The trauma of shooting portraits for my wife



BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed in the studio in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

This is Mandy, my lovely, brilliant, talented wife.  Mandy hates having her photo taken and is visibly uncomfortable in front of the camera, despite excelling as an actor.  After eight years together, I know better than to ask her to model for me, and she rarely volunteers.

But this spring, Mandy asked me to shoot some new portraits for her, for professional use.  And so began the day-long agony of a photo shoot that seemed doomed from the start.

The funny thing is, most people are a lot like Mandy.  No exaggeration, almost every single time I shoot portraits for a client, the client – who hired me in the first place! – will begin by telling me how much they dislike having their photo taken, and how bad they are at being photographed.  For real, if I had a dollar for every time someone says that to me, I wouldn’t need to keep working as a photographer.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed in the studio in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

Such statements are rubbish, of course.  The vast majority of people are actually just fine at having their photo taken, and many people even get into it, hamming it up a little, once the get comfortable.  And that’s the key, right there – comfort.  When I start a photo shoot with someone, I know that the first entire pose, the first 20-30 photos, are all throw aways.  Their only purpose is to let the subject become comfortable in front of the camera so they can act naturally.

Unfortunately, Mandy isn’t a part of that vast majority, and after several hours of shooting in the studio, she still wasn’t happy with the photos.  She was becoming frustrated and soured on the idea, and it was harder and harder to even try and help her relax.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed on the grounds of Marywood University in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed on the grounds of Marywood University in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

So we switched it up.  Sometimes the studio just isn’t the right setting.  It may be too confining or too sterile, or it may be too intimidating to the subject.  So we threw some gear in a bag and took the show on the road, to Marywood University, where she was both a student and is now an adjunct professor.  It was her home turf, and there’s a definite sense of comfort that comes from being in a setting where you are familiar and in control.

She ended up like the Marywood photos better than the studio shots overall, although we ultimately agreed on a few of each as her final selection.  Including the one below, which she doesn’t like, but I love.

I love shooting portraits, but not everyone loves being a model/subject.  It’s my goal to make sure my subjects become comfortable with the process so we can make some great photos, and I offer up Mandy as proof that it’s possible.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of Mandy Boyle, photographed in the studio in Scranton, PA, on the afternoon of 19 March 2016.

Hamlet Holiday Photo and Headshots



BRENT PENNINGTON Promotional holiday group portraits of the cast members of the New Vintage Ensemble's production of "Hamlet," to open January 2016.

The New Vintage Ensemble’s winter production of “Hamlet” is fast approaching, and it’s been announced that they will be holding it at the amazing Scranton Cultural Center.  But amid an increasingly hectic rehearsal schedule, the cast took a few minutes out for another photoshoot with me.

We began our session with a group photo, which is a combination of promotional cast shot and a holiday greeting.  Conor is back in the center chair in his role as Hamlet, with the rest of the cast around him. I’m not sure if the “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” concept at top was planned from the start, or if it was a spur-of-the-moment idea, but either way I absolutely love it!  “Hamlet” is a pretty serious story and there’s plenty of evil to go around, so the juxtaposition of the cast’s seeming innocence versus Conor’s nonchalance in the middle of it all is just amazing.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of the cast members of the New Vintage Ensemble's production of "Hamlet," to open January 2016.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of the cast members of the New Vintage Ensemble's production of "Hamlet," to open January 2016.

After the group photos, the cast began their nightly briefing session and I changed my setup for some headshots.  Everyone cycled through in the span of about fifteen minutes – I made the headshots short and painless, and am very pleased with how they came out:

As with the first batch of promotional photography, we knew starting out that everything would be processed in black & white.  It’s vital to know this ahead of time, so you can focus on tonalities instead of colors.  You’d never know that the backdrop wall in the headshots is actually a lovely blue that translated very well as a neutral gray.

BRENT PENNINGTON Headshots of the cast members of the New Vintage Ensemble's production of "Hamlet," to open January 2016.

The next time I see this cast, they’ll be on stage.  After almost three months of rehearsals, I can’t wait to see what they’ve come up with.  Break a leg guys!

Kate’s Headshots



BRENT PENNINGTON Kathryn Priestash poses for theater headshots in the studio of 18 July 2015.

I broke out the studio gear recently to work with Kate, an actress who works with a number of the local theater ensembles, including The New Vintage Ensemble.  She came to me needing some new headshots as she works to enhance her acting career, and I was thrilled to be able to help her out!

While I’m always happy to work with any portrait client, I’m always a little extra excited to work with theater folks, for the simple reason that they are almost always more comfortable in front of the camera.  These are people who stand on stage in front of audiences of dozens or even hundreds and perform, so the camera doesn’t usually intimidate them much, once you give them a part to play.

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Pride & Prejudice headshots



Contact Sheet B&W

The cast and crew of “Pride & Prejudice” have spent the past month hard at work learning lines and practicing blocking as they move closer to their opening night on 10 May. I had the chance to join them again this past week at rehearsal to shoot headshots, which will be used in the programs and possible a couple of other places.

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Kelly’s Headshots



Had the chance to work with Kelly over the past month, getting him some headshots for his acting career. Kelly is in middle school, and yeah, he has an acting career. Right now, he’s playing Mark in Rent. I am not the theater type and even I know that’s a big deal. Really cool stuff.

We shot a couple of different looks, trying some studio sets first and deciding they weren’t right for him, so we ventured outside and did a re-shoot at a local church. Surprising choice of locations? Not really – the church had all sorts of great, shaded areas, filled with different colors and textures, and we were able to make several different setups all within a few steps of each other.

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