Ozark Wilds...Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri


by John L. Ebeling

copyright: Ebeling 2003

            Those who care are the ones who need portraits. Portraits touch people in a special way when we cannot be there. Once, during a portrait sitting a little girl said, “Pictures are love.” Love is the motivation that should move you to a portrait studio. Personal photography is not an ego trip it is something we do for family and friends. It is a way to share ourselves with them when we can’t be there.

When photographing a child I can often get a beautiful, natural smile from them by asking, “If Grandma came walking up behind me you would smile at her wouldn’t you?” This smile occurs if they imagine they see Grandma. When I capture it I tell them I have it and now we can make it into a beautiful photograph, so Grandma can have it at her house, so she can see them smiling at her when they can’t be there. They grasp the special magic of this.

            Sadly, most of us have been adversely conditioned, so we do not respond well when being photographed. For most of us this adverse conditioning took place at the very place that is supposed to prepare us for life. We did not know what was being done. Like animals to slaughter, we were processed by the school photographer, who was under pressure to get it done. They want picture sales, so no one was told this is not portraiture or the way to get a good likeness. We had begun school and the experience of being monitored, judged and graded. So, if the school picture was bad we thought it was our fault. We were just a child and were set up to go through life thinking we do not photograph well. We knew we did not like the results and some grew to fear or hate being photographed. You hear people say, “I hate having my picture taken.” What we hate doing we do not do very well. This is terrible, because photographs of loved ones are so important to those who care for them.

            I have found that everyone has something that works for them when it comes to achieving satisfying personal photography. The mind controls our facial expressions and is the key to allowing our facial muscles to respond naturally. However, it may take some time and photography. I went to a seminar and the photographer’s mantra was, “Perception is reality”. He said he never took more than three photographs and sometimes only one. His gambit was to convince them he was the greatest photographer and he was going to take the greatest photograph of them that had ever been achieved. You can bet he conditioned many to really doubt themselves when it came to their personal photography. He was the best and he couldn’t get a good likeness, so they were hopeless. Why should he care, as long as they bought? The truth is if the photograph is not a good likeness of you it is the photographer’s fault. Don’t buy photographer’s faults.

            I have a photograph of my mother created in 1928. It is the only good photograph of her ever accomplished. I know the photographer had to take the time to get her mind in the right place, so her facial muscles were not contorted. It inspires me. I know how much it means to me and I know I have done this for others. I could not do it of her, because she was my mother. Many times parents have asked me why they can’t get a good photograph of their children and I tell them it is because they are their parent. This is not universal. Some children are comfortable with their parent as the photographer and  some parents with their child the photographer.

            A teenage girl I had done senior portraits for brought her little sister and their dog the next summer. We created a photograph that became a Christmas present for her mother and she called to tell me her mother cried when she opened her present and saw the photograph. If you cannot understand this you probably do not need personal photography done.

            A retired gentleman called and said his sister was bugging him for a picture. He allowed that he had “never taken a good picture and hated to have it done, but a friend had told him he could trust me to get a good picture.” When he came we spent some time getting acquainted. It took awhile to get past how he looked when confronting a stranger. Unfortunately, that is when most people have their photograph created. When we went into the sitting room he tightened up again, but I knew how he should look. Amazingly, as we progressed he really let loose and we got expressions that thrilled those who cared. He probably was elated that he had whipped the demon that bedeviled him when it came to his personal photography. After that experience I often ask after the first take, “Did that hurt?” It often gets a smile, as people realize it does not hurt and they shouldn’t be so apprehensive. After all they are doing it for family and friends they enjoy being with and I’m just there to capture them at their best.

            In fact, if we all understood it we would all enjoy it. Everyone, even shy people, enjoy attention. Witness the people who go to the expense of flying to New York where it is expensive to stay and get up early to get a good position, for the chance of being on television. For a lot less money they should know they can get the attention of people who care by giving them a portrait that lasts and lasts even to generations who would otherwise only hear about them. They might not even hear about them if there is no photograph to talk about.

I hope this helps you accept and accomplish satisfying personal photography for those who care. You will if you understand all aspects of it. You will know if you have accomplished this, because if you have you will accept and enjoy the attention of having your photograph recorded. It will no longer be about you, but something you do for those who care.

Award Winning

Ozark Wilds  


creative photography 

21300 Highway 5 


by John L. Ebeling

Versailles, Mo 65084