Looking Back at a Year of Creative Portraits: 2021

Can you believe we’re 2 years into the pandemic and we’re still dealing with this crap?

What’s even more unbelievable is that I’m able to look back at 2021.

That’s because from March of 2020 to the middle of 2021 I created almost NO portraits and had decided it was time to shut down Photillustrator. I believed this so much that I actually started a new business building cabinets and furniture, which was going pretty well until…

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My new cabinet and furniture business was growing and becoming profitable until I started getting calls for my creative family portraits again.

Out of the blue, and thanks to a couple of really great clients, I started getting calls for my creative portraits, which inspired me to flip the script and jump back into the world of photography.

So, I shut down my furniture business and went all in once again on photography, and this is what happened.

My First Composite

Just to give you a better idea of where I started and have come from, here’s the very first composited portrait I ever created back in December of 2014.

first composite created by dallas composite photographer, jason ulsrud

Composite photography opened up a world of creativity that I had envisioned but could never accomplish with film photography.

January 2021 Photography

The beginning of 2021 found me working a retail job at a woodworking place called Rockler and starting to build (pun intended) my furniture business.

This is a small nightstand I built for my son Luka, which has a hidden drawer for all his stash.

custom nightstand build for luka ulsrud

With so many building projects going on and working at Rockler, I not only had no time for photography but really didn’t want to even want to take photos.

However, I did find this old Ford truck I photographed for my Instagram.

old ford pickup truck

Honestly, there’s something about old trucks and cars I just love.

February 2021 Photography

Before COVID hit back in March of 2020, I had taken on a few new clients that were put on hold due to the pandemic.

Little by little, I would photograph the different elements of their family portrait, and slowly but surely I would piece them together when I had time.

creative family portrait with tank in dallas texas

Out of that came this fun portrait of Jeff Brooks and his awesome family.

February was largely dedicated to building furniture.

March 2021 Photography

March, much like February, was mostly dedicated to building my furniture business.

custom walnut slatted bench by jason ulsrud

Among other cabinets and furniture, I built this month, this walnut-slatted bench is one of my favorites.

Another project I took on was to finish up a composite I started way back at the beginning of the pandemic when we were demoing our deck to be rebuilt.

photo composite of ulsrud family demolishing deck during pandemic

I thought it would be fun to capture the craziness that goes into a dad and his two teenage sons tearing apart a large structure.

April 2021 Photography

One big photo project that came from a family portrait I did in 2020 was a senior portrait.

The family wanted a senior portrait that was different and included their son with his friends.

In collaboration with the kids, this is the story they wanted to tell about their senior year in high school.

April was also a business month constructing a built-in for a customer’s glass art and a desk for another photographer.

custom built in shelving by jason ulsrud
custom office desk build by jason ulsrud

Sadly, through the first quarter of the year, my photography was pretty much just photographing the furniture I was building.

May 2021 Photography

The entire month of May was focused on constructing some patio cabinets and a super large library.

built in cabinets on patio by jason ulsrud

Would you believe the very first construction job I took on was a floor to ceiling library?

custom library cabinet installation by jason ulsrud

This library took several months to complete due to not being able to find materials, which was a good thing for me.

June 2021 Photography

Now, 6 months into the year and having done virtually NO photography, I started feeling that creative itch, so I purchased a tutorial by Chris Knight on Rembrandt lighting and portraits.

niko ulsrud portrait

BTW… If you’re a photographer and want a great tutorial, check out Chris Knight’s Rembrandt lighting.

Inspired, I scheduled one of my wife’s friend’s daughter for a senior portrait.

formal senior portrait of hensley
senior portrait of hensley

For only my second photoshoot in this style, I was quite happy with the results.

Also, this month, I continued to work on that damn library.

custom library installation

Piece of advice… Don’t take on a project if you don’t know what you’re doing. LOL

July 2021 Photography

Inspired by the previous month’s portrait photography, I photographed my boys, Niko and Luka.

creative senior portrait of niko ulsrud
editorial style senior portrait of niko ulsrud

Having amazing photographs of your kids is so priceless, isn’t it?

senior portrait of luka ulsrud with violin
senior portrait of luka ulsrud

While my wife, Taren, hates being photographed, I talked her into doing what would become one of my favorite portraits of her.

boudoir portrait of taren ulsrud

I also photographed a good friend of mine who has such an interesting look, Rodney.

portrait of rodney jaynes

Rodney is also who plays my Santa every year in my photography.

contemporary portrait of rodney jaynes as santa claus

Clearly, I couldn’t get enough, so I also photographed my wife’s granddaughter who is about the cutest thing ever.

beautiful portrait of turner canon
cute portrait of turne canon

All-n-all, it was a successful month of photography and motivated me to move more towards this editorial style of photography.

While I was super busy with these new portraits, I was also building a deck for a local Rockwall customer.

custom deck build by jason ulsrud in rockwall texas

Thankfully, she was super happy with how her deck turned out.

August 2021 Photography

Just as the summer was heating up, so was I when it came to my editorial-style portraits.

Having not had a headshot done for quite some time, I decided to turn the camera on me for one of my own portraits.

professional headshot portrait of jason ulsrud

Wanting more practice, I also asked a good photographer friend of mine if she’d mind sitting for me along with her husband.

editorial style portrait of ritz mill
beautiful portrait of ritz mill
couples portrait of adam and ritz mill
headshot portrait of adam

This is where I rediscovered the beauty of natural light.

As I begin to wind down my construction business to focus more on my photography business again, I completed a fun little built-in shelving unit for a nice Rockwall family.

custom built in shelving by jason ulsrud in rockwall texas

And a really cool coffee table, which I donated to a private school silent auction.

custom ash coffee table by jason ulsrud in rockwall texas

I really do enjoy making tables for people.

September 2021 Photography

Every once in a while a customer comes along that reminds me why the portraits I create as so important.

Howard, called me, at his wife’s request, to create a photograph of their awesome family because it would be the last family portrait they’d ever get to have.

creative portrait of debbie and howard freed family in dallas texas around pool

So, in record-breaking time, I photographed all the elements and completed the artwork just in time for Howard’s wife to see it before she passed.

While incredibly sad, I’m so happy her family portrait was able to bring her some joy in the last days of her amazing life.

Teaching is one of those things I love to do, which led me to Florida for the Florida Professional Photographers school where I had the opportunity to turn teaching into a composited portrait.

fun portrait composite of photographers from florida professional photography

As I continue to work on my editorial-style portraits, I asked a good friend who refurbishes mid-century modern furniture if he and his wife would sit for a portrait.

magazine style portrait of jill titus
fashion photography of jill titus
fine art portrait photography of john titus
editorial portrait of john titus

Also, in September, I dusted off my car camera so I could do more photography of old trucks and cars.

old valiant car

Back to building furniture, one table project I’m super happy with and would love to do more of is this live edge walnut slab table.

custom walnut slab dinning table by jason ulsrud in rockwall texas

I’m so freaking happy with how this table turned out and would love to do more of these types of projects.

October 2021 Photography

Getting busy now juggling both portrait making and furniture building, I started off October with a BIG Reveal for the Peck family.

fun family picture of peck family in dallas texas

As cool as it is to make these crazy family portraits, it’s way cooler to see them on the customer’s wall.

creative portrait in peck family home in dallas texas

While I was in Florida teaching last month, I met one of the nicest and most fun people I’ve ever met, Tennessee, who let me photograph him for the class.

editorial portrait of tennessee rick

Knowing I needed to continue growing in my new style of portraits, I reached out to an old client of mine and asked if I could photograph her and her family.

Not only did she say YES, she also suggested I donate this new style of portraits to a charity she was chairing, which of course I agreed to.

contemporary portrait of kathy ruff
beautiful portrait of bonner ruff
editorial style portrait of jon ruff

Since it’s October, I needed to create a Halloween-inspired portrait, which gave me the opportunity to finally use an idea I’ve had for a couple of years.

creative portrait composite of luka and niko ulsrud trick or treating with turner canon on halloween

The boys were the perfect age and I had my wife’s little granddaughter to be the cutest trick-or-treater ever.

Not wanting to pass up an opportunity, I also photographed Turdner and her sister, Tymber, in their halloween costumes.

turner canon portrait dressed as pennywise for halloween
tymber canon dressed as jojo siwa for halloween

Finally, if all that photography isn’t enough, I also finished up the crazy library I was working on.

custom library build by jason ulsrud of rockwall texas

While not perfect, I’m very happy with the end product and it gave me customer a place to put all his books.

November 2021 Photography

November finds me doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work on my photography business and my new style of portraits.

It also finds me in another BIG Reveal for the Graham family and their new family portrait.

creative portrait of hilary and jace graham family in dallas texas around pool

Just days before Thanksgiving, when all their family could be there, we revealed their portrait where they all had so much fun.

graham family reacting to their creative family portrait by rockwall photographer jason ulsrud

It was truly a great way to start off the Holiday season.

Construction-wise, I just did a couple of small projects plus built and installed this walnut fireplace mantel.

custom walnut fireplace mantel by jason ulsrud in rockwall texas

I’m learning these building projects are a great way to balance the creativity of my photography business.

December 2021 Photography

As I wrap up the crazy ride of 2021, I reflect back at my journey and find myself grateful for 2 things.

Before I get into those 2 things, however, let me share my final three images of 2021.

creative christmas card of ulsrud family with santa

After skipping sending out my crazy Christmas card last year, I really wanted to create something fun and happy for this year.

While I was photographing Santa for my crazy portrait, I went ahead and did an editorial-style portrait of him.

rodney jaynes portrait as santa claus

Lastly, I was commissioned by a client of my to create something fun for their Holiday card.

creative christmas card of childs family in dallas texas

I’m feeling inspired to offer this as a holiday card option for next year’s customers.

That’s a Wrap of 2021

2021 was for sure a ride and as I said in December, I’m super grateful for 2 things.

  1. That my portrait photography business picked back up and I’m able to create once again.

  2. I’ve learned a new skill and trade that I will continue to work and grow in.

In years past I’ve tried to focus on a theme for the next year but in the famous words of the reality show Big Brother, I’m learning to “Expect the Unexpected.”

Here’s to 2022 full of twists and turns and where we’ll end up, nobody knows.

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