Oak Tree Photography bio picture

Wait for the Magic

steeleandsterlingSteele and Sterling are twin brothers. And…they are a handful. What four year old boy isn’t? But then, you have two of them together, and the energy doubles—no—quadruples! Not only that, but one of them has autism. Not as severe as it could be, but severe enough to affect his ability to stay in one place, to make eye contact, or even to smile. The portraits were arranged by their grandparents—who were hopeful they would turn out well. I was hopeful, too, but I couldn’t help being concerned. What if I couldn’t evoke a smile? Or even get them to stay together long enough for a portrait? I so much wanted to do my best for their family, but I couldn’t be sure how things would turn out. So, I spoke at length with the grandparents, to find out as much as I could about what might work and what might not, and to be aware of any triggers. I also read up some more on autism myself. And, I revisited my bag of tricks for working with children, to make sure I had every resource possible at my disposal. The day of the portraits came, and I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that it was rough at times. A few things I tried worked somewhat, but others didn’t work at all, and as we neared the end of the time set aside for the portraits, I still didn’t have that “Wow” shot in the camera. But I dug deep, tried yet another of my bag of tricks…and the magic began! The expressions opened up, the smiles came, and I captured an amazing portrait of the two of them. I cannot overstate how relieved and grateful I felt, and how fulfilling it was to create something that, by all reasonable expectations, might never have come about at all.

Tom Launius, CPP
918.729.0500

Black and White Forever

rachelI love the look that comes when shooting in black and white. With every outdoor senior session I do, I try to find some way to shoot one set of images that way. This calls for extra effort—finding the right light and location, putting up a backdrop, getting the hair light just right, setting the camera to record in black and white—but I find the effort to be well worth the outcome. Because the outcome are these marvelous images that seem to step out of time, capturing a mood or an expression that, for whatever reason, simply do not work when shooting in color. In fact, every now and then, I’ll have a client ask “Could I see that image in color?” and I’ll reply, “I shot them in black and white, so I don’t have a color version to show you, but even if I did, you would see for itself that it works far better in black and white.” Here with this blog post is one of my favorite images from Rachel’s senior portraits. I love the pose, the expression, and the beautiful tonality of the black and white. I was not at all surprised when Rachel and her family loved it too! After all, others sense the special quality and mood that only black and white images cna produce, and they are drawn to them as well.

Tom Launius, CPP
918.729.0500

Another Clothing Rant (er…Explanation)

salamat-2Now this is my kind of portrait—classic pose, natural expressions, color harmony among the clothing choices, perfect light, lovely surroundings—everything is working together to make a superb portrait. Except this isn’t how the portrait originally looked. For the sake of this blog post, I digitally altered the little girl’s dress. I changed its color so it would fit in with what her parents were wearing. The parents were wearing blue jeans and blue shirts, so I made the girl’s dress a similar color of blue. When this is done, everyone is wearing something unique, yet everything fits together. The family looks harmonious. What stands out the most are their skin tones and their facial expressions. This is exactly what you want in a portrait that can stand the test of time.

salamat-3So this is how their clothes really looked on the day of their portrait. Their little girl’s dress was a bright yellow, as you can see. And I hope you can see how much this color detracts from the overall image. The dress “sticks out”. It is brighter and warmer than the skin tones, and of course it is much brighter than the dark blues her parents are wearing. In a sense, the picture becomes more about her dress than it does about the family as a whole. Now I know that it is tempting to “show off” your child by putting them in something bright and playful. And I also know that most children’s clothing is bright—our culture tends to gravitate towards that kind of clothing for children. But the portrait will work out so much better if you resist that temptation and choose something that is more understated, something that blends well with what the adults are wearing. And do you know what will happen then? Your child will stand out more, not less, in the portrait, because their expression not their clothes will be what draws the eye!

Don’t believe me? Then try a little experiment for me: close your eyes almost all of the way, so that you are looking through your eyelashes and everything in front of you looks blurry. Then look at the two pictures below. Because your eyes are nearly closed, all of the detail will be blurred away. What do you see most? What stands out for you? I’m almost certain you will find that in the image on the left, where the girl’s dress is blue, what will stand out are the faces. But in the image on the right, where the dress is bright yellow, it is the dress that stands out most of all! See what I mean? Have the entire family wear harmonious clothing, and the portrait will be superior!

Tom Launius, CPP
918.729.0500salamat-1

Why There Is No Portrait Here

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As with any other kind of business, I receive inquiries about my services, and most of those inquiries begin with price. They say, “We want family pictures and how much are your packages?”  Many inquiries start this way because people don’t know what else to ask—they don’t know enough about how portraits are created to ask questions that would assess the quality of my photography. Other inquiries come about because, like all photographers on the higher end of the quality scale, I don’t publish my prices on this web site, and so potential clients want to know before they commit. And yet other inquiries come about because a person has a predetermined idea of what they want and what they will pay, and they want to know if I fit within their expectations. To be honest, all of these  inquiries create challenges for photographers in how they will respond. At the risk of letting out a trade secret, photographers like myself even go to seminars to learn how to respond in a way that will overcome resistance and lead to a portrait booking! But actually, none of the techniques that are taught work. Try to inform a potential client about the complexity and difficulty of portrait photography? Then you come across as defensive or, even worse, patronizing. Try to deflect the issue of price and entice them to book before they know fully what they’re getting into? Then you appear deceitful or manipulative. Try to enlarge the scope of their expectations, to consider large wall portraits for their decor and a corresponding larger investment? Then you come across as telling them not only how to decorate their homes but how to live their lives.

I recently exchanged extensive emails with a potential client who, at least from outward appearances, seemed to have all of the resources necessary for beautiful portraiture. But they wanted only a single image—of course a digital image!—that they would print themselves. They were convinced they simply could not do any more than that. Here is one of my replies:

It sometimes is the case, when a person approaches me for photography, that they have such specific focus on one particular product or outcome, that what I offer ends up not being a match for what they are looking for. My portraiture is designed for a beautiful and creative and extensive photographic experience that generates heirloom quality portraits that people will gladly display in their home with pride, not just now, but for decades to come. It is just this experience that I would most deeply like to persuade you of its value, and that your resources are well served being placed towards such a purpose. It is also sometimes the case that, when a potential client is very much intent upon discovering the bottom line of how much the portraiture will cost, that they get skittish and shy away. I’ve become convinced that this is because, even though they look at the quality of the portraits on my web site, they still cannot imagine their joy when they see their family looking as they had always hoped they would look. The portraiture I create is all about grace, and, of course, with grace comes risk, in trusting yourself to a process whose final outcome you cannot yet see.

As it turns out, this client could not let go of their initial expectations and open themselves to something greater. So, that is why there is no portrait attached to this post—none was created! This saddened me, but not for the reason that might occur to you—it had nothing to do with however much I would have earned from creating their portraits. My photography business has grown over the years and, while I devote myself totally, I am amply rewarded. So, no, it didn’t have anything to do with income. Instead, my disappointment had to do with the lost opportunity—for that family to experience portraits that would literally change the way they see themselves now, and how they would remember themselves in the future. Portraiture is all about grace, and, as I said in the email quoted above, with grace comes risk.

Tom Launius, CPP
918.729.0500

The Music Within

jack1The greatest joy of portrait photography is the creativity that happens when you match a person and their character with the light, the setting, the expression, and the gesture. This creative moment came together especially well with Jack’s senior portrait. Jack loves music and is an accomplished pianist. Not having a grand piano in my studio, I arranged with a friend to use their home with its Kohler & Campbell. Positioning the piano near a floor to ceiling window, I placed a white scrim over the window to soften the light. A beautiful painting by a local artist, in a style reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, was moved from another wall and placed behind Jack. Then I had Jack place his hands, relax and breathe, then look directly into the lens. The result is this portrait. You can judge its effectiveness for yourself. Jack and his family loved it—they could see his confidence, his poise, and the profound love he has for music. This portrait will stand the test of time, because it shows the music within!

Tom Launius, CPP
918.729.0500