Zach Dobson is a documentary and commercial photographer based in Indianapolis. He holds a degree in journalism from Indiana University with a concentration in photography. Since starting his business in 2006, Zach has focused on documenting people’s lives and businesses in action.
Zach’s client list includes the Indiana Pacers, Coca-Cola, the AARP, ZipCar, Indiana University, Visit Bloomington, Hamilton County Tourism, Land O’Lakes, RIOT LA Comedy Festival, Indianapolis Public Schools, Indiana High School Athletic Association.
Zach is a Professional Member of the American Society of Media Photographers [ASMP]. He resides in Carmel, Ind. with his wife and business partner, Courtney, and their five children.
In addition to focusing on action and emotion, I like to find the art in sports photography. Here are some methods I employ to get a greater variety of images and bring the audience closer to the subjects.
God is in the Details
Looking around an event, I’ll see what details catch my eye. A piece of gear or other object often makes for an interesting detail shot. I like to challenge myself as well, so if I notice something like flexing muscles, I try different ways to capture what I notice.
I like to get in close on faces before during and after events to give a sense of the experience of the athletes. I’ll photograph players during warm up, on the sidelines, in the locker room, or even during the action to bring the viewer closer to the subjects.
Patterns and Shapes
I also look to create visually engaging images by looking for patterns in things like shadows, people, or objects.
Shooting Through the Crowd
One of my favorite things to do during the action, is to take photos through a crowd of people. This gives additional depth and dimension to images while also often framing the main subject.
Aspect ratio affects everything we do as photographers, from creating images in-camera to making prints and posting photos online. Here are three videos I made to help you navigate aspect ratio and keep your creative vision intact from camera to the final product.
Intro to Aspect Ratio
The first video is an introduction to aspect ratio and addresses the different types of cameras and what aspect ratios they use and what that means for you, the photographer.
How Aspect Ratio Affects Prints
The second video discusses how aspect ratio is connected to print sizes and how that’s affected by your camera’s ratio.
Aspect Ratio on Social Media
The third video is about how aspect ratio is connected to social media. It’s not related to any normal camera aspect ratio, so this video will parse how to get keep the integrity of your photos as much as possible when posting on social sites.
I’ve missed photographing all the Hoosier basketball emotion around the state over the last year. If you haven’t heard, Indiana is a HUGE basketball state. Yes, more than other states. There’s nowhere else a movie like Hoosiers could have been made.
I scanned 4+ years of my archive of images I shot for the Indiana High School Athletic Association to look for the biggest emotions I could find. This includes players, cheerleaders, fans, and coaches from all over the state, in venues big and small. Although, you won’t find many small venues in Indiana, even in the smallest of towns.
Below are some of my other posts about basketball and sports photography. Also, I have a lot more than just basketball action and emotion. To check out some of my favorite sports images, click here to see the gallery on my website.
The literal definition of photography “drawing with light.” So the fundamentals of photography are shadows and light. Sometimes it’s important to get back to the basics.
One reason Larry Bird was such a great player was how many free throws he shot every day as a kid. It’s Hoosier lore that he’d shoot 100 free throws every day. Some say 500. I suppose I’ll have to ask him next time I see him around town.
I can’t say what’s true exactly, but that’s not the point. The point is knowing your fundamentals so well that they become a part of you.
Today as I saw some good late afternoon light coming in and casting nice shadows, I decided to go out and work on my fundamentals. Just light and shadow. Black and white.
Try it yourself and link me to the results! This doesn’t have to be a huge investment. I spent 15 minutes on this project. Have fun with it!
Another photography exercise I like to do is something I came up with that I call 7 Shots from a Chair. Watch the YouTube video below and try it for yourself! You can also ready about my 60 minute blog post experiment here.
Oh man, it’s been snowing so much here in Indiana. It’s a lot more than we get most winters. So, I’ve been out documenting it. I use snow photography as an opportunity to practice all of the classic elements: framing, shadows, contrast, action, texture, and of course, composition.
The featured image at the top of this post is my favorite composition I’ve taken this winter. I love the angels and geometry. It has great lines that draw your eyes across the frame. It has a timeless quality and feels like a classic image to me.
Frozen Creek Play with Falling Snow
Just across the street and down the hill is another world on the golf course in the winter. It’s great having a park-like setting to explore the woods and play in open areas.
The highlight to our kids is playing on the frozen creek. It’s not cold enough in Indiana every year for creeks and lakes to freeze enough to walk on. But a few weeks of below-freezing temperatures has been enough to freeze the water. They definitely made good use of it!
I love the above candid portrait of my daughter. My kids are used to me getting up in their faces while we’re out doing stuff. They never seem to mind, but I try not to stay too close for long because everyone deserves their personal space.
Taking photos of kids at play really shows them at their most free. Add a snowy environment and it makes for something unique because it gives a great sense of time and place. I work to capture eyes in the photo because they add so much to an image.
I don’t photoshop my images in any way. I only do minor color and tone adjustments. Can you tell by that red thread sticking out from her mask? To me, perfection comes from what’s real, not from what I can manufacture in editing software.
The image above is a study in light and shadow. My kids were throwing snow over the edge of the bridge. I knew that the strong sunlight and shade of the bridge would provide for some nice contrast and highlight the powder in the air.
The contrast of the ice and water below lead to some great minimalist images. There are all sorts of natural abstracts that are unique to winter and snow photography.
About 200 yards from our property is a very nice sledding hill. If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you definitely see me post photos from this spot every year. It’s a great place for the neighborhood kids to gather, bring their sleds and snowboards, and just let loose.
The above image is a good testament to how I assess the full frame when I’m shooting. In watching the scene unfold through my viewfinder, I noticed the kid on the far left about to take off down the hill. I waited for them to slide directly between the two trees before I took the photo. It’s a small detail that I think makes a big difference in the image.
Snow Photography at Home
Sometimes it’s nice to stay close to home. Especially when you want to play with your 20-month-old little brother. There’s still plenty of chances available to practice my snow photography at home.
Natural Snowy Settings
There are lots of trees and woods around that provide a great opportunity for snow photos both with and without people.
Shooting from a higher angle and excluding the horizon, combined with the white snow provides a nice, simple background. I used that here in addition to the lines of the tree trunks and spacing/directionality of the kids in the frame to form a composition that’s both simple and complex.
The photos above are all examples of natural framing. Look for ways to use elements like trees and patterns in the snow to frame the subjects.
So venture out like the intrepid explorer below and see what elements you can find unique to snow photography to really practice your art!
A good photography practice can be to return to the same scene multiple times to photograph it under different conditions. If you saw my post about photographing night snow, you’ll have seen this first image already. Well, I found myself in the same area the next day, both during the afternoon and again in the evening. I decided to make the exact same image (or as close as possible) at three different times of day to see how the mood changed.
Even though the actual framing of the subject hasn’t changed at all, things like the light and other people in the scene change things significantly.
Here’s a side-by-side view of all three photos just for the hell of it. Try out this photography practice yourself and tag me in the resulting images!
Twenty years into photography, it’s rare to find a subject I haven’t already photographed in some capacity. Enter Night Snow. Whenever possible, I get outside when it’s snowing those big, fat beautiful flakes, but I had never tried it at night.
First, it required me to do something I absolutely hate: take a tripod. I’m about as anti-tripod as anyone can be who still owns one. I find them extremely limiting. I knew with how dark it was that I would need a tripod to shoot at slower shutter speeds if I wanted to have a low(ish) ISO, which increases my image quality.
But, of course, slow shutter speeds mean that the snow streaks across the image, which isn’t really the effect I was going for. And if the speeds are slow enough, you can’t even tell it’s snowing at all.
Comparing Shutter Speeds for Night Snow
Let’s compare the three images below. The image top left is at a shutter speed 0.8 seconds. Is it even snowing? I can’t tell! The top right image is at 1/8 second. Better! The bottom image is 1/100 second and it has more of the type of night snow look I was going for. However, I had to shoot at ISO 12,800 AND underexpose the image quite a bit to shoot at that shutter speed, which means the quality of the image wasn’t great. The color was terrible, but it does look decent in black & white.
The image below is the best compromise between all the factors. It’s 1/50 sec. And even though it’s ISO 12,800, since I didn’t underexpose it as much as the image above, the color didn’t turn out too terribly. Oh, and all of these photos are at f/2.
I can admit that my greatest strength as a photographer isn’t thinking of all possible scenarios in advance. One of my greatest strengths is being very quick to adapt to a situation to make it work in my favor.
So that means I decided to crank the ISO (3200-12,800) and accept the graininess that comes with that in order to get my shutter speed high enough to (somewhat) freeze the flakes in midair and get the type of night snow photos that I wanted.
I was glad to have the tripod, though. It made a nice walking stick.
Pro Tip: Stability Technique
Just because I’m morally opposed to tripods, it doesn’t mean that I don’t do whatever I can to stabilize my camera to get sharp images. For example, for the image below, wedged my lens into the corner of one of those small squares at the top of the fence to add some stability for this night snow shot. I used trees, buildings and all types of furniture to do the same.
Documentary construction photography is always fun for me. All the action, machines, repeating patterns and clean lines keep me busy for hours. Plus, I find getting up on a rooftop at sunrise to have a peaceful, meditative quality to it.
In the fall, I connected with a new client: Cityscape Residential. Based in Indianapolis, Cityscape designs, develops, builds and manages multifamily rental communities across the Midwest. They were looking for some storytelling images for their new website, created by Common Design.
They asked me to document some of their processes, including design and construction, as well as provide new portraits for their corporate leadership. To see the images in use on the new site, click here.
See some other documentary construction photography and more about building stuff and getting it done, in these posts.
One thing I’ve learned in my 17 years of professional photography is sometimes you need to just get out and DO SOMETHING, even when you’re not feeling inspired.
Being a parent, if you haven’t decided what you’re doing with yourself at a certain time, someone will come along and decide for you. Yesterday morning, my 4 y/o asked me to come outside with him to practice his skateboarding. It was very cold and there was a dusting of snow on the ground, so we headed to the porch.
I wasn’t planning to take any photos, but the sun popped out and the dryer turned on and there was the cool combo of steam and morning light that I had to capture.
We ended with a couple rounds of darts. Why not?
Moments in time
So is this a full photo story? No. It’s more of a vignette. Just a few moments in time. And often that’s enough. Life doesn’t always give you enough time to do a full story and really it’s better that way. I used to obsess about when to start or finish a story. Now I do what I have time to do and that’s that. It takes a lot of pressure off, frankly.
Admittedly, it’s different for client work, but that’s another blog post for another day.
Here are some stories I made about artists. I got out and shot for an hour or two and was happy with the result.
Going through some images from 2020, I started to see a lot of single images that I hadn’t published. When I put them together into a collection, they seemed to go together pretty well. I suppose that means my personal style and vision is becoming more cohesive each year.
Seeing as most of 2020 was spent at or near home, here are some other groups of photos and stories from pandemic life.
What’s a photographer to do in a pandemic? I’m someone who likes to photograph people most of all. I need to avoid people as much as possible right now. And when I’m around others, I can’t photograph them in the close manner I’m accustomed to.
So I spend a lot of time outdoors. And with my family. I’m fortunate to live with 6 other people and I never take that for granted. I look at this as my professional blog, so I try not to focus too much on my family, even though they’re with me for nearly every shoot that isn’t for a client.
This is an unprecedented time in our recent history. I don’t think I need to draw hard lines between “personal” and “professional.” My family is here experiencing this pandemic with me. We go to local parks and playgrounds. These are the things I photograph.
My brain tells me these shoots get repetitive. But my spirit knows that each time I go out with my camera, new things happen – things that will only happen one time in the course of human existence – and I’m there to document and interpret them.
So, here’s my visual journal entry for this week. We spent time in a brand new environment to us: Eagle Creek Park on the NW side of Indianapolis. We walked, climbed, thought, poked at things, broke ice, fell down, wrestled, and took in the rare Indiana winter sun.
It’s been nine months since I started making these quarantine stories. Here are a few of the first ones from last spring.
It’s winter in the Midwest. What’s a social-distancing photographer to do? Go for a walk in the woods!
Grateful to have some beautiful nature right outside my door. On this day I noticed a lot of interesting details, complex reflections and unique colors.
I may not have had sweeping vistas to photograph, but I like to look for the little things: moss frozen just under the surface of a pond, ice forming in lined patterns; snow landing on top of a seed pod.
We’re never far from the human element, so I like to include these details as well.
I’ve been taking a lot of photos since the pandemic started last March. Here are a few posts of photos I did during quarantine.
I’m a commercial, editorial, and documentary photographer, but I did a lot of weddings and portraits in the past. I often get asked how to choose the right photographer and since I have a lot experience in this arena, I thought I would share some of my best tips here on my blog.
Here’s some information consumers should know when hiring a photographer for things like family portraits, weddings, and events.
Anyone Can Be A “Pro”
There’s a low barrier of entry to a person marketing themself as a professional photographer. There are no licenses, certifications, or regulations in the industry.
These days all one needs is a camera and a Facebook page. This can be helpful to you as a consumer because there are a lot of options at different price points. However, you need to keep in mind that people who charge less money nearly always have less experience and skill.
Referrals, Referrals, Referrals
It’s so important I said it thrice. As a consumer, the most effective way to protect yourself from a terrible photography shoot is to ask for referrals from your own friends and family.
If someone you know well, whose opinion you trust, personally recommends a photographer, that is your best bet. Of course, if that person has terrible taste, or you didn’t love their photos, move on to the next referral.
Google Is Popular For A Reason
An old-fashioned Google search is a great way to find a photographer. Typically, photographers showing up at the top of a search are either well-established or are paying good money on advertising, which can mean they take their business seriously.
The number of photographers in a search can be overwhelming! Be as specific as possible to start. Instead of “Indianapolis Photographer” try “Carmel Indiana Wedding Photojournalist.” Describing a specific location, type of photography, and style will help you find more that you like right off the top.
If you find you’re TOO specific, then start expanding the geographic area of your search. Or if locality is more important, start there and be less specific about the style.
Photographers Need A REAL Website
If a photographer only has a Facebook page to promote their services, that’s not a great sign. They are likely either inexperienced or not great at running a business.
A clean, visually appealing, and easy to navigate website is a requirement for a professional photographer. The site should have a broad variety of images from multiple shoots. There should be ample evidence on their site, that they can photograph an event like the one you are hiring them to do.
Professionalism is important
A talented photographer who is not a good businessperson is usually a disappointment. If they’re disorganized or unprofessional, even if they get great photos, it’s not worth the risk. Take their clients’ reviews seriously!
They might not show up on time for your session, take months (or years!) to get your photos back to you, or cause any other number of problems that aren’t related to operating a camera. Your photos may be great, but if you never actually get them, it doesn’t really matter.
What To Look For On a Photographer’s Website
You can tell a lot from a photographer’s website. Here are some things to look for… – Does it look like they’ve photographed a lot of different subjects? Or do you keep seeing the same people show up over and over again? – Do you find yourself experiencing any emotions while looking at the photos? Are their images making you smile? Or feel excited about your own upcoming wedding, pregnancy, or family event? – Is there a good variety of images, or are you seeing the same poses and locations from photo to photo? – Do they include pricing on their site? Better photographers are more upfront about costs. It helps to cut down on leads that don’t go anywhere. – Do they have information about what to expect before, during and after a session? This shows professionalism and experience.
Questions to ask before hiring a photographer
Here are a few questions to ask once you have your search narrowed to a few photographers whose work you like.
– Ask to see a full wedding/session/event. It’s easy to pull together a portfolio from dozens of shoots, but you only get one day. How many good shots do they get for one client? – Make sure you know who your photographer is actually going to be. Seems like you should be getting the person whose name is out front, but you need to be sure. It can be okay to accept another photographer (especially if you’re speaking to a studio as opposed to a one-person-show), but make sure you know WHO it is and you’re seeing samples of THEIR work. They should also cost less than the lead photographer. – If the information isn’t on their website already, ask how the process of the photo session works. What happens before, during, and after? What should you wear/not wear? How long until you get your finished photos? What exactly is included?
What If They’re Too Expensive?
If you speak with a photographer that you like and they turn out to be too expensive, don’t be afraid to ask them for a referral. Just say something like, “We love your work so much, but unfortunately we can’t afford to work with you. Do you know any photographers that might be willing to work with us in our price range?” A lot of times photographers will have assistants or friends who are newer to the game that they’re willing to refer.
Beware of discounts! I’ve had many people tell me, “Oh, he gave me a great deal!” about the same photographer. If the price on their website says $1000, but they only charge you $500, then their actual price is $500.
Deposits & Payment
It’s common for photographers to ask for a deposit. That isn’t a red flag, it’s actually a really smart way to run a business. It’s also common for photographers to require payment in full before an event. If you like the photographer and they have good reviews, you should feel comfortable with their policies.
When I photographed weddings, I required a $1000 deposit to reserve a date with the balance due 1 month prior to the wedding. This covered my out of pocket costs while I was working on the wedding day and in post-production the days following. This also ensured that both parties were equally committed to the contract.
Using Less Expensive Photographers
It’s okay to use an inexpensive photographer. Everyone deserves to have professional photos of important milestones in their lives. If you find someone you feel checks all the boxes (including your budget), that is all that matters.
There are talented photographers who do this as a side-hustle. You can ask them all the same questions I mentioned above so you know what you’re getting.
You cannot expect the same results or level of service as a photographer who charges 5x as much. As a consumer you need to either adjust your budget to match your expectations, or adjust your expectations to match your budget. However, once you’ve got that settled, there are sure to be many photographers to choose from in any price range.
Good luck! Don’t forget to have fun with your photo shoot!
It’s the Holiday Season! I always enjoy getting out and trying some new photos with Christmas lights and other holiday decor.
In the past on this blog, I’ve highlighted some of the local events I’ve attended. This year I have something different to share: some Holiday client work.
Engledow Group is an established landscape design and maintenance firm that has operated in central Indiana since 1932. They provide holiday decor and design services for a number of companies in the Indianapolis region.
This year Engledow reached out to me to help them update their catalog of images. I headed out to over a dozen different businesses of all types to document some of their best displays.
Here are the results!
If you love looking at holiday lights, here are some other posts I recommend. These are some of our favorite annual events in the Indianapolis area.
A funny thing about publishing a magazine is that most of the time you’re working a year in advance. That means for the Thanksgiving 2020 issue of Eating Well magazine, I took photos on Thanksgiving 2019.
Eating Well planned a spread of photos from across the United States to show different ways we celebrate Thanksgiving. My assignment was to document the role small farms play in the process while covering the Midwest section of the story.
Liz and Nate Brownlee own and operate Nightfall Farm in Crothersville, Indiana. Here are some images as I follow them around southern Indiana on their distribution day.
Fun Fact: I took the image they published in the first 30 minutes of a 5 hour shoot. You never know which photos are going to be your best until you go through the entire process.
Eating Well Thanksgiving Issue
Click on the image below to head to the Eating Well website and see the full story celebrating the diversity of our country on one of our favorite holidays.
Today I took a walk through the woods at Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve in Fishers, IN. It’s basically a suburban oasis of forest and natural grassland.
I had five kids with me, but for this post, you can just go alone.
Bringing the Nature to you
Spending so much time at home these days, it can be a bit of an adjustment heading into public, even if it’s a natural and somewhat remote setting. Each time we spend some time in nature, I’m always glad we do!
I hope this brings some peace to anyone who is quarantining or currently without large swaths of nature in which to roam.
Depth vs Expression
For the next two images, I noticed this woman as I walked along a trail and couldn’t resist taking her photo. It was a nice moment. Which of the two images do you like best? They’re very similar but have two subtle differences. Leave a comment and let me know!
The most obvious difference is her facial expression. The top photo is more serene and the second is almost funny. I think she was having her photo taken by her husband off to the side.
The second, more subtle difference is the depth of field. The top photo was taken at f/11 so it has more depth than the second photo, which is f/2.8. Although, at this distance from the subject, it’s not as pronounced.
I prefer the depth of the second photo with the expression in the first. But since I don’t make fake photos by combining images, I’ll choose the first photo as my favorite because of the expression.
For the next two images, I played with depth again to bring out some different abstract qualities in the scenes.
For the image above, I liked how the shape of the leaves and the sunlight combine for some interesting abstract patterns. I used more depth (f/11) to get more of the shapes into focus. Also, in this case I thought the black & white edit better highlighted what I liked about the scene.
The image below is from the same area, but with the shallow depth and focus in the foreground, I ended up liking the color version better.
This next image below had some impressionistic qualities that caught my eye. By using a shallow depth of field, the foreground and background fall quickly out of focus to add to the painterly quality of the photo.
Visitors and Residents
The trails at Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve were busy with dog walkers and families having their portraits taken. We also passed some permanent residents who had not-so-recently had some flowers placed at their resting place.
This next section features some images that highlight basic concepts of photography and composition: color, line, texture, shape, pattern and more.
When I saw the bent and gnarled vines below, I thought it looked cool in real life, but I wasn’t confident it would translate well into a photo. I decided to take a shot anyways and it turns out I was wrong!
The black & white edit really highlights the shapes as does the high contrast.
I’m not a golfer, so it felt a bit odd to start taking photos of lost golf balls. However, I recently started being drawn to photographing lost golf balls on the course near my house and following that instinct lead to a surprisingly philosophical set of images.
I focus on documenting life as it happens naturally, so when my kids asked me to take them to the creek to find golf balls, I grabbed my camera and followed along. I planned to photograph the kids in their search, but I soon felt pulled to shoot the lost balls as well.
After seeing the resulting images and reflecting on them, some deeper themes emerged…
Whether in sports, business, relationships or creative endeavors, we all know the feeling of taking a big shot and shanking it into the woods. It’s so off-course that it’s not even worth the effort pursue it.
I like the idea of taking someone’s missed shot and making something beautiful out of it. I like to think that means the things we try and fail at can lead to something good like another’s inspiration and success.
The title of this series, As It Lies, comes from the golf rule that you must play your ball from wherever it lands. This is also an apt description for my approach to these images: I shoot each ball as found. I don’t touch or move the ball, or change the scenery in any way for the photo.
I feel there’s a larger collaboration happening to create these images. It starts with a golfer taking an errant shot. Then nature receives it. The ball is held in place, or moved by wind and water over a period of hours, days, months or even years. Only after all that do I find it and document its existence.
If you enjoy these images, you can follow me on Instagram to see the latest balls I find. Many of these images are available as prints, click here to see the images available in our shop. And if one of these speaks to you specifically but you don’t see it in my shop, shoot me an email & I’ll be happy to make it available for you.
This is a crazy time of life & it’s been a great opportunity for interesting photojournalism. Here are links to more of my photo stories that have spawned from these times of social distancing and quarantine.
As the quarantine presses on, I’m finding a lot of different experiences to photograph. The first story I published on the blog was about doing familiar activities in a new environment. The next story interpreted the feeling of social distancing.
This week I’m looking at closeness and family bonding in the wake of the distance and isolation that many are feeling.
For context, my wife Courtney and I are experienced stay-at-homers, as we’ve been working from home and homeschooling for a couple years now with our five kids.
Share Your Experience
What has your experience with COVID-19 been like? Are you by yourself or with others? Have there been moments of insanity or mostly calm? Please share in the comments below!
For my other posts of life during quarantine, check out these links…
Robert Capa was a famous photojournalist who, among other things, stormed the beach at Normandy with American troops on D-Day, nothing but his cameras in hand.
He has a quote that I live by: “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” I take that approach in every possible circumstance.
However, with the pandemic and social distancing, I’m finding myself stepping back and looking for a new approach with my style.
It was a little awkward at first, but I’m getting the hang of it. These photos explore social distancing and how it feels to have additional space between us.
A lot of times when I’m outside or looking out my window I find myself thinking, “Who’s that? I’ve never seen them before,” or “Those people seem a little close to each other over there.” It can be a little unsettling at times. I think some of that comes through here.
But more often than these uneasy feelings, as someone gets closer (but not too close!), we smile and wave and say hello and there’s more of a bond than usual.
For more photo stories related to the quarantine, check out these posts…