What it Takes To Be a Good Portrait Photographer

I am sorry I was away for a while, I had too much on my plate, to be honest. But what better time to update this blog than during these difficult times caused by the coronavirus outbreak, where we, unfortunately, have to spend so much time at home.

Honestly, it hasn’t been easy, work suffers when there is a pandemic like this. Some of my clients postponed their weddings and gatherings, so there has been less demand for photographers in general. Back in December, I was meaning to do some bathroom renovations, looking at options for bathroom tiles, checking out reviews for water heaters at tanklesscenter.net…I was so excited. Needless to say, all that will have to wait now as money is tight. However, I am the type of person that always tries to look at the bright side of life, so I will use the time at home to hone my photography skills. Also, I have more time, and it’s exciting that I am back on this blog, ready to share my thoughts on photography and much more!

During this pandemic, one thing that has become increasingly important is empathy. I’m now getting older and images of empty shelves at stores have been particularly upsetting for me. I understand that citizens acted out of fear. As the country is struggling with the outbreak, gripped by panic, many started to stock up on necessities. But for those of us who weren’t fast enough, this meant going to a grocery store and finding empty shelves. So the need to find empathy with us and act compassionately towards the others, especially the senior citizens, has never been more visible than now. That is why I decided to dedicate this post yo empathy, and more precisely, the connection between portrait photography and empathy.

To be a good portrait photographer, you need a wide and long zoom lens, a tripod, or a monopod and other essential equipment. But no less essential is a thing called empathy. This is because good portrait photography is capable of conveying deep feelings just like good music or good poetry. So a good portraitist would put themselves in the shoes of the subject, to start to understand what they are feeling, what they are going through, or to understand their attitudes on life.

So how do you achieve this? You can start by trying to engage with the subjects in a way that will create space for them to feel comfortable while you’re taking photos. Avoid viewing the people you’re taking a photo of as objects, try to establish a connection with them as the one you would try to establish with a friend. You can also consider the advice by Sean Tucker. You need to be able. He suggests that portraitists should also have their own photos taken regularly. By doing so, we are reminded of what it’s like to be in front of the camera, instead of simply behind it.

Is This Getting Older?

As a portrait photographer, I have a keen eye for details. I can detect a lot about my subject the very first time I aim the camera. Over the years, I can tell if the person is happy or sad, stressed or elated. Of course, I want to elicit their best state of mind so I talk with them before any shots are taken. Sometimes I have to be funny to put them in the right mood. I also can tell a lot about the life they have lived—if they have had a hard life or an easy road. Wrinkles for example reveal age but they also show whether the subject has experienced hard times. If they worry all the time, there is usually a deep crevasse between the eyebrows. I like signs of character and traits that make a person look interesting. If I am doing a wedding portrait, it is a different matter. The bride may need some touch up treatment. I love photographers who expose the truth. This is where my craft becomes an art form.

Lately, I have been taking a closer look at my own face. I have many selfies that show how I have gotten older over the last decade. Now what do I see in the mirror? My eyelashes for one thing have really thinned out. For some women, it is their hair but mine is still thick and wavy. The years have taken a toll elsewhere. Thanks to the cosmetic industry, there is a cure for sparse lashes. Mascara is a billion dollar world. Women use it at every age starting at age sixteen on up. Apparently, makeup is a sign of adulthood for young girls. They can choose from a dozen types from flirty and doll-like to spidery and volumizing. You can enhance thickness and length in about three seconds. I think a lot of the fun is trading off the mascara results according to what you are doing that day. Every woman swears her eyes are more beautiful. They look larger when they are lined with lashes. Coated lashes bring out facial expression. They also look glamourous and sexy.

So what if you don’t have eyelashes or they are super thin? The mascara helps but there is only so much a cosmetic product can do. My goal is not just to wear this black goo, but to grow my lashes to at least a normal length. I looked around for a good eyelash growth serum and found several choices. You can try a home remedy and get the recipe on line. You can buy something in the drugstore or beauty salon that is safe for general use. I worry about the solution getting in my eye and stinging or causing redness.

Ask the professionals what type they suggest. You will get different answers. I think it is wise to read the testimonials on the Internet. There are plenty of users who want to spill the beans on every product they use. Go for it!

An Outdoor Summer Wedding

A summer wedding reception outdoors can be beautiful. There is nothing quite like it no matter where you live. The couple no doubt will select an available venue with sprawling vistas or at least ocean or mountain views. There is always something lovely to look at. The weather should be ideal, not cold at all, but possibly a balmy summer breeze or two. There is something cheerful about outdoor weddings amidst nature in all its blooming glory. You can even have the ceremony indoors and proceed to the exterior for the rest of the festivities. It all depends on the facilities chosen. I have been to country clubs on a golf course, a vineyard, a revamped castle, and a lakeside villa. June is the month for weddings for good reason. It is the time before the heat of summer but after the spring rains. Wedding planning is an art and will take time of year into consideration. If though June is mild, there can be bugs, particularly mosquitoes afoot. Even if it is not likely, you have to be ready just in case of an unforeseen heat wave. I have been to wedding receptions in gardens where flying pests seemed to be everywhere. People were constantly swatting at them and scratching their itchy skin. It doesn’t make for good wedding photos to see the guests so agitated, and aren’t photos the point of the whole event partially anyway. The memories are often more poignant then the actual day. You make a composite collage of photos that will best portray the events that have taken place.

So what to do about getting rid of mosquitos. People have given me several options. The least popular is a spray that would be toxic to the guests, and you don’t want it near any food. Another idea was to hang purchased anti-mosquito strips around the venue, but they are unsightly. You can make your own by taking large wads of cotton and dipping them in a natural repellent such as camphor before hanging them here and there. You can purchase safe products like Terminix. It will bait, kill, and collapse backyard mosquito populations by more than 90% in just 2-3 weeks. So you could pretreat the wedding reception area. This might be difficult logistically, but it would guarantee no mosquitos. Terminix Bait & Kill is the only spray that mimics a mosquito’s natural food source – sugar from plants. Mosquitoes are drawn to the sweet bait and after feeding, they stop biting you and begin to die within 24-48 hours. It sounds effective and easy to use.

It is important that you choose a non-toxic formula is safe for people, pets, and the environment and does not attract bees, butterflies and other pollinators, which it shouldn’t if used as directed. You simply spray on green foliage and/or non-porous surfaces. Two 15 oz. cans protect areas up to 5,000 sq. ft. That could cover an entire wedding reception area.

Candid Shots vs Composed Photos

I have two favorite types of photos, whether it is for a portrait session or for an event. There are candid photos, where people are doing what they would naturally be doing in that environment.It could be children on a playground or a newly married couple’s first dance. Anything that makes you feel like you are looking at a moment through your own eyes instead of a camera lens. Then there are composed photos, where the photographer has the subjects organized into some sort of order or completing an action, as in traditional family photos where everyone is gathered around Grandma. Both types of pictures have their advantages and I think that a mixture of the two works well for most situations. Although I haven’t been doing this professionally for long, I’ve been taking photographs for years and I am definitely the shutterbug in my extended family.

Candid photos are wonderful because you can really capture the spirit of a moment. As a gift, I took photos at the reception of a friend of mine, and she told me that her favorite picture—out of the three hundred I took at the reception—was one of her brother and his son. They were sitting at the table about to eat dinner, and he was putting a napkin around the boy’s neck so his little tuxedo wouldn’t get dirty. The little boy was looking up at his dad and his whole face was lit up with a huge smile.It was a really tender moment. The two of them didn’t even know I was there. If they had, they would have been looking at me instead of each other, and the moment would have been lost.

Composed photos, on the other hand, can be really helpful at a chaotic event like a family reunion where people are socializing and mingling. It can be hard to get all of the combinations of people that the client wants, so organizing people into groups will make sure that every photo they want can be captured. I made up a checklist for my paying clients so that I am sure not to miss anyone. Composed shots are also a good idea for newborn photos because sometimes the parents aren’t really sure what to do and the pictures can look forced or awkward. You can only tell someone so many times to pretend you aren’t there! I have found that parents of newborns, especially if it is their first, tend to take direction really well, though, and seem relieved sometimes to have someone telling them what to do. Or at least it has been in my experience with neighbors, family members, and friends so far!

I want to be sure to capture all the moments that my clients want but provide them with a good mix of composed and candid pictures. I also always want to get at least a few shots that catch them off guard. You know, the kind where they say, “I didn’t even know you were there for that!” Those kinds of moments always make me smile and feel like I have finally found my calling in life!

Tips for Working With Kids

Tips for Working With Kids

I have a huge extended family, so I’ve been taking pictures of children for a long time. I’ve done everything from newborn portraits to high school graduations, taking pictures of solo subjects and whole families. While there is no wrong way to take pictures of children, there are definitely ways that can make things easier for you. Here awesome things that I have found makes the job less stressful and more fun:

  • Small kids like props. Balloons are always good because they tend to look up at them instead of down at the floor. I have also found stacking blocks to be very helpful, as it keeps kids in a specific place and as the tower gets higher, their eye gaze changes so it can help you get that great shot. Nearly anything they can throw in the air—things like streamers, leaves, flower petals, or soap suds end up looking pretty amazing, too.
  • Don’t force anything. Some kids take longer to warm up to you, or in some cases the camera, and so you just have to wait. Eventually, they will decide to ignore you and start playing, which will give you the great active shots you’re looking for, or they will accept small directions. Then you are off and running! Keep things light and fun, and you will be surprised at how easy it ends up being.
  • Be prepared to crawl around or kneel, or whatever it takes to get on their level. Kids are going to be shorter than you are so their eye level will be much lower. You have to get down to their level or all your photos will be of the top of the child’s head or from afar. Once your subject is comfortable with you, get right in there. You’ll get excellent shots that way.
  • Unless they’re going to be IN the photo, tell the parents to back off. They can make the child anxious, or coax them to smile, or any number of things that will disrupt the natural flow of the session. Let them just hang back and enjoy the time “off” without acting like a stage parent. Assure them that if you need help with the child, you’ll ask for it.
  • Address the child directly if they are old enough to understand you. If they are hesitant, ask them questions. Find something out that they like from their parents beforehand, and ask them about it. You would not believe how many princess/superhero/video game conversations I have had with kids. But their faces glow and their smiles widen when they are talking about something they’re passionate about, and it can really help you both get good shots and warm them up to you.
  • Be sure you have the right lenses and use the correct shutter speed. Kids are fast. They can run far. Depending on the size of the venue you’re using, it can be impossible to get clear, focused shots if you aren’t prepared. Plan ahead. And bring extra batteries.

That’s it for now. I wish you the best of luck, and remember: have fun! It will definitely show in the final product!

My First Job!

Oh, I couldn’t wait to write this up! I just put in a print order for my first paying job!

That’s right, me!

I had been working very hard to get out there and find customers. Photography can be a very competitive business, and just putting an ad in the local paper really wasn’t cutting it. Then two months ago, I heard about a convention that was going to be an hour away. It was a wedding vendor convention, where people who are getting married can meet with all kinds of cake designers, jewelers, wedding planners, DJs, photographers like me, and just about anything else that they might need. It seemed like a perfect place to drum up some business, so I had some materials made up,  put together some of my favorite shots in a portfolio, and off I went. I handed out a lot of business cards and brochures, had a lot of people look through my portfolio, and shook a lot of hands.

A few days later, I got a phone call from a very distraught bride. Her photographer had bailed on her, and her wedding was in only two weeks! She asked if I was available, and of course, I was. We agreed on the same rate her original photographer quoted her and met up the following day. I could not believe it. First, that another photographer would cancel like that without providing some sort of cover for their client (I understand that things happen, but how could you leave a bride in the lurch like that?) and second, that the convention had actually gotten me a client, and so quickly!

The meeting went really well. I brought my portfolio so she could go through it again, and we talked what she was looking for. I learned all about them as a couple and how the cousins she hadn’t seen since she was twelve were flying in from Greece to be with her. She also let me know that her fiancé’s 90 year old grandmother would be in attendance, too. I told her to think about all the shots that she definitely wanted and we settled on some special moments, like her dress on the hanger before she put it on, her mother pinning her father’s boutonniere on his lapel, and her flower girls getting their hair done. We also worked out some group shots that she wanted me to take, different combinations of people that haven’t been together in ages: college friends, her parents and their friends, her future grandmother-in-law surrounded by all her grandchildren, things like that. I gave her a checklist with some blank spots on it and told her to write down anything she thought we hadn’t covered.

Then, the big day came. I packed up both my cameras, several lenses, and a bunch of spare batteries. I met the bride at her parents’ house, where she was getting ready. I have to say, I was extremely nervous, but once I had that viewfinder up to my face, everything seemed to slow down and it went so smoothly. The bride was beautiful, the wedding was very elegant, and the guests had a great time. The whole thing was a joy to photograph. I could not wait to go home and pull all the photos up on my computer.Not to brag, but they came out fabulous. I was so excited to show the newlyweds, but my husband gently reminded me that they had other things going on. So I uploaded them to a secure photo share site and sent the bride a link the next morning. She loved them too. She and her new husband came by to pick out their favorites and put together a book.

So there you have it—my first real photography job was a success!

Choosing a Photographer

Choosing a Photographer

Choosing a photographer for your portrait session or event can be a daunting task. I will try to break down some things to be on the lookout for to help you feel comfortable making a good choice.

First, check websites. Most photographers will have a ‘teaser’ gallery that serves as an online portfolio. Do they seem well-versed in the type of photography you are looking for? Check to see if there is updated pricing information or a contact form to request an estimate. This will give you a good idea of the quality of their work, and will give you an idea of the relative costs compared to other photographers in your area so you can allocate your budget accordingly. Once you have a few contenders, make appointments to meet with them after checking their availability for your date, unless of course, you are flexible.  While you’re waiting for the appointment day to arrive, jot down any questions you’d like to ask. For example, how long they’ve been taking pictures professionally; do they provide prints, enlargements, or negatives, and if so how much they cost; what their services usually cover. Bring your questions with you to the meeting.

Second, at the meeting, ask the following two questions: if they are insured—and the answer needs to be yes, or else you should not hire them—and to see a portfolio. Here you will be able to get an idea, not just of the quality of the photos but the quality of prints you will likely receive. Are the photos impressive? Were they all taken by the same photographer, preferably the one you are meeting with, or are they a collection of photographers employed by the company? Do they strike you as the type of pictures you would like to have? Does it look like there are pictures from more than one event? Ask about shots or locations that intrigue you if you are looking for places for a photo shoot. Check out the type of photo albums and frames they use, if applicable. Be sure you are happy with the quality of any samples. You can also ask for references. If they aren’t willing to provide them, run.

Third, be sure that you “click” with the photographer. It may seem silly because you may love their work or they are in your price range, but this is someone you need to be comfortable with. They will be interacting with you, your family, friends, or children. If they are photographing your wedding, they may be seeing you only partway dressed! If they are rude or unprofessional, it will likely come up again the day of your session. You don’t need to feel like you’ve found a long lost BFF, but you have to choose someone that you will be able to tolerate following you around very closely—sometimes for hours! You want to feel at ease with their personality and professionalism, and walk away feeling like the photographer both understands your needs and has the ability to deliver on it.

Fourth, if you think you have found the “one,” read the contract and understand the logistics. Most professional photographers will have a contract for you to sign. It protects you as the client just as much as it protects us. Be sure you are comfortable with all of the terms. Also, understand what the cancellation fee is, and what your rights are to the images that will be taken. Some photographers will make you wait for a release or for negatives so that you will purchase prints and enlargements directly from them so find out how long it will take to receive your photos and whether you will be receiving digital prints or physical copies. Discuss how long the photographer plans to be present at your event, or how many hours they think your session will take, and put it in the contract. Know whether or not there will be an assistant photographer present, and what their responsibilities will be for your event. Ask about any staff qualifications also. Find out if they have a backup in case of illness or other emergencies. These things may seem bothersome now, but will help you rest assured that you will be getting what you pay for on the day of your session.

Good luck on your search, and I hope this helps!

Must-Take Shots for Weddings

Must-Take Shots for Weddings

I am always nervous at weddings because I am afraid I will miss those (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime moments for the couple. I thought it might be helpful to me to write out some of the traditional shots to take, and maybe it might be beneficial to you as well, whether you are a fledgling photographer like me or if you are engaged and looking for what to ask your photographer to take.

  • Getting ready shots: the bride’s dress; her bouquet; the first time her bridal party/her parents see her completely ready. The groom and his groomsmen getting ready, too. This tends to be the best time to get the groom and best man together for photos. The bride and her father in the limo.
  • The ceremony: interior and exterior shots of the location, and any decorations set out. The family and bridal party walking down the aisle, the groom’s face as the bride walks down the aisle, ashot of the bride from the front and the back walking down the aisle, bride’s escort giving her away. Any special moments like candle lightings, the readers, and the officiant during the service. Wide shots of the couple during the ceremony, close ups of the couple’s hands during the ring exchange. The kiss, the couple as they walk back down the aisle together, the receiving line, the couple leaving the ceremony site together. Signing the marriage certificate.
  • Between the ceremony and reception: group shots of the bridal party and their families, to include bride and groom with bridesmaids, bride and groom with groomsmen, the bride and her family, groom and his family, the couple with both families.
  • The reception: interior and exterior shots of the location, and any decorations set out like place cards, place settings and centerpieces, also the gift table. The cake table and sweetheart table if there is one. The bridal party introductions. Bride and groom first dance, dance with the bride and her father, and the groom and his mother, the bridal party dancing. The cake cutting. Toasts and speeches, both of the speaker and the couple’s reactions. I also try to get various shots through the reception of everyone dancing and having a good time.

This is not an exhaustive list of photographs by any means, but a good guide of go-to shots. The average wedding for me includes around 300 to 500 photos, so there are definitely variations of these pictures plus spur of the moment candid shots and other types of things. I try to look at everything from the point of view of the couple I am working for: what things would they want to have as memories? Thinking from that angle tends to guide my lens.

I have this all printed up as a checklist with plenty of blank lines underneath to give to clients. This way, the couple can give me other shots that are unmissable and don’t feel like they have to follow me around the day of their wedding to dictate every move I make. I don’t even want them to think about me being there, honestly! They should just be enjoying their day.

So there you have it, my usual go-tos for weddings. What do you think? Did I leave anything out?