From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to make Portrait and Composite Photography my thing, and turn something I LOVED into something I could live off of. That strategic foresight led me to the idea of having a theme for each of the years I’m in business, going on my second now btw.
In 2015, my yearly theme was the “Year of Learning”, since it was my first year back in photography in over 15 years, and it was certainly my first year ever trying this new techie thing called Composite Photography. New to me at least.
To see my 2015 Review, check out my post, Composite Photography: A Year in Review.
In 2016, my yearly theme was the “Year of Proof of Concept”, which sounds quite odd coming from a Portrait Photographer, RIGHT? After all, that concept has been proven by photographers since photography was invented back in 1827.
Ok, maybe not quite that early since the first photographic exposure was 8 hours.
Anyway, as you will see in the following work, it was important for me to prove people really did want my style of Portraits, and more importantly, that I could earn enough off of them to make a good living.
I’ll let you know how that worked out at the end of this review.
My First Composite
I like posting this first Composite for a variety of reasons, which I created in December of 2014.
While this Composite completely SUCKS, it represents so much over the past 2 years of my life.
Technically, I knew nothing about Compositing when I created this, so it represents a lot of hard work and late nights to have gotten to this point, and even though I didn’t know it at the time, you can see the early styling of what has now become my Signature Portrait style.
In last year’s review, I said I “failed” miserably, but now, despite all its flaws, I think that first Composite was brilliantly executed.
January 2016 Composites
Having two Creative Family Portraits starting last December, January started with a bang and two AWESOME Composited Portraits.
I’m frequently asked which is my favorite Composite, to which I respond, “I have an emotional attachment to every single piece I create. That’s like asking me which of my kids is my favorite.”
For this Portrait called “Gone to the Dogs”, I love Karen on the scooter and her little chihuahua in the basket. Their expressions are priceless.
This Portrait I call “Family Gathering” holds a special place near my heart because I absolutely LOVE the Durham family, who have been a BIG reason my business has done as well as it has throughout 2016.
February 2016 Composites
In February I completed a Signature Portrait for the Wimbrey family, whose personal brand is “Say Increase”.
Johnny Wimbrey is a highly sought-after speaker, has been featured on the Steve Harvey Show and the T.D. Jakes Show, and is now featured in a Photillustrator Portrait.
Probably one of his greatest achievements. Ha!
March 2016 Composites
One of the reasons I love being a Portrait Photographer who specializes in Compositing is because of the challenge I’m faced with on each project I work on.
Where I had been used to my background scenes being around the homes of my clients, which make it super easy to access, for my “World Travelers” Portrait I had to get images from an airport terminal.
I found this terminal out at DFW and required a ton of manipulation to make look good.
My Portrait Composite called “Bad Hair Day” was a last-minute Portrait I created of my mom, her husband, and my two boys.
Look real close and you can see the headline on the paper that Grandpa George is holding and it says “Trump Wins”, and I bow my head in shame and sorrow.
April 2016 Composites
Throughout March and April, my wife Taren and I lived in an extended stay hotel, which was one of the worst experiences of my life.
Imagine having 3 kids, one small room, and only one bed for two months…
Anyway, my challenge for these two months was how to be creative in such a stifling place, and how to work in such tight quarters.
Out of it came this Family Portrait called “Mayfield Madness”, which required a great deal of work to complete.
May 2016 Composites
Another Composited Creation that came out of the hell hole of a hotel was my piece for Rick Fairless of Strokers Dallas.
I could write a feature-length article about Rick’s Portrait I call “Rick Fairless’ Strokers Dallas” as there was so much that went into creating it.
Just to give you an idea, 63 individual images went into creating this Portrait, and many trips down to Strokers to capture all the character images I would need.
All that hard work, however, paid off because not only is this Portrait being featured by the print lab I use BWC, but I’ve developed a great relationship with one of the legends in the motorcycle world, which is pretty damn cool.
Once Rick’s Portrait was finished and delivered to be displayed on his office wall, I asked him if I could photograph one of his famous signature choppers.
Having never done this type of work before, I said to Rick halfway through the Photo Shoot, “BTW, I have no idea what the F&$K I’m doing here.”
Ha! Rick replied, “I trust you, it will be great!”
June 2016 Composites
Having finally gotten moved into our new home, which Taren and I moved everything by ourselves, I set out to create a Portrait Composite based on our move.
In this Portrait, I call “Moving Day”, my goal was to immortalize our transition from hell to being in our new home with those we love most.
Also, upon posting this Composite to Instagram and #pensketrucks, I did receive a message from Penske letting me know how cool the image was.
I’m still waiting for them to hire me for a Commercial Photography job.
July 2016 Composites
To make sure my previous motorcycle Composite wasn’t just a fluke, I asked Rick if I could photograph another one of his signature choppers.
Again, he offered up his famous Pam Chopper and I went about creating this Portrait using several different images.
While my goal throughout 2016 was to prove my Creative Portrait concept, I also felt I needed to create a Portrait style that wasn’t so crazy.
I understood my crazy Portrait style wasn’t for everyone, and since I’m trying to make a living at creating AWESOME Portraits, I needed a product to fill in that gap.
So, I reached out to my good friend Bill Durham, who commissioned me in 2015 to create their Family Portrait called “White Trash”, to be my subject for a new style of Portraits I was going to call “Classic Portraits”.
With a much more Norman Rockwell vibe, these Portraits are much more conservative and traditional in nature, hopefully allowing me to create a broader client base.
August 2016 Composites
The end of July and August was a super busy time for Photillustrator as I was finishing up jobs I had worked way too long on, and starting new jobs I was super excited to work on.
This Portrait I call “Coming Together” had to be THE most difficult job I had to date for a couple of reasons.
Creating a Signature Portrait requires anywhere between 2 to 4 different Photo Sessions, and as fun, as they are for both the client and myself, it does require some time commitment.
Upon completing the photography of the family for Coming Together, I wasn’t entirely happy with the images I captured, so I requested a reshoot so I could create the best Portrait possible for them.
After several go-arounds to schedule the Photo Session, I received a phone call saying “You know, we’re over this. You can either refund our part of our down payment or use what you have and do the best you can.”
So, not to be defeated, I took the challenge of using what I have and creating an Awesome Family Portrait for them anyway.
On the opposite end of my last experience, for this Family Portrait I call “A Day in the Life”, the Glazer family couldn’t have been more fun to work with.
In all honesty, however, the more of these Portraits I create, the better my processes become.
This was the first time I photographed the entire background scene first and Composited it together before doing any photography of the family characters.
That seemed to work really good.
August also brought me the opportunity to do some Advertising Photography for the Amazing ORIX Foundation, with each of these portraits being featured in their annual report.
Each of these Portraits is Composites using anywhere between a couple of images to several images in the case of the Hispanic family in the classroom.
September 2016 Composites
In August, just before Sturgis began, I traveled to South Dakota to work on a Portrait for a family who had just purchased a home up in the mountains.
Clearly, you can see in this Family Portrait I call “Flying through South Dakota”, dad loves his toys and his family.
Upon driving into Spearfish, SD, and after driving 12 hours, I insisted we drive another hour out of our way to Mount Rushmore since it was overcast. Only minutes after getting up there and getting the photos I needed of Mount Rushmore, the sun came out and it was sunny the rest of the time there.
Whew… I was SUPER LUCKY on that one.
I have noticed through my journey of Composite Photography, there are points where my technical skill level becomes obviously better.
For this Family Portrait I call “Lake House Fun”, I noticed a clear improvement in my skill level.
While this improvement may not be apparent to 99% of people viewing my work, it makes a huge difference to me and how much I can do with a Composited Portrait like this.
October 2016 Composites
Needing more samples of my Classic Portraits for both my online gallery and for an upcoming Best Buddies charity event, I set out to create more Portraits in this style.
In my opinion, one of the BIGGEST factors in creating Amazing Portraits like this is what we choose to be the scene for the background.
I’ve always said, “A Portrait is only as good as it’s subject”, and that includes the scene.
November 2016 Composites
Again, prepping for the upcoming Best Buddies charity auction, I needed one more Crazy Awesome Classic style Portrait to present, so I reached out to a good friend of mine who has a huge family and lots of horses.
I have figured out the Portraits that perform best for me have animals in them, and for this Family Portrait, I call “Barn Party”, I accomplished that.
The best thing about Family Portraits like this is it brings everyone together and we have a lot of fun during the process.
It’s all about the Experience.
Having not really done any Editorial Portraits throughout 2016, or at least Portraits of people I think are interesting, I contacted Odin Clack of Odin Leather Goods to see if he’d be willing to do a Portrait with me.
As you can see, he did, and out of it came one of my favorite Editorial Portraits to date.
I love the tones of this Portrait and how they associate with leather.
December 2016 Composites
For me this year, December was a rough month.
While I had 4 or 5 Portrait Projects in various stages of completion, everything was put on hold due to scheduling and the Holidays, and for me this is tough.
So, instead of moping around depressed about my business, I decided to work on a personal project that had been rattling around in my head for some time now.
I created this Portrait of my son Niko upon being asked by a photographer, “How do you create splashes in water using Photoshop.”
Instead of pulling from my archive of images, I decided to create a Portrait for the video tutorial, and this is what came out.
I think it’s pretty DAMN COOL.
Expanding that idea further, I decided to add some furniture into the scene, which didn’t work out so well with all the angles happening.
For the Holiday Season, I thought what better way to do a Portrait than with my good friend Rodney Jaynes who makes a Fantastic Santa.
My final Composite of the year goes to Emily Pratt, my wife’s daughter who works at a place that trains dogs for duck hunting.
This concept is coming together more and more, and I look forward to exploring more on this style throughout 2017.
A Year in Summary
At the beginning of this Year in Review, I mentioned how this was my “Year of Proof of Concept”, which I feel I can comfortably say while I don’t feel I’m there yet, I do feel I’m on my way.
Do you think I Proved my Concept for my style of Portraits?
This year has been a great year, and I’m very happy without it shook out, but with little expectations on how it would go one way or the other, I think that was an easy goal to obtain.
Now that the stage has been set for Photillustrator by Jason Ulsrud, and expectations are high, 2017 holds a great deal of work to bring my business and my Portraits to the Next Level.