Oak Tree Photography bio picture

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

Over the Top Senior Portrait

nathanSome times ya gotta go all out. That’s what I do, when I find out a senior is into sports. There’s a lighting setup for sports photography that has been developed by commercial photographers who shoot for ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Nike, etc. that makes an athlete look awesome. They come across strong, confident, forceful, larger than life. There’s just one problem. This lighting setup is complex, requiring at least four powerful studio strobes and nearly two hours of setup on location. But I’m all in. The time doesn’t matter. I want to create amazing images. Like this image of Nathan. When we came to the part of the shoot when we were doing the sports shots, and I showed him the back of the camera when I took this image. he was stoked. He couldn’t believe how great he l0oked in the shot. Which made all the effort worthwhile. He and his family not only got this image, but many others from the same set, because they all looked so good. Now that’s the way to go!

Tom Launius, CPP
918.729.0500

Best Dressed Award (And Accompanying Rant!)

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When the Bunten family arrived at my studio estate for their portraits, and stepped out of their vehicle, the moment I saw their clothing, my heart leapt for joy. Their outfits were perfect. In fact, they won my “Best Dressed Award” for the season. Look carefully at their portrait: the colors in the Mom’s top are perfectly matched in her family’s clothing. The light blue on her son, the coral on her daughter, the mint green on her husband: all of these colors are in her top. Because of this, her family’s portrait has a strong sense of distinct individuality within a bond of harmonious unity. Not only that, but everyone in the portrait is wearing at least short sleeves (Mom is wearing three-quarter sleeves–smart move!) This insures that the viewer of the portrait will have their eyes drawn more to their faces, and not to skin tones on their arms. Finally, everyone in the portrait is wearing long pants. The day of their portrait was warm, and the Bunten’s may have been tempted to wear shorts, but doing so would have greatly reduced my options in terms of how I could have posed them (imagine the son and daughter in this pose wearing shorts–not appropriate!) Also, wearing shorts would have drawn a viewer of this portrait away from the faces and towards the skin tones on the legs.

Their clothing choices made for a portrait that is even stronger than it would have been had they indulged in the three “no-no’s” of dressing your family for a portrait:buntenWhiteShirt

1) No one should be wearing white! Wearing white will make that person stick out and make them look heavier. Don’t believe me? Look at the modified image of the Bunten family, where I have made the husband’s shirt look white. Doesn’t he stick out? Doesn’t he look heavier? Everyone in the family should be wearing some form of color that goes together harmoniously—no one should wear white!

2) No females in the family should wear sleeveless tops—even though they are trendy and comfortable in the warmer months, they will make everyone wearing them look heavier and they will detract from the eye being draw to the faces in the portrait. All females in the portrait should wear at least short sleeves. (If a female family member has a sleeveless top that they just have to wear, they could put a shrug over it—as long as the shrug is not white (see number one above!))

3) No member of the family should wear shorts, no matter how warm it is outside. Family members wearing shorts limit my options on how I can pose them, especially when the shorts are cut with very wide leg openings like they usually are. In addition, any skin tones visible on the legs will distract the eye from the faces when the portrait is viewed. It’s much better for everyone to wear some form of long pants!

As a portrait photographer, there are so many variables to respond to when we are outside: the wind and the weather; the current condition of my studio estate; the time of day and the position of the sun; not to mention the family and their personalities and behaviors. When it comes to how your family is dressed for the portrait, I will photograph you however you are dressed when you arrive. But please, please, know that the portraits will look so much better if you listen to my rant, pay attention to the guidelines, and make the effort to dress your family appropriately. Then maybe your family can be the next winner of the “Best Dressed Award”!

Tom Launius, CPP
918.729.0500