My Worst Critic

There’s this guy; hard to please. You know the type. Every once in a while, he’ll like one of my images, but he’s never really satisfied with my work. That guy is me. I think I am producing some of the best work of my career right now. Not every single image is a winner, but I have more hits than misses and the hits are pretty good. But I’m still not where I want to be. I am, at least, reassured by looking at my past work. I can look at my work from a year ago and wince a little. It was the same the year before that. It’s a sign of personal growth.

I’ve done “before and after” comparisons before (links at the end of this post). This time, I am comparing my own work. I recently had the opportunity to photograph a property that I shot in 2010.

Living Room


This first one isn’t terrible, but the color seems a bit off and it would be nice to see what’s outside that window.

Living Room


That’s better. A slightly different composition but the room seems a bit brighter. Here’s the reverse angle:

Living Room


Living Room


Next is the master bedroom:

Master Bedroom


I think I was trying too hard to show the TV in the shot (clients ask for it). So I decided to take a different approach.

Master Bed


Again, you can see out the window and the color and lighting is a bit more pleasing. How about the master bath?

Master Bath


Master Bath


Ouch. Enough said.





That last one is pretty much the same story. I’ve learned a lot over the last few years, mostly through trial and error. I develop new techniques and refine them. When you do something over and over again, it begins to take shape. I hope I can look back at my work next year and see improvement.

Can’t get enough of the before and after stuff? Check out these past posts:

Before and After: A Tale of Two Villas

Why Realtors Should Use Professional Photography

Before and After Real Estate Photos


Avoid Lens Flare With A Clean Lens

In a recent post, I showed how a UV filter in low light can produce ghosting and flare. You can also get some unwanted results if dust and lint is on your lens. Most dust is not a problem; even small scratches may not appear in your image. But in a high contrast situation, that dust can have a big impact. Take a look at this photo:



You can see on the right side of the image a large white spot. This is, of course, an area of high contrast between the bright window and dark curtain. Operating with a narrow aperture (I’m typically at f/10) can also reveal imperfections. If you have dust on your sensor, for example, it will be more noticeable at f/22 than at f/4. When I saw this, I immediately checked the front of my lens and noticed some dust and lint. I blew it off with an air blower then used the brush on the LensPen. Then I took another shot:

Bedroom After


Just like that, it’s gone. I did not use Photoshop to alter the “after” image; I simply cleaned out the dust and lint on my lens. The image still needs work and is not the final version I delivered to the client. But if you ever spot the same problem on your images, it wouldn’t hurt to check your lens for dust. Oh, a couple of tips: do not use your breath to blow on the lens and do not use compressed air.

There Are No Free Lunches

This is a quick update to my last post. If you didn’t read it, go get caught up. I’ll wait.

[insert Jeopardy music]

…and we’re back. After a sternly worded email to Gate 3 Design and copied to Applebee’s marketing department, they came back and offered me $100 for 3 images. That amounts to about $33 for an indefinite use of my images. Paltry when you consider commercial photography licenses go for thousands of dollars. Don’t believe me? Photographers billed NBC’s Syfy channel $3,500 for each of 9 images the network allegedly used without permission. Article here:

Or check out this sample invoice for a commercial shoot: Here’s the short version:

Considering the use, size/prominence of the client…  I set the fee at 8000.00 for each of the four portraits and 4000.00 for each of the candids. I bundled it all together as an overall licensing/creative fee of 48000.00. Blinkbid’s bid consultant provided a range of 9450.00-13,500.00 per image, or 226,800.00-324,000.00 for all eight. Corbis quoted 17,500.00 per image for the first year. Fotoquote suggested 30,976.00 per image for the use.

Yeah, that’s how commercial photographers make a living, They charge for the work and they charge license fees for usage. So the next time you see a billboard, think about how much the image(s) cost.

Anyway, I’m torn about what to do. On the one hand, I am inclined to accept the offer because it was never about the money for me, but rather the principle. I took those images for personal use and never intended to sell them. If my professional work, which is interior and real estate, was in question there would be no debate and I would refuse. Honestly, if they had offered me a gift certificate for a free appetizer it would at least have been a gesture acknowledging that photography has value.

On the other hand, I am inclined to refuse because I want to know that they are also compensating everyone else. Am I the only person who objected and therefore the only person being offered the money?

It boggles my mind that this company sat around a table and came up with this idea and set a budget of exactly ZERO dollars. They just assumed people would be flattered to have their pictures displayed in a restaurant and hand them over. Sadly, I suspect many people did just that.

So what do you think I should do? Leave a comment and let me know what you would do.

Will Applebee’s Let Me Eat for Free?

Bobby Blackmon

In 2011 I attended an outdoor concert and took a few pictures of the band.

The other day I was contacted by a company called Gate 3 Design. They are designing the interior of a new Applebee’s restaurant. The contact person wants to use three of my images, including the one above, she found on Flickr for a digitally printed mural. Here’s a quote from the email:

The murals are compiled of digital images that represent the community from festivals, landmarks, events, sports, etc.

When I asked which images and what size/resolution so I could determine a license fee, she said:

We are not asking to license the image (you may retain all licensing/rights to your photos). We are requesting a one-time use. We are happy to display a photo credit with your name and website alongside any images that are selected for the final design. If you agree, please sign and return the attached photo release form granting us permission.

Uh, let me get this straight: Applebee’s wants to use my images for commercial use but is not willing to pay for them? How about I go to Applebee’s and instead of paying for the food I give them “credit” by telling my friends how great they are or maybe wearing an Applebee’s T-Shirt?

Look, I get it. It seems nice on the face of it. “Hey, let’s get pictures of the community taken by members of the community! When they come hang out at the local Applebee’s they can see pictures taken by their friends and neighbors! Cool, right?”

It’s this kind of behavior that has degraded the photography profession. People think pictures are free. Anyone with a cellphone can snap a picture. But if that picture has value to someone or a company, shouldn’t you be paid for it? It’s no different than an art buyer buying a painting for their home. Or if you go to Target or Wal Mart and buy a poster to hang on your wall. If you want the art, you have to pay for it. It has value.

The “one-time” use is a permanent or semi-permanent display of my work no matter how many times it is used. That release form, by the way, states that my photo may be used “incidentally” if a picture of the interior of the restaurant happens to show my images in the shot. Great, so my images could be used to market the ambiance of the business, which is a factor in drawing in patrons; but Applebee’s cannot afford to pay a dime.

I’m not sure if Applebee’s is to blame here or the company they hired to do the design. But that’s no excuse for a corporation not to ask where the images are coming from and it is certainly deplorable that Gate 3 wants to use images without paying for them. They “favorited” my images they want to use so I assume the other images in their “favorites” are also ones they want to use. You can see them here: It’s clear they didn’t choose crappy cell phone pictures but rather quality images taken by people with skill.

Credit is nice, but it doesn’t pay my bills. Even if you are not a professional photographer, if you have something of value that someone wants, wouldn’t you expect something in return?

Why Not To Use a UV Filter for Interior Photography

There are two schools of thoughts when it comes to using UV filters on your lens and I’ve gone back and forth between the two. The first school of thought says you should use a UV filter to protect your lens. You paid a lot of money for it, wouldn’t it be a shame if something poked or shattered the glass? It’s better to lose a $30 filter than a $1000 lens.

The second school of thought asks why put a cheap piece of glass in front of an expensive one? What are the chances of something hitting the front part of your lens anyway? If you’re careful and use a lens hood chances are, you’ll be OK.

I used to belong to the first camp. Then I moved to the second camp with the belief that any filter is a tool which should only be used when needed.

Recently, I noticed some spots on my lens that I could not wipe off. I think it may be areas where the coating has rubbed off. Alarmed, I decided to put the UV filter on and leave it on to protect the lens. Silly me. Take a look at this picture and notice the area above the painting on the wall.

Game Room

You see those yellow spots? That’s ghosting or flare from the overhead light. Different light sources are hitting the glass of the filter which bounce off before reaching the lens and sensor. Here’s a closer look with the flare spots circled in red. The other two spots are not that noticeable until you zoom in.

Flare Zoom

I had heard that UV filters can cause that effect in low light situations. In fact, I experienced it once shooting a night-time parade; it was awful. That is another reason why I moved to the no-filter camp. But as I mentioned, I foolishly defected for a short period.

Just to confirm my thoughts, I removed the filter and took another shot…

Game Room

Is that Photoshop at work? Did I clone it out? Nope. The second shot is just taken without the UV filter. (It’s much easier and faster to get it right in camera than to spend time in post.) Interiors are dark enough and the long exposure times means light has more time to refract from the filter.

Look, you don’t walk around with a hammer or a screwdriver in your pocket all day. When you need a tool, you get it, use it and put it back. That’s how I feel about filters. You don’t leave a polarizing or neutral density filter on your lens all the time. So why leave a UV filter on? Filters are tools to accomplish specific tasks. If you are shooting in hazy conditions or bright sun, sure, why not break out the UV filter? Otherwise, why give up image quality for the perception of increased protection? Ask yourself, in all the time I’ve owed my lens, how many filters have been smashed? If the answer is zero, you can do without it.

Behind the Scenes of a Real Estate Photo Shoot

I recently posted a picture on my Facebook fan page and someone asked for some behind the scenes info. While I sometimes take some set-up shots with my phone, I’m usually so busy I forget to do it more often. So instead, I thought I’d show a couple of exposures I used to make a final image.

bedroom set-up shot

In the photo above you can see my strobe firing into the ceiling. I took this exposure for the window on the far side of the bedroom. I had already taken one exposure for the bedroom using a single speedlight. But that flash is not powerful enough to overpower the sun. It requires a shutter speed fast enough to render detail out the window but it leaves the window frame nearly black. So I pull out the big gun. This is the final image:

Master Bed 1-3 copy

It’s a similar scenario in the master bathroom. I took an exposure for the room with the speedlight in my hand bounced off the ceiling. But if I took an exposure for the outside, the flash would reflect off the window. So I had to move slightly to the left. This exposure also corrects for the light fixture which would otherwise be blown out.

_R5A2975 copy

This is the final image:

Master Bath 1 copy

So there you have it. Just a couple of examples that give you a little insight into how I get my shots.


Photographing a Modern Day Palace

I just returned from a trip to Italy where I saw the ruins of ancient Rome and had to imagine the size and scale of the buildings. In Rome, Florence  and Venice, I also saw some very well preserved palaces that are now museums and thought to myself: “I can’t believe this used to be someone’s home.”

Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

Grand Hall at Palazzo Vecchio

The Grand Hall at Palazzo Vecchio – Florence, Italy

 Doge's Palace in Venice, Italy

The Doge’s Palace – Venice, Italy

I shoot a lot of high-end homes and while I am always a little in awe, it takes a lot now to really impress me. Well, consider me impressed. I recently photographed a 10-Master Bedroom home that had some features I’ve never seen before; at least not all in one home. As I was walking through the home I thought to myself: “This is like a modern-day palace. I wonder if it’s still standing in 300 or 1,000 years, what people will think of it.”

One of my former clients installed residential bowling alleys and I photographed one at the home of a Major League Baseball player. I didn’t get to see the whole house but I may have been just as impressed with that one. Well, this one has lanes too.

bowling alley

How about an indoor racquetball court that also doubles as a basketball court with a retracting hoop:

I’ve shot homes with arcades in the past. Check the box on this one too.


…and a game room:

Game Room

Or how about a round of poker while watching three different games on TV!

Poker table

The house has a lot of cool little features. Like the doors which opened when you waved your hand in front of a sensor. It would also sense your body if you are close enough and open automatically a-la Star Trek.

But the biggest surprise was the bathrooms. I backed up into the closet where the toilet is to take this shot (you can see the identical closet on the opposite side of the bath tub):

Master Bathroom

Well, when I backed in, sensors must have detected my motion and the toilet seat lifted automatically and music started playing. I shit you not. Here’s video of it:

Hey, why not a tune while you toot?

Until next time…”champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”