Monson Photography FAQ: What's your style?

May 28, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Just as people have different tastes in food, decor, and fashion, they also have different tastes in photography.  As I mentioned in an earlier post about choosing a photographer, it's important to be sure you find a photographer that suits your particular style.  That being said, I thought I'd take a moment to spell out what my particular style of shooting is like. 

In the time that I've been a photographer, I've been very tempted to go with the "trends", like adding digital textures in post-processing, doing the cutesy newborn-with-her-head-propped-in-her hands pose, and high fashion posing for senior girls.  I had almost a sense of obligation of to offer the same things as other photographers.  Then one day not too long ago, it dawned on me that I didn't have to offer the exact same things as another photographer.  People have been hiring me for years based on what I already do.  And it's never been a bad thing to stand apart from the crowd a bit.

I've come to the conclusion that, if I had to label my style, I would use the words "timeless" and "classic".  I would probably add "traditional", although the word, in a sense, seems a bit boring to me, and I think I'm far from boring! 

What this all means is that, my goal is to create portraits for people that will stand the test of time.  If a client finally forces Mom to pull their picture off the wall twenty years from now, I hope that it's because they had "what-was-I-thinking" hair or just want an updated photo or something; NOT because the photograph is dated by my posing or post-processing. 

Here is what you CAN expect from me, style-wise:

FAMILIES:

When it comes to posing families, I try to flatter the shapes of all involved.  I try to get families really close together, touching, to convey a sense of closeness.  Although I have seen the "scattered" look (i.e. Mom & Dad stand off in one direction or in the distance, and the kids are hanging around in various poses) captured nicely, I do not pose families as such.  I lean toward the more traditional (there's that word again!) style of keeping everyone looking close-knit. 

However, once we've gone the more classic route, I like to throw in a few fun action shots like the ones below.  It's still just as important to me to capture these more candid moments, because they tell more of a story about the beautiful family that paused to smile at the camera.  Whereas the posed, traditional portraits are usually what Mom wants to hang on the wall and distribute to family, the fun photos are appreciated as well.  Sometimes the "fun" shots are never ordered, but that's okay; it's all part of the experience that my clients pay for, and I want them to have a good time. 


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COUPLES & WEDDINGS:

I absolutely adore working with two people who are in love, and couples photos, to me, are all about portraying the love those two people share.  I love that, with a photograph, sometimes you capture it so perfectly, that even though a stranger does not know how they met, what they've been through together, or what they love about one another, the stranger can still feel the love projecting from the image. 

The image below is of two people that I know well and love very much - my sister Angela and her might-as-well-call-him-"husband", Vinny.  These two have been through some extremely rough times, such as a life-altering car accident Angie was in years ago and her more recent diagnosis of Lyme Disease.  I love this photo of the two of them, because it represents Angie putting her trust in Vinny, the closeness they share after so many hardships, and Vinny's gaze and body language tell me that he is here for my sister, to protect her.  All that out of one photo.


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Now, look at that image again, and tell me, would the same message be conveyed if they were side-by-side, holding hands?  Probably not.  Which is why I like to let couples sort of "fall into" one another.  My goal is to portray their love for one another and the bond they share, not throw in a bunch of crazy props or try some odd posing just do do something "different". 

As far as weddings go, well, you would be hard-pressed to photograph a more emotional day!  When I work a wedding, even though I barely know the couple and don't know the families at all, I completely immerse myself in their day.  Weddings are not just another 'gig' to me.  I am one of the die-hards, if you will, who still allows myself to believe that marriage is forever.  It helps that I'm in a very happy and loving marriage myself.  I'm a sentimental fool who tears up multiple times at a stranger's wedding, just because I am so excited for them.

Wedding photography is not the world's easiest job, simply because there are no do-overs and you just want to please the bride and groom and their families so much.  But when I have been given the honor of photographing such a huge event, I try to capture not only all the important details, but ANY moment I spot that helps tell the story of their day.  I remember being a bride at my own wedding and I know I missed SO many cute little things because it's a busy job to be the bride, too.  So, when I shoot weddings, I really try to watch for those hidden gems, too, so that the bride & groom can enjoy them later.

Such as, this pair of darling flower girls, who just looked so cute bowing their heads in prayer, framed by lush greens from the ceremony.

Or this groom enjoying an impromptu ride from a long-time friend.

I also like to learn as much about a couple as I can in the short time frame that I have, and incorporate that into their photos if possible.  For instance, the couple below I knew to be very strong in their faith, as well as their love for one another.  This shot was taken in a somewhat plain entrance to the church, but what makes the image strong to me is the word "SANCTUARY" behind them.  This could represent their religion, but I like to think of it as an interpretation of their love:  They are one another's sanctuary. 

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The sweet couple below is very young, but sure of their commitment to each other.  They are high school sweethearts, and I wanted to convey their youth and playfulness with each other.  When I think of them, fifty years from now, looking at the image below from their engagement session, it makes me smile.

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So I guess, to summarize, I try to capture the emotion between couples... not just stick them in cute or silly poses I've seen on Pinterest.  :)

NEWBORNS:

Newborns are one of my favorite subjects to photograph.  Although they are usually my longest sessions, the time flies because I enjoy them so much.  You can read about how I manage newborns here, so I'll cut right to the chase with regard to how I photograph them. 

I always take the standard newborn shots - full body, 3/4 length, head shots, with Mom and Dad, with parents separately, and little hands and feet.  These are usually done with just a diaper cover on, or maybe a few bare-bottom shots.  Once I've got plenty of the traditional shots, I like to try to vary the baby's look by adding hats or headbands, tutus or neckties. 

My favorite part of newborn shoots, though, is getting creative with my many vintage props.  There is something I love about mixing a brand-spankin' new human with a bunch of old stuff.  I also like to set up little themed sets, or even use the existing items in a client's house!  Of course, if I know a little about a client beforehand, I try to match some of my props to their interests, like I did with the little guy below, who's mama is a bit of a cowgirl.

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One thing, as I've mentioned, that I don't do with newborns is the super-trendy "head-in-the-hands" shots, which are actually composites (blending of more than one photo).  I was on the fence with offering this one, but frankly, I have seen way too many of those shots (yes, on Pinterest!) and they're all looking sort of... the same to me.  Also, I feel that if you don't execute the posing just right, the end result can look very uncomfortable for the baby, and an uncomfortable baby is a hard thing for me to look at. 

This, of course, is just my personal preference.  Some folks might look at my work and decide they don't care for the themed sets I create.  It's all good!  It goes back to knowing what YOU want as a client and finding the photographer who can make it happen for you.

CHILDREN:

It absolutely CRACKS ME UP when photographers talk about "poses for kids".  Because honestly, there ARE NONE.  Yes, you can try to put a chair down and see if the little guy will climb into it, but I highly advise against trying to force anything.  Children are such spontaneous beings by nature, and because of their ability to be brutally honest, they also will tell you, the photographer, what they will and won't do.  They are not afraid to throw a stage 5 tantrum in your presence, or knock their sister off of a stool.  They're not "bad" kids; they're just kids.  They don't do like we adults do, trying to appease everyone.  They're just HONEST.

So when it comes time for me to photograph small children (or even older kids!), I like to have a few bajillion ideas in mind for how to get what me and Mom are after, because usually about ten of those bajillion ideas will actually work out.   What works best for me is to first make friends, then try to use that to my advantage (That sounds so manipulative!  Ouch!) to gently direct my little client to an area where I need him or her to be.  Sometimes a simple chair will be enough to entertain them for a moment,

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but other times, I have to break out the "big guns", like one of my Radio Flyers

or a toy that won't look to obtrusive in the image.


Or sometimes, I just let them bang on something and be happy while I take head shots.  :)

My point is, with kids, I don't try to force anything.  I let them be kids and try to move fast!

 

SENIORS

If I had to pick just one area to photograph, it would hands-down be high school seniors.  I love that I get to focus on just one person during the session, and usually that person is not trying to throw sand at me or hide from me by running down the beach.

With seniors, again, I try to stick with very timeless posing.  I have never once asked a teen girl to squat down and jut a leg off to the side, as it just doesn't look natural to me.  Some girls can pull off the "hands over the head" look quite nicely, but not everyone can.  It's so important to appreciate the differences from body to body and figure out which poses suit whom. 

I think most girls have flipped through a bazillion (that's a little more than a bajillion for those paying attention) magazines or catalogs, and while they still want to look like themselves, they want to look just as cool as the chicks in the magazines.  They are not yet off on their own, but they don't want to look like a little girl anymore.  On the flip side, Mom and Dad look at their beautiful daughter and want her to look exactly like the little girl they see her as.

My job is to meet them in the middle.  I try to capture that super model feel that the senior is after, while maintaining a sense of timeless beauty and keeping it relatively conservative for the parents. 

With the guys, I have three main goals:

1. Make them look masculine.

I try to avoid any posing that could be construed as feminine on the wrong guy.  I always try to keep in mind that his high school buddies will see these photos and will tease him relentlessly if I make him look "girly". Often, I try to shoot in a way that keeps them looking "manly", i.e. a lower perspective to give them an on-top-of-the-world look.  Guy poses are somewhat limited, but shooting from different angles helps vary things. 

2. Keep things light & keep moving so they can try to have a little fun.

I don't want to stereotype, but the majority of senior guys that I've photographed basically show up under obligation, either because all their friends are getting pictures, or their Mom is not letting them off the hook.  I kind of take pride in the fact that many of my senior guys show up looking rather disgruntled, yet leave with a smile on their face and seem to have had a good time.  I have a screwy sense of humor and this helps, too, though I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that deep down, I may have the brain of a teenage boy. :)

3. Attempt to capture some REAL smiles; a.k.a. the "Mom Smile".

If anyone knows your fake smile, it's Mom.  And while those disgruntled guys (see # 2) plaster on a "smile", most times, their mothers call them out on it.  Guys, they want just one photo with your REAL smile.  So, do yourself a favor and look up some funny videos online before your shoot, and keep those clips in your mind for when you need to put on your "Mom Smile". 

POST-PROCESSING (EDITING):

When it comes to editing, I have a light hand.  Though I've experimented with different looks over the years and do like the way some Photoshop actions look, I have come to the conclusion that I want to stick with the basics.  To me, that is color & black and white.  No funky textures, no text on the image, no play on colors.  The stuff that never goes out of style.  Now, occasionally a photo calls for something a little different, and I'll play with it, but I always keep the original as well.

I don't slim people down, and I don't selectively process people's eyes, either, because it's easy to over-do.  Basically, I want people to look like they looked when I took the photograph, but enhanced just a tad (i.e. slightly whiter smile, etc).  I want my clients to look like themselves at their best.

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PROPS:

The props I use (i.e. trunks, chairs, baskets, stools, etc.) are either vintage or look vintage.  I really don't think I own one thing that doesn't have a bit of peeling paint or a rust spot or two.  I love two types of things: things that are old, and things that look old.  Occasionally, I'll throw in something newer for a pop of color, but all of the items I use are very "classic".

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I do hope that perspective clients will take this into consideration when choosing the right photographer for them.

Best Wishes!
Beth


 


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