The Visual Advocate Blog

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Guest blog post: Nicole Gibson

It has been my privilege to interact with Nicole Gibson periodically over the past few years. I love what she is doing as a photographer and a person which is what led me to ask her to guest blog. You can check out her work at and read more about her at Peace Catalyst International.

I was not an art major in college, but I took some art classes and did photography in my free time. I still distinctly remember the day when I showed some (I can now say, admittedly, boring) photos to professor of mine. He looked at me and said something I’ll never forget: “Yeah, you know, these are fine, but I don’t see YOU in these photographs.” It was, of course, harsh to hear at the time, but it was probably the best thing he could have said, because it has pushed me in my work ever since.

A friend recently asked me what the big questions are that I ask myself as a photographer. And two that I’m constantly asking are:

“Does my work accurately reflect me, my point of view, or something I have to say?”

“Does it say something meaningful for others?”

I think those are common questions that artists ask themselves – and helpful ones at that, because they push us to invest more of ourselves and create more meaningful work.

There are a couple quotes that have had me thinking about this lately, and I think they’d be helpful to share here.

The first is Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray and it goes like this: “Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the colored canvas, reveals himself.”

The second quote that I have been thinking about lately is from Chris Orwig, Brooks Institute of Photography instructor and photographer. He has this to say: “The best and strongest pictures are those that most strongly reflect who you are.”

I think we as artists know it’s true that the best art is work that has a great deal of the artist in it. I think maybe that’s because when we put our humanity and our own selves into our work, it’s then that we create something others can relate to and resonate with.

Now, let’s be honest and say that creating work that truly communicates us as artists is something we can spend a lifetime working on. It’s definitely a constant journey for me and something that I’m always striving to get better at in my own work. But it is a journey that makes me a better artist and helps me to continue growing. So for those of you who like to have some sort of takeaway, this is it. I’ll give you the question that I often ask myself, and if you so choose, you can ask yourself the same: How much of “you” is in your work?

When others look at your work, will they see “you” in it? May this challenge all of us and push us to create more honest, revealing, and meaningful work, whether we photograph foreign cultures, weddings, or landscapes.


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Try the Thinktank Photo Modular Skin Set v2.0 for free!

I wanted to let you know of a can’t miss deal that my friends at Thinktank Photo are offering right now called Test Drive. The basic idea is that you get to try one of Think Tank Photo’s new Modular Rotation Systems free for 28 days.

If you like it, keep it and your credit card will be charged.  If not, return it to Think Tank no charge. The Modular Rotation System is the choice of working professionals who shoot sports, weddings, nature or any situation where the need to stay mobile and rapid gear changes are essential.

 The Modular Skin Set V2.0 consists of two individual lens changer pouches, a flash pouch and an accessory pouch that lock to or slide around a Think Tank Photo belt. Components are lightweight, compressible and easily collapsible. Perfect for traveling.The “Sound Silencer” feature adds stealth by eliminating hook-and-loop tearing noises.

This offer ends on March 31, 2012 or when 100 of each modular set has been reserved for the Test Drive program. Please know that this offer is only available within the United States because of the shipping costs of delivering the product from and to the U.S.

To take advantage of this test drive of the Modular system right now click here.

Happy shooting!

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10 steps to better portraits: a review of “Forget Mugshots”

Don't miss the awesome photographic resources found at Craft and Vision.

Over the last couple of years David Duchemin and the crew at Craft and Vision have put out some amazing resources for aspiring and professional photographers. The latest eBook by David Duchemin titled “Forget Mugshots: 10 steps to better portraits” is an example of this and will surely benefit even the most seasoned professionals!

There are number of great things I could say about this eBook, but if I had to choose just one thing I would say what makes this resource so great is that it not only talks about making great portraits, it challenges you to go out and do it. Like Malcolm Gladwell says in his book “Outliers: The story of Success”, those who become great in something do so primarily because they put in at least 10,000 hours of practice!

Like the other Craft & Vision ebooks, the regular price on this book is only $5, however, I have some discount codes available for my readers; these discount codes are valid through Saturday March 17th. Buy Forget Mugshots using this link and the discount code MUGSHOTS4 to get the book for only $4. If you want to buy a few of the other Craft & Vision ebooks, buy them using this link and use the code MUGSHOTS20 to save 20% off your entire order of five or more PDF ebooks.

In closing is an overview of the David’s 10 steps, with images I created employing these helpful hints.

RELATE: A key to make great portraits is to slow down and take the time to relate to your subjects. When you do you will find that people let their guard down and your portraits will become more authentic.

WAIT FOR THE MOMENT: This Indian boy was running around in this field with his friends. I was hoping he would stop and even get down so he would be surrounded by the grass...and eventually he did! the flower was just a fun addition.

USE THE RIGHT LENS: I came upon this guy in the middle-of-nowhere Rajastan! When I took this image I wanted to capture his whole bike as well as the road that he had used to get to the middle of nowhere. To do this I needed my Canon L series 16-35mm 2.8.

USE MORE THAN ONE FRAME: The more I kept shooting, the more this woman's smile grew! Some times one frame is all you need and other times it is not enough!

UNDERSTAND THE SMILE: Not all smiles are equal. When you are shooting try to get people to move past the fake smiles we all put on and really open up in some good-old belly laughing!

WATCH THE EYES: Where your subject is looking can dramatically change the feel of image. Try having them look in different directions and see how it changes the portrait.

PLAY WITH THE LIGHT: For this portrait of a Rajasthani shepherd I played around the light and decided I liked the image best with back-lighting.

CONTROL YOUR BACKGROUND: Unless there is a reason for something to be in the background, keep all unnecessary items out. For this portrait I wanted to include the chalkboard because I was doing portraits of schoolchildren in rural Rajastan.

GET LEVEL: Whenever I am doing images of kids, I love to get down on their level. For this image, I got down on my knees because I loved the angle she was looking and the catch-light in her eyes. Point of view can make a big difference in the feel of our images.

POSE CAREFULLY: I worked with this woman to get her positioned just how I wanted her to capture her anticipation of school children coming by soon on India's Independence day.


Free people find true success

Over the last couple of weeks I have been rolling a lot of different ideas around in my head, some photography related but mostly just about life in general. One thing I have been thinking about lately is how attractive “free” people are. Let me explain what I mean.

As I get older, I am realizing more and more how attractive people are who are not impressed with who they are, where they have been, what they have seen or accomplished or who they know. These people have dealt with and are dealing with their own fears, guilt and shame (the very things that keep us from being free people), which frees them up to be focused on others.

Now I am nowhere near perfect (and if you don’t believe me just ask my wife!), and I have definitely been THAT guy who talked about himself for like 15 minutes straight or tried to sell myself just a little too much, but I so want to be this kind of free person.

The other night I had the opportunity to talk to about 80 college students at the University of Georgia about which peoples and cultures in the world are in the greatest holistic need and how they can use their skills, passions and degrees to bless them. After the talk ended, I was in conversations with students for over an hour, just talking about what they are passionate about and how they can use what they love to change the world. It was so fun to not really share anything about me, but just to give these students permission to dream big!

So how does this relate to photography, and more specifically humanitarian and cultural photography? Well in my opinion, it has everything to do with our craft as photographers. If we are not becoming truly free people, we will not be able to really serve our clients and the peoples and cultures on whose behalf we create these image and stories. Instead, we will still be trying to make a name for ourselves, which will affect the way we do business and the way we approach our subjects and stories.

Now this doesn’t mean we give our work away free or volunteer for assignments for free, though it may me mean that in some circumstances. We as creatives absolutely need to be masters of our craft, which includes being smart and determined business people. Instead, what I think it means, is that we will be free to esteem our clients and the peoples and cultures we are photography higher than ourselves in every way possible, and if in nothing else, at least in our attitudes!

I could go on but I won’t. In closing, I just wanted to share some resources that have influenced my thinking as of late. I would love to hear your thoughts and comments on what I have written here. In fact, we can help each other become people who are more free by sharing our stories.

Here are the resources:

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One lucky winner of the Thinktank Photo Streetwalker

Davin Sanders is the lucky winner of this killer bag by my friends at Thinktank Photo!

On February 28th I announced that I would be giving away a Thinktank Photo Streetwalker backpack to one person chosen at random from those who left comments. Well I am excited to announce that the lucky winner of this awesome bag from friends at Thinktank Photo is Davin Sanders! Congratulations Davin, this bag will truly convince you that Thinktank Photo bags are unparalleled!

If you didn’t win this time, make sure to check back because I will be doing other giveaways periodically thanks to my good friends and sponsors like Thinktank Photo!

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March wallpaper

On this past trip to India I only had about two hours to shoot on the famous Ganges river in Varanasi. Nevertheless, even in that two hours I had some great fun. If you have never been to the Ganges it is really like no where else. There is constant motion and noise, but it is still possible to single out quiet and simple moments like this one of a boat captain inspecting his boat.

I hope you enjoy this month’s wallpaper. To download it click here.

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The clock is ticking!

Just 5 days left before I give away this killer bag! Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing!

I just wanted to remind all of you that in just five days I will be giving away the killer Thinktank Photo Streetwalker backpack to one lucky winner! If you have not left a comment about why you think you deserve this bag, visit the original post and do that right away!