3 Mistakes to Avoid When Shooting a Sunrise: The Story Behind the Shot

The morning started when my alarm went off at 4:45. Naturally, I hit the snooze button and I would’ve drifted back to sleep if it hadn’t been for the pesky voice inside my head, “Wake the eff up, you have two more hours in this town before you have to get to the airport. The sun is about to rise. PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER!”

The night before I’d laid out my camera gear and tennis shoes so I hauled myself out of bed and scrambled around in the dark. As it turns out, 4:45 was about 45 minutes too late. I ran to the hotel lobby and asked for the bike they’d promised me. It took them what seemed like forever to find me the bike. Soon I was frantically speeding down the country road towards the mountain range. I’d missed the sunrise. I’d missed the colorful sky-it was already starting to fade. FML.

Even more frustrating, however, was the fact that all three of my camera lenses (my point and shoot Canon, my trusty iPhone5 and my Nikkor 24-70) refused to de-fog. Any trace of color in the sky was impossible to capture thanks to my de-fogging negligence. (Note-give your camera at least 15 minutes of adjusting to the outside temperature to avoid this problem. I.E. wake up at 3:45 A.M. next time!)

I now had only 45 minutes left before having to return so I decided to put my cameras away and just enjoy the bike ride. I quickly realized how lucky I was to be in such an insanely beautiful place and forgave myself for sleeping in.

Not three minutes after I’d resolved to ditch the cameras, however, I spotted something in the distant tall lotus stems. I slowed down and squinted. It was a person! In the swamp?! He kept disappearing so I decided to continue biking. A small trail appeared down the road and I again spotted this man in the water. Naturally, I ditched my bike, trusting the moral compass of the friendly local farmers. The trail led along through the swamp so I took off my shoes and “forded the river.” I was slowly but surely getting closer to this man on his tiny boat.

“Xin chào!” I called out. He either couldn’t hear me or chose to ignore me because he kept weaving around the reeds. I kept wading through the swampy water in his direction, hoping to eventually intercept him. Finally, he turned the corner and was crawling in my direction, stopping to pick lotus pods along the way. I pretended to snap photos of the surrounding mountains so as not to alarm him or creep him out.

“Xin chào,” he finally said as he approached. I immediately regretted not knowing any more Vietnamese. I smiled and introduced myself, putting my camera away temporarily. He pulled out a lotus flower and offered it to me. He then took out a pod and cracked it open, handing me some seeds. He ate one himself to show me they were edible and I followed suit. We nibbled in silence and grinned at each other. I didn’t want to push my luck, but I’d come so far. I took out my camera and showed him some of my landscape photos from the day before. By now the lens had de-fogged. I managed to use body language to ask him to allow me to take his photo and he graciously agreed.

I waved farewell and we parted ways, him along the river gathering more seeds to sell and me back to my bike. I returned to the hotel in less than an hour and was out in time to embark for the airport.

I learned never to give up hope on an adventure: nothing is lost because the original “photo opp was wasted.” I realized no opportunity is too far of a stretch.

Huge mistakes to avoid when shooting sunrise:

  • Scout out location in advance-use phone apps to pinpoint where the sun will rise.
  • Wake up at least one hour before sunrise and give yourself enough travel time to reach your ideal spot.
  • Give your camera 15 min to adjust to the outside temperature. Place the camera body and its lenses outside while you're getting ready or put in locked car trunk the night before.

My tried and true formula for capturing locals:

  • Explore foreign countries on a bike when possible-you can cover more ground and appear less “intimidating” among the local people.
  • Introduce yourself to the subject and spend at least five minutes interacting before introducing your camera.
  • Invite them to view old photos.
  • Politely ask/motion to take their portrait.
  • Make sure your settings were roughly preset so you can act quickly without wasting their time.
  • Focus on their eyes and make sure your depth of field is appropriate for the surroundings.
  • Always show them the finished shot and thank them profusely for their cooperation.

And lastly: 

NEVER GIVE UP! Ford the swamp and get your shot!

Want to learn more about how I capture genuine moments? DM me for more info on one-on-one education!

Tips for photographing home interiors

There’s nothing quite like a beautifully staged home showcasing stunning craftsmanship or unique history just waiting to be photographed, ready to be featured in a homes and gardens publication or up on a realty website in preparation for sale. But the thought of capturing just the right shot from just the right angle to accentuate the very best of each space filled with simple, everyday elements like furniture and appliances may give you pause. Here’s how I approach making a room feel more attractive and inviting.


ELEMENT 1: Lighting

Proper lighting is one of the most important elements a professional interior photographer can bring to the table and is what separates an acceptable photo from an exemplary photo. Appropriate lighting can make a space appear larger and establish the desired mood (i.e. a romantic restaurant, a lively dance studio, etc.) Things to consider when determining how best to light a space include:

Existence and placement of windows. When possible, the time of day and the direction the room faces need to be taken into consideration when scheduling the shoot with the real estate agent or office managers. For example, often times clients might prefer twilight shots-especially for office spaces and high-rise apartment buildings. In general, early morning or late afternoon are ideal for shedding the optimal amount of outside light.

Existing light fixtures: It is often best practice to switch on all of the lights inside a room during the staging process. More often than not, the use of additional lights (whether they be speedlights triggered by remotes or higher powered strobes) might be called in. Another option is to bracket the exposures and edit with software.

Finding the formula which balances the interior and exterior exposures often requires practice through trial and error, but will definitely help you stand out as the go-to photographer.

ELEMENT 2: Staging

Living room 1

Another reason why professional photographers are called in for the job is their attention to detail. Having an assistant can expedite the process, but if you are shooting solo, be sure to allot enough time into the appointment. Even if the space has been staged by an interior designer or professional stager, be sure the furniture and props are arranged in such a way that when “flattened” by the camera everything translates well in 2D. There is definitely an optical illusion effect that can make or break a shot and arranging props becomes formulaic. I highly recommend investing in some high quality silk flowers (in neutral colors), fake fruit, blankets, and candle stands to have ready in case the space is bare. Be prepared to explain to the client that it is not personal if family photos or trinkets need to be temporarily taken down.

Element 3: Attention to detail

Bathroom 2

Hiding cords and wires, opening window shades, adjusting faucets, arranging pillows and removing clutter are essential to a creating a clean, artistic shot.

If you’re not quite sure or comfortable with these shooting scenarios, it might be fun to do a little experimenting with your own space. Ask any and all friends who are willing to let you practice on their homes/office spaces. Try a few before/after shots with the suggestions above and see what works best – and you’ll be ready for your next client!

How to photograph Skylines and Cityscapes

Skylines & Cityscapes: Making a Visual Impact

 Seattle Skyline at dusk | ISO 125, 70mm, f9, 1/40

Seattle Skyline at dusk | ISO 125, 70mm, f9, 1/40

There’s a lot of power and beauty in a well-captured skyline. Many of these are iconic in their own way to the local community if not the world, depending on their scale and longevity. It’s only natural that an architectural photographer would like the opportunity to show such impressive structures and symbols of culture and community from their personal, artful perspective. Here are a few ways to get started if the thought of covering, say, the Big Apple’s skyline seems enticing but also biting off more than you can chew.


Get your location right and your time of day right. This will likely take some trial and error. I suggest checking the city's sunrise and sunset times and going from there. Does an early more fog generally always envelope your subject? Is there spot across the river or from a neighboring city that more powerfully completes your skyline image? Is a trip in the air in order (thanks to the rise in popularity of drones, helicopter companies have started dropping prices for photography tours. Going in with a few friends might make it worthwhile.)  I most enjoy shooting during pre-dawn/sunrise and at sunset/twilight.

Lenses and equipment

The type of lens you use to grab such stunning structures – grand, massive, looming – can make or break the final result. Here’s what I recommend for shooting skylines and cityscapes:

-A wide angle lens:
Nikon wide angle: Click here to see an example from B&H.
Canon wide angle: Click here
Tamron wide angle: Click here
Sigma wide angle: Click here

-A 24-70 lens
Nikon: Click here
Canon: Click here
Tamron: Click here
Sigma: Click here

- A circular polarizer: Click here
*Note-for wide angle lenses, there are adapters out there such as the FotodioX WonderPana Kit.

-A sturdy tripod

Lighting & Post-Production

Much like my first point, considering the time of day and how the sunlight may or may not be hitting your subject is paramount. Sunrise, sunset, under a full moon – all of these natural lighting conditions can make for some impressive images if you capture them correctly. Also, remember to take into consideration urban light pollution. I recommend using a circular polarizer to reduce glare. Shooting through building glass from the top floor of a skyscraper can have the same effect!

Though not natural, street lights, office lights, and lights from traffic are out of your control but need to be considered when composing a shot. And perhaps consider shooting in black and white versus color (or play around with color options in post).

Bracketing is another way to create a subtle HDR effect. Be sure to take three to five different exposures to work with later in post.

I love shooting these expansive, towering buildings and the bigger picture they belong to because even though they may have been shot a million times before, there is always room for creative interpretation. I’d love to see what you all come up with! 


Thank You Veterans

 Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

Today, I’d just like to so thank you to all those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Veterans have made sacrifices beyond measure for their country and I’m humbly honored to recognize them, if only in this simple way, for fighting for their country and protecting my freedoms.

 Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

 The Three Soldiers

The Three Soldiers

 World War II Memorial

World War II Memorial

Top Photography Exhibitions to visit in D.C.

Checking out the latest exhibits and gallery offerings is a great way to take a break but stay relevant to our industry, find some new inspiration, destination, or technique to try, or meet other pros or potential clients. Exhibit and gallery hopping is definitely a win and not a waste, so give it a try some time soon. Here’s what I recommend in the D.C. area for the near future.

National Geographic Image

Invisible Boundaries: Exploring Yellowstone’s Great Animal Migrations – National Geographic Museum

Dates: April 15, 2016 – October 16, 2016

It’s hard not to consider the National Geographic Museum when putting a list together about must-see photography. In celebration of the National Park System’s centennial, National Geographic is putting together a visual and educational exhibition on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, wildlife migration, and the innovative science behind conservation.

Event Link: http://events.nationalgeographic.com/exhibits/2016/04/15/invisible-boundaries-dc/

The Art of the Airport Tower – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (Washington, D.C. location)

Dates: November 11, 2015 – November 1, 2016

Perhaps you’ve been an aviation buff for a while now or maybe you’ve never given the architecture of the airport a second thought. Either way, I think you’ll find this exhibit a treat in appreciating the more subtle things in life that have a unique and special way of bringing people from all over the world together. Smithsonian’s Carolyn Russo takes us around the world exploring airport towers that help illustrate and define each area’s unique culture and community.

Event Link: https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/art-airport-tower

Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery – Newseum

Dates: Currently closed, this gallery will reopen on September 16, 2016

This is a great exhibit whether you’re a visitor or a local. Updated each year with that year’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs, the gallery holds more than 1,000 images on file from every Pulitzer Prize-winning entry since 1942.

Event Link: http://www.newseum.org/exhibits/current/pulitzer-prize-photographs-gallery/

Intersections: Photos and Videos – National Gallery of Art/Corcoran Gallery of Art

Dates: May 29, 2016 – January 2, 2017

This one’s a unique blend of two collections from the National Gallery of Art and the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The founding photography fathers at both of these galleries is what sparked the inspiration for this combined effort. Alfred Stieglitz, with works that started the National Gallery of Art’s collection, and Eadweard Muybridge’s images from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, are brought together giving exhibit-goers a special opportunity to view highlights from a variety of artists from the 1840s to today.

Event Link: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2016/intersections-photographs-and-video-from-the-national-gallery-of-art-and-the-corcoran-gallery-of-art.html

This is just a sampling of some of the great image exhibitions D.C. has to offer. Different collections come and go frequently – here are a couple sites I use to stay up-to-date on what’s out there:

Exposed DC


Working with the Season: Summer Photography

Yes, I know summer is more on its way out than on its way in but, depending on your neck of the woods, there may still be plenty of summer weather left to enjoy – and take great photos during! And with the warm, humid, sunny, weather, which is slowly transitioning to fall, comes certain perks and predicaments. But that’s what makes producing stunning images during each season so special and professionally challenging. So let’s talk about how to work your photography magic during summer.

Hot & Humid : How to prevent lens fog

In addition to our recent heatwave here in the D.C. area, it’s August and there’s no wondering why they call these the dog days of summer. It’s hot and humid. Here’s how I recommend handling your equipment in the extreme weather.

Distance camera and equipment from air conditioned rooms. If possible, lock camera inside the trunk of your car, garage or inside an un-airconditioned closet. If this is not possible, arrive early to your shoot to allow the gear to adjust to the ambient temperature. I’ve read some great advice on various blogs recommending the use of hair dryers, winter hand warmers or other creative devices to help speed up this process.

I’ve included the links to some handy B&H tools to alleviate the problem in a pinch.

  • Vortex Fog Free Lens Cleaner click HERE.

  • Anti Fog Cloth from B&H click HERE.

Sunny & 75 (or 100!)

It’s sunny and some days can be very bright or other times it can be overcast and exposure can be deceiving. Natural light can be extremely helpful and a burden at the same time. It can be difficult to see or judge just how well you’re exposing your film or digital images. I highly recommend using the following to help achieve your shot:

  • Your camera hood

  • Protective UV filters (Click HERE for an example).

  • An LCD viewfinder to block out the sun and magnify the image (click HERE for example).

Longer Days

One great perk about summer is having more time in more comfortable weather to take more photos. Summer often gives us some spectacular sunsets or beautifully dramatic images during and after rainy weather events. Scope out a particularly special spot that you already know lends itself to breathtaking moments, like fog or steam off a body of water at sunrise on a warm morning or a back porch silhouette sunset for your latest residential photography client that happens to be situated facing west at just the right mountain top or lakeside location.

Take care of your equipment, carry less, stay hydrated and maybe try a thing or two we talked about above and let’s see what you come up with. I’m looking forward to enjoying the rest of summer – hope you are, too!


How to Shoot in Extreme Lighting Scenarios

I love a challenge, especially when it comes to testing my photography skills as it helps to grow my experience as a professional. Not to mention, the journey of attempting a new challenge often leads to some exciting results that have pushed me past boundaries only I was putting on myself. In photography, a lot of challenges present themselves during unique lighting scenarios to the point where you may shy away from trying to overcome them. Well, not today! Let’s look at a few extreme lighting scenarios and some tips on how to shoot in them.    

Scenario #1: Shooting in the midday sun

Tip – Have your assistant, grab a buddy, use a light stand, or try self-holding a scrim to diffuse the harsh light. You can also use a reflector to fill-in shadows. I highly recommend investing in the following light kit, which includes:

  • 5 in 1 Portable 24 x 36"/60 x 90cm Round Collapsible Multi Disc Photography Studio Photo Camera Lighting Reflector/Diffuser Kit

  • C-Stand with boom arm

  • Heavy Duty Muslin Clamps (4 1/2 inch 6 Pack)

  • Sand bags to safely weigh down the c-stand

Check out Amazon.com’s selection by going to http://amzn.to/2alxeTY.

Tip – Experiment with lens filters (especially graduated for outdoor photography).

Tip – Move to solid shade-side of a building, under a shroud of branches to avoid direct sunlight if possible!

Tip – If later in the day-but still before golden hour, try your best to back light your subjects from different angles.

Scenario #2: Shooting at in very low light or at night

Tip – Depending on your subject, using a combination higher ISO, shower shutter speed, or wider depth of field to achieve proper exposure. If possible always use a tripod. *Worst case, try combo of cranking your ISO and later using noise reduction during photo-editing. Again, reflectors can really help fill in shadows.

Tip – Invest in speedlights compatible with your camera model (with a light softener) or outdoor battery operated air lights (expensive-but totally awesome) *flash heads and soft-boxes recommended. I recommend visiting B&H -http://bhpho.to/2aBSlTf to check out standard examples and then searching other camera sites for the cheapest option. Used gear, whenever possible, is an awesome choice!

Scenario #3: Shooting with natural light only (no flash or lighting kits) -indoors and outdoors

Tip – Try finding a wall to bounce light off of, and/or to provide complete shade.

  • If possible, use a white foam board to reflect against bright wall/fill in shadows.

Tip – Again, seek out evenly shaded areas at all costs if outdoors. If indoors, place subject near a window and use a reflector to bounce an even light from the other side.

Don’t let another unfamiliar lighting scenario set you back. Try a few of the ideas above and let me know how it goes. Better yet, I’d love to see your results!



Trend Alert! Techniques for Making Your Photography Stand Out

Okay, I know we’re halfway through 2016 but better late than never to see what’s going on in the world of photography trends! It’s never too late to try our hands (and cameras) at some techniques that will make our images stand out with a little forward-thinking edge.

Advertising and Commercial Real Estate: 360 Degree Photography

  A recent Lexus ad employing the 360 degree photography trend.

A recent Lexus ad employing the 360 degree photography trend.

I love this trend. They’re doing it in video and it’s amazing in photography as well. It’s the technology beyond taking that wide-angle panoramic photo – literally. The 360 degree photography approach captures everything around you. While it certainly can’t replace traditional real estate images, it is a great way to add intrigue to an existing portfolio or perhaps to enhance clients’ galleries. Checking out the Panono 360 Degree Camera might be a place to start if you’re interested in getting in on this trend.

Travel: Drone Photography

  Award-winning “Postandfly” drone photography of Tamul Falls, Mexico via Dronestagram.

Award-winning “Postandfly” drone photography of Tamul Falls, Mexico via Dronestagram.

This is another exciting trend gaining momentum in both the photo and video industries. And it just screams, “We’ve GOT to try this on our next excursion!” And who wouldn’t? Unique perspectives, breathtaking images, and challenging opportunities to get that nearly impossible shot. But if you’re going to attempt the drone camera, be mindful of your surroundings. Some locations have strict restrictions on flying drones, especially near government facilities and airports. Otherwise, have fun and see what’s up there!

Architecture: Black and White Photography

  By M.P. Collins, View of New York City taken from Weehawken, NJ.

By M.P. Collins, View of New York City taken from Weehawken, NJ.

Okay, I’m not sure black and white photography ever actually went out of style, but if it’s taken a backseat to other lighting/filter trends in recent years (ahem – I’m looking at you, Instagram filters), it’s certainly returning to the forefront in 2016. Personally, I love black and white photography when I’m shooting architecture and fine art. It brings a certain simplicity and elegance to complicated and overstimulated spaces, especially evening skylines and intricately designed cathedral ceilings. Don’t be afraid to play with the tint of the black and white filter, either. Experiment with going slightly brown or red, or even mixing black and white elements of the image with some elements still in color.

What trends are inspiring you this year? I’d love to hear and see what you’re trying out!





How to Get Started as a Professional Travel Photographer

It has been a dream of mine to get paid to take stunning images of beautiful places. Unfortunately, making it in the travel photography industry is easier said than done. After speaking with my instructors, mentors in the field, and photography colleagues, I have come up with a roadmap, which I myself intend to start following. While it is a widely accepted fact that this industry is extremely competitive, I am convinced that this road should not be a lonely one and that there is room for many a determined talent at the top – especially if we capitalize on our own unique strengths.



#1 Invest in Professional Equipment

While some may be discouraged when their smartphone snaps a “better shot” than its DSLR counterpart, or when an amateur photographer’s iPhone or Android image goes viral on social media, becoming a professional who sells their images commercially depends on HIGH RESOLUTION image formats. It’s time to buckle down and invest in professional equipment. Here’s what I recommend as must-haves:

-          A full-frame camera body.

-          Landscape lenses (both 14-24, 24-70, 70-200)

-          Lens filters

-          A sturdy tripod

-          A remote shutter release

-          Spare batteries

-          A small flashlight

-          A camera rain cover

-          Image editing software

-          Back-up hard drives

-          A portfolio web site

-          Outdoor GPS

-          Smartphone Apps: weather, light pollution, sunrise/sunset

*Pro Tip – Whenever possible, seek out high quality used equipment to save money. Online, try B&H or Amazon; don’t forget to check with your local camera store once a month to see what used equipment they might have available. Lastly, consider renting – BorrowLenses.com and LensRentals.com are two great places to start.

#2 Build Your Portfolio to Attract Clients

As much as we love to pursue our passion for photography, ultimately we’d like to start securing clients and count ourselves among those lucky enough to say we haven’t worked a day in our lives because we love what we do. This is the part where you may need to step outside your comfort zone and out from behind the camera lens to build your portfolio and your client list. Try some of these ideas:

-          Volunteer at national parks or community events

-          Create challenging, self-motivated assignments

-          Practice replicating what you admire, what has been featured or published in ads or other media

-          Shoot a variety of subject matter

-          Choose only your strongest work to highlight

-          Seek professional, healthy, productive, criticism from a variety of sources in the field

#3 Be Confident and Promote Your Work!

If you want to show up on the map, you need to focused and multitasking at the same time. I know, this sounds counter-intuitive, but trust me, it makes sense. Vary your tactics for promoting your work between online and in-person with a targeted approach and you’ll thank yourself later. Here are a few ways to approach promoting your work:

-          Use social media. There’s no use in fighting our favorite digital frenemy. Instagram, Flickr, VSCO, 500px, Pinterest, Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, GooglePlus – the channel possibilities are practically endless. Don’t let the options overwhelm you. Choose a few to focus on and post. It goes without saying social media is extremely effective for building a community of followers, networking with other industry professionals, establishing credibility, and attracting clients.

-          Enter photography contests

-          Submit your images (in low resolution format) to different publications and stock photo agencies

-          Start face-to-face dialogues with owners of local cafes, travel agencies, art co-ops, ethnic restaurants, tourism boards, etc.

*Pro Tip – Don’t be bashful about promoting your work and if you do need a little boost in confidence, I highly recommend you read, The Artist’s Way. You’ll be glad you did.

Cheers to our success, fellow travel photographers! Meet you at the summit.