Once upon a time, I found my aspirations, inspirations, and delight in nature photography. My research led to educated purchases for the pursuit of amazing nature shots. I took classes and workshops to sharpen my skills in landscape and macro photography. I subscribed to Outdoor Photographer and planned family vacations around the availability of scenic locations.
I found inspiration in all things natural. Trees and flowers were among my favorite subjects.
Anytime I could find some critters willing to cooperate, I was ecstatic!
Water was always my ultimate inspiration.
My practice in nature photography taught me about high dynamic range and the importance of maintaining detail in all parts of an image. I learned about balance and composition, and developed a keen eye for texture. The most valuable training came with an understanding of light. Recognizing the intensity, angles, temperature and direction of light are probably the most important tools for any photographer. All of this training and practice helped to mold me into the portrait photographer that I am, today.
So, how does a background in nature photography affect the style of a portrait photographer? Let's take a look.
First of all, I am keenly aware of all aspects of the environment. Light is always the first criteria that I evaluate to determine if a particular spot will help me to create a fabulous portrait. But, I am also paying attention to colors, textures, and lines to create a portrait composition that is both visually interesting and complementary to my subject. When I saw this beautiful blanket of leaves, I knew that Marisa would look absolutely stunning here with her dark green sweater and gorgeous cascading hair. Just look at how her blue eyes pop with this contrast of the orange, which is blue's complementary color.
The series of portraits that you see above are a result of the same kind of assessment. I was literally gasping as I was taking these shots of Natalie. The deep gold with flecks of green in the reeds behind her just made her skin glow and brought out the lovely rich variation of highlights in her hair. My exact words at the time may have been, "Holy crap, this is gorgeous!"
My inspiration for Victoria's environment resulted in a much softer series of portraits. The refined look of her lace dress and pearls just looked stunning against a backdrop of soft greens. The purple and pink hues of the hydrangea made her complexion look even more porcelain-like and seemed to soften the eyes. You just can't get this inspiration in a studio. In the first image, I used desaturation to create a nostalgic feel. I am in love with this dreamy look.
When choosing the perfect setting for this series of portraits of Allyson, I was again looking for that dreamy soft light, but with richer tones to go with her glowing complexion and warm hair tones. The blacks and greys in her scarf sent me looking for earth tones, but I love how the black iron railing tied it all together. The soft texture of the pine needles worked well with the geometric designs in the scarf. Just look at her eyes. This was another moment that took my breath away.
Early morning light has a very special quality, and that was my inspiration for these portraits of Victoria. First of all, we were at the beach. Hello... I love the beach and find myself awestruck by every view. So, using the ocean as a backdrop with this warm glow of the sunrise made me giddy. The color palette of blues and greys worked to show off her tan and blue eyes. The white sundress and straw hat made it feel fresh and joyful, which is exactly how I see Victoria. I can almost feel the warm breeze and smell the salty air. More importantly, this setting, while gorgeous on its own, brings the attention to Victoria.
Notice the different quality in the light of Sydney's portraits above. This sunset produced a cool, soft light that created a sense of serenity. Sydney has an inner glow that was complemented by the glow in her surroundings. When I saw that amazing sky reflected in the lake, I knew it would help to convey the genuine beauty that is Sydney. I remember actually feeling my breathing slow down as I took these images. I didn't want the moment to end.
For the portraits of Matt above, we obviously felt that the wooded area was perfect for the hunting theme we had going on. I was loving the light in the first image and was thrilled that I could show some variation in the foliage while still featuring the beauty in his gun. My focus was on his eyes that show such intensity and concentration which is needed for a hunter. I thought we were ready to leave that spot until I turned around and saw how pretty the sky looked with the setting sun. Letting that light spill over his shoulder almost points the way to where Matt is focusing with is bow. It is clear that Matt is in his element here and it was so fun for me to experience this with him.
Haley's portraits above are both examples of backlighting, but, WOW, are they ever different! The first portrait shows a lovely soft backlighting that makes her glow. The contrasting rough texture of the tree makes her beautiful face even softer and those eyes are just amazing. There was a shadow on the left side in the grass that almost served as natural frame to direct the focus to Haley. The second portrait of Haley uses the contrast in the sky to create a dramatic effect. The intensity of her expression and piercing eyes make her look just as fierce as she really is on the track. I know that I gave a gasp as I took each of these portraits but for very different reasons. Haley is a gorgeous, dynamic young lady, and I was so happy that I could show that.
As I continue to talk about light, take a look at these portraits of Jimmy. Oh my goodness! I don't recall if I said that exactly when I was looking through my camera (I may have said something a little stronger), but I can remember how I felt in that moment. We were near the end of the session and had found an old shed on this farm property that had a really cool hearth and fireplace. I loved the aged brickwork and thought it had great texture with some wonderful color contrast for Jimmy's blue shirt. Well, that particular setting didn't work so well because the light was too intense. I remember feeling disappointed that I couldn't make that spot work the way I wanted to, and turned to my left. My eyes fell upon this rustic grey door and the fabulous directional light that was spilling across it. There wasn't anything to sit on right there, but I knew exactly where I wanted to place Jimmy's face for this portrait. Jimmy is one of the most kind-hearted and respectful young men I have ever met. In an attempt to appease my search, he quickly found something and dragged it into place and sat down. He must have thought I was crazy because I remember almost squealing with excitement as I got him in place and looked through the eyepiece of my camera. The strength of his features and deep set of his eyes became more evident in this fabulous light. I contained my excitement the best I could until I got home and saw on my computer that this series of portraits really was all I hoped it would be.
To share with you my goals for the series of portraits of Lexi that you see above, I need to remind you that my roots as a nature photographer are strong. When Lexi explained to me her connection with this particular location on her grandparents' farm, I could totally appreciate that. I made it my mission to provide her with some really special portraits to help her remember this place and how it makes her feel. The cornfield, the fence line, the trees beyond that fence line, the lane she drives her truck through... all have special meaning. Her easy smile is a reflection of the joy that she feels here. Could she look any more relaxed and at peace here? This is just so Lexi. It makes my heart happy to see her in this place.
Here is a family with a connection to the land. This is a beautiful farm, but it is more than that to the Pusateri family. This is home. And, for some reason, when your home is shared with animals, it is even more precious. I love showing the relationships among family members, but when that can be enhanced by a setting where their love spills over to include their surroundings, it really becomes special.
This is the Stertzbach family and they have become quite near and dear to my heart. They are incredibly rooted in nature and keep themselves grounded with their cattle and dogs. This particular setting felt perfect for so many reasons. For one, it is located on the farm where they work so hard to raise their cattle. The pond in the background with the soft light made it feel serene. These fabulous trees seem to frame this family and direct attention to them. They also provided such soft shade and a sprinkling of leaves on the ground for interest. These are genuine smiles here. It all just feels so right. That is how it is working with them. Pure joy.
I could truly go on forever, but I will leave you with one last example. The Westfall (and Skolmutch) family is a special one for so many reason. Having been such close friends with them was probably a good thing because I may have been jumping up and down and squealing after I took some of these portraits. (If you haven't noticed, I get really excited about what I do.) I adore these portraits because I adore the people in them and the connections they have with each other. But just look at these settings! I feel like they are just framed by nature and these spots were just waiting for the family to nestle into them. I am smiling from ear to ear just writing about this because the emotions are still there.
So, yes, I may have started out as a nature photographer, but I have truly found my passion in portrait photography. I feel very connected with nature and I use nature to enhance the people in my portraits. It is so much more than just finding a pretty spot for a picture. It is using that spot to portray my subject in the most authentic way possible. The result is always a crowd pleaser. More importantly, I can create portraits that are beautiful because of the underlying emotion that tugs at the heart.
You make the memories; I will help you cherish them.
Love and Smiles,