We are excited to share our conversation with creative photographer and ViewBug member straight8photo who shares 3 tips to improve your photography and a tutorial behind an amazing photo.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, how do you describe your photography style?
I am a retired United States Marine, combat veteran, father and husband. I started Straight 8 Photography 3 years ago after “burning out” on government contracting. I needed something different. My life in the military was rather fast paced, so I try and portray that same feel in my photography. I like my photography to be dark, edgy and also to tell a story.

2. In one sentence what has photography done for you in your life?
Photography has saved me and definitely gave me direction.

3. When did you start taking photos and what inspired you to get started?
I started “messing” with still photography when I was a Military Free Fall Parachuting Instructor. We would jump with our students and take pictures / video for debriefing purposes. I had no formal training, just strap a camera on your head and go. I took a liking to it and thought I would keep working at the craft. So I attended the “school of Youtube” and spent countless weeks watching tutorials.

I ended up retiring after 20 years of service and decided to see if I can make a living out of photography. It was tough at first. I was shooting everything. Pinups, cars, sports….you name it. That was my problem. I needed to focus on one genre. One day I was taking my kid to a video game store and I was amazed at the artwork on the covers. I thought to myself, why cant I do that? So I hit the tutorials again and never left my studio until I created something that resembles what I saw in that store. I eventually took my new found skill to the tactical industry and have been working for them ever since.

4. What has been your favorite shoot and why?
I like it dirty, sweaty and emotional. I made a living of being miserable in the Corps and I try to bring those “battle worn” feelings to my shoots. I’m known to take my models behind my studio and having them low crawl in the dirt before we begin. I believe when you start feeling the part…..you start looking the part.

5. Do you remember a difficult photo shoot session? What happened?
I think most of my shoots are difficult! Ha Ha! I’m a composite photographer, so matching the lighting to the background you will place the subject in is crucial. We just finished a 40 page composite “comic book” call Red Bloods. I ended up shooting and editing over 130 composites in 3 months. It’s definitely my biggest feat to date. Check out www.red-bloods.com to see it unfold.

6. What do you carry in your camera bag?
I mainly shoot with a Canon 5d Mark II and a 24-70 L-series lens.

7. Do you have a favorite location and time of the day to shoot?
90% of my shots are in the studio. I venture out to the desert here and there, but that’s mostly for magazine articles. I’m always in constant search for interesting background plates for my composites. The more weathered / forgotten….the better.

8. Can you share three tips with your fellow photographers? 
- Absolutely! I think my number one tip is to find a genre and master it. There a millions of photographers out there and to make a good living is tough. If you are a “jack of all trades, master of none” photographer, you will starve. Find that niche and study it. Whether its baby photography or aerial skydiving photography, you must concentrate on it until you are the resident expert. Then and only then you will make a career out of it. I wouldn’t know the first thing about wedding photography and I’m proud of it.

- Second, have thick skin. You must be able to take a critique and use that feedback to better yourself. I’ve worked on composites for days just to have someone rip it apart. It hurts, I know. But you must take a deep breath, smile, and then use it to make your work advance. I know there are tons of compositors / photographers out there better than me. I’m cool with that. It's what gives me motivation to drive to the studio everyday and work.

- Lastly, become a good salesmen. You run a business and no matter how great your work is, you are failing if no one sees it. Study social media and learn how to make people feel good about spending money with you. Word of mouth is crucial in this business. You have to throw on the charm. Clients (and models) need to leave your studio with a huge smile on their faces if you want them to come back.

9. Please share one of your favorite photos with us with a description on how the photo was taken:

This image probably isn’t my most popular (for political reasons), but I think its one of my favorites.

a. Where did you take this shot?
We shot this in our studio and the background image were pieced together with stock.

b. What equipment did yo use?
We used a total of 5 Alien Bee 800’s, 2 beauty dishes and a few strip banks.

d. What is the inspiration behind this photo?
I wanted to tell the story of the fortitude of the soldiers out there engaging in combat everyday. There is a brotherhood, a bond these guys go through and its forged in battle. Although the majority of the world wants peace, there is a strong percentage that will never want to get along. It’s been that way since the beginning of man. Unfortunately, there will always be war. So I want to highlight the men and women who are putting it on the line to protect our way of life.

e. Post-processing information
We tend to use blending modes to place our subjects into the scene vice a straight “cut out”. Lots of dodging / burning and selective sharpening of course and then topped off with numerous color passes. We are working on some video tutorials for 2015.

10. Please share some thoughts on your ViewBug experience as a photographer!
Viewbug.com has been by far our favorite place to showcase our work! I love the fact that everybody has a chance to win a contest. There are so many outstanding photographers out there, Viewbug lays down an “even playing field” for the experienced and the novice to compete. I will be a member for life!