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Friday, 25 October 2013
2013 VPP Mtg - Busath Family Portraits
Mood:  a-ok
Topic: VT Professional Photographers

The Vermont Professional Photographers held their latest meeting at Hotel Coolidge in White River Junction, Vermont, on Sunday, October 20, 2013. Our guest speaker was Drake Busath, M. Photog. Cr., of Salt Lake City, Utah.  He spent the day with us sharing his techniques and style for family and group portraiture.     

Drake says he "grew up in a darkroom," the son of a great photographer.  And the family tradition extended to a third generation as Drake's sons have now also joined the Busath Studio and Gardens business (  This has enabled Drake to now split his time between his native Utah and Italy, where he leads photographic village tours in Tuscany, Venice and other locales.


Drake has been privileged to teach his portraiture techniques and style to professionals worldwide.  He has also been a regular speaker at Imaging USA and been featured on four covers of Professional Photographer Magazine.  He has earned Masters and Craftsman Degrees from the Professional Photographers of America and is a charter member of XXV.

Family Portraiture

For our meeting in the Vermont Room at the Hotel Coolidge, Drake shared tips and favorite techniques that have sustained his family's classic portrait business in Utah.  Many of them we had heard before in different forms, but his twist made some of them more memorable.

We have always been taught, while photographing families and other groups, to try to avoid having the heads lined up in a row or a column - each should instead have its own space vertically and horizontally.  In Drake's version of this tip, he visualizes the heads as notes on a musical score and requires their arrangement to create a melody (rather than "Johnny one note!").  When there is only four people it often works to have them simulate a "String of pearls" supported by diagonals on the two sides.

Another thing he tries to weave into his group poses is what he calls "connections."  These are gestures, touches, that communicate bonds between some of the people - he called it "adding the love."  Interestingly, he suggested that a loose or draped hand connotes trust, whereas a firm hand is often interpreted as possession.   

He also offered practical tips for interacting with the subjects of the photograph.  For example, he suggested not micromanaging the pose, using non-posing direction, such as look at a certain place rather than turn your head 20 degrees left.    

When younger children are part of the group, Drake suggested that how you interact with that child (or children) may make or break your portrait session.  This is an area where his studio takes time to train his photographers.  He said the trick for him is to develop ways to take the attention off of the child and put it into a made up storyline.  Get the child involved and invested in a story.  You need to infuse personality into an object that will keep their attention as the story develops.  This might be a stuffed animal, toy, or almost anything.  Then by using the elements of suspense (what is going to happen to the character), discipline (the character gets disciplined rather than the child), and humiliation ( the character of the photographer) you can almost always draw out the great expressions you need for a great portrait.   He notes for ages 2 to 6 a bit of slap stick is almost a necessity.     

We got to see some of these techniques in action as VPP had arranged for a three generation family to pose for Drake, while we watched him in action.  I personally did not like the spot that was chosen to pose them because even with a short depth of field I could still identify the dumpster in the background - and that was a bit too urban grunge for my tastes.  

As Drake worked with the children one at a time we had more flexibility and his storyline technique evoked some good expressions. 

And this one I took over his shoulder.   

Drake also described his technique for large extended groups that cannot all be present at the same time.  This is similar to a technique described by Michael Greenberg and others.  In Drake's version you define a fixed camera / lighting setup and then set everything up identical each time.  You take the individuals or individual sub-groups and then stitch them together.  He uses this technique to sell very large panoramics up to 20x80.  Because it is made up of stitched images, there is more than enough resolution for very large prints.

Drake demonstrated the setup with what we had available and walked us through the steps by photographing the attendees.  Since he did not take the time to develop the finished product, I thought I would try the technique when I got back to our own studio.  Since I also did not have a large group to photograph right that minute, I decided to photograph myself multiple times - each time with a different instrument - for a One Man Band composite.  Here is the result.  

If you would like to see a larger version than will fit in this blog format, click HERE.  As our own family has grown larger and larger and harder and harder to get everyone in the same place at the same time, I have begun to think this might be the way to go to producing some great keepsakes.  

Like all of the Vermont Professional Photographers meetings we learned something and had some great fellowship.

Posted by Warren

Ayer Photography of Vermont           

Posted by ayerphoto at 10:29 PM EDT
Updated: Saturday, 26 October 2013 7:36 PM EDT
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