This page is about two things: 1) Helping you to understand what sets us apart from the other studios you might be looking into and 2) Helping you to know a little more about what it is you are looking at as you try to evaluate photographers.
We're going to talk a bit about posing and retouching (the work photographers do after the session to make your photographs look amazing), as well as what the session experience is about.
Before we say anything else, we need to make one thing clear: Photography is art. As with any medium in the art world, what makes a great photograph is partially subjective. As photographers, we have a particular style. We tend to create images that are sharp, clean, contrasty, and have proper exposure. Obviously, we like this style. You may agree, or you may disagree and prefer a different style. This is subjective; not everyone likes the same thing, which is good. Life would be boring if we all liked the same things.
But there is also a very technical aspect to photography: f-stops, shutter speeds, ISOs, focal lengths, perspectives, qualities of light, angles of light, and a whole range of post processing and retouching techniques and skills. These are observable and measurable. So, while you may have a preference on style, we're going to show you how to evaluate some of the "objective" aspects of a photograph. But, at the end of the day, a photo can have any number of technical mistakes, but still be a great photograph, just because you like it. It's up to you to determine if the style of a photographer makes up for, and overrides, any technical issues. We make sure the technical is correct, so that you don't have to make that compromise.
Let's get started.
First, we'll talk a bit about posing. There is a lot that goes into it, and there's no way we can cover it all here, so we're going to just touch on the basics. There are two fundamental questions to ask when you are looking at a portrait.
The first is whether or not the model looks natural and relaxed, or can you tell that she/he is tense, uncomfortable? This is very much a "feel" thing as you look at a photograph. The truth of the matter is, the more you awkward and uncomfortable you feel while having your photo taken, the better it's going to look. (We should note that we mean physically uncomfortable; no one wants an awkward interaction with their photographer.) This is where pros are able to set themselves apart. We know how to contort our subjects into some very odd positions that are completely unnatural, but when photographed, looks casual and relaxed.
Here's a perfect example:
The first image is soon after Mady sat down. We had done some basic posing with her legs and left arm, but for the most part, she was just sitting comfortably. The second is after we had asked her to move her body in some "not normal" ways. We obviously had her move her right arm and straightened her left a bit. The slight curl in her hand is absolutely by design. Hands are always awkward, and it's important for your photographer to give you directions on how to position and hold them. We also had her arch her back to the point it hurt, improving her posture. Finally, we positioned her head so that she was facing off axis (to the left of the camera with her face) and looking slightly down at the camera.
Literally every little thing about this second image has been directed. The result is a pose that no longer makes Mady look "slouchy," but rather casual and super confident.
The second question to ask is whether or not the pose is flattering. Have you ever looked at a photo and thought, "she should NOT have taken that photo?" We're sure you've seen, and likely taken, enough selfies to know that there are poses and camera angles that make people look really great; and then there are poses and camera angles that make people look really bad. Every body type and face shape require a slightly different approach. Pros know this and "work" a pose until they find the best combination.
Take this shot of Cassidy, for example:
The first shot is too close for the lens used and it's shot from too far below her. Couple this with the pose, which is decent, but not great, and you have a shot that is less than flattering. We need to say that this has everything to do with the decisions that we as photographers were making as we worked the shot, and is not an accurate representation of Cassidy. This first shot makes her look less attractive than she is. As soon as we saw this, we began making adjustments and in the end, captured the second image. A MUCH more flattering and accurate representation of Cassidy. It also happens to be one of our favorite images ever.
In the end, if you don't have an experienced Pro that can recognize the problems and make adjustments during your session, you end up with images that you are not going to be happy with. There is no amount of retouching after the fact that can make up for a botched pose or camera angle.
Let's move on to a bit about retouching hair and skin. To start, we'll deal with hair.
Both Kaelynn and Emma spent considerable time doing their hair before their sessions, and it's gorgeous. There is nothing wrong with it. But, we're shooting with high end cameras and lighting, so any and all imperfections are going to show up. In the before images, you can see the flyaways around the edges of the hair and a "whole mess" of what are called cross hairs - hairs that run perpendicular to the natural path of the rest of the hair. Once you see it, you can't un-see it.
The after images have been retouched to remove the problems. You can see what a massive difference it makes in the quality of the image.
In order to make this happen, we use a series of advanced retouching techniques usually reserved for magazine spreads and high end commercial work. The portion of Kaelynn's hair took over 4 hours to retouch; Emma's took about 6. That's quite a bit of time, and most photographers decide that it isn't worth it. We think it is. Be sure to look for this as you evaluate studios.
All right. Next up is skin.
The first group of three images is representative of most of the work you will see at other studios. All of these have one thing in common, and that is a lack of detail in the skin after the retouching is done. There is no texture in any of them. The first has been pushed to the point of what is called "bleaching." It's when the retoucher overexposes the skin tone causing it to be much brighter than it naturally appears.
The second has been smoothed to the point of looking like plastic. There is a tool in Photoshop known as the healing brush. When you use it on a spot, it evaluates the skin around the spot you have selected and replaces the blemish with what it thinks should be there. It's very smart, but the replaced skin is never as detailed as what should be there. When overused, all of the detail disappears. This image has also had quite a bit of softening applied to it after the use of a healing brush, which is why you can't see a single pore. Seriously, who doesn't have a pore on their face?
The last is just absolutely over the top. Nobody looks like that. But you'll see plenty of senior photos that are retouched like this.
These are all representative of what we see in a lot of the studios you will be looking at when you go to choose a photographer for your senior photos.
Study these and learn to recognize them.
The 2nd image set is a forehead (if you couldn't tell). The top is the image straight out of the camera; the bottom is after we said our magic spell and made all the "yucky" stuff go away. A quick note: you guys are young adults. All of you (with very, very few exceptions) are going to have blemishes and imperfections that your photographer is going to have to deal with.
Ok. So what makes this better than the group of three images?
Skin texture and detail.
While all of the blemishes are gone, you don't have any of the overdone smoothing that destroys the natural detail in the skin. In other words, it still looks like skin.
It's also the right color. It's not crazy bright and blown out. We didn't just overexpose the problems, we fixed them. This is a proper skin retouch.
The last image set is a cheek (duh). We're guessing you can tell which is before and which is after. As with the forehead, what makes this stand out above the set of 3 is the retention of the skin detail.
If you are very astute (and you are using a device with high enough resolution), you will see that this image seems to have a little less detail than appears on the retouched forehead. Good eye. That's because this is a cheek, which means 2 things:
1 - it has a different texture than a forehead. You can tell this by just feeling your own forehead and then your cheek. Cheeks tend to be softer and have pores that are less noticeable than a forehead. (This is the crap we have to know and pay attention to).
2 - cheeks, on girls, take makeup differently than a forehead. It tends to fill in what pores are there.
Taken together, it means that a well retouched cheek will have detail, but less than a forehead. You can also notice that as you move toward the nose, the texture picks up. This is called the t-zone. It is usually the area, along with the forehead, that gives you the most problems as a young adult with breakouts and blackheads. It's because the pores are more pronounced. A good retouch will retain that detail while removing any blemishes.
And there you have it. 2 examples of properly retouched skin that make you look like you - not some plastic doll or a glowing Jack-o-lantern. As you look at photographers, be sure to pay attention to whether or not the skin in their images actually looks like skin or not.
So, now that we have the basics of posing and retouching out of the way, let's talk "experience," 'cause a photographer can be a phenomenal picture taker, but be about as interesting to shoot with as your High School AP Physics teacher. Or, they could be so disorganized that they don't take the time to properly prep you and you show up all nervous because you have no idea what to expect. The last thing you want to do is show up blind, or walk away from your session having had one of the most awkward experiences ever.
How do we prep you?
Glad you asked.
The first step in our process is to sit down with you and mom or dad and go over every detail. We'll talk about what kind of images you want to make and we'll answer every question you can come up with. You'll get our personal cell numbers so you can text us or call us whenever you want. Seriously. We talk to seniors in the middle of the night if that's what you need. Want input on your outfits for the day? Shoot us pics, or even FaceTime us, while your shopping and we'll give you feedback about what will photograph well.
We tell seniors the more you bug us, the better. The last thing we want to do is show up for your session and feel like you don't know us or we don't know you. It's important for us to be comfortable with each other so that the session is natural and we aren't forcing you into poses and looks that aren't you.
While we're on the topic of your day, let's talk about what the photographer is willing to do for you during the session.
Will they go anywhere you ask them to?
Can they? Or are they tied to a studio because they don't have the equipment or expertise to travel?
Are they going to charge you extra for going to another location?
Are they going to charge you for adding friends, family, or pets to your session?
We've hung off the top of buildings, clung to the edges of cliffs, lain (we know something about grammar, too) in the middle of streets, and hiked miles into the woods and back into family farms for shots. No joke. Our average was nearly 5 miles of walking/hiking per session for the class of 2016.
And no, we don't charge you a single cent to do that, or to add friends.
Simply put, whether it's posing, retouching, or making your experience over the top, we'll do whatever it takes for your senior pictures.