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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Check out the posts below for more nature and life during the pandemic. It’s, you know, good and thoughtful stuff and not at all depressing!
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…
We’re all doing things a bit differently these days. One thing that’s interesting to me is how some of the things we’re doing are CLOSE to what we did before, but not exactly the same.
For example, my family likes to hike and explore nature. But since we’re not going out to parks right now, we spent some time exploring the neighborhood golf course when it closed to golfers. It was an activity that we usually do, but in a new type of place.
What has the Great Pause meant to you and your family? Have you seen or experienced anything you’ve never done before?
What familiar activities are you doing in new environments? I’m interested to hear what you’re up to! Respond to this email or comment on my social media with your own stories.
This short photo story is a small part of a long-format narrative I’m currently developing to capture the look and feel of this quarantine era. New stories coming each week!
Here are more posts related to the quarantine and staying home…
Now that we’re all out of school, I thought, “Hey, let’s do a post about the first day of school!” I like to do the opposite of what’s expected just for the sake of being different.
Anyways, this is the Leazenby family and a few years back I shot this fun story following their two kids on their first day of school.
I love these photos because there are some universal moments I think we all can identify with. I guarantee this will bring back some of the feels you had during your school years.
I didn’t want to interrupt these images with commentary. So, after you scroll through them, I’d like to hear about any particular moments that connected with you. Leave a note in the comments.
Share this with a friend who loved school as a kid, or loves it now as a parent. And if you like seeing these photo stories, sign up for our newsletter to get them right into your inbox each week. We also have bonuses for subscribers like free image downloads.m
Here are some more posts about getting out into the world and living life. I always strive to find universal moments, so check ’em out and let’s connect in this time of social distancing.
Introducing 18th Street Indy! After much anticipation, one of my favorite brewers has come to town.
I like big, bold beers. IPAs are great, but why not make it a double? I want a stout so dark that it absorbs the light around it. I’ll take a sour beer, too. I don’t mean tart. I mean, full-on SOUR!
That’s why 18th Street beers are for me. They have bold flavor in spades. Have you tried any of their beers yet? If so, let’s talk about it in the comments.
18th Street Brewery is based in Hammond, IN and has been winning major awards since 2013. Just last year they won Best Brewpub in the U.S. in a USA Today reader’s poll.
Last week I stopped in to check out the vibe and take some photos of the new space. A decent crowd for a Thursday afternoon plus a rare sunny day throwing out some good light combined for a nice set of images.
Muckrock the Casbah
As an added bonus, a rad mural by Jules Muck, the Venice Beach artist known as muckrock adds some flash to the side of the building that makes it stand out on the block.
While you’re over on Instagram checking out muckrock, give us a follow as well. We’ll follow you back so we can talk more about beer and art and whatever else is interesting.
…to Ty, Courtney and Bo; three good folks you might see on your visit. Tell them you saw these photos online and you just had to come in for a visit ASAP.
Hey, believe it or not, 18th Street Indy isn’t my first beer-related story. Here are some posts about brewing, an artist who designs labels and some more awesome murals…
Giant industrial plants are my kind of thing, so this was a great opportunity to get some really cool photos, like at Angola Wire or Purposeful Design.
Formerly Indianapolis Light & Power’s Kentucky Avenue Station, The Perry K Steam Plant was finished in 1893 and began supplying electricity to Indianapolis that same year. Citizens Energy acquired the plant in 2000.
Located near Lucas Oil Stadium, the steam plant is at the corner of West Street and Kentucky Avenue in downtown Indianapolis.
Last fall marked my third time documenting the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. It’s always a lot of action and emotion with plenty of great photos to take (if you know what you’re doing, that is).
My SEO plugin wants me to type a bunch of words. “F*ck off, plugin,” I say! I’m going to tell this story through photos. Just look at the images and feel like you’re there.
Let’s work together
If you have an event coming up and need a photographer to create meaningful images that serve multiple purposes: advertising, sponsor gifts, collateral or post-event gallery purchases, give email me and we can talk about your project in detail.
If you’re into the sports, check out some stories from both amateur and professional athletics.
One of the many reasons I love my work is that I never know what type of shoots are going to come my way. Documenting the rededication of Bethel Cemetery is definitely a photo story different than any I have done before.
A logistics company called Cardno contacted me in the fall to document the opening of a new/old cemetery. Due to necessary infrastructure improvements, Bethel Cemetery was relocated from its home by the airport to an area within Concordia Cemetery on the south side of Indianapolis. Cardno led the project.
Established in 1827, Bethel Cemetery saw its last known burial in 1935. Among the buried are veterans of the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
An initial survey of the site identified over 150 headstones. Throughout the relocation project, 543 individual were discovered. In the process they salvaged, restored and reassembled headstones that had fallen into disrepair.
Bethel Cemetery Families
Descendants of some of the Civil War veterans attended the rededication as well as some historically prominent families from the Indianapolis area. As a part of the rededication, reenactors from from the Civil War and War of 1812 along with an Honor Guard from the IN National Guard gave salutes to the veterans.
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I do documentary photographer for all sorts of commercial clients. Check out these stories below to see some cool stories.