Photography Q&A - The 1,500 Question Archive

Nov 27

This Q&A Has Retired

I announced at the end of the last post that this Q&A is officially retired but I’m still getting questions so I guess that part was missed by some.

So… here it is… officially… this Q&A project is retired.

I’m launching a new project on January 1st. I thought I was going to have it ready by the first of December but I need 30 more days to get it complete for launch. It’s called DEDPXL and I’m really excited about where it’s going to go.

Sign up for the announcement here…

Thank you one and all for making this project a success! I hope you enjoy the next project even more!


Oct 29

Anonymous said: I feel paralyzed by fear of rejection. I'm in my last year of commercial photo school My teachers have suggested to submit to mags. They think I'm good. I have this idea that you need to know people to get published, an "in". My website is almost done. I'm excited about it & proud of my work but afraid to show it. I should just get over it, but, I feel like there are so many critics on the internet that I would hate to be torn to shreds on some forum. (I have a large blog following) Any advice?

You’ll never get anywhere sitting around being afraid.

You’ll never meet anyone or get that “in” that you need if you are sitting around being afraid.

If you wait until you are ready to get started… you’ll never start because you’ll never be ready.

Get your book together. Get your site finished. Shine your shoes. Brush your teeth. Pick up the phone. Get out on the streets and start showing your work. Phone calls. Emails. Meetings. It’s how you get yourself out there. Smile. Have a firm handshake. Look people in the eye when you talk to them.

Get the #$*% over yourself and your insecurities. Put your big person pants on. If you want this. If you really want this. If being a photographer is the thing that you want. That you need. That you have to have. Then show your effing work to people. 

Go fail. Go get rejected. Go get some doors slammed in your face. Go have some awesome meetings that turn into nothing. Then shoot some new work. Then do it again. Then do it again. Then do it again. Then again. You’re going to keep doing this until one day you look back and realize…

"OMG. I’m doing it." 

Stop being afraid or stop being a photographer. One or the other. You will deal with these insecurities for the rest of your life. Each level you want to reach will scare you. There are FAR better photographers ahead of you. There will always be better photographers ahead of you. And next to you. And behind you. 

Keep your damn head down. Shoot new work always. Brush your teeth. Have a good handshake. Look ‘em in the eyes when you talk.

Seriously. It’s what you have to do.

"Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work." - Chuck Close 

That’s the quote a lot say. Here’s full quote…

"I always thought that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work. You sign onto a process and see where it takes you. You don’t have to invent the wheel every day. Today you’ll do what you did yesterday and tomorrow you’ll do what you did today. Eventually you’ll get somewhere. Every great idea I ever had grew out of work itself. If you’re going to wait a around for the clouds to open up and lightning to strike you in the brain you’re not going to make an awful lot of work." - Chuck Close

This goes for your photography and your business and your life.

For everyone else listening. For those of you with photography in your heart and stars in your eyes. For everyone with a camera in your hand who is chasing this dream of becoming a pro. Of making it as a photographer….

You’re trudging along in the mud with the masses. All heading to the same place. All going in the same direction. You’ve been born out of the mud. You are going to find yourself at a precipice. You will find yourself staring into the void. Out in front of you will see people flying to the distant horizon. Beside you and behind you are the masses. You want to fly. You want to be one of those out there in front of you with no ground to stand on. 

Know how they fly? They jumped. See all the bodies at the bottom of the canyon? They jumped too. Those bodies at the bottom aren’t dead though. They just didn’t fly the first time. Look closely. The strong ones are climbing back up to try again.

Maybe you hit the bottom. Maybe you learn how not to fly. Lick your wounds for a minute and get back up. Or don’t. Decide it’s too hard and go do something else with your life.



Let’s see if you can fly.

Whatever you do… stop standing around the edge of the cliff. 



And…. scene. 

This Q&A blog is now in retirement mode. I’m starting a new project. A new platform. A new station with some new signal. It’s called DEDPXL and it launches at the end of November (ummm) January 1st. Technique. Critique. Reviews. Q&A. Challenges. Culture. New Voices. 

I want to thank all of you for your support with this Q&A project. I could not have done this without all of you sending in some amazing questions. Thank you for sharing your life with me. Thanks for letting me share mine with you. 

This site will remain for some time to come but isn’t guaranteed to be up forever. 

On to the next one.

Oct 19

Anonymous said: Hi my name is Llani, Im kind a stunning and yet in pics i look so ugly i dont even look like me. my husband is no-where near as pretty as i am, i mean i'm not vain i'm pretty humble and by no means am i a super model or anything, however he looks great in photos, i always tell him he's photogenic. so why do i look so ugly in photos

This one gave me a laugh so I’m sneaking it in here at the end of the Q&A project. 

I’m not laughing at you but it is sort of a funny question. I can speak to it though from experience.

To me, the term “photogenic” means someone looks completely different in a photograph than they do in real life. I can think of two specific shoots I’ve had in my career where I’ve come across this.

One was a shoot I did for a clothing company. The company hired the models we were using for the shoot and this one girl showed up at the studio door and, well, I was worried. She was a “pretty” enough girl but I didn’t think she was going to be the right fit for what the company wanted but it was the day of the shoot, the company hired her, it was their deal and not mine. I’d do the best I could.

She went into hair and makeup and stepped out for the first look she was to be photographed in for the day. I’m going to sound crass and mean and I don’t want to but this girl had a horse face. Her face was long and exaggerated. She had a compelling / interesting / off putting look to her in equal parts. 

She stepped in, I pulled the camera up, took a shot, and then looked at the result and…. she was stunning. Amazing. In two dimensions this girl was world class. I had to work to not show my shock. She was photogenic under any light and with any lens at any angle. She looked great.

The next one I remember is my wife’s previous drummer, Noah. Noah is a good looking dude. You know. You look at him and you say… Yeah. Good lookin’ enough dude. Then you put a camera on him and, like the story above, he was striking. Like me, a basic old dude, saying “Damn!” He brings an intensity to a photograph that you just don’t see when you are staring at him in the face. 

Those are the extremes I’ve run into. I usually run into more of what you are talking about. A very attractive subject/client walks in the door. You think your day is going to be an easy one because they are so good looking that you can’t go wrong with anything you shoot. You pull your camera up, take a photo, and…. well…. ummmmm…. hmmmm. Maybe that’s not the best angle for them. You change your light and …. thud. You change focal length…. thud. You change angles…. Nothing you do seems to capture their beauty.

I’ve had beautiful girls and hot guys in front of my lens that I had to work so hard to get a decent photo of them. Their looks and features just don’t translate in photographs. 

So what is this? I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure it out for years. I’ve read articles about scientists trying to measure “beauty”. I’ve talked to fashion photographers who deal with this stuff a lot. I’ve heard a lot of stories about average looking girls and guys who are amazing models because of this “element X” that they hold. And I’ve heard the stories of drop dead gorgeous people being horrible models because they look bad in photographs. 

All of this has not been a “common” experience for me. Meaning, I don’t run into this kind of thing all the time. Whatever people look like in real life typically translates into their photos. 9 times out of 10. 

Another commentary on this is, and I run into this ALL the time…. Females, typically, are their own worst critic and their own worst enemy. I’ve taken some photos that I was really proud of and then shown them to the client and they are unhappy with them. Not with the photos but of themselves. “Here is a striking photo of you.” “Oh GOD! No! I hate that photo! I look so ugly / fat / old / whatever.” And it’s a great photo! 

So… maybe you’re beautiful in real life but it’s difficult to get a great photo of you. Maybe your husband is the photogenic one. Maybe photos of you are awesome and you just tear them apart because you have a different idea of what you look like in your head and the image in front of you is different than that. Or maybe you are too critical of yourself. I can’t really tell without photographing you two myself.


Oct 17

Anonymous said: just read your answer about beating the crap out of uncle bob. it was both inspirational and true, you just have to be better. but the question was about starting out. you suggest having rates that match or are higher than the top photographers in the area, but how do you do that from scratch? how do yo prove you can do the job for at top rates if you've never done the job? don't you have to start out being uncle bob? isn't uncle bob kind of the guy you're speaking to with this blog?

My statement was if “I” was starting in that today. Speaking specifically of myself. I’m sorry to have miscommunicated. I’m not saying I’m hot shit and can do whatever in photography but I have a good bit of experience under my belt and if I was starting head shots today I’d go straight for the top of the game in my town. I wouldn’t mess around with $25 Craig’s List jobs. 

Now then… When you are emerging in photography and still pretty green then of course you are the Uncle Bob of your town… so to speak. You’re fighting for the smaller jobs. You want those $25 jobs. Lawd knows I’ve shot a ton of those kind of jobs. That’s where you cut your teeth. That’s where you learn to walk. That’s where you do other metaphors. :)

The thing is you fight for the smaller jobs and do the best you can with those. Then you work your way up the food chain. Getting better each year. Gaining experience. Gaining confidence. Gaining skill and talent. As you climb up the food chain you leave the Craig’s List jobs behind and start competing for the bigger jobs.

I don’t suggest going straight to the top the day after you buy your camera. What’s that old quote? You’ll have fought valiantly but died quickly. :)

You start with friends and family. You start to build your network through those shoots and connections. You build on that for awhile and start riding those concentric circles further and further out. One step at a time. Ten or fifteen years from now you are really finding your feet and your style and your vision and you are competing for higher level jobs. That’s a pretty healthy expectation to have of a photography career. If things fall into place for you in less than a decade then awesome! If not, no worries. You’re on track. If you are still working for $25 jobs in fifteen years from now though… You might want to rethink some things. :)


Oct 13

Anonymous said: Models rates. I contacted a local model for portfolio work. This was her first response: "I usually ask $200-$250. But since you are located close by I am willing to negotiate my rate to $100" this seemed high. I live in a rural area not NY. I asked if this was her day rate. This is the next response I received: "My fee invluded 1.5 hours shoot time. 1 wardrobe change and I would come hair and makeup ready." I kinda want to just laugh in her face. How would you handle something like this?

Oh us silly photographers… always wanting to be paid a fair amount yet always looking for a deal from others. #AMIRITE?

Look, if the model is worth their salt then they should be compensated. $100 an hour isn’t so bad. If you can’t afford the model then seek other people. And you say you don’t live in NY. You should hire a model in NY some time. No really. Shop around. You think $100 is high? NY rates will give you a f*cking heart attack.

I want to be paid what I ask. I don’t try to screw people over on rates. I ask a fair amount for the time and experience I bring to the table. There’s usually room for negotiation but my rates are my rates. 

When I’m hiring other people to work for me I ask for their rates. If I can’t afford them then I find someone else. I don’t ask for a $250 assistant to do it for $100. Now, I might contact someone and say, “I have a budget of $125 for an assistant. Can you do it for that rate?” They may want to take the job or they may say “No. I’m $250.” At that point I don’t bitch and moan about their rates. I move on to someone else. I know the next time I contact that person I’ll need to have a budget of $250. Plain and simple.

I don’t believe in Karma but it’s that kind of principle. I want to be paid what I ask. I pay others what they ask. If someone can’t afford me and we can’t negotiate a fair deal, we don’t work together. If I can’t afford someone else then we don’t work together.

Plain. And. Simple. 

I can not tell you how many photographers have painstakingly puts bids together for a client only to have them “laugh in their face” as you say you would like to do to this model.

Those are her rates. She evidently has something to offer if you are contacting her in the first place. She brings value to the table. You need those portfolio pieces. Evidently you need them enough to look to hire someone. Or, evidently it’s not that important to you because you aren’t willing to pay a fair rate for her time and effort.

If you are building a portfolio I can only assume it is because you might just want to do this for income. Either full time or part time. You are going to give your rates and someone is going to laugh in your face. “We aren’t in New York! All you have to do is show up and take some pictures. Why do you want that much money for it?”

Pay her rates or don’t hire her. End of story.

We all want a bargain but none of us want to be the bargain. Funny isn’t it?


NOTE - I’ve removed the Ask button from the header. I’m no longer taking questions. I’ll be answering just a few more and then this site becomes an archive and I begin to get my next project off the ground. More to come.

Oct 11

Anonymous said: I saw your episode on "Pro tog, cheap cam", and it made me realize that no expensive gear will work without an eye for beauty. Anyway, do you think people should just be content with the camera they have, practice with it, then go bigger?

My job here is nearly done. :)

Rock what ya got. Period.

Get off your collective asses and go shoot pictures. It’ll be the best education you can get. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot. Shoot.

And with this… I have about three questions left until I step away from this project and focus on the next one.


Anonymous said: It's hard when you ask a budget from a client and he doesn't mention any figure but says they have a tight budget. One doesn't want to lose a job because of quoting high or even underpricing oneself. How would you approach these talks saying you dont want to lose a job?

Let’s say you’ve run all your numbers and you have to charge $1,000 a day to survive as a photographer. 

They have a budget. They won’t say what it is. Whether they have the money or not you know your numbers and you know you need $1,000 a day (or whatever your numbers are).

So… put a bid together. It’s $1,000 a day plus expenses. Line item everything out that you think you’ll need. State the usage that you are giving for that price. (2 years, North America, Web and print, or whatever). 

Then send the bid.

Maybe their “tight budget” is $1,200. Maybe it’s $200. Maybe it’s $5,000. If you don’t know then just get your numbers together and put a bid in. If their total budget is $200 then, well, you can’t work with them anyway. You know your numbers. You know you are losing your shirt on that job. You say no and let them find someone on Craig’s List to shoot it.

Maybe your bid is for $1,500 for you and an assistant and some other expenses. They come back and say they only have $1,200. Then you are in the neighborhood. Then you have room to keep the talks moving forward. You cut an expense. Maybe you work without an assistant. Whatever.

Maybe their budget is $5,000 and you’re too cheap! That’s happened to me. Well, you put a fair bid together. You might lose the job for being too cheap. You live and learn and move on dot org with your life.

Moral of the story. Know your numbers. Know your cost of doing business. Know what you have to charge to stay alive. 

Second moral of the story… not every client will be your client. They may say no to you… you may also say no to them. 


Anonymous said: Which part is responsible for focus speed? The body or lens? I hear people refer to a piece of glass as "fast" but is that just because it has a big aperture and can shoot faster shutter speeds because of the extra light?

The body and lens work together to define focus speed. The AF system on a DSLR lives in the big hump (pentaprism) on top of the camera body. The computer that runs that and the motor on the body turn the focusing system inside of the lens. Some lenses have additional motors built into the barrel to speed things up. Some bodies only rely on internal focusing motors of the lens. Some have a motor on the body. There are a number of combinations out there. Likewise, some lenses have motoros. Some do not.

Pro bodies and pro lenses are doing the most work and have the most hardware and software to focus quickly and accurately. Cheap bodies and cheap lenses have cheaper components and slower processors so they don’t focus like the big guns do.

A fast lens is as you state. It has a large aperture (small number). Typically we call anything with a 2.8 or larger aperture a “fast” lens. Anything with an aperture smaller than 2.8 is typically referred to as a “slow” lens. A 35mm 1.4 is a very fast lens. A 70-200 4.5 - 5.6 lens is really slow.


kluens said: Hiya, I'd love your input on this gear question... I'm currently working with a 5D2 35 1.4l and 135 f2l, I'm about to buy an additional camera but after playing with an X100 for a while i'm torn between a 5D3 or an X100S. I primarily work within events / weddings / concerts. The x100s seems to cull the need to swap lenses and promotes portability?!

The best advice I can give for everyone asking this question in one way or another….

Use your work system. For you it’s your 5d2. Keep that system where you need it to be. Get an x100s as a play camera. A fun camera. A walk around camera. Just get one to have if you can afford to do so. Don’t think of it as it’s your next major piece of kit. It’s just a luxury item at this point.

Take it on some jobs with you. Shoot some photos with it. Then shoot some more. Let it organically move its way into your workflow. Watch out though… Your DSLRs are about to get really jealous. :)

The DSLRs will be there for their purpose. The x100s will be there for its purpose. You may find you like working with one more than the other or you will find where they compliment each other perfectly. Let it happen naturally though. 


Anonymous said: Zack, I'm really struggling with hair lights on subjects with dark hair. I don't know if my placement is wrong, or how I'm metering for it, or how I'm controlling spill or where I'm aiming it. Could you please give me a few pointers? Thank you!

You need to finesse hair lights. Your first thought is you just need to light the hair… and maybe the shoulders. For instance, flying an umbrella as a hairlight is not the way to go. It’s washing the whole set with light when all you need is just some light on the top of the subject.

Strip boxes make good hair lights. Gridded strip boxes make even better hair lights. It allows you to precisely position the light where you need it. 

You want your hair light to be on a boom flying over the subject, and, usually, you want that hair light to be slightly behind the subject feathering back toward the camera. This is another place where using a grid on a strip box is good because it helps reduce or eliminate flare in the lens. There are times you can shoot without the hair light being on a boom but the rare times I use a hairlight I usually have it on a boom. At the least it’s on a C-Stand arm. Remember to bag your stand! Have at least 25 pounds of sandbags on hand.

You want just enough light coming out of that hairlight to add some highlight. You aren’t “lighting” the top of the head. You’re just adding a little accent of light. You “light” the subject. That’s your main light. Expose for that. Then add just a bit of light for the hair. Just a bit. 

You can go with a hard light with a grid as well. Maybe something like a 20º or 30º grid on the light. Again, above your subject and slightly behind them facing back to the camera a little. I also like hair lights to be a good three or so feet away from the top of the head. Inverse square law and all that. If you have it too close to the subject then it can fall off too quickly and is more difficult to finesse. 

Hope this helps.