Rocky Mountain School of Photography » Inspiration Thu, 28 Aug 2014 21:06:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Metamorphosis of a Dragonfly Caught on Camera – Guest Article by Steve Russell Wed, 23 Jul 2014 14:08:29 +0000 READ MORE >]]> 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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Using Photoshop CC to Create a Poster for Photo Lab Printing Mon, 16 Jun 2014 17:27:34 +0000 READ MORE >]]> In this fourth post on preparing images for printing at a photo lab, I describe using Photoshop CC to lay out a poster that includes one of your photographs plus some text that acts as a title. Note that most of the steps can also be accomplished with older versions of Photoshop as well as many versions of Photoshop Elements. So no matter which edition of the photo editing program you have, you should find some information to help you correctly prepare your favorite image as a poster for printing.

00 Fair Poster 16x20

Create a New Document

To begin, decide on the paper size you want for your poster. Check with the photo lab you plan to use to ensure they have that size available, especially if you want to create a panoramic style. For this example, I’m creating a horizontal (landscape) poster 16 x 20 inches.

Open Photoshop CC and from the File menu choose New. In the window that appears, provide a name for the document. Then fill in your choices for the width, height, resolution and background, which will be the background color of your poster. I set the units to inches and type in 20 for the width and 16 for the height at a resolution of 300ppi. I plan to use a color photo, so I set Color Mode to RGB Color and 8 bit. My poster will eventually be saved as a JPEG file, which is 8 bit, so this saves me a step later on. I want the Background Contents to be White. Clicking on the Advanced arrow reveals the Color Profile box where I select sRGB since this is the color space most photo labs work with. When you are satisfied with your choices here, click OK and a blank document appears.


01 New File

Set up Margin Guides

To help position your photo with even margins, it is useful to have Photoshop display guides. These light blue lines do not print; they are just for reference. From the View menu choose New Guide. Create two Vertical guides, one at 1 inch and one at 19 inches for the left and right margins, respectively. Also create two Horizontal guides, one at 1 inch for the top margin and one at 13 inches to leave a three-inch bottom margin where the title will go. Also in the View menu, turn on Snap and then Snap to > Guides. This ensures that your picture exactly lines up with these margin guides.


02 new document w-guides

Select the Picture from Bridge

Now you are ready to add the picture. Open Bridge and find a final edited image you want to add to your poster. Select the picture and from the File menu, choose Place > In Photoshop. Using the Place command allows you to reposition and resize the photo without compromising the quality. It also means you can double-click on the layer thumbnail for this picture and do further edits to fine-tune its appearance later.


03 Select in Bridge

Position and Size the Photo

Your picture appears centered on the page with an X through the middle. Move your cursor inside the photo and drag it into position. If you need to resize the image, hold down the Shift key and drag a corner. The Shift key preserves the original proportions of your photo. When you are satisfied with the position and size, click the check in the Options Bar.

04 Place Photoshop

05 Move placed photo

06 size placed photo

Now it is time to add the embellishments to make this poster stand out. There are many effects you can add with Photoshop, but I am going to add just a complementary border and a title.

Add a Stroke Border

To add the border, from the Layer menu choose Layer Style > Stroke. In the window that appears, adjust the width of the stroke border using the Size slider. Choose the position of the stroke. Inside and Centered will cover part of your image. Leave Blend Mode and Opacity at their defaults of Normal and 100%. Fill Type is Color and starts with black. If you want a different color border, click the swatch to reveal the Color Picker. Move your cursor over the photo to click on a different color in the image. Click OK to save your color and OK again to apply the stroke effect. If you change your mind later, you can double-click on the Stroke Effect in the Layers panel and make changes.

07 layer style stroke color picker

Add the Title

To create the title, choose the Type tool. In the Options Bar, select the font, style, size, alignment and color. The fonts and styles are what are installed in your computer. Size is in points (72 points equals 1 inch). You can type a larger number in the size box if needed. For a different color, click on the swatch to get the Color Picker again. You can make the type color match the border color by clicking in the border itself. Click OK to save your color choice. Then click below the picture and start typing. You can select the text and make further changes to all the choices in the Options Bar until you are happy with the title’s appearance. When you are finished typing, click the check in the Options Bar. If your type is not in the correct position below your photo, choose the Move tool. You can center the Type layer on the Background layer by Ctrl-clicking (Cmd-clicking Mac) on these two layers in the Layers panel and then choosing Align Horizontal Centers from the Options Bar. Select just the Type layer to adjust the title’s vertical position using the arrow keys. It is helpful to turn on the Grid (View > Show > Grid) to fine-tune the title position.

08 type centered with grid


Apply a Drop Shadow to the Title

The font and color I chose do not stand out well from the background. So I add a drop shadow effect to the words. Make sure you have the Type layer selected. Then from the Layer menu choose Layer Style > Drop Shadow. Adjust the Distance, Spread and Size as desired; you can leave the other choices at their defaults. Photoshop updates the effect as you make changes. When you are pleased with the result, click OK.

09 type drop shadow


To see a preview of your poster, turn off the Grid and Guides using the View > Show menu.


10 Finished poster

Save the Poster as a Master PSD File

Save your poster as a master PSD file and include the poster size in the name. This preserves all the layers and effects you applied so you can change them in the future.

11 Save As PSD

[Note: The Save As screens are from a Windows computer. If you use a Mac, your Save As screens look different but all the same choices are available.]

Save the Poster as a JPEG File

Now create a JPEG copy to send to the photo lab. From the File menu, choose Save As. Select a Prints folder on your desktop (to make it easy to locate your file for uploading). Include the print size in the name and change the file type to JPEG. Click Save.


12 Save As JPEG


Photoshop displays another window of JPEG Options where you specify the amount of compression applied to your picture. I recommend using Quality 10; this provides a small amount of compression that does not have a detrimental effect on your image and usually cuts the file size in half. Also be sure to set the Format Options to “Baseline (“Standard”)” and then click OK.


13 JPEG Options


Find your favorite photo lab online and upload, order and pay for your poster print. Consider ordering extras to share with friends and family.


To read the first three posts in my series on printing, check out these links:

Using Lightroom 5 to Create a Poster for Photo Lab Printing
Using Photoshop CC to Prepare a Picture for Photo Lab Printing
Using Lightroom 5 to Prepare an Image for Photo Lab Printing

Want to learn more from Kathy Eyster?

Visit her profile page and check out her RMSP offerings in 2014!




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Clouds Fri, 06 Jun 2014 19:05:02 +0000 READ MORE >]]> In the late sixties Joni Mitchell wrote the lyrics:

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow its cloud illusions I recall. I really don’t know clouds at all”

Joni may not have known about clouds back then, but we should as outdoor photographers today. They are so important to our compositions they can’t be underestimated…and without them our skies have very little interest and almost no depth. Severely clear is a weather forecast most photographers dread, and quite possibly might change some minds about getting their fannies out of bed to go shoot. Watching a weather forecast the night before is a darn good idea even though there’s never a guarantee you’ll have clouds!

If blank blue skies just happen to be what Mother Nature served for breakfast and you reluctantly got your fanny out of bed for it, a good approach might be to minimize the amount of sky (negative space) so it’s not such a distraction by placing the horizon close to top of the frame. Another great idea is to fill the sky with subject matter that’s interesting.

JohnsonDoug_Minimized sky-2-5JohnsonDoug_Minimized sky-1-7










Some weather (wx) forecasting sites on the computer like the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and weather apps for your smart phone have visible and infrared red (IR) satellite video feeds which allow you to see cloud movement in real time or if any clouds actually exist around your location. This technology also helps us predict where they might be in the near future. The IR feed is extremely helpful when there’s no visible light, like at night before a shoot the next day or in the predawn hours before hopping in the car or crawling from a warm bed. My favorite iPhone app that includes an IR feed is My-Cast Weather Radar from Garmin DCI. This wx app is $3.99 worth of pure love and available for Android devices as well.

MyCast-20IR radar.jpg










Scientifically, these atmospheric wonders form when air pockets that hold water vapor, and are warmer than their surroundings, rise (like a balloon) and then cool. Cooling causes the water vapor to condense into droplets and together with the wind form the cloud’s limitless possibilities of shape and form. These yummy little visual treats can be the main dish or the whipped cream that goes on top of your favorite landscape.

Main dish-12Whiped cream-1-13










The atmosphere is always in a constant state of evolution and clouds go along for the ride, changing shape and position in the sky from one moment in time to another. Waiting for the perfect moment can make or a break the composition and requires patience, experience and lot of luck. One thing to keep in mind however, is the more you’re out there, the less you need to rely on the “luck.”

good clouds-16better clouds-15







Clouds not only supply our limitless imagination with countless shapes to enjoy and marvel at, they also provide balance and support for the most breathtaking and dynamic landscapes compositions.

To take full advantage of the beautiful and ever-changing personality of clouds, we should consider a few basic compositional ideas to strengthen the communication.

1. Use the concept (rule) of thirds when arranging or waiting for clouds.

Rule of Thirds-1-10Rule of Thirds-2-9







2. Support the landscape characteristics (shape, line, texture, color and or idea) by including similar cloud characteristics.











3. Give clouds a little room to breathe…I know it sounds funny, but be aware of merges with other elements and that includes the edge of the frame.

frames edge-1-4frames edge-2-2










4. Timing is everything.











One last thought…never forget the polarizing filter (if your camera’s perspective and the heavenly clouds in your view finder are 90 degrees from the sun angle)…

They will sing “hallelujah,” and so will your photographs!


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The Magic of Light Painting Mon, 05 May 2014 17:48:46 +0000 READ MORE >]]> What is Light Painting?

The word photography means to draw or paint with light. When I first began studying photography, I was told that along with composition, the study of light would be a lifelong endeavor. Over the years, I’ve found this to be an absolute truth. I have also found that light painting is one of the more creative and magical ways to illuminate a scene.

RH, Neon Graveyard

In short, light painting is using a flashlight to illuminate your subject. Rather than depending on a typical light source for lighting, you use a flashlight to “paint” your subject. Standard photography involves the use of ambient light, meaning natural light provided by the sun, overcast days, the sky, indoor lighting, street lamps, etc. “Ambient” means “relating to the immediate surroundings,” so ambient light is that which surrounds us. The light that’s available.

Commonly, light painting takes place outside after dark, inside dark rooms, or in any other dimly lit situations. This is not to say that complete darkness is necessary for light painting. It is possible and indeed fun to mix light painting and ambient light together. One of my favorite times to paint with light is when the moon is full. The trick is to put yourself in situations where your shutter speed can be long enough to allow you time to paint your subject. If you are shooting a well-lit street scene, your shutter speed may be as fast as 4 or 8 seconds—just not enough time to effectively paint your subject. A dark alley, however, may produce an exposure of 30 seconds or a minute or two.

Old Truck,  Nelson Ghost TownThese exposures are more conducive to creatively illuminating your subject with a flashlight. The real beauty of light painting is in the crafting of the light. You are the artist. The conductor. Few forms of photography allow this level of creativity in shaping your subject. The flashlight becomes your brush and the scene your canvas. Imagination and experimentation become your workflow, resourcefulness and ingenuity your tools.

In the images below made in the solitary confinement cell in the Mansfield Reformatory, I needed to add light to bring out the detail in the cell. In Figure 1.1 we first see how dark the cell was, with the ambient light reaching only so far down the hallway. Then we see how the cell looked after I stood inside the cell and painted outward with my flashlight to create the shadows of the bars on the floor.


Figure 1.1:  Before and after light painting 

While creating masterpieces takes some practice, the basic concept of light painting is little more than illuminating your subject with the flashlight while your camera’s shutter is open, a process that resulted in this ghost town image (Figure 1.2).


Figure 1.2:  Restrooms, car, Gold King Mine Ghost Town


One of the coolest things about this type of photography is that you need very little special gear. No special lenses, tripods, or tripod heads. You will, however, need a some form of tripod and a camera that can be set to “Bulb.” This setting allows the shutter to stay open for as long as you depress the shutter button. The easiest way to do this is to use a remote release to lock your shutter open in bulb mode. You can purchase a cable release produced by your camera manufacturer, or check out less expensive options from after-market sources. I use the Vello brand remote from B&H (Figure 1.3), which costs considerably less than the Nikon models.

Figure 1.3:  Vello cable release


Just about any type of flashlight will provide enough illumination to see in the dark, but I like to use tactical flashlights for my light painting.  They provide a nice mix of durability, intensity and a smooth beam of light.  The intensity of a flashlight is measured in lumens. The higher the lumen value, the more powerful the flashlight.

I use a 65-lumen SureFire Xenon bulb for the bulk of my work. I also own a 100-lumen SureFire LED (Figure 1.4) for work where a brighter light is required.

Figure 1.4:
Top: Surefire 100 Lumen LED
Bottom: 65-Lumen Xenon

While the more powerful 65-lumen and 100-lumen lights work well for light painting, you may find them too bright for the extra illumination you’ll need while adjusting your camera or finding gear in your backpack.  I use a Coleman LED Multi-Color (Figure 1.5), one of many brands, allows switching from a brighter white light to a dimmer red light. I consider this type of light an essential part of my light-painting tool kit.

01.05Figure 1.5:  Coleman LED Multi-Color flashlight

Light Shaping

The best part about light painting is having the ability to shape your subject with illumination. This can generally be accomplished by changing your position and the angle of the flashlight. Moving closer to your subject increases the intensity of the flashlight; stepping back decreases its power. Placing the light at an angle to the subject increases the feeling of texture in the surface. Illuminating it from behind can provide rim light and separate your subject from the background.

There are limits, however to the capabilities of the basic flashlight. It’s not uncommon to want to narrow the beam of light, decrease its intensity, or even change its color. Fortunately, the photography world is filled with light-shaping and modifying tools that allow us to overcome these problems.

A snoot can help narrow down the beam of light from a flood to a spot. This is a great help when you want to paint a smaller area without spilling over on the surroundings. You can see how in this image of a powder magazine at Fort Point, I was able to paint the front of the barrels with a narrow beam to keep the spillover to a minimum (Figure 1.6).


Figure 1.6:  Barrels painted with a snoot

There are many types of snoots available to the photographer, but most are made for speedlights or studio strobes. Several manufacturers make snoots that can be used with a flashlight as well. Here you see a Vello 5-inch Snoot/Reflector attached to a speedlight (Figure 1.8). This can easily be repurposed to wrap around the front of a flashlight.

01.07Figure 1.7:  Vello Snoot/Reflector

Another way to narrow down your beam is to use a honeycomb grid. This type of modifier will shrink the size of the beam while decreasing the intensity. Pictured here is a ExpoImaging Rogue 3-in-1 Grid (Figure 1.8). This system includes three depths of grids that fit inside of the snoot. The deeper the grid, the more narrow the beam (Figure 1.9).


Figure 1.8:  Rogue 3-in-1 Grid Kit

01.09Figure 1.9:  Each grid provides a different radius beam

The grid is manufactured to work with a speedlight. It is, however, an easy matter to remove the grid from the snoot and hold it in front of your flashlight.

Getting Your Ambient Exposure

For most light-painting compositions, you’ll want an exposure between 30 seconds and 3 minutes to allow time to illuminate your subject. The first step is to establish your ambient exposure and compostion using a higher ISO.  Once your test shot for the ambient exposure is complete you can then calculate your actual exposure:

ISO 3200 for 2”  equals
ISO 1600 for 4”,
ISO 800 for 8”,
ISO 400 for 16”,
ISO 200 for 30”,
ISO 100 for 1 minute

The one minute exposure at ISO 100 now gives you time to illuminate your subject with your flashlight.  Here is an example of how I used a higher ISO to begin my light painting process.


Figure 1.10:  I began by putting my camera into Manual Exposure Mode with Matrix metering. I set my ISO to 6400 and my aperture to f/11. I pointed my camera into the sky and adjusted my shutter speed so that the indicated meter read -1. This setting makes the sky appear darker than at Midday but not black.


Figure 1.11:  The resulting image shows how the sky has a night feel and the foreground is completely black. This exposure was 4 seconds at f/11 with an ISO of 6400. The -1 setting on the sky is typical, but not mandatory. You can experiment with different brightness levels to suit your taste.  

Figure 1.12:  Next, I used the Six-Stop Rule to calculate my final exposure. The Six-Stop Rule states that 1 second at ISO 6400 equals 1 minute at ISO 100. My test exposure was 4 seconds so my final exposure will be 4 minutes. At this point it’s not necessary for me to run the full exposure while I test for light painting. I know the sky will be right at the 4–minute mark so now I am just testing the light painting. This image shows the amount of painting was insufficient.

Figure 1.13:  For this next test shot I painted the front headstones for longer (about a total of 2 seconds each stone). The total exposure for this shot was only 46 seconds but I’m not concerned about the sky at this point. I am simply trying to get my painting right for the main subject.

Figure 1.14:  After a couple more light-painting test shots I came up with this final image. This was taken using the full exposure of 4 minutes. I increased the time I spent painting the front headstones to about 3 seconds each. I then placed my flashlight at a low angle and painted the grass around the stones. The full exposure also gave me time to walk back into the scene and paint a few more monuments. Using Photoshop, I cloned out some of the brighter city lights at the rear of the cemetery for a less distracting background.

Starting the Process

When getting started with light painting you may feel a bit like a fish out of water. Where to begin? What to do first? It all begins with visualizing your composition. As you look at the scene imagine what it can be rather than what it is.

  1. Decide what lens to use. This will determine much of what comes next.
  2. Think about depth of field. Do you want your whole scene sharp (F/8–f/22) or do you want only the main subject sharp (F/1.4–f/4)? I tend to like maximum sharpness, so my default apertures are f/8 or f/11. Consider using only one or two apertures when your first start out. This consistency will help you learn how much painting is necessary for a good exposure.
  3. Set your ISO to 6400. If you don’t have 6400, use 3200. Running test shots at high ISOs saves time and helps with fine-tuning your composition.
  4. Set your camera to its multi-segment meter. The multi-segment meters (Evaluative for Canon, Matrix for Nikon) deliver decent initial exposures in scenes that have a mix of lights and darks. Some adjustments may be necessary after you review your test shots.
  5. You can obtain good exposures under moonlit conditions by pointing your camera into the sky and putting the indicated meter at -1. This will leave your foreground black but your sky will have that nighttime feel.
  6. For scenes without much ambient light, I typically shoot for 2 or 3 minutes at f/8 or f/11. I find these two apertures allow enough time to paint without being overly restrictive. F/16 and f/22 allow much less light to pass, increasing the time you need to paint.
  7. Once your ambient exposure is established, begin to practice your painting. Remember, it’s not necessary to expose each of these test shots for the full time. At this point you are just analyzing your painting techniques. The overall length of exposure will have very little influence here.
  8. If you are working in a bright area, there is a chance that some light can enter through the eyepiece in the back of the camera causing an odd glow or streaks across your image. Closing the viewfinder eyepiece shutter (Figure 2.23) during long exposures will eliminate these anomalies.


Once the initial ambient exposure is established, the real fun begins. It’s time to put the brush to the canvas. At this point you are truly making photographs instead of taking them. You are creating the light. You are designing the overall look and feel of the image.

Should your subject be brighter? Get closer or spend more time painting. Too bright? Spend less time painting or back up. Want to change the color of the main subject? Put a filter over your flashlight. Want the ambient light to be more blue? Change the white balance. The possibilities are endless.

The ambient exposure is controlled by the f/stop and shutter speed. The light painting exposure, though is controlled by the aperture, length of time spent painting, distance from the flashlight to the subject, and subject reflectivity.

  1. Wider apertures, shorter painting times.  Smaller apertures, longer painting times.  I typically use f/8 and f/11 @ 100 or 200 ISO.
  2. For shorter painting times, get closer to your subject.
  3. Subject reflectivity is also an exposure factor. Darker or rougher subjects will take more time to bring up to the desired brightness. Subjects that are smoother or lighter will require less time.
  4. Because of all these variables, it is nearly impossible to give an average painting time for any given aperture. Experimentation is key. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Simply open your shutter and start painting

Angle of light

1. Painting at the same angle as the camera will produce the least-interesting version of your scene. (Fig. 1.15)

01.15 Figure 1.15

2. Painting the subject from the side will result in the most texture and dimension. (Fig. 1.16)

01.16Figure 1.16

Light Painting Considerations

  1. Be prepared. Carry extra batteries for all of your gear.
  2. Don’t wear bright clothing.
  3. Use your red flashlight to avoid the painful white light. Set your LCD to a lower power setting.
  4. Use your high-power flashlight to help you compose and focus.
  5. Establish your ambient exposure first.
  6. Use low ISOs of 100, 200, and 400.
  7. F/8 and f/11 provide good sharpness while allowing enough time to paint your subjects.
  8. Common shutter speeds range from 30 seconds to 3 or 4 minutes.
  9. Use your white balance to establish the color temperature of the overall scene.
  10. Filter your flashlight to alter the color of the subjects you paint.
  11. Don’t be afraid to walk through the scene, but be sure the camera can’t see the front of the flashlight.
  12. Paint from different angles to create the feeling of multiple light sources.
  13. Paint some objects brighter than others. Scenes become flat and boring when all of the subjects are the same brightness.
  14. All light painting is an experiment in creating light. Have fun. Don’t be afraid to try new techniques.


This is an excerpt from Tim Cooper’s book The Magic of Light Painting from Peachpit Press due to be released mid-May.  The Magic of Light Painting is an eBook that can be purchased for $8.00 by clicking here.


Want to learn more from Tim Cooper?

Visit his profile page and check out the rest of his RMSP offerings in 2014!



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Elizabeth Stone Wins PhotoNOLA Review Prize Tue, 08 Apr 2014 18:44:22 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Great bit of inspiring news here from RMSP headquarters. We just found out that earlier this year RMSP Co-Owner and Former Instructor Elizabeth Stone won the PhotoNOLA Review PrizePhotoNOLA is an annual festival of photography in New Orleans, coordinated by the New Orleans Photo Alliance in partnership with galleries, museums and photographers citywide.

According to Elizabeth, “Being part of PhotoNOLA was just awesome and winning the Review Prize is a huge honor. It was so well organized and super beneficial to me as a photographer. Plus, New Orleans is such a cool city.”

Anyone that has had any experience with Elizabeth knows exactly how inspiring she is as an instructor and as an individual. This accomplishment is well deserved and was years in the making. Congratulations Elizabeth!

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 12.31.04 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 12.38.21 PM

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Always Expect the Unexpected Mon, 07 Apr 2014 19:42:57 +0000 READ MORE >]]> When first getting into photography, no one ever predicts what exactly it entails. Sure there are cameras, some lights, models, computers, hard drives, etc., etc. But no one ever plans on all the other calamities that can – and will – enter into daily life as a photographer. Sure duct tape is amazing and can fix most anything, but when trying to fix a gas line, it’s worthless. And what about equipment catching on fire, and strong winds blowing models around, and best of all … being asked to create a summertime photo in early spring. These examples are not far-fetched figments of the imagination, rather are snippets of what 2010 graduate Jim David has experienced since becoming a full time professional photographer. In this post Jim shares a few stories when being able to adapt and flow with a situation allowed him to get the shot.


I recall a story that Bill Gratton, formerly of the MAC Group shared with us in the 2010 Career Training class. Someone in his family (I think his grandmother) showed him a beautiful photo that they had captured and said, “See, I can take photos as good as you can,” to which he replied lightheartedly, “Oh yeah? Do it again on purpose!”

As photographers, that’s what we’re trained and expected to do—take those beautiful photos on purpose. But what about when we’re asked to create a beautiful photo and the conditions are less than ideal, or when circumstances turn the situation into something even more difficult? Shooting commercial, editorial and stock photography, more often on location, I’ve come to realize that this is more the rule than the exception. I must expect the unexpected and always be prepared to solve problems.

Peaceful Paddleboard or Wind-Whipped Whitecaps?

Sometimes the problem can be a single occurrence. During a paddleboard shoot, a strong wind blew in during the last (and best hour) of the day. It was so strong that my model was being blown backwards in spite of her efforts to paddle forward. Unwilling to give up, I switched from the outdoor recreational shot I had planned for to something more fashion oriented that I thought I could still pull off in the wind. While it wasn’t the smoothest shoot I had ever done, the chaos was an opportunity to think quickly on my feet and I was fortunate enough to have a model and assistant who were willing to roll with the punches.

Not Your Average Campfire

On another occasion, I recruited my wife as a model for an outdoor camping scene. I was standing down a hill and about 50 yards away, firing the flashes with PocketWizards when I noticed a distinct change in the output of my flash. I asked my wife, who had her back to the equipment, to check it out. “It’s on fire!” she yelled. Actually, it was the makeshift modifier that was burning. The flash had overheated and was no longer usable. Moving past the frustration of an expensive piece of equipment not functioning, once again, I had to make changes. In this case, I changed the scene to a silhouette against the sky.

Summer Getaway Before Springtime Blooms

945646_10151702728706177_1081654662_nOther times, an assignment can be plagued with problems from the start. I was asked to create an image for the “Summer Getaways” issue of Phoenix Magazine. The first hurdle was the early April due date. At the lake to be shot, in the higher elevations of Arizona, nighttime temperatures were still into the 30′s and you would be hard pressed to see anything green on the aspens surrounding the lake. Fortunately, I had time to scout and formulate a plan of attack. A week before the shoot I walked the four and a half mile shoreline, observing the light and looking for ways to minimize the feeling of winter. On the bright side, I knew the lake wouldn’t be filled with the busy summer crowds. I sought out compositions to downplay and minimize the barren aspens and focus on my planned subject—a couple in a canoe. A wide-angle lens would help me minimize the background, while other locations were better suited for a long lens to help me pull in the evergreen Ponderosa Pines that sat behind the aspens.


On the day of the shoot, I had my usual butterflies, but I was feeling confident in my preparation. I brought my 14-foot fishing boat with a small trolling motor to transport the equipment and lighting gear to the pre-scouted locations. At the lake, we wasted little time getting the canoe and the boat into the water. As we were about to push off, I turned the motor and heard a loud “snap”—the gas line broke in half. I was stunned! Surely that didn’t just happen. I had had the boat for years without a problem—had even used it a just few weeks earlier.

It would have taken considerable time and cost optimal lighting and wind conditions to use the backup oars to row the boat laden with three bodies and considerable equipment across the lake. Searching for solutions, I considered duct tape and quickly learned that gasoline is like kryptonite for the famous fix-all tape. Considering my options, it appeared I might be able to hold the line together as I steered—it was thick and broke in a sort of jigsaw puzzle pattern. I decided to give it a try, so off we went and, surprisingly, it worked (although I knew the art director was a bit uncomfortable when he asked me if I, or all of us, might erupt in flames).

Jim_David_Photo_262707We made it across the lake when I was hit by another surprise. A large branch (more like a small tree) had blown into the shooting location. Seriously? I would like to tell you that I threw on my cape, picked up the tree, flew it to another location and saved the day. In fact, the true battle was taking place within as emotions threatened to become my primary enemy, cloud my judgment and sabotage the shoot. There was a lot at stake and my expectations were being smashed left and right. I took a deep breath, said a prayer and resigned myself to the fact that the shoot wasn’t going to go as planned. That didn’t mean it was going to be a bad shoot, but I had to re-set my expectations, use my skills, training and preparation to make the best decisions for the here and now. In my opinion, these internal resets are vital to turning such situations around. I needed to quickly decide if I should detour to one of the other locations selected during my scouting trip or spend the time trying to move the tree. I still felt the first location was the best place to start, so we towed the tree out of the scene and got to work.

Jim_David_Photo_263001My plan had been to shoot at three locations and finish by noon, but due to the lost time and dependence on the oars to get around the lake, there would only be enough time to shoot one more location and I was determined to make the most out of it. We headed to a dock, which was operated by a cafe/boat rental company on the lake. I had obtained their permission in advance and was pleasantly surprised when something finally went my way on the shoot.

Jim_David_Photo_263144The staff not only accommodated us, but helped us relocate extra rental boats to clear the scene. I was able to shoot a couple of my desired scenes, and I came away with images that I thought would make someone want to make it their summer getaway. In the end, a shot from this second location landed on the cover and nobody would ever know it wasn’t a warm summer day (well, maybe until now).

In any of these situations, if I had allowed myself to be consumed by frustration and disappointment, I know the shoot would have ended very differently. I may not have a cape, but, like you, I have sound training, good skills and, most importantly, a mind that can overcome obstacles and solve problems to be able to take those beautiful photographs on purpose.





Jim David is a graduate of the 2010 class of Career Training at Rocky Mountain School of Photography. Based in Phoenix, AZ Jim shoots commercial, editorial and stock photography. His work has been used by clients including Allied Services, Verizon Wireless, Panasonic, USDA and has been published in Men’s Health, Women’s Running, Phoenix Magazine and Inc. Magazine.

You can see Jim’s work at

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Planning For Outdoor Art Shows Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:31:57 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Outdoor Art Shows are a popular summer activity for many people; artists and visitors alike.  Not only are they a great way to “put your work out there,” they are a great way to network with other artists, get ideas and inspiration and hopefully sell something. Here are some things to consider before applying:

Which shows are a good fit for your work?
It’s a good idea to visit shows you are interested in the year before you apply for them and talk to artists that have already done them.  Is the show is an Art Show or an Arts and Crafts Show?  Higher priced artwork cannot compete with artisans selling jam or soap.  Also, ask the organizer about the attendance of the show. You want a lot of people to be exposed to your work.

ClarkJulie_TarpandWeightsApply early!
Most juried shows have deadlines in the winter or early spring. Make sure you read their websites thoroughly and follow their instructions to a “T”.  All shows have different requirements and will more than likely toss your application if you do not follow their instructions. Consider that most shows have a hefty application fee. Can you afford to shell out $200-$300 per show knowing that you may not necessarily recoup it until the summer (if at all)?  Submit good quality JPEGS of your work so the jury can see what your work really looks like.  Have a good, solid Artists’ Statement and CV, but don’t make them too long… jury members have hundreds of applications to go through! Most shows ask for 5-6 sample images for submissions, so include a link to your website to showcase additional images.

Think about how you want to display your artwork.
Try to have a cohesive body of work that is displayed thoughtfully and tastefully. Your booth will look great and in addition to attracting people, you may also win a prize.  Many shows have cash prizes for various categories.  It’s also a good idea to have various sizes of work and different price points… something for everyone.

The first year you do Outdoor Shows, you should be prepared to spend quite a bit of money on your booth display. You will need a white 10×10 tent with zippered walls (any other colour will cast a hue on your work and make it dark inside). Costco has inexpensive tents online, but they are not very strong. For rainy days, a white tarp is essential (large binder clips and wooden clothes pegs are great for securing a tarp on your tent). You must have weights for your tent!!  10 gallon water jugs, sandbags or PVC pipes filled with concrete are some options. You will also need a hanging system. Metal display grids are sturdy, but heavy and difficult to transport. I started off with chains attached to the frame of the tent with plastic zip ties. I now use a heavy plastic grid that I got in the garden centre area of the hardware store.  It comes in a 30’ roll, so it will cover 3 walls of your tent nicely. Attach with velcro or plastic zip ties. I use “S” hooks to hang artwork on the grid and paper clips to attach price tags. You may want a folding table and a chair. A high stool or director’s chair is recommended so that you are at eye level with the visitors.

ClarkJulie_Chains Hanging SystemYou  will also need a cash float, receipt book and possibly a means of accepting credit cards. For those with smart phones, The “Square” or something similar is fantastic and economical. There is also a ton of other stuff like duct tape, paper towels, calculator, packaging, tablecloth, guest book, snacks, water, extra clothes, sunscreen, rope, basic tools, band aids, painkillers, raincoat & boots, etc. Make a checklist and be prepared.

Greet everyone that comes into your booth and be prepared to talk about your work. People are interested in you, your process, your inspirations and your gear. Be friendly and courteous. Hand out business cards and postcards with info on your next show… sometimes people need to get to know your work and see it a few times before they buy.

Finally, think about marketing.
A week or two before the show, send out an email blast, promote yourself on Facebook and Twitter, put up posters in your neighbourhood, hand out postcards, and generally tell everyone you know. Word of mouth works! Make sure you “Like” the show’s Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and share on Social Media.

Good Luck and have fun!


ClarkJulie_RiverdaleArtWalkJulie Clark is a Mixed Media Artist and Fine Art Photographer who attended RMSP’s Career Training program in 2009.  She is currently living in the historic village of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario where she spends her time puttering around her studio and taking way too many pictures of her puppy and two cats (she also specializes in Pet Photography). You can see her work at and



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Interview with Claudia Lebenthal – part 2 Fri, 14 Mar 2014 15:00:24 +0000 READ MORE >]]> LebenthalClaudia_claudia3Last Friday, we introduced you to Claudia Lebenthal here on our blog. In that post (here is a link), Claudia spoke with me about her experience working in what we will refer to as “the industry” since her experiences are so vast. With titles that range from graphic design assistant to lead designer to associate art director to head art director to visual project director to book curator to executive creative director we are certain that learning a bit about her struck a chord with many of you.

Today, in part 2 of the interview with Claudia, the conversation is geared more toward students heading into photography school and those who have recently graduated and are entering the industry themselves. If you are in one of these two camps, you will probably find this to be a pretty good read. Here goes …

Claudia, what is your experience with photography school(s)? Did you attend a photo-specific school yourself?

I was an art major at Stanford University, not the typical route one takes there, especially these days! It was a fantastic program though… not vocational training but more theoretical in a liberal arts setting. So my personal experience is not with a dedicated art or photography school, but if you know that’s what you want to pursue, do it! Being a good photographer starts with having a point of view. The technical things you will learn are there to enhance the vision you already have. The nice thing about photography school is it gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in photography, and to explore and evolve your visual story telling.

Having been in the role of photo editor, and being the person that gets to say yay or nay to an image ending up in print, what are your thoughts of working with someone fresh out of photo school and may not be established yet? What pitfalls should our graduates avoid when working with editors?

I’m up for working with anyone with talent, who has an interesting and consistent point of view. The latter is very important and you don’t always see that straight out of school. That takes some time to evolve and it gets a little risky for an editor when photo budgets are involved. A photo editor wants to be sure they are going to get the image they need, especially these days. Rather than jumping right into the game, I would advise assisting a photographer whose work you admire and gain some experience by working with them.

In your experience, what is missing from the toolbox of many photographers working today? Video skills? Lighting? Ability to code a web site?

As we have moved into the digital era of photography, I think photographers rely way too much on Photoshop and the technical aspects of photography. I grew up in the analog era of photography when there was no option to “fix it in post.” You had to create the image while you were taking it. Lighting is critical for that, so I would say that’s where to focus. Spend some time shooting film with an old Leica or Hasselblad and get back to the roots of photography with no technology to rely on!

What are the most important and beneficial skills a photo school graduate needs to possess before pounding the pavement in search of clients?

As I mentioned up in question 2, I do think its critical to have spent a couple of years assisting a photographer before you start pounding the pavement. Not many photo editors will hire someone straight out of school unless they have a large and consistent body of work, which is rare to see at such early stages of a career. You will gain invaluable experience working regularly with a photographer whose work you admire — seeing how they execute their vision in all sorts of circumstances, and interact with art and photo editors. If that photographer works regularly with certain clients, when you do go out on your own, you will already have a relationship with all those editors. It will make them much more likely to give you a shot. Keep working on building your portfolio. Bond with the hair & makeup artists, models, stylists, assistants and other members of the photo team so you can do some test shoots of your own during this time.

Tomorrow, you are graduating from RMSP’s Career Training program. What is your first move? Your second? Your third?

The first move is a portfolio. Invest in a good one or be creative and make an interesting presentation of your work. Maybe it’s a scrapbook… or box or prints… or digital presentation.

Second… find a photographer to assist!

Third… shoot, shoot, shoot!

Have any parting words or advice for people who are either considering photo school or are just graduating and getting ready to make a splash?

I wasn’t a photographer, but a graphic designer, however I think for anyone starting out in any creative field, it’s about enthusiasm and eagerness to learn from those with whom you are working. Go the extra mile, take the extra shot, be willing to try another approach. The more you take on, the more opportunities you will be given. You will be hired for your vision, but right out of school it tends to have a completely artistic approach. Unless your plan is to be a fine artist, that isn’t always right in a commercial setting where the parameters can get pretty specific. I recently worked with a RISD grad who was extremely talented. His designs weren’t always right the first go, but with direction he nailed it every time.

Want to learn a bit more about Claudia? Check out the sites below and view the gallery of select screenshots to get an idea of the work Claudia has been part of.

Style of Sport


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Resiliency – Kids In Focus Project Tue, 11 Mar 2014 15:52:01 +0000 READ MORE >]]> One thing we strive for in our Photo Weekends program is to invite camera clubs, meetup groups, our educational partners and other organizations to have a presence at each event. The increased buzz created by having more select photo-related groups join us makes for a better event all the way around.

In the run up to our recent Photo Weekend in Tempe, Arizona I came across a super cool organization that is doing great work using photography to help kids – Kids In Focus. I contacted the founder, Karen Shell to see if her Phoenix-based group would like to attend our event. In the process, I got to talking with Karen about what her organization does. By the end of the conversation, I asked her to put her thoughts in writing so I could post them, and introduce Phoenix’ Kids In Focus project to the world. Below, is what she had to say.

If you are in the Phoenix area, I encourage you to scope out the work being created by the kids in the program. 


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Resiliency – The capacity to channel and overcome pain, upset, and breakdown versus succumb to it. 

A recent study identified this human quality as the single greatest determinant whether an at-risk child will rise above his or her circumstances. Dire circumstances are becoming all too commonplace. Estimates are that the number of homeless children each year will cost the US over $200B during their lifetimes, due to lost earnings, public welfare and crime. Attempts to “fix” this child welfare issue fail because they attempt only to rescue the youth from their environment rather than exploring ways to strengthen and encourage inner resolve.

As The Journal of Adolescent Health study argues on behalf of youthful resiliency as a marker for life achievement, it makes a compelling case for artistic expression as its catalyst. The study cites the power of creativity to boost self-esteem and increase coping skills … offer escape from dealing with painful circumstances… reshape reality and formulate future goals… contribute to social competence, problem-solving skills, autonomy and sense of purpose… even bolster serotonin levels in the brain that reduce irritability and impulsivity.

 “Success consists of going from
failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

—Winston Churchill

As founder of Kids-in-Focus, I champion photography as a most effective and “democratic” form of creative expression… for its universal language that crosses all cultural, linguistic and economic divide… for its affordability and share-ability… for the thought, ideas, enthusiasm, experimentation, collaboration and discussion it inspires at every age and ability level. Having so far helped mentor 40 at-risk and homeless youth through photography projects, I am amazed at its enlivening, restorative power.

The kids learn to “see” the world around them differently, changing their perspective about themselves and their environments. Their eyes are opened to their own potential… their own resiliency. Creativity indeed has the ability to transform children from surviving in the world to thriving in it. Social scientists have the research to prove it. I have the program.

For more information about Kids-in-Focus, please visit

Karen Shell
Photographer and Founder of Kids-in-Focus

To see the program in action … enjoy this video:

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Interview with Claudia Lebenthal – part 1 Fri, 07 Mar 2014 17:00:25 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Recently I was contacted out of the blue by an associate of Claudia Lebenthal, asking if I might be interested in doing an interview with her for our blog. Always on the lookout for fresh, new content for our readers, my first instinct was to say “heck yeah.” This, of course, was followed up by an immediate Google search to find out who she was. It didn’t take long to realize that introducing Claudia to our audience would be a no-brainer. She has a long history in the magazine industry, with titles ranging from graphic designer to creative director to visual projects director. The fact that “photographer” was not listed appealed to me even more. Her areas of expertise lie not in creating the actual images for publication, rather in working with photography in a larger sense; using it to illustrate concepts, steer themes and capture culture.

So, Claudia and I teamed up to create a two-part interview. Today, in part 1 Claudia introduces herself and describes some of the work she has done thus far in her career. Next Friday, in part 2 she will answer questions applicable to students or recent graduates looking to get rolling in the photo industry.

So without further adieu … blog audience, meet Claudia Lebenthal. 


1) Claudia, you aren’t affiliated with RMSP so some of our readers might not be aware of who you are. Can you kick things off by telling our readers a bit about yourself?

Hi all! I am a born and raised NYC girl, still living in the Big Apple, with four years on the west coast at Stanford University thrown in the middle there. I am an avid sports lover. Skiing, stand-up paddle surfing and tennis are what I enjoy most in my spare time.

2) Your bio states that you have served as photography and creative director at a number of Conde Nast publications, including Allure, Womens Sports & Fitness, and Self. How did you end up with those rather impressive titles on your resume? Did you come from a photography background? Explain your rise in the industry from your days in school.

I was, believe it or not, an art major at Stanford. The university has a small but very impressive program and faculty. I discovered my passion for graphic design there and became the art director of the campus magazine Up Front. I found producing a magazine such a great experience. It employed the teamwork I loved so much playing sports plus you had this physical thing to show for your work each quarter. It was there that I began to learn about visual communication, be it photography, illustration or typography. I knew I wanted this to be my career.

I returned to NYC after graduating and assisted a very well known art director, JC Suares. He was hired to design a new Manhattan weekly news and culture magazine called 7 Days. I worked with him on the design of the magazine, became the associate art director of the magazine and eventually the art director. Unfortunately, the magazine had a short life, and folded in just a little over two years. I went to Conde Nast from there to work of the start up of Allure, a much bigger operation, where I had to choose between the art and photography departments. This was the early 90’s, the era of the supermodel, and a very fun and glamorous time to be working in fashion photography, so I chose the latter. I started by producing the shoots, which were very elaborate productions, with such illustrious photographers as Steven Meisel, Steven Klein and Sante D’Orazio and eventually became the photography director of the magazine.

3) What attracted you to working in the magazine world?

As someone who grew up playing team sports I have found working on a magazine to be a very similar experience. Everyone has their different responsibilities, from the words to the photography to the layout. You are all working together to make something great that is smart and beautiful, and get a physical thing to show for your hard work each week or month.

4) You co-created and published a book called Stoked: The Evolution of Action Sports. Tell our readers about this book and explain how this project came into existence. Is this a culture you have been involved with for a long time, or did it rise organically out of being exposed to it through your magazine experience? Would you consider yourself a participant of these sports, or more of a stoked bystander who love the aesthetic?

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 11.27.26 AMConde Nast launched a women’s sports magazine in 1996, called Sports for Women, which is where I went after Allure. I was hired as the Visual Projects Director and my job was to come up with visually driven stories, produce and art direct the shoots. It was the dream job for a sporty girl like myself! “Extreme” sports were just becoming mainstream then and I found all my visual stories in the worlds of surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, downhill mountain biking and other action sports. I really submerged myself in those sports as an editor and got to know the athletes, gear, and cultures very well. I was about 10 years and a generation older than most of the participants so despite being an expert skier by NYC standards, I was hardly extreme, but that “stoked bystander who loves the aesthetic” you mentioned! I would tear inspiration images out of every vertical magazine, catalog and book and my office walls were covered in all these jaw dropping action sports pictures. So yes, Stoked: The Evolution of Action Sports came out of my exposure through the magazine. Many of the images in the book were ones that had been on my wall and I saved them hoping to one day put them all together.

5) Another title I see you have held is Executive Creative Director of Trunk Archive. What is Trunk Archive and what did your work life there entail? Essentially, what were you doing there on a day-to-day basis?

Trunk Archive is a high-end image licensing agency representing the archives of the world’s most reputed photographers. We never used the word “stock photography”, because our images were so beyond the level of what you would find at a Getty or Corbis and we hardly considered them “stock.”

I was hired at the early stages of the company’s development to build its editorial collection, based on my experience in the magazine world. Not every photograph at a magazine can afford to be shot and photo editors are always looking for great pre-existing imagery as unique as what they could shoot themselves but don’t have the budget to create. As someone who had sat in that seat, I knew what kinds of pictures were needed and the desired photographers. I eventually became the Creative Director of the archive with an executive title.

My day-to-day work life consisted of photographer outreach — to bring the top photographers into the archive, and build our roster and reputation for representing the industry’s best talent.  I was also responsible for editing their archives for the collection. Not every picture has a second life and my job was to find and curate the images we thought would resell or license not just for magazines, but for advertising, and special projects like hotel, restaurant and other commercial interior spaces, as well as product licenses and things like that.

6) Very general, hard-to-answer question here, but what makes a photo a great one? What is your approach to deciding whether gets a thumbs up or down?

Very hard to articulate! We all have our personal favorite images but everyone does always seem to agree on what the best pictures are. Take Richard Avedon for example, who undisputedly has taken some of the most iconic portraits and fashion pictures in photography history. I have been looking through my Avedon books quite a lot lately for a coffee table book I am photo editing. Every one of his pictures takes my breath away. They have a unique, unexpected and inimitable point of view. They are indelible and and feel like a frozen moment in time that could never be recreated.

7) Tell us about your latest venture “Style of Sport.”

Style of Sport is a website — really more of an online magazine– that marries my passion for sport and style. It celebrates the intersection of sport with fashion, design, art, news and culture, and features both editorial and shopable content, curated for the sophisticated sports enthusiast. Even though I write all the content, as a creative director all features are visually inspired. In fact, each post starts with the artwork, and I actually can’t write a word until the visuals have been created! Like “Stoked” it is beautifully designed and meant to appeal to both the athlete and the style conscious.

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Part 2 of this interview with Claudia Lebenthal will be posted next Friday – March 14, 2014. Claudia will be answering questions geared toward photographers who are at the beginning of their careers, fresh out of photo school and eager to get to work. As you just read, her years in the photo industry afford her a unique perspective on working with photographers. Be sure to check back again next week.

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Gain Access: Tom Robertson documents the journey of North Face ultrarunners on the John Muir Trail Tue, 04 Mar 2014 22:00:43 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Tom Robertson (5 of 5)

Post written by Tom Robertson.

In the summer of 2013, North Face ultrarunners Mike Wolfe and Hal Koerner set a new Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the John Muir Trail (JMT) in the Eastern Sierra Mountains of California. The trail begins on the top of Mt. Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48, at 14,505 feet. It crosses seven passes over 11,000 feet and ends 211 miles away in Happy Isles, Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. To get to the start of the trail, Mike and Hal had to run an additional 12 miles from the base of Mt. Whitney, know as the Whitney Portal, consequently setting a new FKT from that point as well. They ran the 211-mile trail in 3 days, 9 hours and 5 minutes.

Tom Robertson (1 of 5)

As for me, it started one afternoon over coffee when I asked Mike what sort of adventures he had planned for the summer. He told me he and Hal were going to attempt an FKT in a North Face-sponsored expedition. I told Mike I wanted to be a part of it. I joined them for ten days as they prepped, planned and ran. In the three and a half days of documenting them on the JMT, I ran and hiked 62 miles with camera gear and supplies over 12,000-foot high passes.

In order to document Mike and Hal completing the JMT, obvious challenges were the remoteness of the trail and physical fitness. It was imperative for me to run and hike long distances with gear, along and in the dark, to meet them at strategic points along the way. On the 12-mile hike to the top of Mt. Whitney, I carried minimal food, one camera and two lenses. After photographing their start, I ran back down and drove to the nearest sandwich shop. I bought enough food for three people and ate it all myself as I hurriedly drove to the next trailhead. After sending a few images to North Face, I headed out at 8PM with gear and food to resupply Mike and Hal. The 11-mile hike over a 12,000 foot pass took me 8 hours. I got a few hours of sleep before they arrived at daylight.

Tom Robertson (7 of 5)
Tom Robertson (8 of 5)
Tom Robertson (4 of 5)

I made them a hot meal and coffee as I continued shooting video and stills. When they departed I headed down the trail with them for a bit before retracing my steps to break camp and hike back out. I was able to get closer road access at the next few points which allowed me to carry more gear and spend more time with them on the trail. One of the most memorable stretches came on Day 3, while running with them at night with only their headlamps illuminating the dusty trail. As I documented the last few miles, there was a kind of relief and euphoria that only comes after pushing one’s body to the limit.

The experience was surreal. Utterly epic.

And finally… Mike Wolfe is giving a presentation on campus in March, and I’m going to present a bit as well from my part. Here’s the information for those of you in Missoula that are interested in attending.

Tom Robertsonflyer (1 of 1)

Tom Robertson graduated from RMSP’s Career Training Program in 2008. He is currently a commercial and editorial photographer with a special fondness for documenting cycling races internationally. He is a true adventurer in both his lifestyle and in his photography and it’s no surprise to me to find him working on this North Face project as Tom is one of the most adventurous and generous collaborators on every level that I have ever known. In addition to working as a photographer, Tom recently gave a lecture to our Career Training students in 2013 and I am hoping that he will continue to teach for us in the future. Thanks Tom for a fascinating story!

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Gain Access: Linda Thompson explores identity and place in the villages of Northern Sweden Tue, 18 Feb 2014 23:01:16 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Linda Thompson (3 of 5)

Hi everyone. It has been an exciting couple of weeks as a few of you have written to me about interesting short term photo shoots and long term projects you are working on that embrace the idea of ‘Gaining Access.’

Today I want to share a guest post from photographer Linda Thompson who is working on a project called “in Place of Memory.”  Linda was born in Sweden and raised here in the states. Her artistic sensibilities and cultural connections are rooted in both countries, which bring a unique perspective into how she sees the world.

Linda received her degree in Photo Journalism from the University of Montana and was a staff photographer for Missoula’s daily paper, The Missoulian, for six years. Her work has also appeared in publications like the Economist, The New York Times and USA Today. In addition to being a Photo Journalist, Linda is also a teacher and a mixed media artist. She is currently a  Masters candidate in photojournalism at Mid Sweden University (an experience that has been a huge part of her growth.) I wanted to share her experience ‘gaining access’ with her recent project, as sometimes it’s helpful to see the challenges and approaches of others with regard to finding and telling a story.

Here are some thoughts from her recent Project “In Place of Memory”:

Artist Statement:

The multimedia piece “Along the Old Road” is an introduction to my project “In Place of Memory” about identity and place; about people in migration told through the people and landscapes of several interconnected villages in northern Sweden. I am seeking answers to personal and political questions about identity and place as well as exploring how collective memory and nostalgia are manifested in photographs. I am consistently drawn to these topics as I have questions about my own identity with regards to place. I have personal experience as an immigrant both in the country of Sweden, my birthplace – and in the U.S., where I was raised and am a citizen.

Linda Thompson (2 of 5)

Linda Thompson (1 of 5)

(About access for this work)

More than a year ago I began making pictures around the village in northern Sweden where my grandparents lived most of their lives. Having a good report is key to showing up in the community week after week. As a former newspaper photographer I am no stranger to “access issues”. As a member of “the media”, sometimes you are welcomed, sometimes met with mistrust.

My approach to access with this personal project is similar to my newspaper work -gaining access should be (and most often is) pretty simple: Just be honest, upfront, open and patient. This means introducing myself, explaining what I am doing, what I want. If they are interested, I explain why I chose to work with this topic. I am also up front about my intentions to publish the photos any way possible. I am convinced people sense when you have nothing to hide and in turn they don’t hide from the camera. Having confidence in what you are doing doesn’t hurt either. Why should someone else trust you to take their picture if you don’t trust yourself to do a good job?

But unlike my newspaper work, this is a personal project set in a place very close to my heart -my roots. While working within a community where my grandparents are remembered fondly can absolutely help open doors, it is not something I take lightly or “use” as a way in. That sort of trust comes with great responsibility. In fact, sometimes I only mention the family connection if specifically asked. At the same time, many of the people I have photographed are new arrivals to Sweden. They are immigrants (many are refugees) from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few. There are language difficulties and fears of being identified that require patience and understanding. In a sense, the more access I get the more responsibility I feel towards the subject.

While the response has been overwhelmingly open and positive from both newly arrived immigrants as well as long time residents, there have of course been a handful of people who have gently (and not so gently) expressed that they don’t want to be involved. Sometimes it takes a thick skin, and I am thankful for my newspaper experience for that. It’s not always easy to let go of a picture you want, but I like to tell myself that a better photographic situation is just around the corner. Ah, patience…

Entire afternoons of beautiful Nordic light have passed me by as I am sipping tea and listening to stories of local roots or long migrant journeys. Sometimes I return home after a daylong shoot, feeling like I’ve been visiting all day- with just one or two decent images to show for it. This is still uncomfortable for me as someone who is used to producing much more on much less time. But instead of being disappointed, I try to be patient. This is where ‘access’ becomes the byproduct of genuine human relationships. This is the luxury of working on a long-term personal project. It is a luxury that I am still learning to slow down and embrace.

Linda Thompson (5 of 5)

Linda Thompson (4 of 5)


To see more of Linda’s work check out her website:

Linda Thompson Website (1 of 1)

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Gain access: Just about the Best Photography Assignment ever! Tue, 04 Feb 2014 19:18:58 +0000 READ MORE >]]>

I had a fearless and passionate teacher named Marty Fromm who used to give a brilliant photo assignment to his students called “Gain Access.” Marty thought that this was a good assignment because he said that “cameras have gotten me into so many cool places and they have kept me out of places too.” He is well known for getting his students to push the envelope to see what’s possible with their photography. He also liked quoting Duane Michals to his students: “Trust that little voice in your head that says ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if…’; And then do it.” This attitude has opened so many doors to society and culture for Marty and his students that they would have never experienced had they not had their cameras and curious natures with them. It’s completely open-ended, has a sense of adventure/playfulness to it and offers just the right amount of ‘challenge’ to get people to push their boundaries. I loved the assignment so much that as homage to Marty I began giving it to our incoming Career Training students.

Here are some great examples of people who in my mind beautifully embrace the idea of ‘Gaining Access.”

Mike Hollingshead: Storm Chaser

I stumbled across this fascinating photographer in an article on PetaPixel. I checked out his website and loved his photographs. The adventurer in me was also charged by his passion for chasing storms (I secretly love to watch videos of extreme weather…tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, storms…). I have experienced two major earthquakes and in another life, I think I could be a storm chaser. How about you?


Sarah Van Nortwick: Selfies

Sarah, one of our Career Training graduates and current teaching assistant for our school, ‘gained access’ to herself via an extraordinary exploration of self portraits. She created a different self-portrait every day for several months. With this project she revealed a diversity of her personality that I would have never seen or imagined had she not done this. I loved her work so much that I purchased one of her ‘selfies’ and am able to see and be inspired by it almost every day. She may not have gained access to a physical place, but getting inside our own minds can be a great adventure.

Sarah Van Nortwicksarah van nortwick (2 of 6)Sarah Van Nortwick

Go Pro possibilities: Waves and Birds

Many of you have Go Pro cameras. Here are two examples of getting those Go Pro’s into the air to capture fascinating perspectives of our natural world. I chose to share these examples for those of you who have tendencies towards invention…thinking of new ways to manipulate how we employ digital imaging. The bird video is pretty funny. It’s the first video shot by a bird. Wow.

Jeremy Lurgio: Lost and Found Montana

Jeremy, who teaches in our Career Training Program and our Workshops Program, did a fascinating project called “Lost and Found Montana,” where he travelled 7500 miles to photograph 18 towns that were on the edge of extinction. His challenge of gaining access involved researching the stories of the towns and driving out/interviewing the people who were still around. Jeremy came up with the idea for shooting this project after reading an article in the local paper that reported Montana Dept. of Transportation’s plan to remove 18 towns from the state highway map. As it turns out no one likes to be wiped off a map. As we venture towards considering how and why to approach hybrid image making (combining stills and motion) Jeremy shows us how in some situations you really need both. Be sure to watch the videos as hearing the voices of the residents adds a richness that wouldn’t be possible without them.

lost and found montana

Edward Burtynsky: Manufactured Landscapes

Edward Burtynsky expresses what he does so poetically and cohesively, that…well…it just seemed best to pull his artist statement from his website:

Exploring the Residual Landscape

“Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis. These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire – a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”

Edward Burtynsky (artist statement pulled from his website.)

I would love to see our blog readers try out this assignment. Give it a go and when you have images to share, email them to me at It would be great if you could also share in your email what you were setting out to do, any challenges or interesting encounters you experienced and perhaps what you learned about your photography. I will collect everyone’s explorations and share with all of you in a future blog post. I’m super excited to see what you create. If you work better with deadlines then let’s say, send me your story and images by 3/1. Ready, set, Goooooooo!

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Random Acts of Photography – Guest Article by Steve Russell Wed, 15 Jan 2014 17:27:05 +0000 READ MORE >]]> _MG_9975-1In the lowlands of the Pacific Northwest’s late fall and winter it is usually light-starved, wet and 50 shades of gray. Occasionally, though, the sun peeks out and it stops raining long enough for some shooting opportunities of the outdoor nature kind.

For example, I found salmon leaping out of the water trying to get upstream at a local fish hatchery during this year’s spawning season around Thanksgiving. I returned a week later to find the salmon had spawned out and died but a Great Blue Heron feeding on the carcasses let me inch up closer than ever.

_MG_0588-2I also sprang into action for two unexpected sunset opportunities at nearby Chambers Bay Park, which overlooks the Puget Sound. They yielded saturated silhouette shots (using a circular polarizer) that captured people crossing a bridge telling their stories in true environmental portraiture fashion.

Snow geese and trumpeter swans begin migrating to the Skagit Valley an hour north of Seattle this time of year, but finding sun and birds at the same time is hit and miss. And while the bugs are nearly all gone or in hiding, macro opportunities come up when it’s dewy or freezing overnight, which creates magical spiraling patterns on leftover spider webs in the park.

Random acts of photography in otherwise gray, dreary and wet weather. Lowland nature shooting is catch as catch can around here this time of the year, so it pays to be ready for just about anything when the right conditions do present themselves – or not – as unpredictable as that may be.

Steve Russell _MG_0588-2 _MG_0372-2 _MG_0366-1 _MG_0876-4 IMG_9841-8 IMG_9748-7 _MG_9975-1 _MG_0971-6 _MG_0905-5 _MG_0795-3



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FOLLOWING A LEAD. Thu, 21 Nov 2013 17:07:29 +0000 READ MORE >]]>

Have you ever had an image fully formed in your head, appear to you and call out to be made? Sometimes it may be fairly easy to execute, but other times it might seem like an impossibility. Moments like this are gifts from the creative muses, therefore we owe it to the muses to follow through on these visions.

There are times where the image imagined is easily constructed or found. It’s very satisfying to have an image come to you, then be able to fulfill it to its determined endpoint. Then there are the other moments however, where the image imagined is so fantastical or abstracted that it becomes difficult to manifest before the camera. Herein lies the creative challenge.

In the past I have found myself clinging too tightly to the original idea or vision. I have hiked up steep mountains, lugging large, old window frames, to scout a location for my chosen model (victim!), only to find the location, the prop or the model seemed wrong. Perhaps individually each was appropriate, but now, together, the sum of the parts just isn’t working. Sometimes it feels too literal, or sometimes light years away from the scene I imagined. I have come home defeated and grumbling, thinking it an impossible task to illustrate with my camera an elusive vision in my head.

But after many years of attempting to photograph internal ideas, I now understand that the photograph must take on a life of its own. That it is more important to take the main ideas or visuals and emphasize those elements in the scene. Highlight the integral and outstanding parts and let those come together in their own way. Often, in this process it’s the letting go of strict guidelines that allows fresh and intuitive energy and possibilities to be breathed into the work. Perhaps there is a specific color that seems important, or one prop that can be utilized, or a specific type of light or character. Maybe the location becomes the grounding point and the other elements become what they may once you begin shooting. When I allow the image to evolve into its own form, the results are usually unpredictable and ultimately, a quite beautiful manifestation of the original vision.

Part of the beauty of the medium of Photography is the finite control we have over our images. But it is essential at times to let go of this control and allow the photograph to evolve on its own. So why not begin with a simple anchor point, be open to possibilities and watch the photograph become its own beautiful vision? Its still your image and your idea, but with a little help from the creative muses, it can blossom into the unexpected butterfly.


Images from dreams:

final image exactly as I imagined it just a hint of the original idea ]]> 2