Creativity or Gimmicks? Listen Up Photographers

One of the hallmarks of my photography is the simplicity of emotions that I attempt to demonstrate. I try very hard to convey authentic emotions in a simple way because that’s how our personal epiphanies work, very simply and full of clarity. Unfortunately, American iconic culture and many industry photography salesmen have many people convinced that creativity is determined by gimmicks or props. That is so not me and the reason I did not want to become a portrait photographer initially. It just seemed so cheesy to me.I consider myself old school when it comes to creative photography direction. I think it’s more about talent and experience that make a portrait sing. I respect the beauty of light done well having spent countless hours of getting my own lighting exactly the way I want it. The giant overuse of bad props has become so popular that I just had to say something! I see so many gimmick photographers out there with bad lighting and in their baby photography treating babies like props themselves by posing them in contrived and unnatural ways.

Orange County Photography Maternity - Orange County Photography Studios
These orchids were relevant to this portrait.

Since I’ve been around the block longer than most of my fellow photographers I can name the decade by the prop or gimmick used. I recommend that if you want a timeless portrait that you consider the devices that date your portrait.

Props for Photographers

Recently we received a call from a young woman that made me snicker. She said, “I would like something super creative, you know, with some rose petals.” Oh brother, that was so 10 years ago! At my portrait studios we try and explain the difference between creativity and using props as a crutch for the lack of. Because, photographers listen up: props should be relevant and authentic.

We could prop your baby up in an unnatural pose or hang them from a tree branch (5 years ago). We could place a butterfly or a rose on their back (10 years ago). There’s body painting (20 years ago), Greek columns (30 years ago), and don’t forget huge styrofoam numbers (40 years ago). I tried all of that for a brief second and it felt so foolish and uncreative to me.

There are exceptions when the prop has relevance. A couple of years ago I photographed an amazingly strong pregnant woman who came to me for maternity photography. Her husband and father of her child had passed away. I was so moved at her stoic nature and her strength to move on as a single mother. She told me that she felt his presence every day as I broke down and cried. When I asked her to tell me more about him she shared with me his obsession with orchids and that he grew his own. I felt strongly that we needed to represent him in the pregnancy portrait. I immediately told my assistant to run and get some orchids from the nearest flower store and we then created something that was RELEVANT to her life. The irony of the story was when she returned for baby photography and we again brought her husband into the baby portrait with the orchids, her baby started sneezing—she was allergic to the flowers!

To me the creativity of excellent portrait photography comes from connection and from the interaction of light and shadow to set a mood. When you can FEEL what a person is experiencing by looking at a photography portrait, then you have moved your subject and have done your job. It’s that simple!

Photographers, please consider my advice. Really great photography comes from real life.

Written by Linnea Lenkus

Linnea Lenkus

Linnea Lenkus has been a photographer for over 20 years. She specializes in studio photography in Southern California, having a portrait studio in Long Beach that is equidistant to Orange County and Los Angeles County. She is well known for her finer lighting techniques, the authentic feeling of her poses and for exceptional maternity, baby and family portrait photography.

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