In this post I am going to show you a before and after image and show you how I got there. I photographed a young man last summer for his senior pictures.  This image is exactly what I took, warts and all.  Its a daylight balanced exposure at 400 ISO, the exposure was F 5.6 at 1/250 of a second.  We were in full shade on a sunny day. I shot it raw and I did not use a light meter. I overexposed the image by about one stop. It doesn’t look too bad, but there were a number of things I could have done to make it better in camera; flash, bounced light, tripod, etc. but I didn’t and this is what the result was.  I really like the wall and the young man’s concentrated expression.  We took a few more here and then moved on.

Back at the studio a day later I chose this image as one of the ones I wanted to show him. But I didn’t want to show him a plain vanilla shot. Why? Well I had an exposure problem, but in my talks with him I had learned that the young man liked “cool” magazine photographs, and I wanted to create a few of them. So I went back to the raw data. First I changed the index down 1.25 stops. This is a lot! I kept going because his shirt was very reflective and the light from the sky was pretty hot on his chest. I would have been better off shading him but that didn’t happen.  I dialed in a color temperature of 3200 and a tint of +16. I also did a lens correction of -100. These steps gave me an image that was pretty well exposed for tungsten film which is what we used in the film days for indoor events lit by incandescent lights. This was the result.

Ok. Thats fun, but it needs a few things. It needs to be lightened up in levels, to be retouched, and to have some more happy put back in the photo. Happy? Whats that? Hey,it’s what ever you want. It’s my photo and I get to decide what the end result is going to be! When you work on your own images you need to end up with the results YOU  want.  I wanted it to be lighter and more contrasty, his face retouched for some acne, and the edges to be burned in.  I increased the saturation in the blues. Here is the result.This all took 3 minutes at most.  Was it worth it? Yes, the client loved the image and bought an 8×10 and a 5×7. Is it better? Is it perfect? Well, neither and both. I can take sweet, technically correct photographs all day, and lots of the time that is what I HAVE to do. Here, I took a chance to add some value to my experience as a photographer and to give a possibility to another human being. For me, thats what its all about! Next week I will show you an example of what I did to a woman’s photo. Thanks for watching!

#1 Henri Cartier-Bresson – The father of modern photojournalism, he coined the phrase – “The defining moment.”

#2 Sebastian Salgado – Famous for his photography of the mines of Serra Palada in Brazil.

#3 W. Eugene Smith – If only for his story about the Minemata disease he would be on this list.Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath

#4 Richard Avedon – Dovima with the Elephants « Iconic Photos

#5 Ansel Adams Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico

#6 Irving Penn- Known for his portraiture and his fashion photography.Irving Penn Photographs – The International Photography Index.

#7 Robert Frank – The Americans

#8 Annie Liebowitz – For her reinvention of the portrait.

#9 David Muench – The best landscape photographer working in color.

#10 Jerry Uelsman – Uelsman’s magical darkroom skills put him on this list.

I expect that everyone could come up with a top ten list. Here are some names that would easily fit on this one if you wished. Weegee, Steichen, Evans, Parks, Lange, Allard, Capa, Brady, O’Sullivan, Jackson, Ritz, Newton, Strand, White, Karsh, Weston, La Chappel, Hill, Daguerre, Lik.

Many of us have some anxiety about what a photo shoot will be like for us. Will it be awkward? Will I like the pictures? Will the photographer get it? Get me? Will he or she produce images that I love? These are legitimate questions. Its not often that we have pictures taken by a professional photographer. We have them taken in school, and we have them taken at weddings and lots of us have them taken as professionals for our work. So it’s going to happen, and we might as well know a bit about the the process  and how to make the best of it. We do want the images to turn out well so that we are proud of them. I firmly believe that  a wonderful photograph can be taken of everyone. How?

Hopefully, you have an idea of what you want and can communicate that to the photographer. Photographers have very different styles and abilities. You should look at several to find one that takes pictures that you like. Having a portrait taken can be a wonderful and deeply revealing process. The great painter John Singer Sargent said, ” Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend.”  He probably meant this in relation to the hullabaloo that accompanied his painting of Madame X (Madame Pierre Gatreau). She was a famous beauty and when the portrait was exibited at the  1884 Paris Salon the reaction caused a scandal. Sargent left Paris and moved to England. So goes the story of the most famous  portrait setting of the 19th century. The moral of the story; he believed it was the best thing he had ever done, and the painting now hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Eventually, the portrait came to be known as one of the most valuable of the ages. Good for him. Unfortunately, you and I probably  don’t have 128 years to wait for opinion to come around!

I think that people come to me with the expectation that I will magically make them beautiful. I think that all people are beautiful. It is my job to provide an interpretation of their beauty that is pleasing. I am fortunate these days. People who come to me often know beforehand what sort of photographs I am going to create. They already like my style, and know that I am going to produce a large body of  attractive images of themselves. They trust me to do a good job. What do I do? When someone comes into my studio I greet them  warmly and show them the dressing room. Then they return to my office and begin to look through a body of my work.  I say to them, ” Please look through these images and find perhaps a dozen that look like a photograph you would like to be in”. The work I show them is of a very broad variety. I show them black and white work, color work, indoor, outdoor,and even some slightly odd images. One image I regularly show is of a man staring at a wall and laughing. It gets picked. We are all so different and what is interesting to one of us might not interest another at all. In general, I put you in a lovely location and light you well, and ask you to smile, or perform and then capture a clean, mathematically rigorous exposure. Ta dah! DONE!!! ….maybe…  OK… Lets go to another location, change clothes, the lighting, fix the makeup and  repeat until dinner time! You will then have lots of good images. In addition, I have some wonderful programs like Photoshop to manipulate the images, retouch the faces and add strength to the photograpgh. Success arrives to the prepared team. We are a team, the subject and I. The old saying about shopping is that the customer is always right. Its not true. To be completely honest sometimes I have not been right as the customer. I bought some skinny jeans as a teen that were so darn tight I couldn’t get into them. $40 down the drain because I was so embarrassed or obstinate or lazy that I couldn’t return them – or something.  In my studio, I complete the team. We are working together to achieve something  and that is the adventure and the success. The team has a much better chance to be right than the individual.

Here is the  way of getting to great pictures.   Its a little four letter word: WORK! Yes! Work. Prepare,plan,produce. The three P’s that rule 90% of our life. You wouldn’t cook a meal with out planning so why would you go to a photographer’s studio or location without a bit of planning! Just the same, why would a photographer achieve much at all with you if he doesn’t do any work. I have seen countless results of photography where the photographer does not work. School photography grades 1-6 comes to mind. Every child has 30 seconds in front of the same set up with the same lighting and backdrop. It shouldn’t work as well as it does so often, but then again,our expectations have been formed by experience, and a lot of parents and teachers try pretty hard to get their child dressed well, with clean, neat hair. We understand this. As a photographer my job is to WORK hard to get  a great result. Here is a little know secret about me. You probably couldn’t tell by looking at me but I am a little nervous before every shoot. Why? Well, because if I don’t do a great job on the one and only time that I ever have to photograph this person, I might fail. I don’t want to fail. He or she will have a failure on their hands and the word will spread far and wide. It seems that a good job is expected and a few people will learn about it, but a bad job! Wow. Remember the new Coke-a-Cola! Ouch. Even this week, McDonalds asked people to Tweet in their stories about McDonalds’ experiences and they started talking about the negative ones. It went global.  People talked about how they hate McD’s and got sick and how unhealthy the food was , etc. Opps. I never want to have that sort of experience here.  I am working hard every day and year to improve my craft and the experience you all will have here. This last year I redecorated the studio, added a new dressing room for your privacy and comfort, upgraded my computer and software, did some continuing education seminars and invested in the best lens in the world. This year, I am taking more classes, (I’m in college, too!) buying a new camera, and tackling my personal demon – bad window displays. I will always work hard on every photo shoot and if it takes something special I want to do it. I’m not here for the lunch. I’m here for the whole wonderful year!


Oh my! A lot of time has passed since my last post in June. I wrote at that time about the Stillwater Area High School yearbook contract and how I had won the privilege of photographing the seniors at the local high school. I can now write that I have successfully completed the project and it was great. I saw about 600 of the class of 2012 in my studio. They are a great bunch of students. Fun, articulate, busy, smart, and friendly. I said several times that I was confident about the future of this country if these young men and women are going to be in charge someday.

Lisa Jaster was my office manager and I received a bunch of help from Joey Tichenor but all of the photography was done by yours truly. If you go to my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/tomyobrienphotography you will be able to see hundreds of the images. The grey background and the white background shots are the images from the senior yearbook sessions and the outside shots are from other independent senior photography sessions. All in all, I photographed about 750 seniors this year. It was great! I am looking forward to next summer when I get to do this all over again.I am going to publish a lot more this year,so be ready.

I did it! Its official! Its so cool!

So this is how it happened. I went up to the Stillwater Area High School and met with the year book class, and its teacher Laurie Hansen, and gave a presentation showing my images and presenting myself, and my studio, as a candidate for the job as the year book photographer. A few days later one of the students called during class on speaker phone and told me that they had voted 14-1 for my studio! In the background the whole class was listening as I said “Wow, thats great! I won’t let you down. Wow, I’d better stand up… I am standing up! “(laughter from the class room). “I am so happy. This will be great. Thank you very much.” Then Laurie got on the phone and said she would be sending down a contract in the next few days and she was excited to begin working with me.

Since then it has been a beehive of activity here as I want to make a great impression on the students and their families. I have painted and re-carpeted the studio, and made a host of other good and needed changes. The studio looks great.

Because I felt like I needed some help in photographing 800 students I have hired Lisa Jaster. Lisa is the new studio manager and she is awesome. Just terrific. She has brought with her 12 years of experience in running a big year book photography studio in St. Paul that is owned by  good friend of mine Webb White, the long time owner of The Photographer’s Guild on Snelling Ave in St Paul.  I have a very high quality product here and Lisa is committed to keeping and improving my brand and enhancing my customer experience.  She has been here only a few days and has already done so much good here. I am grateful that she heard about my need and came over and joined on.

I will have the year book contract for three years now and that means I will be meeting and photographing almost 2500 young men and women from Stillwater High School. I am awed and humbled by the responsibility, but I am also so very happy because I know that the students will bring so much into my life, and to the life of the studio.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Margaret is an extraordinary violinist. She has been active in the Twin Cities music scene for 20 years. You have seen her with Beladonna – a critically acclaimed Baroque music ensemble, and more recently with Ladyslipper, a new collaboration recently seen at the Schubert Club’s Noon at the Landmark concert series with Sarah Hassan and the brilliant Asako Hirabayashi. Margaret has lent her talent to the Minnesota Opera, the Lyra Orchestra and the Kingsbury Ensemble. She is one of the most notable young artists in the State of Minnesota.