Posts Tagged ‘Manhattan Beach’

I want you to have something you can touch

I currently have 585 photos on my iPhone. I love my iPhone. It’s an amazing tool to have in my pocket; so much so that it’s the camera I use the most when I’m not being paid by someone.  When it comes to dragging a seven pound chunk of metal to Grace’s ice skating lesson I’d rather just reach into my pocket and pull out my phone. If you think the quality isn’t up to par, the following photo was printed at 20×16.  I bring this up because, like me, the majority of my clients have hundreds of photos on their phones and in their digital library that they never do anything with. If you are like me, most of those images don’t see the light of day. Maybe a couple end up on a blog or on Facebook, some end up on Instagram but for the most part they are left in digital purgatory and after a few months the special moment you wanted to document is lost. I took it as we were heading out the door to have our family portraits shot.

Like most two year olds, Charlie doesn’t smile for the camera. He gets uncomfortable and goofy and often moves his eye-line away from the camera. This moment was special because both of my kids looked great…at the same time… and in the same photo.  I love seeing this every time I walk in the door. It’s a reminder and a keepsake.

Charlie & Grace – 16×20 Gallery Block – shot w iPhone 5


When it comes to hiring me to shoot your wedding, children, family portrait, fill in the blank; I want you to leave with something you can touch and cherish. This is a 16×24 Giclee canvas I recently made for a client.


16×24 giclee canvas


In 2011 I started using this image of Tutu  in my promo material. When Tutu’s mom saw the mounted 18×12 print she loved it. I asked her what she did with the CD of files she purchased from me; she confessed that she hadn’t made time to do anything with them.  Life is full; we all get busy….I want your experience with me to be easy and result in photos hung in your house that make you smile when you stop to look at them.


Tutu – Manhattan Beach 2010


I shot this (riveting) video to show the results of one of the hard cover press printed books I offer. This is the fourth book in a row I’ve made for this client and when I dropped this off she remarked how special they are and that  she loves having them to look back on.


By handing over a disc or a digital file I am handing you work. It means you have to make the prints, buy the frames, frame the prints, send Grandma a copy of the prints…..I don’t want your experience with me to be sullied by the stress of  added work after the shoot is over. This is the reason I offer the products and services that I do. I want you to enjoy your photos. Granted clients still want copies of their digital files which are available, but as a photographer I want you to have something you can touch.





2012 A Look Back

A few years ago I made a slideshow using  photos from every assignment I shot during the year. The idea stuck and has become a great way for me to reflect on what I did right and what I did wrong during the year. 2012 was both challenging and incredibly rewarding. All of those experiences brought one theme to the forefront – Family is Everything. And by family I’m not limiting myself to the family I was born into or married into. It’s the people that I have chosen to surround myself with. This year we have had the warm blanket of family wrapped around us when we needed it and we were able to be that same blanket of warmth and strength for others when they needed it. This year was life-changing for so many of our friends and loved ones.

Over the past couple years I’ve skipped using photos of my family in the slideshow, after all they weren’t paid assignments and so many were just snapshots. This year I’ve included them because my wife and kids are my world and are definitely the most photographed subject in my life. I also opted to include more than one image from the assignments. Limiting myself  to one single image per shoot didn’t represent the scope and the fruits of my labor.

As with every slide show I always struggle with music. Each year I want to use a song that I fell in love with during the year. This year there were a couple of contenders.

Mumford & Sons – I will wait
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop I dare you to not bounce your head while listening to this song. I was bouncing  my head for a couple weeks before I even listened to the words.
Ryan Adams – From The Ashes   In January NPR streamed a pre-lease of this entire album. I listened to it over and over until the day it was released. Go buy it directly from his label/website. 
Walk the Moon – Anna Sun  
This is probably my favorite song on the album but I opted for Tightrope becaue it matched the tempo I wanted for the slideshow.


For those of you that supported me and helped me create this year I owe you a world of thanks. Without you I’d be stuck behind some desk.

Year End Review Slide Show 2012 from Chuck Espinoza on Vimeo.



A taste of my own medicine

A few weeks ago we had our family portraits taken. The same questions that pop into my client’s mind popped into mine. What to wear; where to shoot; will the kids behave….I’ve answered those questions countless times.


We picked out some color options and went shopping for outfits. This is now my go-to advice for my clients; go buy new clothes. You’ve already committed money and time to the process why let a wardrobe hiccup sully the time and money you’ve invested. Kids clothes are relatively inexpensive and easy to pair up. Walk through Carters, Old Navy, The Gap or the Ralph Lauren section of Macy’s and you’ll be able to grab clothes that you know will look good together.

Notice the color palette? Yeah; I’m the only one in brown. I didn’t listen to my own advice. Robin and I couldn’t find something we liked at Old Navy and didn’t make an effort to continue to the shopping. As the date approached I was convinced that I had a fairly new navy polo shirt in the closet therefore I didn’t need to go shopping again. Robin pulled a trump card when she pulled her navy top. We weren’t committed to matching, especially since the kids weren’t in solid tops so I became the odd man out. Lesson learned.

©Brian Kingston –

©Brian Kingston –

©Brian Kingston –

During family portrait sessions a lot can go wrong. Kid’s aren’t into it, Dad has better things to do; the kids aren’t behaving;  someone missed a nap. Then there’s the accidents. In our case Charlie walked off one of these concrete risers as if it were a normal step.  He face planted into thick, fresh-cut grass.  As any professional photographer would do, Brian was concerned and sensitive to the situation. I, on the other hand reached for my iPhone to snap a few pics. (Sorry Charlie) Even though it was a bit scary; Charlie was fine and it’s a moment that I will always associate with this family portrait session. Things happen; don’t let it ruin your session.

Robin pulling grass out of Charlie’s mouth

Like years past I had a friend shoot our portraits. This year it was Brian Kingston. Brian is not just a photographer he’s an amazing artist, check out his photography and artwork at We have one of his pieces hanging in our living room.


Manhattan Beach Family Portraits

As I start planning my family portrait shoots for the holiday season I started digging for images to use for marketing materials. Phyllis suggested I use my year-end slideshow and then I figured I’d start fresh since a lot of those images aren’t family portrait based. The following are images shot from 2009-2011. The great thing about shooting family and children’s  portraits over the years is that I get to see kids grow up. Towards the end I’ve grouped images of kid’s I’ve shot over the past couple years. Enjoy.

I’m now booking appointments through October. Mini shoots are $150 and individual sessions start at $250. If you want to kill two birds with one stone you get the mini shoot and 100 cards from Phyllis for about $300.

2009-2011 Family portraits from Chuck Espinoza on Vimeo.




How to get the most out of your family portrait session

During a recent family portrait session a mom asked me what was harder – shooting weddings or family portraits? Hands down shooting family portraits is one of the hardest photography jobs. A wedding may be stressful and complex but at least there’s a plan.  People are there to celebrate an incredible occasion and they are there to have fun. I can’t say the same for family portraits.  Many family portrait shoots are controlled chaos. Sometimes people don’t want to participate or in the case of kids they can’t help being kids.

Like a lot of my clients I don’t like to have my photo taken. If I ask myself why, I realize that statement is only half true. I love it when someone captures a genuine moment and I happen to look good. What I don’t like is the feeling of having to perform while someone points a camera at me. I take that knowledge and use it during my sessions to make it, at a minimum, bearable and if I’ve done a good job the client leaves having had fun. So how should you prepare for your family portrait session?

1. What to wear. Wardrobe tends to be one of the biggest questions I get from clients. What should we wear? It’s hard for me to answer because of personal tastes but I can point out what works and what doesn’t.

  • My goal is for everyone to look like a cohesive group. For me wardrobe doesn’t dictate that feeling. I’d prefer everyone be comfortable and wearing an outfit they feel great in rather than wearing something they don’t feel great in.
  • Matching wardrobe. Some love it, some hate it. But if you want everyone to match, my suggestion is to shop weeks before the actual shoot. Your hope of pulling out matching colors from everyone’s closet the night before is a wishful thinking. One of the easiest places to prepare for this is Old Navy or The Gap. Start fresh with new clothes. Both stores offer sizes for kids and adults so you’ll know that you all look great and that all the colors will match.
  • Pick a color palate. If you aren’t a fan of everyone being so matchy-matchy pick a couple colors to base wardrobe decisions on.  If you pick a couple colors each person can still express their individuality.
  • Stay away from busy patterns and logos. As much as Johnny loves his spiderman costume it’s better to start with a classic look. If he insists, let’s make sure we start with a classic look and then let him wear the costume at the end of the shoot.
  • Plan weeks ahead. A good time to think about wardrobe is immediately after our initial consult. Waiting to the last minute  is stressful and associating that stress with family portraits is one of the reasons people don’t like family portraits.

2. Kids will be kids

  • I don’t know “how to smile” so there’s no way I can expect a five year old to know what that means. They grow up associating saying “cheese” with smiling for the camera. To them that’s a smile. It may not look genuine or natural but it’s what they know how to do. My job is to get a genuine smile from them without having to specifically ask. Sometimes that means letting go of hope to get a shot of the perfect smile. I want them to relax. Sometimes it even works in my favor to tell them not to smile.
  • It’s hard for kids to stay still and “be good”. The last thing my daughter wants to do if we are at a park or the beach is sit still. My job is to be quick; I only have their attention span for a couple minutes at a time. I typically  let the kids run the show.  I’ve found that by asking the kids what they want or how they want to be photographed they feel like they are participating and not being bossed around.
  • Let me be the heavy. There’s nothing relaxing or fun about your mom or dad barking at you to smile or sit still.  As parents, if you can handle it, let me be the heavy. If your kids are like mine they tend to listen to strangers better than me. Typically I find that the kids want to impress me and do fun and cool things for the camera.  I’ll use those feeling plus a little slight of hand to get great shots. Take a break and play good cop.  If I get in a situation where I can’t handle them I’ll ask you to step in.
  • If you want to help, stand behind me. I appreciate and love when a parent has a trick to pull a smile or reaction out of their kid. That works even better if they are looking at the camera. If you aren’t in the photo, stand directly behind the photographer.
  • If you are in the photo, keep your eyes on the camera. Let the photographer try to elicit smiles and get everyone’s attention. If you are looking down at your kid trying to get him to look at the camera, you aren’t looking at me.

3. Time of day

  • Location plays a big part on the best time to shoot. Locally I typically shoot at the beach or the park. If we are shooting at the beach my suggestion is early morning. During the summer that means around 8:00 AM. I have young  kids and the idea of getting them dressed, fed and to the beach by 8:00 sounds impossible.  As much as it’s a pain, you are paying for great photos and I wouldn’t suggest it if it wasn’t important. The reason I start so early is for good and manageable light. If it’s so bright that everyone is squinting the pictures won’t look great.  An alternative at the beach is an hour before sunset. Locally that has it’s own drawbacks because it tends to be windy and chilly. If I’m shooting at a park there’s a bit more flexibility assuming there’s good shade. Typically the grass is too wet during the early mornings so I like to start around 9:30-10:00.

4. Keep moving and shoot quickly. I want to put my clients in a situation where I can get my shot, maybe spark a little fun and catch the reactions. Most of the shots my clients are drawn to are the reactions; a laugh, a smile a genuine moment.

  • I always start with the “safe” family group shots. Most of my clients want a great portrait to hang on the wall and I want to make sure I get that shot before the rails fall off. Once I feel like the family shots are done I give the kids some freedom to act like kids and change things up. During a lot of shoots I ask kids to do something physical; sometimes it’s jumping, other times it’s piggy back rides or a human pyramid.  My goal isn’t to get a great shot of the family stacked like high school cheerleaders it’s to catch the reactions when people let go and have fun or when things fall apart.
  • Because I know what it’s like to be in that situation I shoot fast. I don’t want my clients to sit there so long that they wonder if they are doing it right. Set up a situation, shoot, move on, repeat. Eventually people start to let go. If I set up the right situation or make the right comment I get the reaction people want to see in their photos.
  • I’m not a fan of really long sessions. I can do what I need to do in about an hour. Having the attention of young kids for more than an hour is too much to ask.

5. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out as planned.

  • When it comes to young kids I’m at their mercy. Some kids aren’t into it and I may not get that great family shot you wanted. That’s the reality. It doesn’t always work out. If I’ve done my job I make up for it in other ways with fun and natural shots but sometimes the kids win.
  • The more people in the photo the harder it is to make sure everyone looks great. It may be cost effective to invite aunts, uncles and their families to the shoot but often there’s a price to pay. Every time I add one more person to the photo the odds of getting a shot where everyone looks good gets smaller. It also makes getting the natural reactions that make the photos work hard to elicit.


This is what you get when you ask Callie to smile


This is what you get when you tell Callie Not to smile


Colin and Logan being kids


Ian is a runner. You set him down and point a camera at him; he runs. This is the best of forty two frames trying to get a shot where everyone is looking at the camera, has their eyes open, is smiling and look good.  Sometimes this is as good as it’s going to get.

As good as it gets


Set em up, make a joke and shoot the reactions


Let em get physical and have fun. Their smiles and reactions will come through


Sometimes it’s just about being at the right place at the right time and capturing a sweet moment



Environmental Portraits for Creative Professionals

I am a firm believer that professionals should have a good head shot. For executive professionals the image is usually used for speaking engagements, annual reports, websites and newsletters. Most executives come to me because they need  a head shot. I think it is even more important for service-oriented professionals to have a great head shot.  Creative professionals tend to come to me because they want  a head shot. That was the case with Tina. She wanted a head shot for her new website and marketing materials.

Tina came across my work in an ad I ran in a local theater production. As opposed to using safe and family oriented photos, I used images that were unique, interesting and fun. Those photos got me noticed. Tina is an interior designer and professional organizer. She also grew up in a family of photographers and knew what type of head shot she didn’t want; she didn’t want a typically business head shot.  Business head shots are usually warm and presentable but very static. There isn’t a lot of room to introduce personality in that type of photo.  Tina wanted a head shot that showed her personality in addition to being warm and personable.

When we talked about the shoot we narrowed down what she didn’t want. That was easy. The challenge was finding the right balance of creative + professional + personality. In order to make sure we were both on the same page in regards to the final look, I pulled some images I had shot for previous clients as well as examples from magazines to use as a point of reference for what I felt she was asking for. Once I knew we were on the same page the next step was to scout the location. Tina works out of her home and has a studio space that she wanted to be photographed in. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts shooting in homes always has it’s challenges. The location scout was to make sure I was prepared for and could overcome those challenges.  In addition to seeing the space and the light I was able to shoot some test shots. The test shots allowed us to look at the photos and decide where to focus our efforts on the day of the real shoot.  Going through this process before the actual shoot saves time and also prepares the client for the real deal. They get a chance to see what they will look like on camera. It also gets them thinking about wardrobe, styling and about prepping the space for the real shoot. Trying to shoot tests in addition to preparing the space for a photo shoot on the day-of is a stressful situation for both me and the client. Not only do they need to worry about their appearance, but now they have to worry about cleaning, de-cluttering AND making decisions about which photo will suit their marketing needs.  By scouting the location and shooting some quick tests shots we have saved time and reduced stress.


Location Scout - test shoot

Location scout – test shoot – environmental portrait of Tina Studier. K. Marie Design


The location scout was early afternoon and she warned me that later in the afternoon the sun blasted through the west facing windows in the background of the frame.  As far as spaces go, the studio was perfect for the shoot; it showed clients her work-space and her personality. Her unique wallpaper is such a creative and fun detail in the room. You can paste pictures and inspirations to your heart’s content and have it look interesting and planned out. Since the wallpaper was new we both realized it would need to be filled-in more for the shoot.  We also decided that a landscape photo would show too much of the space and not feature Tina enough. The final shoot was a couple weeks later and we ended up with these two final images.


Tina - K. Marie Design - environmental portrait

Tina – K. Marie Design – environmental portrait


Tina had prepped the space using the notes we had made with the tests. She filled in part of wallpaper that would be in our frame and she switched out the lamp in the corner.  The coffee table was removed and we paired down the objects on the cabinet camera left.  We shot a couple different outfits but kept coming back to this jacket. In order to give my clients variety and images that will be useful across all of their marketing platforms I knew we also needed to shoot a traditional head and shoulders portrait. The environmental portrait would not translate well on websites where  the size of the image was limited.  A head shot will scale down and look great on sites like LinkedIn where you are limited to a one inch photo. We both were happy with the results.


Tina - K. Marie Design - head shot/ portrait

Tina – K. Marie Design – head shot/ portrait