Happy Birthday, Fitzgerald Photo

Happy Birthday

This month, Fitzgerald Photo turns nine.

More than a decade ago, I started my photography business even as I continued working full-time as a technology consultant. I had some initial success bringing in new clients.

It was a nice little start but not enough to cover the bills. I had an idea, not a business, and it was clearly decision time.

My wife Beth—who always seems to know me better than I know myself—made a suggestion she knew I needed to hear.

In short order I found myself on a plane headed to Washington state to visit my friend Scott. We’d known each other 16 years, since meeting in Cottonwood, Arizona; each of us a journalist at competing small-town weekly newspapers in the Verde Valley. Since that time we’d both moved several times, lived abroad, gone back to school and now I was coming to pick his brain about his experience running a successful business. By this time, he’d been an acupuncturist with his own shop for about a decade, expanding from a solo enterprise to one with staff and multiple providers. I was there to ask for advice, in between hiking and enjoying some Northwest beer.

He grilled me on the long drive from the airport: what was I selling, to whom was I selling.   I was tongue-tied and felt inept. The weekend was a master’s course in learning to not make excuses. I had a quite a few. In the end, he told me, simply: “Unless you cut out all the other stuff and focus on your business, you’re not going to have a business. Stay in your lane.” He may have added some expletives to that last bit.

Motivated, I returned to Maine. I phased out my other gig and focused every day on building my new work. Even if I didn’t have paid shoots, I shot anyway. I worked on my business and kept business hours. I built systems. I took every opportunity to talk about what I do and to ask others what they needed.

The needle started to move. Slowly at first but undeniably.  My business tripled that year, after just seven months of full time work. The year after, it doubled again. Two years later, it doubled yet again.

I had a business.

It all started with a decision to take responsibility for what I wanted and to focus on doing my work without making excuses.

Fitzgerald Photo started in 2009, by necessity. It was born in May, 2010, by choice.

Cinematic, environmental portraits

I love creating environmental portraits.  That’s good, because I make an awful lot of these as a commercial photographer.

One challenge when doing such location portraits is that the benefit—the environment, which can offer very cool, very visually striking contextual cues—can also be a severe liability.  Imagine showing up to a shoot to find you are limited to shooting portraits inside a tiny conference room with orange walls, or in the middle of summer using an interior of a steel shipping container (both are recent examples).

So what do you do when the environment detracts from,  instead of adds to, your portraits?

I opt to shoot portraits with very shallow depth of field, in order to throw my distracting backgrounds out of focus.  Then I carefully add in lights to create depth and color as needed. Given the time of day or the situation, this may require using ND (neutral density) filters or high-speed sync to achieve this look, but it’s worth the extra effort.

The results are tack-sharp portraits that pop from the soft background, minimizing the things I don’t want while giving a sort of cinematic feel that I love.





Mass Casualty Drill at Maine Med

mass casualty drill

Early last fall, I completed a fun (but hectic) project for Maine Medical Center that I can now share. It was a readiness drill simulating a mass casualty incident involving biological or chemical contamination, as in a spill, industrial accident or terrorist incident.  Involving dozens of medical staff, doctors, students volunteering as mock patients, observers and hospital administration, these types of drills give the hospital staff hands-on practice coordinating assets to triage, decontaminate and treat an overwhelming number of patients.

 Much of my daily work is very purposeful and planned, so going into a large scenario like this one was like stepping back into my newspaper photojournalism days.

It was fast-paced and fun, at least for me (I’m not sure the college kids being scrubbed down in decontamination showers would say the same).

These images became part of the documentation used by the hospital to certify their ability to respond to significant mass casualty events.

Focus on Shadows and Take Your Photography to the Next Level.

Photographers talk a lot about light. After all, the words “photo” and “graphy” derive from ancient Greek and mean, literally, to draw with light.

It took me a long time to become proficient with my camera and lenses—f-stops and shutter speeds had to be pounded into my hard head. When I graduated to using off-camera flash and strobes, things got exponentially more difficult.

My approach was to blast everything with light. If I set up enought strobes, my subjects would be evenly awash in light, making the images easy to reproduce even on the tissue paper we printed on at the newspaper (which locked up at the mere suggestion of a shadow, it seemed).

I thought the way to success was to just point my lights at my subjects and make it rain light until all of my lighting problems were washed away.

One of my photography mentors—a guy who still amazes me with his location lighting skills and who has a portrait shot on an 8×10 view camera in the permanent collection at the Smithsonian—told me something that rocked my world. It forever changed the way I approach my photographic lighting.

“It’s not what you light,” he said to me, looking at yet another shoot where I’d done the photographic lighting equivalent of spray and pray. “It’s what you decide not to light that makes it interesting.”

In short, the shadows and unlit portions of the frame impart interest, drama and power. If you doubt this, for a second, look at the imageIt’s below and imagine if it were lit with no shadows. It’s the shadows that define every line, wrinkle, crag and scar on his face. It’s the shadows, then, that help to tell the true story of his face and his life.


Since that time, I’ve made it my goal to let the shadows tell the story. My lighting approach became subtractive instead of additive. To put it more plainly: I first light my subject, and then remove light selectively until things start to get interesting. The result? Drama, dimension, depth, mood.

And that’s made all the difference.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Image Library

The best thing about my job as a photographer—aside from the interesting and creative people I get to work with on a daily basis—has to be the cool locations I get to photograph in.

A few months ago, I photographed a project for a large medical advocacy group that involved the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, NH. I’ve photographed hospitals on both coasts but I’ve never seen a medical lab setup like they have at the Laboratory for Clinical Genomics and Advanced Technologies (CGAT)—two wings full of technicians, scientists and analysis equipment.

I finally can show some of the work from that quick—but very intense—shoot, all done while the busy lab remained in full operation:


dartmouth medical center





ecomaine Annual Report


Happy to be able to share some of the work I did late last year for ecomaine’s annual report. Ecomaine is a nonprofit waste management facility serving more than 70 Maine communities.   They operate a recycling facility, a landfill operation and operate a waste-to-energy power plant based in Portland.  Ecomaine works with the type of stuff that people generally don’t want–trash and used plastic, cardboard and packaging–but we all benefit from the work they do. 

The images show another side of ecomaine–the faces of those who make the operation run, day in and day out, 365 days a year. 




Light Matters, College Edition

Just a few short months ago, I published my first book, Light Matters: A Photographer’s Guide to Lighting with Flash on Location. The book distills my decades of experience as a commercial photographer and a working photojournalist and offers practical advice for approaching subjects and lighting challenges on location.
The book has been available on Amazon, Kobo and Apple Books from the beginning of the year, in digital and print form. It’s been a cool learning experience. I’m even more excited to hear how it’s being used in various ways: recommended by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), the trade association for professional photographers in the U.S., for example. Now, a Maine university is using the book as one of its textbooks in an upper-level photojournalism course (the University of Southern Maine, right down the road).
In fact, that’s perfect. My photojournalism foundation is where much of my thinking about how to approach location work, clients and subjects was developed. I love that, in some small way, my experiences will end up helping a brand new crop of photojournalists.

Annual Report Imagery: Maine Technology Institute

Annual reports are a comprehensive report on a company’s activities over the past year. As such, they can be dry and tedious to read. The right imagery and a talented team of graphic designers, therefore, are critical to making an annual report something special: at once a showcase and a way to powerfully communicate the company’s core mission and impact.

I’m excited to be able to share the results of a collaboration with Portland-based branding firm Visible Logic last year: annual report images for the Maine Technology Institute (MTI).

MTI offers funding (primarily loans and grants, but also investments) to innovative Maine companies for research and innovation projects. To date, they have funded more than 2,000 projects across the state and invested close to $230 million.

A Look Back, A Look Forward

Maine Cops
Image from Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge, published in 2018

It’s a sure bet you’ve been in this situation:

You’re going to work (doing great work, hopefully), meeting deadlines, producing stuff, maintaining systems and even getting your blog done on time.  You’re in the flow, which is good because things are happening, fast.

Then the new year approaches, and things slow down for the holidays. You emerge from your work coma, blinking like a cave fish suddenly exposed to sunlight, wondering what happened to the last 12 months and what year is it, anyway?

That’s what it’s like, being a solo creative professional.  You juggle a lot, and don’t always have time to stop and reflect.

That’s why I look forward to the small end-of-year break that allows me time to go back through the year that’s passed and to celebrate the wins and the misses (because it’s the misses that teach you to get better).

So, here is 2018,  by the numbers:

1 (small) oil tanker’s worth of coffee
4 photo assistants
5 stylists
5 states and all 16 of Maine’s counties
310 studio portraits
94 location assignments
2 broken strobe units
25 pounds, lost (and not rediscovered!)
1 book published:  Light Matters: A Photographer’s Guide to Lighting with Flash on Location
47 books read
1 personal project— Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge
321 days of meditation

Just reading that list makes me tired…but mostly it just makes me grateful.

More than the numbers, here are some lessons I learned, in no particular order:

  • Always use a packing list to prepare for location shoots, lest you forget a $1 battery that forces a scramble during a shoot.
  • Reusable cups from Starbucks are totally worth it.
  • Having a well-planned morning routine is the difference between a great day and a totally unproductive one.
  • There is such a thing as being too busy to accomplish anything of real value.
  • It’s never a good idea to leave your flash on top of your car when you pack for a shoot.
  • Better to focus on what you can control, not what you can’t.
  • I can live without bagels, bread and pasta.  Coffee?  Not so much.

Looking back, 2018 was a year of growth and learning and I’m grateful and proud to have had some incredible opportunities alongside some really cool creative partners and clients. It’s gratifying to go through the work I did last year just to see where my cameras have been and reconnect with the interesting people I get to photograph.

I look forward to sharing much of that work on this blog soon.   As fun as last year was, though, I have some big plans already in motion for this year and some exciting projects to share.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get to work.

Introducing: Light Matters

Light Matters


It’s been a very eventful week for me personally and professionally.  On October 2, I published my first book, Light Matters: A Photographer’s Guide to Lighting with Flash on Location .

Light Matters is more than the realization of a childhood dream to write and publish a book.   It’s my approach to lighting when on assignment, reduced to actionable tips.  Each suggestion is informed by my own experiences and, often, by my missteps and mistakes over 20-odd years as a shooter.

My working title for the book was simple: Move, Light, Shoot.  Purposeful experimentation keeps one from getting stuck and kicks creativity in the behind.   You can’t master flash—or anything else—without taking direct action, assessing the results, and adjusting your approach.

To that end, the guide is full of tips and practice exercises that any serious amateur or natural-light pro would find useful as they stretch their lighting muscles.

I write in the intro that I wish I had a book like  Light Matters in my camera bag when I was coming up.

Most photo book contain endless lighting diagrams, three-point lighting setups and exact recipes allowing readers to duplicate the example photographs.  I’d rather give readers tips that force them to think and tools to help them succeed.  A simple Google search will provide any number of lighting setups.  Few resources give you tips on shaping your shoot, dealing well with your clients and with the many inevitable issues that arise on location.

Above all I hope the guide is useful. That it prompts photographers to think and to stretch themselves. If it saves a photographer just a smidge of the grief that would have otherwise come to them, then I’ll be happy.

I’m so thankful to my group of advance readers–my Dream Team–comprised primarily of photographers I know and trust around the country. Their feedback helped shape the final product and made it shine.

I’m grateful that during its first week of publication, Light Matters reached #1 in two categories in the Kindle store. Mind blown.

As a companion to the book, I’ve created two resources. One is the page on my site, www.lightmattersguide.com, where I’ll be posting additional information about the book, downloadable excerpts and other resources as they come available. The other is a private Facebook group  Light Matters , set up to discuss the exercises and concepts in the book.

Please check out Light Matters on Amazon, and let me know what you think.