My New Direction: Fashion-inspired portraiture

Fashion Portrait with Seattle Dancer Desiree


When I started out in photography, headshots were my specialty. I loved the glamorous aspect of shooting actors and models. Soon I began doing model tests, with more glamorous visions of being published in Vogue Italia. Portraiture wasn’t yet on the radar. It was almost a dirty word for me, as I never understood the value of a portrait, and thought they had to be done without a hint of glamour and style. Now as 2016 begins, I find myself ready to delve into fashion-inspired portraiture as a new brand focus.


Portraiture is the preservation of a moment in time. You can never go back in time to this moment, and so portraits (and video) are a great way to document your legacy, and the legacy of your family, your people. I read an excellent book by Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon) that delves into the importance of your legacy. I have only a single, faded photograph of my grand parents on my father’s side, and so their faces live mostly in misty memories. They are strangers to me, actors in stories told by my parents. Had they been able to take more photographs, I might know them better.


Anyone can take a snap shot and preserve a moment, and candid shots are beautiful treasures in their own right. Portraiture, however, comes with unique style. Any good photographer can introduce their aesthetic styling to a photograph, with posing direction, light, composition, props, and choice of backdrop. My own visual style will come out in every portrait I take. My goal for the coming year is to create a visual world, one of classic beauty and moody elegance, and populate it with people of any age and shape. We all deserve to own beautiful memories.

Studio Session: Diego

I had a great time working with this little guy. Actually, he’s not that little. At 5’7″, he is almost as tall as me, and the kid is just 10!

Diego and his mom came in for a model test to build up his portfolio to take to talent agencies. She had mentioned beforehand that Diego absolutely loved being in front of the camera, and sure enough, he seemed over the moon happy. From my experience, kids have about a ten minute window of shooting before they start to get bored, which means they get very silly. This is a good thing; silly kids are happy kids, and you can get really funny shots, but you’ve got to get a few straight ones first. With Diego I didn’t have to worry about getting him to sit still, because the kid just has it. He knows when to goof off and also when to get serious, takes direction like a pro, and throughout the shoot I kept saying to myself, “wow, is he really this young??” I’ve had experienced models who were tougher to direct than this guy!

Back to the subject of silliness, here is Diego’s first shot out of the gate. I knew after this one that he was going to give me some winners. He’s got loads of personality, and in this shot it’s bursting.


studio modeling test portrait of a young boy against a grey background


But when I asked him to get serious, he delivered a mighty fine set of headshots…

Studio Modeling Headshot of a young boy against a grey backdrop

A serious look, with great expression!


Studio modeling headshot portrait of a young boy against a grey background


Some people are just meant to be in front of the camera. Diego is certainly one of them, and it shows in every single picture. I’m not kidding; after going through his reel, I was amazed to see that he genuinely looks to be having a good time in every single shot. He never complained or got tired. Whenever I gave him direction he was on point, and loving every minute of it. It makes me feel like a million helping someone this happy.

I’m eager to see where this kid goes with his modeling career. He has a meeting coming up with a talent agent. Fingers crossed!!!


Studio modeling portrait of a young boy wearing a gray coat against a gray backdrop



Headshot Theory: Portrait or Landscape?

Traditionally, headshots were done in portrait (8 x 10) dimensions. About a decade ago, New York photographer and headshot king Peter Hurley burst onto the scene, creating a new style with landscape (10 x 8) dimensions. This new style was fresh, exciting, and especially appropriate for actors, as it leant his headshots a cinematic quality. I have dubbed this style cinematic headshots.


Is one better than the other? In terms of design, a cinematic style headshot is more dynamic because it allows you to create asymmetry in the composition by placing your subject to the far right or left of the photograph. Asymmetrical compositions are off balance, which makes them exciting to look at. Traditional portrait-style headshots are usually centered in the composition, which makes them look more safe, stable, and also a little boring.


Studio portrait headshot examples
Asymmetrical “cinematic style” headshot versus symmetrical traditional headshot


Usually I try talking my clients into cinematic headshots, although I always give them the option for the more traditional portrait style. Most go for cinematic when they see side by side comparisons. Some clients, however, choose to stay old school, because it’s what they are used to seeing, or because they need to match the headshots on the company website.


Headshot session: Oliver



In studio business corporate headshot of man against a white backdrop
10 x 8 “cinematic” style headshot


In studio business corporate headshot portrait of man against grey backdrop
8 x 10 “traditional” portrait-style headshot

Oliver came into the studio looking for a headshot that resembled the one his boss was using for the work site. The boss’s headshot was your typical corporate portrait, done against a grey backdrop, with a background light providing a simple gradient. I gave Oliver the traditional business headshot he was looking for, but also decided to switch to horizontal dimensions, against a clean white background. Peter Hurley also made the white backdrop popular in headshots, although Steve Jobs and his affinity for the infinity had more to do with the popularity of that particular aesthetic.


In terms of expression, Oliver’s traditional headshot looks great. It is friendly, approachable, with a great big authentic smile (when in doubt, crack a Star Wars joke). He was pleased with his new headshot, but once he saw himself in the fresh, cinematic style, I could tell he was sold. The “Apple” headshot seemed to hit him like a cool drink of water, and for the rest of the shoot he seemed much more energetic. Oliver still chose the old-school headshot for work, but I have an idea which one he’ll be using for his LinkedIn profile.


Studio business corporate headshot portrait of man against white backrop



If you want to look fresh, modern, stylish, don’t be afraid to veer from the traditional approach. We as humans are used to seeing the same things in the same way, and only when we are presented with something out of the ordinary do we take special notice. If you want to stand out, don’t be afraid to go a little rogue.

Which style of headshot do you prefer? Traditional or “cinematic?”