Tag Archive: Portrait photographer

Being a “non-essential business” makes us feel a little small

April 1, 2020 Published by . Leave your thoughts

When COVID-19 lockdowns started closing businesses and obliging everyone to shelter in place in their homes, we watched our studio’s appointment calendar almost completely clear out.  And when the governor ordered “non-essential” businesses to shutter their doors, it stung a little, to be honest, since anyone’s paycheck can feel pretty darn essential once it disappears.  It’s for a heckuva good reason, of course—and we’re happy to do our part in flattening the curve and stopping the virus from spreading by postponing photo shoots and implementing new systems to keep the studio and everyone who enters it safe. 

We’re all in this same strange boat together: feeling anxious because of the pandemic, feeling concerned for our clients and their families and for the health of everyone around us, and feeling uneasy about what’s going to happen next.  Without our cameras, we’ve all been coping mostly by catching up on photo editing (or re-editing old photos just for funsies), baking bread, snuggling our pets, cleaning some closets, and otherwise keeping busy in the same ways everyone else with cleared calendars has been occupying their time.

We’re also all enduring by flexing our creative muscles.  One person at a time, we each went into the empty studio last week, put our cameras on timers, took some photos of ourselves, and used some post-production magic to be inserted into pictures of vintage cameras.  The result is a series of images that reflect how we’re feeling while we’re missing our clients’ beautiful faces and the sounds of a camera shutter going KER-CHUNK.  We’re feeling a bit like the forgotten old film cameras that have been collecting dust on our shelves.  Lonely.  Bored.  Restless.  Small.  But coping well.

Organic Headshots
Organic Headshots

Portrait photography is inherently a very social business.  We need to be around people in order photograph them, and being unable to do so is… well… making us sad.  But whenever this is all over and we’re in the studio for back-to-back sessions again or traveling to our clients’ offices when buildings are filled with people again, we’ll feel back to our old selves.  We’re looking forward to that day and to hearing all about our clients’ lockdown adventures in breadmaking.  We’re sure a lot of people will be getting back to work in different ways then, and we might be helping some people through job changes by updating their LinkedIn profile photos, and photographing companies for their marketing materials as they boost new business to make up for what was lost.

Organic Headshots
Organic Headshots
Organic Headshots
Organic Headshots

It’s unusual for it to be so lonesome in the studio: a room that’s part workshop, part laboratory, and part oasis.  A place where people come to collaborate to create images with common goals. Taking these photos alone in the still and quiet space was a somber act.  But also faintly blissful.  We’re ready to get KER-CHUNKING again when it’s time.  Until then, we’ll be cleaning our lenses and trying not to pout.  Too much.

Lens lengths and face shapes

November 12, 2012 Published by . Leave your thoughts

Last week I wrote a quick post about working with photographers who are willing and able to adjust their equipment and techniques in order to successfully get the most flattering image of you possible.  I was thinking about that this weekend when I was photographing an old friend of mine who stopped by for some new headshots, since he is about to start his own business.  I asked him to humor me for a moment as I took his photo with 3 different lens lengths to see how each lens would change the shape of his face.

As you can see, the effect is subtle, but definitely visible.  The 74mm lens seems to shrink his head and make it look narrower and pointier than it is.  He has an oval-shaped face and this lens tightens the oval and rounds his jawline too much, until it almost disappears.  The 200mm lens flattens his features and squares his jaw, but it also makes his forehead look smaller than it is and squares his jaw too much- it makes his face look square-shaped, when it doesn’t look like that in person.  It also makes his ears seem like they stick out just a little more than they do in real life.

We looked at these photos together and decided the best lens length for him was the 105mm.  It squared his jaw more than the 74mm, but not too much like the 200mm.  And it also just looked most like what other people see when they look at him, and what he recognizes as the face he sees in the mirror every day.

And that’s the most important factor: does the photo look like you?  It sounds so simple, but it’s the reason I call my business “Organic Headshots.”  Headshots should be natural, or “organic” in a way- they should convey on paper (or on a digital screen) a flat image of the real you, so when people see the photo they think, “Hey, I know that guy.  He’s awesome.  Man, he looks so friendly and approachable.  What a swell guy.”

How to be photogenic: tips from a dog

June 4, 2012 Published by . Leave your thoughts

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard, “I’m not very photogenic, so good luck taking my picture,” I would have a heck of a lot of nickels.  As a photographer, I recognize the simple fact that some people are just more photogenic than others.  Yes, that’s right.  Someone whose business is in getting paid to take good photos of peoples’ faces just admitted that some peoples’ faces look better in photos than others.  I have just admitted what we all know but don’t dare say out loud.

I’m not saying that some people are uglier than others- I believe we are all individuals with our own personal looks, styles, and ways of expressing ourselves, and in my own neo-modern-hippie way, I believe we are all beautiful.  And finding a way to translate your personal look into a great headshot people will appreciate before they actually meet you in person is the real challenge when having your portrait taken.

I believe in 2 steps to making yourself more photogenic when a camera points in your direction, and the first, most important step I learned from photographing my dog.  That step is to be yourself and relax.  My dog doesn’t give a crap what his photo looks like or even what a camera is, so he doesn’t change his face or expression one iota when a giant lens is looming over his snout.  When you have your photo taken, don’t try to aim your face at “that one angle that made my nose look great in that one photo of myself I saw 10 years ago.”  We’ve all been there, and it results in 10 years of photos of us looking awkward tilting our head in weird angles.

When you’re having your photo taken, own it- just smile, be yourself, and believe you are the beautiful, confident, capable person you know you are, and you will look beautiful, confident, and capable in your photo.  When other people look at photos of you they’re not looking at your hair, your nose, your eyebrows, or any individual feature.  They’re looking at the overall photo as a representation of you and are only determining if you seem friendly, approachable, capable, professional, etc.  Focus more on how friendly you want to look in the photo and you won’t notice anything else!

The second step in being more photogenic in my opinion is retouching.  Before any purists get upset, I’m not talking about crazy, body-image altering glamor photos that completely change an ordinary person into Cindy Crawford.  Because you still want to look like you so someone can look at your photo then pick you at a networking event.  I’m talking about maximizing the effect of the friendly, approachable photo as a whole by minimizing the effect of certain things that distract from the friendly, approachable reading you want people to get out of looking at your photo.

Taking a 3 dimensional face, which people read as 3 dimensional in person, and making it into a 2 dimensional picture, which an eye reads as 2 dimensional when it’s seen, can distort our features and enhance things we don’t usually see in person.  Our eyes filter through shadows under the nose and skin imperfections in person because we see it all the time and read right through it to get to the business of communicating with the person themselves.  But we don’t have this in-person benefit in a photo, which is a flat, artistic representation of a person.

And if anyone is aware of this it’s me- one of my eyes always looks bigger than the other in photos but not in person.  Am I supposed to say, “that’s me, but I don’t actually look like Quasimodo in person, I swear,” when I show my picture to someone who hasn’t seen me in person yet?  Nope.  And I gave up trying to squint my big eye to match my small one or angle my head in juuuuuust that right direction so they look the same size.  I’ve already got 10 years of photos of my head at weird angles.

I’m taking a tip from my dog from now on and suggest you do too: What camera?  I’m just going to sit here happy and confident and smiling and if there happens to be a record of that confidence in the form of a photo, so be it.  And if that photo happens to make those dark circles under my eyes look darker than usual, then send that thing to the retouching department!

The photo vault: ghost town photos

May 21, 2012 Published by . Leave your thoughts
Orval “Hoppy” Ray, 2006

About 6 years ago a friend and I took a random road trip to Tulsa, Oklahoma to hunt for ghost towns.  It sounds like a weird idea now and it was probably a weird idea then.  We had the notion that we would take hundreds of amazingly brilliant photos of Old West style storefronts, boarded up and with tumble weeds blowing past, and maybe even abandoned wagons and buggies or anything that looked like we might have stumbled on the set of “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.”

Instead, we found something we weren’t expecting to find: people.  We met several people still living in what the rest of the country titled “ghost towns;” towns with no post office, any open businesses to speak of, barely any public works departments, street lights, police and fire departments or any of the other things that put a cluster of buildings on a map.  Most of these towns had been boom towns of some kind- they had struck oil or zinc or some other resource, became a quick town years ago, then the population either slowly or abruptly receded when the business left the town.

The town that fascinated us both the most was Picher, Oklahoma, just against the border to Kansas.  Picher became an instantaneous town in WWI when a zinc mine opened and hundreds of thousands of people lived and worked there.  After the war and zinc was no longer needed in such quantities, the town’s population dwindled; but shot up again during WWII when the mine bustled again.  And then again, the population numbers dropped.

In the center of what used to be the heart of the town we found a storefront that was still open.  It was a pool hall/music venue/museum operated by a man named Orval “Hoppy” Ray.  Hoppy lived in Picher his whole life.  His father was a miner during WWI and he was a miner during WWII.  In one corner of the store amps and microphones were set up: every Monday some of the old timers got together and played country bluegrass music.  Hoppy complained that some old lady always came to sing and was so lousy she should probably stay home.

The rest of the store had several pool tables set up and some glass cases with mining tools, pieces of rock and ore, and tons of old photographs.  Hoppy had tacked photos all over the walls and had boxes and albums filled with photos that went back to about the time photography was invented, including large panoramas of group photos of town council members, schools, miners, and more.  He told us stories of the mine until the sun started to set, and a handful of locals came in to play pool while we talked, then joined us in looking through photos when Hoppy started to unroll long, sepia-toned panoramic shots of the first time the town was actually called a “city.”

Here’s where the story gets sad… Hoppy had terrible things to say about the Army Corps of Engineers.  He said that the mine under the town was unstable.  Huge sinkholes opened up regularly, chemicals and excess minerals had been leeching into the water supply for decades, causing illness.  The town was supposed to be an Army Corps Superfund site: where the federal government funds a massive cleanup and develops a plan to get the area back to tip-top shape.  But Hoppy claimed they were misusing the money and not making a difference.

Around the time we were there most of the residents had left but people like Hoppy who lived there since birth and wanted to see the town shine again were hanging in there as long as they could.  The town became divided: there were those who took the buy-out money the government offered to purchase their land and help them relocate so they can bulldoze the town, and those who wanted to stay put.  Apparently we had just missed an independent film crew who came through to make a movie about it.  It’s called The Creek Runs Red, and they got Hoppy to narrate it.  I saw it on PBS about a year later.

I only bring these photos from Picher out of the vault to look at them now because my traveling buddy, Josh, just sent me a link to this New York Times article today, which talks about Picher’s sister city, Treece, Kansas; and how both Treece and Picher were eventually bought out to be closed up forever.

Photos on a 52 year old camera

May 13, 2012 Published by . 3 Comments

I decided that as the weather warms up in (cold, blustery, wet, and windy) Chicago I should get out of the studio and take some fun snapshots around the town.  But after spending most of my days with a 21.1 megapixel two and a half pound digital SLR strapped around my neck this year, I kind of wanted to leave my usual camera behind this time.

Just like any good photographer… okay, let me rephrase that… Just like any unnecessarily nerdy photographer, I had about 8 or so vintage film cameras in my collection to choose from.  Should I take the 1960’s Nikon with pop-top, waist-level viewing?  Or what about the 1981 Chinon?  A lesser-known brand of its era but with some of the best optics and metering out there.

Then I remembered “Mr. Brown.”  Several years ago (okay, probably 7) a friend and I were doing some thrifting in a resale shop when I found “Mr. Brown” on a shelf wedged between some books and broken radios.  “Mr. Brown,” as I call it, is a Kodak Brownie Bulls-eye camera, manufactured between 1954 and 1960.  I bought it for $2 and haven’t gotten around to testing it out.  Until last weekend.

Jamming some film in “Mr. Brown” and testing it out remained on my to-do list for 7 years because it doesn’t eat normal 35mm film, or even normal medium-format 120 film for that matter.  Medium format 120 film is the proper size for the Brownie Bulls-eye, but it’s spooled on size 120 spools, and these cameras take 620 spools.  Which are no longer manufactured.

So where does someone go to find the proper food to feed a 52 year old camera?  A 113 year old camera shop.  I figured if anyone knew how to get a hold of 120 film on a 620 spool it would be Central Camera– the oldest camera shop in Chicago.  I’ve been going there for years, but since I packed up my darkroom (temporarily- some day, somehow, I will get it back…) I haven’t stepped through their doors in quite a while.

I asked if they had 120 film spooled on 620 rolls.
“There’s only one guy in the country who re-spools those things and sells them…” said the film guru behind the counter, “and we stock his stuff.” Of course they do.  Central Camera is awesome.  I kind of feel like I need to say that again.  Central Camera is awesome.

So last weekend “Mr. Brown” was fed his proper film food and took some of its first photos in probably decades.  Here are two of them- processed and printed by Central Camera (which is awesome).  I had them request that the lab return the extra 620 spool so I can experiment with my next adventure: re-spooling 120 film on the 620 spool myself so I can feed “Mr. Brown” regularly and do this again.