Figuring Out What To Charge For Photography Services!

Figuring Out What To Charge For Photography Services!

by William Lulow


Note: This is an article I have published previously. Every time I publish it, I add new information.

Putting a price on your photographic services has always been a challenge. The best advice I’ve come up with is first to do some homework. You need to take a look at the kind of photography you do and examine carefully, how good you think you are at your job compared to other photographers in the marketplace. If you’ve been working in photography for a while, if you’ve been an assistant in a busy studio and seen first-hand, how the business is run, if you’ve had a number of repeat clients (people who have come back to you for more than just a couple of assignments), if you are supremely confident about your ability to make photographs that have sold products or been used in magazines, newspapers, brochures and on the web, then you should be at the higher end of the pricing scale. Maybe not the top, but up there! The top tier photographer is the person who you’ve heard about, seen in promotions for photo gear, or whose credit you have seen time and again, in major magazines and newspapers. These are the people who are the most sought after and therefore, can command the best fees for commercial jobs. Keep in mind that magazines and newspapers don’t pay as much as advertisements. So, there are many photographers whom you may not have heard of, but who are still at the top of the pay scale.  If you have a busy studio in which you are shooting several times per week and at good day rates ($2,500 and up), then you have a good business. If you keep getting referrals for new business, if you are continually booking new shoots on a regular basis, then your prices should reflect your business.

Also, keep in mind that if you have an agent or representative, they usually take 50% of each booking as their fee. So, if an agent represents just you or one photographer only, you will have to earn enough to keep the both of you in business. Usually, agents represent a number of artists at the same time. That way, they can increase their “take home” money without depending on just one artist. It’s also rare that an agent would take on a beginner, unless that artist is very well connected to the kinds of clients that can help him or her generate large fees.

So, if you are booked at least two full days of shooting each week, (translates into about $5,000 per week or roughly a $200,000 yearly gross, based on 40 weeks a year of work, not including extras), that’s probably not enough to pay for rent, staff and living expenses in New York City, but it might just be enough in a smaller market. On the other hand, if you are booked five days each week (not many are), that will translate to a $500,000 yearly gross. That might be enough to own and operate a photographic studio in New York City. My experience has been though, that the five-day-per-week shooting schedule is not the norm at those prices. You might have days when you can command higher fees, but you will also have days when you can’t! Also, don’t forget that even with a $500K-a-year business, you might be able to put half of that in your pocket after taxes and expenses. (Also, remember that studio space in a market like New York City, is very expensive – maybe as much as $5-10K/month for a decent sized space). So, will $250,000 per year support the lifestyle you want? (Don’t forget personal income taxes on top of corporate taxes, if you are an LLC! If your business grosses this much, you can figure that you’ll take home around  $165,000 as your salary). Can you send your kids to college with that income? Will it be enough to pay rent on your studio as well as enable you to live in a decent apartment or house, pay the commuting expenses as well as everything else? That’s something we all have to figure out for ourselves. And don’t forget that most photographers who are sole proprietors (i.e., they are basically one-man/woman operations with assistants hired as needed), are not actually shooting five days per week. That kind of schedule is mostly for large studios that have daily photographic needs (or these days, large corporate entities with complete photo departments and studios. These corporations typically hire photographers, but since they are on salary, they may make around $50K – $60K per year, minus taxes and social security). These kinds of shooters have limited ability to earn large fees because they are regular employees.

And, 40 booked weeks per year for the average entrepreneur, is almost unheard of. When I had my studio in NYC, and was earning what I considered to be a decent amount of money back in the 1980s, I can remember having about 10 – 15 “open weeks” during the course of the year. Those were weeks when I had no bookings at all. There are some highly successful wedding shooters who maybe book 35 to 40 weddings a year. But they are at the top of the list.  This means that they are shooting almost every weekend. Some large wedding studios with multiple shooters will be booked 52 weekends a year as well as both Saturday and Sunday. But, this is almost impossible for one shooter. You have to provide yourself with some vacation time and take a rest once in a while to enjoy your family!

So, for the successful wedding photographer who charges say, $5000 for a wedding (there are quite a few “celebrity wedding” shooters who can charge quite a bit more), and who spends at least 20 hours shooting and editing the shots, that translates to $250 per hour, not taking into account expenses. Let’s say that of that $5000, the photographer pays $400 – $500 to an assistant (or second shooter), $1000 on album cost (not including editing time), this now brings the hourly rate down to around $180 per hour. (Quite a few wedding shooters charge extra for the album, but that may only add $1500 or so to the gross).  Now, of that $180, she would have to pay tax, rent on an office or studio, advertising costs as well as website design and maintenance, auto maintenance and purchase, computer purchase, phone bills, electricity costs, workmen’s comp insurance, other insurance as well as keeping equipment up to date, etc. All this has to be factored in to what she would ultimately charge.

Now, for the portrait photographer it’s a bit different. Many portrait studios charge a minimum shooting fee and then try to make up the difference on print orders after the shoot. Assuming the client really likes the images, maybe the total sale might amount to $750 or so. To my mind, that’s a lot for the average family to spend on pictures these days. But, I’ve looked at more than a few studios who use this business model and they seem to be thriving. (At least when I visited them). At this rate, this studio would also gross about $500,000 per 40 week year. This is based on a 5-day-per-week shooting schedule and around 3 clients per day.(If they can handle more than that, it would, of course, increase their gross).  Again, of that $500K, roughly half is expenses. One studio I visited was in an upscale strip mall-type shopping center in the Northeast. I’m sure their rent was at least $10K per month because they had a fairly large space with at least 3 shooters. But, here I’m talking about the individual photographer who couldn’t possibly handle that kind of volume. So, when you actually crunch the numbers, you can see that unless you treat your “artistic expression” as a business, you won’t be making big bucks from professional photography. And, the people who run these types of studios are really business owners rather than photographers. They hire photographers to do the shooting (grunt work) for them.

However, these are just some of the things we need to consider when trying to figure out how to put a price on our artistic work. There are even people these days, who invest in a top-of-the-line digital camera and compatible speedlight, who are content to book whatever jobs they can find. Perhaps they are wives whose husbands can afford to fund their interest in photography. They, therefore, have no real expenses to worry about, no staff to pay, no taxes to file (other than their personal income taxes), no insurance to carry, etc. These “dilettante photographers,” as I like to call them, really don’t do their work as business people. They are shooting more as amateurs, because they love to take pictures, even though they might get paid for it. These are not the people of whom I am speaking.

If you are just starting out in the photography game, you have to take that into account as well. Obviously, you cannot charge what a well-known name can, but you must place a value on your artistic ability. Keep in mind that everything photographers do in creating their art has a value. Just because you are starting out, doesn’t mean that you have to work for free. As I said, you need to do your homework. Nowadays, you can find photographers whose work you admire on the internet and try to see what they charge for their services. You’ll need to know what they provide and how they deliver the final product. (Not all photographers deliver the job in the form of photographic prints).  This may entail getting someone to call them, discuss a possible job and try to get their prices. (A wife or girl friend might do this for you). Some photographers publish their prices on their websites. More often than not, they don’t. This is because they usually need to meet with a prospective client to find out what they are willing to pay and what exactly, the job entails. Most commercial photographers bill on a “day rate plus expenses.” This means a fee for the photographer’s time and expertise, plus extra for transportation, assistants, digital post-processing, uploads and downloads as well as disc burning/flash drive creation and delivery. Extra fees might include: stylists, location scouts, additional rental equipment, as well as studio rentals. These items should be detailed on your estimate and invoice.

These days, many clients don’t pay what they used to. There is no film, no processing, no tests, no Polaroids. These are items that a photographer could “mark up” and thereby add to her profit margins. But, much of what it used to cost to produce a professional assignment has been eliminated by the digital revolution. Clients may feel that they could do the job themselves, so why hire a pro?  So, photographers need to try to figure out what their time is worth based on the items I have detailed above, and stick to it.

I hope you can easily see from this that doing a shot for $50 is not even feasible for a serious photographer/businessperson. People who say things like “This shot will only take an hour,” really do not understand what goes into producing a top-notch commercial-type photograph. They don’t realize that unless you live in their house, it will cost you something just to get to where the shot needs to be done. Even if you go by subway, it’s still going to cost something. So, the $50 is now less transportation costs. Now, in the digital age, you will have to spend some time uploading the image to your computer, then do some manipulation in Photoshop ($700 program which actually cannot be purchased these days. It must be licensed on a monthly or yearly basis), and then email the image or burn it do a disc for this client. So, now you’ve put in say, two hours for that $50, plus the transportation cost plus the cost of postage and handling. We are now down to around $30 that you get to put in your pocket for the two hours. That’s $15 per hour. It’s above the minimum wage, but not by much. And, you still haven’t factored in the cost of your equipment and your learning curve!

I would say that the minimum fee to charge for any professional image should be $350. This is for one basic shot that should take no more than an hour to shoot. If I do a simple still life (product shot), or a headshot on white no-seam paper, in my studio, I have to:

  • Have client send product or travel to pick it up, or travel to a location, or have client come to the studio for a portrait, or do it on their premises
  • Clear a space in the studio
  • Set up a table top
  • Put up the paper background
  • Set up all appropriate lights
  • Do a series of test shots
  • Adjust the product or decorate the set with appropriate props (if called for)
  • Download the images to the computer
  • Analyze and manipulate the shots as needed in Photoshop & Lightroom
  • Size the images for the intended use
  • Burn images to a disc or send them to client via FTP or other file transfer program
  • Make sure the images are acceptable
  • Write up an invoice for transmittal
  • Wait for the check to arrive. (For this, you often have to be a bank because some clients take more than 30 days to pay. This means that you are, in essence, lending them the money. As an example, I recently was hired by an old client to do a series of images at a wedding. It took 45 days and a couple of emails, to get my money).

So, the one hour shot may take actually several hours including set up, photography, set strike and post production. Does that mean the we should only charge for the hour it takes to make the actual image? I don’t think so.

Therefore, before you accept those really low-paying jobs, make sure you understand how photographers arrive at their pricing schedules, what’s involved in a professional photo shoot and what you have to do to compete in this market. Sometimes clients need to be educated as to what all of this entails and exactly what they will be paying for. Each photographer also has to decide for him or herself, at what income level they are willing to live and how much time and effort they put into their craft. I should also add that some pricing schedules for photographers sometimes revolve around what the market will bear as well as what other, similar photographers charge. Much of this will determine what you can charge for your services.

“Smash Cake” One-Year-Old Photographs

“Smash Cake” One-Year-Old Photographs

by William Lulow

Well, my daughter asked me to do some photographs of our granddaughter for her first birthday! I certainly would have done it anyway, as I have been documenting her growth every three months or so, but this time she wanted what is referred to as a “Smash Cake” shoot. This is a recent fad among 30-somethings where they put their infants down on a background and then put a cake in front of them and let them do what they will! It’s actually a lot of fun.

As I have said before, shooting infants is really a matter of preparation. You have to be all set up and ready to go from the outset, because the infant is liable to do most anything and will certainly make a mess of a white no-seam. (Which can then just be cut off and thrown away after the shoot).

It’s not something I do regularly, but usually when I photograph children, I’m ready for any action on the set. These images were all shot at f/9, f/10 or f/11 at 1/100th of a second and an ISO of 100 with 20mm f/2.8 and 60mm macro lenses! The entire shoot took about 20 minutes, which is a long time for any child. My granddaughter, however was intent on tasting the cake and savoring its flavors, so she actually sat there for quite a while. Some kids will crawl up to the cake and immediately crawl away again! You just never know what a child’s reaction will be to whatever is put in front of them. You need to be ready for anything!

I knew a children’s photographer once, who was very successful at posing kids and was able to use a system of lights that really almost treated them as adults. But I have always preferred to try to capture their various moods and movements on a plain, white background.

The other thing to keep in mind about photographing children is that it is almost always a documentary process of capturing a child’s growth. If you always shoot with the same background, it tends to call attention to the physical changes in a child rather than the setting itself.

This is also a setup that I can take on location and shoot in the family’s home. After the shoot, as I said, the no-seam can just be cut off and discarded. As a note, our granddaughter, Haylie, had a very calm “smash cake” session. She preferred to pick at parts of the cake and the icing, clearly enjoying the experience, rather than beating up on the poor cake!

Note: Styling and props by Jamie Glickman

Why Hair & Makeup Are Effective For Commercial Portraiture

Why Hair & Makeup Are Effective For Commercial Portraiture

by William Lulow

At the risk of repeating myself, which I sometimes do, there is really no substitute for professional hair & makeup services when you’re doing a portrait. It just adds a finishing touch to whomever you are shooting. Makeup was designed to highlight certain features both of men and women. Men, naturally, don’t need the full treatment, as women do, but sometimes some powder doesn’t hurt them either. I’ve had men come to me for professional pictures with a day’s beard growth on their faces. This doesn’t look professional, unless they’re going for the “gruffy” look.

Women, on the other hand, can always benefit from the right hair and makeup treatment. I actually learned quite a bit about applying makeup for photography from a fellow named Francesco Romo, a number of years ago, when I was shooting a lot more fashion pictures. He walked me through the correct ways of applying makeup from base, to contour to rouge so as to highlight a woman’s cheekbones, for instance. It’s amazing how similar to lighting the application of makeup is. You are trying to bring out the best qualities in a face while trying to hide any imperfections.

Here’s a typical “before” shot of beautiful Emma Schoetz:


The lighting is pretty much the way I like it, surrounding the face with light to produce a light, flat look. She looks pretty good here, with clean hair and clean face. That’s how you have to start.

Here’s one of the shots after the hair & makeup has been applied:


I turned off the background light for this shot, otherwise, the lighting is the same. The difference is remarkable because here, she looks much more radiant. Skin flaws have been covered up and the face looks much more even in tone.

The trick with hair & makeup for photography is to have the application not call too much attention to itself. My goal is always to have the person look like themselves, but at their best! The curl in the hair was Emma’s idea. The other thing I’ve noticed is that when people have their hair & makeup done, they are naturally much more invested in the shot itself. It takes a while to do an effective job with someone’s hair & makeup. The time it takes helps involve the subject more in the process. So, I find that expressions are more alive and the overall tone of the images themselves are elevated and more intense because the subject has much more invested as well.


Shooting Interiors

Shooting Interiors

by William Lulow

I have often stressed that when doing almost any type of photographs, the background needs to be lit as well as the main scene. There are times when you don’t want to do this, but most cases really require it.

The eye tends to see a scene in its entirety, but film and digital sensors (although very sensitive to light) do not. So, photographers have to “help” their cameras “see” what they want them to.

Here’s an example:

This shot of a table setting was lit with only one light bounced off the ceiling. It created a nice, soft light in the room, but the room behind it was completely unlit, therefore it appeared dark in the image.

Now, if you are trying to light just the one room, this would be fine because it tends to highlight only what is directly in front of the camera. But, if you wished to see what was in the next room, to provide a good “normal” view of the whole interior, obviously you would need to light the other room as well.

Here is the example of that:

This image was produced with a single light in the back room, also bounced off the ceiling. Again, obviously, there is much more information included about the whole interior. Here’s how the lights were set up. Very simple:

In this case, all that was needed was enough light to help the camera “see” into both rooms. (Note that in the above images, the kitchen was not lit. If I had wanted to show the kitchen, I would have had to place a light there as well.

Another way to do these types of interior shots is by placing the camera on a tripod and shooting with available light, which many photographers do. The problem here comes when you try to include a window. Since, when doing interiors with available light you often have to use very slow shutter speeds, this tends to blow out any outdoor light that may be included in the scene. I’ve even heard of some photographers who use a program called Photomatix, take several exposures of the interior and let the program combine them to produce an acceptable, overall exposure. The proper way to include outdoor light in an interior photograph however is to take a reading of the light coming in the window and then balance your artificial light to give a proper, overall exposure of the scene.

Here, I took a reading with my camera’s meter of the light coming in the window and adjusted my overall exposure to render the image more or less even. This image was lit with only one flash placed off to the left and out of frame, creating the highlights on the furniture. I could have placed another light in the room, but it might have provided too much light. I wanted to keep all the tones muted.

So, if you are doing interior photographs, first measure the light coming in any windows (which can be thought of as “background” light), then balance your flash with that exposure. And, make sure that any background rooms in the scene are lit with that same flash exposure to ensure a total, correct exposure for the shot.

The Power Of Filtered Light

The Power Of Filtered Light

by William Lulow

Recently, I was assigned to shoot a Reiki master for her website and other promotional materials. From talking to the client before hand, I learned that she strived to provide a warm, calming atmosphere in which she could go about her healing. I naturally thought that a warm photograph was needed to convey this feeling. When I arrived at her office, I had some ideas about how I would make the room look warm. One was to shoot with available light and let the incandescent light provide a warm look. The other was to filter my flash units with a yellow gel that would simulate the look of incandescent light.

I’ve written about color temperature before, but let it suffice that incandescent light (light from an ordinary light bulb) looks yellow to a sensor or film balanced for daylight. Measured on the Kelvin scale, it registers about 3200K. (Daylight, for instance, measures around 5500K, which is much more toward the blue end of the visible light spectrum). If you left your camera’s sensor on AWB (Auto White Balance), you probably wouldn’t be able to pick up much of the light bulb’s incandescent color temperature (yellow). And, if you simply lit up the room with your flash, everything would be registered as “normal”, i.e., daylight which is a cooler-looking light. That would defeat what you were trying to do with the light – create a warm-looking atmosphere. Here’s what the room would look like lit only with unfiltered flash:

Everything looks fine, but the room doesn’t have any warmth to it.

The solution to this lighting problem was to filter the flash head with a yellow filter and slow down the shutter speed so that some of the warmer tones from the flash’s modeling light combined with the ambient room light, produced the warm result:

The slower shutter speed of the lead image in this article helped to render the scene warmer by letting in more ambient light from both the flash head’s modeling light and the regular room light. The the look on the above photograph was produced by mostly filtered light and created the close-up we were trying to achieve. I even liked the warmer tones on the subject’s face.  (Exposures were f/5.6 -f/7.1 @ 1/20th of a second, ISO 100, camera on a tripod and subject asked not to move).

Thanks to Donna Miller-Small, Reiki Master.



Making Images With Your Smartphone

Making Images With Your Smartphone

by William Lulow

Nearly everyone has some kind of smartphone these days, and since they all have cameras built in to them, nearly everyone takes pictures these days. You don’t need to carry a “real” camera anymore. Just use your phone!

The problem is that nearly everyone simply raises their phone to their eye and snaps away. And, most people find that very easy, but there is a whole lot more to making good images than to simply record what’s in front of you. If you just want to record something that transpires before you, fine! Just hold your phone up and record it. But, if you want to make more interesting images, here are a couple of tips for using your smartphone’s camera more creatively. Many of these ideas revolve around noticing that LIGHT is really the defining element in just about all photographs. (The definition of PHOTOGRAPH is “light – picture”).

  1. Try a different angle. Get down on the floor or on the ground to capture your subject. Or, climb a tree! (I’m not being facetious here). Do something to change the angle. Don’t just simply hold the camera up to your eye.
  2. Look for different types of light. Shoot INTO the sun once in a while. In order to do this successfully, however, you will need to shade your lens. Find some nearby shade like under a tree, for example, and shoot a subject standing in the sun. Here, I asked the subject to go stand in the sun, while I was in the shade.
  3. Try doing more closeups. This goes with trying to change the angle, but smartphone cameras are quite versatile and can handle closeups very well.
  4. If you must include someone in the shot, make them secondary. That is, have them off to one side rather than just plopping them down in front of a landmark, for instance. Your image will be much more interesting. It will include your loved ones, but not obscure the landmark you are trying to record:Notice here how the Freedom Tower and part of the Brooklyn Bridge are in the shot but it shows the couple being there as well. They are also doing something other than just standing there in front of the landmarks. They’re not really secondary here, but they are off to one side in the composition. 

So, there are many ways of making your smartphone images better. Think always of the LIGHT and the ANGLE OF THE CAMERA. This will greatly improve your photographic efforts with any camera.

What Makes A Great Portrait?

What Makes A Great Portrait?

by William Lulow

On my home page, I indicate that light is probably the single most important element to consider when doing portraits. But, once you’ve decided on the kind of lighting you want to use, and you’ve got all your exposures and light placement down right where you want them,  the next most important thing is to find a combination of expression and attitude that says what you want to say about someone you are photographing.

Today, I’m going to take you behind the scenes a bit,  in this process!

I am always called on to make portraits of individuals that can “sell” them! By this I mean, that I want a viewer to look at one of my portraits and think “I’d like to meet that person,” or listen to what she has to say. So, my technique includes making many images while I engage my subjects in conversation, mostly trying to find out what will animate them and bring out their personalities a bit. The shoots average around one hundred poses. Some are very similar, but there is always one that captures that elusive moment when the subject has become relaxed and begins to have an emotional attachment to the camera. Such was the case recently with one of my Linked In connections who needed to update her portrait. 

One of the things I’m fond of doing during the shoot is NOT to look in the camera all the time. I set my camera on a tripod and when everything else is all set up, there is really no reason I need to be looking in the viewfinder. Perhaps this is a throwback to the days when I shot many portraits with a view camera and film and thus was not able to be looking in the viewfinder when the photograph was made. So, I position my face as close to the lens as I can and sometimes I ask my subjects to play to the lens. They can still see my face so that there is nothing blocking them from seeing me. The camera should not really be in the way of the photographer relating to his subject.

The other thing I’m always looking for when I do portraits, is the expression in my subjects’ eyes. The eyes are the most important element of the face when it comes to portraits. First of all, there are usually the white parts of the eye and then there is the color of the eyes themselves. Second, when the subject is truly involved in the shoot and is reacting to conversation, there is a certain gleam present in the eyes that creates that intangible feeling of connection for which I’m always on the lookout!

Here are some samples from this recent shoot:

Note that all of these images were taken at the same time, perhaps just seconds apart. They have also been chosen by the subject and there has been some basic retouching done on all of them. To me, they are all pretty good and they show the subject off with a high degree of clarity. The lighting was just what I wanted. So, what makes the difference? Obviously, the larger one (which is a blowup of the last one above it), is better than the rest. But what makes it so?

Well, I’m looking for several things: the angle of the head, the shape of the mouth and the intensity of the expression. Remember, I want people to look at these images and think “I would love to meet this person.” So, left to right on the top, the first portrait is good, but there isn’t much happening in the eyes. In the second one, the angle of the head may be just a bit stilted. The third is much more direct. The head is straight up and there is a glimmer of something in the eyes, but the last one has a “presence” about it. It’s friendly but also professional. The eyes have a definite gleam and it is a welcoming kind of portrait. This is the one that we both agreed would be the one she would use.

This is the process that I use most often when deciding which image, out of a hundred or so, to use. Sometimes it is very difficult to pick a best one. And, many of my clients have told me that the most difficulty they have is picking among a number of great images. That’s the result I always want to have.

Note: Thanks to Michele Magazine of Michele Magazine Search, LLC . Michele is an executive search professional in the New York City area.


Photographers’ Use Of The Social Media

Photographers’ Use Of The Social Media

by William Lulow

I think everyone would agree that if you’re in business these days, you need to be on the social media. It’s really the way that people communicate most often and the most quickly. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out how the various algorithms work in terms of posting and re-posting articles, but I believe it’s necessary to post valuable and interesting content in whatever field you happen to be. Not only does it let people know who and where you are, but it adds information to the ever-growing fund of knowledge on the internet.

Also, photography is one of those services that people will only buy when they need it. It’s not like a product that’s bought on “impulse” or something someone decides they have to have! Commercial photographs are purchased to serve a particular purpose, mostly in selling something or someone. But, when someone needs a commercial photograph, they will be searching for a photographer who can best fill the need, whatever it may be. That’s what the internet and the social media help photographers to do. They keep your name “out there” so that people can find you when they need you.

Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and Instagram all work somewhat differently but they provide the ability to link the same post to each other’s feeds, so it’s really easy to make sure that your post gets seen by the largest possible audience. This has been a plus for me as it has for other photographers as well.

It has really become a “do-it-yourself” world out there and that’s one of the main reasons I like to post my brand of instructional articles on a regular basis. I have been doing so for over four years now, every week, twice per week. One reason I work so hard at it is because I feel it’s necessary for me to pay back a bit for the success I’ve had. In addition, photography has been made easier, somewhat, by the invention of digital cameras and the digital process generally. Today, anyone with a decent digital camera can claim to be a photographer!

However, taking good pictures and doing it as a profession are two very different notions. So, I feel it’s my duty, as a photography teacher, to give as much information as I can to future photographers so that they can raise their skills to the level they desire for whatever their interests in picture making may be.

I think there is a good deal of information that many people who want to be photographers (or to express themselves through the medium), simply don’t have. For instance, many younger practitioners today, haven’t really bothered to study anything about photography’s history. Many of these people have never heard of Irving Penn, Richard Avedon or Philippe Halsman. They’ve never seen the original prints of W.Eugene Smith or Ansel Adams. They don’t know what the FSA was or that people like Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans actually had jobs as photographers during the Great Depression! And, they might have heard of Matthew Brady, but probably don’t know when he lived or how influential he was! Nor are they aware of the kinds of equipment used in photography’s infancy and how it all led up to today’s “digital revolution.” Understanding the history of any medium is important to learning about its future as well.

The social media is simply the best way of publishing articles and photographs  that have relevancy today. But because you are, in essence, your own editor, you don’t need to have your article approved by anyone but yourself, so it is therefore, incumbent on you as a writer,  to make your content as interesting and well-written as possible.

Everyone today devours content immediately and quickly moves on to the next bit of information out there. As photographers, we need to strive to make our images the best they can be, not publish them just because we made them. We all take pictures with our camera phones these days, but why not learn some elements of composition so that they can all be better? Since there are so many more images, taking the time to think about yours will go a long way to making them stand out.

Here is one of my own iPhone images:


(An image made with my camera phone)

I post photographs with explanations of how they were made! Most of my blog articles contain detailed information about cameras, lenses, lighting and teaching techniques that help today’s digital shooters improve their photographic efforts. I sometimes offer “behind the scenes” images of particular photo shoots so that others can see what went into making the pictures.


(This is the lighting setup for a cover shoot at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York City back in February of 2016).

So, the social media can help spread your name and images but you need to try hard to make your posts informational and not trivial!


How Light Is Used To Create Images – V

How Light Is Used To Create Images – V

by William Lulow

In the past few articles I’ve discussed how light is used to create images. But, there’s a whole lot more to it than that. The “Psychology Of Light” comes into play here as well. Once the photographer has decided what lights she will use, the decision has to be made on how exactly to use them. What kinds of lighting will be used to create just the kind of photograph desired?

Like most everything else, light has a definite psychology. Dark images are “moody” or convey a sense of mystery. Light images are usually happy and convey a sense of lightness or airy-ness! It is important to keep these things in mind whenever you start to do a portrait. You need to find out what the final “judge” of the picture wants. Portraits for websites and other publicity images need to be informational. They need to show what the person looks like, but at his or her best. Personal images, the shots that photographers usually do for themselves or their portfolios, can really be anything they like. I’ve often said that a personal portrait is more about the photographer than the subject. Many famous photographers have photographed the same subjects, yet they all look different. That’s because each photographer has a different “take” on how the subject looks.

You have to keep the rules in mind. Publicity and advertising photographs are most often “directed” by someone other than the subject (an art director, usually). So, if you want to sell those images, those are the people you need to please. If you’re doing a private commission, I would suggest finding out how the subject sees him or herself and then try to please them. If you’re doing a photograph for your own book or collection, then you are free to make whatever kind of image pleases you!

So, “light” pictures are mostly informational and must be lit accordingly. You need to fill in shadows and add highlights and keep the backgrounds light to make the image have an uplifting psychological impact. Conversely, if you’re trying to create a psychologically “down” feel, then the lighting should be shadowy, moody and the backgrounds dark.

Once you have been able to make these types of images consistently in your body of work, you can then try breaking these “rules” and discover what effects you can create.

Here’s a psychologically “light” image:

Expressions are smiling and the background is light. Here’s more of a moody image:

This is lit by a single edge light and the subject has a serious expression.

Keeping expressions in mind is important to the outcome of your portraits. I usually like to talk to my subjects to try to elicit expressions, but if you’re creating a “mood” portrait, sometimes playing slow music can help. Trying to control the “psychology” of your shoots will lead to better portraits that really say something about you as a photographic artist. And, using light creatively usually makes all the difference in portraiture.

February 11, 2017 Workshop

Lighting Workshop – FEB 11, 2017

by William Lulow

I have said many times that the best way to learn anything, any technique or process, is to be able to see it demonstrated and then to try to repeat the lesson taught in the demonstration. As a matter of fact, the first time you see something demonstrated, you still may not be able to pick up every nuance and detail of what you are trying to learn. It takes just about constant practice until you fully integrate all the details with the process itself, no matter what it is.

With studio lighting it is no different. So, my technique involves not just simple explanation, but actual demonstration of a specific effect. In my latest workshop, I was demonstrating the difference between hotlights (continuous light) and flash. First, I explained that the flash was many times brighter than the continuous light. Next, we discussed the nature of flash as opposed to the continuous light, noting that the flash was extremely brief while the continuous light was on all the time. Then, we began making some exposures. I asked the students what they thought would happen when we combined the flash with the hotlight.

(Student working with hotlight for demonstrating basic studio lighting setups)

They all agreed that the flash would be a lot brighter and perhaps overpower the hotlight. Then they tried it and discovered they were right. They could hardly see the effect of the hotlight at all. The next step was to establish a correct exposure for the flash. I told them that that depended on the “lamp-to-subject” distance (how far the flash was from the subject). They all got the exposure correct. I asked them what they would have to do next to be able to “see” the hotlight. They all agreed that they would have to slow down the shutter speed. These were students, all of whom understood the various relationships between ISO settings, shutter speeds and apertures to control exposures, but they hadn’t thought about being able to combine ambient light with their flash units.

In fact, photographers do this all the time. By taking into account how much ambient light there is in any given scene, you can adjust your exposure with your flash so that the flash, in effect, becomes a “fill-in” light and helps you control the effect of the what the ambient light lets the camera “see.”

This is an image I made in daylight with a flash fill-in. I do this all the time when shooting outdoors. I position the camera in the shade and, with the use of a single portable flash, I can fill in the shadows caused by having the sun behind the subject:

At the same time, I can slow down my shutter speed so that the actual ambient light shows up in my image.

You can use this technique even with the camera’s built-in flash. First, take a reading of what the ambient light is (using your camera’s meter), then set your shutter speed so that your exposure basically fills-in the subject’s details. It will, in effect “burn in” or “paint in” light from the ambient light source.