Category Archives: inspiration

Gavin Hoey

Prime Lens Challenge: Part 2

I challenged Gavin Hoey to shoot for a full day using a single prime lens. His response is terrific, and his photos are even better. When Gavin and I agreed to take on this challenge we had no idea what the other person was going to do. In fact, we shot and edited our videos completely before we told each other what we’d done. It was a ton of fun to see how Gavin approached the challenge. He definitely did a few things that I wish I’d done. Continue reading…


Visualize the end result

When I create videos I’m usually inspired by something I’ve seen, read, or heard. In this week’s Exploring Photography video I was inspired by the words of Ansel Adams.

Ansel Adams was big on the idea of seeing the end result before taking a photo. He talked a lot about visualizing a finished print before making a photo. I totally agree with his ideology of seeing before shooting. But the thing that I most admire about Ansel Adams is his concept of post production.

Continue reading…


How To Make a “Disgusting” Photo

My “Disgusting” photo of James Nachtwey.

Yesterday I was very excited to have the opportunity to hear James Nachtwey speak at Photo Plus Expo in New York City. James Nachtwey is no ordinary photographer and for me to see him speak, and even have a remote chance of shaking his hand, was a dream come true. James Nachtwey is one of my heroes and a source of inspiration. When asked, “If you could meet anyone in history?” I usually answer, “James Nachtwey.”

When the door opened for his Keynote address I pushed my way through the crowd and somehow got a seat on the front row right in the center. James was on stage trying to get his computer working and the crowd waited. I decided to pull out my camera and shoot a few frames.

The light was very low so I put a flash on my camera. I decided to use my 200mm lens so I could get a decent shot. I took a few photos and then something totally unexpected happened. The guy next to me began to critique my skills.

He began by shaking his head and then said (with a very strong German accent), “No, no. I’m sorry but that picture is horrible. It’s disgusting. It’s not even average.”

Excuse me?

“It’s disgusting. You need to use wide angle lens, you need to get right up to him and use a spot meter and figure out the proper exposure. Do you have a light meter? Your photo tells no story, why are you even shooting?”

I didn’t know how to even respond to this guy, so I said the first thing that came to my mind, “Who are you?” I mean if this was Shaul Schwarz or Damon Winter I’d certainly want to hear what they had to say. But it wasn’t either of those guys or even anyone I’d heard of, although he did make sure I knew he “commuted from Munich to New York regularly.” Good for you dude.

He continued, “You need to frame your shot totally differently. You need to get Mr. Nachtwey and his photos at the same time, nobody will want to see your photo. Turn off your flash, why are you shooting like this?” Still amazed I replied, “It’s for my blog.”

“Your blaahg.” He drew out the “aaaah” sound for dramatic effect. “Nobody will want to see your blaaahg.”

At this point I was not a very happy camper. But I understood what the dude was saying. In the context of James Nachtwey it made sense. Nachtwey has made a career out of getting closer. I’ve even written about it on this blog. The light from my flash would be flat, the shot unflattering, no context, no story.

But I didn’t care.

I just wanted a damn shot of James Nachtwey to document the fact that I’d been in his presence, to put a visual stamp on the memory of the moment. What Mr. Munich didn’t know was that I planned on shooting many more shots during the presentation. He had no idea what my blog was about or how I’d display the photo.

When I’m shooting it’s very important to me to know the context of the presentation. It changes the way I make a photo. I don’t shoot family vacation shots the same way I shoot a scenic photography. The intent is totally different. One shot is to capture a memory and the other is to create art.

I happen to like my disgusting photo of James Nachtwey. He’s isolated and looks very introspective. He’s just as I imagined he would be.

After the lights dimmed and James began to speak I was consumed by his imagery and inspired by his message. I was moved by his passion and desire to change humanity through photography.

After the event James was besieged by hundreds of photographers who wanted to get a shot or meet the legend.

And somehow I got close…

…and talked to…

… Mr. James Nachtwey.

My friend Zowie Stapleton was there to record it all with my iPhone camera. The pictures are all wrong, average and disgusting.

I’ll cherish them for the rest of my life.


Don’t miss the point…

In every one of my Digital Photography 101 workshops I give students an assignment that strikes fear in the heart of many. I give students three weeks to find a photographer that inspires them and then give the class an oral report about that photographer.

The oral report is limited to two minutes per student. But the point of the assignment is not the oral report, it’s the research and exploration. The assignment is about discovery. Some students wait till the last minute and put a terrific oral report together the night before it’s due – but those students miss out.

I ask students to list the themes of their chosen photographer, look at their style, what type of lighting do they use, what is their subject, etc. Most importantly, I ask them why they identify with their photographer. I ask them to look at the photographers their photographer was inspired by. It’s awesome to see over the weeks how students make new connections and find photographers and styles that really inspire them.

One of my current students, Mark, did a bunch of research and when he found the photographer that he identified with, Tyler Stableford, he sent him an email and interviewed him. Tyler gave him a bunch of great information. Mark took the information and tried some new things. Mark gets it.

Today I was watching some TED videos and saw this talk by Adam Savage. Adam perfectly illustrates the objective of my assignment. Take a look and then get out there and enjoy the journey.


Inspired by: James Nachtwey


James Nachtwey has had a huge influence on my thinking and my approach to photography. He is at the top of my list of people who inspire me.

On my list of “must-see” documentaries is War Photographer by Christian Frei. It follows James Nacthwey as he photographs war and social injustice.

Most inspirational to me is Nachtwey’s credo. It begins by asking a single question:

“Is it possible to put an end to a form of human behavior which has existed throughout history by means of photography? The proportions of that notion seem ridiculously out of balance. Yet, that very idea has motivated me.”

(view comments below for the entire credo)

This credo was one of the major inspiration points for the founding of The Artists Group at SnapFactory. I do believe that photography can change the world. I may only be able to make a small change, but I’m only one of millions of photographers. If we all strive for positive change those millions of small changes will add up to one big change.

Let me give you an example of one photographer I know who is quietly making a big impact here in Phoenix. Her name is Diane. Yep, my wife and partner here at SnapFactory. She hasn’t been shouting her charitable work from the mountain tops because for her it’s about saving the lives of animals, not fame and fortune.

Every week Diane drives over an hour to the Arizona Humane Society and photographs dogs, cats, and critters that are in need of adoption. The Humane Society then takes these photos and posts them on their website. The results have been amazing. Since Diane’s involvement at the Humane Society adoptions in the Lonely Hearts club have increased dramatically (I believe it’s 80%!!!).

The bottom line is that through her work Diane has saved the lives of many animals and have helped families find loving pets in the process. Diane is changing the world.

There are many ways photographers can use their talents to make changes. In 2007 James Nacthwey won the TED Prize and last year he started a new campaign against TB. And now he’s asking for your help.

I’m working on a story that the world needs to know about. I wish for you to help me break it in a way that provides spectacular proof of the power of news photography in the digital age

You may not be James Nachtwey but I hope that you’ll be inspired to use your talents to make positive change in the world. Get out there. Do it.


Inspiration: web

Continuing my “Everything is Inspiration” series I’d like to share with you some of my favorite resources on the web. Many of these have counterparts; like a podcast or magazine. I’ll point it out if there is bonus material.

This is a list of items that I watch very closely. I read the blogs, listen to the podcasts, watch the pages. I rarely miss new material on these sites because they are awesome.

Full disclosure: I’ve had some of my work featured or shown on some of these sites. But I’m not biased, these are great sites!

The Sites:

How Design. This is the HOW magazine counterpart. It is a treasure trove of ideas. The magazine is expensive but you can find a lot of the information on their site for free. This site is targeted to graphic designers but I find that graphic design and photography overlap a lot. The business models are very, very similar. If a self promo works for a design firm it may also work for a studio.

Communication Arts. I did freelance work at a small design firm on and off during the 90’s. Every time I was at the office they had Communication Arts magazines laying everywhere. It was like crack. I’ve been a fan ever since. Read, love, enjoy.

Wired. I’m a geek. I love this magazine for it’s awesome photography, it’s dedication to layout and graphic design, and it’s typeface snobbery. The site will give you a taste for the magazine. I rarely miss an article.

Veerle’s Blog. A terrific site dedicated to graphic design. Tons of Illustrator tips and tricks. There are also some terrific articles and thought provoking links.

PopPhoto. This is a site that has articles from several magazines. The blogs are worth the visit. Lots of tips and tricks. I’ve been fortunate to be featured a few times on the PopPhoto Flash blog. What can I say? Bill and Ed are terrific guys and the LightSource podcast is amazing. Episode 44 was by far the best (OK, maybe not).

Matt Hill Art. I met Matt a few months ago in New York and have been a fan ever since. Don’t miss his podcast, OnCreativity.

PDN Online. PDN is just a great resource to know what’s going on in the industry. It’s a great place to discover new artists and products.

Chase Jarvis. Cool photographer who shares. Read the blog, watch the videos, click the links. Good stuff.

Val’s Art Diary. She’s funny and paints. This weekly show is great because Val explains how her thoughts translate into her paintings.

This American Life. I LOVE this show. Let me repeat, I LOVE THIS SHOW. It’s never the same twice and it’s always bizarre in a good way. I never miss it.

Wiretap. If This American Life is marijuana then Wiretap is cocaine. Yeah, it’s that addicting. Unfortunately there is no official podcast so if you miss the broadcast you’re out of luck… Unless you know the secret link.

Planet Money. How is a podcast about money creative? Well it helps me understand things about money that I wouldn’t understand on my own. And unless you’re living in a hole you probably know that money is a big part of running a business and sometimes you have to be a bit creative with money.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Yeah, I love it. It fits into the “make me laugh” category and it always delivers.

What did I miss?

Add a comment with any of your favorite sources of inspiration on the web.

Everything is Inspiration: Books

Yesterday I wrote a bit about the types of activities that help me keep my creative skills sharp. As I started to compile my list of inspirational things I realized it was pretty long. So I’ve decided to break it up in to several smaller posts.

I’ve created a new category called “inspiration” to make it easy to track these entries in the future. It also allows me to add everything I forgot along the way (I know I’m going to forget a few things).

Hover your cursor over each link to get a full description (this will not work in your RSS reader – sorry). If you have suggestions just leave a comment.

Great books to read: