By Tom Ray
What I learned from a mentor that enabled me to go from an amateur photographer to a professional portrait photographer in very specific steps is something I like to pass on. Rather than spending countless hours in classes learning every possible detail, I learned just the necessary specifics and now I work out of my home full time and have been in business for over 17 years, but I started out with practically nothing; just an interest in photography and the need to earn more money.
For one thing, my mentor taught me the Three Classic Elements to produce “salable portraits.”
“Salable” is an industry term every photographer quickly becomes familiar with to distinguish between the everyday reality of making money versus creating those “artistic competition” or “award winning prints” which don’t earn the money.
I’ve been in the business for over 17 years now and I’m still amazed that:
People don’t buy the award winning prints that you see wearing many of the ribbons at professional photography conventions.
When my clients are faced with the choice of buying an artistic pose of their child being demure and not looking directly into the camera or buying a pose smiling close-up straight into the camera, they buy the smiling close-up every time.
Not very original, but I’m telling you now so take note:
Happy people whose faces you can readily see are the most salable prints.
They’ll never tell you this at a photography workshop, seminar, Annual Convention or at a photography institute because their job is to create award winning photo artists rather than people whom simply make a living, but…if you haven’t learned all the fancy lighting techniques, then you’ve saved time because the most important thing about light is having enough to keep the face out of the shadows.
People prefer any kind of light, as long as there is enough of it to light the face and eyes so you can get a good look at the person!
The quality of light people prefer for portraits is soft light, whether it be from an artificial source like a flash umbrella or a natural source from the sky at sunset, but other than a soft quality of light they want enough of it to SEE the face of the person you’re photographing, even if it is a flat almost straight on technique.
You may not win any competitions or awards this way, but if you get plenty of light on the faces you’ll create salable prints.
This leads me to talk about fill flash. There are times outdoors when you’ll need a flash on your camera to fill in dark shadow areas mostly in the eye sockets. Just use one f stop less flash than the existing ambient light calls for. That’s enough light to fill the shadows and don’t worry about not lugging around a portable umbrella to get the perfect modeling technique.
My mentor is right again: there is no change in the sale. The customer pays for well lit faces, not perfect modeling. I’ve tried it both ways and the customer buys the same amount of pictures in the same sizes no matter what you do.
Element number Two: Body Positioning.
This is a little more detailed area, but it is important, believe me.
My basic education from my mentor began with the same advice I’ll pass on to you:
You should rarely photograph anyone straight on.
The exception to this rule will be for family and large groups, which for reasons of body placement will often break this rule. But for individuals or smaller groups of people this rule applies.
Now, when you’re not just photographing a head and shoulders close-up you’ll have to understand other aspects of body positioning that makes people want to buy their pictures. Hands. They should always be turned slightly so they are seen from the edge with fingers together, or hide the hands altogether behind your subject or somebody else next to them. Never position hands straight on with open fingers.
Simply put, anything that minimizes how much hand you see works to make it a better portrait. This is always more flattering in a portrait and you’ll see they are the ones people buy.
Crossing legs at the ankles refines the pose and minimizes this area of the body making it more appealing.
Look at it this way, what’s less of a distraction: two legs leading to two ankles leading to two feet — or two legs blending into one ankle section with blended feet? Surely it’s the latter.
When standing, one cannot simply cross their ankles unless they have something to lean against, so I will have one foot in front of the other in such a way that they taper into one general unit. Have them place their weight on the back leg (remember, they are at a slight 3/4 angle) and bring the front leg forward and slightly tilt the foot to face out toward the camera.
Whenever I’d show my mentor my portraits that I was just unsure of, it was these recurring themes that he patiently pointed out to me.
As I began to look for these simple things during my portrait sessions,my pictures got better!
I can’t stress enough how basic, but important, it is to watch for these details.
I have people come to me who went to the contract photographer for their High School Senior yearbook portrait and disliked their picture. They want me to take one that they can proudly give out to friends and family. Usually the problem with the pictures I’ve seen is that the photography school graduate “intern” who works for the contract photographer took the photo without paying attention to some minor detail. I get it right and my reputation grows from “fixing” the contract photographer’s mistake.
The techniques for salable body positioning are what you look for in any pose you try whether close-up or full body.
When photographing people full body standing, seated or reclining on the ground, noticing body angle, hands and feet is the way to “fine tune” your portrait and distinguish it from just a “snapshot”.
Lastly, I must share my favorite body positioning tool that makes it so easy to make a better portrait than someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing: the head tilt.
A woman alone tilts her head just slightly in either direction to make a more stunning portrait. A man’s head can stay straight up or tilt slightly away in the opposite direction from his most forward shoulder but never back towards his most forward shoulder.
Element number Three: Salable Composition
There are many compositional techniques in many books, but it doesn’t take all that knowledge to make portrait compositions that are what the typical consumer considers good enough to call professional.
Once you know what the consumer considers salable, you will be able to reproduce it again and again for other clients. You also will thank me for saving you from thinking that in order to be good enough to sell portrait photography you have to create grand artistic images. You just have to know what works and be able to repeat it for the friends of your clients whom will be getting your business cards by way of referral.
When photographing one individual person, it’s so simple I don’t think you need too much input for that. In fact, I believe you know the naive simplicity with which you thought “hey, I can do this for a living” after taking some portraits of a friend or family member. Yet it truly gets challenging when there is more than one person involved.
I know of a local professional who has referred family portrait clients to me as she specializes in children outdoors. Do you know what that really means? It means she’s intimidated by having to do groupings, but that’s okay, most people are.
So here’s the rule of salable composition:
Keep everybody’s head at a different level.
Like I told you, I didn’t have a fancy College degree so my mentor had to keep it simple enough for me. In some cases, you will recognize that it’s not possible, but if you do your best to stagger head height from individual to individual, you will be creating professional looking images.
You will stand some people, seat some in chairs, seat some on the arms of chairs, seat some on the floor, kneel some, crouch some, lay some down, but you will achieve staggered head heights and salable compositions.
Tip heads inward toward one another for unity when photographing a family group.
Note that men are usually positioned higher than women.
No, I’m not aware of being a chauvinist pig, but I am aware that this is what usually sells. Not the images where mom’s higher than dad but where dad (even if he’s actually shorter!) is positioned just a head or so above mom.
Once you understand the rules, you can bend them where you need to in order to make a portrait work; but people will see that you know what you’re doing as you position them for a good composition and especially when they see your finished work.
My mentor critiqued my work time and time again over several years as I brought images and questions to him. It almost always boiled down to my understanding these most simple aspects that I’ve shared with you.
I know it’s not customary to learn photography on such simplistic terms, but trust me; I’ve had exposure over the years to many different photography educational venues such as classes, workshops, conventions, guest speakers, lectures, teaching videos and books but never have any of the teachers been willing to simply say “look, there are just a few rules to follow and people will be happy with their pictures”. Never have I received more helpful advice than I received from my mentor.
I guess if I could sum up the philosophy he embodied in word form I’d say it was rather like this:
“Not everybody wants a masterpiece. Most people just want to remember their loved ones as happy. It’s not hard to capture that with your camera, just don’t stand them in hard sunlight, standing in a straight line facing straight toward the camera.”
Tom Ray is a Certified Professional Photographer through the Professional Photographers of America. If you are interested in his full story please go to: ProfessionalPhotography: Success Without School
Outlined below is a list of genres that call for specialized treatment in the process of creating outstanding photographs. These thematic approaches will be discussed in detail here, though there are few more categories and sub-categories in thematic photography like ad messages, corporate brochures, under-water photography and so on.
–Black & White treatment
Wildlife photography is often assumed to be an exciting and high adventure genre of photography. In reality it is extremely challenging and wildlife photographers find themselves at the mercy of inclement weather and sometimes even face danger. Here are some suggestions for this specialized form of photography.
Understand the life form that you plan to photograph in terms of living habits, habitat and behavior. In other words you need a perspective on ‘a day in the life of’ your wildlife subject. Books and online research will throw light on your subject. The importance of getting acquainted with the behavior of the animal is a lot more important when you have to shoot dangerous jungle animals that can attack like lions or tigers or even bears. Animals will become aware of you when you enter close to their habitat but will usually not attack if you keep your distance. But you have to be clear on the distance at which an animal will begin to feel threatened by your presence and decide to attack you.
It goes without saying that you can’t expect any kind cooperation from your subject! You have to fit yourself in, place yourself in a vantage point and have your camera set and ready and then wait for the ‘right moment’ to take the shot that you are looking for.
You may have to wait many days before you can capture the right shot. Your subject could not care less if the light is diminishing or the light is at its best. You may have perfect light conditions on a particular day but your subject may not be in the right spot for you to take the shot.
You need telephoto lenses to shoot from a distance and other camera features like Center-weighted metering. The Center-weighted meter allows you to meter the wildlife subject at the center of the frame and vary the size of the sensing area based on the dimensions of the subject and its distance from you.
Taking landscape pictures within a city from atop a building or on the beach is one type of landscape photography. But if you want to get closer to nature and shoot unique pictures of nature and environment in remote locations like wild forest area or mountain ranges, then you have your task cut out for you just like a wildlife photographer. You need the spirit of adventure within you in order to travels around to different places and scour different regions for landscape opportunity.
It is tough to firstly identify the right spots, you may have to explore for days before you find an idyllic panoramic landscape to shoot. You then have to wait for the right light conditions while braving the weather and the rough living conditions. In terms of equipment, landscape photographers need to go in for a variety of wide-angle lenses since this type of lens is capable of lending depth in the photograph. A wide-angle zoom lens is useful in this type of photography because of the range of focal lengths it can provide while fine-tuning a shot. But there is also the need for telephoto lenses for certain shot though not of the high focal length required by sports photographers. Landscape photographers usually go in for telephoto lenses with focal length less than 300mm (a telephoto lens has a focal length greater than 50mm, a wide angle lens is less than 50mm, and a standard lens has a focal length of 50mm).
Those who have made a career of photographing sporting events have a different style of operation to capture the high action of dramatic moments in a game. The length of the lens, the location of the photographer taking the shot and the need to limit blurring are the three critical aspects in sports photography.
Sports photographers use a telephoto lens. This type of lens magnifies the subject. The focal length to choose from in telephoto lenses varies from 60mm to 1000 mm. A lens with a high focal length can give you a wider visual area which is a necessity when you photograph field events. Sports photographers by and large prefer 35mm cameras and use focal lengths of 300-600mm especially for field events like soccer.
The location where photographers position themselves to take different shots is directly responsible for capturing the relevant high-points in a match. It also helps if you have a good knowledge of the sport. This ensures that you identify the right moments and are alert and ready when a memorable situation occurs during the sport. You can get the right shots if you are able to move around and use the right location in different points in a game. However, quite often the areas of movement are restricted for photographers and the best way to tide over this problem is to use a lens of focal length in the region of 600mm to enable shots of the far end of a court or field. Though a good location is usually described by the angle and distance from the court or field, the other aspect of a good location is also the play of light from your vantage point. Most photographers have the task of avoiding shadows caused by the quality of light. The intensity of color in a photograph is reduced in dull light conditions while bright sunlight can create shadows in certain angles.
To limit blurring and capture action during a special game moment, you need to have fast shutter speeds at your disposal. A 35mm camera that is generally favored in sports photography can provide the high shutter speed necessary for action shots. Besides shutter speed, the speed of the film also plays a role. Higher film speed enables higher shutter speeds. A film speed of 100 is inadequate in sports photography. You need a 400 and above speed film.
The autofocus mechanism in is also useful in sports photography especially when manual focus is difficult to achieve quickly in certain sports situations.
An interesting technique called panning is applied in capturing action shots. You have to avoid holding the camera still when you shoot action. A rule-of-thumb is to hold the camera steady but move it along with the action rather than attempting to hold still. This steady movement of the camera along the path of motion of the player; incredibly, has the effect of minimizing blur. On the other hand, you will get a blur if you hold your camera still while the action is taking place. This technique is actually based on sound scientific principles.
It should also be mentioned here that the art of sports photography actually goes beyond capturing action or high points in a game. The readers who view these photographs in newspapers and magazines want to see player expressions, the thrills, the disappointments, the concentration that players display is something that readers find captivating and it becomes a talking point. Readers also like to see crowd reactions and reactions of family members of the players in certain critical game situations. To cater to the public sentiment, a photographer has to also attempt to click these special poignant moments during a game by capturing reactions and facial expressions.
Photojournalism is a different ball game altogether. It is visual storytelling. It has a strong social and cultural context and is a visual form of reportage based on newsy and current affairs topics. Being in the right place at the right time and understanding the situation as it unfolds helps a photojournalist deliver reader interest material. The objective is to usually pick up contemporary topics and portray a visual story that creates an understanding on the pattern in which people live their lives or social changes that impact them in different walks of life. Photojournalism also lends credibility to the written word and can support a public interest story with visual proof. The visuals complement the written reportage on the story.
A visual representation of contemporary situations is a powerful way to make a point and the photographer who is into photojournalism has to be a firstly aware of the socio-political and cultural scene of a region to be able to shoot the relevant pictures. The equipment required by photojournalists varies by the type of story they pursue. If a photojournalist is picking up images of a town or if the photography is the type that portrays cultural and historical sites, or if the task is to follow the campaign trail of a political leader, each of these require a different treatment.
A fashion photographer needs to be a creative thinker with a good eye for aesthetics and the ability to use sound judgment in implementing out-of-the-box ideas. Fashion photography is meant to render an elegant, stylish effect on readers so the mundane and the run of the mill shots will not work. Each photograph is a piece of art in itself and has to be original.
Creating an impact in fashion photography requires the photographer to take a leap in imaginative thinking and to create images that are different and unusual. The treatments that have been tried over the years range from the surreal to muted black and whites, to geometric shapes to brilliant color schemes. A fashion product has to be portrayed creatively while at the same time conveying style and classiness. A fashion photographer needs a high level of visual sophistication combined with ideation skills. It also helps to try and understand the psyche of models that fashion photographers have to regularly interact with, in order to get the best out of them. Your choice of camera and accessories will vary depending on whether you shoot indoor or outdoor, light conditions, theme of the picture, etc.
–>Black and White Treatment
The black and white effect is used by artists and fashion photographers to create abstracts or classy ‘other worldly’ images. The camera equipment required in black & white is not very distinct from other types of photography but the key actually lies in the processing and printing quality. This is an important area of emphasis in black & white photographs in order to get the desired effect.
You will need an assortment of lenses for different situations ? such as a combination of wide-angle lens as well as a standard lens. If you want large prints, you may need a camera with a high-resolution digital image sensor for sharpness of large format prints. The resolution should be more than 3 mega pixels.
Whether you develop your photographs in the darkroom (traditional film based camera) or process the pictures digitally (digital camera usage), when you develop the picture yourself you have the leeway to heighten or reduce the contrasts in tour picture based on the type of impression and visual impact you hope to create. You can also scan from traditionally processed negatives onto a computer and then process the images digitally.
To fine-tune the images digitally you need some basic knowledge of Photoshop software. Without manipulating the main picture in any way, you can enhance your black and white images by fine-tuning the contrasts. Photoshop assists in optimizing the images. The principles are the same as those used in a traditional darkroom. Using Photoshop you can apply various techniques like dodging (you selectively lighten a certain portion of a photo), cropping, optimizing density and fine tuning the contrasts. Fine tuning the contrasts is important in creating the right effect in black and white.
The print quality is another important factor in creating high impact black & white photographs. If you intend to print digitally processed images, you need a good printer and long lasting ink in your printer. You should also use photo quality paper to print your images.
Celebrity photography is challenging and the same time an exciting, glamorous field. When you deal with celebrities, firstly you have very little time to work within. There is always a time constraint even after you pin down a celebrity for a photo session. You have to therefore have good infrastructure and be ready with the necessary equipment. You have to plan the shot and adjust your camera, before asking your celebrity to pose.
Celebrity faces are well known so the key lies in attempting to capture something a little different, to create a different perspective. You need to build a good rapport with the celebrity and have to persevere to get the right mood to capture the real essence of the person. If you are photographing the celebrity for an ad, then the strategy behind the ad has to be considered to blend in the celebrity’s expressions and posture to suit the requirements of the ad.
To sum up, the discussion – Wildlife photography requires you to brave rough conditions and thoroughly understand the habitat and behavior of the animal. The relevant and useful tools in your camera system are the right lenses and center-weighted metering if you are into shooting wildlife. Landscape photography requires you to be a wandering explorer, constantly seeking out those spectacular scenic settings. You mainly need wide-angle lenses in your camera system to demonstrate depth and scale in your picture. Sports events need a good vantage point and if you want to freeze the high action in the game, you have to learn and hone the skill of panning. Photojournalism calls on your social and political consciousness and is the art of visually unfolding a story, while Fashion photography requires ideation and out-of-the-box thinking. The impact of Black & White treatment can be heightened during the processing phase using various techniques and, Celebrity photography is not all glamour. Capturing the right mood and the essence of the celebrity becomes the key to a good shot and you often work within time constraints.
It is apparent that different photography streams each have their own specialized approaches and style of treatment. Your mind-set and your interests should influence the path that you choose as a photographer.
*Article taken from the internet
We all love our animals. They do such funny, adorable, and cute things. But somehow when that camera comes out they run and hide or they just seem to always be pointed away from the camera when you push the button. Well here are some tips to help you have a better chance at getting great photos of your pet.
1. Don’t wake your pet out of deep sleep and attempt to coerce him into performing for the camera. It won’t happen. Try to take photos of your pet during their routine playtime.
2. If there is enough daylight to take photos then turn the flash off. My cat has learned to close his eyes just before the flash goes off. He learned that little trick quick too! Many times a camera flash is just too bright for them, that’s why they point away from you when they know that you’re taking photos.
3. Don’t try to get them looking into the camera. If there is someone around who can play with your pet just get a shot of them playing with someone else. You can have the photo with the person and the pet or get close to crop the person out of the shot.
4. If your pet always runs away from you every time you pull the camera out try leaving the camera sit out where it can be seen. Take photos of other things in the home and try turning the flash off.
5. Be prepared to grab your camera and take photos when your pet is ready.
Remember don’t put pressure on your animal to perform for the camera. Think more on the lines of catch them in their natural habitat. Our pets want to make us happy and you can easily confuse them by pressuring them to look good for the camera. Also be prepared to take a whole lot of bad photos for that one really good one.
*Article taken from the internet
Saturate yourself with your subject and the camera will all but take you by the hand. Margaret Bourke-White
These tips should help you relive those moments back where you’ve said “if only I had a camera.” Now you will have it captured on film. These tips should help you to be camera ready.
1. Get as close as you can to the subject or action
Remember, if you’re using an instant camera,
a lot of them have a minimum shooting
distance. This is usually about two metres.
If your closer than that, your shots will be
out of focus.
Try to take shots with the viewer
focused on the subject. Meaning the closer to the
subject filling the viewer the better.
2. Photos Tell A Story
Photos of an event or activity such as camping with a
group or fishing trip with family and friends tells a
great story for all to relive and enjoy.
3. Decide What It Is You Want and Don’t Want in The Picture
Its best to keep the background as uncluttered as you
can. Background clutter will remove the focus from
4. Take Surprise Shots
You’ll get some great shots if you take pictures when
people least expect them. Just think of the facial
expressions you’ll get.
5. Make a Slide Show
Slide shows are great to have later when those involved
in the activity can watch and laugh at themselves and
relive the activity in their minds.
6. Liven Up Posed Shots
Try to avoid taking boring posed shots. Instead of using
“Say Cheese” try have people say Rumplestilskin.
That should help get a real smile. If people see you’re going to
take their picture, tell them you will click on four and
then click on three.
That should catch them in a more relaxed state.
7. Camera Hardware Tips
Does your camera have the correct options set up?
Check your lens and make sure its clean. it could have a
finger print on it. That would make it almost impossible
Check to see if you have auto focus or manual focus. Test
it to see if it will work as stated in your manual. Make sure
you know how to control it.
For more room on your memory card delete all
pictures you don’t want to keep. Your now ready for some
fun and games clicking away with your camera.
For more excellent tips, surf to Kodaks web page at