Posts tagged learning blog
In-Camera Double Exposure - Before and After Edit

I shot this in-camera double exposure at a wedding in Park City, Utah using the Canon 5D Mark IV with the 35L ii lens

I started off

shooting the portrait making sure that the background was overexposed slightly and the near side of the bride's face was slightly underexposed.   I made sure she was slightly angled towards me to get some depth in here face.


I noticed

the amazing floral designs in the middle of the tables during the reception and pulled some roses out of them.  I went outside and set my camera to "multiple exposure mode",  held up the roses and created the photo.  

Workflow Editing - From Beginning to End in Lightroom and Alien Skin Exposure

This shoot is from a recent workshop that I taught in downtown Durham, North Carolina.  The goal of the shoot was to take a boring, seemingly distracting environment, and create beautiful couples photos using the tools and resources available in my camera and our creative minds.  

After the shoot, I created a workflow editing video showing my entire process using Lightroom and Alien Skin Exposure.  I cover culling, rating, flagging, white balance, split toning, adding contrast, how to speed up your workflow and how I use Alien Skin Exposure's powerful grain system. 

Need a little more one-on-one help?  I got you!

How Live View Can Make You A Better Photographer

The problem with photography is that so often we have distracting elements that seep into our images and it causes our subject to not become our subject at all, but instead the distracting elements becomes the subject.

Recently I did a mini-workshop on how to solve this problem.  I taught about how you can use live view to turn a distracting or boring environment into a beautiful photograph

During this workshop I challenged participants to use "live view" to test out their surroundings by walking around with live view on, similarly to how we use our phones to take photos. With live view on you can make more thoughtful creative decisions because you see what the photo will look like when you push the shutter button. This is not the case when looking through the "viewfinder" which is where most photographers look to focus and compose.  The view finder lacks the ability to adjust light and see what the photo will look like before we shoot.   

I like to make the case for live view because we're so used to composing and adjusting photos on our phone in the same way so it only makes sense to similarly adjust our "professional" camera in more efficient and effective way.

So get out there, turn on live view and start shooting better photos! 

Here are the photos from that workshop and here are a few recent images that I've shot using live view:

*Disclaimer - I shoot live view about 80% of the time during my couples sessions and portrait sessions. Because of the nature and atmosphere of wedding photography, I only shoot about 25% in live view on wedding days. 

PRO TIP: At some point in your photography journey you're going to need a little help.  When that day comes know that there are tons of online and local communities to help you. Also, you might want to try and find a mentor or friend who's been shooting for a while and ask them to show a few things!

How To Shoot A Double Exposure With The 5D MARK lll & IV

As a "purist", I'm not much into special effects and a ton of "post-production" with my photography.  When I discovered that I could make multiple exposures "in-camera" in a few easy steps I was stoked.  Read on to learn how to make your own multiple exposure.

Steps to making a "multiple exposure":

1. Shoot the silhouette in front of a white, highly exposed background. Try to shoot later in the day when you can so you have more even light.  Shooting from a low angle is good here. 

2. Find the background/fill image.  Trees, shrubs, buildings and other continual shapes and lines work well. 

3. Go to "multiple exposure" mode in your DSLR (I use the 5D Mark iv).  Select the first portrait image (silhouette) and go to the "live view" mode.  The back of the screen will now give you a preview of your images when combined.  You also want to make sure that you've set the "multiple exposure" to "additive" in the settings.  This mimics the film technique of combining images. 

4. Take the photo.  try to put the facial features in a "full" part of the the texture and have it spread out into the back of the face and head.  

Do this 10 times.  Be open-minded and experiment.  You'll probably come out with at least 1 you like. 


How To Assess Creativity

Have you ever heard that you can’t assess or test someone’s creativity?  Well you can.  Read on.

I am a teacher so “assessments” are always a hot topic among my colleagues...and my students.

I know that students are so concerned with assessments that I started letting them make their own assessments.  Your mind probably responded by asking “but how can they be trusted?”. Good question.  If you’re an educator, I challenge you to test this out with your students.  Ask yourself if they’re really trying to “pull one by me” or maybe you need to let go of some control and allow curiosity to lead.

Anyways, when I let my students make their own assessments for projects there is usually someone who throws out that “creativity” should be an objective.  It’s usually followed by another student saying “you can’t grade that though!”.  I initially agreed with this but have recently discovered a “deeper truth” to this.  

First off, creativity can only be assessed over time.  It must be compared to previous work or examples.  Simply by looking at an art piece, business, project or presentation doesn’t give me enough evidence to evaluate whether an individual is demonstrating “creativity”.  I need a portfolio of something to respond to.  


If you’re assessing yourself then you already have this.  If you’re assessing others for creativity then you might need to do some digging. Just look at and think about your/their most recent projects.  Compare and reflect.  There are some specific questions to ask when doing this:

Do I/they have the ability to produce a large number of ideas?

Do I/they have the ability to produce a variety of approaches to solve a problem?

Do I/they have the ability to develop, embellish, or fill out an idea?

Do I/they have the ability to  produce ideas that are unusual, statistically infrequent, not banal or obvious?


The four components of “assessing creativity” are:

  1. Fluency

  2. Flexibility

  3. Elaboration

  4. Originality


I stumbled upon these four areas while going through an Adobe Education course called “Assessing Creativity in Today’s Classroom”.   They come from a psychologist named Ellis Paul Torrance.  Torrance has spent his entire life devoting himself to research in “creativity”.


Fluency: The Ability To Produce A Large Number Of Ideas

I’m all about the “process”.  You probably know this if you follow my work.  I believe that the process is more important than the product.  

I challenge my students (and you...and me) to generally spend more time in the beginning of the creative process.  It’s tempting to come up with an idea that you know will “change the world” and then quickly move on to planning it and rapidly executing it.  It’s important that we discipline ourselves to “hang out” in the idea generation part of the process.  Or at least be willing to revisit it throughout the whole process.  You might have a journal and want to give yourself a number of ideas to come up with before you move on to choosing which ones to execute. You might say “I’m going to brainstorm for 30 minutes without stopping” and then afterwards choose your favorite ideas. You might need to spend some more time researching inspiring work from other artists or creative people.  Maybe just walk outside and look around.  You might have a way of generating ideas that can be expanded on.  Think about it.  You’re smart!



Flexibility: The Ability To Consider A Variety Of Approaches To A Problem Simultaneously

Basically,  how many different ways can you execute your idea to completion.  If you come up with an idea and after thinking about it for a minute or two decide that it can’t be done then I would challenge you to see if there are similar ways that others have done the same thing or something like your idea.  Sometimes this sparks better ideas.

In my classroom the situation I just mentioned happens often because of the culture that young people are generally educated in.  If something is too difficult then my students are caught in a dilemma:  think of another idea or figure it out.

Most of the time our default is to just think of another idea (or easier idea).  The most creative people can look at a problem, situation or idea from multiple perspectives and they will always find a way to solve or complete it (even if they only figure out some of it).   Sometimes this means letting go of ‘perfect’ and doing some “hard” thinking.  You can do it though!



Elaboration: The Ability To Develop, Embellish, Or Fill Out An Idea

Time is so limited in our world.  We feel we have to be on all of the social networks, be reading all of the creative blogs and hanging out with the coolest people.  It’s basically a form of multitasking and it kills our creative process and our ability to “elaborate”.

Spending time chewing on a concept is what I recommend to my students once they make a decision and move forward.  

It’s so easy to jump in and try to quickly make our project, business or creative endeavor happen in a day or two.  I would challenge you to “pull back on the reins” and say whoooaaaa Nelly!

Similar to mediation is “elaboration”.  We allow our minds to think on a deeper level with a heightened sense of awareness regarding our creative work.  

If you’re struggling to “fill out an idea” then try turning off all of your devices, sit in a quiet space and write down the name of your idea on piece of paper.  Then just stare at it.  When thoughts come into your mind then write them down around the idea.  This a form of mind-mapping and can be used for any idea that you want to develop and elaborate on a deeper level.  

This is a challenge in our society so you have to be intentional to demonstrate this level of creativity.  You can do it though!



Originality - The Ability To Produce Ideas That Are Unusual, Statistically Infrequent, Or Obvious

This might also be called “individuality”, “finding your niche” or “being you” in your work.  It’s one thing to be able to imitate another artist but to imitate, replicate, twist, shape and convert it into your work is a demonstration of deep creativity.  Austin Kleon writes about this in “How to Steal Like An Artist”.

Don’t get me wrong, imitating others work is a great first step to finding your most creative self but it’s not a means to an end.  It’s a small step towards you as a creative person where you come out in your work.  Some artists who have taught me about this are Ben Haggerty (AKA Macklemore), Jeremy Cowart, Chase Jarvis and Casey Niestat.  They all have taken what was already happening and made it their own to become highly successful and creative humans.

As you attempt to assess yourself or others regarding this thing we call “creativity”, I would challenge you not to judge but to simply “notice” and if you want to...make a change in your life.  What’s one thing that you can do to be more creative? Think about the people you consider to be the most creative in your life.  Why do you think that?  How can you begin to incorporate what they’re doing into your life?

CHALLENGE: assess your creativity or someone else’s creativity and write down these four questions in a journal or paste them into a document and (in a non-judgmental way) respond with writing or drawing for 30 minutes.  

  • Do I/they have the ability to produce a large number of ideas?
  • Do I/they have the ability to produce a variety of approaches to solve a problem?
  • Do I/they have the ability to develop, embellish, or fill out an idea?
  • Do I/they have the ability to  produce ideas that are unusual, statistically infrequent, or obvious?


Let me know how that works out for you.



P.S. you might enjoy these other articles that I've written:



4 Things Andy Goldsworthy Taught Me About Creativity

When I was going through my master's program studying "educational media production" I had to produce an art piece inspired by Andy Goldsworthy.  My instructor for this course was probably the most influential educator of my life: Jeff Goodman (check out his viral YouTube video here).  

Anyways, I recently listened to an interview on NPR where Goldsworthy was discussing his creative processes.  This inspired me to create a similar project for my digital art students.  

As we were exploring Goldsworthy's work, his processes and discussing our curiosities I was reflecting on what his work has taught me about art and creativity.  I started journaling about this and here are the 4 main points that stand out concerning "creativity":


Time Is Key

Time affects us all and everything around us.  Our art is affected over time if its on paper, in nature, around humans, etc.  It's an element of life that we have to consider to maximize our creativity and lives.  Allowing this element to interact with our art and minds is difficult to do but it's slowly becoming more and more important in my creative life. As someone who is ultra-driven and hyper-productive, I am challenged everyday to allow myself the "time" I need to boost my creativity and art.  

Even while I'm writing this, I reflect on the most important projects and moments in my life.  They all have one common element that was painstakingly intertwined in them: Time was allowed to interact with the outcome.


It's About the Process

If you have watched Rivers and Tides, the short documentary about Andy Goldsworthy, you were probably heartbroken when you saw him work on a piece for several hours only to watch it all collapse at the hand of one mistake.  

I watched this segment again and starting thinking about how unimportant the "end product" is.  It's the journey that has true value.  What did we learn? How did I connect with others?  What will I do differently next time?  Did I give my all?

As our society becomes more and more real, this becomes equally more and more important for us as creatives.  People want to hear how you did something.  They want know what struggles you went through and how you overcame them.  There lies the value that we all look for in our creative lives.


Failure Is Imminent

Start all of your creative endeavors with the understanding that everything you try will fail in some way, shape or form.  That's difficult for me because I plan to not fail.  I plan a lot actually.  Sometimes too much.  

I'm curious what would happen if we (I) entered into our creative projects actually planning to fail.  Planning to learn from those failures.  And ultimately giving ourselves the freedom to non-judgmentally all that is "failure". 

*Don't agree with this one? Watch this video from Seth Godin entitled "Quieting the Lizard".


Use What You Have 

Goldsworthy literally walks into nature with nothing and makes something.  He looks around. He's curious.  He's resourceful. 

So many times I've told myself "if I learn this then I can do ..." or "if I only had this then I could make...".  What a waste of time that was.  We are in 2015.  If you want to do something or make something then you can.  You have EVERYTHING you need to produce any creative project that you want.  You have more information, resources and tools available at your fingertips then anyone else in the history of the world.  

If your like me then that's overwhelming at times.  To know that if I wanted to I could go out and learn how to open beer with paper or learn how to be a ninja this afternoon is all pretty overwhelming.  Maybe take some time to journal or involve others in your ideas.  This helps me to "use what I have".




P.S. I recently wrote some blog posts on how I live as an artist with Borderline Personality Disorder . Please share them if they help you or if you know someone who might benefit from them.  Thank you in advance.






How Type-A Artists Survive

I was teaching at a documentary film school over the summer and someone said to me "how does it feel to be a 'type-A artist?"

I started thinking about my life and how much I've struggled as a creative person because of the ocean of ideas that I have in my mind, my perfectionistic standards and the constant struggle I have to work with other people.  

Here are 5 strategies that I've came up with to help me on my journey as a "type-A artist":


It's so hard to do this!  I want my art and creative endeavors to end up the best they can be. Every time.  The problem is with what "the best they can be" is.  The idea that something can always be "better" is a problem in our society.  Understandably.  We're bombarded with "push-ads" that cram what "perfect" is down our throats on the daily.   When I started as a photographer years ago I was so worried that I wasn't as good as other photographers.  I was right.  It turns out that that was ok.  I ended up doing a 100-day self-portrait project where I posted one photo per day for 100 days.  I started off shooting with my iPhone and then naturally desiring "better photos", I learned how to use a DSLR.  I ended up being a "photographer" to all of my followers by the end of the project.  That only happened because I let go of "perfect" and embraced "process".


I have a disorder know as "borderline personality disorder".  For as far back as I can remember I have been a perfectionist, driven, passionate.  Also unproductive.

Meditation has revolutionized my creative life by allowing me to focus or "re-focus" on what's really important in my life and complete the tasks that I value.  Meditation looks very different for a lot of people.  I actually have a lambskin rug in my work space that I lay down on everyday for at least 10 minutes while listening to some guided meditation or calm music.  If you've never done "guided meditation" then I highly recommend that you go to YouTube and search for it.  Or just click here.  You'll feel kooky in the beginning but over time you'll start to notice the life changing benefits in your creative life, personal life and with your family.


I got this intuitive (and almost scary effective) tip from the relationship guru, Jordan Gray.  He basically says that if you're an "ultra productive" person then you should practice being intentionally "unproductive".  This seems too simply I know.  I challenge you to "not work" on purpose the next time that you are in the middle of an intense creative project where you feel stuck.  


I know here we go.  The old "exercise daily" thing.  If you can get up 30 minutes earlier everyday and do a light (I said light) run and/or yoga-ish stretching then I promise you that you'll see an increase in quality of your day to day creativity, relationship and overall life. 

Go ahead and grab your phone and change your alarm.  You can do it!


I've recently started adding value to this so much that I went out and bought a $13 journal. I use this everyday to write, sketch or doodle out my thoughts, ideas or creative projects.  Before I bought this journal I had a really low quality (picture grade school) notebook.  Since it was cheap I treated cheap.  It had no value because I literally picked it up out of a box that someone was going to recycle. 

The point is you want to prepare yourself to be successful by having something that you value with you so you'll want to use it.  It's that simple. 

You might take these strategies and say "not fore me" or you might try to change them to fit your style or even maybe even ask another "type-A “creative person around you how they survive.  

Whatever you do.  Do something that works for you. Or nothing right! (Strategy #3)



P.S. Want to talk about this more? Drop me a line. I love helping creative people!



William Tolbert, Hitler. naked 2 year olds. and the reluctant artist.

I couple of weeks ago I posted a photograph of my daughter.  She was naked and holding her favorite stuffed bunny.  I had an older gentleman tell me that I was treating her badly and that I should not have posted the photo.  I responded by saying "feel free to not follow me then".  He un-followed me.  I took down the photo only because I was worried that my "algorithm" would be affected if he clicked the "I don't like this" button on Facebook.  

I should've kept it up.  I was scared.


I was reminded of this incident as I read a column by William Tolbert: Excluding veteran teachers from significant pay raises a brilliant move by NC lawmakers.

I taught with Will at Durham School of the Arts last year.  

He is an artist.  A writer.  A smart person.

This piece has made some teachers in North Carolina very angry.  I'm not one of them.

Why don't most artists make art that challenges someone's current thoughts?

Why don't most artists make art that causes some sort of shift?

Are we scared of making people angry, or worse yet, losing credibility, or worse yet, losing money?

As artists, if we don't take risks like Tolbert, then we are setting ourselves up for an early plateau of mild, un-impactful art.  I predict that our lives would be in a similar state if we did this but I won't venture anywhere near that idea to find out. 

LESSON LEARNED FROM TOLBERT: make art that moves, not that comforts.