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Wednesday, 21 October 2009


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I think i've got all these covered, mostly :) Now if only someone had any advice on how to break into the London market as a newcomer to the city and country...

It was in the Magnum Blog, over a year ago, where there was a question, "what makes a good photojournalist?" The most significant answer being, "wear a good pair of shoes".

Wow. All very well said and worth thinking about.

BTW, I love the tagline on her blog: "a film addicted photographer who doesn't hate digital folk"

Even if she had written just the last two points this would have been a great post.

Thank you for your insights Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai, you make sense.

JM Collins

> "Don't look outward for your style; look inward."

I attended workshop about developing your muse. One participant was having trouble connecting with what to photograph.

After listening to to him vacillate for a few minutes the workshop leader (Cherie Hiser) leaned in, looked him in the eye, and said "photograph your secrets."

The gent went beet red. Then he nodded.

I launched my photography business early this year and a lot of the advice above really rings true. In particular:

"Learn that people photography is about people, not about photography. Great portraits are a side effect of a strong human connection"

That couldn't be more true. I've received as many compliments about my interaction with kids than about my photos. I firmly believe my connection with the kids is the key to my (small, but growing) photo business.

It's been a lot of fun (and work). September was a milestone month, when my photography income surpassed my graphic design work.

I read this. Then printed it out and pinned it to the wall next to my computer. wonderful advice for every photographer. Thanks.

Overuse of Cliche ... or what!

I read this on Cheryl's blog after reading Random Excellence ... this advice is just as excellent as her photos ! Enlightening, inspirational - I found some useful wisdom in it for me.

Wow!. Ordinarily I hate such lists of advice, but I think I'll print this one and hang it up by my monitor. Every one of these is a valuable point to remind oneself of periodically.

"September was a milestone month, when my photography income surpassed my graphic design work."

Congratulations on that, Aaron.


Thanks for this. :-)

Having been self-employed for 23+ years (as an engineering consultant, not a photographer) I can say for a certainty that these comments apply to almost any independent venture that requires creativity and vision. Yes, that is true in my field, and unfortunately, these abilities are rare.

While I've had many people urge me to become a professional photographer, I resist because of these truths. Also, the money probably isn't nearly as good. ;-)


I get the "Dinosaur" bit: "You need a decent camera, a decent lens, and a light meter." A "light meter"?

What a great photographer. I am really moved by her portfolio - and I think I will definitely come back to her site for inspiration. Thanks for sharing, Mike.

"A 'light meter'?"

Careful--this is actually how I ran into Cheryl again (I first encountered her in the pages of Black & White Photography magazine, which I used to write for). A long time ago I wrote a post about how you no longer need to buy an expensive handheld flashmeter when using a DSLR with off-camera strobes, because you can just use the DSLR to make cheap, fast test exposures until you get the exposure right. Presently it came to my attention that I was being ridiculed as a know-nothing over on APUG for this view....

Let's just say that some of those folks love their light meters!


I've seen a lot of these kinds of posts. This is (by far) the best that I have seen. Well done, Cheryl.

Best regards,

"Let's just say that some of those folks love their light meters!"

Yes, and learning to use one well is a skill unto itself!

"a light meter?"

Not all cameras have built-in light meters. As quiet as it's kept, there are still photographers who use Hasselblads, Mamiyas, Bronicas, Leicas, and view cameras, all of which lack auto focus or auto exposure of any kind. Even cameras that do have meters can't give you as much exposure information as quickly as a good light meter. Personally, if anything happened to my meter I'd buy a replacement the very next day.

The post I was ridiculed for wasn't talking about light meters for meterless film cameras. It was specifically about not having to buy a flash meter for off-camera flash units like my monoblock when you're shooting with a DSLR. I still fail to see why that idea is at all controversial.


I've still got my Gossen Luna Pro F. But it no longer lives in my camera bag. I haven't used it in more than 5 years.

I've used meterless cameras as my main camera (M3) for years at a time, and I've done bounce flash on film with a manual flash, and let me tell you how much easier it is to get the exposure right with digital! It's like having a Polaroid back on my camera all the time, without the minute-or-so delays every time I want to check something.

I read (a while ago) about studio shooters who go through piles of Polaroid, and THEN send 4x5 chrome tests to their 1-hour pro lab, and when they get those back, THEN make the final lighting tweaks and set the final exposure and shoot the actual picture. We can nearly do that with a hand-held camera in the field now. In just seconds.

But in general that's an excellent set of guidelines. I do think it maybe slips over the hardest bit -- just how does one recognize ones style while looking inwards for it? I almost think anything I can point to or describe is going to be more of a gimmick than a real style. Maybe this is the problem with being a heavily analytical type.

Aaron: Congratulations!

Even for dSLR, light meter can give you ideas not available from the LCD back. Unlike Leica M8+, many dSLR cannot zoom in and then told you the histogram plus highlight brow out information of the zoom in area. Using a hand held meter can help you in some difficult situation.

Also, it is a good learning tool as many light situation in the real world has not much difference in EV, contrast and after a while, you can roughly know in a non-challenging situation the setting you need. That is important for those case (e.g. street photography) which cannot meter that much. I can push my small CV meter on top of Leica M8 and then set up everything before taking that picture.

In some case, you might want to incidence meter a scene and then ... in some cases.

BTW, the advice is very good, except it should mention tripod. VR might help in many cases but for learner, tripod is important.

I agree with you that light meter, flash and tripod is extra to any camera. I can avoid using it I would. But in many cases it can be useful or even essential.

A thoughtful post full of truths! Thanks for putting it all together so succinctly.

My apologies, I shouldn't have derailed the comments into talking about light meters. Let's comment on Cheryl's post and leave meters and metering for another thread.


Really great advice, useful for both photographers wanting to go into business or someone that simply wants to work on the craft of making great pictures.

Great to see your comments. Reminds me of the olden days on APUG. Whenever you would post new pictures, everyone would take notice. Your work has always been in a class by itself.

All the best,

Mike, what's a DSLR? :)

If you go to Cheryl's web page, scroll down to an article entitled Serendipity. If you click on the grey paragraph, or on the WordPress pop-up, you will find a NY Times story that should interest all TOP readers.

Thanks to Mike for sharing this for me.

As a clarification, you do need a decent light meter -- if you happen to keep yours in your camera, that works, too.

@Dennis Ng, I agree that for some kinds of photography, a tripod is essential. I originally wrote this with portraiture in mind, since that's what I do, and I don't find a tripod useful for my style of work.

@David Dyer-Bennet, I will be writing more about the development of style soon. I couldn't address that aspect in more detail in the context of this article, as it would've taken pages and pages.

Advice from one aspiring photographer to others:

"Nothing will make you better faster than making photographs."

Maybe if we used a light meter more, we wouldn't have to post-process every image!

Personally, I use a handheld light meter to determine starting point and to set both film and digital cameras (when I'm shooting both for a given project) to the same settings. The histogram isn't always accurate and the LCD doesn't always show exactly what we want to look at for proper exposure determination. This is a problem when WB isn't exactly the same as sensor default.

Good advice all around. I especially like the comments about "style".

I agree with Malcolm that this advice can apply to non-photographers too - actually, I think most of it is good advice for becoming your own unique self.

These advices came in a very special time. Time that I'm really unmotivated and all I have to say is thank you =)

Now if only I could print this...

Liked the comment about shooting your own style. See a lot of photos & think if only I could have shot that--or it that way. Causes me to doubt myself at times.

But then I realize my style is my style, and I really can't shoot any other way. And if it's good enough for one person, well that's enough.

Loved it! Thanks Mike, thanks to Nicolai.
Only one comment on the bit about "Never apologize for your own sense of beauty.."
I see where Nicolai is coming from, but some of us are struggling with the question whether we do have a style at all or whether it is any good. Unfortunately this sense of knowing that is a gift that not many of us may possess.

This post from her blog has been circulating on the PDML since I saw it the other day. Good to see her getting even more exposure on the TOP.

Me too! Me too! I am another one who now has a copy on the wall.

>Anything goes< William Klein

Good advice, but one bit has me all in knots: "Never apologize for your own sense of beauty."

Well, yes, except there are a lot of people who should apologize for their sense of beauty. I realize I'm going against all the feel-good individualism we all like to trumpet, but photography is rife with people who just LOVE to be highly unoriginal.

In particular, I'm thinking of all those people who just love to overuse downloadable techniques such as extreme HDR and the like.

Cheryl's first item says "If you can buy it, borrow it, download it, or steal it, it is not a style." So what do you do if a person's style, that they think of as beauty, is just a matter of spinning dials in Photoshop and not stopping until the image is so garish it hurts?

Yes, I'm bad. Sue me for being so uncouth as to describe some work as unbeautiful. But deep down I think most of you agree with me (at least when it comes to over-done HDR!).

Out of curiosity, what is the PDML?

Thanks Mike for the introduction to Cheryle and her work.
Thank you Cheryle for great advice. Together with some additional reading and looking on your own blog (now bookmarked) comes a sense of a lot of experience tempered into wisdom.
A quote (I think from HCB? - help from Mike please)
"Photography is nothing. Life is everything"
comes to mind, as well as linking me back to the earlier post from Jim Tiemann "Why They Invented Cameras" (Fri 16 Oct 2009)
More examples of TOP's ability to 'hold the balance.

I want to be a creative consultant too, imagine photographers paying you good money for pep talks and hand holding ;-)

Cheryl, the PDML is the Pentax-Discuss Mail List (http://www.pdml.net), a group of mostly Pentax photographers who, speaking of dinosaurs, still think an email list is a great way to communicate on the topics of equipment and photography. There are some very talented photographers there.

ed hawco: yes and no. I agree with you to some extent -- I trust my own sense of beauty enough to say some things out there aren't.

However, I lack your allergy to HDR; I rather *like* HDR, especially what I think you mean by "overdone HDR". I've been complaining recently that I can't reproduce it using PHotoshop's tools, and am looking elsewhere to find a way to do it.

'"overdone HDR". I've been complaining recently that I can't reproduce it using PHotoshop's tools'

Word on the net is that Photoshop's HDR function is biased toward realism. If you want that infamous surreal photorealistic illustration look, you may want to look into the Photomatix tone mapping plugin or full program.

There's a nice, clear comparison and tutorial here: http://www.photoshopcafe.com/tutorials/HDR_ps/hdr-ps.htm

lot of time and thought put into this post, some less profound than others but overall there were some great ideas.

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