Posts tagged technical
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!

From Boring to Beautiful - How to See Your Photography Differently

One thing that I find interesting about teaching photography to folks is seeing the person realize that any situation and any subject can be made into a beautiful photograph.  

Recently I was doing my Photo Camp with a dozen creative teenagers that were aspiring to be photographers.  I was teaching them about “commercial photography” and how when you start off that you often don't have the equipment, money, time and  shooting environment that most professional photographers have.  I explained that the willingness to "figure it out” using your current resources can be fun, inspiring and you learn a ton throughout the process. 

I collaborated with a local pizza parlor called Pompieri Pizza.  They were in need of some commercial photos for their new pizza sauce.  I worked out an “exchange of services” where they would feed my teens and we would do 2 separate shoots of their new pizza sauce. 

The Photo Camp was at a local high school so it was a challenge to find a great “commercial studio” environment…so we made one.  We used large white paper and created a mini lightbox for the pizza sauce. I was somewhat concerned but I knew we had time to experiment and figure it out so that eased the pressure to “get the shot”.  Luckily, we got the shot. 


This is what the process looked like along with the deliverable photographs.


During the same photo camp we did a couples shoot.  I explained to the young photographers that we’ll be walking around with the couple in areas that weren’t aesthetically pleasing.  I did this on purpose because I wanted to drive the point home that the artist controls the art, not the environment.

We found an ugly brick wall, put the couple in front of it and began to pose them.  At first the couple was tense and somewhat awkward.  I expected this but also expected it to pass as we kept shooting and interacting with the couple.  We directed and posed them a ton but I made sure to keep the mood fairly light-hearted because I wanted the teens and the couple to continue to interact with a minimal amount of stress as to allow the creative juices to keep flowing and so the couple didn’t feel like they had to do all the work. 


This is what the process looked like along with the deliverable photographs.


The point of these two stories is “things are not what they seem”.  Making something out of nothing is an interesting challenge that all photographers can do.  The key is a willingness to experiment, problem solve and enjoy the process of  photographing boring to beautiful.  


Interested in learning about the Photo Camp? Click here!

My 3 Favorite Lightroom CC Tools

I've spent thousands of hours editing photographs in Lightroom. I loathe wasting time and stressing out about editing so I spend a decent amount of time trying to figure out how to optimize my time while simultaneously increasing the quality of my photos.  There are 3 tools that I use every time I edit my photographs in Lightroom.  These tools help me reduce stress, streamline my process and increase my confidence during editing.

1. Navigator Window.  Several years ago I did a "100 day self portrait project".  I would shoot and edit everyday then post a self portrait on Instagram.  I'd be editing in Photoshop for hours a day.  Since I was only posting these photos to Instagram I started thinking "I should probably view my photos like my audience views them".   I was realizing that folks weren't seeing my images "full screen" in the manner that I was editing them.  I fixed this my simply "zooming out" every so often.  This allowed me to see a "thumbnail" of my edited image and simulated how my audience would view my photo on Instagram.   This helped me make more calculated editing decisions but it was kind of annoying to have to zoom out and then back in every so often.   When I started editing in Lightroom I noticed that I had access to this "thumbnail view" all the time. This is the navigator window.  This window gives you a live view of editing changes as well as a preview to any "hover over" edits (i.e. presets, white balance, etc.)


2.Before & Undo Shortcut.  Like many folks I need routine validation and affirmation in my life.   I need this while editing in Lightroom too.  When editing a photo I want to be able to quickly check to see if my editing decision, preset choice, white balance setting, etc. was  good one.   Sometimes we're changing things and moving sliders so much that we start to second guess our editing choices..especially if you've been editing for a while.  I use the "before" shortcut a lot.  This shortcut is used by simply hitting the backslash key \ . This key is probably somewhere near the "delete" key on your keyboard. When you use this shortcut it will give a preview of what your photo looked like before you began editing it.  I tap this every time I make a big change.  For smaller changes I use the "undo" shortcut.  The "undo" shortcut is "CMD/CTRL Z".   I use this if I'm doing small tweaks like tones, curves, blacks, whites, etc.   Since I'm a little bit OCD I go back and forth until I find that sweet spot in each slider.  The "undo" shortcut allows me to simply go back one step so I can compare it to the latter editing decision.  *tip:  the "redo" shortcut is "SHIFT + CMD/CTRL Z".  If I notice that my editing decision was one that I want to keep then I'll use this shortcut. 


3. Zoom.   Let's face it.  Our eyes get tired,  they deteriorate and we visually miss some important details in our photos sometimes.  The "zoom" tool helps me with this during my editing.   Many times I need to be "closer" to certain elements of my photos.  One example is when I'm editing my wide shots with a human subject.  My wide shots tend to be dramatic and full of potentially distracting elements.  To help my eyes and brain focus in on making sure that my subject (faces) is well lit and edited exactly how I want to, I will zoom in on the face and edit the photo from there.  This ensures that I'm not editing just the scene but my subject FIRST, THEN the wider, less important part of my photo.   To zoom in on a photo all you have to do is use the shortcut CMD/CTRL + or simply click when you see the magnifying glass with a + on it.  



If you're not the reading type  then you can listen and watch me demonstrate these 3 tools in this video I made.  

Please leave any questions, comments or feedback below.  I'd love to hear from you!


Before & After (Double Exposure Edition)

Sometimes photographers over-do it. I know I do. We try to fill the background with abstract interesting lines. We put stuff in front of our lens to get dreamy, cool effects. We increase the saturation a bit too much or add just a tad bit too much contrast. With double exposure photography it's the opposite. The goal in the end is to create a simple, beautiful fine art photograph. There's 3 things to consider in order to achieve this goal.


Subject, Simple and Subtle


Subject: You have two subjects in double exposure photography. The first subject is generally the outline or silhouette of the top half of a human-usually facing to the side in order to get their facial profile (there are always exceptions to this but in general this works the best). This is basically a portrait with a solid blown-out background and most of the human is underexposed. As you practice this you'll figure out how to light the subject in creative ways according to your style.

The second subject is the "fill" image. This is the second image you take to fill in the outline of the first image. It might be flowers, a tree line, building, mountains, etc. This image should be generally focused throughout the area that is doing the "filling". There should be a distinct texture with contrasting lines.

Simple: Your background should be simple. This means that when you shoot your silhouette portrait where you "blow out" the background, the area around the person should be free of other objects like trees, buildings, power lines, etc. The fill image is very abstract and difficult to decipher from your audience's perspective, so making sure that the background is clear of unneeded distractions is important.

Subtle: Your editing of double exposures should be quite subtle.  Some specifics elements to pay close attention to are saturation, contrast, exposure, highlights and shadows. A slight "matte" effect is generally a good choice when editing double exposures as well.

The reason for editing with such subtlety is that the image is already very abstract and interesting without color and contrast added. It has a surreal, fine art feel from the beginning. If we edit a double exposure just like a regular portrait then you run the risk of taking away from the "beauty" feel and creating an almost "illustrated" feel. We want this to still be photography when we're done so instead of increasing the usual editing elements we may need to decrease them.   I have a whole filmpack of presets that I personally use specifically for editing double exposures because the differentiation is so great. 


Recently, I was on a test shoot with a model and another photographer and we attempted to apply my 3 double exposure principles to craft a simple double exposure photo.  I shot this with the 5D Mark lll \\ 50L.  

The initial portrait settings were 1/250 ƒ2.8 ISO 100. 

The textured tree line settings were 1/100 ƒ4.0 ISO 100.



Here is the textured tree line shot:

Want even more photography education?  Join my new Facebook page for photographers to learn from each other!

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!



3 Things I'm Learning About the Creative Process

3 things that I’m learning about creativity through my creative business process are:

1. Time could be very important.

As an ultra productive person I like to finish projects quickly but at the same time I want them to be really creative and high quality. It seems that is not working out very well as time is my ally. Time is the my mentor that questions me through the creative process. It allows me to go deeper when I think I can’t. This reminds me of a quote that one of my instructors gave me when I was going through my master's program in “educational media production”: when you think you’re stuck, go get ice cream”


2. I am my own worst enemy

Even as I’m writing this I reflect upon my sleeping pattern last night. Every time I woke up, which was about every hour on the hour, I was thinking about a new idea. I didn’t write it down. I didn’t reflect on it. I didn’t plan or try to think about my business plan. I’m curious if my mind would actually be more focused right now had I actually allowed my ideas to separate from “me”.


3. I need other people to help me

As a type A artist, my life is is focused around work, creativity, family and thinking about these continual features that I experience every day. It never fails that the governing coalition of “chiiiiiiiilll” is other people’s perspectives.

This is an excerpt from a post I wrote on Medium where I responded to an inspiring quote.  Check the full story out here!



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.