of Ben’s images in the gallery below or in his portfolio at and on Instagram at @benreedphoto.
Click the image below to check out his video reel on Vimeo.

Screen Shot 2015-04-06 at 4.03.35 PM

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Introducing … Lee Silliman Thu, 26 Mar 2015 15:21:13 +0000 For our last evening lecture of the 2014-15 Free Evening Lecture Series, we are pleased to introduce Lee Silliman. Lee has been involved with photography in Montana in a variety of different ways throughout the years – from creating to curating to preserving photographic works for a museum. His approach to photography is a thoughtful one, and his devotion to his process is admirable. And by admirable, I mean he takes an 8 x 10 view camera into the backcountry!  Read on ….



So, let’s start with the basics. Tell our audience who you are and where you are from?

I grew up in Illinois, but a month-long trip to the American West at the age of eleven fired my imagination—I wanted to live there someday! In college, as a science and math major, I would go to the art library to look at Russell and Remington paintings in books “for fun.” In 1969, at the age of 24, I moved to Montana, and have lived here ever since.

What kind of photographer would you say you are? Landscape, wildlife, etc?

I am a landscape photographer, primarily in wilderness areas, and, to use my pet phrase, an “artful documentarian” of historical remnants. You do not chase wildlife with a view camera—nearly impossible in my opinion.

Can you give us the 10-cent tour of your photographic history? How did you enter into the world of photography and progress through it until today?

I started out with a 35 mm handheld Nikon, shooting color and black & white film, and being enamored with the works of Ansel Adams, moved up to a Zone VI 4 x 5 inch view camera. Being a calligrapher also, I created artworks that featured my photographs and calligraphed passages from great writers and conservationists. Eventually I grew frustrated with the lack of detail and contrast with enlargements, so I saved my money for three years and I bought my Wisner 8 x 10 camera in 1989. It was contact prints thereafter.

You have photographed in many locations with this enormous camera. Do you have a favorite place to shoot? If so, why? What’s the attraction?

Well, the focus of my fascination has shifted over the years. From 1990 to 2006 I spent an average of three weeks per year photographing the backcountry of Yellowstone National Park. From 2007 through 2009 I photographed the Bob Marshall Wilderness. From 2010 onward I have been attracted to the Indian ruins of the American Southwest, and during the whole of my 8 x 10 career I have enjoyed photographing ghost towns in Montana and other states. My favorite place? I would have to say that Yellowstone, with its breathtaking beauty, diversity of subjects, enormity of scale, and foundational role in our cultural evolution of values toward nature, remains my favorite place.

What spot out there is still on your “to be photographed” list?

There are still indian ruins out there trying to hide from me! So, this summer (2015) I am returning to southeastern Utah to photograph abandoned Native American cliff dwellings in the Beef Basin and Cedar Mesa areas. I also have developed a fascination with Indian rock art, so I intend to travel to a number of western states this year to photograph rock art, which I find to have such appealing elemental beauty.

What’s the attraction to shooting with an 8×10? It’s a lot more work, and comparable results can be achieved digitally. There has to be something that keeps you going.

A variety of reasons wind together. First, I love working in the tradition of sheet film, which carried photography from its earliest days until the dawn of the digital age. Secondly, I love the purity, sharpness, and contrast of the 8 x 10 inch silver gelatin contact print. Nothing beats it, in my book! Lastly, the cost, weight, and complexity of operating such a large camera forces me to honestly answer the question, “Is this view worth the effort?” In theory, the fewer pictures you take, the better they should be, because you concentrate more on its merits, or lack thereof. Still, my success ratio is about one good negative out of five to ten exposures. I kiss a lot of toads at five dollars a click of the shutter release cable.

Tell our audience about your past position with the Powell County Museum & Arts Foundation. What did you do there? Any stories from your days there?

As the photo archivist at the Powell County Museum & Arts Foundation in Deer Lodge (Montana) for 26 years, I was constantly in the presence of large format photography. Its superiority impressed me. I curated—conceived, printed, matted and framed, and promoted—four different traveling exhibits of historical photography from the 1925 – 1965 images taken by local photographers Otho Hartley and Howard Thompson. The topics were: dude ranches, rodeos, old vehicles, and a general photography + oral history project. Stories? I am proud of the fact that my historical rodeo exhibit, which was entitled “This Contest Is for Real Hands: An Old Fashioned Rodeo” was sponsored by Exhibits USA of Kansas City, Missouri, and enjoyed a 10-state, three year national tour. Then, a Texas art commission picked it up for a tour to smaller towns in Texas.

I understand you also have a knack for building custom frames. Tell our readers a bit about your operation, and how they can get in touch if they have framing needs?

I started a picture framing shop in the early 1980s, so that I could afford to frame my own pictures. It branched out by framing exhibits for the Powell County Museum, and then for people who approached me with framing jobs. In the last fifteen years I have expanded into hardwood moldings, using exotic hardwoods from around the world, to create special framing effects different from the typical metal, gold, silver, and painted woods commonly seen. These frame moldings are custom designed profiles, which I have milled in East Missoula. My contact information is: 406-549-0215 or

You have a lecture coming up at RMSP on April 21. What can people expect to get out of it? What will you be talking about?

I will briefly discuss my photographic background that led me to embrace 8 x 10 inch view camera photography, and then concentrate on my treks to a variety of destinations mentioned above. I will show color images of the process of getting to a photogenic spot, as well as some of my better black & white shots. I will conclude by demonstrating the set-up and operation of my camera, and offer the audience a close look at it.

What idea or concept influenced you greatly?

Years ago I read an essay by British photo critic Bill Jay, entitled “The Thing Itself: The Fundamental Principle of Photography.” His premise is that a photographer must fervently be engaged with the subject over a long period of time in order to make an insightful and original statement about it. A photographer must passionately know the subject. Furthermore, the viewer of a photograph is far more interested in the subject matter portrayed, than the photographer or his/her methodology. I try to follow his dictum.


Learn more about Lee’s process and join him for his evening lecture

titled, “My 8 x 10: Viewing the West with a Big Camera”

from 7 – 9 pm on April 21, 2015 at RMSP. 


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Canon, CES and Pixma Pro Printers … Vegas Style Wed, 11 Feb 2015 18:20:32 +0000 Guest article written by 2012 Career Training graduate Heather Gill.


Gill_CanonHeatherGill-6The call from Canon came at the end of a tough year. I had packed up and moved my business to a new location, and just wasn’t sure if it was going to be revivable in a new city. I had just started reaching out to photo editors of local magazines when the call came from New York, so naturally I thought it was one of them.

The call came at the end of October 2014. It was an ad agency inquiring as to what kind of camera system I used. Without hesitation I said that 95% of the time its Canon and the other 5% was my iPhone. The caller said she was working on behalf of the art team that would make the decision who they wanted to use for City Senses Tour – Sights and Sounds of Las Vegas for the upcoming CES. Quickly, I set about trying to figure out what CES stood for. The voice on the other end of the phone had never called it the “Consumer Electronics Show,” just CES. Their goal was to feature Canon’s Pixma Pro Printers and showcase the quality that one can get from the printer. She said she was sending over a brief in the next few minutes and I needed to respond with a few ideas. Great! Anxiously, I sat by my computer for the next 24 hours until … nothing. I figured they had decided against using me. “Oh well,” I thought.

Two weeks later I get another call from her. She wondered why I hadn’t responded to the brief, but no matter, I made the short list and scheduled a conference call for the following Monday. Naturally, I was eager for this opportunity, so we also scheduled a time to talk with another local photographer and the full creative team. My assignment was to figure out what the sights and sounds of Vegas meant to me. I had only lived in Las Vegas since the summer. So I didn’t have very many contacts to work with at this point.

Gill_CanonHeatherGill-12So the assignment was going to go like this: From the four senses: touch, sound, smell and taste, we would be showing what they mean in the context of Las Vegas. Our first trigger, TOUCH, is the feel or touching of felt, dice and poker chips. The second sense, SOUND, was the sound of a noisy casino. Third sense, SMELL, would be the smell of money. For the fourth sense, TASTE, we would use mocktails. Our fifth sense would be our interpretation of the first four senses and using sight to see the gallery and the other senses. We had to take our cue from the triggers given and interpret them literally and then we could make our own interpretation.


The show was going to be set up like a gallery. Each person that walked through would be taken through the gallery and given the trigger we were given, smell of money, taste of a mocktail, touch of felt, poker chips and dice and the sound of a noisy casino floor. They would be given this trigger before seeing the images so their minds could start to get a picture. The lights would come up and our images would be on the wall and they would move on to the next room for the next trigger. Four rooms in all and the last room had images they had seen in the previous rooms and a few others that had not been shown. All the rooms had black walls, gallery lights and images. They had chosen to make four of our images larger than the Pixma Pro printers could print using a large format printer.

We were given the green light to move ahead with shooting the city the day before Thanksgiving. Everything had to be turned in the following Friday, December 5th. I emailed a few people that I thought would be able to help me get access to shooting in casinos or restaurants or something to get the ball rolling. I only heard back from one and they wanted a hefty fee for photographing and still weren’t sure they wanted to sign a release. Photographing in Las Vegas is not easy. You cannot, by law, walk up to a table and start photographing. Regardless of whether or not you have permission of guests at the table. So I had to work around that detail. I had friends come to town thinking that if I had their permission I could shoot, not possible. So onto the next idea.

In case you thought photographers were shooters most of the time … let me be clear, we are not! We are problem solvers 75% of them time or more. Las Vegas is so different from every other city I’ve ever lived in. I’m used to being able to talk with the owner, get permission to photograph, etc. Not in Las Vegas. You will rarely meet an owner and you won’t be getting permission to shoot until the board meets. I didn’t have that kind of time. So not only did I need to get creative with the interpretation of the assignment, I needed to get creative on how, and what, I could shoot. The subject matter couldn’t be too recognizable or require special permission from a casino. In the end I did a lot of the shots in my own studio: All of the food images, all of the “smell of money” images, and all of the touch images. I found a vintage slots dealer and got the majority of my sound images using vintage machines and roulette wheels.

This had to be the best experience possible to learn about a new city. I have learned so much about my new city and this assignment helped me see Las Vegas in a new and interesting way. I feel I’ve come out of the experience a stronger photographer as I am better at problem solving and coming up with new ideas quickly.

I still don’t know how or why I was chosen to work with Canon. I had started working on a few editorial assignments for Vegas Magazine and Wynn Magazine, but at the time Canon contacted me nothing had been published yet. I can also tell you I’m grateful for every assignment I’m given. I’m usually hired to create images of gorgeous food and this time I got to create images of my new city and show them to the world. We had over 3,000 people come through our gallery space and speak with us. That had to be the most fun part of the experience. I had to get on the Canon stage and speak to many CES attendees. That was not the fun for me, but it got easier each time, and I got to speak on a subject I love: Photography.

This process from start to finish was crazy to say the least. But when I walked through the gallery space before opening and saw the framed images it was worth all the crazy. An image doesn’t end with the capture, and it’s always amazing to see your work printed. As photographers, we need to print our work. It’s part of the process to make them tangible, hang them on your own walls, live with them. It’s a powerful thing, seeing your own work printed and framed.


Gill_CanonHeatherGill-17 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-15 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-14 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-13 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-11 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-10 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-9 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-7 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-8 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-5 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-4 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-2 Gill_CanonHeatherGill-1 Gill_gallery-2 Gill_gallery-3 Gill_gallery-4 Gill_gallery-6 Gill_gallery-7 Gill_gallery-8 Gill_gallery-9 Gill_gallery-10 Gill_gallery-11 Gill_gallery-12


GillHeather-watermarkHeather Gill is a 2012 graduate of the Career Training program.
You can see more of her work at her website,

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For the Love of Shooting – Guest Article by Steve Russell Tue, 03 Feb 2015 15:48:06 +0000 8H7A3317My second annual January trek to San Diego to shoot birds and wildlife gives me the perfect opportunity to share three reasons why I love doing this so much.

  1. The thrill of surprises. Not only do animals appear out of nowhere for shot opportunities, but sometimes astonishing and unexpected shots show up on the computer screen afterwards when I finally rifle through those hundreds or thousands of shots I took. Most notable for me this time was the hummingbird and nest (the first nest I’d ever seen) that suddenly presented to me at the lake, and then discovering later on during the processing of the images that I’d captured a baby in the nest as well.
  2. The joy of upping my game. There’s nothing quite like the satisfying feeling of capturing an image of something new or getting a better picture of something I’d shot before. It’s me against myself every time out. Last year in San Diego I’d gotten my first brown pelican in flight, but this year I set my sights on capturing them not only flying but skimming across huge crashing waves – and sure enough, I got some.
  3. The power of a group shoot. All six of us went to the same places looking for basically the same things, but I was amazed at what my friends were able to find and shoot that I had totally missed. While I was shooting a beautifully evolving sunset in a fairly standard way, another found a spindly group of long-beaked shore birds in the foreground of the setting sun and still another waded into the surf for a unique perspective. Remarkably different subjects, compositions, camera settings, lenses, and creative techniques – all freely swapped with one another at the time to be tucked away in my little brain to try out the next time I get the chance.


My San Diego experience at its best was that beautiful synchrony of waiting for nature to reveal itself and being prepared to shoot it when it did. It was full of surprises, loaded with opportunities advance my skill and experience, and it was enhanced by the shared experience. What could be better. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was 72 degrees and sunny, either.

Steve Russel


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A Tale of a Stolen Photo Wed, 10 Dec 2014 16:06:13 +0000 written by Beau Johnston.

I made a conscious decision, when I started writing and photography, that if I wanted to make a name for myself I would need to have an online presence. Websites, blogs, and social media are great tools for getting your work out and in front of the masses. By leveraging these tools, I have acknowledged the risk of having my photography used, without my permission, in everything from personal blogs to advertising.

I have tried (nearly) everything I can think of to prevent individuals from stealing my work. I have used right-click protection, small jpegs, and watermarks to try and limit the use of my images with marginal results. I have found that if an individual really wants to use your image, they will find a way. My final line of defense is to search for my work with Google™. I run Google Chrome on my computer and installed the ‘Search by Image’ {hyperlink:} extension for the browser. This allows me to right click on any image and search for other instances where the image is used on the internet, all by selecting the ‘Search Google with this image’ in the pop-out window.

My original image

Beau Johnston

The cropped image from the website

Coppied Image

During the week of March 31st I spent a couple of my lunch hours browsing the internet for my photos (I know that sounds a bit vain). In doing so, I came across nine instances where my images were being used without my permission. In all but one instance, the images had been cropped to remove my watermark, with the most notable use being that of real estate company. Not only had the company used my image without licensing agreements in place, but they had cropped the image to remove all recognition of the photographer that took it – Me!

How I Handle These Situations

In an effort to document the copyright infringement, and before I ever contact the violator, I exported the webpage as a pdf file. If things were to ever escalate, and lawyers were to become involved, I want to have evidence of their violation. This is not the first time I have confronted someone about using my images without my permission, but it was the first retail business was promoting their products with one. I felt it was best to document everything, just in case.

My Email to the Company

After exporting their webpage as a pdf, I drafted an email to the company explaining that I discovered their use of my photo without my permission. I find that when I come across as ‘confused’ about whether they have a license to use the image, and not immediately confrontational, I seem to get a better response.

From: Beau Johnston

Sent: Friday, April 4, 2014 11:10 AM


Subject: Image Use


Good morning ____,

After a recent image search, I discovered one of my photographs may be being used on your website without a license agreement in place. The page is question is for the Copper Basin Subdivision, found here: http://www.________/ copper_basin_subdivision/

The photograph in question can be found here: http://www. ________/Documents%20and%20Settings/Copper-Basin-Idaho-Homes.jpg

Can you verify if a license agreement is in place? I do not have record of paying to license the image.


Thank you for your time.

Beau Johnston

The ‘Optional’ Next Step

If I do not get a response from the violator, within a few days, I will follow up by reporting the copyright infringement to Google. Google’s online Report alleged copyright infringement form {hyperlink:} asks you for your contact information, to describe where the copyrighted work can be found, and where the alleged copyright infringement is located. In this case I would explain how the company had used my image without permission and provided an example of where the photo was located on my travel blog.

The Company’s Reply

I heard back from the company, a few days later, with a reply that they were looking into the situation and would get back to me. The owner eventually replied saying he did not believe they had paid to license the image but he has “others help develop his site and they might have licensed the image, not that that matters.” I know, and he probably knows, this image was never licensed for use on his website and that is why I was not surprised when he asked for information on how much I charge. After exchanging a few emails, and some phone call conversations, we came to an agreement to license the image for use on his real estate website.

Lessons I Learned

I learned a lot in talking with the real estate company about their copyright infringement; most notably was to reaffirm the old adage “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” While many of my friends told me to immediately send them an invoice and demand the image be taken down, when they heard of the copyright infringement, I decided to take a different approach. I ultimately believe I came out ahead by taking the approach I did. I believe the ‘stern’ approach would have resulted in my image being removed, but I do not believe it would have resulted in me being paid. By being willing to work with the company, and being pleasant during discussions, I was able to establish a licensing agreement for the website use. We, ultimately, want to get paid and have our images on display so why not start off on a good foot with the people/companies stealing our work. Escalate to being stern, if you do not get anywhere by nice, and let them know you are filing a complaint with Google.

Thank you to Beau Johnston for this very informative and insightful blog post. Here’s his bio and website for you to check out.

My wife (Krista) and I are the managing editors for Toyota Cruisers and Truck Magazine’s “Outdoor Lifestyle” and “Overland” sections.  We are sponsored by AJIK Overland Exchange, TreadWright Tires, and members of DeLorme’s Ambassador Team.  You can read more of our travels, and pick up a few gourmet camp cooking recipes, at our blog  My recent honors include taking first place in the Recreation category at the 2013 Wild West Photo Fest, second place in the wildlife category at the 2013 Picture Wild Montana photo contest, and second place at the 2014 Platte River Photography Show. 

 My personal photography project can be found at

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In the Spirit of Ansel Adams: Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons in Black and White – Guest Article by Steve Russell Fri, 05 Dec 2014 17:30:40 +0000 IMG_5687At the tail end of Fall I had a chance to join a small group of experienced photographers on a photo expedition to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. Our goals were to “hunt” and “shoot” wild animals, photograph the Milky Way, and capture the grandeur of the Teton mountain range. Of course, this is Ansel Adams country, so in the spirit of his eminence, I processed my images in black and white using Lightroom 5 (exactly as I learned it in the RMSP Lightroom Workshop). What better way to reduce them to their essence.

Our group had the benefit of having a photographer with over 40 Yellowstone/Grand Teton photo shoots under his belt, which made all the difference in terms of finding opportunities. Two of in our group had been to the parks five times without ever having seen a grizzly bear; on this trip, however, we found them twice in five days. Along with the grizzlies we shot bull elk (in the rutting season), pronghorn antelope, black bear, bighorn sheep and bison, but unfortunately, we didn’t see any moose or wolves. Maybe next time. My best, sharpest images were when handholding my Canon 7D with 70-200mm IS lens and 1.4 teleconverter.

R22A1955Our day trip to the Grand Tetons was unsurprisingly spectacular, although we settled for big billowy clouds over the mountains instead of the more iconic snow-covered peaks (which was to occur only two days later). I used my 24-105mm f/4 and 15mm 2.8 lenses on a Canon 5D Mark III for my best results.

Back in Yellowstone the clouds luckily parted on two consecutive, new-moon nights allowing us to shoot the Milky Way (me, for the first time ever) over briefly light-painted geysers we’d scoped out during the day. It took some trial and error (mostly error) but I settled on ISO 3200, wide open at f/2.8, for 25-30 seconds on a tripod using the 15mm fisheye lens on my 5D Mark III. I couldn’t be happier with the results.

R22A1870We barely scratched the surface of wildlife, landscape and night-sky photographic opportunities in Yellowstone and Grand Tetons on our five-day visit. I’m no Ansel Adams but I suspect that I felt just as much of a thrill as he did when witnessing such extraordinary sights.

Steve Russell
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False Color Infrared – Digital – Guest Article by Mel Mann Thu, 06 Nov 2014 18:41:30 +0000 In my previous article, Photography In the Red Zone, I discussed the interesting world of Infrared photography and my experimentation with it. The traditional look of Infrared photography is black and white, and while this can be very dramatic, it’s not the only way you can portray IR photography. There is a version known as false color IR where different colors are matched to specific wavelengths in order to identify objects reflecting them. We’ve seen lots of these images because NASA uses false color IR for many of the earth images made by low orbit satellites. With this you can determine the health of plants, extent of flood waters, differentiate among snow, ice and clouds.

In the hands of a more down-to-Earth photographer false color, IR opens up wholly different color palettes to spice up seemingly mundane images. Selecting specific wavelengths for subjects may not be possible, but since the image generally shows an other-worldly appearance, the choice of colors is entirely in the photographers hands.

Although there is no longer color IR film available, digital IR offers the opportunity to work with this type of photography. All you need is an IR filter for your camera and editing software that gives you the ability to swap RGB channels and modify their levels.

First you need image information, both for IR and color. The following two images were made by putting my camera on a tripod and carefully making the same image twice, once with a Hoya R72 filter on my camera and the other with no IR filter.











Next I opened both images in Photoshop. Starting with the color version, I opened the Channels palette. I’ll show different versions of Channel swapping below but the technique is the same. First select the Channel you want to swap in the color image by clicking on the channel itself to make it the only one active.

All ChannelsGreen Channel Only










Go to the color image and Select All, then Copy.

Click on the IR image to make it active, open the Channels palette, select the same color Channel you copied in the color image and Paste. The Channel from the color image will be put in the image. You can move one or more Channels in this way depending on how you want your image to look.

Once you’ve swapped the Channels you want, open the Levels palette in the IR image. Select each channel separately and slide the black and white arrows to the edges of the histogram. You can put the arrows anywhere, but I usually start with this as a way to see how the basic image will turn out.

Levels Screenshot










When you’ve adjusted all the channels click on the RGB Channel to make them all active. Then you’ll see the final image in false color. From here you can make adjustments to each color using other Photoshop adjustment tools to get the final image just the way you want.

From the two images above here are the results of different combinations of Channel swapping.


Blue-Green Channel Swap


Red-Blue Channel Swap


Red-Green Channel Swap












With Selections, Masking and other editing tools you can create a worldview that is uniquely your own. My work is landscape so I have a range of colors to play around with; I have no idea what a portrait photographer would do with this technique, but would really like to see some examples!

Not a bad way to explore what’s all around us in a different ‘light.’

Mel Mann
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Photography in the Red Zone – Guest Article by Mel Mann Wed, 22 Oct 2014 14:51:29 +0000 It was my good fortune to get a roll of Kodak infrared film recently, giving me a chance to play around with this very different photography medium. In my mind I kept planning to have one of my digital bodies converted to IR but just never got around to it. Film gave me a way to experiment with little cost in time and money; a great opportunity which turned out to be a good motivator.

Although the film was fairly old it had been handled carefully and I followed all the handling instructions my local lab manager gave me, resulting in about 50% of the images turning out pretty good. And by pretty good I mean they look like IR images I’ve seen in books so I knew my efforts were on track.








Closely following some corollary of Murphy’s Law I immediately discovered Kodak had discontinued their IR film several years ago and that remaining types of IR film didn’t give the full experience. Here I was again, questioning whether to convert a digital body or not. Fortunately (I hate waiting to try something I find cool) I discovered the R72 filter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPutting one of these on the lens of your regular digital camera results in the sensor seeing light almost exclusively in the near IR frequency (above 720nm for the technically oriented). Combined with the IR filter in front of most digital sensors you get very little green and blue light. What you do get is fairly long exposure times since the amount of light getting to the sensor is seriously reduced.

Which is why it’s great photography for people who like shooting around mid-day. No need to worry about that much-desired golden light landscape photographers chase so much. With this type of photography you really want the glare of an overhead sun just to keep shutter speeds reasonable! Although the film was high speed enough to shoot handheld at ISO 50, the digital sensor isn’t that sensitive. Using ISO 100 I was exposing at shutter speeds well above 10 seconds for moderate apertures (f/5.3-f/8). Tripod use is essential unless your style is glowing, blurred images. I like my images to show good detail, though.









Speaking of blur, I learned images will be out of focus unless you adjust the focus for IR light. Film lenses had marks on their depth of field gauges showing where to off-set the focus for IR – digital lenses don’t. You can refer to charts on the off-set for your specific lens or you can take the trial-and-error approach of focusing, putting the filter on, checking the image, taking the filter off and doing it over again until you find the right offset. Fortunately for me I found LiveView on my Olympus enables me to see the composition well enough to manual focus the lens. Since only red light is reaching the sensor, focusing with LiveView is like offsetting the focus for IR. Not sure if all LiveView systems will work so you’ll have to test your system.

You’ll find the resulting image to be red, very red. No problem. Using Lightroom’s Develop tools or Photoshop you can adjust the brightness and contrast, convert to B&W, then use the ‘color’ sliders to adjust the monochrome image to your desired look. Add a little Gaussian blur to the image and you’ve got the typical glowing IR photograph.











You can get even more creative with false-color IR. Turns out there is some green and blue light reaching the sensor. You can adjust your exposure to maximize these channels (without blowing out the red channel highlights) and then use the Channels and Levels tools in Photoshop to manipulate the look of the final image.











There are other color techniques involving swapping channels between IR and non-IR images that enable you to get almost any appearance you want. I haven’t played around with these yet; however, you can find instructions on a number of websites.

I did find more IR film to play around with so my goal is to learn the look of IR from film and then translate that look to digital using the R72 filter. Might be enough motivation to actually send out that camera body for conversion.

Mel Mann
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Metamorphosis of a Dragonfly Caught on Camera – Guest Article by Steve Russell Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:08:29 +0000 IMG_3562It was an amazing sight – the transformation of a beetle-like larva into a fully functioning flying dragonfly right before my very eyes – and camera.

I’d been shooting dragonflies this summer at my favorite marshy spot on the edge of nearby Waughop Lake. I happened to look down and spot an ugly little larva crawling along the grass toward my bike, which was laying on the ground. Cool, I thought, and I snapped a couple of shots before it disappeared under my rear tire for the shade, I figured.

I went back to the dragonflies until I needed something else from my pack when I noticed the larva had crawled up onto my tire. Snap-snap, and I went about my business. The third time I passed by, though, there were FOUR eyes looking back at me and it suddenly occurred to me that a dragonfly was pushing its way out of the back of the larva. Wow!

R22A0351I ran over to switch my telephoto lens for a macro and twin flash and returned to shoot the metamorphosis over the next 90 minutes. It was mid-day, high sun, harsh light and the larva had attached itself on the underside of the tire partially in the shade. Not the conditions I would choose, but in documentary or photo journalistic photography (which I would consider this to be in a nature sort of way) you work with what you got when you got it.

This grassy spot is right off the asphalt path that circles the lake and I am sprawled out on the grass, which is covered in goose poop, shooting what must have looked to the frequent passers-by to be my bike tire. Hmmm. But, oblivious to them and to the time, I shot away for an hour and a half trying to capture every conceivable angle knowing that in all likelihood this would be my first and only time with an opportunity like this.

The dragonfly and its huge compound eyes and compacted wings slowly eased out, moved next to the lifeless larva exoskeleton, gradually spread and dried its perfect wings, and with its stored genetic knowledge intact, launched its first flight flawlessly – off my bike tire. After surviving for two to three years as a larva in the muck of the lake bottom, it would live to fly, eat and procreate for perhaps another three to four WEEKS – the normal post-larval lifespan of a dragonfly.

It was purely by chance that I got to see (and shoot, no less) such a miraculous event. These may not be Pulitzer Prize winning photos, but they’ll forever distinguish my summer of 2014.

When viewing these photos keep in mind that I purposely re-oriented some right-side-up to make it easier to view them. Also, the last image is, as best I can tell, an adult version of the same type of dragonfly in great light, but it is NOT the same one.

Steve Russell

IMG_3562 R22A0240 R22A0248 R22A0261 R22A0265 R22A0314 R22A0322 R22A0351 R22A0391 R22A0467 R22A0437 R22A0406 R22A0497 Dragonfly


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Shadowlands: Five Tips for Capturing the Beauty of Back-Light Macro – Guest Article by Steve Russell Fri, 27 Jun 2014 22:38:29 +0000 R22A9416How is it that one can walk by, even photograph, the same thing thousands of times year in and year out – and not really see it? It’s happened to me. I shot small subjects for years in soft front-light and side-light or with flash and have had great results, but it wasn’t until I was stuck shooting at mid-day in harsh light recently that I looked toward the sun and noticed the grasses come alive with color and the bugs on the sun-side casting amazing shadows on the vividly striated grass. Not only that but any limbs hanging over the edges became brilliantly translucent. I began to notice this effect on any wide grass– contrasty shadows, bright colors and the amazing luminescence of my subjects created by back-light, especially at mid-day.

Shooting at mid-day in harsh light not only became possible, but preferred for this type of shooting. But to shoot this way there are a few things to know that may help you if you are interested in doing the same.


1) Look for background first and subjects second. This is the reverse of what I’m used to. Look in the direction of the light for wide grasses or leaves. Walk toward the light so you can spot the silhouettes of the bugs on the plants in front of you and because they are less likely to see you coming and get spooked off.

2) No flash needed or wanted here. While flash does an incredible job for detail and saturation, in this case it eliminates shadows and darkens backgrounds that can otherwise create a brilliant bokeh. Besides, there’s plenty of light on a sunshiny day.

3) Forget the tripod (no time for it), but make speed, aperture and image stabilization a priority for handheld shooting. Plan on a minimum of 1/60th sec but really 1/500th sec or faster is preferred as is an aperture of f/11-16. To get these settings it is the ISO that may have to get bumped up and fortunately I have a camera that can handle it – most of the shots below were at ISO 1600, but my 5D Mark III shows little or no noise. My Tamron 90mm macro lens has Vibration Compensation (VC). I use a hiking pole if I can to help stabilize the camera, as well.

R22A1665 4) Keep the lens parallel to what you want in focus. I would suggest several years of intensive yoga so that you can contort yourself in position to shoot from behind bent grass. It ain’t easy sometimes. I’ve been looking through the viewfinder but if there’s time you could use live view (and a loupe no doubt) and magnify the image to get the best focus.

5) All these rules are made to be broken so have fun and experiment with the settings and techniques.

Mid-day sun is now my friend and I have added a whole new way of shooting to my macro repertoire. I shake my head when I realize that these opportunities were there all along and I hadn’t really seen them until now. As much as I enjoy the detail and the balanced light of my normal shooting, I equally appreciate the beautiful lines, shapes, colors and contrasts that back-light photography can generate.

Steve Russell


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So You Want To Be A Photographer? Then Be An Assistant First. Fri, 16 May 2014 17:23:37 +0000 albertaspruce-6I think the best way to learn what you need to know to be an editorial or commercial photographer is by assisting for one. Or better yet, 50. There are so many moving parts and details to a photo shoot it is hard to imagine running one until you have worked on one. Or 50. Or better yet, 500.

Here’s what you might do on a shoot:

-consult on gear

-rig lights

-shoot tests

-be a second set of eyes for the photographer

-fly to great locations

-meet interesting people

Here’s what you will do on a shoot:

-steam clothes

-order lunch

-make a coffee run

-sweep the floor

-take out the trash

The point is that these are all things that go into a successful photo shoot, and if you think that any of these tasks are below you, then you will not be a good assistant. If you do the little things no one notices without asking or complaining, the photographer will notice.

So how do you start? It’s really quite simple.ItalianShore-3

Make a list of photographers whose work you like. Look in local magazines, check out the website for your local ASMP chapter, use Photoserv, Google local photographers. It doesn’t really matter if they are in the niche you want to work in, what matters is that you like their work. If you think they make great pictures, you can learn something from them.

Once you have your list , send them a concise email introducing yourself, a bit about your background, and why you want to work with them. Let the photographer know that you know their work. Compliment a specific shot or project. Flaterry can definitely get you in the door. Lastly, mention you would like to give them a call, or meet up for a cup of coffee to introduce yourself.

One of the most difficult things to do if you have never assisted is to get that first job. It can be intimidating to call photographers asking them to hire you even though you have no experience, but you have to do it. Think of it as practice for working as a photographer and trying to get new clients. You will never get work if you don’t make the first move. Photographers are surprisingly nice folks in general and they know what you are going through, they have probably done it themselves.

Once you have talked to them, ask them if it is okay to call again in about a month. Almost everyone will say yes. Then, and this is the most important thing, call them again in a month. And then every month after that. I kept a spreadsheet with photographers name, phone number, email address, website, and the last time I spoke to them.

So you got a job? Now the learning really begins.

Good for you. All that calling and emailing paid off. Now here comes the most important part.

Be attentive. Be efficient. Pay attention.

Your job is to make sure this all works out. Listen closely. Watch what everyone else is doing. If you don’t know how something works, ask. Better to look green than to break something. If you have finished your task, ask what else needs to be done (remember the thing about taking out the trash?). If you have questions about why something was done, wait until there is down time. Be indespensible, but not intrusive. Don’t give your opinion until it is asked for.

You will make mistakes. Take responsibility for them, apologize for them, and learn from it.

WallaWallaFair-4So now what? Keep learning.

The more you know the more you will work. Learn to use as many types of lighting as possible (strobe and continuous). Learn to use as many types of cameras as possible (still and video). Learn as much about video as possible (almost everyone is doing it these days). Learn as many software programs as possible (digital techs make more money than assistants). Keep making phone calls. Every one of these things will be important skills for you as a photographer as well as an assistant.

And here is the most important thing: Keep taking pictures. Once you start making a living as an assistant it is very easy to forget that your goal is to make a living as a photographer. A lot of photographers assist for a lot longer than they planned (myself included).

Do personal projects. Do fine art projects. Meet up with stylist assistants and models and do test shoots. A lot of time photographers will let you use their studio and lighting for tests after you have worked for them a few times. Carry a camera around with you and take pictures of things that interest you. Keep reading PDN (that’s where I found my first job). Keep learning new skills. Go to ASMP meetings. Go to ASMP assistant meet-ups. Keep trying.

Assisting is really like an apprenticeship. You get a chance to learn on the job. You get to see what works for a photographer, or just as important, what doesn’t work. And best of all you get paid to learn.


William Rugen is a graduate of 2005 Summer Intensive. He currently works as a photographer, producer and assistant for Motofish Images ( in Seattle, WA. He also works as a fine art photographer and has sold and exhibited his work nationally and internationally (

Additional work by William Rugen:

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