Taking the Next Step

The following is a guest post from Friend-of-the-Blog Steve Kalman.

How can I make my photos better? That’s a question that every photographer asks, starting with the first set of returned prints as a beginner and continuing through to yesterday’s shoot.


  • Bought gear
  • Taken workshops
  • Bought (and later upgraded) Photoshop
  • Subscribed to Lynda and Kelbytraining
  • Bought more gear
  • Bought (and upgraded) Lightroom
  • Bought and read books
  • Upgraded gear
  • Bought Photomatix (and other HDR software)
  • Rented gear
  • Practiced dozens of tutorials
  • Oh, and bought more gear (and bags)

Does this sound familiar?  Over the years I’ve managed to get a lot of photos I like, enough that I can sort out my favorites and from there my best. I’d show my galleries to friends, family, and co-workers and get lots of praise, which is nice, of course, but not helpful. Those nice people just don’t know enough about light and how the eye travels a photo and composition and technique and so on to offer advice or suggestions for improvement.

It was time to ask a professional.

I’ve been following Jason’s blog for a while now, and even had the honor of writing a guest post about a year ago. I participated in his points-of-view project a few times and learned quite a bit about different ways to interpret the same vision. From time to time I’ve asked him for a bit of PS help that he’s graciously given (and usually turned into a blog post). Earlier this month, I hired Jason to do a portfolio review for me. I asked him to look at my website, which has a top10 folder (with 12 shots).  I asked him to evaluate them as a set and individually, telling me what I did well and where I could improve.

We had an interesting discussion about price, since this was the first time Jason was approached about this.   Here’s an excerpt from our email exchange on that topic:

From Jason: I’ve looked around at a few other sites that offer similar services that charge quite a bit – upwards of $300 for a dozen or so images. Granted, a thoughtful review takes time (particularly for a series of photos) and the reviewer’s opinion is worth something, too, but it doesn’t make sense to charge an arm and a leg either.

All of those considerations in mind, I would think a fair rate would be $99 for the first 10 photos in the portfolio and $15 for each additional photo. Does that seem reasonable to you?

Reply from me: It isn’t only the money/price. It is also what’s offered for the service.

If you’re going to look at each photo and offer a few words (good, tighten crop here, etc) then it is probably not worth the money.

If you’re going to make an assessment of the group as a whole, then look at individual photos and suggest changes (filters, crop, color correct, levels, guiding the viewer’s eye and other even more sophisticated changes) then the price is fair.

Jason gave me a 5 page report with all the detail I hoped for. I read it several times looking for individual photo comments and general themes. I saw some patterns. I realized that a few of my favorites were really better than the ones I put in the “top10” gallery. I re-edited a few based on his comments. Then I went out and tried to apply the lessons.  Did I get my money’s worth? You be the judge. I’ve included links to the gallery and the report, inserted a before and after of the San Juan Island (Wa.) Lighthouse and wrapped up with a picture that I intentionally took and edited with his comments in mind. The changes are subtle, but the picture definitely flows better with the distractions removed and the emphasis added. If bullet point list at the top of this post feels familiar to you, then I’d recommend you contact Jason and get your own portfolio review.

The gallery: http://www.stevekalman.com/top10/

The report (PDF).

Before and after:

The new picture:

“Waiting for Spring” - Photo by Steve Kalman - Copyright 2011

  • With no formal training it’s hard to gather enough nerve to willingly subject myself to what could be a very painful but honest critique of my photographs. Although, I believe it is a hurdle any photographer needs to take to elevate their skills.

    I have often wondered what other photographers thought of my work. One day I’ll pay to find out.

    Thank you for writing this Mr. Kalman. I found it not only summarizing my current train of though, but also very informative.

    One day I’ll pay Mr. Moore to do the same for me.

    January 31, 2011 at 8:31 pm

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