West Point photographer shares tips for early career shooters


Rufus Sanders putting a light on his camera. Photo By Alexis T. Rhoden.

Alexis T. Rhoden
Oxford Stories

Photography has changed drastically over the past 25 years, from film to memory cards. Rufus Sanders has evolved with it.

As a photographer for more than 30 years, Sanders became interested after he was deployed with the Army and needed a hobby.

“I bought my very first camera in 1972,” he said. “I was in Germany looking for something to do. So, in my down time, I went around taking pictures of buildings and people.”

Today, Sanders has his own photography studio in West Point, Mississippi full of backdrops, computers, and still and video cameras. After retiring two years ago, he became a full time photographer.

“Every week, I’m doing different events,” he said. “Monday through Friday, I do a couple of shoots for different families. Friday nights, I’m usually at a football game on the field taking pictures. Saturdays are normally my busiest days. I usually have weddings.

“A wedding shoot could take all day because the women want photos of moments as simple as their makeup being done. Men usually don’t care too much. So, imagine capturing all of this as well as the actual wedding and reception. That’s the entire day.”

Sanders, who started with a Kodak camera, then transitioned to a 35mm, said loves digital because you can make on-the-spot corrections and take more photos. During his photography career, he has mentored several early career journalists. Here are some of his tips.

1. Invest in a good lens, not an expensive camera. “If you’re going to put your money into something, put it in a lens. They cost more, but the aftereffect pays off.”

2. Figure out what you need to be successful. “I suggest an average camera and at least three lenses: A wide angle, which is a 16-24 mm, a 24-70 mm, and 70-300 mm. From there, you can do anything you need to do ranging from weddings, parties or football games with those lenses.”

3. Be prepared. “If I have a job to do tomorrow, I double check all my equipment the night before. I make sure I have fresh batteries or rechargeable batteries, SD cards and lights. Everything has to be ready to go, because the worst thing you can do is get to an event and be short on something.”


Sanders’ equipment as he prepares for another event. Photo By Alexis T. Rhoden.

4. Make sure you have a quality product. “Some people rely on a lot editing, but if you do it right, there will be little to no editing. When you edit a picture, something will be missing. But your settings (should be) up to standards, which is possible if you get there early to take practice shots in that environment.”

5. People want their photos right away. “If I do a job today, people want their photos today. Sometimes they’ll be patient; sometimes not. With weddings, it’s immediate turn around. Don’t take on too many jobs that will have you backed up, and you can’t get their product (to them) on time … Whether you do good or bad work, people will judge your business.”

6. Learn how to use Photoshop. “If I do a wedding, I’m going to do it in RAW and JPEG at the same time, so if I do a really good job, I can use the JPEG photos. If I have some that need to be worked on, I’ll have it in RAW so I can change all the settings, lighting, and make the picture look the way I want it to look. It’s really just a backup. This will come into play when you’re doing a wedding. You only have one time to get that shot right.”


Sanders’ reviewing pictures he took at a wedding. Photo By Alexis T. Rhoden.

7. Outdoor shots. “Never shoot directly into the sunlight. The sun should be at your back. If the sun hits your lens, it’s going to tell the camera: ‘Hey, it’s too bright,’ and it’ll make the picture dark.”

8. Shooting in automatic or program (That’s a no no!) “I see several people now saying they are professional, but they shoot on automatic or program. That’s a no no. If I shoot on those settings, a camera does what it wants to do based on presetting. If I shoot on manual, I tell the camera what I want to do, how I want to do it, how fast I want it to shutter speed, how slow I want the shutter speed, how much light I want the picture to get. That’s what a professional does. Once you master manual, you’re on the right track.”

9. Speed light. “If you are 6-8 feet from the subject, that speed light puts a weird glow on the picture. So, now I have a light diffuser.”

10. Patience. “You have to have patience to do this. People will come at you with everything. Make sure you have a contract. For example, at a wedding, they will tell you to be there at a certain time, and they are not even ready. Then 100 pictures turns into 300 pictures. Have a contract to ensure you all have an agreement so they’ll know why the price went up and what their time frame is. You have to have a good attitude and keep a smile on your face.”

Sander’s wife, Eloise Sanders, finds joy in watching her husband live out his dream. “He has been doing it so long,” she said. “He just goes in his studio, and I don’t even bother him because I know he’s busy doing what he loves.”

Sanders said photography is his life passion, and he strives to get better daily.

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