David Forthoffer Photography


You might want to consider the following when choosing a photographer.

  1. How to actually love your portrait!

    The “secret” is to choose a good photographer!

    One obvious way to do that in Humboldt County is to hire Jack Hopkins. I do not see a money-back guarantee on his site. But no one cares. They know he produces superb portraits. A friend of mine, Ken Fleck, has visited many homes in the greater Eureka area, and has seen many Hopkins portraits hanging proudly on walls. You cannot go wrong hiring Jack, except for the cost. His portraits are expensive.

    Ken loves Hopkins portraits, but has a large family to feed. Ken came to me. I took the Fleck family portrait, down in Scotia on that big locomotive there. They love my portrait, and think it is comparable to a Hopkins portrait. Come to my studio and see for yourself!

  2. How can you recognize a good portrait?

    A good portrait has impact. The great portrait photographer Philippe Halsman (whose portraits appeared on more than 100 Time-Life covers) said that the best portrait is the one which reveals most completely the both the exterior and the interior of the subject. Come into my studio and see some of Halsman's great portraits for yourself.

    “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

    Let me tell you a true story. A woman operated an art gallery that sold oil paintings that she painted. The paintings were of excellent workmanship and quality, selling for $800 to $1,500. One summer morning, a Mercedez-Benz pulled up and a middle-aged man walked in and started looking at the paintings. He walked up to the first one and exclaimed “$1,000!” in disbelief. The woman walked over and said, “Yes, $1,000.” The man replied, “Well, I just bought one just like it for $39.95 across the street at the flea market. In the car he had a sofa-sized oil painting of a seascape scene similar to the junk you see being sold in malls and on the side of the road out of the back of big trucks. He had liked the image and bought it. The woman artist proceeded to show and explain the difference between cheap art and real art. She talked about technique, use of light, colors, quality of materials, etc.. Those were things she worked very hard at doing well. No one had ever told him the difference before! The result was that the man bought her painting for $1,000. He was neither stupid nor poor. When she took the time to create value in his mind, he wanted that value.

    Further below, I will share with you some ways to recognize good portraits.

  3. The two best ways to recognize a good photographer

    One good way to recognize a good photographer is to ask your friends. If your friends have had their portraits taken by photographers, they can tell you which ones they like the best. Of course, if they say “Jack Hopkins”, that might still be out of your price range. But it doesn't hurt to ask.

    The other good way is to look at the portraits shown by a photographer. If you like their portraits, your portraits will probably turn out that good. Warning: You should educate yourself about good portraiture before looking at portraits. You don't want to buy a pretty picture now, learn more about good portraiture later, and realize you missed out on getting a truly good portrait. Further below, I will share with you some ways to recognize good portraits.

    Another Warning: Although you can look at a photographer's portraits on his web site and get a sense of his style, it is technically impossible to know the colors and sharpness in his print portraits by looking at web images. A computer screen can display brighter colors than a print portrait; you need to look at a print portrait to understand the color impact of a photographer's print portraits. Also, a portrait completely filling a large computer screen is equivalent to the sharpness of a 5" x 7" photographic print; you need to look at a large print portrait to see whether a photographer can deliver sharp details. Sharp details are particularly important for the eyes. Come on down to my studio to see some good large print portraits. Photos on web sites are good for narrowing the field, but for the final decision you should look at prints.

  4. What if the photographer does not show me a lot of portraits?

    A photographer might have good or bad reasons for not showing a lot of portraits.

    A bad reason is if they say they have lots of excellent portraits but cannot show them to you because of privacy reasons. While a person does have the right to not allow the public to see their portrait, the photographer can often get the person to sign a model release, perhaps by giving them an extra print. People with great portraits often want to share their portraits with the public. Photographers who take great portraits want to share them, too. It is only photographers with “blah” photos who do not want to share them. Any good photographer who has taken a lot of portraits should have gotten enough model releases to show you quite a few portraits.

    A good reason is if they are just starting out as a portrait photographer. In that case, ask to see their other prints. I have mainly been a wedding and event photographer. Come down to my studio and I will show you hundreds of photos of people, often caught up in the emotion of the moment. It is nice to look at a photo and think, “I recognize Joanne Gardner.” It is even nicer to look at a photograph and think, “Wow! I see that Joanne Gardner still loves Mac after all these years!”

  5. Good Portraits: Impact!

    A good portrait has impact. Insight about the portrait immediately springs to mind. You might look at the portrait of a couple and think, “He thinks she is the only important person in the world, and he is the luckiest guy!” Or, “She is stunning! It took a moment for me to realize that is Elise!” Or, “She just got married, but she will always be Daddy's little girl.” Or, “I sure wouldn't want to cross him!”

    A good portrait brings out more than just recognizing the subject. Look at a photographer's portraits and ask yourself what springs to mind as you first look at each of them. If the answer is “nothing” then keep looking for another photographer.

  6. Good Portraits: It's all about the face!

    Good portraits are all about the face. That is where we look for recognition, character, attitude, and emotion. The rest of the portrait, whether clothes, hair, background, lighting, props, or posing, should all reinforce the importance of the face.

    Sure, you may want to show off your wedding dress, or new car, or house. You can get a nice photograph that emphasizes those things without emphasizing your face. That is fine. I'll even take that photograph for you! But please realize you are getting a photograph of a thing, not a portrait of you. Your portrait should emphasize your face.

    Of course, a portrait has to do more than emphasize your face to be a good portrait. Your face has to look good, technically, artistically, and emotionally. The rest of the portrait has to do a good job of complementing your face, technically and artistically.

  7. Good Portraits: Clothing

    Clothes should have solid colors. Patterns, designs, flowers, and other eye-catching arrangements draw the eye away from the face. A good portrait guides the eye toward the face.

    An important choice is whether to wear white or light colors (“high-key”) or black or dark colors (“low-key”). The answer is generally to match the background, so that the head is completely surrounded by light colors, or completely surrounded by dark colors. If the head is partly surrounded by light colors and partly surrounded by dark colors (whether because of the color of the clothes or changes in the background), the eye tends to be diverted from the face.

    Another important choice is whether your clothes have sleeves. The eye is drawn to all skin tones in the portrait. If you have a beautiful tatoo on your shoulder, or well-defined muscles, or a glorious scar, and you want that to be part of your statement in your portrait, go ahead and wear short sleeves. Some men look great without a shirt at all! (So do some women, but I am not that kind of photographer.) But otherwise, the subject of a good portrait should be wearing long sleeves.

    In your portrait, you should not have to worry about the right clothes. The photographer should have a pre-photography consultation where this is discussed and decided.

  8. Good Portraits: Hair

    The first choice is whether to emphasize the hair along with the face.

    Deemphasizing the hair helps the eye concentrate on the face. The hair can be deemphasized by covering it, by letting it fade into the background, or simply by not lighting it. George Hurrell, a famous Hollywood portrait photographer in the 1930's and 40's, made a great “casual” portrait of Clark Gable where the only discernable feature of Clark's hair was the cowlick over his forehead. Philippe Halsman made a great portrait of Laurence Olivier and his wife, Vivien Leigh, that had their hair fading into the background. Come into my studio to appreciate the impact of these and other great portraits.

    More often the hair is emphasized along with the face. Dark hair is often photographed against a dark background, in order to draw attention to the face. In this case, the outer edges must be lit, to separate the hair from the background. Enough light must also shine on the hair to give it depth and texture.

    The hair can also be emphasized even more than the face. George Hurrell created a beautiful portrait of Veronica Lake and her glorious hair cascading across the flowing background. Words cannot do that portrait justice. Come into my studio to examine it closely. Let me know if you want a similar portrait!

  9. Good Portraits: et cetera Heh. I am starting to sound like a book, and I haven't even gotten into the ‘S’ and ‘C’ poses, lighting, catch-lights, backgrounds, etc.. Maybe the simplest way to understand good photography is to come into my studio and look at examples of good and bad portraits.

© 2005-2009 David Forthoffer   •   David@Forthoffer.org   •   707-502-9119 at 2817 F Street in Henderson Center in Eureka, California   •   Updated 2009-06-13
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