Rocky Mountain School of Photography » photography school Thu, 28 Aug 2014 21:06:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 2015 COURSE CATALOG IS OUT!! Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:33:18 +0000 READ MORE >]]> 2015-CatalogCover-webThat’s right! The 2015 RMSP Course Catalog will begin shipping today! If you are on our list (and request mail from us), your copy should be showing up in the very near future. If you simply can’t wait to hold this beauty in your hands, you can get a jump on planning your 2015 by heading over to our homepage at and downloading a PDF version.

While smaller in its physical size (it’s 6 x 9), the 2015 catalog is livin’ large on other fronts. The cover of our new book features an image taken by our very recent 2014 Summer Intensive graduate Ivy Bencheck (congrats on your first cover Ivy!). The first three spreads feature images of three of our 2014 Summer Intensive students engaging in what we believe are the pillars of our educational philosophy: We believe in an Experiential, Intensive and In-Person learning experience. From these images of Virginia, Barry and Nicole, you will be encouraged to go to our website to watch full video interviews with each of them as they recap their RMSP experience. These three individuals came to Summer Intensive from VERY different backgrounds, but over the course of their individual 11-week journeys, became connected to photography in an incredible way. See what they had to say by clicking the images below.

We hope you like our new catalog and it helps you find a course in 2015 that speaks to you!


















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Summer Intensive 2014 – Week 4 Fri, 27 Jun 2014 16:59:46 +0000 READ MORE >]]> As I type this, it’s hard to believe its already Week 4 of Summer Intensive 2014. The deluge of information that came in weeks 1 – 3 has let up a tiny bit, but this week still packed quite the punch. We welcomed three visitors this week, and each added incredible value to the SI experience.

KemmisAndy_photo 2-2On Tuesday, Canon Explorer of Light and longtime Sports Illustrated Photographer Peter Read Miller was in Missoula to offer a slideshow and presentation of his images to our community. Co-sponsored by RMSP and Canon USA, Peter’s visit was a hit with our students and everyone who attended. We are fortunate to have Canon’s support and Peter’s enthusiasm in our program. While he was in Missoula, Peter stepped into the spotlight a bit more than usual during a quick interview with KECI, a local TV station.

On Thursday evening, renowned documentary photographer and Nikon Ambassador Amy Vitale spoke to the entire group of SI students about her experiences photographing around the world. Needless to say, her stories and images from places like Kashmir, Pakistan, China, Guinea Biseau, and right here in Montana were incredible. Her behind-the-scenes stories, and honest advice were well received by the group. To sum up her lecture in one word it could only be, “inspiring.”KemmisAndy_Vitale_photo 2

Our third special guest this week was none other than longtime RMSP instructor Tim Cooper. Tim arrived in Missoula from his semi-new home base in Washington D.C. to begin his teaching portion of SI. He will begin introducing students to the wonders of Photoshop, and will most likely blow a few minds in the process. Photoshop is an elaborate program, and Tim does a fantastic job of teaching it.

As far as coursework for the week goes, in Edit, students spent time learning the Slideshow module in Lightroom, and began to get a tour of Adobe Photoshop. In Light, Doug Johnson continued to teach the workings of the flash. In Photo Studies, Tony Rizzuto taught Portraiture and Macro. Visual Studies, taught by Marcy James, saw our students continue to learn about design concepts in photography and dig deeper into the history of photography. There were no Output classes this week.


MurrayRachel-9327 MurrayRachel-9260 MurrayRachel-9219 MurrayRachel-9193 MurrayRachel-9172 MurrayRachel-9216-2 MurrayRachel-9169 MurrayRachel--2 ]]> 0
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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Using Lightroom 5 to Create a Poster for Photo Lab Printing Wed, 16 Apr 2014 15:00:33 +0000 READ MORE >]]> In my previous posts, I’ve outlined how to prepare a single photo for printing by your favorite photo lab (called “outsource printing” by some). In this article, I describe how to use Lightroom 5 to create a poster layout featuring one of your best photos and get it ready to send to a photo lab. Lightroom includes many additional layout choices you can adjust (for example, changing the background color), but I’ve kept to basic steps to keep the article a manageable length!

00 Glacier Poster

Start by selecting and processing your photo to look its best in the Develop module, including sharpening it using the Detail panel. Cropping to improve the strength of your photo is fine. There is no need to crop for a certain size since this layout provides for a border around your image.

01  develop LR5

Choose a Template

Next, switch to the Print module. From the Template Browser in the left panel, choose a layout. For this project, I select the “1 Large with Stroke” template. It has 1-inch equal borders on all four sides along with a thin black line around the photo.

02 Original Print Template

Change the Paper Size

The template assumes a letter size piece of paper (8.5×11 inches), so to change this, click the Page Setup button. Select the appropriate paper size, in my case 16×20 inches. Lightroom automatically adjusts the page layout to reflect the new paper size. [Note: I'm working with a Windows computer so if you use a Mac, your Page Setup window will look very different.]

03 Page Setup 16x20 Land

04 16x20 Print Template

Widen the Bottom Margin

To leave space for a descriptive title, I need to make the bottom margin larger. In the Layout panel on the right side, I make the bottom margin 3 inches and leave the others at 1 inch.

05 Layout panel bottom margin

Adjust the Stroke Border

The default width of the black border is two pixels. If you want to make this wider, open the Image Settings panel. Then adjust the Stroke Border size to your preference. The border is contained within the cell that determines the size of your photograph. So as you make the stroke wider, your picture shrinks slightly to accommodate it.

06 stroke width Image Settings

Add the Title

To create the title below the picture, you can use Lightroom’s Identity Plate feature. To access this, open the Page panel. Check the box for the Identity Plate. The default color is white, which makes editing the text difficult to see. Check the Override Color box, which turns the type black.

07 ID Plate Center

To change the Identity Plate text to something appropriate for your picture, click the small arrow in the bottom right corner of the Identity Plate box and choose “Edit.” Double-click to select the text and type your title to replace it. Choose a font, style and color for your title. Don’t worry about the size at this point. Click OK when you are satisfied.

08 ID Plate Edit

09 ID Plate Edit 2

Position and Size the Title

The Identity Plate appears in the middle of the page, right over your image. To position it below the photo, click on the words so a box appears around them. Drag the title into position below the picture.

10 ID Plate Center with box

11 ID Plate bottom black

Lightroom does not contain any commands to automatically center the Identity Plate. But you can create that effect by stretching the box’s borders to fit between the left and right margins. This usually makes the type too big. So adjust the Scale slider until the title looks right.

12 ID Plate Expanded

13 ID Plate sized

Change the Title Color

If you want to change the color of the type in your title, click on the black box next to Override Color. In the window that appears, click and drag the eyedropper out of the box and over the image. You can see a preview of the color under the eyedropper displayed in your text. Let go of the mouse when you are happy with the color. Close the box by clicking on the X.

14 ID Plate new color

For a preview of what your printed poster will look like, first click in the gray background to hide the Identity Plate box. Then open the Guides panel and turn off Show Guides.

15 Poster Preview no guides

Save a Template

If you think you will use this same layout again, you can save the design as a User Template. In the Template Browser panel click the Plus icon. Type a name for the template. I used “16×20 poster H” (H designates a horizontal design) and click Save. Now you can easily add a different image to the poster and update the Identity Plate.

16 Save Template

17 Save Template

Set the Resolution, Sharpening, JPEG Quality and Custom File Dimensions

Now you are ready to save this picture and layout as a JPEG file that you can upload to a photo lab. These are the same steps as you would use for an individual picture. In the Print Job panel, for Print To select JPEG File. Set the File Resolution to 300 ppi for prints up to 16×20 inches (you may want to use 200 ppi for larger prints to create a smaller file at acceptable quality). Turn on Print Sharpening. Select the amount you want applied; I usually use Standard for my nature and architecture shots. If you are printing a portrait, you may want to choose Low instead. Then pick the Media Type. Use Glossy unless you are ordering an inkjet print on watercolor or other textured paper. In that case, choose Matte.

Now set the JPEG Quality to 100. If you are ordering a very large print (16×20 inches or more), use 90 to create a smaller file but still good quality result. Check the box to turn on Custom File Dimensions. These start at the paper size that you selected with the Page Setup window. Confirm they are the correct dimensions. In my example, the dimensions are already correct at 20 inches (wide) by 16 inches (high). If they are not accurate, type the dimensions you want.

Set up Color Management and Create the JPEG File

Making choices for Color Management is the last part. For Profile, sRGB is the safest choice. For Intent, use Relative for the most vivid colors. If you know the lab can accept Adobe RGB files, you may want to use that profile for slightly better quality, especially for high saturation photos. Finally, leave Print Adjustments turned off until you have experience with the lab. If you have calibrated your monitor, you should not need to make any adjustments here. Now your poster is ready to be turned into a JPEG file suitable for a quality print. Click the Print to File button at the bottom right and save the image to a folder on your desktop for easy retrieval.

18 Print to File panel

Go to the photo lab’s website and follow their instructions for uploading, ordering and paying for your print. Wait patiently for your print to arrive. Admire your work when it does!


Want to learn more from Kathy Eyster?

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

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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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Shooting a Realistic HDR Image Wed, 19 Mar 2014 14:58:08 +0000 READ MORE >]]> The High Dynamic Range Image

HDR imagery can be considered a recent fad or a well-worn technique, depending on how you look at it. In the early days, film failed to produce visible detail in the highlight and shadow values of high-contrast scenes. Because of this, photographers resorted to difficult and tedious darkroom techniques to help return the detail to the print. Today’s digital sensors, while holding great promise, still fall short of the capability of our vision. Luckily for us, however, modern computer programs provide a more accurate and elegant solution to this the age-old high-contrast problem.

The acronym HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. It can refer to a computer program, a photograph that has been processed by an HDR program, or the technique of taking multiple photographs with the intention of blending them together in an HDR program.

Let’s begin with the phrase ”dynamic range.” Dynamic range refers to the amount of separation between the brightest and darkest parts of a scene. A scene low in dynamic range would have a limited range of brightness tones, as seen in Figure 1.01. Here you see tones that are almost all the same brightness; the entire scene is made up of midtones. A scene high in dynamic range would have a large range of brightness values, as seen in Figure 1.02. Here the image consists of midtones, shadows, and highlights. There is a huge difference between the highlight values and the shadow values. This huge difference between values is what makes this scene high in dynamic range. High contrast is a more commonly used phrase to describe scenes with high dynamic range.

Figure 1.01: A scene with low Dynamic Range Figure 1.01: A scene with low Dynamic Range


Figure 1.02: A scene with high Dynamic RangeFigure 1.02: A scene with high Dynamic Range

The problem with film and digital sensors is that neither is capable of providing a realistic image in these high-contrast situations. If you expose correctly for the shadow area of the scene, the bright highlight areas become overexposed (featureless white), as seen in Figure 1.03. If you expose properly for the highlight area, the shadows become underexposed (featureless black), as seen in Figure 1.04. In some cases, where the contrast is really extreme, it is possible to lose detail in both the shadow and the highlight areas. Both of these photos appear unrealistic because as we encounter these situations in real life, we see detail in the very dark and very bright parts of these high-contrast scenes. We see something more like the image in Figure 1.05.


Figure 1.03: A good exposure for the shadows results in overexposed highlights
Figure 1.04: A good exposure for the highlights results in underexposed shadows.


Fig-1.05The HDR technique, then, is to take multiple photographs at different exposures. Each of these photos will capture a different range of detail. Once the photos are captured, you can then import them into an HDR program such as PhotoMatix. This program blends all the exposures into one photograph that contains full shadow, midtone and highlight detail. This resulting image is often referred to as an HDR image or HDR photograph.

Figure 1.05: An image created by blending the two previous photos together in an HDR program

When HDR Is Needed

The primary reason for wanting to shoot multiple exposures and blend them together in an HDR program is to capture full detail in a scene that contains very bright areas and very dark areas. These high-contrast scenes can be found everywhere, from landscape and nature scenes to interior architecture and real estate situations.

While important, shooting for HDR is not necessary with every photograph. Our cameras are capable of capturing the full brightness range of plenty of scenes. So when do you need HDR? The simple answer would be whenever the scene’s brightness range exceeds the camera’s capability to capture it.

By this measure, however, we would never have any photographs with pure blacks or whites, which are necessary to provide a photograph with full range of brightness levels (tonal value). Some pure black or pure white without detail is fine in almost any photograph. The image in Figure 1.21a and its histogram (Figure 1.21) show a slight clipping in the shadows. This is noticeable in the area around the waterfalls. As you can see, this small amount of pure black is perfectly acceptable. In fact, without it, the image might feel somewhat flat (low in contrast).

Silhouettes are another instance where you’ll want some pure black in your images. The image in Figure 1.22a and its histogram (Figure 1.22) show what we would normally consider severe clipping. Because there is no need to see any detail in silhouettes, however, the clipped shadows are just fine.


Figures 1.21 and 1.21a: An image and its histogram showing acceptable clipping in the shadows



Figures 1.22 and 1.22a: A silhouette image and its histogram showing the amount of clipped shadows

The mood of the photograph is something else you need to take into account. Not all images need to be presented as bright and full of midtones. A low key image is one that is dominated by darker tones. Not necessarily pure black, but just dark tones. Figures 1.23 and 1.24 are examples of this type of imagery. On close examination of these shots you can see there are areas of pure black, but they don’t fill the frame; they are interspersed with areas that are dark but contain detail. Compare these with Figure 1.25. Notice how the large area of dark dominates the frame.


Figure 1.23: Low key image showing acceptable amounts of pure black
Figure 1.24: Low key image showing acceptable amounts of pure black


While some areas of pure black complement an image by giving it a full range of values, large areas of pure black or white can overwhelm an image. This is the time for HDR. When you have large areas of pure black, as seen in Figures 1.26 and 126a, shooting multiple exposures and blending them in HDR is required to reveal detail in the shadows.


Figures 1.26 and 1.26a: Scene showing good highlight detail but no shadow detail

Once you’ve determined a scene needs HDR to bring out detail in the shadows or highlights, or both, it’s time to make the exposures that can be blended together. Shooting for HDR is more than just setting your camera on Aperture Priority, Evaluative metering, and Auto-Bracketing and firing off a few shots. Care should be taken to analyze the scene and set your camera accordingly.

Metering the Scene

Shooting for HDR boils down to making a series of exposures that capture the full range of tones present in the scene. The simple way of doing this is to get one good exposure for the highlights and then open up one stop (add more light via the shutter speed) and make another exposure. Then open up again and make another exposure. Continue this until the shadow areas are captured on the histogram. Figure 2.01a is an example of the first shot, where the highlights would be properly exposed. This was ¼ of a second at F/16. Notice the shadows are crawling up the left side of the histogram, indicating they are quite underexposed.

Figure 2.01b, shot at ½ second at F/16, would be the second shot. In this histogram both the shadows and highlights are clipped. Figure 2.01c was made at 1 second at F/16. The shadows are still clipped. Figure 2.01d was made at 2 seconds at F/16. The shadows almost have enough exposure, but not quite. Figure 2.01e  shows the final image made at 4 seconds at f/16. Here you can see a histogram that represents full shadow detail.

Fig_02.01aFigure 2.01a: The first exposure, ensuring good highlight detail. ¼ of a second at F/16




Fig_02.01bFigure 2.01b: The second exposure, ½ of a second at F/16




Fig_02.01cFigure 2.01c: The third exposure, 1 second at F/16




Fig_02.01dFigure 2.01d:The fourth exposure, 2 seconds at F/16




Fig_02.01eFigure 2.01e: The fifth exposure, ensuring good shadow detail. 4 seconds at F/16





Here is a visual example of six shots created to blend together in HDR.  Figure 2.02 shows the images.  Note that the brightest image shows plenty of shadow detail, and the darkest images retains highlight detail.  Figure 2.03 shows the final combined image.


Pro Tips

Here are a few tips that may help you achieve better results in the field:

1.      Find the important bright area when metering. It’s essential to realize that not every bright area in the scene needs detail. Typically light sources themselves can do without detail. It’s also unreasonable to expect to get detail from the bright sun. Likewise, reflections from light sources in glass, mirrors, or metal should be ignored. Of course there are always exceptions. A very ornate lamp shade or chandelier will benefit from proper exposure. The main idea is to keep larger, important bright areas from blowing out.

2.      Don’t concern yourself with the blackest black. Most images benefit from a pure black somewhere in the scene. Like for the highlights, determine which areas are truly important. Trying to get detail in every black and every white will result in an image series that becomes difficult to process correctly.

3.      HDR software has the ability to blend together images that are not perfectly aligned, but it does take the software longer to produce the final results. If the images are too far out of alignment, however, the software may not be able to achieve perfect registration. While you might get lucky with a hand-held series of exposures, it’s best to ensure perfect alignment by using a tripod. The use of the tripod will also allow the use of smaller apertures for more depth of field.

4.      Use a cable release or remote. Along with using a tripod, remote releases will help keep your images sharp by reducing camera shake.

5.       Use the Self Timer. Some cameras will not shoot all of the exposures at once when set to Auto-Bracket. This means you have to press the shutter release button or cable release for each shot. While not terribly time consuming it would be nice if the camera would simply fire them all of with one press of the shutter. Try setting your camera to Self Timer. In many cases pressing your release once will trigger the camera to shoot the whole series of brackets automatically.

6.      Consider using Continuous High Speed Release mode on a Nikon or Continuous Shooting mode on a Canon. By default, pressing your shutter release button shoots a single frame. In Continuous Mode, your camera will continue to shoot until you release the button. This mode can be used to capture a series of exposures in rapid succession, eliminating subject movement in between shots.

7.      Many scenes don’t require exactly three-, five-, or seven-stop brackets. They might need four or six. In these cases it’s easier to set your Auto-Bracketing to capture more images than are necessary and delete the unnecessary images back at the computer.

8.      If you are unsure about your metering or histograms, hedge your bet by capturing more images. It’s better to come home with extra images that are too light and too dark than to wish you had those images while you’re processing your HDR.

9.      Shoot in RAW. RAW files contain much more information than JPEG files. More image information allows more options when it comes to blending your images together. HDR programs will process JPEG files, so uploading your old images is not an issue. For the most latitude in processing your images, however, set your camera to shoot in RAW.

10.     I use the Program PhotoMatix Pro to blend my images together. I find this to be the most realistic and easiest program out there.  It can be purchased from  Putting in my name, TimCooper (all one word, capital T and capital C) into the coupon code will get you 15% off the purchase price of $99.00!
This is an excerpt from Tim Cooper’s book The Realistic HDR Image from Peachpit Press.  The Realistic HDR Image is an eBook that can be purchased for $8.00 by clicking here.


Want to learn more about HDR imaging from Tim?
Join him at an upcoming Photo Weekend or Workshops in 2014.

Click HERE to see a listing of all of Tim’s 2014 offerings.


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Using Photoshop CC to Prepare a Picture for Photo Lab Printing Mon, 17 Mar 2014 23:13:09 +0000 READ MORE >]]> In my last post I described the process of getting a single image ready for photo lab printing using Lightroom 5. In this article, I am illustrating the comparable process using Photoshop CC. Note that all the steps can also be accomplished with most 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 for printing.

[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.]

Select a Picture

To begin, select an adjusted master photo from Bridge. This picture should be one you have already worked on to enhance its exposure, contrast and color to make it look its best.

EysterKathy_01 Bridge Masters

You can crop your image to improve its composition, too, without having to use a specific size at this point. But if you plan to order a specific proportion for your print later (such as 8×10), you may want to keep that in mind. Also decide the print dimensions you want and the resolution you need. In this example, I want an 8×12 inch horizontal print at 300 ppi resolution.

Rafferty Spring 2012

Save a Copy

To protect your original master file, make a copy of the adjusted picture. Working on a copy is important because you will be resizing the image and changing the original number of pixels. In the future, if you decide you want to print the same image at a different size, either larger or smaller, you would open the original master document and create new copy for that print. So your master edited photo remains unaffected.

Save the copy as either a PSD or a TIFF file because these do not compress your picture. When you name your copy, include the print dimensions for future reference. In my example, I call the picture “daisy blue 8×12” because I plan to order an 8×12 inch print size.

EysterKathy_02 Save As PSD

Size the Photo

Now you need to change the size of the picture to match both the dimensions of the paper you want it printed on as well as the resolution necessary for the best quality. Using the Image Size command seems like the logical choice. However, Image Size does not allow you to set an exact dimension. It only fits the photo into a box of the size you specify. This could result in your picture being smaller than your intended size, creating a unwanted extra border around the print instead of the image extending all the way to the edge of the paper.

A better way to change the size and resolution of your picture is to use the Crop tool. After you select the Crop tool, check the Options bar at the top of the screen below the menus. Here you tell Photoshop the exact dimensions and resolution you want for your picture.


EysterKathy_03 Crop Tool Options

In the Options bar, change the Preset drop-down list from “Ratio” to “W x H x Resolution” for “width x height x resolution”. Photoshop remembers your choice here, so it will be the same the next time you select the Crop tool.

Type in the dimensions you want for the print size. Photoshop uses the unit of measure that you have set in preferences. The default unit is inches (in) or you can specify centimeters by adding “cm” after the number. I type 12 for W, 8 for H and 300 for resolution in the appropriate boxes. (You might consider using 200 ppi if you are creating a print larger than 16×20 inches.)

The last choice is “Delete Cropped Pixels.” You can leave this turned on or off. When you save the final print file as a JPEG, Photoshop deletes any preserved pixels.

Adjust the sides of the cropping box to suit and press the Enter or Return key to apply it. Depending on the original size of your file, the picture may either shrink or enlarge on screen to meet your size and  resolution requirements.

Sharpen the Image

Changing the size of your image changes the number of pixels in the file, either deleting extras or adding new ones. As a result, important edges lose their crisp appearance. In addition, the printing process also softens these edges slightly. So to return your picture to its best appearance, you need to sharpen it.

To begin, flatten adjustment and other layers into a single layer using Layer > Flatten Image. Then duplicate the background layer by pressing Ctrl+J (Windows) or Cmd+J (Mac). Applying the sharpening to its own layer lets you easily adjust or delete it if you need to.

From the Filter menu choose Sharpen > Smart Sharpen. The initial size of this window offers a very small preview. It’s best to be able to see lots of your photo at 100% magnification. So drag a corner to resize the box and get a much larger preview.

Within the preview window click and drag to a part of the image that has important details that need to be properly sharpened. Adjust the sliders and click OK when you are satisfied. (See this Adobe video for more on using the Smart Sharpen filter.)

EysterKathy_04 Smart Sharpen small


EysterKathy_05 smart sharpen big

Convert to the Appropriate Color Spac

Last, you need to be sure the image file is in the correct color space for the photo lab. All labs can understand the sRGB color space. A few professional labs can also interpret Adobe RGB correctly. Check with your lab ahead of time to see what they prefer. If you can’t find this information, use sRGB as it is the safest.

To be sure your photo is using the right color space (or profile), from the Edit menu choose Convert to Profile. At the top is the current (Source) color space of your picture. Next is the new (Destination) color space you want Photoshop to use. Click the drop-down list and select “sRGB IEC61966-2.1.” You can leave the other choices at their default settings and click OK.

EysterKathy_06 Convert to sRGB

Save the Photo as a JPEG File

Now your picture file is ready to be saved. It has the right dimensions and the correct resolution. It has been sharpened and converted to the appropriate color space. 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.

EysterKathy_07 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.
Now your photo is ready to upload to your favorite photo lab!

EysterKathy_08 JPEG Options



Want to learn more from Kathy Eyster?

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

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One Graduate’s Experience with Visual Studies Assignments Mon, 17 Mar 2014 02:00:51 +0000 READ MORE >]]> The first session in our Our Career Training program is the cornerstone of RMSP - Summer Intensive. This is the course that attracts students from every corner of the globe and from every walk of life and who all see the world in a unique way. The curriculum in Summer Intensive is broken into several areas of study: Photo Studies, Visual Studies, Light, Color Management and Output and Image Editing. Each one focuses on a different aspect of photography and challenges students in different ways. The Visual Studies area of study is always a popular part of the summer due to the creativity of instructor, Eileen Rafferty and in the way it stretches the students’ way of thinking.

One student that enjoyed her Visual Studies courses was Genevieve Fix. Below are some of her thoughts from her assignments given by Eileen in 2012 that she wanted to share. If you are joining us in June 2014 for Summer Intensive, take note! You might be seeing some of these same assignments.


“The more you know, the more you realize there is to know. Being creative is not just a destination, it’s the journey we take on the road to discovering who we really are.”

-Tedric A. Garrison

By stepping through the doors of the Rocky Mountain School of Photography for Summer Intensive in 2012, I was embarking on a journey of knowledge and creativity. An in-depth learning of the technique was complemented by Eileen Rafferty’s Visual Studies classes. Her teachings on the creative aspect of making an image and challenging assignments helped me see differently, opening doors to new ideas.

FixGenevieve_IMG_5395Learning to see: observe more acutely, knowing the tools, arrange the elements, directs the viewers eye. Develop imagination: feel, intention, story, mood, memory, style. Express ideas more effectively: language, concept, content, metaphor, symbolism, presentation.

Photograph a sense other than sight was our first assignment and I chose taste, submitting “Afternoon treat at Burns Bistro.”

FixGenevieve_IMG_6585The next one was to make one image depicting a color and its characteristic. What characteristic do you see in a color? How can you depict it? After thinking about different colors for a few days, all of a sudden lavender came to my mind, not just because I like the plant but for the fact that it portrays the south of France. So I composed “Provence”.

FixGenevieve_IMG_8678Multiple images in an image was the subject for another assignment using photo-montage, collage, photo in a photo, diptych with text and a title. Not being an expert at Photoshop, how could I do it? “Family Tree” was my take on it and yes all the pictures are from my family.

FixGenevieve_IMG_9040Finally the most challenging assignment for me was to pick a genre and a subject matter (out of a pile) and shoot that combination. Movements (genre): Surrealism, Pictorialism, Abstraction, Modernism, Minimalism. For the subject matter: interior/room, person, still life/object, landscape. I picked abstract and landscape. I took many photos I did not like before getting the concept in “Electric Landscape”.

Fostering creativity is research, motivation, uncertainty, curiosity, perseverance and ritual. Practice, clearly defined goals, time alone, thought + action are elements fostering creativity. Having a journal where I write down ideas and thoughts is very helpful for me.

Feel, mood, and story was what I wanted to convey to the viewers when I put together my first show “Past Elements.” I hope I succeeded but to quote Yo Yo Ma, “If you are only worried about not making a mistake, then you will communicate nothing. You will have missed the point of making music, which is to communicate something.”

FixGenevieve_IMG_9884 FixGenevieve_IMG_1984 FixGenevieve_IMG_9891


Genevieve lives near Huson, Montana with her husband James and their four cats.  Besides being a photographer she is also a Reiki Master and a rockhound! She welcomes questions about her experience at RMSP. Please can contact her via email at

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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


Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.15.38 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.15.51 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.15.07 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.17.09 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.13.55 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.16.41 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.16.41 PM Screen Shot 2014-03-13 at 12.17.09 PM ]]> 0
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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Instagram Takeover! Mon, 10 Mar 2014 15:00:51 +0000 READ MORE >]]> RMSP has been taken over!! Well, at least our Instagram account has been! 

But don’t worry, it’s a planned, highly-anticipated, fun and creative type of takeover.

Starting today, Monday, March 10, 2014 our Instagram account will be in the hands of 2013 Summer Intensive graduate Megan Jae Riggs for two weeks! She will be logging into the RMSP account today and not looking back until her time is up. Aside from a few agreed-upon hashtags, and a general understanding of what she will be doing, the rest is up to her eye, her whim and her creativity. To give you all a hint however, it’s no coincidence that she is taking over IG as we begin the countdown to Summer Intensive 2014. I encourage you to follow us – and Megan – to get a glimpse into how she sees the world.

Megan came to us last year after having a bit of photography knowledge and experience. She had been published in a variety of publications and worked as a student teacher during the process of receiving her degree in Photojournalism from the University of Montana, here in Missoula. Suffice it to say, she was comfortable with a camera, but still said that her “…time spent at RMSP was by far one of the most rewarding and incredible summers of my life.”

Shortly after Summer Intensive began, she appeared on my radar as a fluent, experienced and creative member of the Instagram community. I would regularly see her name pop up after she liked one of our photos. Conversely, I could always recognize a photo as being hers with barely more than a glance. Unlike a casual user of the platform, she has totally embraced Instagram as another tool in her creative toolbox; one where she can share her images, art and thoughts on a daily basis. I am totally looking forward to seeing what she does with our account. I hope you can join Megan on her IG journey.

Follow Rocky Mountain School of Photography on Instagram: @RockyMountainSchoolOfPhoto

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Follow Megan on Instagram: @meganjaepearl

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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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Important First Steps Thu, 06 Mar 2014 23:35:24 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Have you ever noticed how seemingly small decisions we make at the beginning of a process can have a large impact on everything we do from there on out? Well that’s probably the case in your photography. There’s a little camera setting working against you if you are a JPEG shooter and a software setting to be aware of as a RAW shooter.

Canon calls it Picture Style and Nikon calls it Picture Control. Choosing a picture style is a lot like picking a film to load in your old film camera; different films had different looks and the same is true for these in-camera presets. Like it or not, a picture style is being chosen for you when you shoot a JPEG or when you process your RAW images. These picture styles will increase or decrease color saturation, contrast, sharpness and tint by differing amounts to make your images “pop” but beware…what makes one subject look amazing will cause problems with another.

Scroll through the Picture Style menu and you’ll see options like LandscapePortrait, Standard and Neutral. Each of these options will permanently alter your JPEGs in the following ways. (RAW Shooters, this will apply to you once you get your image into Lightroom so keep reading!)

Fig 1

Landscape: Dramatically increases color saturation, contrast and sharpness to add drama and life to your landscapes.

Portrait: Decreases sharpness slightly and increases color saturation slightly to smooth skin and give it a healthy color.

Camera Standard: Boosts saturation and sharpness slightly to give your images that little oomph that they often need.

Neutral: Reduces contrast and saturation to produce images that are closest to what your eye sees.

Check out the following portrait with the different presets applied. Pay special attention to the texture and brightness (or darkness) of her skin and hair.

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Did you pick a favorite? Great! But remember that if you’re shooting JPEG, these changes are permanent and once you’ve lost information in a JPEG it can be very difficult to get back. So, as a rule, I would suggest that you use the preset that gets you closest to what you want without going too far. For example, in the above image shot on neutral or portrait, you could further darken her hair and alter her skin slightly in post-processing to give it the love that it needs. If, however, you shot it on standard or landscape it would be increasingly difficult to pull that detail back out of her hair and darken her ever-brightening skin. The takeaway? In-camera settings are permanently applied to your JPEGs so choose wisely!

So what’s different about shooting RAW when it comes to Picture Styles? Well….nothing and everything. When you shoot RAW the Picture Style affects only what you’re seeing on the back of your camera since what you’re seeing is a JPEG preview and your photo editing software will discard the picture style once the image is in your computer. (Canon’s or Nikon’s proprietary software are exceptions to this.) This explains why when you shoot RAW you may have an image that looks great on the back of your camera but it looks flat and lifeless when you put it in Lightroom. Your camera preview includes the picture style adjustment and your computer’s initial preview does not.

When you import your RAW images into Lightroom or open them in Photoshop’s RAW converter (ACR) a generic picture style called Adobe Standard is applied to your image. Adobe Standard can be thought of as general adjustment created by Adobe to work for all cameras in most situations. I tend to stay away from generic, jack-of-all-trade settings and instead favor those that work best for specific images.

In my mind, the secret starting point for working on RAW images in Lightroom or Photoshop is a menu called “Camera Calibration.” Within this menu is a set of profiles created by Adobe to emulate your in-camera Picture Styles. I don’t make any adjustments to my images until I’ve finished choosing the best profile.

Go to the bottom right hand panel within the develop module of Lightroom to make your selection. Here you will see Landscape, Neutral, Portrait, Camera Standard and others depending on the specific camera you used. If you are viewing a Canon RAW file you will see Canon’s presets and with your Nikon files you’ll see Nikon’s presets.

Calibration Canon Calibration Nikon

When choosing a profile for my image I’ll select the one that affects the photograph in favorable ways without going too far. Look at the following close ups of the portrait with different presets applied. You’ll see that in some cases, the hair is so dark that it would be hard to recover detail and the skin is so light that it’s lost texture.

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Or in the images of the Parliament Building in Victoria, B.C. you will see that based on your taste and how dramatic you want the photograph to feel, Neutral or Camera Standard may be the best place to start.

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Once I’ve established the starting point for my post-processing I’ll then go through the rest of the develop settings and work on my image. As with JPEGs, beware, just because a preset looks great on one image doesn’t mean that it will be the best choice for another. Start with the right preset and add enhancements from there instead of trying to undo problems created by making the wrong choice.

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You can find out more about Nikon and Canon’s Picture Controls by clicking the following links.

Nikon site Picture Controls:

Canon site Picture Styles:


Want to learn more from Tony Rizzuto?

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



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Copyright: To Register or Not To Register? Wed, 26 Feb 2014 00:40:44 +0000 READ MORE >]]> Photographers create intellectual property on a daily basis. For some it is done purely for enjoyment and for others it is the means by which we feed our families. Wherever you fall on the creative spectrum, you are the owner of the images you create and you have the exclusive right to decide how those images are used and where they can be displayed and who can display them. That is the basis of copyright law in the United States. This is the same whether we create our images with an iPhone, point-and-shoot, or digital SLR camera.

Although our images are protected by copyright the moment they are created, that may not be enough to protect us if we come across unauthorized uses of our images. If we find one of our images being used without our permission and we did not register the image with the Copyright Office then we would be only entitled to actual damages which may equate to the normal fee we would charge to license that image under the same circumstances. If our image was registered in a timely manner, then we would be entitled to a maximum of $150,000 per use if the use was willful and a court could award court fees and legal costs as well.


The act of registering our images puts a lot of weight on our side when an image is infringed. Without registration a lawyer would most likely not take the case and a court would not allow an infringement case to he heard. Very often the first question an attorney for the infringer asks is whether or not the image is registered and based on the answer, they will decide how they should proceed.

As the creator of an infringed image we need to assess the unauthorized use as well as our feelings about how to proceed. Some photographers would be flattered to see that someone liked their image enough to put it in a magazine or use it on a website, and rather than be bothered by the use, they would buy multiple copies of the magazine to hand out to friends and families or point people to the website. Others may be satisfied with payment of their normal licensing fees while still others may push harder and seek damages for the unauthorized use.

I take a hard stand when it comes to copyright violation. I don’t feel a normal licensing fee is adequate enough to make a point and move towards decreasing future infringing. Imagine if the punishment for shoplifting was only to pay the store owner for what was stolen. The incentive for thieves to give it a try would be too high since there would be no downside for them if they got caught. Shoplifting would run rampant.

Normal theft is more easily understood by people when compared to intellectual property theft. If someone steals my car, I no longer have a car. If someone infringes one of my images I still have the image and it is easily but wrongly misunderstood to be a victimless act. What is not understood is the effect the unauthorized use has on licensing of that image.

Although most people are probably aware that stealing music or movies is wrong, it seems that many people feel that images on the internet are free for the taking. It is so easy to right-click and copy an image. How can something so easy be so wrong? Very often I read or hear people reasoning that if you don’t want your images stolen then don’t post them on the internet. That argument makes as much sense as telling someone that if they don’t want their car stolen don’t park it on a public street. The internet is how most photographers showcase their work and get exposure, and without the ability to post our images we would have a difficult time making a living.

Registering your images can be a painless but somewhat quirky process. Setting up a workflow and a schedule is the best way to assure your are protected. You can register many unpublished images at one time for a $35 fee. Published images are treated differently where groups of published images can only be registered together if they were created in the same year by the same photographer. There is a three month window after publication of an image where you can register the image and have it considered registered as of the date of publication. Because of this I set up my schedule so I register all of my unpublished and published images taken in the prior three months assuring that all my images are properly protected.

Considering the time, cost and effort we put into making our images it is our right to be adequately compensated for those images. An unauthorized use of our images cuts into our ability to be properly compensated. Some of the most lucrative licensing situations are exclusive and first-use licenses and our ability to license our images as such may be compromised after they are infringed.

Images that are timely registered before an infringement occurs allow the photographer the opportunity to file for statutory damages and attorney fees. Without a valid registration the photographer would have to prove actual damages which can not only be difficult, but it is usually not enough money to make the cost of retaining an attorney and filing a case in federal court worthwhile. Many infringers realize this and they won’t give you the time of day without a registration certificate in your hand.

If an infringed image is properly registered it is up to the copyright owner to decide if they want to pursue actual or statutory damages. For a willful infringement the maximum the court can award is $150,000 per use as well as court costs and attorney fees. If the use was not found to be willful, the high end of statutory damages is $30,000 per use. Willful does not necessarily mean intentional. As an example: if your image has your identifying copyright information on the image, any unauthorized use would be considered willful. An image taken from a website with copyright notices placed on each page would also be considered a willful act.


Not long ago I found one of my images on a Facebook page. The image was posted about a year prior to when I found it but in that time the image had gained almost 700,000 likes and 37,000 shares. I could not in good conscience license that image, or any image in a similar situation, as an exclusive or first time license. The people who had used that image without my permission had stripped me of my ability to license my image in a way that I chose. I have no idea where that image might show up and if someone paid for an exclusive license I am pretty sure they would not be happy if they found it before I did.

Most of my infringement experiences come from people who find one of my images online and either right-click and save or do a screenshot of the image and use it on their website or Facebook/Pinterest page. At any given time I can find thousands of uses of my images. While it is annoying, there is a little I can do unless I want to devote most of my waking hours to send letters to the offenders and take-down notices to internet service providers. Where I draw the line is when my image is used on a commercial site or used in some way that I find objectionable.

I have been told by portrait photographers that they don’t feel the need to register their images since they feel their images would be unlikely targets. If you have heard about the photographer who populated his wedding photography website with images from other much better wedding photographers to make him look much better than he actually was, then you can see how just about any image could be infringed. And don’t be fooled into thinking that your website protects your image from being copied. I haven’t seen a site yet that can prevent all forms of copying.

What about that client that you enter into a licensing agreement with who ends up using the image in a manner outside the confines of your agreements with them? Usually it is a misunderstanding and is easily cleared up. But what if they care less about your objections and continue using it despite your continued demands to stop? If the image wasn’t registered you wouldn’t have a lot of power on your side. Luckily, that is something that doesn’t happen often, but it is a situation where a little bit of time and effort to protect yourself for the “what if’s” becomes valuable.

In one instance I was at the end of keywording 700 of my Hawaii images when I came across an image of the Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki. I realized that I forgot how to spell his name so I did a quick Google search and the very first listing that came up … on another person’s website … was the actual image I was trying to keyword!


Something as simple as Googling your own name can bring up instance of images that are used without your permission. At a moment where I had a few spare minutes, I Googled my name to find only one of my images that had some text added to it. I thought the image looked pretty good with the additions, but it was still my image and it was used to promote a museum in Hawaii. You can see in this example that they credited me as the photographer, but that does not change the fact that this is copyright infringement. As I looked further I found that they had used a total of eight images from my Flickr page over a period of several months. Since these images were properly registered, the maximum amount a court could award was $1.2 million plus court costs and my attorney fees. If that isn’t enough incentive for them to come to the table and talk about settling I don’t know what is.

SharickScott_daughtersI am sure most people have seen those emails that show the best bridges, animal images, vacation spots, etc. One of my images showed up on the best infinity pools list and I found it used in hundreds of places around the internet. Islands Magazine, with a circulation of about a half million customers, put the best infinity pool images on their website. An email outlining the infringement was sent to them and soon I received a call from the editor telling me how much he liked my work and that he would like to use me as a freelancer for their magazine. While that may be a nice sentiment and it may or may not lead to good things in the future, I don’t feel it was the way to settle the infringement of my intellectual property. With no further negotiation a check was sent to me a couple days later.


Many years ago I made an image of a dog on a beach in Hawaii. A couple years later I ran across the same dog and his owner on another beach. I had a copy of the image on my phone so I offered to email it to the guy. At the time I figured there was no harm. Fast forward two more years and I am getting frantic messages and emails from the guy. He had entered my image into a contest and it made it to the finals. He needed a high res image by that night to send to the magazine. This was one of those rights-grabs contests from a major dog magazine where by entering you AGREE that the image is yours and you actually give up the copyright of the image to the magazine. Needless to say I was less than happy, but it was a good thing I able to stop the mess before the image got printed in the magazine.


In the end it is the photographer that has to choose how to treat their images once they are infringed. In the age of fast moving information on the internet it is better to assume that our images will be infringed at some point rather than hope they won’t be. There is no way to tell which of our images may interest someone and how they may come to find our images. It is better to protect them today so that we can decide later how to react once they are infringed whether that is next month or in ten years rather than wish we had.




SharickScott_HeadShotScott currently lives in Honolulu, Hawaii where he likes to make the most of his time hiking and searching for interesting locations to photograph. There is no greater pleasure than when he finds a road that he has never been on only to wonder what adventures are to be found around the next corner or over the next hill. When he is not in Hawaii one of his favorite areas to photograph is the southwestern United States where the expansive desert scenery stands in stark contrast to the tropical green of the Hawaiian Islands. He is a graduate of the 2010 class of Summer Intensive and Advanced Intensive.
You can see Scott’s images at and you can email him at 


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