Think Different 

I probably love photographing people more than anything else that I shoot, whether I am close to home or in some far-off country.  When opportunity and knowledge collide, I know something special is going happen. Just finding the perfect subject is only one part of producing a great image of someone.  The other half of the battle is figuring out how and where to photograph them. There are many things that I try to convey to my students here at BPSOP, in my  Eye to Eye: Capturing the Face class, and trying to shoot with new eyes is key to developing your own personal vision.


What many people don’t realize is that as a photographer, you are the director, and you need to create  & visualize everything and know exactly what needs to be done.  This goes for every shoot that you do involving people and it can’t always be spontaneous. Just as the director of a movie for the most part knows how every scene is going to be set up and shot beforehand, you the photographer will be much better off if you know much of what you want to do in advance. Having some forethought into what you envision can be much more powerful than creating things at the spur of the moment.  I am not saying that I do not come up with things at the spur of the moment, which I do quite often, but much of the time my preplanning and my ideas for a shoot are thought out in advance.


As an instructor, while watching many of my students try and shoot models, I see quite often how they try and rely on the model to come up with poses or different ideas. Quite often, those subjects really have no idea how to pose or what to do. They really are like clay in your hands and they need the photographer’s creativity, comfort and ideas to help them understand what they need to be doing or just what you want. I am constantly directing my models every way possible to get just what I need or envision but I am also trying to make them feel as comfortable as possible. There are so many things that you can do to make your subjects feel more relaxed and in turn, they will photograph so much nicer most of the time.


Steve Jobs has always been my mentor and his catchphrase “Think Different” is something I talk about in every course that I teach, and every shot I take.  Quite often, if your model is in a relaxing pose, they usually look much better and your chances of a winning photograph are much higher.


In the shot above, I was shooting my little friend Lucinda in the open shade of the parking lot at the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. To make her more relaxed I had her lean on her hands and that gave her a beautiful look as kids just as much as adults photograph completely different when their pose is a more relaxing one. This image would be completely different if she did not have her hands to lean on or if she didn’t feel so at ease. We were also just in a parking lot and the gray area to her left was the cement but shooting with a wide-open aperture can sometimes take the unattractive and make it look decent. You have to think about how your subject will look their best but you also have to Think Different.

Turkish girl in ocean

It’s not just posing your models but also finding a great location that can make or break the shot. In the next photograph of the girl in the water above, I had brought my camera gear to the beach on the coast of Turkey, hoping for something unusual to shoot. I found a gorgeous 17-year-old Turkish girl who couldn’t wait to take pictures and we spent over an hour with different setups on the beach. I then decided to try something different and we both went into the water and with my 70-200 2.8 Canon lens, I went about waist deep but I had her go all the way under the water. I would shoot her just as her head came out of the water and she would open her eyes and looked straight at me. Not at all an easy shot but with that gorgeous water and her beautiful face that looked like Cleopatra, sometimes it all just meshes so well and you know you’re onto something. She was relaxed but also motivated to try something completely different and with the combination of the elements, I knew this was thinking differently.




A good portrait doesn’t always have to be a close-up of the face. There are so many different things to try that can make a powerful or memorable photograph when shooting adults and children. In the image of my little cousin Jake at the beach in Marina del Rey a few weeks ago, I decided to focus on capturing him in his element and I let him walk towards the waves and decided to shoot him as a silhouette.  With a gorgeous sunset, I framed him and the water as the majority of the image at left a thin stretch for the sky. Quite often I will play with those proportions and it’s fun to see how different your images can look with more foreground or background as the main part of your image. But I made sure I got the shot when the sailboat was just in the right spot so that it gave a sense of balance and place to the image as it looks like he is mesmerized by the waves and the boat. Photographing people from all positions, like from behind in this image, is definitely thinking differently and sometimes you can end up with one of your favorite images if you just come up with new ideas to push your creativity as much as possible.



In the image above of the Samburu tribe in Kenya, I definitely decided to try something different although setting up this image was much harder than it might appear.  Getting everybody to be in a circle and leaning down looking straight at me was quite a daunting task but I never give up till I get exactly what I want.  I envisioned this image before I shot it and with their gorgeous colored robes and their dark skin and bright sky, I knew I would end up with something unusual. Laying on my back on the dirt and using a superwide lens, it was difficult getting them to be in that circle and smile and lean over just perfectly.  It took quite a few shots until I got just what I wanted but the effort was definitely worth it. I was leading a Safari at the time and was showing all of the photographers that the tribes were just as powerful as the animals. I probably spent half the time photographing different tribes from group shots to individual close-ups and so many more. As I said at the beginning of this article ….  I absolutely love photographing people!  And you can’t beat the tribes in Africa for capturing something that might be once in a lifetime.



Don’t forget props. I am constantly looking for different things for people to wear or to use the photograph that will get me something unusual. In this next image of my friend Liz,  my girlfriend and I went to the costume shop and got an old hat and a pair of gloves from the 20s so that we could capture her in a very old-fashioned look. I set up one very small soft box to her left but I shot in very close with my Canon 100mm 2.8 IS macro. I knew with the extreme lack of depth of field that the pearl necklace would  blur out beautifully with this lens and that’s why I chose it.  I also had her give me an intense look almost as if she was very upset and I made sure the background went completely black. I had the light falloff quite dramatically on her right side but had just a hint of light below her eye to give a little bit of dimension. The final touch was using Nik Silver Efex Pro to convert to black-and-white and give me exactly what I envisioned from the get go. I wanted something different and unusual and with the combination of her face, the props, the light and then the right software…… it all fell into place.


On this last image  of the boat from above,  I set this up on my last workshop to Burma.  I had many of my students on the bridge with me, high above the water  but I had set this up before I brought them up there.   I found a young monk and a parasol and put them both in a boat in the lake and told the boatman  to  row over to the bridge slowly.  When I got to the top of the bridge,  I was able to give him direction and make sure that the monk and the parasol was placed perfectly and that  the oars from the boatman  were exactly where I wanted them.   I was creating a piece of art from my mind and all the pieces had to be perfectly in place.  Neither one of them could be looking at me and I had to make it look as realistic as possible  and many of my students got  very similar shots.  I am leaving in 2 weeks for another workshop in Burma with 8 more people as it is probably my favorite place on earth to photograph not only people but some of the most gorgeous scenery on earth.  This image all started  because I wanted to create something different.

Don’t forget the words that are so incredibly powerful & how much they can help improve and define your photography. Those two words that Steve Jobs used to define Apple, are the two words that define my vision of photography.  Think Different!!   Pretty powerful stuff.    You have to get out of your comfort zone……  or you will never grow as a photographer.
Don’t forget the words of Tiger Words that are also very powerful……… “If you are not trying something different……….then you are not improving”.


– Scott Stulberg / Instructor @ BPSOP

Scott Teaches:

Eye to Eye: Capturing the Face

“I just wanted to thank you for another wonderful class. I have to confess that each week when I read the new assignment, my first reaction was mild panic and a deep certainty that I would not be able to produce anything worthwhile that fit within the parameters you had set. But before I knew it, the ideas started to flow, and I quickly became obsessed (no, that isn’t too strong a word!) with exploring the possibilities. I can honestly say that the photos I produced in response to your assignments are among my favorites. Thanks for bringing out a creative side I didn’t know I had!”

Barbara Geiger
Understanding Color

“Thank you so very much for this course! It’s allowed me to take the blinders off and present my images for what I want them to be without being a slave to the “reality” of the camera. I would also add that in conjunction with your printing course, this has been the most useful course I’ve ever taken. Your notes are more than comprehensive and your comments and critiques are direct, clear, and always directed to the improvement of the art.”

After the click

” I want to thank you for this class and for your patience and availability to answer all of my questions. I have learned very much through this class. I have used LR in the past, but mostly for editing images. I now have a better grasp in the organization of my images, an even better understanding of editing images, and an understanding of the value of presets. I still have a lot to learn, but this has put me on the road to be able to improve my photography. Again, thank you! ”

Dale Yates
Lightroom Quickstart

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