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

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

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

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You never know. You just never know. Sometimes, during a portrait session, the family warms up quickly to the camera and your best portraits are among the first images you capture. But, at other times, for reasons you can never quite explain, the portrait session evolves more gradually, and the best images come at the very end. This is why I always arrange my portrait sessions like a pair of bookends: a major family pose at the beginning and another, different pose at the end, with lots of variety and fun in between. That way, whether the family is quick off the mark or if they gel to a rhythm all their own, I’m sure to get a spectacular portrait. With Wes and Gina’s family, we had taken a series of solid portraits, but, right up to the end of the session, we hadn’t gotten that special something, that wow! shot. So, I quickly set up one last composition and pose. It had been a warm evening, and the family was tiring. Stella, the baby, in particular, had just about lost it. She was beginning to cry. But knowing that even a fussy baby can still find a way to smile, I urged the family to hang in there with me. From the look in their eye, I could tell they weren’t quite sure! But as I interacted with them to bring out their expressions, Bam! there it was—the portrait you see at the top of this post. When they came to my studio office in the Belvidere Mansion to view their proofs, this is the image they gravitated to at once. Without hesitation, they knew it would become their wall portrait. Which, to be honest, is a good thing—if the final images had turned out badly, I would have been in the doghouse for having pushed them at the end of the session. But, my instincts were on target, and the portrait now hangs proudly in their home. Good things really to do come to those who wait!

Tom Launius, CPP
918.729.0500