Guest Post for NGO Storytelling

Posted by on August 6th, 2012

When I was getting into this industry, I always wondered how photographers handled the business side of things. It seemed like everyone was willing to share information on f-stops and shutter speeds but not as ready to let you look at their contracts.

I never liked that and wanted to do something about it. So, if you would like to take a look at the licensing section of my contract, head on over to NGO Storytelling and read my guest post. I wrote this article to help non-profits understand contracts, but it should be equally useful for photographers who want to work in this industry.

Photography and the post-scarcity economy

Posted by on August 2nd, 2012

Photographs themselves are not scarce commodities. Style and knowledge are.

Recently, I’ve been watching a lot of videos on 3D printers like the RepRap and Maker Bot. I think the applications for photography and multimedia are huge. Imagine printing follow focuses or even lens adaptors right from home.

We are quickly approaching what some economists and science-fiction writers call the “post-scarcity economy.” A world where manufacturing becomes personal and abundance universal. A world where commerce is not determined by the value of limited goods but by the creativity of individuals.

Some people look forward to this type of economy and others fear it (what happens to gun control when you can print weapons at home?), but photographers are already living in it. In fact, we have been living in it for quite some time.

Two things pushed us into the post-scarcity economy; the first was digitization. In the “old days” you took a photo, developed a negative, and then printed a picture. There were a finite number of your photos in existence. Today, your photos are replicated time and again on your personal computer alone. Put those photos online or send them to a client and the number of copies grows exponentially. Continue reading

Video Postcard: Curry in Cusco

Posted by on August 1st, 2012

Hey everybody, I know I haven’t written a postcard for a couple of weeks so I wanted to make this one really special. This week I have a video postcard to share and this one documents my trip to a curry house.

You might not think of Cusco, Peru as a place to eat curry but trust me, one can only eat so many potatoes and guinea pigs before you’re desperately searching for food from any continent other than South America — food with a little more flavor, food with a little more spice.

When we showed up at Korma Sutra curry house in the San Blas neighborhood, I got exactly what I was looking for. Apparently this restaurant is famous for a particularly spicy curry. One so spicy that you get a beer and a certificate of achievement if you can finish it. Of course I had to try. You can watch the video to see if I walked away with my prize or broke down in tears.



Get Cusco Seen Around the World

Posted by on July 31st, 2012

You may remember the above photo as a wallpaper I posted a few months ago. Well now it is in a photo competition and I need your votes to help me win $5000 towards a video project about photographing America’s great landscapes. You can vote for me here. 

Alternatively, if you are an awesome photographer, musician, or film maker, you should submit something. If you do submit, leave a link in the comments and I’ll vote for you.

Update: I was asked by someone interested in this photo to provide the original frames used to create this HDR. You can see them below as they appeared straight out of camera without processing.

Introducing DAWNS Digest

Posted by on July 30th, 2012

A little behind the scenes news for everyone who follows this blog: we just got our first sponsor! A big thanks to DAWNS Digest for coming aboard (you can find their ad in the “Featured Content” section of the sidebar).

When I started to get serious about this blog, I knew that if I was ever going to have advertisers they wouldn’t just be random. I wanted content that I actually supported and felt comfortable sending my readers to. DAWNS Digest fits that description perfectly. Of all the emails I subscribe to, DAWNS is the only one I consistently read all the way through.

What they offer are daily links to some of the most interesting stories from around the globe related to development, aid work, and significant events. (The acronym DAWNS stands for Development and Aid World News Service) Sometimes on busy days, DAWNS is the only news I get to read, but I never feel like I’m missing important stories.

The content they provide not only helps me keep up to date, but it also helps me discover new and interesting humanitarian storytelling. News-link emails are abundant and often redundant, but DAWNS has a knack for sending me stories I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Oh, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part yet. The revenue generated by the DAWNS Digest goes toward micro-grants that support humanitarian journalism. How cool is that?

If you are interested in their unique brand of world news, you can subscribe on their website As of publication, they are offering a free month’s subscription to the digest but be warned; I took them up on their trial offer and was hooked.

Fighting Cholera in Haiti with a Camera

Posted by on July 26th, 2012


Mention the words “Haiti” and “disaster” and you’re likely thinking about the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 300,000 people and left nearly a million people homeless.  But in its wake another disaster is creeping over the island, and there is mounting evidence that this one is manmade.

A cholera outbreak in Haiti has killed thousands of people and sickened many more. Now a new film by David Darg and Bryn Mooser blames the United Nations for bringing the disease to the island and covering up their involvement in the outbreak. They are following up their video with a social media campaign and asking the public to tweet the United Nations asking them to admit responsibility in the outbreak.

After I saw the video, I knew I wanted to learn more about their work and contacted them on Twitter. I learned that Darg and Mooser became friends in Haiti where they have worked for more then two years. I also learned that the duo originally set out to make a film about Haiti’s first little league team but when one of their main subject lost his mother to cholera, they knew there was a bigger story to tell.

Keep reading below to find out more. Continue reading


July Wallpaper and Cover Photo

Posted by on July 24th, 2012

My free monthly wallpaper for July is a shot of sunrise at Machu Picchu in Peru. Click on either image to open a full resolution version.

About the image: This photo was shot on my Canon 40D with my 10-22mm lens at 11mm. I exposed the sensor for 1/60th of a second at f/11 with an ISO of 400. I then imported the photo into Lightroom where I used selective adjustments to compress this high-contrast scene.

Anthony Kerr

Storyteller Spotlight: Motojournalism

Posted by on July 19th, 2012

Anthony Kerr

Let me introduce you to Anthony Kerr. He’s a 32 year old Canadian and has been blogging over at for the last two years. Kerr brings a unique mix of overland motorcycling know-how and photographic knowledge to his audience. He writes on topics that range from packing a bike for a big trip to nailing composition in photographs.

On his motorcycle powered travels (he has never owned a car) to 10 countries in North and Central America, Kerr has caved out a niche in the photography world. He said, “I think it’s important to have a passion outside of photography itself. Like, you should be into something besides the cameras themselves, Cameras are just a tool to tell stories after all.”

The love for cameras came before motorcycles, but only slightly. Kerr is a self-taught photographer who used to break into his high school’s unused dark room to develop film while learning the basics from Time-Life books. He renewed his passion for photos in 2005 and started working seriously at it in 2007, about the same time he was planning his first overland trip. “I figured if I was going to head out into the world I should make a worthwhile effort to document it,” he said.

Graphic courtesy of Anthony Kerr

That effort paid off. By the time Kerr reached Panama City on his Canada to Panama ride his post on ADVRider had nearly a quarter-million views. Lots of people wanted to know about his photography and asked questions about what kind of gear he was using. “I figured there would be enough moto-travelers that would enjoy learning more about photography.” And thus Motojournalism was born. Continue reading

sacred valley mountains panorama

Creating Panoramas in Photoshop CS6: Mountains of Peru’s Sacred Valley

Posted by on July 12th, 2012

Yesterday I shot a panorama of two of the glaciers in the Sacred Valley of the Incas outside of Cusco. I would normally import these into Hugin to stich them together but I’m currently testing out Adobe’s new Creative Cloud service and Photoshop CS6.

If you’re interested in panoramas, you might also enjoy my 158 megapixel view of Seattle’s skyline.

I’ve already talked about how much I love creating HDR photos in Photoshop CS6 and I think I now love stitching panoramas almost as much. For one thing, it is super simple.

Once Photoshop is open, click File > Automate > Photomerge. This will open a new window.

This window is where you select your files, choose the style of stitching, and check different option boxes. Once you have your settings straight, click “OK” and watch the magic happen.

From here you can crop your image down and make other adjustments. Personally I am more comfortable with Lightroom so I chose to export my file back there to add a darker gradient in the sky and some vignetting. You can check out my final result below.

The largest mountain in the panorama is Nevado Chicon. Click the photo to enlarge or click here to open it in a new window.

This panorama was created by merging six vertical photos shot on my Canon 40D at 70mm, 1/100 @ f/9.0, ISO 400. I didn’t have time to set up a tripod so I shot hand-held with image stabilization on. All the photos were color corrected in Lightroom 4 before being merged in Photoshop CS6.

Canon 40D, 120mm, 1/250 @ f/4.0, ISO 400

Telling Stories with Photography: Every Photo Tells a Story

Posted by on July 11th, 2012

Welcome to a new series here on Story|Forward that I’m calling “Telling Stories with Photography.” In the next few months I’m going to discuss the basics of telling stories using visual imagery and we are going to talk about how things like focal length, aperture, and composition shape narrative.

Canon 40D, 120mm, 1/250 @ f/4.0, ISO 400

To kick off this series I want to start with one fundamental concept: every photo tells a story.  “Hold on a second,” you might say. “What about abstract or still life photography? Do they really tell stories?”

First of all I’d like to thank you for asking a question that flows so seamlessly into my point and second I’d like to tell you that yes, every photo does tell a story. It might be an incredibly simple story like “look at these shapes and colors,” or it could be something so complex that a single frame talks about light, color, pain, loss, sadness, hope, war, religion, family, and Italian art (In case you’re wondering, I’m thinking about Samuel Aranda’s World Press Photo award-winning image).

Telling stories with photos isn’t always easy and sometimes even experienced photographers (myself included) get so focused on the technical aspects of our work that we can overlook it. Because storytelling in photography is often subtle — capturing a sideways glance or shooting with a slightly warmer white balance — some photographers forget or never learned in the first place how important it is to their craft.

Storytelling in photography is hugely important for two reasons. If you don’t think about the stories your pictures tell, there’s a good chance they will tell stories you and your clients don’t want to hear. Here is an extreme example; say you were tasked with shooting a wedding and didn’t think about how eye-contact can change the meaning of a photo.

In this situation you take a beautiful photo of the bridal party at the altar; the exposure is perfect, the focus is tack sharp, and maybe there is even some amazing soft light streaming in from the stain-glass windows above.  One problem, you caught the single second in the ceremony where the groom looked away from the bride and locked eyes with the maid of honor. He was probably totally innocent, but if you fail to notice this detail and send of a wall size canvas print of this photo to the bride, you (and the groom) could be in for some real trouble.

The second reason stories matter in your photography is, more than anything else, they differentiate you from other photographers. If you are the kind of photographer that makes your living solely on technically perfect photos, I’ve got news for you, robots are coming for your job. With high dynamic range sensors, insane autofocus systems, and increasingly better in-camera processing, DSLR’s are getting closer to shooting technically flawless photos without photographers touching a single setting. And you know what? So are iPhones. The quality of snapshots from point-and-shoot cameras is increasing dramatically. And, with the advent of technologies that allow you to set focus in post production or choose high-quality stills from video, technical perfection for everyone is not far off.

The thing that will keep photographers working is their style. Whatever you call it — your vision, your signature, your voice, or your look — clients want you to offer something unique. In a world where uncle Joe owns a 5D Mark III and Instagram is making everyone a photographer, the stories you tell and the way you tell them is what will set you apart.

Assignment: Find your favorite photo or take a new one and think about the story it tells. Write out that story and post it below in the comments with a link to the image. For example, here is what  I would say about the photo of the Peruvian farmer featured at the beginning of this post: From the man’s clothes and the fruit in his hand I learn he is a farmer. The use of a long focal-length compresses the background and makes me feel like he is surrounded by trees. The expression on his face tells me he likes his job and his eyes appear to be looking at someone else out of frame who he is about to hand the fruit to. There is a lot more I could say but I’ll just leave it at that. 

My very dirty and abused Think Tank Multimedia Wired Up 20

Think Tank Multimedia Wired Up 20 Review: The Best Camera Bag I’ve Ever Owned

Posted by on July 8th, 2012

My very dirty and abused Think Tank Multimedia Wired Up 20

I know it sounds crazy but I’ve got an obsession with finding the perfect camera bag — or rather I had an obsession. After almost two years with Think Tank Photo’s Multimedia Wired Up 20, I think I may have found the one.

My history with camera bags starts with one of those ridiculously tiny backpacks that the clerk at Best Buy assures you is a necessary item when you buy your first SLR. That bag took me through my first assignment in Africa but not much further.

From there I upgraded to a messenger bag from Pac Safe for my travels through Europe. I liked the convenience and security but it wasn’t really meant to hold the weight of a camera body with several lenses and after a year or so I wore through the trigger clip that connected the bag to the strap.

My next bag was a canvas backpack from Adorama (an exact clone of the National Geographic Explorer Backpack but about 75% cheaper). It was great for packing all my gear and a change of clothes for an overnight trip, but really didn’t meet my needs in the field because it was hard to access quickly.

Then I moved to the Military OPS Lima shoulder bag from Nanue Pro. This bag had lots of room for all my gear and was easy to access but something about the ergonomics didn’t work for me and my first bag fell apart at the seams after a few months. That bag was replaced under Nanue Pro’s great warranty coverage but when my second bag began to disintegrate, I decided it was time for an upgrade. Continue reading