4 Useful Questions

Who is feeding you information?At the end of the year, I wrote a piece for LinkedIn called “Be Careful of the Source You Listen To” about misinformation from traditional mainstream sources.  In short, a writer for Brides.com quoted a single source in response to the question, “What kind of equipment do you use?”. The source responded, “They should say either Cannon or Nikon, which are the most readily available professional cameras available”.  The writer tried to give subtle hints that they knew nothing about this subject through the misspelling of Canon, as well as asking the single worst question to ask your potential wedding photographer.  I’m saddened that brides read this website piece and took it for gospel.

For the sake of full disclosure for weddings, my primary cameras are Nikons, which means that the article mentioned above does not tarnish my image in any way.  However, I want clients to have the whole story, and there are many other photographers that use a rainbow of other camera brands and produce fantastic work.  These 4 questions will start a much better conversation with a potential photographer for your wedding or any other event than the misguided attempt of Brides.com.


What is your photographic style?

I believe that wedding photographs are timeless reminders of a couple’s love and their special day.  For that reason, the way that a photographer shoots your wedding should correspond to the style that you desire.  There is a lot of debate about how many styles there are, and I will address the subject of style deeper in a future article, but here are the key 3 styles: Photojournalistic, Editorial, and Classic

  • Photojournalistic style is shot in a spontaneous way with the eye towards telling the story of the day through imagery composition, emotion and without direction.
  • Editorial style resembles what you might see in a glossy fashion magazine with emphasis placed on clothing, scene, lighting and most importantly pose.
  • Classic style is based on capturing who is attending the event through a series of posed combination or group photographs.
The difference between Photojournalistic – Editorial – Classic


May I see your portfolio?

Having someone describe a style is much different than seeing it for yourself.  Like the spouse that we choose, some photographers are more suited for us more than others.  A photographers use of light, shadow and angle can be as singular as the person that we marry.  Looking at a portfolio allows someone to see if the way a photographer shoots is suited to your expectations and aesthetic.  Reviewing the entire portfolio also can give insight into a photographer’s experience — are the images from the same wedding — are there a variety of locations, situations, people?  When looking at a portfolio, the number one question you should ask yourself is if you would be happy with photographs captured that same way, to share with friends, family and to look back upon for years to come?


Do you have insurance?

Unfortunately, there are unforeseen events that happen, even on a wedding day.  Insurance becomes one of those things that no one wants to talk about until the unfortunate happens.  Photographers usually have both automobile and equipment insured and that covers them.  So that the client is protected as well, their photographer should also have General Liability and Professional Liability Insurance.
General Liability covers accidental or preventable occurrences associated with wedding coverage photography.  This type of insurance is required more and more by popular reception halls, golf courses, and even some churches.  

All a couple needs to do is search the internet for “bad wedding photography” to see the need for Professional Liability Insurance.  

Reputable photographers depend upon delivering a product that makes their clients raving fans of their work; insurance is there, just in case the unexpected happens.


How would you handle ______,

(your weddings extreme situation)?

Prepared for emergencyI’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a wedding that didn’t have a challenge or two?  Whether it’s dark churches, cantankerous clergy, very bright sunlight, extreme weather, large groups or any number of other circumstances.  Talk with a photographer for a while, and you can hear tons of stories about when things went wrong.  The important part of all of those stories is how the photographer made it work anyway.  As professionals, we know contingency and backup plans are what differentiate a hiccup from a tragedy.  Backup cameras, extra lighting knowing the location or similar experience are all tools that photographers use to make their work seamless and smooth to you, the client.


Notably missing from this list are terrible questions about specific kinds of equipment, because a look at the portfolio will tell you if they use their equipment well.  Also missing are any questions about price, because you deserve the best that you can afford, but you do get the level that you pay for.  You will be kidding yourself if you believe that you’re going to get a Rolls Royce for the price of a Ford.

As stated several times, these are conversation starters, but the conversation is important.  The interaction between you and your potential photographer lets you know if there is chemistry.  You’ll learn about how a photographer works, thinks and maybe get a little insight to how weddings look so flawless in albums.

I Do It All For The…

I have to admit that I’m feeling a little schizophrenic today.

I spent the last weekend of July donating time and skills working at Cleveland GiveCamp, working in support of non-profit organizations getting some much needed technical assistance.  As the Chief Photo Editor and Lead Photographer, my role was to make the official non-profit group portraits and to make artistic and editorial choices for the Cleveland GiveCamp website.

Me at work on group portraits. Photograph by Katrina Blatt

I know that my team and I (Kevin Dutkiewicz, Katrina Blatt, and Kevin F. Smith) knocked the photographic ball out of the park this year with some wonderful and creative images and video.  These images along with the working talents of our volunteer web professionals present one of the most dynamic and innovative GiveCamps anywhere in the country.

All of the photographs submitted for use are beautiful, strong, compelling and people enjoy looking at them.   This is evident to me because I’m seeing photographs that we created on Facebook, blog posts and cell phones being shared with friends, family and work associates.

Today I also got news that one of my photographs entered into Picture Perfect Weddings Photo Contest on Viewbug.com, is one of the contest finalists.

Cleveland Wedding Photographer-20
Contest Finalist Picture


This is the third time in the last three months that I’ve made it to a major contest award or final.  Earlier this summer, I received the Rising Star Award for my first three entries at Pixoto.com and a finalist honorable mention for my entry in the Food Lovers Photo Contest at Viewbug.com.

Here is where the schizophrenia comes in.  I good feel about donating my time and creating fantastic images for non-profits doing amazing work, and the fact that my team’s work is being appreciated and shared by lots of people, but it’s all done anonymously, no credit, no acknowledgment of the original creator saddens me.  At the same time, I’m on a little bit of a high, because other photographers have voted me to be among the best of the best of thousands of entries.  You see, it’s all about getting the deserved credit.  Artists create because we feel inspired to make something that is seen and appreciated.  Often times for photographers, that appreciation comes in the form of money, almost everytime in the form of credit for their work.  The circle is completed when the appreciation itch that we all seek is scratched; we feel good about what we’ve done, and voila inspiration strikes again!

Bottom line: if you enjoy art, show your appreciation, become a client, patron or sponsor.  Most importantly give credit some work that you think is good enough to share with others.

2016 Cleveland GiveCamp Photography Team

The Red Dress

Cleveland Photographer photographs red dress 7Artistic works are filled with images of women in red dresses.  We are not talking about the red in the movie “Annie” that signifies the exuberance and hope of youth.  No, we’re talking about the seductress Charlotte in the movie, “The Woman In Red” or the woman that Chris de Burgh longed for in his song, “The Lady In Red“.  Sociologists call it the Red Dress Effect, where women automatically seem more appealing because of the effect of red on the subconscious, the more vibrant and bold, the better.

Cleveland Photographer photographs red dress 8Cleveland Photographer photographs red dress 9Cleveland Photographer photographs red dress 12The reality is I don’t think that Renee gave critical consideration to the implications of red on the unsuspecting public.  In my mind, La Modèle en Rouge, saw a beautiful dress in a store window and thought, “the only thing that would make that dress better would be me in it!”.  Tell me what you think, was Renee right?

Cleveland Photographer photographs red dress 11Cleveland Photographer photographs red dress 6Cleveland Photographer photographs red dress 10Cleveland Photographer photographs red dress 14

Health is a staircase, not a doorway

Tim Smith smiling

Tim Smith and Kim
Tim and Kim look over the flavor intense sprouts. Various sprouts provide a new year around crop for CGP. Soon sprouts will be available to restaurants and the general public.
Zoning laws in Cleveland allow chicken aiding CGP in becoming a multi-opportunity urban farm
Zoning laws in Cleveland allow chicken aiding CGP in becoming a multi-opportunity urban farm
Tim Smith and his chicken
Celebrating a healthier and thinner Tim!

The guy in the photograph above is Tim Smith, and one of the reasons he might look so happy is that he’s changed his life for the better.  For years, Tim has been promoting healthy eating through his urban farm initiative Community Greenhouse Partners, (CGP) in Cleveland’s St. Clair – Superior district.  Now, Tim isn’t just talking about healthy eating, he’s become a living example of health by losing more than 80 pounds since the fall of 2015.

As the face of CGP, Tim’s two-pronged approach of educating the public about the importance and viability of locally grown food, as well as producing products for market, took a lot of effort.  The CGP campaign also took a toll on Tim’s health; as a Type I diabetic and weighing more than 330 pounds, health problems would often hospitalize him or have him recovering for extended periods of time.

After health screening and clearance in the fall of 2015, Tim underwent one of the most extreme elective body modification surgeries, a Roux-en-Y laparoscopic gastric bypass.  Now, Tim is physically limited to the amount of food he can consume, because surgery has reduced his stomach to the size of an egg. This food restriction, coupled with regular exercise, puts Tim well on his way to next weight loss goal, losing 100 pounds.


Thank You For Making Me Cool!

Top 10% of Viewbug
Wonderful recognition from photographers and people that love great photography.


For more than 18 months, I’ve belonged to the online photography community Viewbug.com that was founded by and for photographers of all levels and abilities.  Viewbug includes contributions from photographic heavyweights like Skip Cohen, Peter Hurley,  Jessica Drossin and Rick Sammon and is geared towards raising the level of photographers everywhere.

Yesterday, I received an email with the headline, ‘Top 2015 Photographers – Find Out Where You Ranked”, and when I followed the link I learned that I am one of the Top 10% of Most Popular Photographers of 2015.  On Viewbug, I have a network of close friends, photographers I know by reputation only, but the vast majority are complete strangers to me.  These people, along with others are my peers.  It’s an honor to receive this recognition from peers, and I was proud to share the news with family and friend and even posted the screen shot of my status on my personal Facebook wall… that’s when it hit me.  I’m completely stunned at the outpouring of support, encouragement, and genuine praise for my achievement from those who really know me.  In less than 24 hours I’ve gotten more ‘Likes’ and messages of congratulations than any other post I’ve ever made.   I thank each and every one that takes the time and effort to inspire me with hope and confidence to continue to pursue my vision of visual storytelling.

7 Pre-Photo Session Tips


Looking your best for portriaits

No matter what style of portraiture you might choose, looking your best is important.  Looking good in front of the camera starts long before removing the lens cap. Below is a fundamental pre-photo list of things to make your portraits better. It’s human nature to look for shortcuts, in this case resisting them is in your best interest.  Taking a shortcut with the tips below will prevent you from looking the way that you should, absolutely fantastic.

1. Make water your friend.

The cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies haven’t found a way to patent plain H2O.  This mean there aren’t any commercials telling you all the how beneficial water is to your body. The current daily recommendation for water intake is 6 to 8 glasses per day. In the week leading up to your photoshoot, I would recommend increasing to at least 10 glasses per day.  The increase in water is important to your appearance.  Think of your skin like a kitchen sponge; when dry, the sponge looks dull, is full of ridges and does not flex a lot without breaking. Hydrate that same sponge and it glistens with water, the pores are smaller, reducing the ridges, and it’s much more flexible. Proper hydration also provides a healthy environment for the body’s other organs.  Those other organs, along with the extra water, can prevent the accumulation of water-retaining minerals. It’s funny that drinking a lot of water keeps you from bloating from the retention of water.

2. Listen…your skin is talking

Your skin is the largest organ of the body, and its condition silently speaks volumes about you. Proper care will ensure that your skin says only good things about you. Drinking plain water for hydration is one side of the coin, and a good moisturizer is the other side. Men and women should apply a quality moisturizer after thoroughly cleaning the skin a few times a day. Your skin also needs time to recover after grooming.  To reduce redness, eyebrow treatments should be two or three days before the photos.   Shaving the night before the portrait session will also help minimize visible cuts and irritation in your finished image.  If you’re wearing make-up, it should contour the cheeks and accentuate the eyes.  This facial contouring is necessary, since photographs often flatten facial features. If it isn’t part of your portrait package, get a professional esthetician or make-up artist to help with the make-up application.  Investing in a professional is an ingenious way to make a positive difference to your look!

3. Don’t mess with the hair

High on the client question list for photography is, “how will my hair look?” I would rank hair and skin at the top of the list of things that have the largest impact on your portrait appearance. Your hair should have a healthy look, with a shine and a minimum of split-ends. Contrary to what you might think, washing your hair one or two days before the shoot is best.  Hair with a light build-up of natural oils looks and styles much better than clean hair. Most of all, avoid the 3Cs two weeks before your photoshoot: cut, color or change of style. The 3Cs cause the hair to go into immediate shock.  The hair needs time to restore to its natural condition, or you’ll need time to find a solution to any less-than-desirable results.

4. What to wear

It is important that the day of your photoshoot be as stress-free as possible. Deciding what to wear at least three days before you scheduled shoot will help ease that stress. The clothing that you want to consider must fit well.  Also, keep the clothing solid colored, with muted tones that are a little subdued. Thoughtful selection of your clothing will make you the star of your photograph, instead of your clothing. For that same reason, keep jewelry simple and minimalistic. If other people are in the portrait with you, coordinate within the same color palette to avoid awkward clashes.

5. Ready, set, GO TEAM!

Your portrait will be a collaboration between you and a photographer as a team, not against one another.  You and your photographer have the same goal, an impactful portrait. The beginning of this team is by finding a photographer whose style represents how you want to appear. Good photographers have their style, (that’s what attracted you to them).  Don’t ask the photographer to recreate the latest internet image that you’ve found. Instead, share with your photographer different images that you like and why you like them.  Help the photographer understand what you’d like to emphasize, and equally important, de-emphasize.  These are the tools your photographer needs to know in order to light, pose and shoot you for your desired look.

6. How are these photos going to be used?

Photographers know this rule as, ‘begin with the end in mind’. Knowing the final purpose of the photographs will help direct the photoshoot. Business portraits shouldn’t have sexy poses, (unless that is part of your business).  On the other hand, casual portraits portraying a no nonsense attitude look odd. There is no such thing as a universal portrait, so use the right look for the right purpose.

7. Attitude is better than just a ‘tude’

Go into your photo session looking and feeling the best that YOU can be. None of these tips are going to make you look like Chrissy Teigen or Gisele Bündchen; that shouldn’t be your expectation. The emphasis should always be how you can maximize your look, that way your portrait will reflect the best that you can look. Have fun, be silly, enjoy the photoshoot; that way you can be in the moment and not just in the photo.

This tips list couldn’t contain every possible thing that you can do before your photoshoot, but it’s a good start. What I hope that you get most of all, is that planning makes the best portraits. With any luck, lots of people will see and admire your portrait; why not present the best version of you that you can?

The Headshot, Your Personal Logo

Friendly head shot with a smilePersonal brands have become more important than ever, with the acceptance of social media in all aspects of our personal and business lives. The idea of a personal brand comes from the idea that we are the culmination of our ability, knowledge and connections. Through networking, new opportunities are born from the personal brand that we created for ourselves. Networking opportunities have little to do with the company we might represent since that may change over time. We know companies by their unique brand logo, an image that serves as shorthand to the community for what that company is all about. As individuals, we too have a unique image identifier and in social media it’s represented by our headshot.

Male Actor Head ShotBeing visually oriented is part of our culture and conditioning from an early age. How often do we recognize a face before we can remember a name? Descriptions of people often include observations like, “kind eyes”, “strong jawline” or “warm smile”. The uncomfortable truth is that as humans, we make unconscious judgements based on these visual, facial cues. The question then becomes, how do we work with those facial cues to support and bolster our “brand”? The headshot becomes the shorthand that sums up our resume, reputation and personality for your network to use for identification.

The old saying of ‘putting your best foot forward’ is truer in today’s age of social media networking. Your brand needs a strong image that goes along with and supports the value that you bring to your network. Unless you’re a skiing, diving or suntanning instructor, replace those vacation pictures occupying your headshot space. It’s nice to be the “fun” person, but your headshot should also say you can get things done. The same banishment goes for group shots, awkwardly cropped photos and blurred pictures as headshots as well. This removal is not to say there isn’t a place for these in social media, just not as your personal logo.

Bad blurry shot
This would be a terrible choice for a headshot

When using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or some other social media site, it’s common to network and create friendships online, in advance of a meeting in person. This new networking model makes your brand more important than ever. Through careful use of posing, lighting, color and the approximately 43 muscles in the face, we can create and support a brand. Want your network to see you as professional, responsive, trustworthy or intuitive? Let your headshot say it first.

In upcoming weeks, we will take a deeper look at how to make strong headshots. It doesn’t matter if you’re hiring an experienced, professional photographer or you’re an enlightened do-it-yourselfer, make your headshot memorable to your network for the right reasons.

Where Does The Time Go?

Ask a parent what is the biggest day in their life and most will answer the day their child or children were born. It seems like, in the blink of an eye, kids go from infants cradled in your arms to stepping out into the world on their own. Mother and daughter in the park

Mother and daughter playing in the parkThroughout history, parents want to capture the beauty and innocence of babies in pictures. Within those images are the moments that we try to remember forever, frozen in time. The last five generations of American families have been able to capture the day to day moments of their children themselves. The convenience of the point-and-shoot camera in the 1950s, to the smartphone of today, we can watch our kids grow up in pics. Those snapshots are important, and should pepper our albums and memory books, however, the formal print portrait still marks milestones, is on display at home and shared with the rest of the family.

Mother and daughter sitting in the park     Mother and daughter playing on a swing

Just 20 years ago, the song Kiss From A Rose by Seal topped the Billboard charts, J.K. Rowling finished her first Harry Potter manuscript, and Brad Pitt was on the cover of People Magazine as the Sexiest Man of 1995. What are the key memories and images of your family twenty years from now? Now is the time to figure out how to save them.

Baby crawling in the grass

3 Little Words

It was Mrs. Roth’s third grade class field trip to the Cleveland Museum of Art, and I was there, playing the role of ‘class clown’. I can’t remember what exhibit we were going to see at the museum. I don’t remember if I was eight or nine. We might have been visiting in the fall, winter or spring, but that day continues to have a huge influence on my life.

Modern Art and the lesson I learned from it
Red Blue by Ellsworth Kelly, Cleveland Museum of Art

As Mrs. Roth was ushering in her class of children with the aid of the museum’s docent, we stopped just past the main desk to view one of the museum’s proud acquisitions, Red Blue by Ellsworth Kelly. The painting is enormous, seven foot by six foot, dwarfing all of the children in the class. I’m sure the docent was going on-and-on about Ellsworth Kelly, why the painting is so important, and why the museum was so proud to have it as part of their collection. All I could think was, “I could have done that!”… as ‘class clown’, I couldn’t just think it, I had to say it too. I guess the words came out much louder than I intended, because not only did my classmates hear me, Mrs. Roth heard me, and the docent heard me. Shocked by the rude, brash child the docent stopped her presentation, mid-sentence.

The docent glared at me, as if I personally insulted her and her entire family, including distant cousins, and pretend aunts and uncles. Finally, after a long, awkward, uncomfortable silence, she maintained eye contact with me and said firmly, “…BUT YOU DIDN’T!”

Those who are talented and skilled at what they do have an ability to work in a way that appears effortless. High level talent works with speed and efficiency at the elementary levels, allowing them to devote more time and effort on those things that separate them from the rest of the pack. The deceiving part is that it’s usually those elementary levels that the lay-person is most familiar with, and where many believe a majority of the hard work resides. Couple that high level efficiency with the world of creative-on-demand, where it is perceived that creatives have an easy job of, ‘coming up with stuff’. Since children routinely use their imagination and ‘come up with stuff’, how difficult could it be? What the lay-person doesn’t understand is that an experienced, talented, high level creative can make coming up with something unique, stunning and on-demand look as easy as walking across the room. Most others would take considerably more time and effort to achieve results that are not as refined.

Don’t allow yourself to be fooled by the talented creative that pulls magic out of a hat, without batting an eye. Contrary to what is believed, creativity on-demand takes more than a magic hat or even luck. Instead, give the creative that came up with that incredible piece of work a nod-of-the-head, because after it’s all done, you might think that you could have done it yourself… but you didn’t.

The First 50K

Henri Cartier-Bresson is known as saying, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”, meaning you need to take that many photographs before an appreciation of how to make lighting and composition work for you as a photographer. Of course, this is considering a couple of thoughts, first of all either because of hobby or profession, you want to be good photographer.  That is because I know lots of people that have been taking pictures for years, and all their pictures are about the same quality, since the first time they pressed the shutter. Secondly, the statement is not implying that a photographer cannot make a fantastic photo in any of the first 9,999.  The primary difference is the ability to consistently make good photographs instead of simply hoping things will work out. The context is important as well, because when Cartier-Bresson was alive he shot film, so that number of 10,000 means true investment of effort, time and expense to hone photographic skill.

Peacefully sitting on the bench

In this age of digital photography, I think that number should be more like 50,000, but the sentiment is still the same. The comparably lower cost of equipment, processing and access to knowledge makes it easier than any other time in history to become a photographer. What that number represents is the work required, not what kind of gear they use, or how many YouTube videos have been watched, only for the photographs that are actually produced.

In my opinion, many digital photographers follow a development course similar to this.

Young Boy Carving A Jack-O-LanternFirst is “the high volume snapper”, trying to capture what the eyes and mind see in a scene. A good chunk of those developmental photographs that Cartier-Bresson spoke of are shot here. Lots of pictures are taken of everything including thumbs over the lens, sidewalks instead of people and blurry pictures of Bigfoot, (or maybe that was Aunt Karen?). I know that I spent a lot of time taking the same photograph over and over again trying to reproduce the view and mood of the real world in my image. The feeling of triumph that I got when I’d eventually get it, made me feel like I was ready to work for National Geographic!

Old woman walking by a fountainNext step in the photographer’s journey is becoming a “thoughtful shooter”. As a “thoughtful shooter”, the volume of shots is lower and there is more awareness of composition and creativity. I think this is where many amateur photographers really see and understand their development and growth, especially when compared to their earlier efforts. In many ways this is also the crossroads for photographers; until this point the amount of effort put into learning about photography produces an equal amount of improvement. However from this point on, a considerable amount of time and effort must be spent to achieve only a small or, if lucky, a moderate improvement in photography. Also at this point, you’ll understand Cartier-Bresson’s genius, not only for his photography, but for somehow knowing that it takes thousands of photographs, not reading a book or two, and not watching a few YouTube videos, just dedicated work!

Dancing at the wedding reception

The “journeyman photographer” is the next level in the evolution, and where the concepts of capturing and shaping the light has meaning, and becomes a part of every photograph “made”. That’s right, “made”… because at this point, we stop taking shots with whatever lighting condition, or scene that exists, and we instead use our skill to “make” the image that we have in our imagination, using the camera. This is a prestigious level of achievement, and in the digital age many people pretend to be members of this group, using post production tools like Adobe’s Photoshop. The difference is that the “journeyman” will create in the camera, what the novice will spend some time to simulate in Photoshop.

Wedding day on East Fourth StreetAn “artist” is the level when aesthetic, technique and style all intersect. As an “artist“, you bring more perspective to photography than just being an application or a science used to produce pictures. As an “artist”, it is about incorporating other influences in the world of creativity, and to expanding the options in making a photograph. The emphasis becomes creating photographs that are compelling and mesmerizing and communicating without verbally speaking. This is also the point when you realize, all that time spent looking through a lens has finally taught you to how to truly see.

I’m sure there is a level beyond being an “artist”, that place in the rarefied air, where photographic idols create and display their work. As “artist”, this is the only place that we want to be… where our work becomes a unique definition all by itself, to be admired, studied and emulated by other up-and-comers as they work beyond their first 50,000 photographs.