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Portrait Wedding

Exploring the Human Element in Portraiture with Nikon Photographer Robert Vasquez

Robert Vasquez explains why getting to know your subjects is just as important for successful portrait photography as gear and technique.

Robert Vasquez photo of a couple embracing with smiles on their faces

Portrait photographer Robert Vasquez first picked up a camera in 2009. After a breakthrough commission to shoot a high-profile TV host, he left his job in newspaper publishing and moved into full-time photography. In addition to weddings and travel photography, he has worked with some of the best-known actors, television personalities and musicians in Latin America.  

Robert started his journey with a D40 DSLR, but he currently uses a variety of Nikon Z system mirrorless equipment:

In my camera bag, I carry two cameras: the Nikon Z 6II and Z 7II. My lenses include the NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 S, NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S, NIKKOR Z 50mm MC f/2.8 S, NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S, and NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S. Additionally, I have polarized ND and CPL filters and two flashes.

Robert Vasquez high-key photo of a bride in a street holding a small dog

Although he uses multiple NIKKOR Z lenses for his work, Robert often finds himself relying on just two—the 70-200mm f/2.8 and the 50mm f/1.2, almost always shooting wide open, to maximize background blur:

Depending on the situation and the style I aim to achieve, both lenses offer distinct advantages—the 70-200mm provides a wide zoom range, allowing me to compose portraits from various distances without changing lenses. Its wide aperture creates a beautiful background blur. On the other hand, the 50mm f/1.2 excels for portrait photography, especially in low-light conditions.

When shooting outdoors, I typically use the widest possible aperture setting. This allows me to separate the subject from the background effectively. I keep ISO sensitivity low, and only shoot at shutter speeds over 1/250 seconds to make sure that there’s no motion blur in my images.

Robert Vasquez high-key portrait of a bride leaning against a building

The human factor

Becoming a successful creative isn’t just about gear and practical technique, of course. Robert explains that to make a living as a wedding and portrait photographer, “soft skills” are at least as important as technical mastery:

Photography is more than just capturing beautiful images with good composition and excellent lighting; it involves the human factor. To excel as a portrait photographer, you need qualities like emotional understanding, empathy, patience, communication skills, the ability to capture the essence and personality of the subject, and creativity in creating unique and compelling compositions. Continuous practice and a commitment to improvement are also essential. In addition, it’s important to maintain good relationships with your clients, and stay up-to-date with industry trends.

Robert Vasquez photo of a bride and groom embracing underneath the bride's veil

When it comes to making his subjects feel comfortable, Robert stresses the importance of two-way communication, explaining his process as a photographer, and asking questions to understand what his subjects want to get out of the session:

Clear and friendly communication is essential. I explain my process and assure them that I am there to capture their best self. I ask questions to understand their preferences and break the ice, tailoring the session to their comfort. I once photographed the Mexican acting superstar, Kate del Castillo, for a magazine cover. She was tired from traveling, and when she arrived on set, the atmosphere was a bit tense. I decided to turn my camera off and told the team to take a short break. I used the time to get to know her better. We had coffee and chatted for about 20 minutes about her career. Even though the conversation was brief, she became much more comfortable, and she was more relaxed when we resumed the shoot. The pictures I got that day were among the best I’ve ever captured.

Robert Vasquez photo of a bride and groom smiling at each other surrounded by greenery

Robert’s 5 tips for successful portrait photography:

  • Get to know your equipment—become familiar with your cameras, lenses, and all your other accessories.
  • Before you start experimenting with flash or studio lighting, practice with natural light first to understand how it affects portraits. Learn about soft and diffused light on cloudy days and how to use the warm sunlight during “golden hour.”
  • Always ensure that you focus on your subject’s eyes.
  • Experiment with shooting at wide apertures. This will help achieve a pleasing background blur that makes your subject stand out.
  • Make time to build a good rapport with your subject—it will be reflected in the final image.
Photographic Portrait

Romance, Light & Magic in Photographs with D’Ann Boal

D'Ann Boal photo of a mom with her daughter on a horse in a valley
“I love to create magical images for my subjects. This was a mother-daughter photo session in my backyard with our horse. I made the flower crowns for my horse and subjects and waited until golden hour to shoot. The backlight was intense, so I added some fill flash in front to help lift the shadows on my subjects.”

D’Ann Boal defines her photographic style as romantic, filled with light and a little magic—and we agree. She is adept at being able to weave stories of love, wonder, peace and gratitude into her imagery. With a studio in a little cottage on her Colorado farm, she’s able to offer her clients the pastures of her farm, nearby country fields and mountain views under sunset skies along the Colorado Front Range.

When I was starting out over a decade ago and still finding my artistic voice, I wanted to create images that were light and airy. But as I’ve grown and found my voice, my style has evolved. The golden light and mountain views of Colorado have made their way into my artistic voice. I love warm, colorful imagery with lots of depth where light is one of the main subjects. My style is feminine and romantic, and I love incorporating flowers and painterly light into my work whenever possible. 

D'Ann Boal photo of a girl in a rowboat on a lake surrounded by clouds and reflections of clouds
“Every year I go down to the lake and take a portrait with my daughter in the water. Stepping away from client work and doing creative personal projects like this photo recharges my creativity and allows me to try new things that I can later apply to client photo sessions.”

D’Ann will add simple props when appropriate—as a statement piece, if you will—so long as it doesn’t compete with the story she’s telling. Less is more. And that can be something as simple as the movement of a flowery dress, bouquet of flowers or boat on the water to add a feeling of timelessness to the image.

Whether it’s a family out in a field in backlight, or a single subject in the studio under moody Rembrandt lighting, D’Ann strives to bring her creative vision to life. Instead of rushing and shooting a ton of images, she’ll slow down to create the photos that align with her artistic vision.

D'Ann Boal photo of a girl with a bouquet of orange flowers turning into Monarch butterflies
“On a recent trip to Paris, I woke in the middle of the night from a dream I had of a bouquet of flowers turning into butterflies. I’m always so inspired when I visit Paris. No place feeds my creative well more. I knew I wanted to create that portrait when I came home. I hung dozens of silk monarch butterflies with clear twine and got a bouquet of orange poppies to match. I used a few off-camera flashes to create directional light as well as backlight to illuminate my daughter.”

Heirloom Art Creation for Clients

Just as important as the photographs she makes is what she is able to create for her clients. As a professional photographer, it is important to her that the images she’s worked so hard to create get to be seen and enjoyed for years to come.

Whether it’s my own work or for my clients, I create art to be printed. It can be an heirloom coffee table album, prints to tuck on shelves around the home, or big pieces of fine art, my photographs are made with the intention to be shared and enjoyed in tangible form.

Just photographing a client and their family and delivering digital files is not for D’Ann. “I think the saddest outcome a photograph could have is to live on a flash drive collecting dust in the kitchen drawer,” she says. D’Ann explains that “when we sell only digital files, we miss out on the high profitability that selling products provides.” Selling products—prints, albums, wall-art—is a win-win business model. “We can be extremely profitable, while ensuring our clients have memories and artwork they love more with every year,” she adds.

Printed photographs have the power to bring us back in time. They remind us of our priorities. They make us laugh out loud. They are the bottled-up moment of what we love most.

D'Ann Boal portrait of woman wearing a wreath
“Inspired by the Dutch Master painters from European art galleries, I love to use light, texture and color to create painterly portraits. For this portrait I used 3 lights, a painted canvas background, and layers of tulle that I picked up from the local fabric store. To get the dark painterly effect, I used Rembrandt light and underexposed by one stop to really embrace the shadows.”

Always a Teacher

D’Ann is involved with The Click Community (formerly Clickinmoms), which gives its community members a place to ask questions, get support, critique photos, and learn. She teaches two workshops as a Click Pro Elite, The Art of Abundance: Business Strategies for the Boutique Photographer and Understanding Light. She has written three self-paced courses on light, editing and storytelling; and also hosts her own Farm & Fairytale Workshop.

D’Ann feels she was born to teach (she does have a Master’s degree in education). She uses Instagram as a way to share her knowledge with behind the scenes videos and photography tips. “I know how daunting it can be to see a polished Instagram page and think everything comes effortlessly,” she explains.”

Photography can be intimidating, so I love to show how easy it can be, or demystify a confusing concept, or simply show how much effort went into getting a shot! Teaching through social media, in-person at workshops and speaking events gives meaning to my work. If I can help others grow, it incentivizes me to keep learning and growing so I have more to share!  

D'Ann Boal photo of a girl with a dress made of flowers in water
“This was a shoot I got to do for a billboard project for ProPrints. I was given a small budget, and tasked to create an image that would go on Colorado billboards. I wanted to create an image with several of my favorite things in a single frame: My girl, flowers, water, and sunset sky. I spent several days making the skirt and waited for a calm evening at sunset to go to the lake to get the shot.”

We’re always interested to learn about those artists who are inspiration to our creators. D’Ann notes that she is influenced by many great creators: “Elena Shumilova’s ethereal use of light has influenced me from the beginning. Meg Loeks is a master and one of the most giving and prolific photographers I’ve met. I love the magical quality of Paige Tingey’s landscape work, and I’m always inspired by Jackie Haxthausen’s creativity. I am also influenced by movies and TV series like the use of light in Queen’s Gambit, the storytelling shots in Anne with an E, the soulful cinematography of the One Hundred Foot Journey, and poetry by Mary Oliver. “

Photographic Portrait

Storytelling Through Photography

Inari Briana portrait of a female model smiling with eyes closed

Inari Briana is a photographer first and foremost however she also delves into the world of content creation because, as she says, “there is no limit to how creative you can be.”

Inspired by cinema, music, and pop culture, her work is split about 50/50 commercial and portraiture.

“Growing up, I was always an escapist. I would dive into the world of television, letting my mind roam and thinking of ways to enhance what I see and pay homage to those who’ve come before me. I would get inspired by the photographs in magazines and advertisements. Whenever something caught my eye, I always found a way to make it my own.”

Inari defines her work as colorful, bold and cinematic.

“I am very particular about the colors I use in my portraits. Cinema and film will forever play a role in how I capture my images, whether it be the colors or how it’s shot.”

Another important element to her work is storytelling.

“Storytelling is the embodiment of how my imagery looks. Every image I capture has a meaning behind why it is captured. Although some images are only used for promotional purposes, I still manage to find ways to express myself through my own projects. What better way to do that than with the art of storytelling?”

Inari Briana portrait of a couple in an embrace, with closed eyes

Stepping in front of the camera

“I make it my mission to bring the beauty and confidence out of each person I shoot,” Inari says. In fact, she has often taken to stepping in front of the camera to show how anyone can be confident.

“Being in front of the camera used to be the biggest challenge for me. Meeting me now, you’d never believe that at one point in time, I was shy and self-conscious about how I looked.” She explains that it was necessary for her to see herself as others do. “Being in front of the camera truly helped with my confidence 100%,” she says, adding, “Not only did it help with my confidence, but it revealed how I should go about directing my models for shoots and creating an atmosphere where my clients feel the most confident.”

I believe that everyone is beautiful even when they don’t believe it themselves. Confidence is a viable trait to have and could sometimes be hard to gain or maintain. If there is any way to make sure that each person, I work with can give me at least 95%, I will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

“Growing up, I had always been insecure about the color of my skin. It took me a very long time to embrace the skin that I’m in. Although I can shoot any and every skin color, I enjoy shooting dark skin and highlighting that black skin is very beautiful.”

Inari Briana portrait of a young man in water with leaves

Surrounding yourself with like-minded creatives

Inari is a member of the Black Women Photographers group. She explains how important the group is for like-minded creatives:

“Having a group like Black Women Photographers is extremely important for women like myself. We need a support system like BWP to give younger creatives a chance to see that they aren’t alone and that there are opportunities and resources for all of us, despite what we may have always believed.”

Inari elaborates further:

“There are many challenges that come with being a black photographer let alone a black female photographer. You can believe your work is just as good as the next person but there is always going to be someone right behind you telling you that you’re not that great… It can sometimes feel like there are so many things stacked against you.”

Inari Briana portrait of a young woman with flwers painted on her face

Prepping for a shoot

Inari explains how she goes about creating concepts for her commercial shoots. She begins with mood boards or pitch decks. Once a concept is agreed upon, she’ll start producing the project. “I am constantly looking for ways to create something different [for every shoot],” she explains, though her style can be seen throughout all of her work.

Inari utilizes both backgrounds and props smartly, depending upon the type of shoot she’s on. She’s even found herself finding small props and creating shoots around them. She loves using textured backdrops as well. She notes that set design really helps you set the tone for how your projects will run. “I love color. I also tend to find myself being very minimal with colors so when I do use it, I make sure it stands out and sets the tone for the shoot,” Inari says.

Inari Briana portrait of a model sitting in a chair with a brown background

A tip for young creatives

We asked Inari for advice she’d offer to young creatives thinking about a career in photography. “Don’t talk about it [leaping into photography], just do it. The more you talk about it, the easier it is to talk yourself out of it. Just rip the band-aid off and start the journey. You won’t regret it,” she concludes.

Photographic Portrait Street

Mighty Little Snapshooter

Bobby Kenny III photo of a couple in low light
Self-portrait using the headlight of Bobby’s motorcycle to backlight himself and his fiancé. The camera was set with a 10 second self-timer and the couple were on their knees to position the light exactly where it was wanted.

Portrait and wedding photographer Bobby Kenney III recently had the opportunity to use the compact and lightweight NIKKOR Z 28mm f/2.8 lens and shares some of the images he created as well as his thoughts about this compact prime mirrorless lens.

“The NIKKOR Z 28mm f/2.8 lens is an absolutely wonderful lens, and to be honest one of my favorite lenses for portraits.”

He explains that the lens is wide enough to make it versatile in shooting portraits—both close-up and full length. Having previously used a 20mm prime for portrait photography, Bobby says the 28 is a perfect middle ground: “to capture the unique wide angle look that I want for my portraits and while still looking natural.”

Another great benefit of this lens is its size, how small and lightweight it is. This lens gives a powerfully unique perspective and really aids in the capturing of eye-catching portraits.

Both prime lenses and zoom lenses have their place in a photographer’s camera bag, and while Bobby has used zooms, he says he really loves prime lenses.

“Prime lenses have a clean, crisp look to them. They also inspire and enable more creativity with angles, as they lead you to move around more and test out your range of different perspectives.”

Bobby Kenny III photo of a girl and her reflection outdoors
Shooting portraits with mirrors and reflections has a powerful effect on photos. Bobby explains that he loves the aesthetic look of symmetry, which would have been unachievable in this portrait without the reflection. Note that its Bobby’s shadow that creates the ability to see the model clearly on the other side of the glass, as it blocks the reflection of what’s behind him.

Benefits of Z Mirrorless

“The Nikon Z system is the greatest camera system I’ve ever used. It produces extremely high quality and high-resolution images, and has such a clean, natural look to them that I haven’t seen with other systems.”

Bobby says using the Z system has also made shooting much simpler. With the electronic viewfinder, shooting has never been so easy and precise. As you change the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, you can see how the picture is going to look before you take it, unlike the constant back and forth of checking pictures taken on a DSLR to make sure they’ll turn out okay.

He notes that the autofocus is also extremely quick, which is a huge help when photographing weddings. Other features he can’t live without include the low light shooting capabilities and the high quality of the NIKKOR Z lenses, which he says, “are phenomenal, and far surpass any lenses I’ve used with a DSLR.”

Bobby Kenny III photo of a girl and reflections from behind glass
Shooting through glass can be a little bit of a challenge, since the model on the other side can’t really hear Bobby’s directions. He’ll pose as an example for the model to replicate.

Beautiful Beautiful Bokeh

Bokeh is something that Bobby utilizes often in his images.

“The bokeh from a wide aperture lens is absolutely beautiful. It really helps to draw the focus to the subject, and really makes portraits pop. There is so much you can do with creating an aesthetic background using bokeh, as shapes, colors and lights blurred out in the background really add to the artfulness of the picture.“

“The same is true with the foreground, whether it’s subtle circles from lights, blurred colors from leaves, or anything else you can use in between you and the subject to add a creative touch to portraits, the wide aperture really extends your horizon for the composition and feel of a photo.”

Bobby Kenny III photo of a guy looking at the camera with long dreadlocks
I had to really duck down to capture this one of Keem! The round multi-floor architecture and the glass rotunda of the Cleveland Arcade was absolutely gorgeous, and with the wideness of the 28mm I was able to really capture its beauty for the backdrop!

Getting into the Picture

As a photographer, it also helps that Bobby himself is a model, so self-portraits are often the norm in his imagery.

“I love taking self-portraits.” To execute this, he’ll place his camera on a tripod, set the self-timer to 10 seconds (sometimes 20), and run into the scene. I really enjoy being able to insert myself into my work, and I would encourage all photographers to do it from time to time.”

Bobby Kenny III photo of a girl in sunlight with trees in the background
“For this shoot with Cassady, we had a lot of fun just simply walking through downtown Dayton, Ohio, looking for random patches of direct sunlight. Unlike most photographers, I love direct sunlight. When you place a model in a small patch of it with shadows surrounding, it creates a beautifully intense contrast. It really helps background colors to pop and the model to be the dramatic center of focus.”

Augmenting Reality

Along with props (check out this previous article) which can add to a photographer’s creativity, Bobby also utilizes shooting through glass windows often as well as using prisms to create a unique look.

“I really enjoy shooting through glass, as you never know how the reflections are going to look. It adds an abstract artsiness of shapes and lines to portraits. You can move ever so slightly to the right or left, and both the lights from inside and the background outside all move, which is really fun to explore.”

Using prisms can really add to a composition, Bobby notes. It can turn “a simple portrait with lights in the background into a unique artsy conceptual photo with an interesting depth of field.”

Bobby Kenny III photo of girl with lights and reflections from a prism
From the last set of images shot that day, Bobby spotted the lights and knew he had to photograph them. Alli was game. He says he had her stand under the lights and grabbed a prism. “My goal was to just surround her with the lights, using the prism to add a foreground of the lights that were behind her and above her.”
Photographic Portrait

Go Play: With Depth of Field for Beautiful Bokeh

Gabriela Herman photo of a woman among cherry blossoms
Taken during Cherry Blossom season, the wide f/2 aperture of the NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens lets you get creative with depth of field.

Gabriela Herman is a commercial, editorial and lifestyle photographer who had the opportunity to shoot with the NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens early on. After putting the lens through its paces, Gabriela found it to be the “perfect ‘take with you everywhere’ lens not only for the focal length but also the size of the lens, being lightweight and super portable. It’s wide enough to capture full scenes but also can be used for beautifully composed portraits. It’s a great lens for a travel shoot if you can only take one with you,” she says.

The NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 is an ultra-compact prime lens that is easily at home on an FX or DX format Z series mirrorless camera. The lens is a 60mm equivalent on a DX format camera. The fast f/2 aperture makes it ideal for shooting in low light. The wide aperture lets you play with depth of field to create images with beautiful bokeh. And with its small size, you’ll want to take it everywhere.

Gabriela Herman photo of a couple out of focus and plants in the foreground
Photograph of a couple, purposely out of focus in the background. Easily captured because of the wide aperture of the NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens.

Gabriela added Z series mirrorless cameras to her photographic gear after having the opportunity to shoot with the Z 50 (DX) camera.

“I love the portability, the size and weight of the Z cameras compared to my DSLRs. It [really] is the perfect camera to just take with me anywhere.”

Gabriela Herman photo of a woman holding a lens ball with her portrait showing
Isabella holding a lens ball. Props like this make for fun and creative portraits. The NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens allowed Gabriela to get close to her subject for this image.

This shoot was a dream assignment, Gabriela says, in that she had the freedom to do the talent casting, location scouting and had the ability to shoot in her own photographic style. And that’s the ultimate goal—to shoot with your own voice.

Idea Generation

Idea generation often comes from a client, but not always. “Sometimes I’ll create a mood board but I always make time to try something that isn’t on the shot list,” she says, adding: “Scouting is key. For me it’s more about being in the place, seeing the light and interacting with my subjects that I get inspired to take the shoot in a certain direction.”

Gabriela Herman photo of a man in a blue hoodie in a marsh
Using a wide aperture on the NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens to separate Omari from the background.

Because Gabriela does a mix of editorial, commercial and lifestyle work, we asked her which she feels gives her the most creative freedom. “Editorial for sure, but more so than that, shooting for myself will always be the most freeing, where I can take the most risks and try new things. It’s those images and process that fuel me,” she explains.

Gabriela says she get often gets inspired by other photographers. “I love seeing what they’re up to on social media, it definitely motivates me.”

Gabriela Herman photo of a woman lying on colorful stairs
Lizzy, lying upside down on a set of colorful stairs, showcasing the wide view of the NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens.

Dream Jobs

Gabriela specializes in travel, food and lifestyle imagery so we asked her, what if you had to pick just one. Which would it be and why?

“I love that I’ve been able to have a career and not have to choose! I love being able to switch from one to the other. Travel photography is actually a perfect mix because when delivering a travel essay you generally need to provide a little food, some portraits, landscapes, interiors, details, a mix of everything and that’s how I love to shoot.”

“I love how photography takes me to places I’d never have known about—like the world of rodeo queens, or attending the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

Gabriela Herman photo of a woman among marsh reeds
Lizzy wearing a colorful outfit, in the middle of a salt marsh. The wide field of view of the NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens lends itself to photographs such as this one.
Photographic Portrait

Graphic by Design

Zara Visuals portrait of a woman with heavy gelled lighting
This photo was loosely inspired by the lighting in the movie Hereditary. They used orange- and teal-colored lights and gels very methodically in that movie and in between lighting setups on this shoot I decided to put those together.

Zara Israel is an artist who utilizes a variety of media including photography, short films, digital art, graphic design and painting. She’s always had an interest in photography and when she lost her day job in 2019, Zara jumped into photography full time and has been building her studio ever since. Zara is still finding her style and loves to experiment with new techniques and work with new teams.  

Zara uses her work to uplift black men and women by celebrating their natural beauty.

Along with portraiture, food photography is also a passion of hers. As she notes: “You can eat the set when you’re done!” Bold colors and strong graphic elements make up her images. Zara describes her work as wholesome, colorful, and cultured.

Zara Visuals portrait of a model holding a large frame with flowers attached
This image was the collective effort of a pretty large and talented team. The stylist came up with the outfit, she wanted a more “avant-garde” look. The set designer built the floral frame and my main contribution on set was the backdrop color and the picture—I just thought it looked cool.

Color Theory

When working with bold and bright colors, it’s important to take into account how hues and color values interconnect with a subject’s skin tone, and adjust accordingly. 

In the future I plan to use color theory more intentionally with my photos to evoke more feeling with my work.

Concept and mood boards are put together before shoots. And Zara always briefs her models on her signature “pro-modeling tips”, working off their natural mannerisms in order to frame them in a way that is both flattering and artistic.

Take a look at Zara’s body of work and you’ll notice a theme—props make up a large part of her imagery. 

I love props! I majored in film and we had to work a lot with setting the scene to make the environment communicate what we wanted it to. I learned at that time that props and lighting were two things you could use to instantly make your work look more intentional, so now I utilize my prop collection wherever I can! 

Zara Visuals photo of a model making a sand angel on the beach
I’d been thinking of this idea for a while. I love doing shoots with interesting or unexpected elements, but it wasn’t strictly planned out. We just came up with an outfit, went to the beach and I started giving her this character to embody. I thought a sand angel would be a cool spin-off of a snow angel.

Read the No-List

When you start out in business you feel as if you have to say yes to every job that comes your way. But Zara explains that, “as I grew and increased the number of clients I dealt with; I began sensing patterns of which jobs I wasn’t motivated to do to the best of my ability. I also had to take a hard look at my morals and values and see if I was demonstrating those with the work I produced, and if the answer was no, chances are it ended up on my No-List.”

We think Zara’s No-List is a great way to help prospective clients self-qualify. It saves everyone time and makes sure the leads she gets are qualified. 

Zara Visuals photo of a male holding a frame
This photo wasn’t planned at all. The model travels back and forth between Baltimore and New York a lot, so when I saw he was in town, I asked if he wanted to come by my studio. I had that old frame laying around from the thrift store and the plain shirt in my closet, so I had him put that on and pose with the frame until I got some shots that I liked.


Photography, sound design, and film work are where I have the most expertise and experience, so those are generally what I advertise. Another thing I will be offering very soon is an affordable and well-equipped studio space for local creatives. SONNE Studios is under construction now in downtown Baltimore. 

The future is looking bright for Zara Israel. 

Zara Visuals portrait of a woman with her hair covering her eyes
The picture was loosely inspired by the phrase “see no evil”.
Photographic Portrait

Spinning the Color Wheel

Aaron Pegg portrait of a model with wet hair
Jasmen is a talented makeup artist and has wonderful facial features so we tend to shoot more portraits and beauty imagery together. This image was created with a more edgy feel, with her wet hair, moody makeup and punch lighting.

Aaron Pegg is a self-taught photographer, who began his journey with photography at 28. He explains the difference he sees between photographer and content creator as a photographer works on exploring all aspects of their idiom until landing on a genre or style whereas content creators create for the interest of others.

I just want to be the best photographer that I can be for myself and if I am lucky, people will recognize my tenacity and feel empowered and inspired by it.

Aaron gave himself the name Underground NYC as a way to differentiate himself from others, deciding to shoot in the NYC subway exclusively. This allowed him to build an audience and migrate from iPhoneography to shooting with his first Nikon camera.

I decided to photograph just empty subway stations, later adding one person into the shots. I wanted to turn what people deemed as a boring commute into a beautiful backdrop for photo shoots.

Aaron Pegg portrait of a model with curly hair
Sarah has great curly hair so I wanted to create a beauty image that was fun and playful.

Ask Aaron how he defines his work and he’ll tell you clean, bold and creative. His style incorporates simplicity with a mix of natural light and shadows that allows his subjects’ personality to shine through. In the beginning of his Underground NYC work, Aaron’s inspiration came from the grit and hustle of the subway.

As I delve deeper into photography, my inspirations started to broaden. Inspiration can hit me at any time. It can be from the symmetry of trees in Central Park to the way the light hits the cobblestone streets in Soho. Being in New York, allows you to see how many subjects (people) interact with the city (possible shooting locations) on a daily basis and I use this as a starting point to many of my photo shoots!

Aaron Pegg portrait of a man on the steps of a brownstone
Nicoy had shown me the outfit he had in mind and I felt the look paired well with an iconic NY brownstone. I wanted the image to look homey but at the same time correlate with the hustle and bustle lifestyle of New Yorkers.

Take one look at Aaron’s images and you’ll see that color plays a big role in his work.

I think I gravitate more towards neutral colors (with sometimes a pop of brighter, richer color) because neutral colors to me are calming and give my work a sense of tranquility.

Like many photographers, Aaron starts with a concept, often based on a mood or feeling. Then he’ll seek out a muse, location, styling and lighting that fits the feeling he’s trying to convey.

The lighting plays a very important role in my images. I like to think of lighting like the weather. It has the power to impact and even dictate certain moods and feelings.

Aaron Pegg low key portrait of a model
Tiffany’s image uses low-key lighting to highlight her jawline and hairstyle. I wanted a mix of moody and calmness in the image and I believe we achieved that.

The challenge is always how to make each image unique.

Sometimes a new client will reference an older shoot of mine and want something similar. However, I will always try to make the shoot their own.

Instagram as a Branding Tool

Aaron utilizes various Instagram accounts—using each for a specific genre of his work: @underground_nyc, @aboveground_nyc and @AaronPeggphoto.

@Underground_NYC is the main brand that showcases the full gambit of the genres of photography I do. @Aboveground_NYC simply highlights my landscape and street photography in NYC. @AaronPeggphoto is my newest account and focuses solely on my studio and beauty photography. This brand is geared towards working with modeling agencies and fashion brands.

Having a separation of each of these brands, lets individuals take a closer look at the genres I want to highlight. I think having a singular themed account on Instagram garners more interaction and feedback while showcasing a creative’s style and how they shoot with intention.

Finding Balance

Landscape photography serves as a balance and a way for me to unwind and relax from my day to day shoots. Usually, I like to go out alone and capture New York City and its landmarks through all of its unpredictable weather. Landscape photography is also a way I like to explore a new city I’m visiting.

Recently Aaron had the opportunity to shoot with the NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct lens and found it to be a great lens for portraits.

The sheer weight of the lens and only manual focusing made things challenging at first. However, this just made nailing the focus on shots really rewarding. Just seeing the dial go down to a 0.95 aperture was pure joy in itself.

Aaron Pegg landscape photo taken with Noct lens
Bear Mountain is one of my favorite places to explore outside the city. This image was captured on one of those magical fall days where it was rainy and foggy. I was just taking some shots of the road when a few hikers appeared walking down the road. Their silhouettes barely showing through the fog to me is what takes the image to the next level, making it a lot more interesting.
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.