NATE RYAN // Musically Inclined (#010)


Okay, show of hands. Who here, when you were starting your photography career or just getting into taking pictures said, “I want to be a music photographer!” or “I just want to go shoot photos at concerts!”. I think I can safely say that, at least, the idea has crossed the minds of most visual storytellers at some point. There’s something entrancing about the being a concert or music photographer — maybe it’s the spectacle of the lights and showmanship, maybe for the more video-centric amongst us the purposeful, natural blend of audio and visuals, or maybe it’s something about being part of the concert “experience”.

But shooting concerts for free doesn’t put food on your table. Photo credits don’t keep the lights on. Like being any type of photographer, to truly “make it” as a music photographer you have to niche down, achieve a unique style, and find your creative vision that makes you different – not just better – and create work with value.

Today’s guest is a perfect example of focusing down in your work and honing your craft, but never losing sight of the real-world practicalities of making photography work that makes you a living. Nate Ryan is a Minnesota-based photographer and filmmaker, capturing editorial and commercial imagery with a journalistic approach, telling visual stories with integrity. An avid cyclist and active outdoorsman, Nate loves to capture the stories and environments of the natural world. As the staff photographer at 89.3 The Current since 2010, he’s captured photos and video of the countless studio performances with bands that visit the station, as well as many live performances at venues in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

In today’s episode, I get an inside perspective on what it means to be more than just a concert photographer, how Nate pushes himself on every assignment as a photography team of one, and how he creates work for himself that fires him up to get PAID by national clients to shoot that kind of work for them. You can find show notes with photos and links online at

So, without further ado, my behind the curtains conversation with 89.3 The Current Photographer, Nate Ryan.



QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments!


ACKERMAN + GRUBER // Dynamic Duo (#008)


In past episodes of Photo Forward, we’ve looked at a ton of different topics in visual storytelling — from creating a long term documentary project to how to pitch that work to editors in the wider world. And in all of those stories, it’s been typically centered around solo operators, freelancers, and individuals. Well today is breaking that mold ENTIRELY.

Crafting a successful freelance photography career is NO SMALL FEAT. From accounting to marketing to insurance and everything in between… It’s ALL on YOU. Now imagine adding an extra personal wrinkle: Your photography partner is also your LIFE PARTNER. That’s the story for today’s amazing guests – Jenn Ackermann and Tim Gruber.

Jenn Ackerman and Tim Gruber are a husband and wife team based in Minneapolis, MN. You will almost always find them working side by side, which has been the case since grad school. They enjoy the collaborative nature of being a tight-knit team and pushing each other to create images that sing. Their goal on every assignment is simple - evoke emotion and authenticity in every image they make to advertising, corporate and editorial clients. They pride themselves in being storytellers and work to create a narrative in every photo they take.

Their work has been honored by the Communication Arts Photography Annual and Advertising Annual 2009, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2019, American Photography 28, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36 PDN Photo Annual, Review Santa Fe Center Project Competition, Photolucida’s Critical Mass, Inge Morath Award, Magnum Expression Award, POYi, and many others. Their most recent documentary film won an Emmy and they were named a McKnight Fellow and to PDN's 30 Photographers to Watch.

In today’s interview, Jenn, Tim and I tackled a ton on the nature of crafting AUTHENTIC visual storytelling work, getting through those “scary” times building a creative business, and how crucially important open communication is for growing a collaborative partnership.


QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY // What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments!

SHOW NOTES // Coming Soon!

COBURN DUKEHART // An Editor's Insight (#004)

 Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism Watchdog Awards in Madison, WI on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.

All you younger photographers, all you independent photographers, all you freelancers – break out the notebooks because this episode is not one you’ll want to miss. While we’ve talked in previous episodes about making photographs and crafting stories that are meaningful, we haven’t really looked hard at how to get that work seen by the world. (Don’t worry, in a future episode of Photo Forward, we’ll be talking with an expert on pricing and the financial side of creating your work.) But today we’re taking a brief detour from photographers to take a deep dive into the other side of visual storytelling: photo EDITING, with today’s guest Coburn Dukehart.

Coburn Dukehart is the Digital and Multimedia Director for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism where she directs its visual strategy, creates visual and audio content, manages digital assets and trains student and professional journalists. Our conversation centered around her decades of distinguished work at national news organizations as a photo editor for National Geographic, National Public Radio, and The Washington Post among others.

Coburn has received numerous multimedia awards from the National Press Photographers Association, POYI and the White House News Photographers Association. Her multimedia work also has been honored with a Webby, a Gracie, a Murrow and duPont awards, not to mention a nomination for a national Emmy.

In this episode, Coburn and I talk extensively about a number of visual storytelling topics like: what to do and what NOT to do when you’re making a story pitch to an editor, why building trust with the individuals in your photo stories is critical to making meaningful visual work, and how understanding the ethics of shooting and publishing photos (even captioning them!) can make a key impact on how visual media is viewed. You can find show notes with photos we talked about and links online at . So, without further ado, our interview with Coburn Dukehart.



QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments!

SHOW NOTES: Coming Soon!

ANDY MANIS // One Picture, One Story (#006)

“It’s what’s between the ears that makes the picture. Not what’s in front of the eyes.”

Hello everyone and welcome to the Photo Forward Podcast, where we explore the stories behind some of the greatest visual storytellers in the world. From their photographic origins, to finding work-life balance as creative professionals, to how to actually make a living as a photographer, videographer, or multimedia creator — we uncover what makes them tick and their shutters click. I’m your host, Ben Brewer.

Associated Press. The A. P. If you follow the editorial, photojournalism or news photography world, you already know that organization is a heavy hitter. (For those of you that don’t, the AP is a global news agency and wire service with over two hundred bureaus in over a hundred companies. And a hefty stack of Pulitzers to boot since their founding around 100 years ago.) And so, if you as a photographer could put AP contributor or stringer in your bio, that carried a hell of a lot of weight.

But the world has changed since the heydays of wire service photography and newsgathering. As newspapers struggle to reinvent their business model in the digital world, that pushes organizations like the AP, Reuters, AFP and more to cut back on the number and regularity of contributor content.

But you’re thinking, “Yeah, that’s a great sob story, Ben. Why should I care? My photography work is totally different.” Everybody thinks they’re immune to the democratization of visuals, but the truth is, we’re all vulnerable. If you don’t intentionally reinvent yourself and adapt to our new visual world, you’ll get left behind all the same. That’s why I brought on today’s guest, AP Photographer and all-around great guy.

Andy Manis started his freelance business in 1995 and has been going strong ever since. Manis began his career in photography in 1980. He has held positions as a college staff photographer, staff photographer at newspapers, a photo editor for a wire service and an educator. Some of Andy’s clients include the University of Wisconsin, Wisconsin State Journal, Getty Images, The Associated Press, The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today among many others. Manis lives in Madison with his wife and step-daughter where they love to cook and enjoy the outdoors.

In today’s episode Andy and I break down how adapting your freelance work to the changing state of photography is critical, why sometimes, the best marketing tactic is just making face-to-face connections, and the importance of telling a unique story, even in a single photo. We even get into a bit of the nuts and bolts of taking care of yourself as a freelancer and some tips Andy has for avoiding burnout.



QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments!


SCOTT STRAZZANTE // Shooting from the Hip (#002)


Scott Strazzante (@scottstrazzante) is a former POY/NPPA National Newspaper Photographer of the Year, an 11-time Illinois Photographer of the Year and was part of a Chicago Tribune team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for investigative journalism.

After spending the first 27 years of his career at Chicago newspapers, including 13 at the Chicago Tribune, Scott Strazzante joined the photography staff at the San Francisco Chronicle in 2014. Scott’s personal project, Common Ground, has been featured in National Geographic, Mother Jones, New York Times’ Lens Blog and on CBS Sunday Morning. The 23-year-long effort, which has won BOP’s Best Feature Video and POYi’s Community Awareness Award, became his first book with PSG. And, In October 2017, Scott’s second book- “Shooting from the Hip-” was released. The book consists of iPhone Hipstamatic snaps from around the USA.

In this episode, we dive in deep on the practicals of getting started and staying motivated on a VERY long term documentary project, how a kid from the South side of Chicago got connected with some of the greatest photographers out there, and why getting creatively bored is the best way to rethink your photographic style and technique.




QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments!


JEROME POLLOS // Don't be trendy; Be timeless (#001)

Don’t be trendy; Be TIMELESS.


Jerome Pollos (@TheRomer) is an award-winning Northwest photojournalist specializing in documentary work, weddings and portraits for clients who love timeless, candid moments.

Joining the U.S. Navy right out of high school as a self-described "troublemaker", he was sent to journalism school in Fort Benjamin Harrison, IN, studying broadcast journalism, TV and radio; writing, and a two-week course on photojournalism — which he unceremoniously failed. After a deeply emotional photography assignment, while stationed in Washington, D.C., he saw the true power of photography and his love for the craft grew assignment by assignment. Pollos had an illustrious 13-year career at the Coeur d'Alene Press in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, but searching for greater creative control and financial freedom, took the freelance plunge in 2014. After a rocky start, he has excelled as an award-winning editorial, wedding, and portrait photographer in the Idaho and Northwest. 

When I was thinking of how best to start this weekly series, at first, I gravitated to the idea of interviewing a “big name” photographer, capitalize on their status and get listeners hooked from the get-go. But I realized early on that didn’t jibe with my whole philosophy for undertaking this – I’m in it for the long haul. Obviously I want to connect with incredible photojournalists the world over, but the soul and purpose of this show – educating photographers on the art of visual storytelling, from photographers with stories of their own that fascinate me.

So, when I stepped back to thinking about photographers with fascinating stories, unique philosophies, and with whom I’ve got a personal connection— it was actually pretty obvious who to invite first. My mentor and friend Jerome Pollos – who gave my career a massive kick-start at my first internship at the Coeur d’Alene Press back in 2010.

In this episode we unpack a ton of interesting stories about finding your visual style as a photographer, how to totally screw up a long-term documentary photo project, and making the earth-shattering move from a staff photographer position to a full-time freelancer (and not losing your mind and bank account in the process). I hope you guys get as much out of this listening as I did recording it.




QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments!