How to Take Portraits that Stand Out

How to Take Portraits that Stand Out


In the US consumers have access to portrait studios at every nearly mini -mart, shopping mall, and super store on the block. There’s Intouch. Flash! Picture It. Sears. Olen Mills. Lifetouch. Celebrity Kids. Picture Me – And those are just the chains. Add to that every other studio offering a twenty dollar session option, and we have thousands upon thousands of portrait studio’s all around us.

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In this industry the only way to truly stand out as a portrait photographer is to show through – your portraits – that you have a different perspective of people than anyone else. In Portraiture capturing that perspective means knowing yourself, your style, and your loves and incorporating them into your sessions.

This may be easier said than done, but with a bit of ingenuity and enthusiasm, you might be surprised by how uniquely you can build your portrait sessions. Take the following ideas as a starting point – and add your own personality, perspective, and creativity to your portrait sessions.

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Plan a Themed Shoot

Portrait Shoots with a theme are popping up in E-Sessions everywhere! These sessions can be incredibly fun and create a dynamic result! The key in developing these shoots is taking the time to ask questions and base the session off a theme that your client is excited about.

  • Have a session “planning meeting”. While this is an extra step, it’s also an opportunity to connect on a personal level.
  • Ask questions about their “favorite things”, or era’s in history that they had a love for. You may draw inspiration from the “Shabby Chic” way that their home is decorated, or the fact that they love going to Broadway plays. Whatever the case, be sure that the theme will be a reflection of your client.
  • Do your research. What kind of props will fit well with your theme? Help your client out by giving suggestions of where they might be able to find these props.

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Setup a LifeStyle Shoot

No other kind of portrait shoot can facilitate capturing your subjects personality and style more than the environments they are most comfortable within. In a LifeStyle shoot, you have the flexibility to plan the session in the families kitchen as they make cookies together, or outside their favorite ice-cream stand as they lick cones. These shoots aren’t as “set up” as typical photoshoots, challenging you to capture their authentic life as it happens.

  • Never put the camera down between shots because sometimes the magic happens when your subjects forget they are being photographed.
  • Watch their expressions and environment: A lifestyle shoot is about the whole – drawing each piece together to bring a unified shoot. Capture this.
  • Know the environment you are photographing in: If you are shooting at their home, be sure to do a quick run through before to evaluate the available light. Do this ahead of time to anticipate that indoors, you may want additional lighting options.

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Network with a Glamour Shoot

Utilizing additional resources for a Glamour shoot may be just what a client needs to boost their self confidence. Sometimes people don’t know how beautiful they are without a little bit of help. Glamour sessions insure a “high fashion” or “beauty” aim for each and every shot. The poses, the hair, the makeup, and the location all contribute to this end.

  • Ask your client if he or she has a personal stylist who would be willing and available to work with you.
  • Ask around your own networks to find a few capable stylists in your area. Contact these individuals and suggest a partnership opportunity to pass along business and collaborate on photo shoots.
  • Be sure to make the partnership a “win-win”. Perhaps the client pays for the stylist, but offer the stylist a few 8×10 prints from each shoot for his or her portfolio.

Don’t know what kind of photo shoot you’d rock? Experiment with friends before launching these shoots for pay. You may find that you enjoy the variety of each kind of shoot. Just remember that it is important to specialize, developing a particular style distinctive to your own work.

Go for it. You just may give those portrait studios a run for their money.

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • Jai Catalano December 31, 2011 01:06 am

    Not bad. A little underdeveloped as an article because there are still questions lingering but still worth the read.

  • Mathilda December 30, 2011 03:43 am

    @Erik I love your "Mad Men" portrait! Well done. The only thing I would suggest would be to use Photoshop to remove the distracting highlight in the glasses on the guy on the right (in his left eye). That little pinpoint highlight would be easy to remove. Great job Erik!

  • Deep December 28, 2011 10:29 pm

    Good Article! I think Bcoz of internet people have have access to a lot of information but sometimes you just need quick pointers and inspiration and I guess this articles does exactly that! I did check out the writers website and must say amazing work! Truly inspirational!

  • ruthless December 28, 2011 03:54 am

    Great article... i agree, not so so informative.

    Itblows my mind the disrespect and rudeness that some people show, its simple folks if you dont like it thats ok... move on. Dont knock the person down and bully them. Shame on you Jose. Id really like to see your work so we can all critisize you.. theres always someone better than you and we all were newbs at one point or another

  • Kimberly September 24, 2011 02:45 pm

    Better yet, if you guys are going to 'E' fight.. im not interested to see it , read it, feel it.. If I don't like an article or if the pictures suck, or if the article is redundant and weve seen 5 variations of the same thing this month - I just click elsewhere.

    This is ALL subjective, and yes, ALOT of articles and photos here do SUCK - but, I don't say anything. Not because I am trying to be 'civil' or p.c., it's just that I could care less - it doesn't take away or ad to my abilities as a photographer. If you want to make it better, then please, by all means write your OWN article with your OWN images and do it BETTER. Instead of being a jackass and complaining and then arguing and this goes for those of you who 'stand up' for the article writers. It's pointless to respond to those who are negative because it just gives them their own 'airtime'. Why even point them out? Thats what MOST want. And you give it to them (just like I am right now)...

    Take your own inventory and let those who act like this aren't worth the keystrokes.

    Spend the time looking for articles which suit you or write some based on your own experiences and do it better.

    If you have issues with an article then write Darren or whoever and say something.

  • eggs August 23, 2011 10:51 pm

    Oh.. It's my first time here and Jose is a smartass knowitall go ahead and jump off a bridge over a river of fire. I bet you can take good photos in there

  • Keely July 14, 2011 11:44 am

    Thanks for the ideas! Definitely trying some of these out! (btw, the second photo is beautiful, very classy =])

  • Barry May 25, 2011 10:14 am

    Absolutely agree with Bill here. There is nothing further than I can add. Polite, constructive and civilised.

  • Bill Johnson May 25, 2011 09:37 am

    @terje: Perhaps you should write an article about taking portraits that stand out by breaking the rules. That's a great subject. But that's not what this article was about.

    This article was very specific--essentially about portraits outside a studio, and suggestions on improving them (all well-tread territory)--and in the opinion of some, photographs 1 and 4 failed to support the article. No one needs to be able to prove he or she takes better photos. One can have never taken a photo and still be able to discern a stand-out portrait from a poor one. I've never made a commercial film, but I am certainly able to determine if a poor movie is outstanding. Millions of others would agree. I agree that "everything in the picture matters," and even with that in mind, photographs 1 and 4 fail to support the article in my opinion. I don't think it's asking too much for authors of educational articles to have good examples to support their writing, and not just two out of four good examples. That's questionable. I also don't think "the client liked it" is really an adequate defense for using a picture in support of an article, either. The author is offering her expertise, supposedly, and when a fair portion of readers think she whiffed, with her having had the ability to have chosen from her many photos to support her article, "the client liked it" is not really relevant to the promise of the article. Were it a legitimate defense, any hack could defend his "educational article" on the same basis. I'd go so far as to say the fourth photo is an example of a bad portrait. But hey, maybe I'm not a "visionary artist," the billing written by or given to the article's author.

  • elana May 25, 2011 06:17 am


    Thanks for your reply. I too like the 2nd and 3rd pics posted; however, how are you even breaking the rules of photography by the pictures mentioned in my comments earlier: namely number 1 and 4. I want to learn, so tell me. How could they possibly be any good? Even if they are "breaking the rules of photography"; maybe they broke them wayyyyy too much?

    Also, I learn from every article and post; whether they say “How to take Portraits that Stand Out”, or "A beginners guide to basic portrait photography”.

    I would have posted some of my pictures but am unable to just post from my computer. It seems like I have to first add them to a website and then post the address.

  • Terje May 25, 2011 12:32 am

    @elana: Here is the problem elana. The article is titled "How to take Portraits that Stand Out", not "A beginners guide to basic portrait photography".

    You take quite fine pictures, some might even be good, while sticking to the rules of photography. You take pictures that "stand out" once you break those rules. When it comes to portrait photography, taking pictures that "matter" is difficult. Everything in the picture matters. Not just the portrait subject, but the mood, the surroundings, etc.

    Are the pictures in this article all excellent portraits? It depends. You'd have to ask the client. They might be. What the pictures in this article ARE however, is examples on rule-breaking that might take portraits to another level for the particular client. To me, the guys eating ice cream in what appears to be snowy weather, is an excellent picture that breaks just about every rule of portraiture I have ever seen.

  • elana May 24, 2011 11:54 pm

    @ shielag: Of course I read and do appreciate the article. That is not what this is about. I too can write up an article (copy and paste some others ideas, make up my own, etc), but that isn't the issue. I am a novice and I want to learn about photography. The best way to learn is by not only reading the material but also looking at the pictures the writers post. I like to see what they are talking about in their articles. In fact, I think that most writers here on DPS post photos with their articles to show what they stated in the first place.

    I'm sorry that some of these comments offend people, however, most people, especially newbies like me, learn from the actual pictures themselves. I never leave comments, just read them; but I felt I had to this time. I was annoyed that some people were attacking other people's comments; especially since their opinions rang true. No, I don't think that everyone can just post their articles up here and not have their photos up to par with the article itself. See, this is my (and obviously several other people's) opinion.

  • Bill Johnson May 24, 2011 03:48 pm

    I think some questioning of the value of the article is fair and in the interest of all photographers. The questioning can certainly be polite. For example, I believe the reason that this article has brought some less that complimentary comments is because the promise of the article, "How To Take Portraits That Stand Out," is very high, and yet two of the four photographs, in my opinion, fail to meet the promise. I think the first photograph is rather weak from a portrait standpoint. It may be meaningful to the client, but the portrait on its own could be better, in my opinion. The setting is very busy, the umbrella on the right is distracting (as observed by another), and the resolution of the faces is not very good (it appears back-focused, as another pointed out). I like the second and third photographs. I think they meet the promise of the article and support the writing. The fourth photograph is rather weak, also, as a portrait, in my opinion. The colors lack saturation, the setting is difficult to see if not forgettable, and the subject's face is distant and obscured to a degree by the flare. In an article such as this, I think it's reasonable to expect better photographs; certainly ones that all meet the promise of the premise.

  • shielag May 24, 2011 03:45 am

    I have to ask all the people that chose to post a criticism about the actual PHOTOS, if they read the article or just looked at all the pictures? There are several tips, ideas etc to take away from this article, which I think is the point in writing an article. Okay, you don't like the author's composition, the author's exposure, blah blah blah.
    Seems that if there is nothing to take away from this ARTICLE, then there are some very closed minds here. If nothing else, you can take away the fact that you wouldn't want to do this, or post pictures like this. And, if you got nothing out of the article, okey dokey, keep looking.
    Just a side note here: I didn't see anywhere that the author asked for a photo critique............and as for the comments about "I wouldn't want these photos" - well, that makes sense right? Because they weren't photos of YOU, they were of HER clients.
    Unless you live under a rock somewhere or as a hermit, you have to know that comments like yours, Jose, are attacks, and can't even be considered as a criticism good or bad, which in my opinion is the waste of space here, not the article.
    I've read several posts on several articles and sadly, there are quite a few people here that perpetuate the stereotype of the "arrogant, opinionated, rude" photographer that the rest of us have to live down in the real world.
    Thanks to this author and thanks to DPS for lending us their knowledge. All we have to do is use what we want and discard the rest right? Insert big sigh here.

  • MEghaan May 20, 2011 01:55 am

    WAit---these photos are a DO? The first one is horribly overexposed, overbrightened, over processed and not well composed.

  • R@chel May 12, 2011 03:35 am

    WOW !!! This is the exact reason I DO NOT post anything of mine nor ask any questions I just read. I am to scared to be torn down like an old barn and burned beyond ashes. Man this got hot !!!

  • tim james May 11, 2011 08:20 pm

    the essential theme of this short article for me was that to take meaningful photographs for a client, one has to have a reasonable capacity for empathy, to understand the client(s) and the activities and places they identify with.
    it stands to reason then, that the resultant images may actually not be so significant for others, and that is as it should be. So long as the client is happy that is the main point right?

    the article made very little mention of technical points. For me it said more that the photographer, and what kind of person they are, is the point that distinguishes them from the other photographers on the block. being able to connect with people positively is what makes a good portrait photographer.
    the best technique in the world will never create that special smile and background. the example photos are not the article. know your client......know yourself......add your personality......

  • Paul May 6, 2011 09:11 pm

    Thanks for writing a good article, I'll try out some of these as I have a family portrait session coming up next!

  • Paul May 6, 2011 08:58 pm

    Thanks, and yes.... these can help with wedding photography!

  • Rahul Kumar May 4, 2011 05:37 pm

    Fantastic write-up. I entirely agree with Point No. 1 in 'Setting up a Lifestyle Shoot' as I can say from experience that I have indeed missed out (what I thought could have been) fantastic photographs.

    Delhi, India

  • elana May 2, 2011 08:04 am

    Personally, I would have to agree with Jose; although I think he was too harsh with his comments.
    I would have been upset at these pictures if I spend a day out as a client and received these shots at the end. For example picture #1. The first thing I read on DPS was watch your composition!!! The guy in that picture has a light fixture coming out of his head! It is very distracting. How could she be a wedding photographer and put up that picture as a picture to learn from. Yes, I understand that we all make mistakes, but I wouldn't have put up that picture as an example. I am here because I WANT to learn about photography, not point out obvious mistakes that even an amateur like me noticed right away. The last picture has so much flare in it that I find it distracting from the girl in the picture. Repeat, I have almost no photography background, but this author claims to be a **Wedding Photographer**; and is writing about photography. She should be more careful as to what pictures she puts up with her articles.

    I would NEVER even consider one of those shots for any of my portraits; and I did go to her website and left it uninspired. And DPS, I have been logging on to this website for 3 years already, but if you keep putting up articles that

  • Steve May 1, 2011 12:29 pm

    Wow, that first shot looks like the prince, doesn't it?

  • Mark May 1, 2011 09:23 am

    This was really interesting article, like some other people here I am interested in learning about new approaches.It's so competitive out there that anything we can do to give ourselves "stand out" is important.

    So, I kind of understand Jose's comments, I think Jose, you may just have delivered your comments in a way that was a little inflammatory. I do like to hear comments that are both negative and positive as I think its important that photo's have an effect on you. But equally it's important to identify what is positive about someone's work.

    However, by now you'll probably be so wound up that you'll slate every single photo I've taken...which won't bother me in the slightest and will make me laugh.

    So here's a few for starters....

    [eimg url='' title='wedding-photos']

  • G-Love May 1, 2011 04:10 am

    Here lemme clarify things for you Jose: not one picture there was of a brides 'special day' therefore it pretty much proves you wrong all by itself. Not all bridal photoshoots have to be specifically done at the wedding. So ther was really no point to saying that. Second, where you didn't understand the part where people respond to you: it seems that every time people respond in some way; you respond again in a more rude and upsetting matter, so I am greatful you did not to me. third: some one, in this case Christina, went through the time and effort to write this article. So she doesnt need ungrateful, rude, inconsiderate, and ignorant people like you around to put her down. And when you say that you are here to learn, then its not a very good idea to "bite the hand that feeds you" even if you don't like It. And why don't you go and make better pictures before you go criticizing the images above? I hope this helps you understand my "rant"

  • Dave April 30, 2011 05:45 pm

    Jason thank you for sharing from your experience. The technical notes were most helpful and the photographs inspiring.

  • James April 30, 2011 06:25 am

    Have to admit seeing any photo where the photographer tilts the camera at a 45 degree angle to make it more "artsy" make me just cringe.
    I do have to admit Jose had some good points, and yes there were strong, but kudos to Christina on a well written article.

  • Dimercaprol April 30, 2011 03:34 am

    The article was useful for me.

    Best wishes,

  • Scooter April 30, 2011 01:32 am

    Fitting a themed shoot to your client's personality is a blast! Retro styled senior shoots scooting around on a Vespa, water themed shoots in the city, BFF shoots with 4 or 5 close friends. Thanks for the article Christina!

  • Denise April 29, 2011 10:13 pm

    I've always felt the theme idea, though fun at the moment, doesn't generally produce a portrait that will endure over time and through generations. But I like the tips, especially regarding shooting between setups. I have a model who photographs best when she looks down at her shoes between takes. My best of her are always when she's not actually modelling. Go figure.

  • Terje April 29, 2011 10:07 pm

    Thanks for an interesting article and for a few good pictures to illustrate how to improve portrait images. I am also sorry that illiterate know-it-alls like Jose has the need to "elevate" them selves and their ignorance by trying to put others down.

    @Jose: The article header says "How to Take Portraits that Stand Out", which should have been a really important clue for you. Clearly that was too difficult to read.

    Now, another important thing that you apparently have no knowledge of is the fact that, when publishing example pictures, most professional photographers either put a watermark on their images or they sign them with their company name. This is for, among other things, to avoid others using their images without permission. The article author did just that, she put her company name on the pictures. Her company is called "Bride Inspired". If you check out the site she clearly does a lot of wedding photography.

    Now, here is where your incapacity for intelligent thought was a handicap to you Jose. You seemed to assume that someone signing images with their company name are only able to take pictures directly related to the company name. Imagine Christina's company was "African Safari Pictures", and she wrote this article. She might then have put "African Safari Pictures" as owner signature on the images, would you, completely ignoring the header and content of the article, have jumped all over her because the girls in the pictures didn't look anything like elephants and lions?

    You were simply wrong Jose. You made a mistake. You didn't think about that mistake. When someone pointed out to you that you had made a mistake you became irrational and started posting idiocy. Please, in the future, when people point out your mistakes, take them to hard and don't be the opening that most people have in their posterior.

  • Gareth April 29, 2011 05:36 pm

    After reading the comments, I find it difficult to believe that one article can generate so much tension. We should Thank Christina for her article, that's called manners. If you don't like what's been written or examples used then comment in a more constructive way.

    Jose I look forward to your article.

  • rick April 29, 2011 04:48 pm

    Thanks to your contribution. I find the article interesting just like the previous ones about sunrise portraits.

  • Sime April 29, 2011 04:19 pm

    Patrick, you've made your point... enough now, thanks.

    Back on Topic thank you folks.


  • Jose Jimenez April 29, 2011 04:13 pm

    G-Love - I don't know where you got the idea that "people responding might bother you", you must not have read my replies to the other persons that have posted here. If anybody can make sense of your rant more power to them, I know I can't.

  • G-Love April 29, 2011 02:45 pm

    Ok. @jose: if you don't like what has been pt up then don't read it. Someone went through the time and effort to make this and they don't need ungrateful rude people like you. Yes I understand that most brides probably wouldnt want pictures such as those for their 'special day'. But I'd you loook reaaaallll close, you'll notice that THER AREN'T ANY PICTURES IN A WEDDING DRESS. sometimes bridal shoots don't HAVE to be EXPLICITELY at the wedding. Some CAN be about the dally lives of the couple.
    I get that people responding might bother you, but have you seen what u just said? If you think these tips are sooo bad then how about you go and do better. Then come back and show us? And if your Here to "learn" then listen up buddy, you DON'T go running around criticizing the people who are trying to help. Like I said. Someone put their time and effort to do this. So don't go biting the hand that feeds you. Even if it does taste bad, at least it's food. "DO YOU UNDRSTAND NOW"!?!?!

  • albob April 29, 2011 02:15 pm

    Oh blog blog blog....what happened to the love of ones self...which your clients pick up and give back in their faces........At 78, I have seen the digital replace the 4x5 Speed Graphic.Dark rooms and proofs......
    With all the easy and fast ways to be a awesome photographer and not totally love to be a person that
    should be doing some thing else .

  • Sime April 29, 2011 01:41 pm


    Photography is subjective, and with that subjectivity will come strong opinion. I take no issue with Jose suggesting that the article is made from mere snapshots, that is his opinion and he's certainly entitled to it. I don't subscribe to his point of view and I certainly don't like his further personal attacks - but hey, this is the internet, we're not always going to like everything everyone says.

    As for you suggesting there's issues in the forum, that's forums for you - sometimes people state their opinions in less than graceful terms, I think, and I'm certain many others agree, dPS is one of the most tame forums in this space - if some of the daft things said in dPS were typed out in any of the other forums I frequent, the poster would be laughed off... I think, most of the time, people show great restraint in the dPS forums and that a hell of a lot of good, free, learning goes on.

    If you don't like the thread, pop over to another one, or better still - start one yourself, that way, you get to learn and avoid the 'trouble spots'

    I've gone back through posts on the blog and have found that almost all the writers (who write for free) get an equal amount of bad and good comments and we're all open to that...

    I hope that helps with your perspective, though, as I said, it's your opinion and you're certainly entitled to it.


  • Louise April 29, 2011 12:16 pm

    I really liked the shots!

  • Chris April 29, 2011 10:53 am

    Great points. I'm considering a family portrait opportunity and a themed shoot would be great to get everyone inspired on shoot day.

    Just a little feedback on the first photo on this post. It looks like the door mechanism is sitting on the dude head like a hat. Just saying.

    Great article! Thank you.

  • Barry April 29, 2011 08:59 am

    Article has good insight. Tick
    Photos need some constructive criticism.
    #1. I can see where the photographer was going with this, but the umbrella should have been moved as it is distracting. It looks like the tog was going for symmetry, but the straight lines in the doorway are off a bit, making my head tilt to look at it. The poses need work, especially the guy, as he is standing square-on and awkward toward the camera.
    #2 is good. Face well lit but slightly too bright in the background natural high-key light, detracting from the subject by overpowering. Great composition, could be improved only slightly by including her feet.
    #3Not sure about this one. It looks slightly rushed, but is a good candid shot capturing a nice intimate moment.
    #4. Very washed out again by natural high-key light overpowering the subject. I get this idea and it's fine, but could be fixed by stronger strobe-lighting from the front.

  • Noah April 29, 2011 07:13 am

    Show your work, Jose. You are allowed your own if you can back up what you are saying...

  • Editwizard April 29, 2011 05:56 am

    Being that these are all outdoor shots, I think you can easily edge out the Picture People and mall portrait chop shops.

    I really like the last two shots but in the first one I'd have cloned out the door closer above the guy's head. Looks like a hat haha.

  • Tortuga April 29, 2011 04:49 am

    Thank you for the article. It gave me ideas to consider and test. The perceived controversy over the pictures used is a mystery to me - I felt you were demonstrating that the pictures were more about what the client wanted - that would mean much more to them. We should be more concerned about their wants - more of them and less of us. Thanks again.
    P.S. Erik's Madmen was a great link to top off the article - be sure to check it out.

  • F-64 stopper April 28, 2011 08:42 am

    Since when do "mini-mart" 7-11's do portraits now? Those cookie cutter studios have been around since a very long time ago. Those are nothing new. Fact is, they see business because they are cheaper and more affordable. Their quality, of course, is obviously questionable, but they get business.

    Want to make great portraits, take a class on it, learn to light, and be creative. Reading a website isn't going to teach you how to interact with people and get them to open up. It will show you how other people work, not how to develop your own individual style.

  • sonya payne April 28, 2011 08:16 am


  • Jon White April 28, 2011 03:33 am

    What a shame that an harmless article has come to back and forth bickering. I've really enjoyed reading virtually every article over the last year or so since I picked up my camera, but if feedback goes catty then takes the shine off the whole idea of this site. Shame.

    Re the article: I quite liked it and the photos are good, the arguing however has made me forget half of what I read! Thanks for taking the time to share Christina.

  • MJ April 28, 2011 02:50 am

    Great article. I concur on the tips. They do work. I have done them and the creative process is alot of fun for all involved. Loved your pictures as always. You are a source of inspiration Christina. Thank you!

  • Celesta April 27, 2011 11:29 pm

    Please stop attacking other commentators - that goes to both sides. I was on both sides and observed a trivial fact: when someone says a thanks or leaves a good feedback, there is no reaction from others, but once someone decides to criticize an article, whether in a tactful or more straightforward or provoking way, s/he get a load of aggressive reaction from other people. It is doomed. There is no way anymore to say you don't like the photographs and don't get a s#!tload in response, including personal opinions about your own photography, insensitive accusations etc. Just stop doing it. If you think that the commentator should have kept his opinion to himself - apply it to yourself and don't pump the flame further!

    @Sime: That said, my feedback to dPs: please review if you have authors who _consistently_ get controversial feedback. I read close to every article. You can count on one hand the authors who are prone to be criticized. Maybe you see the controversy as an opportunity to get more clicks and more advertising. But we also vote with our dollars when we buy - or buy not - the dPs books and follow the sponsored product recommendations, based on the credibility of the resource and whether we develop any negative emotions about it. I am repelled with what is going on in the forums recently.
    What I would really like to see is not another article from Christina but maybe a feedback session with her. Maybe a wishful thinking, but does anything people say propel her to try and do something different in her methods?

  • Wayfaring Wanderer April 27, 2011 11:38 am

    How funny that I came across this post because I am currently planning my very first themed photoshoot. I'm happy to know that I am approaching it in the right way, too. Although I had a little bit of an edge because I also do graphic design, so I started off with obtaining the details as I would for a design project.

    The plans are moving along rather nicely. I can wait for the next phase of our planning! Themed shoots are exciting :D


  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer April 27, 2011 11:01 am

    I like the idea of using props to add interest to a portrait as in the use of ice cream cones in the second to last example and the gun in the one above that (although I would not personally choose to use one in a shot). I photographed a couple for their engagement session, and the first time was not so dynamic no matter what I tried. I offered a second shoot (close to where I live) and tried to make use of urban props, for example a ONE WAY sign as in this shot:

    When making portraits and not working with models I find the hardest thing is to add a dynamic element to the shot and basically make the people not stiff. Props I think can help with that.

    About the quality of the photography in this post, and recent posts on dPS.....I agree it is not cool to just rip on other people's work, however, I cannot overlook that the overall quality of images in recent posts is not at a level I would pay for myself (if I were the photographer's client). Now I did have my eyes dilated a few hours ago during an eye exam, but I am pretty sure even if I look at the shots in this post tomorrow they will still look out of focus, especially the lead shot and the gun shot. I could guess maybe some "classical soft focus" may have been intended in the gun shot, but the lead shot is just plain out of focus to me. Maybe a 60% unsharp mask could fix it.

  • In_sleep April 27, 2011 10:10 am

    I echo jose's sentiments, even if he did go about it in the wrong way. These images supplied with the article don't stand out in the way that the article purports they do. The article itself, whilst giving some useful advice, doesn't compare to others on the site.

    IMO This article was far more useful and the photos really do 'stand out'.

    Just my thoughts on the matter

  • Javan April 27, 2011 04:14 am

    I do not think these pictures look like snapshots- the faces are too well lit.

    May I suggest that it is not the quality and content of this website that has degraded, but rather that certain people who have replied negatively (overly so) may have simply evolved beyond what it has to offer and are now much better photographers and should seek out a different site that can keep up with their knowledge and skills.

  • Megan April 27, 2011 02:05 am

    I really love and appreciate this website. At one time I was a first-year photography teacher, and whenever I needed quick tips to pass on to my students, or a refresher on something specific, this was always my "go-to" website. There is an abundance of knowledge and experience in the writings here and even if one of the articles doesn't help me all that much, I eventually find another one that does.

    @Jose, If/when an article bothers you, why not just move and on find another one? There is so much info on photography out there in the world wide web; it's easy to find something that works for you. We all have a common goal be the best photographers we can be. isn't there enough cruelty and meanness in the world already? Maybe we should all try expressing our opinions in a way that is supportive and kind instead of rude and just plain mean. And as someone else stated above, a photograph may be boring and uninspiring to one person, but interesting and inspiring to another. I think the photos above are sufficient for the article. Good job, Ms. Dickson!

  • fortunato_uno April 26, 2011 10:17 pm

    I like the article. I understand the diffaculty of shooting a person/couple in an enviroment thats not a studio with alll the lights and umbrellas. If you look at the shot of the young lady that has the lense flare, you know it was tough to get a proper metering on a shot like that. Also the shot with the snow, That requires a shutter speed that will have a part of the image being the actual snow, thus setting the mood for the shot.

    There are a number of good points like having a sit down with the client so you can try and bring out some of the personallity of the subjects, using props that reflect the life style of the client, and to practice using your friends.

    All good points but, with people like Jose (who niether adds to the conversation or shows any thing to back his words) just finding fault, the disscussion dies.

    One thing I'd like to add is that some times a portrait session is spur of the moment.
    I was watching the swearing in of my brother at the state capital when I saw a young couple soon to have a child. I took the opertunity to promote my self. I asked if they'd like a shot and they happily said yes. So I was under the gun. I had little time to work on the shot/idea so thinking quick, I had them back up against the rail. This showed the new life (him being a state Rep) and the life yet too be (her with the belly full of child). Was it the best shot, maybe not, but I'm certain it's a very meaningful image to the couple.!/media/1014642-the-future

    Now why can't Jose do something like that? Add to it so we can learn by having his greatness shine on us all.

    In closing I learned something from this article, but not from the replys.

  • john harris April 26, 2011 03:16 pm

    Very good article. More than any other aspect of a photographer's business, his/her Portraiture defines and lays bare the craftman's expertise; as well as how his/her own personality is expressed in the work. I have not met a good portrait photographer that bomblasts other's productions and, I have been in the business since the 1950s. The more optimistic and inquisitive the craftsman, the better the work. No true artist can be satisfied with the last production . . . The challenge for the future would focus on optimism and improvement. It's all very simple: You cannot be satisfied with your past work and be happy; you must see improvement to reach happiness and pride in your work.

    I thought that Jose Jimenez (Bill Dana) died on the Ed Sullivan "Toast Of The Town" variety show.

    Thank you . . .


  • elisnook April 26, 2011 12:46 pm

    If your going to criticize. At least offer ways to improve it. Or post something you've done that you believe is better. We all have different tastes, but I get tired of all the criticism that's not constructive.

  • Conor April 26, 2011 12:41 pm

    Sooooo many smartass knowitalls here.

    Maybe they can take over the website.

  • happyspace April 26, 2011 11:00 am

    I agree with Jose. Many of the articles and associated photos have really gone down hill lately. No, I don't have a better alternative as I'm just learning but recently, either the writing is a poor and incoherent bunch of "tips", or the photos that are supposed to illustrate the concepts are bad, or both (and I won't even mention the "reviews" and the blatant plugs for people's blogs/businesses that contain little helpful information).

    I'm not trying to bring anyone down but a little quality control wouldn't go amiss.

  • Sime April 26, 2011 10:54 am

    Jose, you're allowed your opinion... you had it in your first post?

    You third post was the one that annoyed me...

    "What we see here are snapshots anyone could have fired off without giving the subject any thought, apparently attempting to depict originality and skill."

  • Ilona Nelson April 26, 2011 10:53 am

    Thank you Christina for your article! I think it's great to hear how other photographers work as it gives you different perspectives and can spark a fresh approach to your own work. Shaking things up with new ideas is always a good thing!

    I love doing portraits with themes, I find it more creative and heaps of fun x

  • Jake April 26, 2011 10:52 am

    Cheesy props are a staple of the very chain studios from which that this article encourages us to distinguish ourselves. Props that are meaningful to the subjects, like a child's favorite toy, can add specia significance to a portrait. however artificial props, purchased just for a shoot, like vintage luggage, can be unintentionally ridiculous. There's even a site, lostmodels, poking fun at this "theme" that could be this decade's couple-in-a-brandy-snifter shot. Not that it can't be pulled off, but we should be careful not to cross that fine line into cheesy. The subject should not look back on the image in 10 years and ask, "what was I thinking? Who do these things belong to?".

  • Alex Bear April 26, 2011 10:46 am

    Yes, perhaps we must agree to disagree. Or perhaps, one or both of our opinions are being lost in translation.

  • Jose Jimenez April 26, 2011 10:43 am

    Well, I guess that's your opinion. Apparently I'm not allowed mine if it conflicts with yours. As they say, everyone has one...

  • Alex Bear April 26, 2011 10:24 am

    Perhaps you can take Sime's advice next time and hit the "Contact Us" button at the top to share these opinions of yours.

    A lot of articles on DPS come from people that don't work for DPS, but rather have been asked to write a piece or perhaps a fellow reader such as you and myself. So I don't see anything civil in throwing Miss Christina Dickson under the bus like you did with such comments as: "What we see here are snapshots anyone could have fired off without giving the subject any thought, apparently attempting to depict originality and skill."

  • Jose Jimenez April 26, 2011 10:13 am

    You can get down off your high horse any time, Alex. Just because I'm not afraid to express my opinions doesn't mean I'm not "civil". You seem to have missed the point entirely. If you'll read my comments you'll see that I'm saying that having someone post articles here that are genuinely insightful and helpful to others would be greatly appreciated. I just don't believe this particular article and others I have seen here lately do that. My purpose here is not to provide "positive" or "negative" reinforcement to anyone but hopefully to learn something of value that I can make use of in my own photography. Isn't that what people come here for?

  • Sime April 26, 2011 10:02 am


    I strongly second what Alex has said... "perhaps you could have shared some ideas you have on how you make your portraits stand out, or share a link to your blog that may have better examples."

    People that come to our blog and offer nothing but negativity are the types of people that don't help anyone, at all...

    If you don't like the article, it's totally fine to say that - but you offer no alternative. If the article doesn't appeal, simply move along and find something that does appeal, or click the contact button at the top and submit your own work - we're open to submissions.

    You say we've become overly politically correct, not pointing out images that don't please you... Photography is subjective - your chocolate is my poison etc.

    My mother always said "If you don't have anything positive to say, go away and think about a positive way to say something negative"

    Sime | dPS Customer Service

  • Alex Bear April 26, 2011 09:40 am

    Perhaps we should live in separate communities then. Because I have no desire to be a part of a group which tear each other down, with no positive reinforcement. Instead of all this negativity that you have brought, perhaps you could have shared some ideas you have on how you make your portraits stand out, or share a link to your blog that may have better examples.
    I am not asking for conformity, but rather civil feedback.

  • Jose Jimenez April 26, 2011 09:16 am

    well, Alex, perhaps a better way to build a photographic community would be to invite photographers here to write articles that actually have some merit and educational value that we could all learn from rather than those who apparently see this site simply as a way to get their names in the media. Let's face it, we've become so politically correct that people are afraid to speak their minds about what is or isn't a good photo any more. Maybe a better photographic community would entail people challenging what they are told and actually using their own common sense rather than following along with the herd.

  • Alex Bear April 26, 2011 08:50 am

    Wow! Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed today!
    Great way to build a photographic community with quotes like "What we see here are snapshots anyone could have fired off without giving the subject any thought, apparently attempting to depict originality and skill." and "what about “Bride Inspired” don’t you understand, John?"....

    Someone needs to chill out. Namely Jose.

  • Scott E. Detweiler April 26, 2011 08:28 am

    I would agree that they are perhaps not the best examples of bridal work, but they are decent portraits.

  • Jose Jimenez April 26, 2011 07:53 am

    addendum to above - regardless of what type of name you give these portraits they are still boring photos that convey nothing. I've always understood portraits should convey some insight into the person depicted in the photograph. What we see here are snapshots anyone could have fired off without giving the subject any thought, apparently attempting to depict originality and skill.

  • Jose Jimenez April 26, 2011 07:48 am

    what about "Bride Inspired" don't you understand, John? They are all bridal portraits.

  • John April 26, 2011 05:39 am

    @Jose: this was not about wedding photography

  • Jose Jimenez April 26, 2011 03:23 am

    Your examples are uninspired and unappealing, no prospective bride I know would choose photos like this to represent one of the most important days in her life.

  • Scott E. Detweiler April 26, 2011 03:17 am

    My blog is nothing but portrait lighting and photoshop tutorials. I think you did a great job on the article.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck April 26, 2011 02:36 am


    I recently completed a project for Men in Insurance for a California Association wanting to promote their talents. What we did was invite men from different agencies to the Studio and asked them to come with a theme in mind and to bring their own props. This turned out to be the most successful and fun shoot ever. It created so much buzz that people were contacting us about the "next" calendar and how they can get involved.
    With each team bringing their own ideas, this got them immediately involved and made everything so much easier!

    Here is one groups theme - MadMen :

    Regards, Erik

  • Jen April 26, 2011 01:16 am

    Thanks for the article. I'm always interested in reading about achieving better portraits.