Establishing Yourself As a Professional


macgregor1Professional photographers have a vision which has the qualities that establish respect for the craft and, of course, the compensation that goes with it. Ask yourself what you would be willing to pay “professional” dollars for a CD of images of everyone hugging or jumping up and down on a couch (with limited enhancement) or a finely crafted portrait (printed) that contained the key elements that great photographers include. Family groups are the most profitable product we offer and a perfect opportunity to showcase professionalism. Clients will recognize the effort and talent required to create a portrait that will last a lifetime.

The key things that separate true master photographers from the weekenders is simple. Professionals don’t just snap away. They start with a vision or concept and then articulate the composition of the people (including elements that create foreground, middle ground and background). They create casually elegant posing showcasing the subjects best features. They control the lighting on the subject in a flattering way that also defines ALL the elements in the subject.

The last and likely the most important component is an understanding of expression and the subtle differences in clients faces.


The group portrait above is sharp edge to edge as everyone is equidistant from the film sensor. A string tied to the tripod was stretched out from left to right to insure everyone was approximately the same distance from the camera position. The lighting is backlit with the right amount of fill that looks real yet defines peoples features and holds detail in the highlights and shadows. Natural light for the scene was 1/250@ f8. Flash (at camera position so no un-natural shadows were created) was brought in at just under f8. With our natural eye looking at this scene we would be seeing the subjects a little darker as our eyes compensated for the bright scene behind the family. There is a foreground, middle ground and background element. Now look at the posing… there are triangles all over, each family is basically grouped together and each person looks natural and real. Most important is that everyone has equal representation in the image… no one is hidden behind another.


The group of four (above) also contains most of the key elements. There is a strong sense of depth yet the family POPS. The light control on the faces is natural and flattering (purely natural sunset light with the sun just setting on the horizon line). The two groupings are equidistant from the camera position. The posing (carefully designed) looks natural and most importantly… everyone looks great. The exciting thing here is the story. During the session I saw that father/son and mother/daughter had unique relationships. As a portrait designer, I realized an opportunity to showcase a memory that is real and would last a lifetime with the family.

macgregor4The family group of four people (right) again contains the elements that define professionalism. This portrait has a strong sense of depth. The posing of the people is flattering and believable yet has a design element that showcases each person (not one person covering up another person – that is a key quality). Note how the rocks frame the family and follow the lines of their bodies. This is the kind of planning needed to establish a portrait that is not a “snapshot.” It was heavy overcast (the sky was dropped in during post production) and the eyes were blocked up yet the whole scene looked very good. Lots of detail in the highlights and shadows. Flash was introduced from camera left to create a gentle main light. A hard main light would not look “right” in this situation. The flash is approximately 1/2 stop greater than the ambient.

macgregor5The other critical quality that I feel is the most overlooked is Expression. Too often photographers tend to just shoot rapidly and not pay attention to the kind of expression that showcases peoples personality and is flattering. DEFAULT smiles rarely have a relaxed quality that stands the test of time. In larger groups… that’s ok as the faces are small. In individual portraits (especially head and shoulders like the example left) it is so crucial to pay attention to peoples expressions such that they are relaxed. The eyes convey a strong message and the face itself is relaxed and not stressed with character lines or unflattering qualities.

macgregor6Notice how you engage with the “soul” of the these people rather than their features. A very exciting opportunity is children’s photography. Virtually everyone jumps straight to default smiles with kids yet the innocence of a child and the timeless quality seen here immediately raises the perception to a PORTRAIT, not just a “picture.”

“Today everyone and everyone’s cousin thinks they are a photographer based on their purchase of a decent camera and going to one of the traveling road shows that promise to make you a master photographer in three hours (especially if you buy their cd as well). Anyone can point a camera at a subject and laugh and put it on motor drive.” Don MacGregor

Now the exciting part …Texas School. Instructors are chosen for Texas school based on their depth of knowledge, experience and understanding of the kinds of skills described here. They are all committed to sharing the kind of knowledge that will help everyone establish a much higher standard of skills and artistry and we all know that leads to “Professional Compensation and Respect.”

macgregor7Don MacGregor, M.Photog.Cr.CPP,MPA,F/PPABC/A is from Vancouver, B.C., but is a true Texan at heart. A regular instructor for many years at the Texas School of Professional Photography, Don opened his studio in 1974 and specializes in wall portraits and wedding work. To learn more about Don MacGregor and his class, go to and sign up for a week of intensive study under one of the finest portrait photographers of our generation who is committed to the pursuit of excellence.