How to Be a Happy Successful Photographer

Being successful in photography is, well, objective. We all have different definitions of success and we all have different goals. Am I a successful photographer? Some people think so, but if you put me next to Annie Leibovitz or 1/2 of the photographers out there, I pale in comparison. I don’t know about you, but I get tired of seeing my own work. I look at other photographer’s work and I’m just amazed. Sometimes it inspires me, sometimes it just puts me in a funk, not the type you wanna boogie down to. Over the course of time, I’ve learned a few things that has helped me with my success and happiness. I’m not saying this will work for you, but it has worked for me.

1) Everyone shoots shitty images. Everyone. Your job as the photographer is to be the gate keeper. If you’re going through and making selects of your shoot, don’t even show the client the images you don’t like, because they WILL pick them as the hero shots. Trust your eyes, they came to you for your expertise, if they were capable, they would have shot it themselves.

2) Do not throw pictures up on the internet and include a disclaimer (images are unretouched, straight out of camera). What is the f’in point? It’s not your best foot forward, so take the freaking time to edit the photo. Let’s say the model grabs the image, throws it on her site and gives you credit, next the makeup artist does the same, what happens in the end is that your image is going to be floating around the internet with credit to you and some potential client is going to see it and think, “Wow this guy doesn’t pay attention to the details, like that big zit on the model’s nose.” You think they will want to give you the $10k gig? Probably not.

3) Association. You hang out with crappy photographers, you will remain crappy. Just like anything else in life, you hang out with thieves, you’re most likely a thief. If you want to grow and improve as a photographer, surround yourself with photographers who inspire you, produce great work, people you can learn from. If you’re the top dog in your group, you won’t grow.

4) If you’re just starting out, don’t watermark your photos. No one wants to steal them. You think your images are great but just know that your taste will grow and your images will improve. What will happen is 3 years from now, you will do a google search on yourself and all these shitty images will pop up with your name on them. Once you start producing great work, people will know that it came from you.

5) You need a GREAT team. You can’t do it by yourself. If I gave you Annie’s team, including set design, do you think you can create stunning photos? I bet you could. Find these people, feed them, keep them happy.

6) Let go of your ego. No one likes working with know-it-alls or divas. Be humble, be hungry. Help other photographers, mentor them, assist them, it’s rewarding.

7) Make the money, but don’t forsaken everything else in chase of the paper. The best way to be happy is to live in the present. Don’t put things off til the future, the future may never come.

8) Shoot often.



Quavondo’s Photography Lighting Techniques Book with Images and Light Set-ups

There are so many how to books out there on photography lighting, why is mine any different?

When I started photography, I reached out to many photographers in my community for help and guidance, most were standoffish and secretive about their techniques. One said that I could come on set and assist but that I would also have to pay him. To this day, I wish I would have kept that email so I could remember the photographer’s name. There were a few who welcomed me with open arms and let me come on their shoots, but our styles were very different, I ended up going on my own after a shoot or two. I would like to take this time to thank those photographers: Steve Bloch, Joni Kabana, Dan Tyrpak, Pete Springer, and Manny Minjarez who’s style was close to what I wanted. Even though I had just started and had no “style,” I knew in my mind what I wanted to create, I just didn’t know how to execute it. So I resorted to searching for books on fashion photography and lighting. It was a long road to find that golden goose. Most of the book that I came across, the author had a good grasp on the technical side but for some reason it didn’t translate over to their photography, what I found were books with awful sample images and I would think to myself, “Why would I spend $40 to try and replicate how to make these ugly photos?” Just like we all know how a free throw is made in basketball. You have to have the right motion of the arm, the right flick of the wrist, right amount of power and arch in the throw to get the ball into the basket, and we can sit there and explain it to someone over and over, but if you can’t do it yourself why would they listen to you? I never did find that golden goose. I ended up just learning through trial and error. I bought three strobes and locked myself into my spare bedroom and shot with models for 30 days straight. I made sure that the lighting was different for each shoot. In that month, I started to develop my own style.

Through that process, I developed a sense of protection on what I learned and maybe this was the case with the photographers who didn’t want to help me. They too, learned their craft through much blood and sweat. A year after starting photography I landed an interview for an internship in New York City with a high profile photography team. I flew out there, stayed in a hostel, went to the interview, they offered me the internship 15 minutes later. I had 3 pairs of underwear and no place to live, regardless I said YES! I thought this was going to be my big break, a chance of a life time to learn from one of the best. I called my wife of just a year to tell her the news, she cried. She was very happy for me but it meant that we would be on opposite coasts for at least 3 months. We talked and felt like it was the best thing for my photography.

Three months went by. I was nothing more than a personal assistant. We had only two photoshoots. I wasn’t taught a thing. Scratch that, I didn’t learn a thing related to photography, what I did learn during this period in NYC would later change my life for the better (and I also made two awesome friends for life!). After my internship I was offered a position to run their studio, I declined. I didn’t want the shackles, I would have been at their beck and call 24/7. I’m not joking. I had a hard decision to make, should I move back to Portland after three months of not getting anywhere? Or should I stay in New York and see what I could do on my own? After deliberating with the wife, I stayed. It was a long year but I grew as a person.

After moving back to Portland I had a shift in my mentality. I saw what my life could end up like as a high profile celebrity photographer, to be self absorb, selfish, and how depressing my life could be if I lived for myself. I started accepting interns and teaching other photographers what I knew, and making sure that I actually helped them and not use them as personal errand staff. I started creating BTS, how to videos and teaching workshops. This is where I started being selfish, in a good way. Teaching others was very rewarding, the joy and gratitude that they express makes fulfills my soul. This is when it occurred to me that I was in a good spot in my career to write a book on photography lighting. I have a big enough collection of images in different genres to be able to create a book that I’ve been searching for since I first started photography. The golden goose.

At its core, this is an easy-to-use technical handbook with lighting set-ups and simple tips you can implement right now to improve your lighting. Each chapter focuses on a type of lighting (e.g. one-strobe, four-strobes, camera flash, natural light, hot lights). At its heart, this book and its images are meant to inspire you, with a candid look into the background and thought behind each creative concept, and the amusing realities of bringing an idea to life.

There is a wide variety of imagery in this book, 50 to be exact shot both indoors and out, ranging from lifestyle, to beauty, to sports, to fashion, to portraits, to commercial work, so all photographers can benefit from the demonstrated techniques. Anyone looking to make the move from amateur to professional will find this an invaluable resource. Professionals looking to kick-start the creative juices will find inspiration and perhaps new lighting techniques to improve and simplify their process. Novice photographers may wish to familiarize themselves with the glossary terms first, but rest assured, this book minimizes jargon and maximizes utility.

I want to thank Zemotion (Jingna Zhang) and Solstice Retouch (Pratik Naik) for taking the time to review my book and writing a foreword in it. Both of your talents are amazing and to have your respect is truly humbling. Thank you for your support. Here’s what they both had to say about the book (click on the image to get a better resolution).

Zemotion's Foreword

Pratik's Foreword

I also want to thank Corey Michaud for putting together the elements for the lighting diagrams, without those I wouldn’t have any way to share my lighting set-ups. And most of all, thank you Lindsay Michelet for your endless editing of the book and content direction, you make me sound smarter than I really am, and less of a smart ass than I really am.

You can find Quavondo’s Photography Lighting Techniques on Amazon. Here’s a preview of the book:

  • 132 pages
  • ISBN: 978-1466463844
  • Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.5 x 0.3
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces

Book CoverInner SpreadTable of ContentsIntroductionZemotion's ForewordPratik's ForewordInner Spread 1Inner Spread 2Inner Spread 3

Here are 25 of the 50 images that are dissected within this book:

Some of the Images From the Book

This book is also available as an eBook for the Kindle, Kindle Fire, iPad, etc.

Here’s what it looks like on the iPad:

iPad Book CoveriPad Inner PagesiPad Inner Diagram

For the Kindle Fire:

Screen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.38.26 PMScreen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.41.25 PMScreen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.41.01 PM

For the Kindle:

Screen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.42.40 PMScreen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.43.15 PM

Screen Shot 2012-12-02 at 11.47.43 PM

Signed book with a personalized note is available for a limited time. Price is $50. Please send inquiries to Only 25 signed books are available for the Christmas rush. First come first served. I need to know who to make the book out to and also a link to their photography if they are a photographer. I handle and ship all personalized book orders.

If you’re not a photographer, get it for the photographer in your life. Trust me, they will thank you. They will love it. Please remember to rate my book as well. Thank you for your love and support.

Also an oversight on my part, the photo of me in my book is one of my favorites to date and I forgot to give credit to Bryce Lewis for taking the shot. Great job buddy!

How to be a Great Photo Assistant

Finding a great photo assistant is almost as hard to find as a life partner. They have to be able to handle your moods, read your mind, and anticipate your needs. So for me, I hang onto my assistant dearly. In this post I will not only tell you how to get an assistant job, but I will also give you some pointers on how to be the next Darren Utt.

It Starts with an Internship
Your photography internship is an important step to developing your career, but at the same time it’s a little limiting at first. You will have to jump through a few hoops and earn your keep. Most photographers will slowly ease you into the World of photography, giving you little tasks and seeing if you’re capable of handling it. They have to become familiar with you, know that you can accomplish what’s given before they can trust you with more responsibilities. But like I mentioned in my earlier post, do your research on which photographer to intern for, there are some out there that will just use you for errands and you won’t be taught much, while there are other photographers who will do whatever they can to help guide you.

The whole goal of an internship is to actually land a permanent assistant position with the photographer. While some photographers may have several full-time assistants, others may only need one. Hopefully after hustling and busting your @$$ for three months, you’ll prove yourself worthy of an assistant position, where you’ll have the opportunity to work very close with the photographer.

Responsibilities of an Assistant Photographer
The assistant photographer is basically the right hand man to the photographer. You are there to make sure that the shoot runs smoothly without any glitches. Typically it involves scouting locations before the shoot, making sure that all equipment is fully functional, making sure that the photographer has all the gear needed for the shoot on-set, setting up lighting, making sure the camera settings are correct, making sure the shot list is present, backing up images on-set, assigning tasks to interns, and making sure all gear is accounted for after the shoot.

How to be a Great Photo Assistant
It’s not as hard as you would think. Having the personality to adapt to different settings and being able to handle high stress situations is a must! You must have a great attitude and willingness to learn. But in order to elevate yourself to the status of a Great Photo Assistant, here are a few things that will help separate you from the crowd.

You will become close with the photographer, it’s a given. There will be people who will ask you questions about the photographer, your job is to keep it professional and play dumb. Protecting the photographer’s privacy will earn you brownie points.

When on-set, know the names and roles of everyone on-set, including the talent so the photographer doesn’t have to. Keep a notepad handy and jot it down. Do it discretely.

You must be able to foresee potential problems on-set and take the necessary steps to solve the problem in an efficient manner. If you have to fix something on-set, do not cross in front of the camera. You have to be on the same wave length as the photographer, anticipation of what the photographer needs is priceless. Be alert at all times and be proactive, it is not a time to be texting or checking e-mail on your cell phone. Stay close to the photographer, don’t wander off. If you must go to the bathroom, make sure someone knows and try and do it at a slow point in the shoot, like wardrobe change.

Don’t stand in front of the lights! Pay attention to the strobes to make sure they are firing and that they’re pointing at the talent. Chances are the photographer won’t notice it right away until 4-5 frames have gone by, if there’s a money shot in there where the strobes didn’t go off, you’ll be on the hot seat for not noticing.

If you’re a second or third assistant, address all issues with the first assistant immediately and defer to his judgment, never discuss any creative concerns with anyone else. Just like the military, there’s a chain of command and it should be followed.

Train yourself to have the a keen eye for details, make sure that you alert the photographer to potential distractions within the frame. Often time, the photographer has lots of other things to worry about on-set that he may not see what’s blatantly in front of him. However, be sure to bring it to his attention in a discrete manner.

Don’t suggest ideas unless you’re asked, because it’s likely that the photographer has already thought of it, or if you have a good relationship with the photographer you can suggest it in a discrete manner. Being discrete is probably a good lesson to learn, it applies to almost every situation on-set.

If the photographer is still working, you’re still working. Just because there’s craft service available, it doesn’t mean that you should be the first to eat. Watch and listen for cues. Most of the time, the photographer will announce it’s “eating” time!

Be professional and don’t chat up the talent, the talent is there to do a job and so are you. It’s not a dating or a networking service, it’s a photoshoot. Don’t stand in the talent’s eye line or stare directly at the talent, especially on a Celebrity shoot. Engage in conversation with the client only if they initiate, but know when to shut up. No one wants to hear someone go on and on. And just because everyone has a Facebook account, it doesn’t mean that you should intrude on their privacy and send a friend request.

And finally, if you don’t know something, ask.

How to Light for Headshots

The three most common areas of focus that photographers get into when getting into photography are headshots, senior portraits, and weddings because it’s the easiest route to make money plus you don’t have the pressure of a big budget production that normally goes into fashion/commercial photography. The problem however, is that since it’s an easy way for new photographers to make money, there are an over abundance of photographers offering these services in the marketplace.

So how do you make yourself stand out from the crowd? 

Today I’ll focus on headshots: 
Get to know your client before the shoot. Make sure you know what type of roles your client tend to get. If your actor is a comedian, you certainly wouldn’t want to give him headshots that look all serious and vice versa. 

Make sure the background is not distracting, then really knock the background out by shooting with a smaller F-stop (wider aperture). Next focus on your client’s outfits, avoid patterns or anything too out there. Solid colors are usually the best, but make sure the color complements the skin and the background. 

Even though they are actors, most aren’t comfortable being in front of a still camera. Your job as a photographer is to capture their essence, but if they are stiff and uncomfortable, it will certainly show up in the pictures. Talk to them, make jokes, ease their mind so that they’re no longer thinking about the shoot. 

Avoid shooting in direct sun. If there’s no place to hide and it’s your only option, shoot with the sun at their 3/4 back so that it rims part of their body and head. Use a reflector in front on the opposite side of the sun at 3/4 to your subject as well to create subtle shadows on their face. If you put the reflector right in front of your subject, the light will be flat. 

Most of the time you won’t be shooting headshots in the desert, so you’ll be able to find shade to hide under or wait for an overcast day, the World will then be a large softbox. 

Here’s a shot in natural light. 

Shooting in natural light is the easiest option, but if you want more control over the light, you can pack lightly (no pun intended). You can get away with 1 light, but I prefer 2 lights sometimes 3 so the image is not too one dimensional. 

Here’s a shot with 2 lights so you can compare it with the natural light.

The main light is 3/4, to the left of the actor. The back light is twice the distance away and a usually a stop or two higher than the main light to create the rim effect.

Nowadays, people are starting to break away from the vertical headshot (which I still prefer because actors usually paperclip their resume to their headshots, hence the casting directors don’t have to turn the image to read the resume). If you go horizontal, don’t center your subject in the frame. Avoid cropping too much off the top of the head, casting directors like to know what the hair looks like.


Give your client options. Back out and shoot a few 3/4 body shots so they can use as secondary headshots for those times where they have to show the casting directors their physique. 

I hope this was helpful for those who are looking to do headshots.