Staying Busy as a Photographer, Even When Busy


It’s been a busy past couple of months for me, full of photo experiments and metadata blunders. But even when I’m busy with assignments, I’m still looking for a project.

I’m better at short-term projects, something I can set up quickly and shoot in a few hours. Coming up with these projects can be mind-numbing, so I look for outside inspiration. Fortunately, being with Wonderful Machine, I get ideas sent to my inbox.

About once a day I get an email from Wonderful Machine with stock photo requests. Sometimes the requests get incredibly specific, for example: “Frontier restaurant in Albuquerque: the breakfast burrito with green chile.” I’m not getting myself to Albuquerque to shoot one random dish.


Recently one request caught my eye. It was from a magazine looking for images of a woman on an indoor rock climbing wall. I’d worked with an assistant recently who frequented a rock climbing gym in Tulsa. I reached out to him to see if he knew of any women who were experienced climbers at the gym and might be interested in putting together a shoot. He had a name and we got to emailing. After a visit to discuss things with the gym and a few more emails, we were all set for a week out. The manager at the gym agreed to stay late and help us out. The shoot went great!

New Heights Rock Gym is formally a SCUBA diving training center. So the bottom of the climbing wall sits in the bottom of the former pool. This is much easier for taking pictures. No need for me to be rigged up into a harness and on the wall flailing around with my gear. The shoot took a couple hours, and, while the stock request was short and very specific, I took the opportunity to shoot it like I would for an assignment.

First things first: shoot the stuff the client wants. The “safe stuff.”





I did exactly what the sheet said: “Woman indoor rock climbing.” If I was shooting this for an assignment, I would do my best to get the subject facing both directions and provide verticals and horizontals. The reason for shooting the subject both directions is because of page placement. Art directors and designers don’t like people facing off the page and I want art directors and designers to be my friends, ergo subject facing both directions.

Next, I shot the stuff that photo editors and art directors like but never use. At this point, I’m really trying stuff that might not work but might result in something cool. This time it worked.




I had Mariah work the bouldering wall. We killed all the lights, and I cranked the ISO. The only light source was the window behind her. I think this made some beautiful images that lend themselves wonderfully to black and white.

Lastly, in addition to a portrait of some type I would also deliver a few detail shots.




I bundled all this up and shot it off to the magazine. It’s fairly unlikely that they will end up using any of these images. By the time we got everything into place, I ended up being outside of the deadline. In the end, I don’t really care. I got to produce some great images that I probably wouldn’t have thought to do on my own. With any luck, the photo editor might remember my name down the line for another project.

About the author: Kenneth M. Ruggiano is a photographer, husband, and Eagle Scout based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Visit his website here. This article was also published here.

Image credits: Header portrait by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret