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Archive for January, 2013

An Important First Step

don zeck lens capOne of the most important steps for you to advance your photography is to have your work reviewed. One on one targeted feedback on your images from talented professionals can help shape your future as a photographer and will provide invaluable business connections.

Don’t focus on the fear of showing your work and having it criticized; see this as an incredible opportunity to get first hand information. This is an opportunity to have one on one time with an individual whom you are not likely to secure an in-person meeting with outside of a review event. Think about it, you will be sitting in front of this person one on one for twenty minutes. If you ask them a question, they are on the spot to answer it. I have scheduled reviews solely to pick a persons brain, so to speak. Now you must be clever and respectful on how you do this, as first impression are very important. You should have a strong portfolio if you are going to sit in front of an editor of a major publication, even though your sole intention is not necessarily for their opinion of your work.

When you sit down, present your business card as you introduce yourself.  Let them know you would like to leave enough time at the end of the review for a few important questions. The questions can range from: how do I price my work appropriately, what is the best way to contact an editor directly or the owner of a gallery, what type of presentation or marketing stagey would draw a response from you, when is the best day and time to send an email that will get noticed? Remember, information is power!

A reviewer can provide creative guidance for works in progress, as well as marketing advice for completed projects. This will help you explore the marketability and business opportunities for the type work you are producing. Most events that host professional portfolio reviews have a variety of reviewers from different backgrounds. They usually offer reviews for all levels of photographers. There are two great venues coming up that offer theses professional reviews as part of their event.

The Nature Photography Summit hosted by NANPA (Feb 29-Mar2) . This is a great event and they have 20 reviewers. If you are a nature/wildlife photographer that wants to explore making a business out of your photography, this is the best investment you can make! Here is the link to the portfolio & editorial reviews- I also urge you to explore the entire program and the list of speakers.

The palm Springs Photo Festival (Apr 28-May3) is an event that is focused around having the best reviews in the industry. This event is not focused specifically around nature/wildlife and the reviews are geared for experienced photographers. In the past they have had the editors of National Geographic, Outdoor Photographer, PDN and  the curators from such venues as the Annenburg space of photography, Fahey/klein, and Peter Fetterman Gallery. This event is held on the west coast in spring and is part of the PDN event held in NY in the Fall. Here is the link to the reviewers that will be at this event.

Below are some Do’s and Don’ts that I have put together from both of these venues as well as from my own experience.


Limit your main portfolio to 20 solid images

Be honest with your self about the level your work is at. If you need another year of shooting before you start showing your book to top editors and art directors, sign up for reviews that will help get you to that level.

Take reviews from those whose credentials indicate their critique will be most valuable for you, may lead to work, or be a valuable connection in the future.

Research your reviewers and make sure your work is relevant to their area of expertise. Learn about what they do so when you sit down you may open with “ I’ve been following your magazine for years and feel my work would ad value to the publication” or “ I would love your feed back on my book project and recommendations for colleagues in the industry who may respond to my style of work”

Have a purpose for each review and communicate it to the reviewer. Have 1-3 specific questions ready, that you want to ask.

Invest in a proper portfolio/book. If you are reviewing with an art buyer, stock agent or editorial editor, then most likely the end out put of your work will be in print. Show them how great your work looks in print. You have 20 minutes to impress them. You will look more professional and it will give you an advantage over the photographers showing up with only a laptop or ipad. Do bring a lap top with a few solid back up portfolio’s, your review maybe interested in seeing more of your work. An ipad picks up too much glare reflecting everything; don’t show your work on one in a review session.

Have a well-printed leave behind. Invest in a graphic designer to help you create something that looks professional. You will be able to use this in marketing your work, so this is not a one-time investment. It is very easy to print small quantities these days and if you create a post card size you can use this to mail to potential clients. However, don’t force your leave behind on the reviewer. They may have several reasons they do not want to take it. It could be as simple as they don’t want the extra “stuff/clutter” in their lives. They will already have your contact information on your business card.


Don’t make excuses for your work such as: “ I didn’t bring my strongest work”  (why not?) “I didn’t have time to put together much, but this should give you an idea” (would you want to hire this person or trust them with a deadline?), “I just found out about this event”.  If you are not ready, do not go to a review.

Don’t argue with constructive criticism. The people looking at your work have years of experience. They are going to critique your work to help you understand what you need to do to improve the quality of your work, so you can compete on the level you are striving for. Listen to what they have to say and process it later, but don’t tell them they are wrong.

One last tip

Most reviewers are there to help and will be kind in the way they deliver their criticism. However, there are a few editors and curators that can be tough and brutal. The best way to prepare for a tough situation is to go the review area in advance. See who is sitting with your reviewer. When they exit the area, ask them about how it went and how the reviewer treated them. If they tell you they were tough, you will be prepared and not become defensive during your review. If you sign up for multiple reviewers, ask your first reviewer about the other reviewers on your list.  This strategy can be key for tough reviewers. When they see their harshness does not rattle you, they know you are professional enough to handle this extraordinary competitive, demanding, industry

Good Luck  

If this was helpful to you, please share it.


PiperMackayPiper Mackay is a world, wildlife and cultural photographer, based in Long Beach, California. She believes compelling visual images help to protect what is right in the world. Her work takes her to very remote locations, living cross culturally in the villages and environments that she is documenting.

Her work is heavily concentrated on the African continent, a land she fell in love with when she first touched foot on it’s rich red soil. Her passion for the natural world has grown into a lifelong commitment to inspire others to explore, respect and preserve the beauty of our fragile planet.

She believes compelling work comes when you invest time, living the stories you are trying to tell. It is important to interact and gain the trust of those whose stories you are telling, especially when sensitive and complicated. The world has enough images of poverty, pain and disaster, much more needful is imagery that reveals the beauty and dignity of the communities that are, except by their geography and circumstances, very similar to our own. Powerful images help shape the view of the world and play an important role in disseminating how cultures and wildlife are coping with the rapid changes happening in the developing world.

Piper’s images have been displayed at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, The Museum of History and industry, and  The Art Wolfe gallery, as well as local galleries.  Her work has been featured in Nature and travel publication through representation of several photo agencies, including Rangefinder, Nature’s Best, Birders, and the World Wildlife Fund.  She is an independent photographer and available for assignment work.

Her prior career in the fashion industry, where she was deeply involved with combing color and texture, has greatly enhanced her approach to the unique look and feel of each culture and photographic subject. This also gave her a strong background in business and marketing. Please visit Piper’s website at

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An Image is Born: A Digital Darkroom Tour

I’m not much of a computer geek.  I don’t enjoy spending hours in front of a monitor manipulating my images.  I’d rather be outside hiking, mountain biking or making more photographs.  Sure, I enjoy the creative endeavor of post-processing my images but when that involves more than about five minutes of work I quickly start to lose interest.  But, every once in a while an image comes along that leaves me no choice but to get down and dirty in the digital darkroom.  The image you see above, of the Fisher Towers and La Sal Mountains reflecting in the Colorado River, is one such image.

Last night I saw clouds developing over the mountains with a reasonably clear western horizon.  Hoping for an epic sunset I threw all my camera gear into the FJ and headed east on the River Road after excusing myself early from a parent/teacher meeting at my son’s school.  Priorities, right?  I arrived on location thirty minutes before sunset and scrambled down the steep embankment still wearing chinos and a pair of casual boots whose soles offered little to no grip in the loose dirt.  I was pleasantly surprised to only land on my butt one time before arriving at the edge of the mighty Colorado River.  Naturally, just as I got my tripod and camera in position the sun moved behind a cloud that killed the warm, late afternoon light.  So, I did what nature photographers do – I waited.  Luck was with me as an unseen, narrow gap on the horizon allowed sunset light to squeak through at just the last moment.  The snowcapped La Sals lit up with alpenglow and clouds streaking overhead turned a rich reddish-pink.  The dynamic range was a bit too much for my Canon 5D Mark II to handle but was easily controlled with a Singh-Ray 3 stop soft-step graduated neutral density filter.  I also used a Singh-Ray Vari ND filter at about 1/2 power to extend the shutter speed to 8 seconds, thus smoothing out some small, wind driven ripples in the water.  An interesting side effect of the long exposure was more color in the clouds than could be seen with the naked eye and a bit of movement that is difficult to discern at this small size.

Back home, I eagerly imported the photos into Lightroom 3.  Of the series I found only one that was razor sharp.  The others were a bit soft, most likely due to movement introduced during the long exposures while handholding the GND filter in front of the lens.  I made my initial edits in Lightroom, very slightly decreasing the exposure and brightness, increasing clarity by 20 points and vibrance by 10, a slight curves adjustment and a few tweaks to the HSL (hue/saturation/luminance) panel.  Better, but not quite there.  The sky and foreground were both too bright but I couldn’t make a global adjustment as each required its own independent adjustment to maintain exposure consistency.  Enter Lightroom’s mega-awesome digital grad filter!  I used one on the sky and another on the foreground.  Much better!  With the base image looking pretty good it was time to do some more work using Nik Software Viveza 2 and Color Efex Pro 4.

First up, Viveza 2.  I made a few minor global adjustments by increasing the contrast and saturation by 4 points, and structure by 20 points.  I decreased the shadows slider by 6 points, which resulted in deeper, richer shadows.  One of the first issues that needed to be resolved was the color temperature of the sky.  The clouds were nice and red, just as I’d remembered from a couple hours earlier.  The area of open sky, however, was a dingy gray – not the soft blue it should have been.  In Lightroom, using a white balance of 3,600 produced the correct color in open sky but the rest of the landscape and sky was far too cool.  With a white balance of 5,500, everything else looked good except the open sky.  I’d opted for a white balance of 5,500 since the majority of the scene looked good at this temperature.  In Viveza 2 I dropped a couple control points on the open sky, linked the points, and then made a few adjustments to bring back the soft blue sky.  Notably, I reduced the brightness, added saturation and, this is the main adjustment, decreased the warmth by about 20 points.  Voila – the blue sky triumphantly returns!  Since the blue sky was also reflecting in the water at the bottom of the image I copied a control point from the sky and dropped it on the area of water that reflected the sky.

At this point the image was coming along quite nicely but it still needed a little “ooomph”, which is a technical term I learned years ago.  I opened the photo in Nik Software Color Efex Pro 4 and used one of my favorite filters, Tonal Contrast, to independently increase contrast in the highlights, mid-tones and shadows.  The highlights already looked pretty good so I only gave them a boost of about 10.  Mid-tones and shadows were a little flat, though.  I increased each about 15 points, which gave them the “zing” (another very tehcnical term) I wanted.  The shadows, especially, came alive.  Muddy shadows are those that have detail but lack contrast.  The Tonal Contrast filter makes it super easy to clean them up.  I also used the Brilliance/Warmth filter in Color Efex Pro 4 to give the colors a little bit more “pop” (yep, you guessed it – yet another techno term).  I increased global saturation and perceptual saturation by 5 points each.

Back in Lightroom 3 I again applied two digital GND filters to reduce the exposure of the sky by about 1/2 stop and the foreground reflection by about 1/3 stop as I still thought they were each a bit brighter than I liked.  I guess I was going for a “dark and moody” look.  With those final touches in place I sat back, blinked for the first time in fifteen minutes, and took a big swig of iced tea.  There on the monitor before me was an image I was satisfied to have created in the field and perfected at my desk.

It took about fifteen minutes to completely process the image from start to finish, which is about three times as long as I typically spend post-processing a photo.  But, when an image has potential I just don’t have the heart to give up on it.  I can’t really call this a tutorial but I do hope you found the breakdown of my workflow somewhat beneficial.  I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.  Just leave a comment and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.

Also, if you’re convinced that you need Nik Software’s Viveza 2 or Color Efex Pro 4, I encourage you to visit their website and download a trial of the software.  If you like it and want to invest in it, use coupon code “BEDGE” at checkout for a 15% discount.

Bret Edge is a nature and adventure photographer in Moab, Utah. His interest in photography evolved as an extension of his life long passion for the outdoors. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, mountain biker and canyoneer. A visit in 1999 to an exhibit featuring photographs by Ansel Adams, Jack Dykinga and David Muench stoked Bret’s creative fire such that he immediately purchased his first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel. In the years since, he has traveled extensively throughout the American West creating a diverse portfolio of dynamic images.

Bret’s work has appeared in magazines, calendars, travel guides and advertising campaigns. His clients include Backpacker magazine, Popular Photography, the Utah Office of Tourism, Charles Schwab & Co. and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides.

While Bret enjoys seeing his work in print, he receives the most satisfaction by helping others realize their potential as photographers. He accomplishes this by leading several group workshops each year and guiding photographers on private photo excursions. For information about his workshops and guided excursions, visit To view a collection of Bret’s images, visit

Bret lives in Moab with his wife, Melissa, their son Jackson, and two All-Terrain Pugs named Bierstadt and Petunia.

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Returning To A Familiar Place

Well it’s official… it’s winter. As I type this post a small layer of snow slowly accumulates on my lawn outside. It’s been three days now and it hasn’t left… I have a pretty good feeling that it’s here to stay. This time of year is always an interesting one for photography.

From about November onwards the most prominent colour in the landscape is brown, and most trees are left bare giving the surrounding area a rather dull/dead look. At first glance these attributes are far from attractive and used to leave me with a lack of motivation.

As I’ve grown as a photographer I’ve learned how important it is to be able to look beyond first impressions and really study the landscape. There are images everywhere and it all comes down to choosing the right elements such as light quality and composition to help compliment your subject.

Last weekend I headed out to an area not far from my home named “Torrance Barrens”. This area is a unique conservation reserve designated by the province of Ontario in 1999 as the world’s first permanent dark sky reserve. The area itself is unique compared to anything else in the region. Large rock outcrops and an abundance of plant and wildlife make this a great place to hike and photograph. On top of all this the area is extremely peaceful… every time I’ve visited I’ve either been the only one there or saw few others.

This particular morning was fairly mild and the difference in temperature over night left the land covered in thick fog. I roamed the landscape stopping at a few spots to explore the area with my camera and create some more intimate images. This was my first time out shooting since my recent trip to Hawaii and the scenery couldn’t have been anymore opposite. Soft contrast and subtle shapes and colours, compared to big bold dramatic skies and the powerful ocean.

To be honest it was a nice change and just reminded me of how much beauty there is in any location. I took advantage of the conditions and explored the area for the first four hours of the morning. This particular morning was proof that some of the best things in life are free.

The following is a collection of the images I created that morning. I hope you enjoy! 

Kyle McDougall is a landscape photographer/workshop leader based out of Ontario, Canada.  He specializes in creating fine art images that touch on both a visual and emotional level.  When not outside exploring the land you can find Kyle online sharing his images and helping others through his instructional articles.  In 2012 Kyle was chosen by Photolife Magazine as one of Canada’s Emerging Photographers.  To view more of his work please visit his website:

Posted in: Photography Destinations

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