Fashion/Beauty Portrait

Avant-Garde Fashion with Joyce Charat and the Z6III

Joyce Charat photo of a model in an earth tone outfit, sitting on the desert hill, taken with the Z6III
This was the first look that we captured on the shoot, so it’s morning light. I wanted to give a feel of the model Alyona being on a different planet.

Joyce Charat is a fashion photographer and director with a distinctive visual style. Her first camera was “a pink COOLPIX” borrowed from her mom, which she replaced with a D5600 before upgrading to a D850, and ultimately switching to mirrorless with the Z8 and Z6III. In this interview, Joyce gives us a behind-the-scenes look at a high-concept photo and video shoot with the Z6III and describes how she and the camera got on in the tough conditions of California’s Death Valley.

Joyce Charat photo of a model in an off-white outfit in the desert with mountains in the background, taken with the Z6III
This image was from our second outfit of the day. It was such a beautiful and stunning view, I wanted to capture the details of the background as well.

Joyce’s work is characterized by motion, bold colors, unconventional framing and a distinctive hyperrealism, often created using very wide focal lengths. What lenses and lighting equipment does Joyce reach for to create her “signature look”?

My core lens kit consists of three lenses. The NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, an adapted (using the Nikon Mount Adapter FTZ) Nikon AF-S Fisheye NIKKOR 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E ED and the NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S. The 24-70mm is an essential, super-versatile lens, while the 8-15mm lets me distort people and make them appear tall and powerful. The 14-24mm is perfect for times when my client doesn’t need such an extreme “fish-eye” effect, but I still want to add my signature style. Lighting is so important—it’s what really elevates my images. My main kit consists of Profoto B10X Plus strobes, bounce boards, and some modifiers.

Joyce Charat photo of a model in a black gown sitting on a stool in the water, taken with the Z6III
This was shot in a salt lake in the middle of the desert in very harsh conditions. We had to be efficient and shoot quickly so the model’s dress didn’t stain white due to the high concentration of salt in the water.

The Z6III comes with a suite of powerful features such as 6K/60p internal RAW and Full HD/240p video, and new hardware including the brightest electronic viewfinder of any mirrorless camera. Joyce explains the concept behind the stunning imagery that she created for the Z6III launch campaign, and how the camera’s advanced features and powerful performance helped her get the results she wanted.

Joyce Charat photo of a model sitting on a rock in the desert, with hair flowing, taken with the Z6III
This was captured during the hottest part of the day, where the sun was the brightest. I decided to use a wind blower to blow the model’s hair and add more dimension to the image.

I wanted to create a surreal and dreamy world to contrast with the beautiful avant-garde costumes. My goal was to evoke a sense of freedom, disorientation and escape—really bringing the viewer to another planet.

Joyce Charat photo of a model standing in front of a lake, wearing a flowy purple outfit, taken with the Z6III
This image was the second to last look. We were racing against the sunset to make sure we got every shot we needed. I used a strobe to make the beautiful fabric of the gown stand out.

Shooting in such an extreme desert environment is very challenging. We were working for almost 12 hours in very hard conditions—from the cold of dawn to the heat of the day, with no shade, and the Z6III was incredible. The viewfinder stayed clear and detailed even in the incredibly bright sunshine, which was amazing. I like to capture a lot of action, and I had the idea to blow big bubbles then film them in slow motion. The Z6III’s new Full HD/240p video mode ended up delivering even better quality than I’d expected, and we didn’t experience any overheating, even in such a hot environment. Full HD at 240 fps is amazing and allows me to get creative shots I would not be able to get on the Z8 or any other Nikon camera. It’s unique. I’m planning a fashion editorial involving water and flowy dresses and shooting it all in 240 fps slow motion!

Joyce Charat photo of a model in purple, in front of a desert lake, taken with the Z6III
This moment felt magical. We knew we were getting great shots and I wanted to capture the gown in motion against the beautiful sunset and mountains.

When I was working with the Z6III, I was surprised by how light and compact the camera felt. Both my Z8 and the Z6III are so much faster than the D850. Switching to mirrorless was life changing for me. I’m able to do so much more now, in both stills and motion, with a lighter and faster body.

Joyce Charat photo of a model in a short dress in the desert, with blurred water and mountains behind her, taken with the Z6III
This was one of my favorite looks of the day. I used the NIKKOR Z 135mm f/1.8 S Plena for the first time, and it created beautiful bokeh against the golden hour and warm

Shooting in the extreme conditions of the Californian desert with a large crew and a completely new camera was a challenge—Joyce reflects on the experience:

I was nervous about working with a brand-new camera that I hadn’t used or tested before the shoot—I just knew I wanted to create my best work. But when we wrapped, I remember looking up at the sky and snowy mountains as the first stars started appearing and telling myself “We really did it”. I felt very grateful. I’ll never forget that incredible day. It truly felt like a project created out of love and passion, and it brings me so much joy to see a project go from my imagination to reality.

Photo of Joyce Charat with the Z6III mirrorless camera on a gimbal, standing in a salt lake in the desert
Joyce Charat shoots with the Z6III mirrorless camera on a gimbal, standing in the salt lake in California’s Death Valley.
Conceptual Photography Portrait

Planet earth in 2.5 seconds

A photography project by Anya Anti

Anya Anti photo of a girl with a melting globe of earth in her hands, symbolizing global warming
“The world is getting warmer. Global warming is the gradual heating of the Earth’s surface, oceans and atmosphere. It is caused by human activity such as burning fossil fuels. Since the Industrial Revolution, the global average surface temperature has increased by more than 0.9 degrees Celsius. The rapid rise in greenhouse gases is a problem because it’s changing the climate faster than most living things can adapt to. A more unpredictable climate poses new challenges to all life,” explains Anya.

Conceptual photographer Anya Anti spent three years working on her 2.5 seconds project, from the concept stage and sourcing props, identifying locations across Iceland for the shoots, and post-production work. We asked her to share some of the images from the project as well as explaining some of her goals for the project and how she came up with the ideas and crafted the final images.

Anya’s team for this project consisted of a model, an assistant and Anya’s husband who acted as both assistant and BTS filmmaker. She and her team spent 10 days driving across Iceland, shooting in carefully researched locations, chosen specifically for each concept.

Anya Anti photo of a girl holding a globe in a plastic bag symbolizing greenhouse gases
“Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere and cause the greenhouse effect on planets. The danger lies in the rapid increase of these gases that intensify the greenhouse effect. These gases absorb solar energy and keep heat close to Earth’s surface, rather than letting it escape into space. By disrupting the atmospheric balance that keeps the climate stable, we are now seeing extreme effects around the globe including extreme weather events, shifting wildlife populations and habitats, rising seas, food supply disruptions, increased wildfires and a range of other impacts,” Anya explains.

Q: What does the project’s title 2.5 seconds mean?

A: “Planet Earth is 4.5 billion years old. Mankind is about 140 thousand years old. If we compress the Earth’s existence into a normal full day of 24 hours, then we’ve been on this planet for… 2.5 seconds. I used “2.5 seconds” as a title because I wanted to invoke the power of numbers and perspective to create a strong, straightforward and shocking effect.

Q: What was your ultimate goal for the project?

A: “I hope to bring awareness about climate change, to spark conversations about the issue and to educate more people about the facts, the urgency of the crisis and the seriousness of its consequences. The project is a series of photographs that highlight the environmental crisis through metaphors and symbolism. Each one of them illustrates and represents a specific environmental issue using allegorical figures and subjects, props, costumes and natural landscapes. I hope my art will be louder and clearer than words.

The subjects either represent a part of nature that is being impacted by these issues or a collective human who is witnessing and experiencing the effects. I used body sympathetic language and sad/anxious facial expressions to convey the horror, despair, and seriousness of the issue.

Anya Anti photo symbolizing pollution as part of her 2.5 seconds project
“Air pollution poses a major threat to health and climate. Increasing temperatures are directly linked to poor air quality which, in turn, can affect the heart and exacerbate cardiovascular disease,” explains Anya.


Q: How long did it take you to complete the project?

A: “Three years total. A year of preproduction, doing research, developing the concepts for the images and fundraising. Another year was spent building and sourcing props, getting a team together and traveling to Iceland for a 10-day trip to complete the initial photography. Once the images were captured, a third year was spent selecting images and editing to create the final images for the project.

Anya Anti photo symbolizing plastic pollution showing a girl on a beach with a jellyfish made of plastics
“We’re surrounded by plastic. While it has many valuable uses, humans have become addicted to single-use or disposable plastic — leading to severe environmental consequences.

An estimated 8 million tons of this plastic waste enters the Ocean every year. Not one square mile of surface ocean anywhere on earth is free of plastic pollution.

Plastic can take up to 450 years to decompose and it doesn’t biodegrade but breaks down into tiny particles known as microplastics leading to chemical contamination of the water and fish we eat. Microplastics are eaten by small marine animals and so enter the food chain ending up in human bodies!

Plastic pollution has a direct and deadly effect on wildlife, particularly marine animals. Thousands of seabirds and sea turtles, seals and other marine mammals are killed each year after ingesting plastic waste, poisoning through exposure to chemicals within plastics or getting entangled in it,” explains Anya.

“Iceland offers a broad variety of different landscapes that were able to accommodate all of my ideas and become a vital part of the storytelling,” Anya explained. “For the “Deforestation” image I used the lava moss location to blend my subject with nature and create a sense of unity. The “Greenhouse gases” image I photographed specifically at Hverir, which is a geothermal spot in Iceland full of hot sulfuric gas—this helped symbolizes greenhouse gases.”

In the image “Greenhouse gases” she holds the planet inside a plastic bag, which is a metaphor for the greenhouse gases which create the greenhouse effect and the warming of the planet just like a plastic bag would do.

For the “Deforestation” image, she took a second-hand ball gown and crafted it to look as if it was made of moss to represent flora and forests. “I created a brown burnt dead patch on the dress along with some hot charcoals to represent wildfires and the destruction of the forest,” she adds.

For the “Plastic Pollution image” she used a clear transparent umbrella and donated recycled single-use plastic items along with making a jellyfish prop. “The jellyfish is made of single-use plastic items to symbolize the marine life that is gravely affected by ocean plastic pollution,” Anya adds.

For the “Global Warming” and “Pollution” concepts Anya commissioned an artist to make the props for the shoot. The “Global Warming” images uses a prop designed to look like a melting planet. The mask tank prop for “Pollution” was built out of the plastic fish tank and a real oxygen mask, with straps attached to be able to wear it as a backpack. She adds, “the little plant inside the gas tank symbolizing the only fresh air source.”

Anya Anti photo of a girl in a dress made of moss, among mossy rocks symbolizing deforestation
“Forests cover more than 30% of the Earth’s land surface and help purify water and air. They’re home to 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. Forests also play a critical role in mitigating climate change because they absorb carbon dioxide produced by human activity that would otherwise contribute to ongoing changes of climate. But forests around the world are under threat from deforestation and forest degradation due to agriculture and grazing of livestock, mining and drilling, illegal logging and wildfires. Deforestation is the second-leading cause of climate change,” explains Anya.

Q: Is the 2.5 seconds project complete at this point or do you think you might add to it in the future?

A: “The project features 8 illustrated environmental issues and consists of 13 images in total. It feels quite complete and can stand on its own. I’ve touched on all the major climate change issues that I wanted to. However, I feel like I’m not ready to end this chapter in my creative journey yet. I want to keep creating more eco-themed and environmental art, continue the conversation with my audience and explore new ideas. I’m not sure yet if they will be a part of the project or separate pieces. But I already have more photographs in progress. So stay tuned!

Photographic Portrait

Taking Creative Chances

Inari Washington photo of a model against a translucent background blurring the scene in the far background
Using the translucent plastic background softens the scene behind the model while adding texture and movement for a unique look.

Inari Briana had saved a “look” on her Pinterest board years back of a background look that piqued her interest. While setting up a recent shoot with the Nikon Z f mirrorless camera, she decided it was the ideal background for the location.

I wanted to try something new regarding my own style of work. I’ve always wanted to branch out and use other types of backdrops rather than the typical colored paper or textured cloth.

Inari had to figure out how to replicate the look she was after, since the original image she’d seen didn’t have an explanation as to how it was executed. She used a translucent sheet of plastic material clipped onto a backdrop stand to intentionally blur and soften the background behind the model.

Inari Washington photo of a model standing in an off white outfit in front of a translucent backdrop
The movement of the backdrop mimics the movement by the model’s pose while at the same time letting the location show through.

She explained, “I wanted to utilize the colors of my surroundings but only to a certain degree,” adding “I think the barn seeping in the background helped set the tone for the entire photo.”

Inari made images that had the translucent plastic material completely covering the scenery behind the model as well as images with a distinct edge, showing part of the altered background mixed with part of the real-life scene.

Inari Washington photo of a model standing in front of a translucent backdrop with a farmhouse in the distance
In this image, the translucent backdrop doesn’t quite cover the scene in the background, leaving a distinct juxtaposition/contrast of a portion of the sky.

In the image that the translucent material completely softens the background Inari explains, “Something about the edges not being there felt cinematic to me. Felt like we were in an entirely new space.” She went on, “The photos showing the edges (above) were unintended to be honest but brought a certain charm to the image. Because of the plastic, it felt like it was blending into the sky like a drawing.”

Upon sharing these images on her social channels, Inari was surprised when she received mixed feedback. “You don’t need to understand what’s going on in the image to appreciate it and that’s okay,” Inari says. “At the end of the day, I am very proud of my images and it spoke volumes to so many people, especially me as a photographer,” she concludes.


Brett Brown: Renaissance Man

Like many others, Brett Brown took his interest in photography to the next level when planning a trip to Europe. Knowing he wanted to bring a camera, not just a smartphone to document the trip, he bought his first Nikon camera, a D3400. Brett was hooked on not just taking photos but reviewing and editing them as well.

Divorce beach captured in Cabo San Lucas.

So, when COVID 19 hit and travel was no longer an option, Brett’s passion blossomed, as he started experimenting with self-portraits, which led to photographing friends. Sharing his work on Instagram attracted client requests, which eventually led him to establish Brett Brown Photography. Life drastically changed when Brett appeared on the Netflix series Love is Blind and married his wife Tiffany.

Bringing the Basics to the Fore

“I am very much an autodidact,” says Brett. His career outside of photography is in 3D art & design where he worked in the video games and footwear design industry. He notes that most of what he knows professionally is self-taught, by reading blogs and watching a lot of YouTube videos.

“With my background in 3D modeling, I already knew the basic principles of lighting as well as things like form and composition. I also had a lot of experience using photoshop in my career. So, when it came down to learning how to take good photos, it was more of a technical exercise than anything.

Brett Brown photo of his wife on a red background
Portrait of Brett’s wife, Tiffany.

Choosing the Right Gear

We asked Brett what made him decide to choose a Nikon for his first camera. He says that Nikon was always top of mind, having remembered the commercial’s he’d seen on TV as a kid.

“I think they subconsciously registered somewhere in my brain, so when I started looking for a camera, Nikon was the first brand I looked at. As I learned more about the various camera models and saw the picture quality and features, I was sold.”

Moving to Mirrorless

Migrating to mirrorless has been a game changer for Brett. Having resisted the initial move, once he made the leap to mirrorless, there was no going back. “Being able to see what my photo would look like with the correct exposure through my viewfinder was huge. I can shoot so much faster and it makes the process much more intuitive,” he says.

In the two years he’s been shooting mirrorless, Brett went from the Z 5 to the Z 6 to the Z 6II. “Each camera was great for my needs at the time,” he says, “but once I started working with video, the benefits of upgrading to the Z 6II became apparent. The photo quality is excellent and the increase in the number of autofocus points is great.”

“Because I’ve been doing more video work recently, I’ve enjoyed the 4K resolution with no crop at 30 fps. I do a mix of photo and video, so I needed a camera that was great at both and the Z 6II is perfect for my needs,” he adds.

Other favorite features of the Z 6II include the built-in VR image stabilization, especially when he’s shooting video and using the SnapBridge app to download images directly to his phone to quickly share them on social media.

Brett Brown photo of a model looking at the camera
Model: Jarren Simmons.

“I’m loving the f/1.8 versions of both the 50mm and 85mm NIKKOR Z lenses. Both are very light and compact which makes them great for traveling or shooting on the go. The focus is sharp with no distortion and the bokeh is beautiful.”

Stepping In front of the Camera

“I guess I started doing self-portraits primarily because it allowed me to learn and work totally at my own pace. If I have an idea or just want to try something new, it’s much easier to get in front of the camera myself instead of hitting someone up and hoping they’re available and patient enough for me to experiment. I also think it’s a way to generally get more comfortable with yourself. I also love the surprise element when people see a portrait of me and ask who took it and I tell them I shot it myself!”

Brett Brown photo of himself and his wife in B&W
Self-portrait of Brett and his wife, Tiffany.

Turning his Camera on Others

Having a great eye for posing, composition, color and lighting is so important to a portrait photographer. “I think these attributes all work together to make a great picture. It’s what separates just mindlessly snapping the shutter from taking great photos. Each attribute takes time and repetition to become great at. I’m definitely aware of all of these not only when I take a picture but when I’m editing as well.” Brett explains.

Brett does admit that posing is a different type of skill—one that develops from experimenting with self-portraiture, learning how to pose yourself. “If you’re shooting someone else, being comfortable giving direction and making them feel comfortable takes practice and most importantly, people skills. Outside of the technical ability I think making your subject feel comfortable is a big part of getting a great portrait,” he says. Brett adds: “One of the things I enjoy most about photography is that it gives me the chance to work with people in real time which is a nice change of pace from my usual work schedule”.

Brett Brown photo of a male model lit with a blue gel and holding flowers
Model: Bretto Jackson.
Photographic Portrait

Chris Hershman Shooting with the Z f: “It Doesn’t Feel Like Work Anymore.”

Chris Hershman photo of a dog taken with the Z f, looking up to the camera
I bought a Z f to capture personal moments in my life, and this is a great example. This was a casual shot taken during my morning “coffee on the porch” routine. My dog was lying in the sunshine reflected from the glass door of our house, and I liked how the reflections and shadows fell on the ground. Nikon Z f, NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens, 1/1000 second, f/2.8, ISO 125.

Photographer and filmmaker Chris Hershman has been a Nikon shooter since the days of the D70S. Currently based in Nashville, Tennessee, Chris spends his days creating video content for a marketing agency, but in his spare time, he enjoys shooting candid portraits—both human and animal. We sat down with Chris to learn more about his approach to personal work and find out how the Z f has transformed how he captures meaningful moments.

“My main camera kit for work is a Nikon Z 8 and Z 6 II, with the “trio” of f/2.8 mirrorless zoom lenses: NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S and NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S lenses. Outside of professional use, my goal has been to capture as much as I possibly can on my cameras, rather than constantly getting out my cellphone. That’s what led me to purchase a Z f—a feeling that I wanted to capture some of the most important casual moments in my life on a proper camera. Basically, I want to move from always carrying my gear in a backpack to carrying it in a fanny pack!”

Chris Hershman portrait of his dog in profile, taken with the Z f
During a quiet moment, our dog Murphy looks out of the window at our local dogpark, wishing he was playing. This was shot with a Z 105mm f/2.8. It’s really sharp and shows all the fine hairs on his face. Nikon Z f, NIKKOR Z 105mm f/2.8 S lens, 1/250 second, f/11, ISO 2200.

Chris explains how the Z f has inspired a new style of shooting in his “off-duty” moments:

“Compared to my main kit, with the Z f, I’m looking to get artful, authentic, and more playful images. I’ve found that the Z f enables experimentation in a way that I really enjoy. I’m reaching for my F mount lenses a lot with the FTZ II adapter, like my old AF DX Fisheye-NIKKOR 10.5mm f/2.8G ED, and a manual focus NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2, to get a distinctive look. I use the Z f’s focus peaking feature with the 50mm f/1.2, which is great for manual focus, even when I’m shooting at wide apertures. I love the Z f’s black and white mode, too. Especially for available light portraits on the 50mm f/1.2.”

Editors’ note: Focus Peaking is a feature in Nikon Z mirrorless cameras that helps with accurate manual focus. When Focus peaking is activated, high-contrast, in-focus areas in a scene are indicated with a colored highlight.

Chris Hershman portrait of a man in low light, lit by Speedlight flash
My buddy Micah invited me out to see some live music in Nashville, and I took this portrait at the venue. This was taken with the Z 26mm f/2.8 and SB-300 Speedlight. I snooted the light from the flash with my hand to get a strong vignette. This was a quick “one and done” shot, but I like how it turned out, with Micah peering through the curtain. Nikon Z f, NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens, 1/60 second, f/2.8, ISO 250.

While Chris uses manual focus a lot, there are times when he needs the advanced animal and human eye-detection autofocus of the Z f:

“I moved to Nashville this year, and it’s a big dog city, so I’ve started a project taking pictures of dogs and their owners. I’ve been shooting a lot with the Z 26mm f/2.8, getting up really close to dogs running around, and you need good autofocus for that!”

Chris Hershman photo of a man in a cowboy hat sitting, looking at the camera
Another portrait of Micah at his home. We were trying to create a storytelling image of an artist in his writing environment. He has these cool stadium seats right outside his front door–this shot was almost an outtake at the end of the session, but it ended up being one of our favorites. Nikon Z f, NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens, 1/250 second, f/2, ISO 1250.

While his professional work is all digital, Chris is a keen film shooter in his spare time. He explains how the Z f combines the best aspects of both kinds of shooting:

“I’ve always enjoyed the process of shooting film because it slows you down to really think about your settings. It feels like with the Z f, the designers took what was great about film cameras, and used that to make a really practical digital camera for a modern photographer. There’s something about having mechanical dials that just make you want to turn them, and I’ve found that it gets me in the mindset to expose for a sharable image straight away, rather than relying on post-processing the RAW (NEF) file to get an exactly graded shot, which is what I’d do for my professional work. I use the SnapBridge app. and I have it set up so that as soon as I take a picture with the Z f, it’s automatically transferred to my phone. That’s such a different workflow compared to my usual day-to-day—it doesn’t feel like work anymore. And I think it makes me a better photographer, to be honest.

Chris Hershman portrait of a woman with a colorful background, taken in low light
This is my wife, taken in our house. I wanted to create a really colorful image with bold contrast, and I knew I wanted to shoot in the square format. I used an LED sunlamp behind her, cycling through different colors as we shot. Strobes provided the main illumination with a light modifier to create a strip of light across her eyes. Nikon Z f, NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens, 1/200 second, f/2.8, ISO 640.

“If I shoot film nowadays, it’s to stay inspired and separate the experience from my day-to-day professional work. The Z f isn’t going to replace my Z 8 for commercial work, but when I clock off for the day, that’s when I’ll reach for the Z f. It’s the best of both worlds – the experience of film shooting, with the convenience and quality of digital. And it looks good around my neck!”

Chris Hershman photo of birds flying around a telephone pole and wires, in B&W, taken with the Z f
This was taken enroute between Nashville and Chicago. I had the Z f on my lap the whole time to document the trip. I was lucky enough to have the camera set up for a fast shutter speed and snapped this image from the moving car as I noticed the birds taking off. I shot this using the Deep Monochrome Picture Control. Nikon Z f, NIKKOR Z 40mm f/2 lens, 1/2000 second, f/4, ISO 100.
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.