November 11th, 2014 by

Going forward

I have written exhaustively about various aspects of photography and summed up the topics I covered here and during my years writing a corporate blog for dreamstime in a book published several years ago.

Since then I have spent the majority of my time acting as an expert witness and in writing and preparing valuations of archives and individual photographs for estate, legal and insurance reasons. All this is to say that I’m capping this blog or as my grandfather used to say: stick a fork in it, it’s done!


STUCK! Creative sink holes

March 1st, 2014 by


I’ve hit a few potholes on the road to writing anything fresh here or anywhere for most of 2011. And this even with inspiration I gained from listening to other presenters and attendees at the wondrous ASMP SB3 weekends just concluded. I had been driving a mental Rolls Royce down a street paved with ideas for several years since I got into the habit of writing for Dreamstime and then my book on Microstock. But now my brain is the mental version of a yard car. Parked with grass growing up between the tires. WHY have I run out of gas and what lesson does this have for creative people everywhere?

First issue to attack when facing a creative slump is to analyze what created it. As I struggled to understand what happened to cause my creative brain to turn to cement, I read a post on Colleen Wainwright’s blog. (Highly recommended whether or not you are brain dead). Colleen had written even though it was financially rewarding, she had figured out that mind numbing jobs are not worth it even if it means giving up new iPhones and other items of desire. A-HA! In an instant I recognized the problem. But the problem with the problem was that it was helping to fund some of my items of desire-such as heirloom tomatoes and health insurance.

Nevertheless I resigned from a writing gig where I felt that my client was over thinking my writing, unwisely editing and finally, not allowing me to do what I was hired for—to make them more successful in an online world where corp-speak is a virus that can spread mind freeze to author and reader alike. I quit the day after reading Colleen’s post and wrote about it for the ASMP Strictly Business blog.

Today after six or seven weeks I’m back at it…with a lesson for all photographers and other creative peeps: Jobs or clients that drain your soul are not worth it even if you need the money. They may help feed the wolf at the door but in the long run, the damage to your confidence and creative being may be permanent.

*see feeding wolf at the door above


New Directions

June 27th, 2013 by

I’ve missed writing here so I’ve decided to start up again but take a new direction.

There are plenty of others writing about the creative side of the business and an equal number posting stories about the latest bad news. But since I’ve been involved in the business side of photography now for over 35 years and learned a quite a bit about what to do when things don’t go just right, I’ll share what I’ve learned, initially in regard to unauthorized use. I am telling the truth when I say that I’ve made all the mistakes possible in business but I did learn from them.

EllenBoughn-1349 (3)

Expert Witness and Photography Consultant Ellen Boughn

Most of what I do is confidential so no names or specifics will be forthcoming. [Nothing I write constitutes a legal opinion as I am not an attorney.]

Watch this space for my first series of articles about what should happen when you discover an unauthorized use. Meanwhile visit there to learn more. To learn about the five major reasons you might be sued due to content on your blog go here Does she ever mention the rights of the ceiling’s creator? And how about how few people even knew that the photo in the example was a problem use? Scary.

I’ll also write about whatever else strikes me. Always hoping that it will be of use and at least somewhat entertaining. Maybe its time to tell all those stories about photography, advertising and publishing I’ve picked up over the years…like the one about the man, the monkey and transit ads on space vehicles.


The Economy. Where are you today?

March 1st, 2012 by

It’s been over two years since my first post here. I’m updating with new copy and replacing images  since the disaster that removed photos from all the posts.

When the following appeared in December, 2009, some photographers were just beginning to understand how hard the recession coupled with changes in the marketplace were going to impact their ability to make a living. Today that reality has become a way of life. Nevertheless I think some of my advice back then might still be useful in today’s world plus I’ve brought reality up to date.

Still deadly bored by business news? Toss the envelopes from the broker…if you still have enough money to have one…in the back of a drawer? Couldn’t read a financial statement if your life depended upon it? (Guess what? It does).

By now almost everyone has faced the brink. Some have moved on to new careers and others have expanded their client services to include video. One formerly highly successful advertising photographer who saw some of his most lucrative clients go under is pulling in mid five figures a month offering family photos via Groupon. It may not make his heart sing but the money more than pays the bills. In fact it has become so successful that he now has a couple of assistants to fill in as he gets back to work on assignments.

© Maximma |

There was a time…remember those cheery, sunny days?… when stock photographers could say with confidence, “This is going to be my retirement income.” Ooops.

Dial ahead to now: for most still in the traditional stock photography world, incomes are still dropping as is their revenue from microstock  as the number of images on popular topics grows and grows. Unless you plan to spend your golden years picking up coconuts on the beaches of a third world country, forget that stock photo driven retirement fund.

To succeed today determine to work hard with razor sharp focus on goals, put your ego in your back pocket and a rabbit’s foot on your keychain. Adjust your expectations, cut your expenses and expand your repertoire. AND if you don’t already know: finally learn the fundamentals of running a small business.

RPI (return per image per shoot) doesn’t mean much if you are smothered by overhead. Take a look at your professional and personal costs. Do you have to have the latest gear not because it is that much better but because it is a symbol of your ‘success’ whether you can afford it or not? All that is so pre-2008. Only buy what you need and you’ll be surprised at how much more you’ll have.

There are signs that the economy is slowly coming back from the dead but recovery doesn’t mean recovering what was lost but a re-casting of the lives that we used to have. This means if you are in it for a six figure income, your chances of getting there quickly or at all could be the same as the odds of me dancing with the Joffrey Ballet.


  • Review your financial statement monthly
  • Review your end of month financials every month. Even if you have an accountant, it’s your business to be able to analyze financials and budgets.
  • Review your insurance policies annually. Are you paying to ensure equipment that you no longer own? Do you have a current equipment inventory in case of theft and to use in depreciation schedules on your taxes? If you don’t have health insurance, get it. If you can’t afford it, buy a policy with a very large deductable. Photography is a business that involves physical risk.
  • Renegotiate fees with all the services that you use: start with the accountant. I did a little comparision shopping and saved over $600 one year by switching.

Master marketer Seth Godin has this to say about which guide to use when you come to a fork in the career road:

  • Join ASMP to learn/refresh about how to run a photography business and sign up for any of their Strictly Business lectures or workshops that come your way.
  • If you are going to use Twitter and/or FB in your marketing, make certain that you stay professional in look and watch what you say. Save the silly personal stuff and rants against the world to bore your best friend or spouse.
  • Comparision shop and bargain for all services.
  • When is the last time you updated your portfolio? Do you have it on an iPad and carry it with you all the time?
  • Finally as my friend, Colleen Wainright said again during last year’s ASMP’s SB3, “BE NICE”. Making People Love You Madly: Selling Yourself In A Postmodern Marketplace from ASMP National on Vimeo.


Stop Making These Photo Portfolio Mistakes!

March 1st, 2012 by

Here are the most important lessons from my years of looking at portfolios prepared by successful professionals, serious amateurs and students:

Real Estate: Use all the space you have when showcasing images. Nothing is more a waste of money than tiny images on a Web portfolio or in the printed book. OK, so the paper is lovely… but we don’t care. We want to SEE each image.

No blurb books please: They are too small and don’t hold up through repeated opening and closing. They have their place but as a commercial portfolio, they don’t cut it.

No plastic sheets. Office Depot is NOT the place to buy supplies to build a printed book… leave the shiny sheets behind. They reflect overhead lighting and make a portfolio look like a high school report.

Keep it clean: No matter the portfolio style du jour, I’ve seen very expensive printed portfolios that are just plain dirty: fingerprints, torn prints and scratched sheets holding the images. All manner of stuff, even dog hairs. And these from working photographers. Respect your portfolio and others will, too.

Overly expensive or elaborate: I’ve seen printed books that need to be carried around on a luggage dolly because they are bound in steel and weigh tons. Your clients want to see the work, not have to wrestle the thing to the ground in order to peek inside.

I recently asked a room of art buyers and photo editors which of them would call in a book from a photographer who either didn’t have a website or had a sloppy one. All agreed there is no way a photographer or the rep would get in the door if the art buyer/photo editor hadn’t been impressed with the website.

Rules Of the Road For Websites

Real Estate, again. Nothing is worse than a tiny photo floating in an island of empty Web space. You have lost me if I have to ask myself, “What is that a photo of?” Oh, and for the love of the great art director in the sky, NO MUSIC.

Tell the truth. Sure, you want to show your most stunning images, but be darn certain when you get a job that you can deliver the same quality that you show on your website. If you create false expectations and blow the first job from a client, you are dead meat forever as far as that client is concerned. I will never forget the photographer with the great photos on the site and a terrible submission from my assignment. I even remember details of the cab ride to his studio and everything about him. My brain was making certain I never forgot a detail so that I would never recommend him to anyone. Notice the word I repeated? I said NEVER three times.

Make the site easy to navigate. OK, everyone tells you this but then why do I so often sit befuddled at my computer trying to figure out how to get back to where I started after leaving the landing page. Or trying to figure out how to see more than one image or, worst, how to stop the darn thing from tossing a hundred images at me within the first 10 seconds that I land on a page? (And I’m a rather geeky person to boot.) Try your website out on your next-door neighbor who is your average computer user. Do your own little usability study.

Hire a professional. You rile against amateurs in your business so why hire the same level of talent to build your site? Get both a graphic designer and a Web designer to work together. Rarely does one person do both well. Or use one of the templates available that you can customize. Make certain that you can make adjustments – like adding new work – yourself.

Learn about SEO or whatever each Google search requires. Set your site up on Google Analytics so that you can monitor the success of your marketing in driving traffic to your site.

Print or iPad?

If you don’t want someone wandering around your iPad, have one dedicated purely to portfolio images. Save all the other stuff for another copy.

Your website is the first port of entry on the road to getting the right jobs from the right clients. Do it really well. Then back it up with printed books that can be rearranged to suit the specific needs of individuals who WILL call it in.



Technically Speaking-Reasons Photos are Rejected

February 6th, 2012 by

Last week I posted about some of the major reasons that photos are rejected due to subject, composition or cropping issues. This week, hold on to your photoshop hat as we go over the common technical mistakes that cause photos to be refused by inspectors and reviewers.

I’ve heard it again and again from successful traditional stock photographers, “I don’t understand microstock. I’m sending in great stuff and it gets rejected for technical reasons. I’m using the same workflow and processes I apply to images that are accepted by my traditional rights managed agency.” If it is the first time that the long time stock photographer has submitted to microstock, they are usually angry…and sometimes at me!

Some problems obvious at a reviewers first glance:

  • The date stamp was active and time/date shows on frame
  • The photo is out of focus
  • The depth of field is too shallow for the subject
  • An image has been submitted upside down or sideways


Some problems are more subtle. This is why you must ALWAYS check your work at 100% before submitting to catch the following problems:

Image appeared sharp but at 100% is soft

  • Dirt on the sensor or lens created spots on the image that haven’t been removed
  • Fringing (chromatic aberation) in highlights
  • Blown out light due to over exposure
  • Obvious clipping paths

Posterization in shadows often due to underexposure

Poor composites

Artifact/compression flaws due to too much interpolation

For illustrators: Poor gradation in tones (lots of stripes through images)


My father had a very personal way of focusing his camera…he stood in front of his favorite subject…my lovely mother…and then moved forward or backward until she was in focus. This is not recommended and even my Dad had to give it up after a trip to the Arizona desert found his backside in direct contact with a cactus as he stepped backwards  in order to bring my mother into focus. (Remember to learn from your rejections and don’t take them personally-they are better than a poke in the eye or somewhere else-like my Dad received!)

Where have all the photos gone?

February 3rd, 2012 by

There are zillions of photos taken every week all over the world…but sadly all the images on my posts have vanished. Maybe they missed me and went back to Dreamstime and Shutterstock since I have neglected my blog for months?

In any case, apologies for leaving you with mere words.

There will be more to come.

PS. March 2014-I’m at it. Slowly replacing all the photos AND updating the posts to reflect changes in the business

Photographers are lousy editors

July 20th, 2011 by

Decisions Decisions-which is best?

OK, OK-some photographers live on to become stellar photo editors but usually NOT OF THEIR OWN WORK. Photographers sometimes include a few mediocre or downright boring images in really important selections of their work. Yes, most know what work is best from a take but I’ve found there are always a few stinkers in any self-edited mix. As I like to say, “You are known by the weakest photo in your portfolio or submission.”


I’ve reviewed hundreds of portfolios and assisted photographers in editing for books, portfolios and submissions to clients and stock companies. A good 90 % of the time there are a couple of photos that lower the marks I give to photographers in my mind. These are all pros, for the most part, with extensive experience who are well aware of their strengths and weaknesses. So what’s with the bad apples?

It’s related to memory. A photographer can’t let go of a just average or even bad photo that he or she risked their life to take*, sweat blood to get right, spent a tons of money on or because it reminds them of their first ice cream cone or kiss or you know.

It takes an outside eye to cull dull photos that a photographer has fallen in love with. Being in love with a bad photo is sorta like love for someone who is has a borderline personality disorder . You know you should walk away but you just can’t get rid of her or him.

As a soulful plea in the name of art directors, art buyers and photo editors worldwide please pass that ‘final’ edit under the unbiased nose of someone with a good eye. Listen to what they have to say even if it means divorce from that photo of peeling paint on the side of an old barn.

Alternatively if you have the time and/or money show that person with a good eye some of your rejects. You could be surprised to find, just like in relationships with people, you might have overlooked a keeper because you didn’t examine its positive attributes carefully.

*Like Capa’s shot of the invasion at Omaha beach or the one of Michael Jackson’s hair on fire (photo credit please) sometimes not the best picture wins but it comes in first because it is one of the few or the only. (In the former, it was processing that messed up the photos and in the later, smoke got in the way.)

A dog and cat tale-professional pet photography

February 1st, 2011 by

©Christina Gandolfo

It’s been several years since I posted items on this blog. I’ve decided to go back and refresh and rewrite in light of the changes in the stock photo industry since I last posted. Plus I get to replace all the images that disappeared a year ago.

I had asked LA based photographer, Christina Gandolfo, to post tips on taking photos of cats and dogs. One of the largest ‘spends’ in the U.S. ad market worth millions is for pet related marketing, packaging and advertising. Photographers have specialized in this market as well as some making a pretty penny from pet portraits for the retail market.

Christina writes:

One comment I hear a lot when people see my photos of cats and dogs, “No way. My cat (or dog) would never pose like that!” While it’s true that my own cats have grown accustomed to a camera being pointed their direction and the chug-chik sound of a shutter firing, many of the techniques I use to get good animal photos can be used by anyone — from point-n-shoot hobbyist to gear-flush photo addicts.


©Christina Gandolfo

Follow these tips and you’ll have greeting-card worthy images of your favorite fur-models in no time.

1. Practice patience, grasshopper. To get truly unique pet photos it’s not enough to just have your camera always nearby. Nine times out of 10 whatever weird, quirky or cute thing your pet is doing will have vanished by the time you even find your camera’s ON button, and you’ll be left with a blank-faced pet who acts like nothing special ever happened.

Much like a cat stalks its prey you need to stealthily lie in wait for the good moments. Thankfully, since animals  are compelling creatures by nature this isn’t as difficult as it sounds. Spend as little as 10 minutes with your full attention (and camera) trained on your pet and I can almost guarantee it will do something photo-worthy. Whether it’s a freakishly psychotic yawn, a sickingly adorable stretch, or a carefully timed attack on a housefly you want to be ready when it happens.

2. Go low. The most interesting pet photos are often those that are taken from a pet’s perspective. Getting face-to-face with your cat or dog is not only more likely to result in an eye-catching image, but it brings you into your pet’s world and allows you to see the environment from their vantage point. It also creates a more intimate connection between you, your pet and your camera. Lie around often enough with a camera and soon your pet will not only grow used to it, but will likely reward the attention with some gratuitous posing.

3. Zoom, zoom. If you’re dealing with an animal who needs his space or if you want to get shots that are very candid in nature, it helps to bring out the big guns. I use my 70-200mm zoom lens often when photographing pets, and recommend that same focal range or a long telephoto lens (85mm +) for anyone who’s serious about photographing animals.



©Christina Gandolfo


©Christina Gandolfo

A zoom lens or long telephoto is perfect for trips to the dog park when you want to capture your pup in full sprint or interacting with her favorite pals at the park. Shooting at a long focal length will also help to blur out the background so that the focus remains on your pet. Which brings us to our next tip…

4. Be shallow. Again, pet photos most often work best when the focus remains on Princess and not the pile of laundry in the background. The easiest way to do this is to put your camera into aperture priority mode (both SLRs and many P&Ss have this option), and open your lens as wide as it will go. Ideally you want an aperture of f/2.8 or lower but if your camera only opens as wide as f/4 then set it to that.

The effect you’re going for is a nice, sharp subject and a buttery soft background. Of course, if you’re shooting head-on, it IS possible to be use too shallow of focus. If, for instance, you’re shooting your dachshund at f/1.4 and focusing on his eyes, the eyes will be nice and crisp but the nose and snout will be noticeably blurred. Sometimes this is OK, and sometimes you may wish you’d been stopped down to 2.8, 4.o, or above to get more detail in the nose. Your best bet is to experiment with different apertures and see what you like best for your particular pet, and in different situations.

Just remember, if you’re shooting with a shallow depth, the closer you are to your subject the more narrow the area of focus will be. Back up a little or use a longer focal length, and more area of your photo will be in focus.

Bonus newbie tip: If you’re you’re shooting in bright daylight conditions and want to shoot at a wide aperture you’ll probably need to be at ISO 100 (or lower). If you’re in darker conditions (indoors) you will likely need to crank your ISO up to 400 or higher, if your camera can handle it. With my Canon 5D Mark II, I often shoot natural light pet photos indoors at ISO 1600 or above. And like any portrait, remember you’ll get very nice light if your subject is near a window with diffused light (i.e., well-lit, but not in a direct beam of light).


©Christina Gandolfo

5. Make some noise. While sudden noises tend to startle pets (leave your cymbals in the closet) subtle noises can grab your pet’s attention, and often elicit a quizzical look or expression. I’ve found dogs respond well to a slight whimper, high-pitched kitten-mew, or a squeak. Cats tend to like crinkly/crackly noises. We often scratch our studio’s nylon lighting umbrellas to catch their attention. If you have a baby toy that crinkles, try that, or try crumpling paper or running your fingers across paper. Cats sometimes respond to a mew, too. Your pet may have a unique noise it responds to– if so, find what it is and use it!

6. Resort to bribery. When all else fails– do the obvious and resort to treats. Just realize that once you bring out the Milkbones, all other bets are off. If you’re shooting dogs — particularly those that will listen to direction — it often works to administer the treats yourself; doing so keeps the connection between you and your pooch. For a more posed (and often ‘human-like’) portrait, put the dog in a sit/stay position, take a few steps back, aim your camera, offer a slight whimper, and fire! Then offer the reward.

If you’re photographing cats, ideally you’ll want another person to dole out treats while you stand ready with the camera. Since most cats don’t inhale treats the same way dogs do you can offer a treat upfront, and the photo ops will come afterward, while they lick their chops, clean themselves or maybe even extend a paw for more.

Of course this technique works best with a SLR that allows you to fire quickly and capture those moments that merely flash before the eye.

You may think “my cat would never do that,” but I assure you, you can can get them to do a lot of crazy things for at least 1/250 of a second.


World Models

January 6th, 2011 by

Not only is business global, so is life. The president of the United States is of mixed ethnicity as are huge members of most societies. Buyers of stock photography want to use images that show an accurate and authentic representation of their target market or demographic.There are two approaches to representing diversity in lifestyle photography. In the first you want to be inclusive when selecting models by showing people from a range of ethnicity in a single photo.  The second approach is exclusivity-concentrate on authentic depictions of a specific ethnic  demographic. Today ways to monetize photography have been developed to capture truly authentic photos from crowdsourced, social media like companies such as Foap, EyeEm, ImageBrief and Stipple among others.



Companies and specialized markets, like the U.S. textbook market, want group photos that show models from more than one race. A photo of a group of children should show boys and girls from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds. Global businesses like to show that their employees come from many parts of the world and that they take diversity in hiring seriously.

I’ve noticed that in some photos the obvious leader or director in the group is an older white male.  This is very old school and removed from the reality that women occupy important positions in all fields from business to medicine and education.  Further there are some pretty important CEO’s in billion dollar businesses that are under 30 and they certainly aren’t all Caucasian.

Dropping one person of color into a photo to solve the diversity issue, is tokenism and frankly, looks just plain silly. I showed such a photo to a class of young photo students. When the image came on the screen, they burst out laughing. I was bewildered. When I asked why the giggles, they said that the group looked really faked.

Traditional Indian Wedding ©Dmitry Rukhlenko/

You can’t realistically fake a middle class family in India for a website in India by shooting a second-generation American family. This is where the great diversity of cultures represented by microstock contributors adds strength to their collections. There are photographers living in all the major countries of the world who understand the subtle visual clues that stamp images with cultural honesty.

When you cast people, think of the target market for the images. Are you looking to depict an ethnic group within a broader society-such as a Hispanic family in U.S.? Or are do you want to show a typical family in a particular country such as a relationship group in Mexico City that is geared for that market?


Here are some tips to add diversity to popular business, education and family shots:

  • Cast models that represent a ‘world look’ for maximum downloads. These are people with a blended looked of an uncertain ethnic origin. But be certain to identify their race as some models of one ethnicity don’t like being identified with another.
  • Ensure that group shots mix it up…the obvious leader is a woman of African descent, for example. Or the CEO is very young.
  • Shoot what you know. Photograph your own culture.
  • When you travel remember to photograph day-to-day life not just the poorest citizens. For some reason some photographers think that commercial stock photography is photojournalism. It isn’t. Photojounalism-that’s a different story.


One group of buyers want real people from a particular demographic like an Indian family assimilated into a new country for use in hyper local ads/publications. Another group wants an authentic Indian family living in Delhi for example for marketing/websites etc. geared to the viewers/readers in India. The photos will show subtle but very real differences.