Free PDF Resource-The Photo Evaluation Checklist

I believe composition is not only the most important part of photography, it’s the fundamental contributor to making captivating images that engage the viewer.

That’s why I think it’s also the most difficult part of creative photography, and it’s the area I spend most of my time studying and trying to improve. I also hear from many photographers and students that it’s their most frustrating challenge as well—whether on my workshops, or in talks, or in my Q+A days on Facebook.

In fact, I’d venture to say it’s probably the area you’d like to improve the most.

For me composition is like a challenging puzzle that I try to solve every time I go out to photograph. A even though I’m more comfortable with decisions now than I was a decade ago, I am always pushing myself to find ways to make stronger, simpler compositions. The difference now is that I enjoy the challenge, much like moving from a solved puzzle to a more difficult one.

Over time I developed a mental checklist that I use to evaluate my images, whether while I’m composing in the field or editing in Lightroom. I also use this checklist when I critique student images, and it helps me remain focused on the positives and use those as building blocks for improvement into the future.

I created a PDF document of the checklist to help you evaluate your images honestly and compositionally.

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I’m also in the process of developing some in-depth online composition courses that may help you in your creative path as a photographer, including interactive feedback of your images. Stay tuned!

Questions or feedback? Please share in the comments below.

My Favorite Tools For Getting Work Done

I often get questions about the tools I use to run my photography and workshop business.

So often we simply use a tool either because it’s been recommended, or it’s promoted really well, or everyone else is using it. But does it gel with the way your mind works? Does it let you see a path to the desired outcome? Or does it obscure your progress with confusing options that only make your work more difficult and less enjoyable?

I think this is the case with a lot of technology out there, and I’ve tried my fair share over many years, and been frustrated more than I care to remember.

But I’ve become better at choosing hardware and software that lets me work the way I want to work. And I’m very strict about using tools that make me want to use them for their elegance and usability, not their feature set or multitude of options.

I’ve shared my tools before, but this updated list has the ones I depend on day after day to get work done and keep the business operating smoothly and productively.

Workspace Tools

  • iMac 5K Retina (P3 Display) – my main computer for editing, printing, and all other photography related tasks. The P3 display is critical since it effectively makes the iMac a wide-gamut monitor, with a color space similar to Adobe98.
  • OWC Thunderbay 4 RAID (8TB) – my main external RAID(4-bay) where I store all of my RAW files. It’s fast and reliable, and keeps my data separate from my computer’s internal drive where I only store applications and other non-essential files. I also store my Lightroom catalogs on this drive. It also makes backing up my critical data easy since once I back up this drive, I know I haven’t missed anything.
  • Synology NAS (16TB) – my main backup RAID(4 bay), where I backup and archive all working drives (the OWC RAID mentioned above, video drives, etc). I also use it to backup my laptop, as well as all iPhones and iPads in the house (especially photos and videos). Because it’s connected to my network, it can be access anywhere in the house or over the internet remotely.
  • Como Duetto – I take audio seriously since good music is certainly one of my passions, and this wood grained 2 speaker system sounds amazing, plus it connects to internet radio stations and Spotify. It’s a bit expensive, but I got mine while it was on Kickstarter and it’s been great to listen to while I edit images or write articles.
  • Blue Yeti Microphone – great mic that I use for tutorials, webinars, and video.
  • Baron Fig Confidant Notebook – while I love my digital tools, I’ve come to rely more and more on a notebook and pen to keep track of ideas, thoughts, notes, tasks, and anything else I want to physically record.

Applications

  • Adobe Lightroom – image management, developing, and printing in one unified interface – my photo assistant.
  • Apple Final Cut Pro X – great video editing software I’ve use for every video project.
  • Trello – boards, lists, and cards – a great visual interface that lets me keep track of ideas, projects, tasks, workshops, and much more. Plus it’s collaborative and available on every device. Here’s my Canson paper board.
  • Evernote– a digital filing cabinet, Evernote keeps me organized and is also great for research, reference, saving items from the web, and so much more.
  • Alfred – essentially puts your Mac on steroids.
  • Ulysses – a fantastic app for Mac and iPhone/iPad where I do all of my writing.
  • 1Password – still struggling with lost or forgotten passwords? 1Password is the answer, available for Mac and iPhone/iPad.
  • Screenflow – easy recording and editing of my screen for tutorials videos.
  • Snagit – another screen capture utility I use for capturing parts of my screen as images I can share.
  • Mindnode – I use mind-maps for generating ideas visually. I use this for writing articles, teaching workshops. creating presentations, and any other project where I need to organize many ideas.

Online Services

  • ConvertKit– I’ve used many email marketing services in the past, but ConvertKit is easily my favorite and worth the cost. An email list is the most valuable resource for any online business.
  • Dropbox– the standard cloud storage app that makes sharing documents, images, and other files so easy.
  • Cloudways– my web hosting service where I host my WordPress sites.

If you have questions or comments about any of these tools, or you’d like to read more about a specific one, please let me know  below. I’m always happy to help whether you’re running a business or simply looking to improve your workflow. Thanks for reading!

Talking About Papers On The B&H Photography Podcast

I was invited to be a guest on the B&H Photography Podcast last week to discuss fine art papers and printing in general. We also had August Pross with us, co-owner of LTI-Lightside, a film and print studio in NYC. The idea was to present both sides of printing your work, either doing it yourself or using a print studio, and what some of the considerations are.

I really enjoyed the conversation, especially where once again I was asked to recommend papers for different types of images, and I answered like I always do; it depends on what you’re trying to convey to the viewer.  

It’s an interesting question that seems to perplex many, perhaps because it requires a hard look at your images from the inside. Why did you press the shutter button? It also requires an understanding of paper characteristics and how they interact with a photograph to create a look or feel.

I discuss all of these issues in-depth in my printing workshops, but I am planning a live webinar soon to answer any questions you might have about printing and photography in general. I will be announcing the webinar dates soon, so stay tuned!

Hope you enjoy the podcast!

Choosing to Inspire

Mystery Shore, Maine

I’ve been teaching workshops since 2009, and have probably lead over 60 workshops in total. It’s been a fantastic experience so far, and I’ve learned much more that I would have ever imagined had I not decided to become a workshop instructor. It’s also a privilege I am grateful for.

One key thing I’ve realized is that there are multiple approaches to teaching, some more effective than others, sometimes by a large margin. You can imagine the different scenarios based on your own experiences in school. There are the easy going teachers who simply recite information and knowledge, the teachers who intimidate us (the ones who do the most damage in my opinion,) and teachers who judge us.

But there are also the teachers who encourage and inspire us to be better than we think we can be. It only takes one to make a lasting impression for life.

I’ve had my fair share of all types, but the ones I remember fondly were the ones (perhaps only one from my childhood) who changed my way of thinking, the way I way I saw myself and the world around me. Not only did that profoundly change me at the time, but it also had a lasting impact on the way I approach teaching myself.

I prefer to inspire rather than to criticize or judge. The former places the focus on the student’s well being whereas the latter places the focus on my ego. That’s not to say that those who criticize are wrong or misguided, or even ineffective. But within the context of what I’m trying to accomplish in my workshops, inspiration seems to provide better results in my experience.

And in this context, we’re talking about personal creativity, not winning the Super Bowl or curing someone of cancer. Art is something we do for ourselves first, then for others second. We satisfy a yearning to articulate how we feel, and we gain confidence and validation from how others value that articulation.

But it’s not a life or death situation. For me, it’s far better to work from a place of confidence than a place of insecurity. That confidence can be razor thin, but it must exist to some degree. And I want my students to have that confidence as well.

Without it, sharing your vision will be really difficult.

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