Sun or Shade – Which is best to photograph wildflowers?

July 15, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.

Robert Capa


 Sunny Columbine wildflowersColumbine-Sunny Columbine wildflower in shadeColumbine-Shady

After a week of teaching wildflower photography techniques with the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival I’ve become a bit opinionated about how to photograph wildflowers in their best light. One of the key factors in photographing any subject is to determine the most flattering light to use. While there may be different opinions on what is best, this is my blog so you’ll get my opinion.

For wildflowers with complex shapes like the Colorado Blue Columbine, I prefer open shade or otherwise diffused light. I find the higher contrast of direct sun harsh and not very flattering. Softer, diffused light does not have to be flat or boring however. With a little luck or skill direct sunlight can become softer, directional light.

Coming from a portrait background, I always prefer to have the light on my subjects appearing to come from some direction rather than being flat or coming from over the photographer’s shoulder.  Kodak’s suggestions are great for selling film but not-so-great for making interesting photographs. The image below is one of my favorites because it has a beautiful subject captured in soft, directional light with no harsh shadows or bright highlights. If I can’t find a nice subject tucked under some trees in open shade with a little direction to the light, I make my own using a large diffuser. You might try a reflector as well but mine create too harsh a light for wildflowers. The diffuser does a really nice job and creates an adjustable effect based on its distance to the subject. Generally, I use the diffuser as close to the subject as possible without getting it into my photo.

While flowers with simple shapes like daisies and sunflowers seem to look great in direct sunlight, blooms with more complex shapes like Columbine, Bog Orchid and Elephantella look better with diffused light like open shade or under a cloudy sky. That’s just my opinion. You are more than welcome to disagree. If you would like personal instruction in wildflower or landscape photography check out my private and small-group photo tours through the Colorado School of Photography.

Colorado Blue Columbine in shadeColoradoBlues

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Sunflower Photography in Paradise

July 02, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Sunflowers in Crested ButteA-Sea-of-Yellow-1538x1024

A Sea of Yellow Sunflowers

Sunflowers are nothing special in Crested Butte, Colorado. They’re everywhere! Numerous varieties bloom here throughout the summer months (June – August). This year, however has been an especially vibrant sunflower summer. We’re witnessing flowers where we’ve never seen them in numbers that are hard to imagine. Whole hillsides are bright yellow.

The field above was photographed moments before the sun spread its warmth across the flowers. They were brightly lit by the open sky above but the contrast associated with full sun was absent. That’s a scenario I prefer for photographing flowers. I tend to think they’re more attractive in softer light with less contrast. Not having to deal with blown-out highlights or deep shadows makes post-production work easier too, but that’s not a good reason to choose a flattering type of light. When given an option, it’s important to photograph your subjects, whether they’re flowers, people, buildings or mountains in light that enhances what you like about your subject and diminishes attention to their flaws. For the subjects above, that meant making photographs in soft light. I could have waited for overcast skies and made a similar image except that clouds around here are usually accompanied by breezes. Moving flowers are much more difficult to photograph.

I wanted to show the expanse of flowers and their fresh, intense color. That meant that I would not include the sky or any surrounding trees. Including those would add an element which would detract from the “sea” of flowers. I began by using a small aperture to keep most of the flowers in focus but upon review, decided that there was no clear point of focus and thus no single place a viewer’s eye would end up. That’s generally not a good photograph. It should be apparent to the viewer what the photographer wants him/her to look at.  To solve this visual issue I chose to open up the aperture to f5.6 which would keep the background flowers recognizable but out of focus. I chose to focus on the taller and somewhat isolated sunflower in the lower right of the scene simply because it was a little taller, isolated against the green foliage and a perfect specimen. For me, this flower was an obvious choice since it was also facing slightly upward making it a little different from its surrounding flowers.

There was almost not post-production work on this image. I did warm the color temperature a tad and sharpened the photo as I usually do but nothing was added or subtracted and the scene looked the same in camera as it does above.

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Photographing Wildflowers – Pro tips from Colorado

June 17, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Wildflower Photography Workshop Notes

 By Dusty Demerson, Crested Butte, Colorado

          Beautiful wildflower photographs have several things in common. They all have great subject matter, interesting compositions, light that enhances the subject and they are technically excellent.  Occasionally (very rarely) luck is involved. As the flowers begin to bloom in the high country I thought I would share some tips the professionals use when photographing wildflowers. These tips can also be applied to almost any other subject matter too.

 Choose Great Subject matter:

            Choose subjects you find beautiful or interesting. Ask yourself why you respond to a subject. What is it about the subject that excites you or causes you to want to make a photograph? Is it the color, texture, shape, environment or other feature? What do you find exciting about the subject that causes you to want to make a photograph? By analyzing your response you can choose how to best arrange your image, enhancing your subject’s strongest features and downplaying any distractions. Choose subjects that are as near-perfect as possible. Explore your subject to find the best angles, light, etc. Know your subject! If you’re photographing a wildflower, will your subject look different at a different time of day? Does it close up at night and reopen when the sun hits it? Is the color more intense when the specimen is in the shade? Have bugs been eating the leaves or petals? Is the pollen still on the flower or gone? Whether you are photographing wildflowers, architecture, people or landscapes better images can be made if you know your subject thoroughly. Spend time with your subject exploring different points of view and compositions until you have the “perfect” shot. Your photographs are your interpretations of the subject. Only you see this way. Bring your unique point of view to your subject and show the world how you see it!

 Use Composition Guidelines:

          Use elements of composition to show what is interesting about your subject. Arrange your image to eliminate distracting elements and include those that enhance your image. Use limited depth of field to help eliminate distractions. Know all of the tools at your disposal: leading lines, framing, focus, contrast, camera angle, balance, symmetry, proportion, repetition, diagonal lines, rule of thirds, etc.

Use Great Light:

          Choose flattering light or arrange to return to the scene when the angle, color or quality of light makes your subject look its best. If you can’t come back, use light modifiers (diffuser, reflectors, gobos, flash) to control the light so your subject looks its best. Pay attention to the sky. Wait for clouds to soften light or wait for the sun to increase contrast. 

 Create the Best File Possible:

            Choose the lowest ISO possible. Expose correctly! Focus precisely. Use a tripod to steady the camera and help refine your composition. Know how your camera works. Know and use its best features. Choose the best lenses you can afford! Use a cable release or the timer. Do your cropping in the camera when possible. If digital, shoot in RAW whenever possible. If shooting JPG, use the least compression possible. Don’t practice the “fix it in Photoshop” mentality. Do it right in the camera. If in doubt, bracket your exposures.

             If you’re not thrilled with the wildflower photography you create, don’t delete them. Ask yourself why you’re disappointed. What don’t you like? What’s wrong? Try to communicate the issues using photographic and artistic terms. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

 Learn to see the way your camera sees. Don’t just point and shoot. Pay attention to the corners and edges of the viewfinder/screen. Is there something in there that you want to remove? Change your position/composition so that you are only including what you want in the photograph. Watch for power lines, fences, bugs, cars etc.  Remove dead sticks/flowers etc. Refine your images before you push the button.

 Use the zoom lens to tighten your compositions. Use your feet too! Bend your knees! Photographing a subject from above psychologically demeans the subject. By using a lower point of view you can add importance and respect to your subject. Similarly, complete items within your composition will have greater importance than elements which are cut-off or truncated. So if you want a tree, for instance, to have importance and weight in your composition try to include the entire tree. If the tree is drawing too much attention you can crop some of it off to add importance to other elements of your photograph. Elements like a field of flowers will psychologically continue on forever if they extend out of the frame whereas, if there is a visible edge to the field it will appear smaller.

 Try to photograph each subject in a vertical and a horizontal composition. Although it’s not always possible, it’s a great way to learn to see different compositions and achieve different feelings from the same scene.

 Use the camera’s histogram to check exposure levels. The LCD screen will lie to you if you are shooting in RAW or TIFF formats and the screens vary in brightness from one camera to another.

If you would like to learn more about how to make great wildflower photographs, join me in one of the many classes during the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, from July 8 – 13, 2013. Visit their site for more information: The Crested Butte Wildflower Festival. If you can’t get here for the Festival, I offer private and small-group tours all year-long.

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There is a Delicate Nature to Spring

June 10, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

crested butte photographer - snow on bare aspen treesDelicate-Nature-of-Spring-199x300 crested butte photographer - new leaves on aspen treesSpring-Number-3-199x300

There is a delicate nature to spring in the mountains. What were once hillsides covered in white are now brown turning to green. Trees too, stood in stark contrast to our blue skies but now begin to sprout fresh, lime-green leaves resembling kitten’s toes. Spring here only lasts a week or so. We go from snow on the branches to green on the branches in a matter of days that seems more like overnight. Spring invites sitting on a warm, sunny deck with a good book or the Kindle instead of editing images in preparation for shows and galleries.  This slow change of seasons makes it easy to turn a quick trip to the Post Office or bank into an afternoon on a bench solving the World’s problems with friends.

It seems these changes want me to ease into a new season via incremental changes instead of jumping right in. I like the easing but summer sneaks up on me. Within a matter of days a schedule can fill with appointments, shows, fairs and work. I’m not complaining. I love to work. In fact, that’s kind of the problem with spring. It tends to lull me into complacency even though I know I need to be preparing for a busy summer. There’s something about spring that makes me extra-critical about my work though. Nothing looks good. There’s something “wrong” with every image I see. I want to re-shoot everything but that’s impossible. It won’t be winter again for another 8 months and summer is still a month away.

What to do? Do I grab the book and head for the deck? Do I put my nose to the proverbial grindstone and work through my frustrations with the winter photos? Do I head for the Post Office hoping for another distraction? Maybe I’ll do a little of everything today. Writing this seems a little like work so I guess I can put a check by “work” on my list. I’m a little out of practice with the writing. Hopefully I’ll become less rambling and more to the point as I get back into this. Thanks for putting up with me. I’ll give it another shot next week.


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The Problem With Photography

June 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

The Problem with Photography

Red Sunset over Mount Emmons


Every artistic endeavor has difficulties involved. I don’t actually know all the struggles a painter might go through although I can imagine some. Neither do I know the challenges of writing music, composing a novel or screenplay, sculpting a statue or making pottery. I do, however, know about the problems associated with creating a compelling photograph.


Technical difficulties used to plague photographers. Understanding shutter speeds, film speed and apertures rendered many aspiring photographic artists impotent. The many variables, especially in black and white film and print processing, were mind-boggling and could take a lifetime to master. Even focusing on the subject could be a challenge if you didn’t have adequate light and great equipment. Then along came the “digital revolution”. While the start of this technological revolution was fairly rough and camera companies made plenty of promises that were not true, breakthroughs were in the works that would change photography forever. Over the last 30 years or so the technical struggles we used to face as photographers have largely vanished. Most of today’s cameras set on “automatic” will produce an image that’s in focus and exposed well enough to get an untrained “photographer” in the ballpark. The technical issues of photographic art are not the problem.


The real problem with photography as an artistic medium of self-expression is that in photography the scene has to actually happen. We can’t imagine a beautiful landscape and make a photograph of it. We can’t create an image of a fabulous sunset unless the sunset actually happens.


There are a few notable exceptions however. I had the privilege of visiting Verve Gallery of Photography in Santa Fe a few weeks ago. They were featuring the work of Maggie Taylor, an incredible artist who uses photographic images and her phenomenal knowledge of Adobe Photoshop to create amazing images of whimsy and fantasy. While her work usually shows in photography galleries and she does use photography to create her images, I have trouble calling her art “photography”. Her scenes don’t happen except in her imagination and computer. They never actually existed. I am always amazed and inspired by her work though, whatever it’s called.


That’s where the problem with photography lies. That’s were the art of photography lies as well. It’s easy to go to Best Buy and purchase a camera that can deal with the technical issues of the craft. It’s more difficult to know what to point that camera at and to know when to press the shutter button. That’s where the “art” comes in. That’s where a photographer’s “vision” comes in. There’s a lot of distance to be covered between “seeing” an image in our minds and “capturing” that image, much less presenting it in a two-dimensional print that creates an emotional response. The image has to actually happen…in real time…in front of the camera. We can’t just imagine it and press a button. We can’t create it from scratch in a computer.


Today it’s really easy to take a picture but creating art with a camera is just as challenging as it ever was.

By Dusty Demerson, May 24, 2013




Death Valley sand dunes

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Building a New Photoshop Computer

June 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment


By Dusty Demerson


I love technology. Advances in photography software and hardware have made it possible to create images we couldn’t even dream of back in the days of the darkroom. The tools at our disposal today make it pretty easy to deliver any image we can imagine. But there is a downside to technology too.

We have to keep up! Over time, our tools become less effective, slower and changes in operating systems can make them dysfunctional or render them useless until something gets upgraded. Even upgrades eventually require changes in equipment.

That’s where I find myself today. Adobe Photoshop CS6, my “go-to” program for image work, is fine but slow with larger files and more layers. Attempting to upgrade Adobe Lightroom didn’t work at all since it is incompatible with Microsoft XP, my current operating system. So I find myself needing some new hardware to run current versions of some software. New hardware will also be much faster and more efficient in rendering images. It’s not all bad! Some of the bugs that have crept into my 5-year-old PC will be finding new homes as well.

So, what do I have in mind? Here are the components and some thoughts on the choices. If any readers have other thoughts or cautions on these choices, I would love to hear about them sooner rather than later.

I plan on starting with an Intel motherboard: Intel-Desktop-Motherboard-LGA1155-DDR3. This board is optimized for the i7 processor I’ve chosen and, while there are a handful of competing boards a little less expensive, the Intel boards seem to be better-built and have fewer bad reviews. I really can’t imagine taking the time to build a computer to find the motherboard is faulty and must be returned. I’ll hopefully avoid that nightmare. This board will work with a number of processors but I’ve chosen the Intel Core i7-3770K Quad-Core Processor 3.5 GHz 8 MB Cache LGA 1155 – BX80637I73770K. It’s about what I can afford and is designed for the board above. It also will “overclock” if I ever choose to do that. Even if I don’t, it’s a huge step forward from what I’m using now and will run 64-bit software like a champ.

16 gigabytes of fast RAM should be a great start for my system but I can add an additional 16 later if I need to. I am leaning toward Corsair Vengeance Blue 16 GB (2×8 GB) DDR3 1600MHz (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory although I really don’t care what color they are. My reason for choosing the Corsair over the other contender, Crucial, was the lifetime warranty offered by Corsair. All of these memory modules are within a dollar or two of the same price.

Here’s where the computer design begins to look like an imaging machine instead of a word processor. The specs so far would be overkill for a word processing or accounting computer but I’m going to try to take efficiency a little further still. The system will contain four drives; one for Windows 7, another for other programs like Photoshop, a third drive will hold the data (photos) and a final Solid State Drive will be the Photoshop scratch disk. Here’s the thought behind these choices. If everything is on one drive, even if it’s a fast drive, the computer can only work in one direction at a time and with one program at a time. If the operating system, Photoshop and the images are on their own dedicated drives, they can all be written to at the same time. Additionally, if any of these fail, they are easier to replace if everything isn’t in the same place. I’ve chosen Western Digital Black 500 GB Desktop Hard Drive: 3.5 Inch, 7200 RPM, SATA III, 64 MB Cache because they’re fast, have a large cache and a 5 year warranty. I already own three WD Raid drives which I use for my photos and backups. I’ve been very pleased with these external storage drives even though they are a little slower than internal disk drives. They give me piece of mind. These are connected via Firewire 800 cables and cards.

I’ve chosen a 60 Gigabyte Solid State Drive from Corsair for my Photoshop scratch disk. You might wonder why I would spend a ton of money on a scratch disk. Me too! Again, it’s really about efficiency. When using multiple layers and filters Photoshop can eat up more than my 16 gigabytes of RAM pretty quickly when working on large panoramic images, something I do quite often. When we run out of RAM, Photoshop uses space on available hard drives as extra memory. Having a dedicated drive for that purpose fits within the “multiple drive for efficiency” plan above. Another reason for dedicated super-fast scratch disk is that I’m using a 32 bit Adobe Photoshop. Apparently, you can’t upgrade Photoshop from 32 bit to 64 bit for less than several hundred dollars. This approach is cheaper. I’ll wait until I upgrade Photoshop to CS7 or whatever comes next, because the 32 bit version of Photoshop can only use 3 megabytes of my 16 megabytes of RAM before using the scratch disk. Bummer!

I mentioned that I intend to use Windows 7 operating system. The reason is simple. I really don’t want my work computer to operate like my phone. I don’t use touch screens at work. I use a mouse, tablet and keyboard (like most people). I have poked around Windows 8 and I don’t think I would like it for my day-to-day work computer.

The final piece of this puzzle is a graphics card. I could use the graphics capabilities of the CPU but I like using two monitors when I work on images. In Photoshop I have one monitor dedicated to the image and a smaller monitor with all my tools, layers, filters etc. It’s a real estate decision. I don’t like windows popping up on top of my photos. Most graphics cards will work Photoshop pretty well so I’m not spending a ton of money on a card. I think I’m going with an EVGA GeForce GT 640 2048MB GDDR3 Dual DVI, mHDMI Graphics Card because it will run two monitors, has a lot of its own memory and is under $100.

Other than a box to put all this stuff in, a CPU cooler, some case fans and a beefy power supply that’s about it. I have saved all of these items in my “wish list” at if someone feels really generous and wants to help a not-quite-starving artist. It comes to just under $1400. which is about half what my last desktop cost. I would love to hear from you if you think I’m headed down a rabbit hole with my ideas. I’m still open to suggestions for a few weeks. Thanks!

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Where Do You Find Your Most Popular Images

June 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

by Dusty Demerson


As an artist who earns his living by producing and selling artwork, I’m always interested in where other photographers find their most commercially viable images. Most of us photographers love to travel to exotic and scenic locations to capture those iconic images we’ve all seen in magazines. I’m no exception. I’ve done trips from above the Arctic Circle to the mountains of central Mexico and the Cayman Islands searching for photos. More locally, Yellowstone, Yosemite, The Grand Canyon and Canyonlands. I love to travel and to photograph the places I see.

My real question, though, is where do your most profitable photos come from. Do you find your travel images generating much revenue? Or are your most lucrative photographs from near your home? I hope several of you chime-in on this because I’m really curious.

Personally, I can’t seem to sell an image from outside Colorado to save my life. In fact, I only have one image that sells on a regular basis created outside Gunnison County, where I live. Most of my more successful images are captured within a few miles of my home. My most successful photographs are intimate landscapes. They are not “about a location” so much as they are “about a moment in time”. They tend to have a more universal appeal or tell a story rather than be a documentary about a location.  I’m not complaining. Don’t get me wrong. I’m thrilled when a client connects with one of my images. I’m just wondering how to market and sell more of my travel images before the IRS decides to dis-allow all those photo travel expenses I’ve been racking up. What are your thoughts?

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Risk Versus Reward in Photography

June 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Injured at Big Air CompetitionCL163165DustyBleeding-300x199

by Dusty Demerson

This evening in Crested Butte, Colorado the main street is blocked off and covered with snow. There’s a large bump in the middle of town and a snow grooming machine has been smoothing out the snow-covered street for a crazy annual event called “Big Air on Elk”. It’s lots of fun to watch and a significant challenge to photograph. The street is your basic two-lanes with parking on each side so about 40 feet wide. The “runway” and jump take up all of the street leaving the sidewalk for spectators. Imagine squeezing several thousand people onto two 10 foot wide sidewalks while a snowmobile going 50 miles an hour pulling a skier (like water skiing) down the middle of the street. Sounds like fun huh?

The first year for this event I positioned myself on the roof of a nearby bar. I had a wonderful observation point and captured an “overall” view of the event with our iconic mountain peak in the distance. A near-full moon made shooting the event like a landscape possible. Nobody has seen any of those images. My vantage point made the skiers and snowboarders too small and my distance from them made using a flash ineffective. I got colorful blurs in the middle of a street full of pedestrians. The images were not very good!

The second year I decided to get up close and personal with a wide-angle lens and a position right on the side of the jump. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. There was a nice little step carved out of the snow on the side just for us photographers. There was only room for one of us at a time.  When I arrived my friend Chris Ladoulis was in position on the step as I patiently awaited my turn by putting fresh batteries in the flash and camera. Did I mention it was about 10 degrees? It was a tough night for batteries!

Eventually Chris decided he had what he wanted and climbed down to the street. We traded places and as I climbed to the step I was envisioning these super-cool, close-up images of skiers and snowboarders flying through the air only a few feet away. I found my balance, placed my pack at my feet and stood up to begin making these amazing images I had in my mind. Then WHACK! The next thing I remember was being dragged by my collar down the street and being told by my EMT buddy Shaun to keep pressure on my forehead. I noticed there was blood on my coat. “Hey Shaun, whose blood is this?” I asked. “It’s yours, keep pressure on your head. You’re getting stitches” he said. That’s about the time Chris caught up with us with my camera gear….well, most of it. After handing me my stuff he took my picture. Smiling and bleeding and being escorted down the street by Shaun and keeping pressure on my head. It was quite a sight! I have no idea what happened to the snowboarder who missed his take-off and caught me instead.

I was missing my lens hood for the 17-35mm lens I was using. When asked about it, Chris said “The lens hood didn’t make it!”. I guess I got off easy! I didn’t get any pictures. Not even one! I did get 11 stitches and a nice tiny scar. It’s handy to have a physician who wanted to be a plastic surgeon. But I digress.

The third year I took an entirely different approach. I had “pre-visualized” the photo at the top. There was exactly one place I could stand. I didn’t need to be on a roof or the side of the jump. The only difficulty was trying to keep tall people from standing in front of me. I did need to get the shot pretty early in the event before it got too dark because I didn’t want to haul lights around for such a speculative venture. It turned out that one of the local orthopedic surgeons was standing right beside me this time. I was well protected! I did get the shot! It only took three years, 11 stitches and a lens hood.

So, if there’s a point to this story I guess it’s to try to plan how you want to cover an event. Being too far away and being too close both have their drawbacks. If you’re shooting a speculative self-assignment it’s better not to put yourself at risk. My experience has been shared in local newspapers and all the local photographers have been able to learn from my experience. What they choose to do with that knowledge is totally up to them. As for me, If I photograph Big Air on Elk tonight I’ll be a safe distance away. I may just be a spectator. That could be fun too!

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What is in your Artist Statement

June 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

by Dusty Demerson

At some point just about every artist is asked to provide an “Artist Statement”. Students studying art in school may even take an entire course about how to write an artist statement. Galleries and shows frequently request the artist statement to be printed as part of their presentation of your work or even as part of a submission process. These statements are frequently used by peers to judge the maturity of an artist’s process or approach.


My artist statement has evolved over the past 20 years or so. My first attempt seems extremely juvenile when I read it today. I assume that the statement I use today will seem just as juvenile in 20 more years.

Artist Statement – Dusty Demerson

My goal is to share the beauty of Creation with anyone interested enough to look. This doesn’t necessarily mean an unedited view however. I feel that our perception of beauty is highly influenced by not only what we see but also the sounds, smells and feelings we are experiencing when viewing our subjects. In fact, I further believe that the way we respond to what we see is a culmination of everything we have experienced through our history up to that instant.


My reason for being is to show my viewer something he or she would not have seen on their own. This unique viewpoint may be the result of perfect timing, an optimal play of light or a non-traditional point of view. Whatever the technique employed, art requires that a subject be treated in a unique way or that the artist captures a unique slice of time to share with the viewer.


My job as an artist is, at the very least, to create a two-dimensional representation of my subject that generates some type of emotional response by the viewer. At best, I would like my viewer to experience the same emotional response that I experienced and that caused me to record the scene in the first place. I must then be able to reproduce the scene with a high degree of craftsmanship and skill so that my original experience can be shared and experienced repeatedly by others for an extended period of time.


This goal requires that I move beyond the camera, lens, light and tripod and utilize additional tools to elicit the viewer’s response. The available tools have grown dramatically in the past several years as photographic artists have embraced digital image enhancement. Like any tool, these can be over used and abused as well as used poorly. While fully embracing the tools in my toolbox I attempt to use them to recreate the feelings and emotions I experienced when capturing the image. Since film, cameras, lenses, printers, papers and the other gear necessary for the capture and display of these images impart their own color, perspective, atmosphere, etcetera to the photograph; I need to alter some elements to recreate the scene as I experienced it originally. This process may include cropping the image and the elimination or addition of elements to the photograph. While I may utilize my digital tools to remove unwanted items like power lines or errant tree branches I never add or delete substantial elements of the scene.


Generally, my photographs attempt to restate the original presentation in a manner that evokes the emotional response I experienced without appearing manipulated or fake. My abstract images are, of course, an exception to the last statement. When I am asked if a scene “really looked like that” or was it “Photoshopped” my answer is usually “yes”.  


“Art implies control of reality, for reality itself possesses no sense of the aesthetic. Photography becomes an art when certain controls are applied.”

Ansel Adams

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Hiring a Wedding Photographer

June 06, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

What Every Bride Needs to Know!

by Dusty Demerson and

Long after the guests have gone home, the tux is returned, your dress is cleaned and lovingly packed away and you’ve eaten that last bit of stale wedding cake the memories of your wedding day will remain forever archived in your wedding albums and prints. There really are no second chances with your wedding photography so choosing your wedding photographer will be one of the most important decisions you will make. This is especially true if you’re planning a destination wedding. These weddings create unique situations requiring specific skills and advanced training as well as knowledge of other vendors and locations to guarantee your wedding photos are captured with technical precision and artistic flair. Your photographer should have years of experience not only in photography but also working with people in stressful situations and under variable conditions.

So, what should I know about hiring a wedding photographer?

Your photographer will be a very important part of your wedding day. They will work very closely with you and can have a huge impact on how your day goes and how well it is remembered. You will probably spend more time with your photographer than with any other person on your wedding day. The better wedding photographers do much more than just snap photos. They will help with planning, timing, the fine details, calming nerves and lots more. Establishing a good, honest and open relationship with your photographer is critical.

It’s important to understand a little about the industry, its best practices and how things work before choosing your wedding photographer.

There are so many wedding photographers – How can I choose the right one?

Choosing your right wedding photographer really comes down to two things. First, you should love their work. Look for a photographer who shows the type and style of photos you want for your wedding. Look at complete albums, not just a few photos on the website. The second factor to consider is personality. Is he or she a person you are comfortable being around? Will they make you feel confident and relaxed? Could you be friends with this person even if they weren’t your photographer?

It’s great to get referrals but planning a destination wedding can make that difficult. Check out the photographer’s testimonials from previous clients. Ask other vendors who they like working with.

You can’t really choose a photographer from a price list or brochure. Narrow your search to 3-4 photographers and spend some time with them. If you can’t visit with them in person spend some time on the phone getting to know them. You’ll want to address their style, creativity, quality of finished albums and prints, compatibility and their qualifications.

Aren’t all wedding photographers qualified?

Unfortunately no! Anyone can hang out their shingle these days and lots of hobbyists “with a good camera” have done just that. Your average wedding photographer probably has a “day job” and does weddings on the weekends for extra cash. There are, however, wedding photographers who do possess qualifications and training and these are the photographers you’ll want to consider to document your wedding day. Membership in professional organizations like Professional Photographers of America or WPPI are one way to check qualifications.

Why should I hire a professional when my friend has a great camera?

It’s not the camera that makes the photographs, it’s the photographer. Although a friend may be a very good amateur photographer, they will not have the experience, knowledge, training and back-up equipment that a professional has. Capturing your wedding photographs requires a highly specialized set of skills that takes years to master. A professional will be able to produce consistent results regardless of the various challenges that weddings can present. They know how to make the best use of light and can adapt to constantly changing circumstances.

Professional photographers know how to work with the drama and occasional stresses of an emotional day in a calm manner. They know how to finish and present your photographs in ways that will bring you joy for ages to come. Will you hire someone to create your wedding cake because they have a good mixer? Will you have your wedding gown made by a friend who has a good sewing machine? Probably not. You should select your wedding photographer based on the work they produce rather than whether they have a “good camera” or not.

How far in advance should I book my wedding photographer?

The earlier the better. Once you’ve made your choice you’ll need to book your photographer, usually with a deposit, to guarantee that they’ll be available for your wedding day. Prime summer and winter dates for weddings can be taken a year or more in advance while off-season and weekdays may be available closer to the wedding date.

How much should I budget?

This was probably your first question, right? This one can be tough because professional photographers don’t advertise their prices. There’s a good reason for that too. While most wedding photographers offer packages, many will customize those collections for your personal needs. There are so many products available these days that you’ll what to have some idea of how you’ll remember and share your wedding memories. While these products are comparatively priced, wedding photography prices generally reflect the level of service, experience, skill and training of the photographer. Here’s a rough guide:

  • $0-$3000 – friends/amateur/new photographers with poor to average skills.
  • $3000 – $5000 – starting prices for full-time professional photographers with good skills.
  • $5000 – ? highly skilled and experienced professionals with more creative flair and premium products.

Before you set your budget consider these wise words: “It is unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much you lose a little money, that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything – The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.” John Ruskin, Artist & Philosopher

Why is it so expensive?

Wedding photography today is expensive for many reasons, though relative to the cost of your reception or even your gown it’s still a very good value. Your photography and your rings will be the only memories preserved over time. Good professional photographers use the highest quality equipment, materials, labs and albums. The running costs and overhead of a business are significant. Professional quality cameras, lenses and lights cost tens of thousands of dollars and must be maintained and replaced on a regular basis. In addition to the camera gear, digital photography requires a substantial investment in computer equipment too.

Wedding photography is a highly skilled profession requiring years of training and experience. Your photographer’s skill and training is likely reflected in their fees and your photographs.

Your photos and albums will be original works of art, involving lots of time, skill, talent and artistry. For example a typical wedding photojournalist may take a thousand photos at your wedding. They will then spend hours, days or even weeks editing, processing and retouching your images. Designing a custom wedding album can easily take 40-60 hours. For every hour you see your photographer there’s usually 2-3 hours they spend behind the scenes working on your wedding photographs.

Is it cheaper to have an off-season or weekday wedding?

It can be. Photographers and other wedding vendors may offer discounts or bonuses for less-busy times. June through September are usually the premium wedding months.

Should I sign a contract or agreement?

Absolutely. This is your assurance that the wedding photographer you have chosen will honor his commitment to you. It also confirms everything in writing so there are no misunderstandings. You will also be expected to place a deposit to hold your wedding date. This amount is usually 1/3 to 1/2 the total cost of your wedding photography. If you’re interviewing a photographer who doesn’t offer a  written agreement or contract you should keep looking.

What happens after I sign the contract?

You should have occasional written or email communication from your photographer leading up to your wedding day. Feel free to share ideas, favorite shots, locations and changes to plans. Plan on meeting with your photographer a few days before the wedding to finalize times, locations etc.

Should I give my wedding photographer clippings or a list of photos?

Every photography studio has a different working style. Some are happy to see examples of photos you like while others may not. Trying to copy the style of another wedding photographer can be an exercise in frustration and can hamper the creativity of your chosen photographer. Tread lightly here. If your photographer invites your ideas, great. Otherwise you should have confidence in your decision on hiring a photographer whose work you love. A professional photographer with the experience necessary to photograph weddings should not need a list.

How much time will the photography take?

This seems to vary from one wedding to another. It’s a good idea to ask this question up-front when interviewing photographers. Having photos created in alternate locations will affect the time involved too. Be sure to share your photo ideas early with your photographer so you can receive their ideas. Creating special images the day before or after your wedding might be another option. Generally allowing at least an hour for photos would be a good idea but if you want photos in the forest, around town or by the lake you’ll need significant extra time. Consider doing the Bride and Groom photos before the wedding for these special images.

What if I hate posing for photos?

While lots of couples choose photojournalist style photographers to avoid this problem, most of the candid images they love are not as candid as they seem. Truly candid photography can result in lots of pictures of people’s backs or with uncoordinated expressions. While candid photos during the service and reception can truly capture the spirit and emotions of the day, family groups and the wedding party images will benefit by some direction from your photographer. Also, having only candid images means compromising the lighting and composition of your photos which may result in less-than-flattering memories. To look your best and have beautiful memories of your wedding you’ll want a professional photographer who knows how to capture candid and artfully composed photos in all types of light.

How long will the photographer stay at the wedding?

Photographers are usually happy to negotiate the coverage requirements for your wedding from a few hours to all day if you so desire. Most weddings with a reception require 3-4 hours while dinner and dancing could easily extend the requirement from 6-8 hours or even longer.

What’s the best time of day for the photos?

This really depends on the weather and the style of photographs you’re looking for. It’s important to choose a photographer who has a good working knowledge of your wedding location. This is a major reason for choosing a photographer from your wedding destination and not bringing in someone from another location. Your photographer’s ability to work in all types of light will greatly affect the quality of your photographs. Generally the hour before sunset is always a safe bet.

When do I get to see my photos?

Today most photographers of destination weddings use online display for their wedding images. It’s the most convenient way to share images with wedding family and guests from all over the country…even the world. As we discussed above, the studio may invest significant time before your photos are ready to view but you should expect to see images soon after your honeymoon is over or within 30 days of your wedding. Busy summer months may require a little extra time.

By now you can consider yourself a Rock Star of a bride for educating yourself about how to choose your wedding photographer. Good luck and happy shopping!

I would love to take credit for the above information but to tell the truth, most of it has been compiled from Louisiana photographer: She’s done such a great job compiling a lot of good information in a small space and deserves the credit. If I were getting married in Louisiana she would be my first call for a wedding photographer. Of course, if you’re planning a Crested Butte wedding, I would love to talk to you. You can get lots more information at

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