Taking Pictures Has Always Been My Passion

A reminder: "The Art and Business of Photography"

I invite you to join us at the UW for my program. First class is Saturday, September 28, 2019. Bring your desire to succeed and your willingness to work hard. Here’s the link, check it out:


“Taking pictures has always been my passion”

Me at 11 months, bathing with my camera (with a touch of post-production help and humor)

Me at 11 months, bathing with my camera (with a touch of post-production help and humor)

Given my choices I would spend the day documenting my world as seen through my eyes. However, at the end of the day, no matter how passionate I may be about my art, I and photographers like myself must pay our bills, put food on our tables and roofs over our heads. We must attend to that aspect of our lives that isn’t art. Others may call this “jobs”.  

And so, with a little luck but mostly having worked like a madman to make a successful business career from my art, I am often asked to give lectures, presentations, or workshops about the art and business of photography.

Seattle Central College, Professional Photography Program, Instuctor

Seattle Central College, Professional Photography Program, Instuctor

I attempt to impart to others some nuggets of my struggles so that they may learn to separate their passion for their art from the business of making money at it.Or maybe I try to bring to the two together. In any case, the business of photography is a pretty straightforward discussion that I've led countless times.  

A few years ago, I was invited to speak to the Professional Photographers of Washington (PPW) in Chelan, WA. I wanted to bring a deeper dimension to that presentation. By nature I’m a shy person.  When I was in the 6thgrade, I asked to be the “manager” of my friend who was running for class president. It included standing on stage in front of the entire student body to introduce him. By the time I was called to the stage my palms were so sweaty I could barely stand, much less speak in front of hundreds of people. Taking the stage, I walked quickly to the mike, and garbled out: 


I then flew off the stage, knees trembling to take a breath of air. Since then, I have spent decades learning to feel comfortable in front of a crowd, of 3, 30, 300, or 3000. It hasn’t been an easy path albeit, for me, worth the effort.

Chicago Art Institute, nude workshop, Instructor

Chicago Art Institute, nude workshop, Instructor

Since then, I’ve been impressed by the speakers who open up to share a very personal experience that has affected them, and by so doing, affected me. I also wanted to step from behind my shyness and challenge myself to share my journey through personal and professional experiences. They are, after all, intertwined. These revelations have often had a tremendous impact on my understanding of my world. I was hopeful that in some small way my experiences could help others to see their lives a tad more clearly. With sincere reflection, I looked at my 30+ years in the photography business and how that life informed many of my choices. 

About every 10 years I feel the need to reinvent myself business-wise. The early part of my career was as a Medical Photography, followed by 12 years spent at the University of Washington as their chief staff photographer. Then another decade or so as a commercial/journalist photographer; followed by commissioned portraits. Running parallel to my business career was my exploration of photographic art as well as a devotion to community support, and a desire to be an effective educator and consultant.

PPW, Lake Chelan, Workshop Participants

PPW, Lake Chelan, Workshop Participants

At each of these junctures, something in my personal life informed the decision to change my business. I wanted my presentation to the PPW workshop in Chelan to incorporate these experiences and their perceived results.

With that in mind, I combined two previous presentations into one: the history of photography as seen through portraits, and my own personal journey through photography. More to follow...    

And last but not least.

JVH Digital Printing Festival will have a day of LARGE FORMAT printing and LARGE FORMAT printers to peruse. Thursday 10/3 8:00am-4:30pm. If you're a professional interested in perusing the best large format printers, papers and software this is the place. 

Here's the link: http://www.jvhtech.com/festival.php


Turning "Blah" portraits into "Wow" portraits


I invite you to join us at the UW for my program. First class is Saturday, 9/28/2019.  Bring your desire to succeed and your willingness to work hard.

Here’s the link, check it out:


 Recently the University of Washington-Tacoma has commissioned me to create a one year professional photography program. We’re scheduled to kick off in about 5 weeks!! Hard to believe it's happening so soon.

Leading up to this date, I’ve decided to provide a few thoughts about photography to allow y’all to peer into a few of the topics we’ll be covering.  

 I’ve lived in Tacoma now for over two years. One of my favorite pastimes is to walk around Wright Park. For those of you not familiar with the area it’s a beautiful 27 acres filling out 10 city blocks. The land was donated in 1886. Besides the many activities I enjoy seeing in the park often there are a number of portrait sessions  with  families, high school students, brides, to name a few.

 The late afternoon light is gorgeous. The subjects are often placed with their backs to the sun and afternoon light. It glimmers through the trees. As the photographers snap away I watch in earnest as many work with no apparent idea of the delicacy and difficulty of “back lighting” or "fill light". 

A definition: Fill light is a form of supplementary light mainly used to lighten shadows in an image.

They either do not know of “fill light”, or they have not mastered the art of the fill  or  perhaps, they do not care. I ask myself, "Is it a 'fix it in Photoshop' attitude?" 

 (Note: not all backlit subjects need fill light but most do. Additionally, available light photographs may be beautiful. I’m speaking to the vast majority of backlit portrait setups.)

Here’s the simple breakdown on conquering backlit situations. 

 If one has a bright light source behind the subject, .e.g. the setting sun, a bright window, a beautiful but bright sky, then more light is needed on the subjects face/bodies to separate them from the  background, or upon post-production not needing to fix an overexposed background in order to show detail in one’s subject. Manual exposure is called for to determine the perfect f-stop and shutter speed (also referred to as exposure). Technically untrained photographers may have no understanding or appreciation for manual exposure or the different outcomes of "fill" or "no fill". 

The idea of a fill light is to properly expose for detailed background and then add a fill light to your subject to create a beautiful frontal light source that provides an exposure balance between the foreground/subject and background. Here are a few examples.

I was working with a family near the Bainbridge ferry. Here are a couple of test shots to determine fill and exposure. The flash did not fire on the “left” image. The image on the right, it fired properly. 

No on the Left. Flash fill on the Right

No on the Left. Flash fill on the Right

These two images, side by side, with ONLY contrast to bring the two father’s faces to approximately the same values. Otherwise, there are changes.  

 So, what do you see different?

The image on the left:

•the shadows around the eyes remind me of a raccoon

•the flatness of the subjects

•the sky is over exposed and lacks detail 

•with no light reflection in the eyes the subjects look lifeless

 The image on the right:

•gives detail and texture to the face and bodies

•reduces or eliminates unwarranted shadows

•the sky has detail in the clouds

From my initial exposure measurement with the fill flash I determined I needed one less stop for the background sky. The final image had these revised exposure setting. 

 Here’s a final fun shot from the location:   

 A second example: My wife and I were on a Kona hiatus and I offered to take some sunset shots of our neighbor who was pregnant with her first child. I had only my camera and no immediate way to add a fill. So, I improvised.

No Fill, manual exposure for sunset. Fill added, completes the image and highlights subjects.

No Fill, manual exposure for sunset. Fill added, completes the image and highlights subjects.

•  Using MANUAL on my DSLR, I exposed for a beautiful rich sunset. 

•  The image on the right was adding my fill.

Other than some contrast neither has been retouched.  I believe the differences are apparent. 


Here are the final images:

With these two photos I put in the extra time to bring them to my vision. However, little time was spent on worrying about balancing the backlight to the subject. This saved a great deal of time to spend on the subject and composition (and add $$ to my bottom line).

To learn more about these techniques, please consider my UW-Tacoma course. Again, here’s the link:


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