How a portrait photographer works her magic to get a smile

Mon, 04/26/2021 - 11:00am

    Elizabeth Stanley is the last person who wants to be in front of the camera, which has noticeably given her insight when it comes to being a portrait photographer.

    “I’m kind of an introvert, so I completely understand why people are hesitant to have their picture taken,” she said.

    The Rockland-based artist-photographer got her start early on. Remember in the early 1990s when Kodak sponsored a group of 7th-grade CRMS students, giving them all a camera and instructing them to go around the Midcoast shooting photos?

    Stanley was one of the middle schoolers assigned to this project and her photo of three kayaks at Maine Sport Outfitters and a photo of artist Richard Remsen doing blown glasswork made it into the published coffee table book, Our View: A Day in the Life of Camden-Rockport Maine.

    After dabbling around with photography at the University of Maine in Augusta, Stanley took a black and white photography darkroom class and discovered how much she loved the process. She bought her first DSLR camera soon after that and began working as a portrait photographer.

    “What I’ve done since has all been self-taught, and I’m still learning aspects of the business,” she said.

    There are a dozen directions a photographer can take when determining a career, and first, Stanley had to discover what she liked and didn’t like.

    “I got really burnt out when I used to do weddings, especially the all-day weddings,” she said. When cell phones and iPads became available, they presented a whole new challenge to photographers.

    “I had one wedding where the couple told the guests to accommodate the photographer and keep their devices down, but when I got set up to do a shot of the bride and groom walking down the aisle, all you could see is people holding up iPads,” she said. “I had to stand up on a chair on the back row and got as high as I could to shoot over them. It worked!”

    Being a “people-person,” Stanley naturally gravitated to doing portrait photography. She found a studio she could share with another photographer, bought more equipment, and taught herself how to use it.

    Her specialty is photographing children, families, couples, events, boudoir—private intimate photos for women in their bedrooms and dudeoir—the same, but for men.

    Getting strangers to open up and let their true selves shine through is another set of soft skills that even an introvert like Stanley has learned to accomplish.

    “Most people tell me they can’t stand having their picture taken or they never had a good photo taken of them, so it takes some skill to get people to change their perspective,” she said.  “Sometimes they’re worried about what they consider a physical flaw, so I talk to them at first, put them at ease and just by changing the angle, or the light can be very flattering. And in Photoshop, I can easily remove small things like acne or scars.”

    “Portraiture has always been where my passion is,” she said. “I like connecting with people. Most people who come in don’t know how the photoshoot is going to go; they don’t know what they’re going to look like on camera. “Believe it or not, guys are just as self-conscious about how they look as women are, so I’m able to show them immediately. I love their smiles when they see that.”

    With children's portraits, a whole new layer of complication is introduced.

    “Moms come in afraid their kids won’t be well-behaved or won’t sit for the camera, so I can put people at ease,” said Stanley. “My youngest son was my right-hand man when I first started. He was seven or eight and he’d be with me when I did portraits, so he’d get the little kids to smile and laugh behind the camera for me. He’d toss them a ball or make some silly face at them or say something to make them laugh. He’s grown now, so I’ve had to take his role, so I just do the same stuff he used to do.”

    Stanley goes by E. Stanley Photography on Facebook.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at