Category Archives: Senior Portraits

Meet Our Models

We are so excited to introduce the members of our 2018 Senior Model Team for Dennis Kelly Photography!


Be sure to leave them some love in the comments below.

Washington Township High School Class of 2018

“I am involved in lots of clubs in school including student council, junior achievement, freshman transition, and the dance company. I also dance outside of school! One of my greatest accomplishments are being on the honor roll all of high school!
I decided to become a senior model for Dennis Kelly because I love the cameras ability to capture a moment in time. Dennis does an amazing job at this, he has the ability to capture the story behind the photo, such as your personality!
When I’m not at dance I enjoy shopping with my friends and cooking. My best memory growing up was my tea party birthday that my mom gave me when I was 6. My friends and I All dressed up in white dresses and had an all out tea party, it was the best!
My goals for the future are to own a dance studio where I can teach kids all types of dance and to have a wonderful family, after I go to college of course!”




Lindenwold High School Class of 2018

“I play soccer and do track and field. I have received a gold watch at Woodbury and a silver medal in Haddonfield.
I decided to apply to be a senior model because I wanted to try something out of my comfort zone.
For fun I like to play video games and work out. Probably my best memory growing up was winning my first silver medal in track and field.
I plan to attend college after I graduate high school and try to major in computers.”





Williamstown High School Class of 2018

“I enjoy sports. I pitched for my softball team for 6 or so years before I found dance. I feel I have come a long way in dance, very quickly thanks to my teachers. Now I don’t have time for much else but I don’t mind; it’s what I love!

I knew a few people that were Senior Models in the past for Dennis Kelly. The pictures were so beautiful and different that I wanted to go there for my own photos. When I saw that they were taking applications for models I thought I had to try. I was surprised and excited to be chosen!
For fun, I like to be with friends and family as much as possible. My family is very competitive so we like to go to the paintball field or race go karts whenever possible. I also enjoy listening to music and working out.
I love to go on vacations with my family, but one trip in particular stood out the most. We rented a cabin in Tennessee and all my sisters were there together. We had a lot of memories from that trip alone. We rode horses and went whitewater rafting. We even had a raccoon visitor every night as we ate! After college I hope to dance professionally. Of course a back up dancer in a show would be my dream. But long term I plan to open my own dance studio. I love working children and I want to provide a family environment to help them feel like it is their second home.”




Washington Township High School Class of 2018

“My activities include dancing and doing community service. I dance at Chez Dance studio and I also take dance at school and after school. I am dancing 24/7. I also am a part of Interact which is a volunteer club. Where I participate in events such as the Buddy Walk for people with Down Syndrome, Monzo Madness for people who have ALS. I also volunteer at the hoagie sale and the Thanksgiving food drive. I love giving back to the community.
I wanted to become a senior model for Dennis Kelly because I love looking at photography and getting my pictures taken. Also I know Dennis always takes the best pictures!!
For fun I like to hang out with my friends and go shopping or go out to eat!  My best memory growing up would probably be going on family vacations to Disney, Aruba, California,Cancun and Aspen. My goals for the future are to go to college and major in Dance Education and open my own studio one day.”





Paul VI High School Class of 2018

“I play soccer for PVI and am in so many clubs! One of my accomplishments was scoring my first varsity soccer goal this year for PVI. I decided to become a Senior Model for Dennis Kelly because it was different from my normal activities I usually do. I wanted to try something new and I’m so glad I did! For fun I really just love hanging out with my friends! I love going to the beach in the summer and I love to travel. My best memory growing up is hosting a Spanish foreign exchange student for the summer. My primary goal for the future right now is to get accepted to my #1 school for college.





Kingsway Regional High School Class of 2018

“I love film and photography. Being in front of the camera as well as behind, directing is super exciting. I love listening to music and hanging out with friends.
I decided to become a Senior Model for Dennis Kelly photography to get experience in modeling and further pursue that dream. For fun I hang out with friends, watch movies, and eat sushi! My best memory growing up was probably Christmas dinners with my whole family! I love being with family and having everyone around and smiling. My future goals consist of becoming an advertising marketer & driving a Range Rover!”




Schalick High School Class of 2018

“I love to dance, play guitar, draw, and hang out with friends. I have studied German for three years and I went to Germany on a student exchange program. I am in dance academy at my school and get to learn new styles of dance every day. I was a pre-Olympic gymnast for 8 years and I was state champion one year. I have been trained by past Olympians who have helped me achieve many goals. I perform as a leader in school and get good grades.
I wanted to model for Dennis Kelly because his photography is so beautiful and inspires me! Having past experiences with modeling, I saw his senior model team as a great opportunity. For fun, I spend my time with dance, acrobatics, playing guitar, painting my nails, doing makeup, spending time with friends, exploring new places with my family, and drawing. Growing up, my best memories are of  traveling and competing with my old gymnastics teammates and creating such a strong bond with them; they are like my second family! Also being able to grow up with them and experiencing so many new things together, going to new places, and meeting new people whom we looked up to, was one of the best things that I will always remember and keep in my heart. I hope to get into the University of the Arts summer dance early college program this year, also explore other colleges and the different majors I am interested in such as dance, biomedical engineering, and dance therapy. One day I hope to have my own dance studio or company or make a big, helpful discovery in science and medicine. Also I wish to travel again, going back to Germany, and seeing other places around the world.”



Paul VI High School Class of 2018

“I am a very fun and sociable person! I love to meet new people and I make friends easily. I am in a few clubs in my school and my grades are good. I care about others as well as myself and my future. I saw that a few people in my school had been senior models for Dennis in prior years and it looked so fun! The pictures were extremely beautiful and extraordinary. I wanted to be involved with it in any way I could! For fun, I like to hang out with my friends and family, who are a huge part of my life and make me who I am today. I enjoy spending time with them and going on little adventures with my friends!  My best memory growing up would have to be going overseas to Jordan to visit my mom’s side of the family. It is such a beautiful country over there and I enjoy traveling more than anything. I have also gone to Hawaii recently which was definitely one of my favorites as well. The different cultures and lifestyles are so amazing to experience and learn about while you’re young. I have many goals for the future! As my career, I hope to pursue my dream of becoming a physician assistant in pediatrics. I love kids and I am very interested in the medical field. I hope to do all that I can to get to where I want to be as well as being very happy while doing it.”





Williamstown High School Class of 2018

“Some of my favorite are activities are Drama, DECA, and Senate! I enjoy participating in school and community theatres, as this has always been one of my passions. I also love to dance-especially tap! One of my newer activities is DECA. This year I was lucky enough to place first in both of my events and now I have the opportunity to go to California this April! I also love participating in my class senate, where I help plan prom, trips, and events as my class president. I’ve seen all of the Dennis’s photos over the past year and I fell in love with his senior portraits. I’ve always wanted to get nice, professional pictures done, and I felt senior pictures was the perfect opportunity! I love hanging out with my friends and getting to do theater with all of them! My favorite memory growing up is playing the piano with my dad in our family room. We always sang and had great times together at the piano, and that’s how I learned to start playing. I’m looking to attend a four year university and double major in Business Administration and Musical Theatre. Then I hope to go back to school and get my MBA. I hope to one day incorporate the two degrees and be able to run the business aspects of a theater like marketing!”





Washington Township Class of 2018

“I participate in is field hockey for my high school team and a winter league I play for fun! I also baby sit and working at Wendy’s is also a hobby to me because I love my coworkers and going to work is always fun. I play softball for my town and absolutely adore it. I participate in club activities like interact where I do volunteer work and help in the community .
Both my sister and brother went to Dennis Kelly for their own senior portraits. I really loved the photos he took and creativity and wanted to experience some of his work myself. My mom recommended to me I try to apply to be a model and to see what happens!
For fun, sometimes it’s sitting in my room with my sister laughing and messing around to just long car rides because I and my friends missed our exit trying to go to Krispy Creme. Spending time with my close group of girl friends is one of my favorite things because we are so close and know each other so well it’s always a good time. I love going out on the field with my stick and just messing around with team mates.  I always look to field hockey as my escape and a place I can always let loose and have fun.
One of my best memories growing up is any memory with my family. My mom, dad, brother and sister are the reason I am who I am. We have talks and will literally laugh for hours together. My brother and my sister are my toughest critics but best motivation. my mom and dad are my inspiration and they are the reason for some of my best memories
My goal for my future is to be a nurse of some kind. No matter where I go or what I do I want to help people. I adore working with anyone and my goal is to help anyone in need of a helping hand.”

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FAQ about Senior Portraits at Dennis Kelly

 Senior Portraits.

Frequently Asked Questions

For a complete guide to available session options, prices, and help in planning your senior portrait photoshoot, click here for our 2016 Senior Session Guide.

As always, if you have questions or concerns that aren’t answered here, feel free to call me at 856-228-4399. We are always happy to help and answer any questions you may have.

There’s a lot to know about senior year. It can be confusing. As a father myself, I remember!

Karavangelas-7007One of the decisions you’ll need to make is where to have your senior portrait taken. These “Once in a Lifetime” portraits mark the transition from childhood into adulthood. They are likely to remain in your family and be displayed in your home for a long time. They are also something of an investment, in both money AND time, so it is important to understand your options, so you can choose wisely.

You have choices! That’s good, but it can also be confusing. So, here are the straight answers to the questions we get most  about senior portraits  at our studio and in general. No matter where you decide to go, we hope this information will help you make an informed decision about this important milestone, because you don’t want to make the wrong decision.

How much does it cost? I’ve heard it’s expensive.

You’ve probably already heard a lot about Dennis Kelly Photography. Some things are true, like we do amazing work. Some are not, like you must spend thousands of dollars to come here! Truth is, it’s completely up to you. Although many of our clients love their portraits so much, they do spend a lot on them, we also have other clients that spend much less. At Dennis Kelly, most people find a budget of $500 to $700 is a good range to plan on, but it ultimately comes down to what you want to purchase.

Curcio-0278-2Dennis Kelly has a reputation as being expensive, but the reality is, our prices compare very favorably to other quality studios. People sometimes spend more here than at other studios, not because they have to, but because they love the pictures so much they really want to buy more! We can’t apologize for that!

Most of our clients opt to use our easy “Create a Package” system that allows you to choose exactly what you want in 4 simple steps and provides the best value for your money, but you are always completely free to purchase as little, or as much, as you desire.

Our prices reflect not only the quality of our work, but the amount of time we invest with each client. We find this is absolutely essential to get the quality and variety of images and the natural expressions that we are known for. We simply won’t cut corners or hustle you out the door in 6 minutes to save a few bucks!

Remember, things of  great value always do cost a little more.

This is true in all things, the cheapest price rarely gives you the best value, especially with something like your senior portraits, which will stay in your family forever. If you are considering a photographer who offers a seemingly very low price, ask yourself why they believe their work is worth so little?

Don’t you have to get your pictures from the school picture company?

New Jersey public schools are required by law to accept outside photographs, as long as they meet yearbook standards. You do not have to go to the school picture company, even for your yearbook portrait. This is true for all public schools in NJ.

Jankowski-5405RGPrivate schools may require that your yearbook picture be from a designated studio, but they cannot require you to purchase anything. You are always free to choose any studio you want for your senior portraits. We provide you with a yearbook glossy or digital file absolutely free with any package purchase, so here at Dennis Kelly Photography, you’re covered! If you are considering another studio, check their policy as some may charge you extra for a yearbook file.

School picture companies work on huge volumes. Because of that, you probably won’t find cheaper prices anywhere. But, what you give up for that cheaper price is quality, service, and creativity. Your session will likely be shot by a photographer who is only permitted to take about 4 to 6 minutes to do your shots. You will get an extremely limited selection of poses and every one will be exactly the same as the person before and after you in the line. There is zero chance that the photographer will capture anything unique or personal about you. It’s basically a mug shot session. But, if price is your main concern, this will undoubtedly be your cheapest option. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as your expectations aren’t too high. At Dennis Kelly, we simply don’t work that way. It’s just not what we do. Every session here is individualized so that we capture not just your face, but your  personality.  This is crucial to understanding why portraits here require more time, and cost more, than mugshots from a high volume school picture company.

Martino-7072Everyone in your pictures looks great, but what if I don’t look like a supermodel?

We make everyone look their best, it’s what we do, and we simply do it better than anyone. Dennis is a PPA Master Photographer and Photographic Craftsman, degrees earned by less than 6% of photographers worldwide. He has over 30 years of  EXPERIENCE, so he knows how to use posing, lighting, and all the other skills to bring out your very best features! That’s something you simply won’t get at other places. PLUS, our style is always interesting, fresh, and exciting.  Year after year after year, WE are the TRENDSETTER that the other studios copy, because Dennis is really good at what he does! That’s why you’ve never seen a bad picture from Dennis Kelly!

My friend/mom/neighbor has a good digital camera. Why shouldn’t I just let them take the picture?

Because a good camera doesn’t take a good portrait, a talented, trained, and experienced photographer does. Would you let someone cut your hair because they had a nice pair of scissors? A camera is only as good as it’s operator, think before you trust your once in a lifetime memories to an inexperienced photographer. Keep in mind also, that a picture in a park or by a  dilapidated building is probably NOT acceptable for your yearbook picture. All schools have specific requirements for what is acceptable for the senior portrait section of the yearbook. You may discover that you are left out of your senior yearbook if you don’t have a suitable photo to submit.

Lombardi-0531When should these portrait be taken? I haven’t even begun senior year yet. What’s the rush?

Senior portraits are typically taken during the spring and summer BEFORE the start of senior year. This is because the deadline for your school to submit the senior portrait section of the yearbook to the printing company is typically in the Fall. That is why it is important to have your  portraits completed BEFORE school starts up again after Labor Day. Trust us on this one… every year we have families who end up paying unnecessary rush charges because they waited too long to have them done.

What’s the difference between a “Session Fee” and a “Portrait Package”?

There are two different types of costs involved in the senior portrait process: Session fees are charged for doing the actual photoshoot, and all the work associated with it. These fees will naturally vary according to how involved you want your photoshoot to be. At Dennis Kelly, we don’t offer “One Size Fits All” photoshoot packages like most other studios. Every session starts with an individual one to one planning session where we will talk about what YOU want and we will tailor your photoshoot to fit your exact needs. Your photoshoot will be what YOU want, not what the studio wants you to have.

Most of our sessions at Dennis Kelly Photography are $50. There may be additional fees if you want us to travel to a location, like the beach, or your dance studio, athletic field or gym. We have our own outdoor shoot areas right at our studio, so we don’t charge extra for outdoor sessions done here. We are very creative and very flexible, so if you have a specific idea, concept, or location that you’d like to use as part of your senior photoshoot, ask us about it! We love it!!

Portrait sales, or packages, are determined by what you actually want to purchase in the way of prints, albums, collages, frames, etc. Everyone has different needs and different budgets, and there is something for almost everyone. At Dennis Kelly. the actual cost is determined totally by what YOU decide to purchase. At other studios you may be forced into a package that contains items you don’t really need or want. Not here!  In reality, the most expensive portraits are ones you paid for but didn’t love! We suggest that if you plan to budget between $500 to $700 that’s a good place to start. But don’t be surprised if you want to spend more, because you WILL love your pictures that much!!

Kouser-6702aIs it difficult to get an appointment with Dennis Kelly?

You won’t get to “make an appointment” with the school picture company. They will typically just send you a card telling you when you are required to show up for your shots. At Dennis Kelly, and most other independent studios, you can schedule a time that is convenient for you. Our summer schedule does tend to fill up quickly. Of course, there are always “holes” in our calendar that pop up due to rescheduling and such. Toward the end of summer, as the yearbook deadlines approach, it does become more difficult. But you won’t know until you call! Dennis does photograph all sessions personally, and we do spend a lot more time with you than other studios do, so available appointments are limited.

What if they don’t turn out, or I don’t like them?

With the school picture company, you’ll usually have to pay for a retake. Other studios may have similar policies, but you’d need to check what their policies are. At Dennis Kelly your satisfaction is guaranteed! If you’re not happy with your portraits when you see your previews, if the problem can’t be fixed, we’ll do more poses at no charge or refund your money. When you receive your finished portraits, if something isn’t right, let us know within 3 business days and we will get it fixed,, even if we have to completely remake the order, or refund your money. You are never at risk of being dissatisfied.

Karavangelas-1507Why Should We Choose Dennis Kelly?

Simply, we have what YOU want!

Unlike ordinary studios, we do not shoot everyone in the same place the same way. You get individual attention.

We are the INNOVATORS and trendsetters in senior portraits. Year after year, we set the trends. Check the other studios that advertise senior portrait. Compare their images to ours, and the choice will be clear. Nobody does what we do as well as we do it!

Dennis is a PPA Master Photographer, Photographic Craftsman, and a Certified Professional Photographer. These degrees are awarded to less than 6% of photographers worldwide. You get the very BEST!

Our Create a Package program allows you to customize your order to EXACTLY what you need and want.

Gambone-0856Your Senior Portraits are a ONCE IN A LIFETIME event that you will show to your children and grandchildren one day. You want the BEST for these all important images!

We HELP you with EVERYTHING! We will meet with you before you even book your photoshoot to discuss exactly what you’d like to have done. Then we provide you with a “Style Guide” to answer all your questions about your shoot, clothing, makeup… everything. We will provide suggestions for you as to the best way to display your portraits. We can even show you how your portrait will look — ON YOUR OWN WALL – before you purchase it. No surprises!

We have the finest quality products available in the industry. Your portraits will be in your family for generations, you don’t want cheap drugstore prints for your important memories.

We know how to make you look GREAT! Seriously, have you ever seen a bad portrait from Dennis Kelly? Can you say the same about any other studio?

Dennis Kelly Photography has the largest camera room of any studio in the Delaware Valley, with the widest selection of unique backgrounds and sets anywhere! We also have a full acre of outdoor shooting area with many unique and beautiful looks designed specifically for photography. Your portraits will be perfectly tailored to your look and style and will be a reflection of your own individual personality and style.

We will go ON LOCATION with you to wherever you “do your thing”. If you have a sport, activity, hobby, or other interest that is important to you, let us capture it in your environment.


There are so MANY reasons you should choose Dennis Kelly!  Making an appointment couldn’t be easier.

Just give us a call at 856-228-4399 and we will take it from there!

We Do Extraordinary

Also posted in Dennis Kelly Customers, Tips, Uncategorized

Get to Know What “Good” Is


This is the time of year when we start to get lots of calls from parents of seniors who just received the proofs from their school senior pictures, or who went to another studio, and were disappointed with the results. Happens every year, like clockwork.

I remember there used to be an ad campaign (although I have to admit I don’t recall what company it was) that’s theme was “Get to Know What Good is…”

This struck home for me recently when an out-of-state friend asked my opinion on some “professional” photos he had a photographer take of his kids. They weren’t very good, at all… but of course, as a fellow professional, I hesitate to knock another photographer’s work. But a friend was asking, so I gave him my honest opinion.

“I thought so.” he said.  “I knew something was bad about them, I just didn’t know what….”

“I just didn’t know what…” That statement kind of resonated with me.  With Facebook and Twitter and all the rest, I’m seeing a lot of really poor quality work getting passed off these days as professional photography. It occurred to me that many people simply don’t know what a professional image should be.

I mean, if you hire a contractor or carpenter that doesn’t do a good job, it’s usually obvious. Things aren’t level, corners don’t meet, the job looks shoddy.

A fancy camera doesn’t make you a photographer.

But other things often aren’t so obvious. If your accountant does a poor job, you might pay more in taxes than you owe, but you may not know it unless you had some clues as to what to look for. These days, with almost anyone who buys a digital SLR camera calling themselves a pro photographer, it may be hard to know the difference without a little education.

Remember the local clothing store that’s motto was, “An educated consumer is our BEST customer.”? Having customers who understand the difference between good and bad photography is good for my studio, so I decided to write this blog article about it.

Now, I understand that beauty is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. And when it comes to something as personal as a photograph of your loved one, all that really matters is that they are appreciated by YOU. But still, if you are trusting someone to do a job that you are paying them to do, you really should have some idea of what you are paying for.

So, here is a short list of things I see as “problems” that get passed off as professional photography frequently today. This is by no means a complete list, but may give you some idea of things to look for before you spend your hard earned money with someone simply masquerading as a professional photographer.

Correct color is always noticeable in skin tones, and in neutral areas, like grays, blacks, and whites.

#1. Poor Color.

This is a tricky one to uncover, especially if your only exposure is on the internet. Did you ever go into an electronics store where they have all the TV sets on display playing the same program?

The color and picture quality varies tremendously (actually, this is a sales technique to steer you into the sets they want you to buy!) But, the same holds true for your computer monitor. The color and quality of the image you are viewing has a LOT to do with how your monitor is adjusted. But, there are “standards” for monitor calibration that  pro’s should use to make sure the color is good. (Hint: If in doubt… look at the image on an ipad or smartphone. Most of those displays are pretty darn close to “correct” right out of the box.)

Professional photographers use high end graphics monitors and hardware devices called colorimeters to calibrate and profile their monitors so they display “correct” color.  These cost some bucks, but there is no substitute.

Professional graphics monitor with colorimeter.

Without proper color management, a photographer has no chance of matching his or her display to the prints they will get back from the lab.

Cyan, or blue green skin is never a good idea!

So, the proof is in the print, and the easiest way to decide if the photographer has a clue about color is to look at the prints.

If your skin color looks like a cheap spray tan… that’s NOT GOOD!

Skin tones should look like… well, skin. If the face looks like a really bad spray-tan (orange or yellow) or even worse, blue or green… it’s a sure bet the photographer doesn’t know how to correctly set and adjust color. Neutral areas (grays, whites and blacks) should be free from color casts. If your black shirt looks kind of red, or your white sweater is pink or blue, or your brown haired teen looks like a redhead, that means the photographer didn’t do a good job.


Most amateurs (and sadly, many professionals too) set their camera’s color setting on “auto” and think that’s all they need to do. Seasoned professionals know that the “A” on the white balance setting stands for “awful” and never, ever, use it!

Now, sometimes a photographer will use a special technique or style, like a candle-light look, or an intentional off-color effect to accent a mood or style. That’s intentional and different from someone who’s entire portfolio is filled with funny, weird skin colors.

  #2 Bad Lighting

Most people tend to think of “lighting” as simply whether a picture is too light or too dark, but in reality, lighting is way, way more than that.


Light is what gives the appearance of depth and dimension in a photo, it focuses attention where you want it to go, (and away from areas you don’t want it to go), it makes the eyes sparkle with life, and it makes the photo “pop off the page”.
Poor lighting can result in things like the eyes being in dark shadows (raccoon eyes), overhead light hitting the nose (clown nose) and even making the overall color, contrast, and look of the image appear flat and “muddy”.

Pro location lighting can be complex

Lighting on location can be especially tricky. If a “photographer” shows up at the shoot with just a camera and proclaims he or she is a “natural light shooter”, that’s usually an indication that they aren’t well versed in light control.

Good lighting makes the eyes look alive and the subject look great!

Experienced photographers have the ability to bring back professional quality images in ANY lighting situation… and that usually means equipment… lots of it. Reflectors, lighting equipment, flashes, scrims, gobos, shades… all are things a true professional spends years learning how to use to best advantage. Look at the photographer’s pictures… if the images seem flat (lacking a 3 dimensional look), if the colors and contrast and weak and muddy, or if the images have flare (a kind of ghostly, halo effect around the edges of the subject) chances are that photographer doesn’t understand lighting. Yes, a very skilled and experienced photographer can frequently “find” good lighting without the use of a lot of extra equipment, but these rare talents are few and far between. If you are shooting with one, the quality of their images will leave absolutely no doubt in your mind that they know what they are doing.

#3 Overused or poorly executed “gimmicks.”

When a trendsetter photographer starts showing a new style or technique, the copycats are usually quick to try and capitalize on it, but often do the technique poorly, or use it in situations where it just looks silly. For example, several years ago, I started incorporating the use of a fan in the studio with senior girls to gently lift and blow their hair. I “borrowed” this idea from the fashion photography industry, where it is a common technique, but we were the first studio around here to use it in senior portrait photography. The idea, of course, is to very gently lift and fluff the hair to give it that “fashion model” look.



Other area photographers soon took my idea, and now everywhere I see pictures of senior girls that look like they’re standing in a wind tunnel or are facing an approaching tornado! Sorry, it just looks dumb.


We also pioneered an “edgy” look to sports pictures in our senior sessions, giving them a gritty, “Sports Illustrated” type look in the style of Joel Grimes or Joey Lawrence.


Now the competition is copying our poses, but without the extreme lighting, gritty feel, and dramatic power we do. Well, they look kind of… lame.


When famous photographer Anne Geddes started photographing babies in flower pots, photographers everywhere started sticking babies in flowerpot with silly hats.



While Geddes’ work was breathtaking, the knock offs were hideous.

So, when looking at a pro’s work, ask if their style seems to be their own, or a lame attempt at copying a style without a real feeling for what works, and what even makes sense. Sitting on a fancy couch on railroad tracks?  Fire coming out of a saxophone? Seriously?


#4 Bad Posing.

The way a photographer directs the pose can make a picture look great… or ridiculous.

“Posing” is a dirty word with consumers. Everyone wants their photos to look “un-posed” and “natural”. What they really mean is they don’t want their pictures looking stiff and un-natural.

When you see a photographer shooting a supermodel on TV… the model is hitting all these incredible poses, and the photographer is shooting away, saying “yes! Yes! YES!!!”. Well, those supermodels get paid BIG bucks because they KNOW how to do that. Most people, like Uncle Rico here, don’t. And a quick look through your family photo albums will show you that completely unposed photos are often completely unflattering!

“Natural” posing mimics good body language in a flattering way.

The key is being able to direct people into “poses” that not only look comfortable and natural, but make them look good at the same time.

Learning “good posing” takes a long time. It involves not only learning about anatomy and facial structure, it involves understanding body language, angles, and a ton of other “tricks” to make sure people look their best. Is clothing properly adjusted, or are there wrinkles and bulges that are making the person look heavier? Do the arms, hands, or legs look “awkward”? Does the body position make the person look uncomfortable? Is the weight distribution on the correct foot for the subject and angle? Does the pose work with the light? Does the pose “make sense”? Is it believable?

Posing also has a lot to do with “body language”. Humans are very adept at interpreting body language, but inexperienced photographers often don’t “get it”. For example, there is a distinct difference between “masculine” and “feminine” body language. How men and women tilt their heads, use their hands, walk, lean… everything. Directing a male into a feminine body position is a mistake that most males will recognize immediately, yet I see boys and men with feminine head tilts and eye positions on photographer’s pages all the time. It’s a rookie mistake, and I’m sorry… it looks awful!

#5 Over Retouching

Today’s cameras and lenses are way too sharp for portrait photography. Let’s face it, no one looks good when you can see every pore, wrinkle, blemish and blotch. That’s why pro photographer judiciously retouch their images. When you meet a person in real life, you don’t stand there scrutinizing every pore and zit… but when looking at a photo, you are forced to do just that.

Retouching is an art, and must be done with skill and restraint, so the person still looks real. But many studios take a short cut and use some automated photoshop filters that result in what I call the “Barbie and Ken Plastic Skin Syndrome”.

No Retouching – Good Retouching – Overdone Retouching
Too much retouching makes your skin look fake and plastic… like a Barbie.

Over-retouching is a sign of a photographer who hasn’t learned good technique.

#6 The Ghost Syndrome

Looking a little pale???

This last pet peeve I have is actually a “style” that a lot of newbie photographers are imitating. I suspect because it is easy to do in photoshop and hides a multitude of mistakes. It involves tweaking the density and color saturation, using very flat, blah lighting, and making the subject look “ghostly”… although the photographers prefer to call it “porcelain”. I suppose for a very specialized look, it’s ok once in a while, but so many “faux-tographers” make EVERYTHING they shoot look like this.

Don’t have to worry about not getting the color right… it’s hardly there anyway. I know a lot of newbie children’s photographer use this style, but lets call it what it is, a fad, and not a good one!

Well, I hope that gives you some insight into things to look for. This is hardly a complete list, but hopefully, it will give you some things to consider when deciding to hire a professional photographer. There are many fine photographers around who have spent years learning and perfecting their craft, and who work hard to produce beautiful, timeless images for their clients. Once you start to “Get to Know What Good Is”, it will be easier to recognize them so YOU don’t have to say, “I knew something was bad about them, I just didn’t know what….”






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Semi-Pro or Do It Yourself?

There is an explosion of “new” photographers entering the profession these days. I see their work often on Facebook and social media. Many of these newer professional photographers have little more than a digital camera and a very basic understanding of photography. Many of them offer a low cost session and “all the files” on a disk for a very low price so you can “print them out yourself.”

We can understand the appeal to many consumers who are attracted to the low prices these “new professionals” can offer. After all, they aren’t burdened with the overhead of a studio, insurance, education etc.  And the appeal of having “all the files” on a disk to print out yourself or share online sounds better than paying for individual prints from a studio, doesn’t it?

But, what are you really getting for your money? A fancy digital camera does not make you a good photographer any more than a stethoscope makes you a doctor. But, the sad thing is, many people do not understand or appreciate what a professional, with years of training and experience, really brings to the table. If you went to a fine restaurant and ordered a meal and they brought you out a bag full of ingredients for you to prepare yourself, do you think it would taste the same as if a 5 star chef cooked it for you?

Here is an image of a lovely young lady I had the honor of photographing lately. I thought it would be interesting to talk about some of the steps that go into making a professional portrait, and perhaps why you would want to hire someone skilled to create it, rather than just a friend with a nice camera.

Shot one is typical of what I see on Facebook and other social media sites more and more. This is an outdoor portrait in a lovely location, and is what you would get out of a modern digital camera set on “A” for automatic or “P” for program mode. It is sharp and well exposed. Today’s cameras are really a marvel of engineering. Even someone who knows nothing about photography could pick up a camera and get an image this good.

But let’s take a closer look… is it really good? There are deep shadows in her eyes, and the light, coming mostly from overhead, is making the pockets under her eyes and cheeks look very dark and strong. “Seeing” light is one of the most difficult things an aspiring photographer needs to learn. Some never learn to do it. Once I discovered how to “see” the light, my world changed. I now am constantly “aware” of light… all the time, everywhere I go, everything I look at, I am conscious of the direction, character, and quality of light all around me. It’s who I am.

So, the first thing I did here was to modify the poor light. The key to this is to make the light flattering, without looking artificial. In this particular case, I added some flash, off camera, to mimic what would have been ideal “natural” light, had it been there. I carefully adjusted the flash output to closely match the ambient lighting so as to keep the image looking balanced and natural. In other instances I may have chosen to use reflectors, scrims (to block the overhead light) or perhaps a combination of all 3. The key here for the photographer is 1st, to realize the light needs to be modified, and 2nd, to be able to control it accurately and quickly.

So, much better. Let’s zoom in and see how modifying the lighting on the subject has opened the deep shadows in her eyes and let us see her beautiful facial features.

But, we still have some problems. The color, while accurate, (she is standing under a tree that is filtering greenish light down from the sky) is hardly flattering. We don’t think of healthy people having bluish-green skin. The camera, on auto setting, will only record what is there. But by carefully adjusting the color settings, we can compensate for the unflattering color cast and produce a beautiful, warm appealing skin tone.

Much, much better… right? Hold on, we’re just getting started. Let’s take a closer look at our new and improved portrait.

Our addition of quality lighting to the subject has had some unintended consequences. Notice the somewhat unflattering shadow from her nose onto her cheek and from her hair onto her neck? Just because these are “natural” doesn’t mean they are good! There are also some messy looking fly away hairs around her head. And, while our subject in this case has a flawless completion, this would now be the time to fix any blemishes and perhaps soften the slight lines under her eyes.

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere!! Are you beginning to see that there should be a LOT more going into a professional photograph than just taking a sharp, clear picture?

Here’s what we’ve got now. Beautiful, right? But we’re still not done.

Our client really wanted to have her outdoor portraits done with some beautiful fall colors. Unfortunately, the area we had to work in hadn’t really started to show the brilliant oranges and yellows we typically think of when we think “Fall”. So, into Adobe Photoshop we go, where with some advanced masking and color manipulations, we can selectively change the green foliage to a more suitable color palette, without altering the skin tone or other colors. Also, our subject here is not in the least bit heavy or overweight. But notice how the loose fitting shirt is blooming out around her waistline and adding some pounds that aren’t there? That won’t do! A little bit of “tucking” of her shirt will give her back her truthful waistline.

Next, I used a technique photographers and painters have been using for centuries, called a “vignette.” Simply put, we often will selectively darken the edges or certain areas of the image in order to focus the viewer’s attention on the subject. Notice how, by slightly darkening the edges of this image, the feeling of depth and dimension is increased and your eye is drawn into the subject? It’s subtle, but important.

Lastly, there are a few distracting elements that were kind of bugging me a little. Minor things, but why not take care of them and make the image “picture perfect”?

So, here we go. Before and after. Most people will see a pretty obvious difference when shown side by side. But most people also would not see much wrong with the “before” image without the “after” image to compare. This is the level of technique and attention to detail that should be the mark of a true professional.

I hope you found this article informative and helpful.

Dennis Kelly

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