A Photographer is a Writer of Light

I got the idea for the title of this post from a quote I found about writing:


The craft, art,  science, practice, or whatever else you wish to call it, of photography is all about light. Light’s a form of electromagnetic energy—one our bodies have evolved to sense and interpret.

We’ve also developed ways of recording light. We started with cave paintings, in which we recorded the results of successful hunts. Over time, we evolved our techniques for recording and enhancing images. The Italians discovered perspective in the 1500’s; it was a new technique for more accurately representing the 3-dimensional world on a 2-dimensional surface. Now, it’s something we all take for granted: from our viewpoint 500 years later, we can look back and say, “Well, duh! It’s so obvious! What took them so long?”

But now we’ve evolved our technology to the point where we can use chemicals and plastics to record light. Where once taking a scenic photograph involved carrying bulky and heavy equipment and supplies of chemicals and other materials, we can carry an entire photo lab in our back pockets.

I’m talking, of course, about mobile phones. In most areas of society today, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t have one. Governmental agencies have set up programs where even the homeless can get free phones and calling plans. Rarer still is the mobile that isn’t capable of taking photographs. We have become a nation of people obsessed with taking pictures of ourselves—the infamous “selfie.” And I don’t use the word infamous lightly; far too many of us have become so addicted to capturing the moment that we don’t experience it. Our $800 mobile phones have become $19.95 Kodak Instamatics.

Let’s be honest: how many of those thousands of selfies you have will mean anything to you in a year? A decade?

“You hold in your hand a device with more computing power than the computers that got us to thee moon, and all you can do with it is throw birds at pigs and take pictures of cats!” –often misattributed to Neil Armstrong

Stepping Down From my Soapbox

Okay, that’s enough ranting and editorializing. Let’s get back to the topic at hand, shall we?

There are numerous web pages which offer classes designed to teach you how to get rich from your photography. Most of them charge hefty fees, leading me to conclude that the best way to get rich quick from photography is by selling on-line classes that profess to teach other people how to get rich from photography.

Today, for the very first time ever, I am going to share you my own class on how to get rich from photography. And since it’s you, I’m making this one-time, never-to-be-repeated offer for only $99.95 $49.95 $29.95 $19.95 ABSOLUTELY FREE! Sorry, but at this price, I can’t afford to throw in the Amazing Ginsu Knives. But the best part is you already have most of what you need to succeed. Are you ready? Here’s my guaranteed foolproof way to get rich from your photography:1

  • Read everything you can about photography. Pinterest is a good place to start. It covers more photographic topics than I can list here. If you’re looking for a place to start, try right here.
  • RYFM! (pronounced “riffim,” it’s a hold-over from the early days of computer tech support and means read your f***ing manual!”  You need to know the basics of how your camera works.
  • Your mobile usually doesn’t come with a manual, so try here, here, here, and here.
  • Read as much as you can about photography, especially the fields that interest you the most: fashion, portraits, still life, macro, etc.
  • When my first daughter was born, her grandmother gave us a copy of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care. On the inside cover she had written, “When in doubt, put down the book and pick up the child. The same holds true with photography: you learn by doing, so log off the computer and go take pictures!
  • Study your results. What went wrong? What went right? Back in the days of film (yes, I really am that old), I always carried a notebook with me in which I recorded the details of every picture: film, camera, location, lighting conditions, ISO, shutter speed, aperture, etc. Today’s DSLR cameras (and most smartphones as well) record all hat information for you, right down to the GPS coordinates of where you were. This information (EXIF, for Exchangeable Image File Format), will help you analyze what you did wrong or right. Learn from it.
  • Above all, take pictures! Photographic skills are like muscles:  they need to be exercised for them to develop.

( 1-There really is no guaranteed, sure-fire way)


Keeping Your Photographs Safe



1. lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory:
the ephemeral joys of childhood.
2. lasting but one day:
an ephemeral flower.

3. anything short-lived, as certain insects.

To which I would add:
4. photographs.

The transient nature of photographs

Digital photography has come a long way since I bought my first digital camera. That was so long ago I can’t even remember what brand it was. It took pictures that barely looked like the original subjects. As time went by, the quality improved. The major names in photography—Canon, Nikon, Fuji—eventually came out with their offerings. Today, it’s almost impossible to find film cameras or even film.

My iPhone takes better pictures than that long-ago camera I owned. If you own a smartphone, you own a camera. In 2017, Business Insider estimated that worldwide, 1.2 trillion pictures will have been taken by the end of the year, largely as a result of smartphones.

That’s a lot of pictures. Some of them will even be worth keeping. I say “some,” advisedly: will you ever really go back and look at all those selfies you took? Will there be any context in which you’ll want to preserve them for your children, your grandchildren? If so, how are you going to be sure that they’re still around? The pictures, I mean.

I can still look at prints of photos of bats flying out of Carlsbad Caverns that I took back in 1967. I have prints from photos my dad took shortly after World War II. Do you still have those selfies you took three years ago? I have a picture of me when I was less than two years 0ld that my father took. And selfies in the 1950s? They required a camera, a tripod, and either a self-timer or a cable release to trip the shutter.

It took time, thought, and planning in those days to record memories. And the only reason my brothers and I still have those pictures is because of the care my father took in organizing and cataloging them over the years.

Storing photographs

Assuming you, too, have images you want to preserve, what’s the best way to do it? On memory cards? Can you be sure that the technology to read those cards will still exist 20 years from now? Or will they have gone the way of floppy disks?

There are, fortunately, several options available to you. Apple’s iCloud® and Microsoft’s OneDrive® are excellent options, as is Google Photos®.

But even they have their drawbacks, which I discovered to my dismay. I upload all my pictures from my iPhone to all three of those services. The problem arose when I ran out of storage space on the iPhone. Knowing that everything had been backed up to the cloud, I deleted them from my phone…only to discover that they had also been deleted from all three of those services!

Fortunately, I had already implemented my iPhone’s version of Robyn’s First Rule of Computing, which states “Be Paranoid and Compulsive.” I’ve been using computers for almost 40 years, so I know that it’s not a matter of if you’re going to lose files, but when. And so I had a safety net: I also download my pictures from all three cloud services onto my laptop, and then also copied them to an external hard drive.

Design a system that works for you

If you want to keep your pictures safe, you need to come up with a storage plan that works for you. This is mine:

  1. Every day, I upload my pictures to iCloud, OneDrive, and Google Photos.
  2. Next, I copy them from all three sources to my laptop, where I have separate folders from each of them.
  3. Once a week, I copy those folders to an external hard drive. If you don’t have one, you can burn them to a DVD however frequently you prefer.

Whatever system you come up with that works for use, use it consistently. Back up all or even just a few of your pictures—that’s up to you. But whatever you decide, you’ll thank me later—especially since you won’t have to come up with the lame excuse that “my puppy ate my memory card.”


I recently discovered a new (well, new to me, anyway) photo sharing site. Unsplash is a source for high-resolution, high-quality photographs. What makes them different from other similar sites is that you can use all of the images royalty-free. What does that mean in practical terms?

Unsplash License (for users)

All photos published on Unsplash can be used for free. You can use them for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the photographer or Unsplash, although it is appreciated when possible.

More precisely, Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. This license does not include the right to compile photos from Unsplash to replicate a similar or competing service.

Even though credit isn’t required, Unsplash photographers appreciate a credit as it provides exposure to their work and encourages them to continue sharing. A credit can be as simple as adding their name with a link to their profile or photo:

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Simple enough, right?

Still, I hesitated. I had my doubts. How do I, as a semi-professional photographer, benefit from giving my work away for free? Why would anyone choose to hire me when they could get my work for free? So I did some further checking.

It turns out that a lot of photographers whose works have been discovered through Unsplash have been hired my the very companies that used their free images. These clients liked something that they saw in the photographer’s work and decided to hire them for specific projects. And that’s the kind of advertising that money just can’t buy!

Unsplash License (For Photographers)

Limited License to Us. You grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free license (with the right to sublicense) to host, store, transfer, display, adapt, perform, reproduce, modify, translate, and distribute your User Content (in whole or in part) in any media formats and through any media channels (now known or hereafter developed). You understand that we will not pay you for any use of your Photos and that your Photos will be made available to the public for their use without providing you attribution or compensation.

Authority. When you upload Photos to the Service, in addition to the license that you grant us to post the Photos publicly and permit other Unsplash users to download and use them, you also authorize us under your copyrights to enforce any violations of the sublicenses we grant in the Photos to others. In other words, if an Unsplash user misuses one of your Photos downloaded from the Service, you authorize us to enforce your copyrights in the Photos on your behalf.

So I’ve  decided to give it a try. I’ll let you know how it goes.