Sitting Pretty

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a great portrait is priceless

Life moves fast. Before you know it, your baby is graduating college, your puppy is an old dog and your newlywed spouse needs a new hip. You can’t stop time, but a portrait will capture some of life’s fleeting moments that you wish you could hold on to forever.


Forget the forced smiles, awkward poses and blinding flashes. The approach to portrait photography nowadays is to capture moments that are so genuine and relaxed, you’ll forget the camera is even there.

Do Your Homework

Before making a phone call to a photographer or artist, think about the type of portrait you want. Traditional? Formal? Natural? Get ideas from magazines—look at the ads and the stories to find shots that you’d like to capture. Also browse photographers’ web pages. Most have online galleries, so you can get a sense for the differing styles and options before making phone calls.

The Consultation

Many photographers, like Brian Hamre of Capitol Portraits, will want to have a pre-sitting consultation to discuss what you want to achieve with your portrait. Don’t skip this step—it’s better to do the talking before the shoot than after.

Scheduling the Shoot

Book your session about a month in advance. This allows time for a haircut or to coordinate schedules and clothing for group photos. Many studios work farther out for holiday photos, some as early as September. And most photographer summer schedules book up far in advance because of weddings and senior portraits. Plan accordingly.

Location, Location, Location

You can have your picture taken anywhere: at home, in a park, or at the zoo if you like. “On-location shooting allows for more possibilities and to have fun with where you’re at,” says Michael Krakora, owner of Michael Krakora Photography.


Traditionalists like studio shoots. The photographer has better control of lighting than he or she does anywhere else (but especially outside), so these sessions go by much more quickly than on-location shoots. Expect to spend between thirty minutes and an hour depending on the number of poses and clothing changes.

Looking Picture-Perfect

When it comes to clothing, keep it simple. Stick to neutral, solid colors and stay away from patterns that will date the photograph later. And to be as bright-eyed as possible, be sure to get plenty of sleep the night before.

Flash Photography

Proofs are typically ready one to two weeks after your sitting. You just choose which prints you’d like and then place your order either online, from a DVD or CD, or in the photographer’s projection room. Then voila! Within a week you should have your finished portraits in hand. Keep in mind that retouching and digital enhancements take longer, sometimes a month or more.


Prices vary. Some include the sitting fee, a CD/DVD of images and actual prints. But not all photographers include all three in their standard pricing. Some photographers will charge a little more and sell you a CD that allows you to have your prints made somewhere else, which can be a huge cost savings. So be sure to find out what’s included before the flash fires. Basic print packages usually start around $150; elaborate packages can cost upwards of $550. A multi-session package documenting your baby’s first year can carry a price tag of $800.


Forget the days of sitting still on a chair for hours while an artist captures you in oil, pastels or watercolor. Artists typically work from photography—theirs or yours. If you’d prefer the customary portrait-painting experience, you can do a sitting at the artist’s studio or at the location of your choice, which is called painting “from life.” Choose from traditional oils and watercolors for more formal portraits; charcoal or colored pencils for simpler impressions.

Patience is an Art

An art portrait obviously takes longer to complete than a photograph, and usually takes about six months from start to finish.


The price depends on the material of the canvas, the medium used (oils, watercolors, charcoal, etc.) and how much of the body is shown (head and shoulders only, full body, etc.). Locally, this can run anywhere from $900 to as much as $7,000.


In most respects, pet portraits are no different from human portraits except for a few key things: there’s no dress code and your pup or puss will probably be more nervous than you. To relax camera-shy pets, have them photographed in their element. Capture your golden retriever Sunny running through your garden or your tabby Frieda lounging on the windowsill. In an unfamiliar studio setting, bring along treats or a favorite toy to remind your pet of home.

Why Bother?

Far from an extravagance, portraits are just another reflection of the elevated role our pets play in our lives these days. Martha Busse, owner of Fido Photo, says, “Since pets’ lives are unfortunately shorter than peoples’, [pet portraits] have more meaning and are used to remember a pet’s personality and character.”


Computer technology creates boundless options, from simple sepia-tone treatments to Warhol-esque color substitutions (imagine your pug Percy à la Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe) and spot color accents in otherwise black-and-white prints. Other photographers will shoot your little darling dressed as a fairy against a magical backdrop (fairy wings provided) or can capture you in studio sets reminiscent of Hollywood. These pictures are akin to the faux Old West tintypes from your tourist-trap vacation, but with a little more style and less kitsch. And if you’re not willing to wait for a painted portrait, many photographers can now turn your photograph into a charcoal drawing, an oil painting or a chalk rendering with just a click of the mouse.


Shelby Deering is a former intern for Madison Magazine and a Madison-based freelance writer.

Madison Magazine - May 2007
Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed
Bookmark and Share Email this page Email Print this page Print Feed Feed


Madison Magazine August 2014 - August 2014 $19.95 for one year - Subscribe today