Trick #7: Relax, You Have a Contingency Plan

7. Create a contingency plan for everything that can go wrong. Your portrait photographer will already have several plans because they are experienced and they have had things go wrong before. Ask them to share them with you as it will bring you greater security. I will describe some of my contingency plans. -10 Tricks

What can go wrong? Well, a bunch of stuff actually.

Is the subject a small child? It is a general rule that the smaller and younger the subject the greater variety of things that can go wrong. Think about it. It is rare for a 20 year old to vomit and poop herself during her portrait session but completely expected that the newborn will. Therefore, have wet wipes, change of clothes, a changing blanket, and fresh props on hand during a newborn session.

For the most part the biggest thing to go wrong is the weather. It is a wonderful thing to have a storm-tossed sky in a photo but that can turn to unruly ground wind and buckets of rain so quickly. Therefore, have hair styling equipment, umbrellas, and a place to run if things turn ugly. Conversely, if I’m doing something daring anyway a huge rainstorm could be perfect. Some people look completely amazing drenched.

Kevn watermarked This is Kevin. The weather for his session was terrifying. It is one of the best portraits that I have made. It is electrifying!

samara watermarked This is Samara. It was on the verge of raining throughout the session. Imagine the image without the wind and the clouds. It wouldn’t be as dramatic.

tiffany lebel rain watermark This is Tiffany. Rain is such a cool thing to have happen in a shoot, if you can find a way to use it everything is better.

IMG_8324 small waterm This is Ian and the weather outside was frightful. So we made drama with an off camera flash and reflector, both managed off screen by my husband. This image was shot mid-day in our livingroom. It was very bright but we made it look like night.

In the family photo featured at the top of this post there were several things going wrong at the same time. The children were restless, the day was chilly, it was pouring rain through the entire shoot. This is what went right – they were perfectly wardrobed so they didn’t match but they looked like a unit, the children were a variety of sizes which is amazing for posing, there is no worry about identical sized children overlapping. Their attitude toward the shoot overcame the rain and made what would be call-off-able weather into a massive improvement to the ordinary. The colours are more saturated, the use of water as an element in the image makes more sense, everything looks clean and the family was having fun doing something unusual in the rain. Also, we had the park to ourselves.

What if the camera isn’t working? Your portrait photographer will probably have a backup with her. What if it some equipment breaks? I actually had a client snap the foot off of my hotshoe (on the flash unit) during a sitting. He was “helping” me. But I know how to make the flash go if I need it without that part. Also, I carry duct tape, gaffer tape, rope and an assortment of bungie cords.

If we plan on sun but get clouds, I know some ways to make it look like the sun is shining on you. If we get sun but we hoped for clouds, I know how to make it dramatic and amazing.

For the things that you are bringing to the session such as clothing and props, please bring extra. If you are planning on wearing a blue shirt pleas bring two or three blue shirts. If you are bringing a baby who will be in the portrait, please bring five blue shirts and extra baby things.

Trick #6: Meaningful Props

6. Collect props that you love and are meaningful. How to choose the props to build in layers of meaning into an image will be unpacked. – 10 Tricks

Here is a real-life example: Tanya and Tyler got married (I was honoured to photograph both the wedding and engagement) then they had a baby (I was honoured to photograph both the maternity and the newborn). Their wedding was country themed with lace and natural elements and plaid. These elements were in every session. When it came time to do the newborn session we had a choice. We could choose from a pile of props that I had or build something meaningful for them.

Here is the beautiful baby:

gloriana

Everything in this image, every prop carries meaning. There is lace, a basket from their wedding, even the red plaid is the tail of Tyler’s favourite shirt.

Compare the richness of building in the layers of meaning compared to using someone else’s props, props that are in so many other baby photos.

How would you apply this to an adult portrait? For me, I would look around my home and find the objects that mean something to me. The Bible that my mother gave me, an apple (it was my father’s pet name for me), I would have a guitar propped up against the wall (both my husband and my son play) and some of my daughter’s artwork hanging and maybe some discarded dance shoes (both girls create art and dance). I imagine that I’m building this image on my deck and I would have some large photobooks from my favourite artists and probably my dog sleeping at my feet. I’d be curled on a chair with the quilt that my mother-in-law crocheted. So even though it is just a photo of me, it is also a photo of my family and a statement of what is important to me. I think I’ll make that image. Would you like to see it?

Trick # 5 : The Planning Session

5. Attend a planning session. I’ll describe what a planning session is actually like so that you’ll know what to expect. – 10 Tricks

A great deal of anxiety around professional portraits comes from the unknown and the feeling of being out of control, that someone else will be telling you to do things that make you feel uncomfortable. (I don’t mean something as radical as taking off your clothes, I mean looking cheesy or awkward.) The planning session is the beginning of a collaboration between artist and subject where you start to shape the end result. This empowerment takes away a measure of the risk and usually replaces that anxiety with anticipation.

Some portrait photographers have a planning session and some don’t. If yours doesn’t offer one, you can suggest it. It is generally a complimentary service because at the end of the day both of you are more comfortable and happy.

Here’s what mine look like:

1. We chat online or on the phone (text or voices) and choose a place to meet. My studio is mobile and so am I. I have relationships with a couple of coffeehouses that are happy to go the extra mile, where the atmosphere is comfortable and we can sit for a spell without people giving us the “go-away-eye”.

2. Before we even start talking about the portrait session I will want to know about you. What do you love? I don’t have a list of questions. I listen. I watch. While you talk about things, causes, work, places and people that you love I listen, watch and ask questions.

3. I will have a portfolio book with me if you are interested and I can tell you a bit about myself or my training, etc. but generally I don’t. Usually you have vetted me before our meeting by reading references or the “Hullo” section of this website. Since nothing is hidden, you already know the price but you might want to make some sort of alternate payment arrangements such as paying a little bit every month.

4. Finally, we will talk about the session itself. I will pull out a sketchbook and make a rough sketch of what I imagine for you. If you have a firm idea on what you would like to try, I will sketch that. One the paper will be details such as props, lighting, location, wardrobe. And a list of what you will do and what I will do. This looks like: you – make appointment with makeup artist, make appointment for hair, find old hat with the feathers / me – book location, arrange lighting, book assistant

5. The last thing that happens is a followup email with all the details as I understand them. You can correct me wherever I misunderstood.

The best things about the planning session is that it creates a blueprint for the portrait session and it creates familiarity. When we meet for the session it actually feels like meeting a friend and working together on an art project. Now we are collaborators!

Trick #4: How to Deal With Portrait Lights

4. How to deal with portrait lighting. We all have our techniques. I use a bare minimum to get the results that I want since I specialize in creating confidence I reduce anxiety by reducing non-human elements – like 12 lights all firing (scary for everyone). I have three different lighting schemes and I’ll tell you how I choose which one to use for your portrait. -10 Tips

Portrait lights bug me.

For one thing, when there is a strobe (flash) I always look intoxicated. One eye shuts a bit. It is genetic. My eye doc told me about it.

The second reason is that I don’t do very well with blue-wave length light. In fact, it makes me throw up after about 20 minutes of exposure. When I have to be around that type of light I wear funky amber shades. They cut out the blue and I can go for about an hour.

Maybe you are like me.

My body just doesn’t like flashes and blue-light (fluorescent-type) and even before I knew why, I hated them. Call it instinct.

Whatever the reason, my genetics or my instincts, I try to minimize artificial light. There are a few things though that I will use.

1. Ambient light and reflectors. This is the free-range organics of light. It is all around you all the time. Look around you right now and you will see natural patterns of light and shadow. Portrait photographers use those natural patterns to create shape in your face and body. It is the most subtle way to shape. Reflectors just take what is around you and concentrate it. If helps to draw attention to the sparkle in your eyes or add a glow to your skin or hair.

misha one This is Misha. She is lit only by window light. It is a type of directional ambient light.

2. Speedlight. For whatever reason it never has made me sick. It is also tiny and discreet but packs a wallop. There are a ton of ways to modify it. Things that concentrate or diffuse its beam are fun to use and give different effects. It can even be used to cast shadows or to gently or dramatically shape a face.

IMG_5766 57 watermarked This is Jordan. She is lit by both the ambient light of the bookstore and by a speedlight positioned between the rows of books. That what gives her the edge of light on the left side of her body and creates separation from the bookshelves.

3. If I only need to blast you once or twice and if it is a photobooth or huge gang type photo I will break out some studio lights. I have two types of studio lights – one set is a flashing strobe that is very powerful and the other set is a couple of constant lights. They are often used in video. Neither of these sets are mobile and I like to keep everything fluid and moving through an environment so these are rarely out of their packs.

IMG_2985 This is Ed. He is in a studio setting with one of the constant lights. I am using this light to mimic what nice ambient light would do.

For your portrait I can almost guarantee that I will use a combination of natural light and a speedlight or two. The only time when you will see me setting up studio lights if if your “happy place” portrait location is the bottom of a well or crypt of some sort. Yeah, if it is hopelessly dark I will bring in other lights.

Trick #3: Location

In the 10 Tricks for Better Mother’s Day Photos, the third trick listed is this:

3. Find a location that speaks to you – 10 Tricks

Have you noticed the trend, even in realtor-headshots (in my mind the most corporate looking group who are still trying to look friendly) are becoming more lifestyle oriented. In other words, where they used to be photographed on a trust-me-blue background with flat lighting, now the trend is to be outdoors, doing something and not showing an awareness of the camera. The laughing-in-the-sunshine, tying-a-shild’s-shoes photos are on trend.

Finding your location is a trick. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Where is my happy place?

2. Where do I feel energized?

3. Where do I feel at peace?

For me, my happy place is my deck chair on my deck. Usually, I have a book on my lap and a pile of reading beside me. I might have a glass of wine on the table and it will probably be late afternoon.

the carpenter watermarked This is Henry in his “Happy Place”. He is a woodworker and creates amazing furniture and frames from reclaimed wood.

I feel energized walking or playing with my dog, Eva. It could be one of the paths in Mission Creek Greenway or hiking up on Knox Mountain. I would want the camera dog height with me being sort of an extra, maybe not even in great focus. I would love this image.

IMG_6309 watermarked Matt was about to graduate from nursing school and he has a very busy household. This location was his idea but I asked him to mess it up with kids’ toys and laundry to exaggerate the activity in his life.

My most peaceful place is Kasugai Garden, downtown, near City Hall. There is a particular bench that I love and I would go there and try to get a balanced image: Wes-Anderson-style symmetry, with me right in the middle. I would be looking directly into the camera and smiling slightly.

IMG_5766 57 watermarked This is Jordan who loves to dance and loves to read. This is her most peaceful place. She asked me about a year ago if she could do a portrait in this location. She loves everything about it – the scent of the paper and bindery, the subdued light and silence.

For you, think of a place that carries the type of emotion that you want in your portrait. Something that will be say something to you whenever you see it. “I am a happy person and I like to read” or “I am a fun, active person and I like my dog” or “I am a peaceful person and my life is in control” – what is your message? Where is your dream location?

Trick #2: Makeup For Portraits

2. Either book a session with a make-up artist (and tell her that it is for photos – this is important) or as your portrait photographer for advice on DIY. Hint: the base/foundation is critical. – 10 Tricks

bb cream

ceecee cream

whip cream

Here is Renee, demonstrating the efficacy of three popular foundation types. One is a luminescent variety which promises to scatter light and make your imperfections invisible. In real life it might do that but photos are not real life. Whatever light is used, be it sunlight or strobe, a shine is created with this type of foundation. Shine always looks like oil and has to be removed in photoshop, or powdered down on set by the makeup artist. Also, anything that catches light on the skin runs the risk of making tiny bumps into highlights, complete with their own tiny shadows.

Best option – go for something the exact same tone and colour as your neck and make it matte. Matte foundation is the happiest choice for photos.

After that, I request either mascara or eyelashes to be applied. Eyebrows should be groomed, through an out of place hair is easily removed in post-production.

Lip balm, not too glossy because too much shine makes such a highlight that people will only look at the mouth in the portrait, but enough that you don’t have dry lipskin that requires photoshop surgery.

Finally, don’t fret breakouts. Don’t worry about a coldsore. Didn’t whiten your teeth, if you ask, your portrait photographer will do that for you a little bit (beware of overzealous whitening). Forgot lipcolour, no worries. If you need it, your lips can be tinted and blush applied in photoshop…

Here’s your list:

1. matte foundation that matches your neck
2. eyelash something: mascara or falsies
3. lipbalm

Easy! (Want a pro to do your makeup? It is more affordable than you think! Ask your portrait photographer. They will have a list of pros that they trust.)

Trick #1: Wardrobe for Portraits

“1. Ask for wardrobe advice. Your portrait photographer can tell at a glance what colours will look good and what photographs well.” – 10 Tricks

With a single portrait, a portrait of one person, you don’t need to concern yourself with co-ordinating outfits within a group (can be a nightmare). What your portrait photographer will appreciate is choices so if you can pull about 3 different tops, a couple different jackets (depending on the season), neutral bottoms (jeans, neutral pants, skirt) and an assortment of accessories that would be best.

In the 365 Portrait project I had a model, Heather, do just that.

“I have spent hours trying to figure out what to wear”, she said – opening the hatch of her car to reveal a pile of shirts, scarves, and pants. Off near the corner of her trunk was a plastic container of jewelry. “Can you choose for me?”

“Delighted!” I said.

This is the best scenario. The client has pre-chosen a selection of things that they are comfortable wearing so no matter what I chose it would be all right with her. All I had to do was to consider the portrait environment and the subject’s colouring.

This is what she brought:

1. print top, small print, neutral colours with small berry coloured flowers
2. dark moss green sweater
3. neutral, beige coloured, textured sweater
4. cream buttom-up shirt
5. moss green coloured t-shirt
6. scarf of cream, green and berry (!)
7. small and large jewerly
8. dark jeans
9. light ripped jeans
10. a selection of shoes

Here is what I chose:

first, the scarf which we would put on at first and then take off for her to hold loosely in her hand

second, the green coloured t-shirt with the neutral, textured sweater

third, the dark jeans (light ones are too trendy and will date the portrait – as in “way to be 2015, Mom”, said in 2020)

fourth, medium high cropped boots (a medium heel forces a arch into the back and also makes people stand a little taller to compensate for the feeling of falling over)

finally, I chose small gold hoops for sparkle but not very noticeable.

Her portrait environment was a fall field full of rose hips and tall reddening holly with forest behind her. The colours of her outfit were all in the field. She had red hair and was wearing a rich, berry shade of lipstick. She was taller than me and very beautiful.

Here she is:

heather

Here is your wardrobe list:

In your planning meeting we will discuss your location. The exact colours (we will choose a colour that will either be represented in the environment or will stand out against the environment – one feels peaceful and one feels vibrant) will be based on that discussion. But do like Heather did – bring a variety of clothing. In the Mother’s Day Portrait Sessions, we’ll be shooting for an hour, so 2-3 changes are appropriate and will give you variety.

1. a solid top or two in “the colour” and in a neutral (black, grey, cream, white -black and white can come off as harsh, depending on the light and the layering and in a natural setting, green can feel like a neutral)
2. a print (tiny print, no logos) top with “the colour”
3. a neutral layer, texture is good
4. dark bottom – jeans, pants, skirt
5. a variety of accessories and shoes.

Expect your portrait photographer to make quick choices. Once you have pre-selected items, your professional should take about 30 seconds to choose 2-3 full outfits (so don’t bring anything that does not fit you or that you secretly hate).

Two Rules of Thumb: the portrait viewer’s eye will go to the areas of greatest contrast – the contrast between your iris and the white of your eyes and between your lips and your teeth should be contrasting naturally. But imagine that you are wearing a white dress with a thick black belt. No one will be able to tear their eyes away from your tummy, you might as well comb your hair straight over your face. Second rule of thumb is similar to the first – long pants and long sleeves photograph better than short since there are less light sources – every limb and hand is a light source, bouncing light into the camera. Your face is a light source too and that is the one that we want to see most. Please don’t have your arms and legs competing for attention with your face.

10 Tricks for Better Mother’s Day Photos

IMG_5236

Someone has bought you a gift certificate to your local portrait photographer because they love you and they want to celebrate how you look right now. That is why they gave you that GC. They think that you are pretty and terrific.

If the first thing that you think of is how you might now even use the CG because you feel insecure then you are in the right place!

My specialty is insecurity (just ask my kids). I never assume that just because someone looks strong and beautiful that they feel strong and beautiful.

That is why I give a lot of coaching.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be unpacking the following pointers:

1. Ask for wardrobe advice. Your portrait photographer can tell at a glance what colours will look good and what photographs well.

2. Either book a session with a make-up artist (and tell her that it is for photos – this is important) or as your portrait photographer for advice on DIY. Hint: the base/foundation is critical.

3. Find a location that speaks to you – either one that you love or one that your portrait photographer suggests. We often have relationships with different portrait location owners that you might not be able to get into yourself and yet others will charge a fee. Your portrait photographer will know or she can find out for you. I will show you some amazing locations here in Kelowna.

4. How to deal with portrait lighting. We all have our techniques. I use a bare minimum to get the results that I want since I specialize in creating confidence I reduce anxiety by reducing non-human elements – like 12 lights all firing (scary for everyone). I have three different lighting schemes and I’ll tell you how I choose which one to use for your portrait.

5. Attend a planning session. I’ll describe what a planning session is actually like so that you’ll know what to expect.

6. Collect props that you love and are meaningful. How to choose the props to build in layers of meaning into an image will be unpacked.

7. Create a contingency plan for everything that can go wrong. Your portrait photographer will already have several plans because they are experienced and they have had things go wrong before. Ask them to share them with you as it will bring you greater security. I will describe some of my contingency plans.

8. What to do a week before your session. Yes, there is a checklist.

9. What to do the night before your session. Yes, another checklist.

10. How to prepare yourself the morning of your session. One critical thing that you mustn’t skip in order to have a relaxed and fun session.

If you haven’t received a Mother’s Day Portrait Gift Certificate from your loved ones it isn’t because they don’t want a beautiful portrait of you! It is just because they don’t know about it. Or they don’t think that you’d like it. Send them thishttps://wendymcalpine.com/mothers-day. They’ll get the hint!!