The Odds

I was talking to someone about my degree when they asked, “Well how many of them are still shooting today?” (Regarding the number of people that I graduated with.) Thinking about it, there are 3 of us out a few hundred still shooting after 6 years. The odds are against you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a go.


The unfortunate part is that my story isn’t anecdotal. There are statics everywhere at show out of the millions that graduate with art degrees a vast majority of them within 5 years are out of the industry. By ten years there are very little left standing.

I’m not going to lie to you and say it’s been easy. That would be the furthest from the truth. There have been time I wanted to quit, but I know I hate myself for the rest of my life.


Why I’ve stayed and will continue to stay, I love art and the creative process more than anything in life and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s a hard, nonstop criticism, continuously educating yourself and clients, and having to be everything from your own P.R. to the asshole businessman. What can I say? Being in this industry is hard but very rewarding.


I’m a Failure

You’ve read that right. I am a failure and I embrace it. I’ve failed so many times its boarder line ridiculous, but I’ve learned from all of those failures.  In school I could not print many photos because they were unprintable. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do photography, it was because I was trying to control light, shoot in tough situations, or film wasn’t able to capture what I was thinking.

Failure is a dirty word these days that many people are afraid or unwilling to accept. However this is not the case.


I notice things all time and one of the biggest things I see is people are unwilling to move outside of their comfort zone. There are many reasons why but I would suspect that one of them is the fear (or what have you) of failure.  I think that if you want to be successful in anything it takes risks, time, and a lot of failure.


What is good about failing is that you learn a lot from it. I did. One of the biggest lessons you learn is that it’s okay to fail and you get use to it, so when you try something new and it doesn’t work out the way you thought, your reaction is “big deal. I’ll try again this way.”


My advice is to fail. It’ll be the best thing you can do for yourself. Get out of your comfort zone and go for it. I did and now I’m working on something new and ready to fail forward.



The P.R

Over the last few days I was reminded of a quote that I heard somewhere “Charisma and charm will get you places.” (Or something to that effect.) I cannot emphasize that enough.  While on the phone interviewing for a job, the woman was impressed with my enthusiasm for the potential job. “I love your attitude and I think you’d be a great fit with us.” One of the many things that you have to be as a Professional Photographer is your own P.R Person or else you are going to fail.


Why you need to that enthusiastic is simple, no one and I mean NO ONE wants to work with someone that is no fun or difficult to be around let alone work with. I’ve seen this quite a few times.


Case one, I was assisting with a guy who was a very good photographer, but he kept butting heads with the clients and Creative director of the shoot.  The photos looked great, but you’d never know the tension that was on set. Latter in life I ran into that Creative director who said, “Don’t ever be like him. We haven’t hired him since.”


Case two is from my good friends who were working a small budget film that no one was happy to be on, but they we’re the only ones on set that day with a positive attitude. The job went nowhere. Latter that year the creative team remembered them as the only ones that were fun, positive, and easy to work with so they got a called asking them to help a shoot an intro for a pilot for a new show. As always they were a dream to work with and every one enjoyed them. Since then that same team keeps hiring them back. That first show was True Blood. Now they work on many of the shows you watch.


Over all just remember that no matter how bad the job seems or is, always stay positive. It’s much easier to accomplish any task in photography, business, or life if you have a positive attitude. And most of all have fun with your jobs.






The Tangle

Sorry for the delay in blog updates. Been busy working away on something new.

What does Success look like and how do you get there?  This question has been bugging me for many years. One of my favorite photographers that I learned a lot from was a man by the name of Tyler Gourley. He is arguably the most successful commercial photographer in the world. His work includes Subaru, General Motors, Chrysler, and many other brands that you know.

But how did he do it? That is the real question that I get a lot. “How?”


Let’s first figure out what is success. To many it’s an end point, but I feel that isn’t the correct way to think about it. Success as defined by me would be like a bowl of spaghetti it’s jumbled mess but you can get thought it, and that is success. Photography and the creative industry as well is like this, it’s the process of doing it that is the success. Don’t’ get me wrong there are many times that you’re out of spaghetti and looking for more. That’s normal, but still an overall part of the bigger picture that you have to get though.


It was once said “if you fallow your passion in time the money and gratification will fallow.” I would tend to agree with this to an extent. I always wonder what they mean by “in time.” Most artists aren’t appreciated until they’re dead. Just saying.



Over the Edge

While talking with a friend about an up and coming shoot a very trendy person with a Leica M3 wrapped around them joined us. I was confused why this person thought it was okay to interrupt our convocation granted it was about photography and they did have a camera. After a few minutes my eye rolls were uncontrollable, but they bought up a point that I hadn’t thought about in while. At what point are you a sell out?


My thinking say two things: you have to do what your hired for to make money (which could be a sellout) and shooting the typical things such as flowers, kids, portraits against a brick or graffiti wall, etc. (which could be a sellout.) The next step is to define what success is to you and what is acceptable to do for money. 

As one of my professors would say “That’s subjective.”


It was at this point the eye rolling was happened that this person called me a sellout for shooting commercial or they put it “selling out to the corporate man and damaging the photographic art community.” That ‘s fine by me because I’m happy with what I do and it’s fun. Don’t think I could ask for more.


Is selling out a bad thing? I think not. There are too many people that focus on the wrong things in photography or art that they’re missing the meaning of it. Do what makes you happy. The Art industry is a rough place, but if you can find a way to make it in the way you’d like you’ve done it.




It’s All In The Details

I’ve been drowning in a sea of legal paperwork, but I’m free. One of the many things that most Photographers, Designers, or Creative Professionals don’t do in the beginning of their careers is get legal contracts. I was one of them and it didn’t end well for me in the end- tough lesson learned the hard way. Get it signed or ELSE!!!


 My long-winded moral of the story is this: I got hired to shoot a job for a supplement company that consisted of portraits, products, and some “action shots”. What transpired was a fantastic shoot with very little issues; it was another smooth shoot to put in the books.  When I delivered the shoots that when things started to get sketchy to say the least.

“Your photo look like they where shot on a cell phone.” Or “You’re very hard to work with and your assistant was a smart ass to us.” What? I was baffled and blown away by their claims, but like any good photographer I put my feelings aside and focused on the issues at hand. After a few emails to prove that my shots were not “shot on a cell phone” they started to ask for the whole shoot in high res files. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen and that’s when they refused to pay me and sued me for production cost and everything under the sun. Grrrrrr!


It wasn’t until months later when the dust settled and I was in the clear, but minus a paycheck, owing on lawyer fees, and suffered a major setback in my career. The worst part came when their ad popped up with a near copy of my work. Yes, they stole my work by using another photographer to copy what I had come up with. (No that’s not copyright infringement. It’s perfectly legal.) Needless to say this was the toughest lesson I’ve learned yet and I would have been covered and safe if I had them sign legal paperwork. Get it signed or ELSE!!!


P.S. I’m glad it happened to me because I was able to deal it and not lose my cool or faith in my business. Keep on trying no matter what.




The Slow Lane

Yesterday I was doing some event coverage when I realized that I was shooting for a paycheck rather than shooting because it’s my passion that happens to pay the bills.

What had become of me?

            The simple answer: I’m too focused on business rather than the quality of my product. (I think’) I find that when times like this arise you need to take a step back and slow down!


After a few minutes of rethinking the job I had a new plan. There were tons of other photographers doing their thing, so I decided to shoot the people who were at the event since there was only so many things that I could shoot before my photos got repetitive.  With that new goal in mind I set off shooting, taking it slow, and looking for the perfect composition.


As for the end result, we’ll see what happens. I thing they’ll be over all happy because it’s different that what the others were shooting. Do keep in mind that with big risk comes big failure or success.

            Over all the point of this ramble is to take it slow. Everyone gets in a rush, but it’s better to slow down and see what you can see.






Artificial Vs. Natural Light

Most non-photo people don’t pay attention to the lighting of a photograph, weather it’s natural light, artificial light, bouncing light all over, or what have you. The argument will arise: which is better, artificial light or natural light? This is a deep subject that depends on many factors, but as usual this is my take on the subject.


Natural light is neat because of the quality of it, i.e. it’s color temperatures, clouds, additive and subtractive, can defuse it light, etc. On the other side of things artificial light is always trying to replicate the effects of natural light.

Many photographers use the available light around them very well such as the Photo Journalist Chris Hondros. His work was amazing and shot all with natural light.  His work is a testament to what a skilled photographer can do with just available light with the environmental elements affecting the quality of the light. 


Artificial light is what I use most of the time because I want total control of my scene.  Once you learn the basics of artificial light you can start to do some very fun and stunning things with it that will set your work apart from the others.

Another reason to learn artificial light is that there are times when Mother Nature isn’t going to cooperate with you. From there you’ll need to know how to recreate what nature does.

 One of my favorite photographers is David LaChapelle. This guy’s work has lighting that is so well done it’s scary! The amount of control he has is proves to me that artificial is the way to go to set yourself apart from other photographers.


In the end it’s your call what you prefer to use to capture light and record light. I find myself always amazed by both forms of capture hence why I brought up two different photographers with great work. My hope is that you go check their work out then go have fun with your cameras. That is what photography is about.




Minutes Until Midnight

You’ve booked the job! Great! Now it’s time to start shooting. Nope. NEVER walk onto a set without a plan! I don’t care how good you are at shooting, retouching, or winging it. There are things that are going to go wrong but if you have a strategy you’ll be bounds and leaps ahead of the curve.


It’s no secret that you should plan ahead for every shoot, but I am always amazed by the amount of people that show up without a plan. I use to do this very early in my career when I could getaway it, but things are very different today.

            Before any shoot that I’m on I spend many hours doing research on the subject, company, location, and other things that pertain to the shoot at hand. 

First thing I do is learn about my surrounding because the last thing I want is my equipment to fail because the building materials. (This has happened to me.) Second I learn all that I can about the legal situation such as property releases, copy wright regarding logos, products, and model release issues.

Third thing I do is study the look the client is after. It’s very hard for a client to communicate what they want in a photo shoot. So always ask question that help narrow down what they’re after then study.


As you progress though your career as a professional photographer this idea of studying will get more precise with practice. My recommendation is start by planning out your personal shoots or go to places that a lot of things are happening and could go wrong- then you’ll understand why planning is so good.




The Harshness of Art

While talking to an illustration student, the topic of“the business of art” came up. It’s been hardest lesson I’ve had to learn and I’m still learning about it everyday. Unlike any other business this industry is very rough and has a learning curve that I’d argue very few could handle for many years before they see the pay off whatever that may be to them.


            My take on one aspect of what makes the business of art so very hard learn, you have a lot of things to focus on at once to get the job done then you still have photography to deal with.

            One of the early mistakes I made consistently was I would give away my skill set in the hopes to “get the next job”. NEVER give your skills away for free! It hurts other photographers in your area, makes you look stupid, and it’s not a sustainable business model. If you continue down this path you’ll be done for good. 

            The best phrase that you can learn to combat people stealing from you “Nope. It’s not going to happen. It’s nothing personal, it’s business.” This is obliviously easier said then done, but with practice it gets easier.


            It took me a long time to learn this simple idea and I hope that you can use it earlier than I did to help you with your future pursuit has a professional photographer. Good Luck!




Let There Be Light

One of the biggest debates I encounter is big lights and low ISO vs. little lights and high-is ISO. Which is best and why?


First thing that you need to know; Big lights and low ISO came from the days of film when 50 ISO had the lowest grain count, but you needed powerful lights to get a high quality image. With the arrival of digital capture and the ever-growing sensitivity of DSLR sensors, high ISO capabilities, and impressive dynamic range the need for the old ways of photographing went out the door like film in the early 2000’s.


The next question I get is which do you use? Both! Although I mostly stick with small light because they’re easy to pack in my cases and take on a plane, but big lights are nice to use. 


When I’m lighting a scene most of the time the subject doesn’t need to be hit with a massive 5x8 softbox putting out tons of watt-seconds. In my time as a Photo Assistant we used little hotshoe flashes with radio slave and they did the job 99% of the time. When that wasn’t enough we used a Quantum T5 light that pushed serious power out in a handheld device. “ You only need this when you need to light up a big room.” He would say. And he was right.


“But when do you use big lights?” This is subjective. If I’m shooting a car then absolutely yes: tons of big bright lights, if a client wants them, or in some cases if you need to look slick.  To me most of the time big lights are just that, big, overkill, time consuming, and cumbersome. That’s why I prefer small lights. I try to be fast and efficient.


As always take what I say with a grain of salt. The photographic process is unique to everyone and in the end what matters is the image and not how you got there.



The Payoff

The Payoff


I’ve talked about the need to study everything because you’re a businesswoman or man rather than a photographer, and that paid off for me the other night.

While waiting for my time to pitch my “Why you should hire me” spiel I was listening to the other photographers talking with each other trying to get that valuable piece of info to help them get the edge. What I noticed was no one was focusing on the client’s budget from their perspective.


The meeting went, as you would expect, not good but no means bad. Indifferent. It wasn’t until I brought up budget that things changed. It’s always a good thing to ask about budget, but it has to be done in a light way. Their main concern was delivering high quality images with trying to save some for the next job. It turned out that they had all these ideas that most or all photographers would jump to use, but I saw that as an opportunity to cut cost while still maintaining my previously quoted price. Expensive studio? Don’t need that. Tons of lights? Don’t need that. A Re-toucher? Don’t need that. The list could go on. In the end I got the job because of knowing What was overkill to make great photos.


My point is simply to study everything because one day you’ll need it like I did. I know enough about the photographic process that I could see my client was over doing it by renting too much equipment. It would’ve cool to play with multiple 2K lights, a massive studio where one shoots cars, have a re-toucher on site, a Digital Tech, and a whole creative team but we’ll get into that at a later point.





The Training Never Stops

No truer words have been spoken. Today's training thus far Gym, meeting, blog, research, and studying. This is my day and almost everyday except shoot days. Part of being a professional photographer is continuously educating your-self on the matters at hand that relate to your field. I feel that the moment you stop learning is the day you make a massive error that you won’t be able to recover from.


With the advent of the Internet you have access to a wealth of Photographic information.  One of my go to resources is Aaron Nace is the host of web tutorials relating to Photoshop. He covers everything from basics such as the Raw Converter to more advanced topics such as spilt toning.  A thing to keep in mind is that is always good to revisit your basics because like anything in life there are some blank spots in your cumulative knowledge. I’m no exception, hence why I study.


As always take what I say with a grain of salt. This is how function and works for me and I would suspect that you have your ways of doing what helps you complete your tasks effectively.



A Brief actuality of Photography

When people asked, “what do you do for a living?”  Their immediate response“That’s such a cool job! You’re your own boss, you travel to take pictures.” etc.  This is a common misconception that bothers me.  There is so much more to being a professional photographer than taking pictures.


            What does a photographer really do than? A LOT of non-photography related things.  If you’re considering going professional, ask yourself this “I’m I ready?” This was the question proposed to me when it was my time to move on from Photo-assisting.  Before that a great professor

 “Josh, There are easier ways to make money.  Are you ready for this?”

Being young and extremely naïve “Hell Yeah.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.  11 years latter I’m still figuring out this mysterious business.


            What I’ve learned so is that you’re not a just a photographer, you’re a businesswoman or businessman! As you progress and try to turn you photography into money making entity you’ll find you have to be EVERYTHING!

What does this mean? I think that it’s different for everyone. Generally speaking you are now your own P.R, Accountant, Tax Pro, marketing team, forever student, and much more.

            For me one of the hardest parts is staying self-motivated! Weather it’s learning about writing, marketing, photography, video production, laws, copyright or what have you.


Are you ready?







The Creative Gym

Every morning I wake up early to hit the gym with certain goals.  Today Rack-pulls at 425lbs, Windmills at 75lbs, Toe-to-bars, and handstands. I do this to keep the body strong, sharp, healthy, and ready for whatever a job might require.

“But, what does this have to do with photography?” you might ask.

            Simple really.  If you want to be fit, you need to work out a lot hence why it’s called training.  Creativity is the same way. You need to be train/work it out a lot or it’ll enter a state of atrophy and that leads to a photographic burnout. I’ve been to that place while shooting jobs. It will be the hardest place to shoot from especially when you consider that people and your career are depending on you to get that shot.

“How do I work on my creativity?”

            When I was a photo assistant for a great commercial photographer I asked him the same thing.  “You need to shoot everyday, keep shooting everyday, and never stop.”  He would say. He was very right. Sadly it’s easier said then done, but where there is will there is way.

            Here is the Josh Lewis Photography take:

1.     Your smart photo has a camera. Sure it’s no DSLR, but you have it wherever you are, and that’s a start.

2.     They’re millions of photo editing apps out there. Use them!

3.      As long as you’re training/working out the photographic mind that counts.


Is that simple enough? Next time you’re out and about and see something that catches your eye, shoot it! I’ll bet you’ll be amazed at what your getting after some practice.



* note*

Shot with an iPhone 6, FX Plus, Camera Plus, and Mexture

Does Technology Make Photography Better?

Anyone can buy a high end DSLR, but does that make him or her a superior photographer? I would argue not. Creativity is something that cannot be bought. For me (and others) being able to see subtext and little details of our surrounding is something no store sells.


I had great photography Professor who’s Mother would say “Joseph! You’re thinking too much.”  He was always thinking about things on a deeper level that I never appreciate. It was only years after starting Josh Lewis that I truly understood what he was trying to teach us. 


Fast forward; one of my things that I use to help companies with their commercial photography is using their branding colors in settle ways in their shot. The goal is to hold the consumer’s attention just a second longer than a competitor’s ad. Its settle hints like this that engages the consumer for just that much longer.


It’s all in the little details, not in a camera that has 50 megapixels, a high dynamic range, and a price tag to match.