The importance of makeup, hair and wardrobe stylists

March 21st, 2012 — 11:58am

Most personal photography is done without professional hair, makeup and wardrobe styling.  These services are, however, essential when doing an editorial or commercial shoot for a business.   In this post I’d like to suggest that you consider using a professional for makeup, hair and wardrobe when comissioning your portrait.

While a woman being photographed can do basic makeup and hair prior to the shoot and her own and the images can look good,  bringing a professional can make a huge difference.   The best makeup artists and hair stylists understand the requirements for photography - doing makeup for a party and doing makeup for a photo session require different approaches and skills.   When doing makeup for photography the makeup artist needs to be concerned with reflectivity of different products - having shimmer, for example, can be a problem because it’ll create unwanted specularity.  Glossy makeup may be important in darker skin to create highlights.  In other words, the photographer may have specific requirements for a makeup artist to make the best of a specific photographic approach and a specific skin type.   Similarly with hair and wardrobe, considerations about color palette, patterns, consistency with makeup and type of lighting used, are very important to get the best possible image. A wardrobe stylist can choose the perfect outfit, accessories, jewelry, etc for the lighting the photographer has chosen and the makeup being used.   In other words, working with a team can make a good set of images into a fantastic set of images.

While you may think that adding all these services will make the photography session too expensive, think again.  Often a makeup artist will be able to do hair styling as well, and even help with accessories and wardrobe styling.   The cost of a good makeup artist is really justified by the difference it makes in the final product.   Whenever you need an important portrait, insist that a professional help with makeup, hair and wardrobe, in addition to the capable photographer.   It’s the only way to make your images magazine worthy!   

Make up, hair, wardrobe by Keri Strong

In this image above, created last Sunday, Keri Strong provided makeup and hair and also selected the wardrobe for the shoot.  She’s very professional and a pleasure to work with.   You can find her on Facebook  

Not only are the results more professional, but a makeup artist can create a look that is different, unique, strking.  In the image above Keri used her experience and expertise to recreate the style of the 1950 - hair, makeup and even the dress.  The results are stunning and surpass what a normal portrait would do for you.

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Types of portraits

March 8th, 2012 — 12:55pm


Portraits can be broadly classified into two types according the role of the surroundings in the picture:  (1) environmental portraits, in which the surroundings play a critical role in defining the subject’s profession or vocation; and (2) “classic” portraits, where the sitter is the only subject and the background and environment don’t add much to the story. 

Another way of classifying portraits is based on whether the subject is (1) aware and cooperating with the camera, as in a “posed” portrait; or (2) a capture of a candid  moment with the subject being seemingly unaware of the presence of the camera.   Sometimes candid photos can be fabricated, instead of capture – the photographer convincingly shows the subject in an unguarded moment, but the subject is perfectly aware of being photographed.  


We can summarize these types of portraits in the following table:





Environmental, posed portraits

Classic, posed portraits


Environmental candid portraits

Classic candid portraits (uncommon)


The boundaries between these types of portraits are fuzzy.  For example, a classic posed portrait may provide a hint of an environment, like a prop, without it being fully environmental.  A good example would be the famous American West portraits Avedon made against a white background.  There is no environment to speak of,  but the clothes and objects the subjects hold give important clues as to their occupation or the location. 

In my photography I am very aware of these distinctions, as they define the techniques required to produce the portrait.  These categories provide the basic decision-making framework for the photographer to work with his or her subject to get a meaningful, compelling portrait.

I see many photographers that favor a type of portrait that has an obvious environment, like a public park, but this environment does not in any meaningful way connect with the subject(s) of the portrait.  It’s just convenient to take pictures in a public park at the golden hour.  While this will often produce pretty pictures, they fall a bit short on the story telling aspects – the location does not provide us with context about the subject – it’s a content-neutral context, as in the classic portrait, but it does contain a lot of information that can distract from the main subject.

In my work I like to do all these types of portraits, and I avoid situations where the environment exists but it’s not meaningful.    Furthermore, I tend to use these styles quite different for portrait commissions and for stock people photography, in the following manner:





Commission, stock

Commission, stock (business)





I tend to favor a more posed approach whenever someone commissions a portrait for their wall or photo album.   These portraits tend to show the subject looking at the camera, either in their environment, like home, or doing what they enjoy, or in a formal environment, where the focus is on their physical features and hopefully personality.   While I often use this approach for stock images, I tend to favor a more candid style for stock, so that I can more clearly illustrate human feeling or emotion.

Breaking the rules

Breaking the rules

Like everything in the arts, these categories above are guidelines, but not rigid prescriptive rules for creatives.  In the portrait above I do use a natural setting to help me tell the story - the beauty of late afternoon light,  wild flowers and a young woman echo the beauty of the music she’s playing but we can’t hear.  The environment helps convey the idea of beauty and compensates for what the image cannot do, which is to offer us the music directly.   So it’s an environmental portrait but it’s more conceptual than direct.  It’s posed because I worked with the musician on his position with respect to the lights and the camera, but the viewer hopefully doesn’t see the pose, only the reflective moment in which she connects with her music.


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Honesty in portraiture

February 29th, 2012 — 11:40am

Portrait photographers routinely deal with an issue I am going to call “honesty in portraiture” -  it has to do with the answer to the questions “How faiththfully does the image capture the subject’s personality and uniqueness? How true is the portrait?” -  the answer to this question has a couple of angles.

First, the photographer strives to capture expressions and a “persona”  that honestly reflects the person being photographed.  That is, the photographer makes it possible for the subject to be genuine in front of the camera. While this may sound easy and obvious, it is not simple at all.  The reason is that, in general, people behave differently in front of a camera manned by a stranger.  It is the photographer’s job to put his or her subjects at ease in an artificial situation and make it possible for them to show their true selves.

This image below of a father with his boy, which I created just a few days ago, does convey a sense of authentic and genuine closeness.  I used a white background to eliminate all distractions and added the bright colors to help convey a sense of upbeat energy.  I worked on making the boy and the Dad comfortable, and I believe the images does show them as they are:

A father and his son

The other important aspect of honesty has to do with digital manipulation.   We photographers are expected to make our subjects look their best, within the parameters of an honest, genuine portrait.  But “making our subjects look good” becomes a very open-ended task with the many digital manipulation techniques we have available today.  Not only is it possible to remove skin blemishes but also change bone structure and change skin texture.   While these techniques make it possible to make anyone look younger and healthier,  they also move against the spirit of genuine honesty that a good portrait should have.   My personal reference is to use light to accentuate or “hide” my subject’s body features, and to use digital manipulation in a very limited manner, so as to maintain my subject’s genuiness.

Of course, it’s possible to  move from making a portrait of a specific individual to making an illustration of an idea.  This illustrative approach removes all the constraints and replaces genuine honesty with an idealized depiction of the person.   I tend to use this approach when the image is no longer presented as or expected to be a portrait of an individual - for example stock imagery.

Here below is an example of a photo illustration that uses heavy use of postprocessing to convey the image of beauty over 30:

Beauty over 30

Beauty over 30

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Telling stories with images

February 21st, 2012 — 11:04pm

As a people photographer I need to worry about lots of different things when I am creating images.  On the technical side I need to make sure that the exposure is correct, the lights are properly placed to create the desired effect, all the settings on my camera are what I want, and  the relative intensity of multiple lights are all within spec for what I need.  On the creative side I need to worry about composition, perspective, shapes, lines, foreground and background - also need to make sure that the color palette used makes sense, and that there are no elements distracting or not contributing to the work.  Furthermore, I need to be concerned with my subject’s expression, making sure I am engaging him or her and there is genuine emotion and human interest in the image.

As if all these considerations were not enough, the photographer has to really worry about the story telling aspects of the image.  Story telling is not something that requires a sequence of images - although traditional photo essays do use a layout of multiple images to tell a story about something.   It’s also important to apply the term “story telling”  to a single image.   And what I mean by this is the answer to the question “what is this image about?”  - for example, consider this photo of my daughter doing her geometry homework:

What is this image about?

The answer to the question “What is this image of” is simple and factual - it’s a photo of a girl, about nine years old, sitting at the table and working with paper, pencil and a compass, with a fireplace in the background.  The girl is not looking at the camera.    This answer doesn’t tell us what the image is about.

Story telling has to do with the universal feelings, emotions or intellectual responses to an image.  It has to do with how we connect personally with what the image represents.   We can say that the image above is about education and learning, about healthy children doing their work, about the importance of mathematics for children, including girls.  The story is what we conclude looking at the work - hopefully what we conclude is what the photographer expected us to conclude - this is what I call targeted story telling - there is a message and the viewer gets it.  Sometimes the story in an image is open ended and ambiguous, open to interpretation, requiring the viewer to fill in his or her interpretation based on his or her own experiences and backgrounds.  For example, this image below, named “Polyphemus”  contains a story, but the story is neither obvious nor the same for everyone:

What is this image about?

What is this image about?

Does an image of a person, a portrait, have to contain a story? Does it have to be about something?  My answer to that question is most definitely yes.  A portrait must communicate something about the subject beyond his physical appearance.  A capture of facial features is what we expect from a passport photo.  A real portrait must be about the subject in a very personal and unique way.  Next time you look at an image, or you are the subject of an image, ask yourself - what is this image about?  And hopefully there is an answer, or more, available to you.

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Light and the human face

February 20th, 2012 — 8:22am

The human face is remarkable in its ability to express emotions. Sometimes a slight change in a muscle  takes the face from inescrutable to open and friendly. We people photographers are in the business of externally describing a person’s uniqueness. To do that we use several different approaches: eliciting different facial expressions, placing our subjects in a location that says something about them, and sometimes we simply use light to help us define personality and character.  Neither one of which is normally visible, but can be brought to the surface by the power of light to define moods.  Mood is not the same as personality, of course, but when we create a mood with light and other photographic symbols, the viewer infers something about the sitter’s personality from visual cues.

Consider this portrait that i created today:

Dramatic headshot

Dramatic headshot

Here the light, black and white finishing, and, of course, the serious expression, combine to create a more dramatic, theatrical headshot.  This is not a portrait of a pretty face, but an actor’s face showing character.   The light creates darks shadows on the face while chiseling it with highlights.

A completely different headshot is presented here below:

Sensitive headshot

Sensitive headshot

I use the word “sensitive” with this headshot because the drama and strong character present in the previous photo are gone; here we have a color headshot, using softer light and in color.  Plus the orientation is horizontal instead of vertical.  The subject is here presenting a softer, more sensitive side.

When I work on a portrait or headshot for an actor, we discuss ahead of time the type of images we want to create, to make sure we’re both on the same page as to the concept and what’s required to bring it to life.

1 comment » | Technical, Uncategorized

Finding and making light

February 19th, 2012 — 2:40pm

My apologies to my poor blog, I have neglected you for almost a year.  And I didn’t even make a New Year’s resolution to keep you up to date! But I found some time today waiting for a shoot and decided to update it with a short entry.  This will make it psychologically easier to add more interesting entries.

As a photographer my raw material is light.  Light falls on my subjects and is reflected by them in interesting ways… it is this reflected light that is captured by my camera’s sensor and creates an image.  Some subjects are greedy and keep the light they receive - black surfaces are the worst.  Some subjects are very generous and give back most of the light that falls on them… blinding snow is an example of such a surface.   People as subjects are somewhere in between,  reflecting a percentage of the light they receive.  It is up the photographer to use light in a way that says something about his or her subjects.

I divide light into two categories based on how this light happens.  The first category is what I call “found” light - it’s light that is out there, free for me to choose and use.  Found light is all around us - the photographer’s job is to keep his eyes open to find it and then use it well.  Found light is a gift, and my most favorite type of light! One of the reasons I like it is that I don’t need to carry any type of lighting equipment, just my eyes and my camera.   Found light can also be weak, or hard to get to…. it can be beautiful but with the wrong direction for what we need… so… it’s often the case that found light can be tricky to harness.

The other category of light is manufactured light.  This is the light that we create or bend for our purposes.  Found light can be transformed into manufactured light using light modifiers - for example a mirror manufactures light by reflecting the sun in a very concentrated and intense way.  Or a studio lamp simply creates light when there is no sun, using electricity as its power source.   Photographers tend to either love manufactured light or despise it.  How come?  Manufactured light in the hands of a competent photographer allows creating a vast range of options and feelings - from low key drama to high key energy.  On the other hand, when the photographer hasn’t mastered the principles of light, flash can be a frustrating experience and horrid pictures.   It really pays to learn to manufacture light and doing it helps us tell our stories.

Photographers don’t need to limit themselves to either type of light - in some cases we use both at the same time - we find nice light, but we add to it, or change it to suit our purposes.   This is one of the areas of photographic lighting I really enjoy - working on location with available light but imparting my personality and vision to the subject by incorporating manufacturing light as well.

In this blog entry I give an example of found light and another of manufactured light.  Then I offer a third example of mixed found and manufactured light.

Found light at the gym

Found light at the gym

This example above shows a location image lit only by a row of windows in front of the stationary exercise bikes.  The light on the older gentleman is beautiful and, with the camera focus, helps make him the main subject of the image.  The other subject is the gym and people using it - this subject is the environment where the main subject is placed.  The light here is protagonist and a key ingredient of the story - it highlights, pardon the pun, our subject.

Dramatic studio light

And here above is an example of studio lighting, all of it is manufactured. The studio flashes are carefully positioned to create a style that reminds us of TV from the 1950’s.  Also, the quality of the light, with darker shadows helps create a ’studio’ feel,  as opposed to a normal, naturally lit space.

Manufactured light mixed with found light

This third and final image is an example of a hybrid lighting approach.  The light hitting the skyscrapers, the flag, the streets is sunlight, either direct sun or in the shade.  But the light that makes the model stand out is a flash positioned to camera light; it is the light that creates the catchlights on her sunglasses, pretending to be the direct sun - she was actually in the blueish shade, but the flash makes her stand out.

There you have it, different types of lights for different uses.

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The bayblade warrior

March 20th, 2011 — 9:12pm

The bayblade warrior

If you have a boy in elementary school you probably know about this latest craze, bayblade tournaments played at a small plastic stadium. Bayblades are spinners made of different materials and styles that compete against each other until one or both run out of stamina. It’s quite fun.

My boy asked me to take a cool photo of him playing bayblades, after our trip to Target to get one. His stadium is bright orange and semi translucent, so that gave me the idea of making a picture with an orange theme. Here is the result, and details on the lighting follow:

This image was created using four portable flashes:

  1. The key light is an old SB-24 with a home made snoot made out of cinema foil pointing down at him from camera left. That’s creating the light on his face and his right hand. It’s harsh light hence the dark nose shadow.
  2. There is a background light, another SB-24 with a Roscolux orange filter pointing up and towards the black foam core background about three feet behind Pablo.
  3. The third light is a SB800 actually under the stadium shining thru it. To make this happen I have the stadium resting on a large cardboard box with a circular hole I cut, slightly smaller than the stadium. I have a flash inside the box pointing up and sending light thru a piece a rip stop nylon taped to the hole. This light is creating the glow around the bayblade stadium.
  4. Finally there is another SB800 with a piece of cinema foil as a flat snoot projecting light to illuminate the Bayblade brand name - without this light the light shining from behind would have made the sign quite orange, and I wanted it to be visible.

There you have, a bayblade warrior at play! 

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Story telling

January 29th, 2011 — 1:28am

This year I want to focus my photographic attention on creating images that tell stories.   Using photography to convey a message is not something that I do well, but I would like to improve, so I gave myself story telling as an area of  dedicated focus this year.  I wanted to share an example of how the photographer can create images with more or less story telling content from a single context.

Tonight I photographed my children playing with their iPods - I didn’t have a specific idea in mind initially, just wanted simple images of life at home.   Here below is a first image:

Children at hime

Children at hime

This image above is pleasant, shows clearly the two children in a home setting and it shows that they are holding their gadgets.  However, it falls a bit short on the story telling department for a couple of reasons.  First, they are not engaged with their toys - they are posing for the camera, and this makes the image more about the interaction between the children and the viewer than between each child and his or  her toy.  Also, it’s hard for the viewer to discern a clear message coming from the picture.



This second image, a candid, has more story telling content, as it shows the children interacting with their players, seemingly unaware of the presence of the photographer.  The story is about children and their electronic toys - so now we have a theme for the picture, but we still don’t have a story, as there is no message or specific point of view conveyed by the image.



Now we are getting somewhere.  The iPods cover their faces and make it impossible for them to connect with the viewer, and they are isolating themselves from the viewer by their widgets.  They are also isolating themselves from each other even though they are so close to each other… The photo has a theme, children and electronic toys, but it also has a point of view and a message - a visual story that speaks about the dangers of letting children get caught in the alternate reality of electronic games and other devices.

The subjects are the same, the lighting is the same, but in this case, it is the pose that provides the symbols for story telling.

Comment » | Photo Sessions

Emotions and light

January 26th, 2011 — 1:08pm

We as photographers use light as our main ingredient for image making.  Without light there is no photograph, and light plays a very direct role in the emotional response one has to an image.   At the most basic level light is necessary for a correct exposure, but the impact of light and lighting on the making of a photograph goes much the physics of image making and into the message and emotional content of the photo.   Depending on the quality of the light, harsh or soft, shadowless, or dramatic, concentrated or filling, a portrait produces very different impressions on the viewer.

In addition to light at the time of exposure,  color and tonal manipulation as part of digital processing are critical elements in defining the mood of a photograph.   Hard contrast, combined with hard light, creates a raw feeling, whereas soft, low contrast light is soothing and pretty.

I show a couple of examples here from a recent shoot.

Pretty headshot

Pretty headshot

This first image above uses delicately soft light created with a very large octagonal softbox.  Note how shadows are low contrast and soft, while at the same time the light contours the shape of the face and produces a pleasant impression of three-dimensionality or volume.  The message that the simple composition, designer glasses and carefully done makeup send is that of calmness, self-confidency and beauty.



This second image above of the same model is the opposite.  A white background is used, but instead of using soft, gentle light, harsh lights have been used - they generate high contrast shadows projected against the white background.  The shadows are not only very visible, but the upper body shadow is disjointed from the lower body shadow, as two different flash heads were used for this effect.  The gradation of light to shadow on her face is really harsh, almost as an illustration - due to additional contrast added in postprocessing.  The mood here is drama and raw sensuality, as opposed to soft femininity.

The photographer can use light to help define the emotional content of a photograph, not only to create the exposure.   The “quality” of light is decisive in defining the mood of an image.

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Visual stories from Spain

January 7th, 2011 — 9:16pm

I spent the last three weeks in Spain with the family - a very enjoyable experience for all of us. Photography was not the main purpose of the trip, as it was more of a family visit, but I took my D700 with the 35mm f/2 and the 85mm f/1.4 and carried the camera in a small bag wherever I went.

In 2011 I want to focus mostly on story-telling photography, still with a focus on people, but less so on pure portraiture. I kept that in mind when I was photographing in southern Spain, and I wanted to share some of those images along with the context for the story.I am not as interested in technical feedback on the images as I am on your emotional or intellectual response to them - do the images speak to you or move you in some way? do they make you want to know more? Technically all the images are done with ambient light, and in some cases with a pretty high ISO.

1. Flying over me. This place in Seville is popular with kids and families, as the birds are used to people feeding them and only fly away when some dog gets assertive with them. This is what happened here, and I simply pressed the shutter as the doves started to fly towards me. This images speaks to me of the old fashioned parks in Europe, like this one built in 1929.

2. Skipping horse manure. Spaniards, including children, dress well. Here I captured two sisters with their pretty coordinated outfits maneuvering around horse manure from horse carriages in this historic district in Seville. I liked the contrast between their preppy looks and the dirty streets.

3. Rowing with suspicion. Seville built a massive square for the 1929 World Expo, the Plaza de Espana, which has been recently renovated and people can again rent a boat and row in the semicircular pond around the plaza. I caught this family rowing and they caught me too. I liked the suspiciousness in their faces, especially the boy.

4. Last goodbye. This was hard to watch. I was strolling in Carmona, a town near Seville, where the toll of bells spoke of death. I approached the group of people waiting outside a church, where a funeral limo was waiting. Eventually the relatives of the deceased appeared, and much to my surprise, the driver of the limo did as well, carrying a small white casket by himself. These two images capture the moment in which the tiny casket is placed in the car and the grief of the mother.

5. Sand lipstick. Taken in the Mazagon beach, a beautiful stretch of sand. I loved the absurdity of the older woman applying makeup while the sand truck was coming. The only story here is whatever we want to fabricate.

6. Living on the edge. With the economic boom in Spain immigration has greatly increased, especially from Latin American countries. Making a living in Spain these days is tough, as the economy has turned sour and unemployment is rampant. One way to try to make a living is selling stuff on the streets, but permits are nearly impossible to get, and vendors are constantly harassed by local police. I think this image shows how nervous the vendor is, watching out for trouble.

7. Spanish pride. This couple lives in Vejer de la Frontera, a beautiful white village in Cadiz. They rent a room in a tenant house that was built adjacent to the Moorish city wall. In fact, they hang their laundry to dry on top of one of the wall towers, which makes for a funny tourist experience - big underwear hanging next to 700 year old stones. Here the man of the house shows his pride and his wife to the camera.

8. Maintenance. There is some ambiguity in this capture of a couple of guys fixing their horse carriages. They are actually changing one of the horse shoe’s in the middle of the street, but it looks as if they are concerned with the thin tire around the cart wheel. I spent some time talking with them and suggested that they charge tourists for picture taking, as it would be more profitable than waiting for passengers. They looked at me funny at first, and then they immediately saw the truth in my proposal and started to discuss how to place a sign requiring tourists to make 1 euro to take pics of their tired horses.

9. Tapas bar at noon. This is the interior of Bar Tino in the heart of Sevilla, a tapas bar that’s been there since the time of the Romans  The bar has a terrance outside where people sit to have some food and wine, and also a counter whence I took this photo.

10. Freshness between the Virgen and St. John. This photo was taken at the Triana Market, where they sell the freshest seafood. This shop keeper was helping her customers with a smile on her face. On the back wall I noticed two religious images, the Virgin Mary, and the Spanish Saint John of the Cross. There is quite a bit of traditional religious fervor in this Triana neighborhood.

11. Fishing village in Portugal. Not much of a story telling picture, but it does reflect the calm and simplicity of living in a fishing village by the ocean. This picture was created in Tavira, Portugal, where I had the most wonderful seafood lunch I can remember.


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