What REALLY matters in a photo shoot…

I’ve noticed a trend among photographers of late to post an image followed with the camera, lens and metadata of how it was shot like:

Nikon D810

Lens: 70 -200

ISO: 100

Aperture: F 2.8

Shutter speed: 1000

and so on.

…and everyone is eating this stuff up.  Like if I get all this technical stuff the same as the example image I’ll have great photos.  That’s the wrong direction folks.

I’m not one of those who say the camera and technical details don’t matter.  They do.  They matter a lot.  But it isn’t until you have them mastered well enough that you aren’t even thinking about that stuff that you get great photos.  It is then you can focus on what really matters.  What is the photo communicating?  How do I make it pop?  How can I pump up the aesthetics?  The mechanical things become like driving a car.  You don’t think “now I will apply the brake with exactly this much pressure” when a truck pulls out in front of you.  You just do it.

I know this won’t gain me a million followers.  That too doesn’t matter.  But the message is: Focus on the beauty of the shot and what it communicates and you’ll have a winner every time.  You do have to master the technical stuff, but do so with the goal of getting to the point where you just don’t even have to think about it.  It gets in the way.  Focus on the creativity and the subject in front of you.  A shout out here to Stephen James with nxtModels for some great work (and creativity).

(p.s. the metadata above is only an example, not the actual specs of this photo).

fashion photographer, mark stout

Lifestyle photo shoot, copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved

It’s all wrong… but it’s right…

Technically speaking, everything about this photo is “wrong”.  The background is blown… as are parts of his shoulders.  It would be nice if he was looking a bit more up into the camera.


there is such powerful emotion in the shot, feeling, a sense of movement and one of reality that is so strong that it works.  It communicates.  In fact the “flaws” only add to the power of the photo.

I know I shouldn’t… lol… but I LOVE this photo.  I’ll post some more from this shoot later.


Lifestyle photoshoot, copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved

The Game Called Life

It’s funny sometimes how things I am coming to realize so often mirror the images rolling off the line.

These two photos are part of a series called “The Game.”  More will be coming when I can release them.

What has been revealed to me in the last few days is that in this game called life that we are all playing, we are actually the creators of the game.  Not the pawns that get kicked around on the board by the other players.

I invite you to take a look at that.  For when you see it, it is a total game changer!

commercial photographer

The game called life – copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved

advertising photographer

CGI photographer, copyright Mark Stout

Sometimes on the way to your dream…

…you find something better.

That is the line from an episode of an old TV series called Just Shoot Me, a sit com about a fashion magazine.    Somehow while working on this photo that thought was on my mind.

The last few days some new doors have opened.  One in particular.  It seems to have started when I looked at the work of a London photographer named Greg Williams.  There is a strong parallel in it to my own, and a distinct similarity in the style and voice of the work.  With some notable differences that made the next rung up on the ladder, the next step up for my work, quite obvious to me.

I’ve revisited his work several times over the last few days while doing my own work and more and more occurs to me.  I could never really explain it, but I have come to see quite clearly what is lacking in the majority of photos we see:  Creativity.

And the reason why is also apparent.  You see, no software program, camera or app can unleash it.  It resides within us. And the barrier to creativity is on the road to it, we smack into all of the things we once created and later wished we hadn’t.  I believe that because of that one fact we hold ourselves back from true, unbridled creativity.

I’m posting the photo I was working on while thinking this.  For the record, it looks nothing like the work of Greg Williams.  The reason for studying his work wasn’t to copy… it was to enable me to look a little higher.

Copyright Mark Stout

Copyright Mark Stout

Copyright Mark Stout

Copyright Mark Stout

The magic of an image

Many years ago I would look at the work of notable photographers and wonder just what it was about the image that made it so unique, special.  The marketing gurus like to call this branding or style.  That isn’t it.  Others can copy the image down to the last minute detail, the lighting, wardrobe, location, props, model and somehow they end up with only a pale imitation.

Over the years I started to become aware of something rather intangible.  It is as if the photographer… at least any photographer who is actually worthy of the title… puts a bit of himself into each image he shoots.  Not in a physical sense, it is intangible, but very real.  And it is what make the photograph what it is.  No amount of technical mastery can replace this quality.

I don’t expect this to make sense to everyone.  Even before I started to notice this, I had been featured in a large magazine spread.  While showing it to a friend she made the comment that there was a quality my images had, and that quality was me.  It took me over a decade to finally “get it” and I would say it is the most important thing a photographer can learn.  How to impart that piece of magic, of himself, into his work.

I say that as a lead in to the photos posted below.  Obviously I was there when it was taken 🙂  But it didn’t look anywhere near as magical as it does in the final image.  I believe that this photo transports the person looking at it, in his mind, to a night on a beach… away from his problems and to a place he would rather be.  And that is what I intended it to do.

Mark Stout

Silhouetted man on the beach, copyright Mark Stout

Mark Stout

Man on the beach at night, copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved.

Tell me the story…

I’ve often been told that my images tell a story.  What isn’t often noticed is that the story they tell is written by the person viewing the image.  This is done subconsiously.

This image tells a story, one I had in mind when I shot it.  But I thought it might be fun to have you tell me the story instead.

Who is this man?  Why is he there?  What is he up to?  Is he a good guy…. or a bad guy?

The answers don’t matter.  It is YOUR story.  What matters on my end is that I create work that invites the viewer to engage with it and do just that.  It is one of the keys to what makes an image effective.

Please take a moment to visit my website.

commercial photographer

The Bad Ass – copyright Mark Stout


Open House at the Actor’s Menu

I have been hooking up with some of the greatest people lately.  One such group is the Actor’s Menu.  Each time I have been there, I feel I am witnessing something special.  I have flashed back at times while there to a research project I did many years back on some of the more notable celebrities, in particular the life of Marilyn Monroe, and her years spent studying method acting under Lee Strasberg.  It was in those moments, what was passed down, that you learn who Marilyn really was: how different she was than the icon the world knew, and the dues she paid to get there.

When I observe and photograph the class, I often feel that I am part of something special.  Instead of just reading about the lives of those who have become stars on the “silver screen” (yeah, I know, we don’t have too many of those screens left), I get to be part of those lives.  To see them work, struggle, practice, and dig deep within themselves to unleash the creativity that entertains the rest of the world.

I’m going somewhere with this.  We live in an “instant” world.  Someone whips out their iPhone and snaps a crappy picture or a short video of something that is going on, presses a button and it’s on Facebook for the world to see.  That’s not creativity.  It’s an app, a machine.  The gadget is cheating us out of the substance that really matters.

Real creativity exists within us all.  But it has to be nurtured, developed, and the person has to work hard, and often to overcome the most unbelievable personal obstacles to bring it out… and get the nerve to then show it to the world.  And it doesn’t matter what it is the individual chooses to excel in, the dues get paid.

I consider it a great honor to have had the experience of being able to work with so many that have chosen to do just that during my career: to be able to document their success, to help them show it to the world, and to many times help their careers by doing so.

Guess I’m a pretty “lucky” guy.

Here are some photos of the open house.  The ones I have selected were chosen to give you a feel of the emotion, work, dedication and fun that goes into the making of an actor/actress.

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Guest on KZKO Radio

I recently had the honor of being a guest on KZKO Radio with hosts Diana Faltermier and Aimee Upchurch.  I thought I would only be on the air for 15 minutes, but learned when I arrived at the station that I would be on for the full hour.  I was afraid I wouldn’t have near enough to say, but the hosts made it so easy for me the hour flew by.

We talked about photography in general, what it felt like to win the Spider Awards for my work, and how important it is for new photographers to be selective about who they get information from.  More specifically, the need to join a professional organization such as American Photographic Artists and network with professionals who actually know the ropes.  I can’t stress this enough. There is SOOOO much misinformation being fed to those wanting to become photographers… by those who simply don’t know the answers themselves yet, and those who seek to exploit those who don’t yet know the rules of the game and how the game is played.

It was also somehow a thrill to sign my name to the wall along with the other guests on the show!

Aimee Upchurch, Brennan Dalsing, Diana Faltermier with KZKO Raido

Aimee Upchurch, Brennan Dalsing, Diana Faltermier with KZKO Radio

The signature wall on the KZKO Studio

The signature wall on the KZKO Studio

Image Library Photoshoot for Ad Agency

The needs of clients for photography have been changing with the evolving digital landscape.  It has created a difficult transition for many, but it need not be.

One of the things I have noticed over the years is that clients are moving away from shoots that focus on one or two key shots and toward building image libraries.  There are many reasons for this.  Social media’s insatiable thirst for images and new content makes using the same images repeatedly ineffective.  It also opens a door to effectively tell a story that plays out over time, engaging consumers and raising brand awareness.  Then there is also the need for speed.  So often an image is needed right now.

There is one thing the digital landscape hasn’t changed.  The need for quality images.  Too many are making the mistake of believing that since it is “just for the web” or “just for Facebook” that it doesn’t need to be good.  I’ve seen some high end brands attempt to attract customers with iPhone snapshots.  They do the reverse.  Anyone seeing poor marketing images will also assume that same attention to quality and detail will be lacking in the products themselves.

I recently worked with an ad agency to shoot an image library for a very large family fitness center.  Offering everything from professional sports teams and fields, to weight rooms, racket ball courts, basketball courts, ice skating rinks, an Olympic swimming pool, aerobics classes, Pilates, seniors programs, youth and children’s programs and more, the client needed an image library they could draw from to market each of their activities in rotation, without having to go through the logistics of conducting a new photo shoot each time.

The actual shoot spanned three days.  It involved vastly different and difficult lighting conditions and fast paced time tables where we would need to get in, set up the lights, get the shots and get out in a very short period of time, and with minimal disruption to the class or activity.  The end result was hundreds of selected high quality images delivered to the client.  I am posting a few of them here.  More can be seen in the Client Image Library gallery of my website.  The agency’s name and client’s name are available on request for serious inquiries.

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Production Stills, Unit Photographer

I recently worked as the unit photographer shooting the production stills of a major music video production.  It is always a joy to work with large and professional crews and this one was one of the finest I have worked with.  Everyone just knew what needed to be done and did it.  The whole crew moved as if one, in perfect sync and not once did I see anyone do anything that would ruin the take or slow the production (other than when the fog set off the fire alarm).

That said, I also couldn’t help be feel a sense of what is being lost in so many other works.  There is an attitude of “anyone can do it” and we have armies of people out there claiming to be experts who have never even seen an actual production.  This shows in the final product, whether it be a photo shoot, or a video production.  I found myself wishing that these people could have the chance to see what it actually takes to do it right.  So often a person entering the industry just doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

I hope some of these photos will give a sense of what goes into the making of a professional music video, and just how beautiful the final cut is going to be as a result.  Watch for it.  It is “Numb” by Amy Kress.

See more photos in the unit photographer gallery on my website.  Watch for updates on the release of Numb on AmyKressMusic.com

production stills

The love scene, copyright Mark Stout all rights reserved

Unit photographer, production stills

The bar scene, copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved

director of photography, production stills

Director of photography nightclub scene, copyright Mark Stout all rights reserved

unit photographer

From the strip club scene, copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved

production stills, commercial photographer

Strip club scene, copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved

unit photographer

Production stills from the strip club scene in music video. Copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved.

commercial photographer

Filming the stripper scene, copyright Mark Stout

movie production stills

Production stills, movie crew and talent. Copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved.

production stills photographer

Unit photographer, filming the strip scene, copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved

commercial photographer

Behind the scenes photo, copyright Mark Stout, all rights reserved.

commercial photographer

Behind the scenes photo from Numb, an Amy Kress music video.

music video

Strip club scene, copyright Mark Stout

Music video

Music video strip club scene, copyright Mark Stout

music photographer

Production stills, copyright Mark Stout

commercial photographer

Producer and camera operator, music video. Copyright Mark Stout

unit photographer

Producer and director of photography. Copyright Mark Stout

movie cres

Movie crew behind the scenes, copyright Mark Stout

movie cres

Aeriel view of the crew, talent and set. Copyright Mark Sout

movie set

The crew loading in. Copyright Mark Stout

Movie production stills

Production stills, Copyright Mark Stout

commercial photographer

Nightclub scene, Amy Kress, Numb, music video. Copyright Mark Stout

movie crew

Talent waiting by the gear truck. Copyright Mark Stout

Music video production stills

Filming the drug deal scene, copyright Mark Stout

commercial photographer

Filming the drug deal, copyright Mark Stout