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Photographic Portrait

Color. Color. Color.

Cynthia Brown portrait of a model in front of a wall of lockers

Cyndi Brown is a multi-faceted content creator with a background in photography, videography and graphic design. Her work spans commercial, lifestyle and portraiture. She says she doesn’t really define her work as one type or another because she’s always growing and trying new things.

Cyndi is known to her clients for the bold, dramatic colors you’ll find in her imagery.

“Color is what I’m known for. I’m very intentional when it comes to concepts and mood boards and scouting—making sure the color element is always a priority.”

All about the mood

Beginning shoots using a mood board is her go to thing. She uses them to show clients her vision for each specific shoot. Cyndi has also been lucky enough to have been able to work with clients who give her the freedom to just “do her thing” when it comes to creating imagery.

When it comes to designing a photo shoot, Cyndi builds on the feeling her client is trying to portray and then adds her own twist on it.

“It’s really more about a feeling and a vibe for me that inspires the design of the shoot.“

Other aspects of a shoot, like the location or even a certain outfit the client wants to showcase can also inspire a shoot, but Cyndi always brings it back to the all-important mood board.

“If I find a mood or the client has a certain outfit, I use that to set the tone for whatever location I find. If I find a location before I create a mood, I use the location to inspire the mood.”

A great example of a location inspiring a shoot is the photo of the model in front of the wall of lockers (at the top of the blog post). Cyndi saw the lockers and was immediately drawn to them and so she built a team and returned for a shoot around them.

Lighting is another aspect of a shoot that is super important. Depending upon the style of the shoot and the mood the client is trying to elicit, the right lighting can add to it. Cyndi does a lot of available light photography.

“I depend on the sun and my reflector more than anything so making sure I’m maximizing certain times of the day so I can execute the exact vision is vital.”

Cynthia Brown portrait of a model with short red hair

Getting Emotional

Another aspect of portraiture is being able to elicit the emotion you need for an image to be successful. And that may mean explaining in great detail what you, as the photographer are trying to achieve, or in other instances it may mean demonstrating to a subject exactly how you need them to pose.

“Sometimes we just get in a vibe and I shoot until I feel it, other times the model is just that amazing and we’re on the same page from the beginning.”

It can sometimes be difficult to bring a subject out of her shell, but there are things you can do, like getting to know them before you begin shooting or even acting goofy can relax a nervous subject.

“I find what helps me (because I’m shy and introverted) is asking them questions about themselves, to make sure we’re both extremely comfortable. I’ll also act goofy to relax models, so setting the tone is important for me.”

Cynthia Brown portrait of a model in bright colors with a huge ponytail

Paying it forward

Cyndi also enjoys educating others.

“When I first started I didn’t have access to a mentor to help me and being that I’m self-taught it was hard for me, so I wanted to make sure I used my platform to help and educate beginners about camera settings and lighting. I do one-on-one classes and group workshops where I’m able to teach more experienced photographers as well.”

Photographic Portrait

Bending the Light

JT portrait of a woman looking at the camera, lit by pink neon

JT defines himself in one word: Creator. Creator encompasses all of his skill sets: photography, filmmaking, motion graphics and 3D animation. “All of these mediums have a certain reciprocity with each other, allowing me to solve creative challenges in unique ways,” he explains.

JT has been a shutterbug since the age of 5, learned the basics of photography in high school and bought his first DSLR in 2009. After receiving a BFA degree, he enlisted in the Air Force where he’s been a military photographer and videographer ever since. JT attended the prestigious Syracuse University Military Photojournalism course at the Newhouse School in 2018, and credits it as a creative turning point for his photography.

JT portrait of a woman with orange and green neon

Color theory and harmony

JT’s imagery is a journey of experimentation with Light and Color searching for the harmony between light, color and subject, that the viewer connects with.

“A solid understanding of color is crucial. Color theory—understanding complementary colors and how certain hues evoke specific feeling or emotion—is at the core of my work.”

However he often experiments in B&W, seeing the light without the distraction of color.

“Only after seeing exactly how a modifier or technique affects the light source, will I begin to add color back to the images.”

“I really love the color vibrancy that I’m able to pull out of the Z 6 and Z 7—my style really depends on a solid representation of what I’m seeing with my eyes.”

JT portrait of a couple, taken lit with neon signs

Neon as light source

JT often uses neon signage as a light source for portraits, for the soft and flattering, saturated quality of light they emit.

“I love the way colors interact with each other and my subject. It’s a specific harmony that is difficult to recreate with other light sources. I gravitate towards certain hues, seeking out certain signs.”

You want to stay away from single-color lights because more often than not, the look will seem as if your white balance was incorrect. Instead, seek out lights with strong complementary colors that both stand alone and blend well, for example Blue + Red = Purple.

JT has his own “neon studio” with a handful of signs he’s collected which make it convenient when shooting in winter (too cold to be outdoors) and sadly (for neon fans) as more and more companies migrate from neon to more efficient LED lighting.

JT has been lucky in that most, if not all of the individuals he’s worked with for these types of portraits have specifically reached out to him because of his style.

“I try to utilize the light, color and composition to put my model in a surreal neon world with minimal need for post-processing. There’s always a balance of using the light to emphasize characteristics of the model and not have it overshadow them.”

JT photo of the reflection of lights in a puddle on a wet street

Designing the shot

Designing the shot begins with the light. Once JT sees how the light and color will interact with skin tone, he then moves on to posing his subjects and deciding on the camera angle.

“As much as I love neon lighting, I utilize everything in my tool kit from LED light panels, Speedlights and gels, strobes and soft boxes, and of course natural sunlight. I believe it’s important to be a well-rounded photographer that can make great imagery in a variety of conditions.”

“My photography for the Air Force and Space Force has greatly influenced my run and gun shooting style, and where my ‘RunNGun’ YouTube name originates. Found-light is a light source I don’t have to carry around in my bag, which is why I love on-location neon signs, allowing me to shoot and move quicker. I can utilize techniques I’ve learned to turn any lighting situation into a good image.”

JT’s experience has given him the ability to use whatever light is available to him to craft the best photograph possible. Whether that’s natural light, the light from a cellphone, a Speedlight or a pro studio strobe and softbox.

“I believe it’s crucial to understand the qualities of light: intensity, color, hardness or softness, and direction. When you learn what makes hard light vs. soft light for example, the possibilities become limitless on what you can create.”

JT photo of a metallic looking skull, lit with neon lights

Pay it forward

JT started his YouTube channel in early 2017 as a way to pay it forward. JT says teaching inspires him: “It challenges me to be a better photographer. The more I teach and share what I know, the more I’m motivated to learn.” Check out his RunNGun YouTube Channel for videos on topics like: photography hacks, simple editing tips, winter photography tips, light painting, editing amazing time-lapse videos and much more.

Photographic Portrait

Me. From all angles.

Meagan Bolds self-portrait holding her hands as if framing herself
An experiment in using limited lighting. The scene was lit using living room lighting and a television.

Like many other photographers during the pandemic lockdowns, Meagan Bolds has had to become more creative to keep her photography going. A concert photographer turned portraitist, Meagan also found that turning the camera on herself helped her grow her techniques for photographing others; including posing, lighting, new techniques to try, even new post-production ideas.

Meagan Bolds persephone inspired self portrait
Building a prop cloud during quarantine inspired the “Persephone” shoot.

Practice makes perfect

“When I started shooting more portraits, I realized I didn’t really know how to pose people. I’m a very hands-on learner, nothing sticks unless I get to practice at it, so I decided to put myself in front of the camera to work on it.”

“My self-portraits took on a life of their own, though, when the pandemic started. I wanted to stay creative while staying isolated, and my options were taking pet portraits and self-portraits.”

Ask how she defines her work and Meagan will tell you “Random. I make too many different things, especially now that I’ve been out of my usual element, to really put myself in a box. I guess I would say it’s clean or bright. If I’m going to do anything, I’m going to add a pop of color or overexpose a little to make the scene more dreamlike.”

Meagan Bolds self-portrait at night with lighted triangles
Based on an internet joke, this shoot answered the question “what would your superpower be?”

Just have fun

As Meagan notes, a self-portrait can be as simple as a quick selfie to show off your new hair color or makeup technique, to wanting a photo to practice a specific post-processing technique to getting the itch to take a photo and not having another model to collaborate with to planning a shoot specifically with herself as the model.

“I love the more intense, full studio shots. A lot of my photos are taken in a run-and-gun style and don’t take a lot of planning, so there’s something about actually planning the studio shoots that makes me more inclined to do them.”

Meagan Bolds self-portrait of five of her on a bridge
An experiment in masking and false color.

In control

More than a simple selfie, a self-portrait gives you full control of your work.

“I don’t feel the pressure of ‘make the client happy’ and it allows me to be as creative or as basic as I want. It’s the only time the product is 100% up to me.”

Meagan Bolds self-portrait holding one cat while another looks on
An outtake from a witch themed photo shoot. One of the cats (Oliver) thought the wand was a toy.


Same place. Different view.

Angela Mocniak photo of sunflowers
Angela: When we got to the sunflower fields, they were covered in fog; I was excited! It was very dramatic. The flowers standing tall in the darkness around them just speaks volumes.
Jason Mocniak photo of a sunflower from the back
Jason: We encountered many other photographers and they were all fixated on the front of the flowers and how beautiful they were. I took the picture from the back of the flower because I wanted to be different than everyone else. I usually try to see what others are doing and then think what could I do differently?

Angela and Jason Mocniak enjoy their love for photography as a couple, going out shooting together, the same subjects but with their own individual points of view. Keeping a camera close at hand when traveling, the duo is always ready if the urge to stop and make some images strikes them. The two even plan “shooting dates” to spend time together.

How would you describe your style?
Angela: I love leading lines, but I also try to see things differently, we often times will shoot the same location several times and each time find a different way to view it.
Jason: I’d say that my photography style is simple landscapes. I often find myself low to the ground and trying to get as much interesting foreground in the image along with trying to find some sort of leading lines for the viewer to follow.

How do you describe the difference in your styles?
: Jason loves long exposures, shooting the big picture. He’ll find a spot, plan out his shot, then get set up. When I get to a location, I’m all over the place looking for different angles, framing and details.
Jason: I tend to want to take more simple photos but I feel like Angela is a lot more creative. We could be out photographing trees and when I look over at my wife she could be crawling under a bridge to get the same picture with a totally different composition.

How we see it.

Jason Mocniak photo of White Mountains and River Bridge
Jason: I loved the snowcapped mountains in the background with the fall colors, creating so much contrast between the snow, river and trees.
Angela Mocniak photo of a leaf with water drops on a log
Angela: There was so much to take in on this trip, the colors, rushing rivers and waterfalls, I was eager to capture all of it to the smallest details. The details of the water droplets on this leaf on a log caught my eye. I wanted to capture the contrasting colors, along with the detail of the droplets.

Where does your inspiration come from?
: My mother was a quadriplegic. She wasn’t able to travel much, let alone walk through a park to see the details that are often taken for granted. After she passed, photography became an outlet for me. I want to show everyone the beauty in the world, from the vast landscapes to the little details.
Jason: Just being in nature. I think because of our fast paced life with our full times jobs and being so busy every day, photography allows me to slow down and enjoy nature; watching a sunrise or sunset and having the opportunity to just view the world from a different perspective.

Angela, What do you enjoy about going out shooting together with Jason?
I enjoy watching Jason get out of the busy “let’s get things done” mode to being relaxed, enjoying nature, and showing his creative side. Then it is fun to view each other’s photos to see how we captured it differently.

Jason, What do you enjoy about going out shooting together with Angela?
I love watching Angela, seeing her excitement and creative side. I just love watching her passion and it spills over into my shooting. Like a muse.

What do you do to get inspired if you feel stuck?
: I try to coax Jason into a drive to explore the city or just somewhere we don’t usually photograph. A change of scenery usually does it for me.
Jason: We try to nudge [each] other when we feel like we’re getting stuck or in a rut. I’ll say to her, “all we do is shoot barns, it’s getting old.” Angela will tell me to grab my camera. Once we get going, I start to get inspired again because as soon as her eye catches something she likes, she hops out of the truck and literally goes running through fields to get the shot she wants. It’s her passion of photography that gets me back inspired to shoot again.

POV x 2

Jason Mocniak photo of a Horse in a field
Jason: I saw this beautiful horse trotting around the pasture. I had enough time to get the camera up to snap a few photos from the car before the horse spooked. I loved the barn in the background with it, along with the luscious green grass, it really was a picture perfect scene.
Angela Mocniak photo of a horse in the snow
Angela: We were driving through backroads during a snow storm. I’m a sucker for farm animals. The conditions were just perfect to get the portrait capturing this horse’s curious eyes behind the snowy fur giving it a bit of a dramatic look.

What is your favorite subject?
: Sunrise. I love to start the day catching a sunrise whethe. It’s just that peaceful time of day where life is just waking up, and taking in the beauty of that is my favorite subject.
Jason: I love photographing lighthouses, rural barns, waterfalls and of course my beautiful wife. We live in the great lakes region where there’s plenty of water, barns and lighthouses within a couple hours’ drive.

You both seem to use leading lines a lot in your compositions, what other compositional techniques do you enjoy employing in your work?
: I also enjoy finding natural framing for a subject. Its fun finding a different view of a subject. Minimalism too. I love the lonely tree in the middle of a field or hanging off a cliff. Sometimes simple shots are the best.
Jason: I really like getting low to the ground. It’s crazy to think how different things appear from a totally different level. Seeing it from that vantage point, it can make some interesting compositions. I like to try to create images with objects close in the foreground and beautiful scenery in the background, making the image clear from top to bottom.

What is your favorite lens?
: The NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S. It is a very versatile everyday lens. The S glass is very sharp and picks up great detail. If I could only take one lens on a hike with me, this would be the one. It is compact, lightweight and perfect for the landscapes I shoot.
Jason: By far my favorite lens is my NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S. It is a great all-around, go to lens for almost any situation. Whether its climbing up the side of a mountain to get a picturesque sunset looking vastly into the mountains, visiting the shorelines and looking for lighthouses or driftwood, or chasing the northern lights, this lens can capture it all.

A marriage of styles

Jason Mocniak photo at sunset of a dock
Jason: I love symmetry and lines. For this shot I tried to line the building up just in the middle to get equal parts. It made a pleasing photo with the colorful sky. I waited patiently for the walkers to clear out trying to make it a clean photograph. I believe someone still snuck in on the right side of the frame.
Angela Mocniak photo of a trail in Crosswinds Marsh
Angela: I’m intrigued by paths drawing you into a photo. It was chilly and moody with breaks in the sky making it more interesting and I wanted people to feel like they were there walking the path on a chilly moody day.

Angela: I enjoy photography and the way it opens your eyes to the beauty of the world. My hope is that people see our photographs and it makes them start to look at the beauty around them too.

Jason: I’m still learning and growing as a photographer. I’m always looking for new ideas. I’d love to try shooting different subjects, portraiture interests me. I’m constantly learning how to improve camera settings to get different looks and editing techniques.

What advice would you give other landscape photographers?
: Always keep an open mind. Don’t worry about following the “rules” too much. Photograph what makes you happy. Never stop learning.
Jason: Try stepping out of your boundaries of what you think makes a great photo. Angela and I sit down to edit our photos together, reviewing each other’s photos first. Sometimes I find myself not liking a photo that she really likes and vice versa. Everyone sees things a little differently.

Angela & Jason: Be mindful of your shooting partner and their frame, communication is key. You don’t want to walk right through the scene they’re trying to capture. Don’t be afraid to share knowledge and listen to your partner’s advice.

Angela Mocniak photo of a road in the fall
Jason gets the low to the road profile shots and I wanted to get the perspective as if you were driving the road.
Jason Mocniak photo of a road in light snow and autumn leaves
Jason: I found the lines in the road along with the snow-covered trees with contrasting colors to be captivating.
Photographic Portrait

A Change of Focus

This year has made all of us reassess what we are doing, whether by necessity or choice. But despite all the changes and upheaval, a lot of creative professionals have discovered new avenues in their work. One of them, portrait photographer Marina Williams, faced big challenges during the lockdown when her clients postponed or cancelled upcoming sessions. After sharing old work on social media and being underwhelmed by the results, she decided to push her limits by shooting more intentional self-portraits on her own. That, and creating tutorial videos of her process, led to a whole new type of photography she wouldn’t have discovered otherwise. Marina told us how this new way of seeing saved her during the pandemic—both professionally and creatively.

Marina Williams double exposure B&W hands and texture

Get Out There.

“My biggest piece of advice for portrait photographers right now is to not let anything stop you from shooting. Whether that’s a pandemic or your own hesitation to try new things, you should always be out shooting and practicing as often as you can. The biggest growth I’ve seen in my own work was when I let go of the fear of making mistakes and just shot every single day until it came easily.” 

Don’t let circumstances in the world around you impede your creativity. If the universe throws you a curveball, take a swing at something different. Above all, keep the creative juices flowing as much as possible. You may be surprised by what you discover about your work. And yourself.

Marina Williams B&W double exposure woman and texture

Fanning Your Fan Base.

“I love sharing advice and tips on all aspects of photography, from the creative side to the business and marketing side. When I started to share this type of content instead, my followers grew quickly.”

Don’t limit yourself by only talking to your fans about one aspect of your work. Be open to sharing more than just your work—people are often interested not just in what you do, but how you do it. Giving a wider view of what you do can grow your fanbase exponentially. 

Marina Williams B&W double exposure of a woman and texture

Try New Stuff.

“I shot multiple times a week trying out concepts and ideas that I had been sitting on, and constantly producing new content helped me grow substantially.”

Now—when many of us have more free time than usual—is the perfect time to experiment. If you always shoot stills, try video. If you make short form films, try time-lapse. A time when the world is full of unwanted boundaries turns out to be the perfect moment to push your own.

Marina Williams double exposure of a woman and bubbles

Platforms Matter.

“I also started posting Tik Tok videos in January, and as my following grew on Tik Tok, it also did on Instagram as a direct correlation. I think especially during quarantine, all photographers were craving ideas and inspiration too, so creating content for them helped me grow a lot.”

While you are expanding your creative horizons, think about how you are putting your work out there. The more platforms you are on means more opportunity to reach a wider audience. 

Marina Williams double exposure of a woman and bubbles close up

A Parting Shot.

“When I got that shot, I had one of those giddy “YES!” moments that makes photography so special.”

I made this image in my studio with a white wall and natural morning light from a window. I love keeping my images monochromatic and I do it pretty often in my work. I had two toy bubble guns blowing bubbles into the frame from both sides to create bokeh at varied distances. Z 5, NIKKOR Z 24-50mm f/4 lens at 24mm focal length, 1/320 sec., ISO 320 .


Where to Draw the Line

There’s something almost every photographer, professional or amateur, shoots at one time or another… the sun on the horizon, either rising or setting. The drama, the colors — it’s all there. But one photographer, Sean Basdavanos, brings another component into his shots to make them truly arresting — lines and architectural elements. By emphasizing dramatic perspective, Sean creates a mood of mystery, pulling viewers into his photographs. We talked to him to get some insights into his work.

Follow My Lead

“Leading lines allow the viewer’s eye to travel all throughout the photograph. Being able to place them strategically and purposefully can add an important element to work.“ — Sean Basdavanos

When setting up your shot, think about how the viewer will interact with the image. Where do you want them to look? What do you want them to see? Shooting with the viewer in mind can help you create the most dramatic composition.

A Point of Perspective

“The vanishing point can have a very interesting effect on a photograph. I gravitate towards trying to have a moody and more mysterious view with my vanishing point. I like when the person viewing my photography can look into my photograph and have their mind wander. In my opinion, the vanishing point has the mind go in many different directions.”

When you make an image, you are creating a place for the viewer to go. It’s a destination for them to visit, maybe even get lost in for a time. Using strong perspective can bring the viewer more deeply into the world you have created for them.

Go Right to the Edge. 

“Edges, to me, mean a place of unknown. It’s something that is beyond our sight. It’s the merging of one world into the next.” 

Sean does most of his shooting on the South Shore of Long Island. This is his “landscape of choice” — where the mystery and power of the ocean meet the edge of the land. Are there locations and environments that you gravitate towards? Shooting a place you have a natural affinity for can help you create your most arresting images.

Hidden Connections 

“The favorite of my new images was shot on January 23, 2020. I really enjoyed the leading lines in this photograph accompanied by a dynamic morning sky. The scene seemed familiar to me in some way. I shot it freely. I later came to realize that it had a similarity to Edvard Munch “The Scream”. The photo holds so many of my emotions within it.”

One of the more incredible things about photography is the connections it creates — between photographer and location, light and subject, and even an image and something in the subconscious. You may not realize until later why you shot a particular image, or why the scene resonated with you. That sense of discovery is part of what makes photography such a deep and powerful art form.

Photographic Portrait

Who Let the Dogs Out?

It seems like every family has a fur baby or two these days — and you can never have enough pictures of the family. Pets, especially active dogs, make getting great shots a real challenge. That’s why we asked lifestyle photographer and fur mama, Samantha Brooke, how she gets such compelling pet photos. 

First Things First

How to get your dog to look at the camera: “Use high value treats and toys (especially squeaky ones!) above your lens. Also use ‘trigger words’ they respond to like ‘grandma, grandpa, eat, squirrel’ etc…”

The trick to real connectedness in photos like the one above involves using what you know about your pet to get them to respond to you. Samantha says the key thing about dogs is that they come from a place of love. “I find [photographing dogs} easy because [they] have a universal language: love. Love comes in many forms: safety, being caring, food (!), toys, and using a variety of obnoxious noises to engage their attention.”

Divide and Conquer

Minimize distractions. Except when that makes the perfect shot: The fewer people around, the better, and ideally, there wouldn’t be any other dogs in the area. This helps your dog focus on, listen to, and interact with you. If you have more than one pet, it’s a good idea to separate them. 

As for location, Samantha finds that shoots involving water or restaurants can be a “too much of a ‘shiny object’” for her dogs, and their willingness to cooperate and attention spans diminish. That said, great shots can still happen. “These are also the times when I can get a very authentic shot like Koa drooling at the sight of pizza.”

Planning vs. Spontaneity

“Back in 2015/2016 when pool floats became more popular, I thought ‘why not put my dog on a float in a picturesque setting outdoors?’ I set out with Aspen to emulate Taylor Swift on a swan float (but on a lake surrounded by mountains) and from there, I made it an annual ‘float’ tradition to capture my dogs on floats in different locations. On the other hand, dogs and toddlers are very unpredictable so half of the time I set out with a general goal and hope for the best!”

It’s always great to have a plan, but just know that things might not work out. “Unplanned” photos during a “planned” shoot can end up being the most interesting ones.

Finding Your Audience

“It’s funny in that I never thought sharing pictures of Aspen in a kayak would lead to a “niche” in dog (with family!) photography. Social media, specifically Instagram, allowed me to speak to a specific audience: dog lovers. Since my social media presence focuses on pets, people wanted me to take pictures of their families including their pets. As I built my portfolio and shared more of my dogs on social media, my business grew.”

Use the social media platforms at your fingertips to help grow your business. Putting your work out there is the most important thing. Like Samantha, you might be surprised at the turn your work takes.


Feeling Blue. And Pink. And Orange. And Red…

There are few things in the world as dramatic as color. And when it comes to photos, it’s even more true. But how do you squeeze every last ounce of color from the photographs you shoot? Lavina Lalchandani, a travelprenuer and photographer living in Los Angeles, gives us some insight.

Lavina Lalchandani photo of a venice beach sunset

The Power of Color

“Colors have the power to influence the mood of the audience. In fact, different shades of the same color can convey completely different feelings. My goal is that the viewer should feel certain emotions when they look at my work.”

Color has a tangible emotional component. For Lavina, this became clear as she browsed other photographers’ images. She noticed that different color themes evoked changes in her own feelings — which led her to do a color exploration of her own. Try it yourself. What colors bring out a pronounced emotional response in you?

Lavina Lalchandani photo of a Santa Monica Sunset

What Does a Sunset Feel Like?

“Warmer colors like red, orange, yellow and pink evoke feelings of happiness, friendship, passion, aggression and love.”

It’s worth learning a little about color theory and applying it to your photography. The Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, & Violet by Joann Eckstut & Arielle Eckstut is a good place to start.

Lavina Lalchandani photo of Bioluminescence heart on the sand

Feeling Blue

“Cooler colors like blue, purple, and green are used to guide mood towards calmness, serenity, security, luxury, but can also evoke feelings of sadness.”

Thoughtful color choices can elicit particular responses in the viewer. It’s something to keep in mind when you’re composing an image. Imagine if the heart above was red instead of blue. What would that feel like to you?

Getting the Color Right

“I always shoot in RAW mode and opt for auto white balance. When I start post processing my pictures, first I adjust the white balance to the temperature I want to work with throughout my editing workflow. Then I target Hue, Saturation and Luminance to further build up the color theme and add depth. Lastly, I refer to the color wheel a lot while editing. I gauge the color scheme I am trying to achieve in the image – Analogous, Monochromatic, Complementary etc. And then I use curve layers and selective color layers in Adobe Photoshop for final color grading of the image.”

You don’t have to make all of your color choices in camera. Editing tools offer all sorts of possibilities to manipulate color to get the exact look you want.

Lavina Lalchandani photo of Bioluminescence on rocks and water at the shore

Camera as Paintbrush

“Paint brushes come in [a] different assortment of sizes, hair, length. When you choose a type of paintbrush, you have to evaluate it’s result against your vision. This scenario is very similar to selecting the camera you want to own and using it to make your ideas come true.”

The tools you use to create your work are vital. But the more grounded you are in the art of photography, the better your results, regardless of the camera you use. So, practice, and find resources to learn more about your equipment.

Lavina Lalchandani light painting photo of a model

Colorful Words of Advice

  1. Shoot every day!
  2. Make it a point to learn something new every day – be it a new feature on your camera or a new editing/shooting technique or learn about a new location.
  3. Connect with other photographers in the community.
  4. Take part in FFAs (Free for all) hosted by photographers on Instagram to practice editing. You will be amazed to see how a single image can be seen in so many different ways by different individuals.


Get your props

Portraits are all about capturing the essence of your subject, which might make obvious props seem extraneous. The right props, however, can add subtext, depth, and interest to your shots. We asked Bobby Kenney III, a portrait photographer based in Dayton Ohio, about the distinctive props he incorporates into his portraits.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model and her reflection

Be Prepared. Then go with the Flow.

“I choose the props for my shoot by deciding what I can use to add a creative touch to the picture without taking away from the beauty of the main subject.”

Of course, it’s always good to have your shoot well thought out before you begin. Scout the location, bring lots of props (even ones you don’t think you’ll use), have a backup plan for lighting or weather issues. Being prepared allows you to approach your subjects with a certain openness and spontaneity — which can result in something unexpectedly great.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model and flowers

Hiding in Plain Site

“Another big reason I add props is to create bokeh (the visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image, especially as rendered by a particular lens) in the foreground of the picture, adding depth and sometimes an extra addition of color.”

Props add texture, color, depth, feeling. The interaction between the subject and the props also reveals another aspect of the subject’s nature — do they want to blend in or stand out? Are they reserved or connecting with the props? These things lend emotion to your photos.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model in the trees

A New Angle

“Pictures that have props that partially obscure the subject have come about from experimenting with different angles, with the props and subjects staying in the same location while I move around. My intention with this is to make the photo unique and also to add depth.”

See what happens as you move around your subject. Having them as the center of the shot with you as a satellite moving around them can help you discover striking and surprising angles.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model and billiard balls on a pool table

What Makes a Favorite

“Of my new images, my favorite is the pool table shot of Katelyn! {Above} I love this photo because the overall tint of the photo is dark and contains a lot of black, but the pool balls provide various spots of color, creating great contrast and really bringing the photo to life.”

Props bring so many elements to portraits. They can bring pops of color to a dark image. They can add a subtext about the subject — perhaps revealing their competitive streak or playfulness. How you arrange your props matters too. Putting props in the foreground and your subject in the back forces the viewer to look deep into the image, adding drama to the portrait.

Bobby Kenny III photo of a female model lit by blue neon at night

A Parting Shot

“If I were to give other portrait photographers advice, I would say to make sure you don’t objectify your subjects. Upholding the dignity of each human is so incredibly important, as our identity doesn’t lie in our appearance.”

Obviously, the subject of the portrait is the most important element of your photograph. Finding a way to bring their inner life out is the key. And props, used effectively, can definitely help do that.


The art of manipulation

After a life-altering injury during a game of rugby, Gilbert Kolosieke taught himself Photoshop. Not having a camera, he found photographers on Instagram who regularly hosted editing contests by uploading photos for others to edit. And he began to watch live streamed editing sessions by these photographers too.

“I began using photographs from these Free for All (FFA) editing contests to teach myself photoshop. They served as my underlying sketch, but instead of inking and painting them traditionally, I would embellish them with different tricks and filters I found on Instagram.”

Gilbert then taught himself how to shoot manually with a borrowed camera by watching YouTube videos. One thing lead to another, advancing him from newbie to a career as a photographer and editor.

“I kept adding kindling to the fire of the network of relationships I made everywhere I went, and never took my foot off the pedal learning and loving my evolution as an artist.”  

Piecing it all together

“At this point, I can replace limbs, reconstruct faces, or composite additional elements or use parts of other photographs to create what I envisioned. In order of importance for aspects in which I judge a photo, being in focus makes it usable, lighting differentiates a mediocre photo from a professional one, and the facial expression seals the deal. When all those are met, it’s a matter of what speaks to me at the moment.” 

“The techniques I’ve developed to make particular changes to shape, value, color, and texture using light and layers in photoshop are simply entities in the arsenal, but workflow is drastically different for each piece. “

Gilbert makes it a point to keep in mind the model who’s image he’s working on while editing an image.

“I make a mental note of color palettes that appeal to the model, and listen to music that fits the mood from songs they find beautiful and allow that [to] dominate the direction of art.”

On the other hand, if a client is only looking for a “clean picture,” he’ll follow an extremely simplified workflow to match their needs. 

Favorite tools. Favorite images.

My favorite tool is the healing brush. It allows you to repair imperfections using pixels from another part of the picture. It’s a smart tool that can be used to effortlessly make distracting fly always disappear, blemishes vanish as you play digital dermatologist, and can be extremely useful while painting digitally. 

To Gilbert, choosing a favorite image is not easy, as he explains that everything holds more value than simply what meets the eye. When pressed though, he explains that the sunflower edit of Sylina means a lot to him.

“It was the last photoshoot before lock down. The image resonated with the hearts of so many people in need of brighter days, and as the most edited image in the largest international editing contest ever held with a total of over 11K entries for the #Nikonffa, it was concrete evidence of all the hard work I poured into my first year of photography.”

“Over time I have begun to refine my taste for what is considered professional, attempting to earn respect from photographers and digital artists as I find my niche in between two worlds of standards using everything I’ve learned about storytelling through beauty.”

Approach to editing

Editing is as important as the photography to Gilbert. Choosing his favorite parts from each file, he merges them together as the start to an edit. “I never know what I’m going to make. I tend to let the art evolve on its own until I’ve outdone myself.”  

“For most clients I always have to dial back my work. Shock and surprise tend to be the norm for model’s reactions. They usually don’t remember taking that photo or have no idea how I made whatever it is they’re staring at. Others seek me out just to be a part of the art and give me full creative freedom to do whatever it is that I do.”

Advice to others

You don’t need an expensive tablet to do high quality work. You can even use your computer’s mouse to edit with. Gilbert says 90% of his work is created with a mouse. 

“Enjoy the journey and be proud of the little victories along the way… Learn the software and in time as your eye trains itself, what once took you weeks or hours will be minutes. There are a lot of resources out there to help teach you, but you have to be willing to make time to put the skills into practice.” 

“Life as a photographer/editor can often be extremely lonely although social media portrays a picture-perfect life. Learn from each encounter and client. Respect is everything, the world is a small place. Never burn a bridge. Stay humble. If you are in photography for the girls, you would be better off spending your time, money, efforts, and energy into doing what you’re supposed to be doing in life.“