Articles about shooting portraits

First Impression… or Last

Just the other day I received a connect request on LinkedIn from someone I didn’t recognize. At first I thought it may be SPAM but I took a look anyway.  I get a lot of connect requests because of the groups I own and manage on LinkedIn, the group I created is “Photography: Clients and Professionals Network” and is geared to the professional photographer and anyone that at some point, hires a photographer. I thought maybe this person found me through that group.

The person trying to connect was also trying to sell me online photography courses which I found a bit odd. I took a look at the person’s profile image. The image was blurry, washed out, cropped way too close, and flat looking. Really?  You can’t post a decent image of yourself but you can offer me online photography courses? Do you really think that anyone is going to give you the time of day when your profile image that bad? This image was bad too, take a look for yourself below.

Needless to say this brought all the bad profile images I have seen over the years, the ones with the wife or girlfriend cropped out, the bad cell phone images, images of someone holding a drink, the ones where the person is just a tiny dot in the distance (yeah that looks great as a 150×150 image) rushing back into my mind! These images are ‘fingernails down a chalkboard” for a photographer and this guy just brought them all back in a split second (shiver).

So what is a good profile image?  For starters it should be in focus; if your image isn’t in focus, then how will I know if you have the focus to teach me anything? I can go for hours, possibly days on what a bad image is but rather than ramble on let’s ask what is a good image.

A good profile image is at least a good representation of what you look like so that when you go to a networking event or a business meeting with a potential client, or even just talk on the phone, other people will recognize you and know what you look like. Granted 150 pixels square is not a whole lot of space to work with but if you can create an image that also says what you do, even better. Many photographers have images of them with a camera in front of their face, I even did for a while, but truth be told, this is a bad idea. Holding a camera is plenty; remember I need to know what you look like.

If you are a car salesman perhaps you should be leaning on a bright shiny new car, or if you are a banker, in front of your company logo, a doctor may want to have a stethoscope around their neck, a scientist in a lab, anything that hints towards what you do. If what I am saying is true (and it is), then when I see a person that doesn’t take their profile image seriously I think they aren’t going to take me or my business seriously either.

Another consideration is that your profile image should be current, as in taken within the last 6 months to a year at the most. Keeping your image fresh means you care about how you appear to your potential clients. If you show me that you care about your business, then I am more likely to believe you care about mine too.

Facebook, twitter, your own blog or website are the same thing, keep it up to date, and keep it current. Just remember your profile image, no matter what social network it is, it may very well be someone’s first impression of you. Don’t let it be their last!

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An Arresting Smile

Recently I was hired to do a portrait shoot for a wonderful woman about to celebrate her 40th birthday. Jessica is a vibrant woman who I would have thought was much younger than she is and her images prove that. The images here are her and they are basically untouched except for size and a little color correction. The flawless smile is all Jessica.

I actually met Jessica while she was at work one evening. I was on my way home from an event where I was meeting a potential client and I stopped to get something to eat at a local convenience store  .  When I pulled up there were a couple of Philadelphia police officers there taking a break (OK, it was a doughnut shop but they didn’t go inside!) and we started talking about events that made the news that day. After a few minutes there sergeant pulled up. In that squad car was Jessica. We started talking as well and she saw my logo on the back of my car and asked if I did portrait work. A few minutes later we had set and appointment to do portraits for her birthday.

We decided to shoot at Jessica’s school Chestnut Hill College. We set the appointment for later in the day when the light would be warm and not too harsh. The weather was perfect, the light was fantastic, the grounds picturesque and Jessica was wonderful! She had a blast too. After the shoot she mentioned how much fun she had and how much she enjoyed the experience.

After the prints were delivered to her last week, Jessica called me and mentioned again how much fun she had and how empowering it was to work with me. She said that she felt beautiful and spoiling herself was such a wonderful feeling. The idea of playing ‘model’ made the fact that she is about to turn 40 an fantastic experience and one she enjoyed immensely.

That is what a portrait shoot is all about, empowering yourself, reveling in being the center of attention for an hour or two. Just enjoying who you are and how you feel. Portrait photography shouldn’t be stressful or something to fear. Having your portrait done is something to spoil yourself with and a way to savor how you feel today. The experience is all about you and it is my job to make you feel and look special.

For the record, Jessica didn’t arrest me, but her smile sure did!

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Gabe, Kate and the Old Mill

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by a friend and fellow photographer Alix Passage ( to assist her at a wedding. Alix is a fantastic wedding photographer and she and I often assist each other on photo shoots of all kinds. This wedding though was to be a bit different and Alix knew that I wouldn’t want to give up the chance to shoot this one.

These was at an old mill in south central Pennsylvania and not only were the bride and groom going to be barefoot, but the entire wedding party went without shoes. The idea of shooting a semi-formal wedding with barefoot wedding party, in the country, in an old stone building that used to be a mill, heaven! This location was beautiful! Only the bride herself was more awe-inspiring.

The mill at night

When you combine a location like that with a beautiful couple there is nothing that can get in the way of a wonderful, memory packed day. The friends and family were amazing and the bride and groom looked hopelessly in love. I am not big on weddings usually but this one tugged at my crusty old heart strings. Rather than me ramble on I will let the images tell the story.

By the creek

A moment alone

Looking at a future together


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From Business to Personal

The other day I was shooting a Portrait Party for a local business and my last clients surprised me a bit. Although the portraits were for business the last two clients also wanted to have some personal portraits done too. Smart move to take advantage of the opportunity and get a bunch of shots done all at once!

The fact that these two are a great couple and really play off each other made my job easy too, so time wasn’t an issue. That and they purposefully scheduled themselves to be the last shoot of the day which gave us plenty of time to play a bit. The images came out fantastic and I just wanted to show you how just a little bit of lighting, a little bit of personality and two great people can change the look of images taken less than a half hour apart.

Here are a couple of the business portraits we did.

And the classic Business Portrait too…

Of course I had to play with lighting a little and in this one I used the classic “clam-shell lighting”. This technique creates a great, soft light and definitely has a different feel to it than the business portraits. With those wonderful features how could I not take this shot?


We didn’t stop there. He came into the frame and with a quick shift of the softbox, a twist of the umbrella and POP! Lovers!

After the shoot they were off to the baseball game to cheer on the Philadelphia Phillies and I had to get a few more. It’s how I roll.

Is it time for you to take advantage of me at your Portrait Party?

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Tempe Tunes

I am traveling for business this week but of course I have my camera with me. When I finished my meetings today I got back to my hotel room and had a message on my room phone. I had no idea who could be messaging me. It turns out that the hotel was announcing that a musician would be playing in the restaurant this evening. That seemed like an opportunity for a shot to me!

The guests of the hotel were treated to a lovely blues singer, Nina Curri. This woman doesn’t look like your average blues singer but boy, does she sound like one!

She sang some traditional covers from Muddy Waters and Bonnie Raitt but she sang some of her own tunes too and man can she put it out there. You can follow her on Facebook, or check her out on her own site, If you get to the Phoenix area, take I10 east a ways and check out this young lady; it will be worth the ride!

The woman can sing!

And with Josephine Baker on her guitar, how can she miss?

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Super Hero Senior!

A little over a week ago in “They Grow Up Fast” I mentioned that the images there were just the beginning of the senior portrait series I would be doing with Eilis. True to my word we shot a few more in, “Senior Portraits Part II – Teenage Super Hero!” Smarter than your average parent, brighter than a star in the night sky, and bolder than a Wall Street Banker, I bring you Eilis – Super Senior!

Actually Eilis is very smart. A senior taking AP courses in her last year of high school Eilis is looking at collages all over the US and some in Canada. This young lady also knew what she wanted from the moment I met with her and her parents. Of course she wanted the traditional portraits that you saw in the previous post a couple of weeks ago. At that shoot she also knew that she wanted to include her childhood sweetheart Share Bear. Although she is a confident young woman she is also secure in herself. She knows even though grown women rarely have their picture taken with a teddy bear, she could use this time as a chance to show her as the person she is, one that is transitioning from a girl into a grown woman.

In our last shoot we were able to get “all the looks that are Eilis” according to her mother Aine. Aine is no slouch in the confidence department either and it shows when you meet her. Aine was raised in Belfast and Eilis’s father, an American who spent much of his youth in Ireland, is not one to take any gruff either. It is only natural that Eilis be a confident person as well; who can be more confident than a superhero?

Even at our planning session Eilis knew that her alter-ego is one of the superhero. From there it was only a matter of deciding which of her capes she was going to wear (yes, she has more than one). With those wonderful blue eyes and that those wonderful ginger locks it was an easy decision to go with the green cape.

Although her t-shirt said “God Save the Teenagers of America” I am pretty sure that Eilis is doing a good job already in that department. When this one graduates for high school she will move on to study law, she has already had an impressive internship with a well known defense lawyer in Philadelphia.

What can stop our superhero? What is her kryptonite; her weakness? Only Share Bear knows for sure.

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Back to School Time!

It’s not just the kids that are heading back to the classroom, I will be too. In fact the class I have wanted to teach for some time just got approved! The Mt. Airy Art Garage in NW Philadelphia has accepted my proposal for me to teach “Photography – How to shoot People Places and Things” this October. It will be three classes, two hours in length covering how to improve your portraits, how to photograph architecture or places in general, and things such as still life, you know, things! In the class you will learn how to improve your final images and you will have the opportunity to make your own table top light box.

The scheduling was literally just approved in the last day or so and you can’t even sign up yet but I wanted all my readers to be the first to know about the classes. I am keeping it super affordable too. More details to come in the next days and weeks ahead. For now, keep a few hours available on October 25th, 27th and November 1st. If you want more information, just shoot me an email at and I will get you the details as they come.

That isn’t all the back to school news I have though. I am offering special Senior Portrait packages this year too! Most seniors have to have their portraits ready by December or January so they can be in the yearbook. It’s time to schedule your senior’s portrait-whether you want to catch the last days of summer or be ready when the tress start to change, now is the time to get ready.

I know that in many households the younger (and older) siblings can be bothered by all the attention that the senior is getting when portraits are being done for their last yearbook. You can get some great images of them too. Just let me know what you want or need.

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They Grow Up Fast – Senior Portrait Time!

Last week I had the pleasure of starting the Senior Portrait season that will run through December (in most cases). Seniors typically have their senior portraits done in the fall for the following spring’s yearbook but some seniors want more of a spring or summer feel to the portrait that defines them to their classmates. This is the image that many will see for the next 20, 30 or 40 years when they look back to this time in their lives, remembering the accomplishments of high school.

That is what it is about too, memories. The images remind us of the almost ecstatic feelings we have when school is almost over! Sure there is college for some but in college you get to be your own person, or at least you hope so. School, sure, but on your terms and your schedule. Well that is the plan anyway. Reality? Well, only time will tell. For now, you are a senior!

What a better way to start the last school year than knowing that when you graduate in spring the images that will be how your friends recognize you are not only done but done the way you want them. On top of that you have until January to decide which is going to be the one for the yearbook!

The images I did of Eilis below are just the beginning for her senior portrait series. We have at least two more photo shoots to do before we can even think of being finished. We have a couple of very special shoots planned that we know will make not just the experience of the shoot memorable but her entire last year in school. You will have to come back and read a future post to learn about those shots. I promised to keep it a secret, for now anyway.

But if you are the parent of a senior it is a time of mixed emotions. Your baby is growing up and soon will be leaving the nest but at the same time they are good smart young adults and you are proud of all they have accomplished so far. They do grow up fast don’t they?

Now you are looking at photographers deciding what styles you like, and what styles your senior likes too. You want to find a photographer that is going to get the images that they want but also the images that you want too. You want to memorialize this time in their lives. Add all that up and then you want to get the most bang for your buck.

Click on the image to enlarge

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I am trying something a little new for me this year that is going to make these special images that much better, at least for the parents. For every senior portrait session that is booked by October 31st, 2012 I am going to shoot a family portrait for free. Yep, free.

This is how it works: you schedule your senior’s portrait session by October 31st and then when we are done shooting we will bring the whole family into the picture and do a few family portraits too. This will help you not only remember this special time in their lives but this special time in your life too.


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Vacation Photography

You just got back from vacation and you finally get to upload all the images you took while you were away. Excitedly you wait for each image to appear on the monitor, anticipating that one shot that you know is just perfect, the one you are planning on putting up on the wall or in a frame on your or your spouse’s desk; that one that just shows how much fun you had and how relaxed you were.  It’s coming… It should be the next one! Anticipation…. Excitement!!! And… and…

Drat. The image is blurry/fuzzy/dark/your head is cut off or that special sunset just doesn’t look like it did when you were there. AARRGGHHH!!! Alas it becomes just a memory and not a special moment to be shared.

There is a way to solve that problem; hire a photographer while you are on vacation. “Too expensive” you say? Well, not really. In the last few years digital photography has brought a ton of people into the business of photography, many of which should go back to their day jobs, which has driven down the market in price for those of us who remember the smell of hours spent in the darkroom.  Our prices have not really gone down so to speak but they haven’t gone up either.

Inflation means that prices rise but in the current economy most of our paychecks have not kept pace with that increase. That means what was once too far out of reach is actually quite affordable now. For the price of a nice meal you can spend an hour or two with a professional photographer; one that has a portfolio to back up that talent.

In the past hiring a photographer to shadow you and your family while on vacation was out of the question unless you were in the income bracket reserved for those who require champagne for breakfast to wash down their caviar. Times have changed and having a personal photographer for a day, or even the whole week, is more affordable than it has ever been. It’s not just reserved for those times on the islands or on the Florida or Southern California beaches either. People are using photographers in places like New York, Philadelphia, South Carolina, Portland (Maine and Oregon), Seattle, San Francisco and any other place you may go on vacation.

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Perhaps you don’t take the average vacation; maybe you like climbing mountains or searching out old ruins or maybe finding interesting old buildings. If it exists there is a photographer that is willing to photograph it and most likely one who wants a subject like you in the picture too. We photographers are always looking for reasons to go out and shoot those things we love and capturing you in those locations gives us a reason to get away from a computer and get out there shooting! Sure it is our profession but it is also our passion, and that is why we are good at it.

An example of a totally diverse area is Philadelphia. Here you can investigate the thousands of shops and specialty stores, learn about history, go to world class museums, and hike on a nature trail in Wissahickon Park all in the same day. If you still have energy you can even run the Art Museum steps just as Stallone did in the original Rocky. No trip to Philly is complete without a stroll through the Italian Market or a leisurely walk in Old City. The chances are that your photographer is going to know special places in the city that no vacation guide knows! Did I mention how close Valley Forge it is or how beautiful  Chadds Ford and Lancaster County are?

Imagine enjoying all that the Philadelphia area (or any vacation spot) has to offer and not having to remember your camera, not have to remember to use it, and never miss that one shot that is perfect for your desk or wall. Wouldn’t that be relaxing and isn’t relaxing what vacation is all about?

The Right Light

As a photographer I am always looking at other photographer’s work to inspire me and to learn what others are doing that is new and different in the photography world. Recently I have run across a lot of photographers that claim that they only work with “natural light” or say “I prefer the look of natural light and never use artificial lighting.” That is all well and good but what I think they mean is they don’t use studio lights or flashes. Let’s think about that for a moment.

If you only use natural light you only shoot outside, often use a tripod indoors, or shoot a lot of nature. If you shoot indoors and there is a light on you are using unnatural light; after all, anything coming from a lamp is manmade and therefore not ‘natural light’. If that works for the particular photographer that’s great!

Personally I use the right light to capture the image that I want to create. I often use flashes or other light modifiers to enhance the standard image that is created by the ambient light in a shot. Just as often I will use artificial light to create a mood or emphasize a part or all of an image. When the image I want to create calls for it I will use reflectors, bounce cards, and other things to modify the light that is already available.

The point here is that anyone who uses only one type of light may only be getting one type of result and in my case that is very limiting, and it stifles my ability to create the right image. I prefer to use whatever lighting tool is available to me to make an image say what I want it to say or convey a feeling that I need it to convey.

In the image below I have used only natural light and the image works well. The soft light in the shadows spreads an even light across Kat’s face, yet it is very bright just under the eaves of the fire escape and this allows for a great reflection in her eyes.

In this side by side image I used only a double sided reflector to modify the natural light. On the left side it appears that I did use a flash when in fact what I used was only the reflector to bounce the natural light coming from the window back onto the model’s face. On the right I used the same reflector to bounce the warm light of the setting sun back into the young woman’s face; this was to remove the harsh shadows that the bright sun was creating. In both cases the only light used was the sun and the only modifier was the 36” reflector, the left using the silver side to create a harsher light and the soft white side to create a softer fill light on the right. Is this still considered Natural Light?

To light this final image I used a combination of natural light and a single flash to gain the mood I wanted. This image is not Photoshopped other than a slight oversaturation of contrast and color. In fact if you look at the dancer you can see she has a sheen to her skin from having to jump over 40 times to get this image just right.

All of this means only one thing: that light is available to us to use and modify in any number of ways and, as a photographer, it is my job to use whatever tools I have at my disposal to make an image correctly. In my opinion if I ‘only shoot with’ anything I am limiting my opportunities to get the image you want. For me it isn’t a matter of what I use as long as I am using The Right Light.