studio for their order session to look at the
unedited images (many of which are still
on green screen). Once they pick out their
favorite poses, I then begin the editing
process. Sometimes their favorite images are
not what I had in mind—they are something
that just happened as we played around.
If you know what the background of
a composite will look like before you
photograph your subject, you will find that
it is much easier to make it look believable
because you can more accurately account
for all the variables in the scene.
I recently had a 14-year-old soccer player
come in, and his parents told me a story about
how he had been working so hard and putting
in a lot of time to make the high school soccer
team. During the shoot, we made a lot of
cool action shots, but I wanted to capture one
portrait that would evoke some of the deeper
emotion that he felt about his goals.
I had him simply sit down and think
about what his ambitions were. In explaining
my vision to his mother, she loved it, so
after placing her order, I spent some time
photographing lots of soccer balls. I then
uploaded them into Photoshop and arranged
them into a big pile, shading and toning
each correctly so that the subject was sitting
on what appears to be a huge mountain
of soccer balls (opposite page). This
represented his hard work and all of the time
that he had invested to get to that point.
This is to say that, because the subject
and their personality often inspire me as we
interact, I usually have to create a background
after the photo shoot—it’s harder, but it does
help ensure that I have created something
that captures their individuality.
The time it takes to finish a client order
and deliver it is typically six weeks. It can
take anywhere from 10 minutes to a full day
to complete a single composite, depending
on the size, complexity and if the elements
I am using are something I have stored
in my personal stock images or if there is
something I need to go out and photograph.
Delivery of the final products also depends
on how far the clients have traveled. It’s not
uncommon for a client to fly or drive from
out of state for a portrait session.
I have custom boxes and bags for many of
my products with the Shirk Photography logo.
A client does not necessarily buy the product
because of the packaging, but it does help
to add value to our brand. Just like when you
purchase an iPhone, the packaging is part of
the experience and value.
I offer build-your-own portrait
collections, which allows clients to pick
out what they want, and they can keep
adding things to their order without feeling
like they have to meet a certain minimum
requirement. A typical client is selecting a
few canvas, metal or framed wall portraits
with a more classic senior look, and then a
few wall portraits of composites or blended
montages featuring their activities.
My clients also have a lot of other favorite
images, so my custom albums are a popular
option. Most of my clients are also picking
out some desk art (usually 8 x 10, 5 x 7 and 4
x 6-inch sizes) for their friends and family.
Ben Shirk is a portrait photographer based
in Wilton, Iowa, who runs his studio, Shirk
Photography. He’s earned multiple awards
for his creative composites, including at
WPPI in Las Vegas.