Expression—The Life Behind the Photograph

Let’s start with the headshot.  Headshots are an essential marketing tool for actors, but they are also important for performing artists, corporations, realtors, authors, high school seniors and anyone looking for a great social networking profile image. I start with the headshot even when shooting other genres because it eliminates all other variables and focuses on the micro-expression and personality.  Once we can capture that in the headshot we can project it in other forms.  Whether I’m shooting an actor’s face or dancer in mid-flight, it all comes down to expression.  Expression gives the photograph the vibe I am after with everyone who steps in front of my camera.


A Brief History of Why I Love What I Do
I grew up in a family with six siblings who had the insight to buy me a camera for HS graduation. I loved taking pictures but had no inclination that I would be a professional photographer one day. I was underwhelmed by the look of professional portraiture that was popular at that time–it seemed stiff and lifeless to me. After college, I worked with homeless teenagers in NYC which had its rewards but left me craving nature and solitude. So shortly thereafter I rode my bicycle from Montana to Alaska, carrying everything I needed with me and pitching a tent every night.

Summer comes to an end in Alaska in a way that is haunting and abrupt as the tourists leave and the darkness and cold set in. It was in the last week of the trip that I stopped using my camera as a point and shoot to capture postcard-style snapshots, and started using it to capture internal truths—not just what I was seeing but what I was feeling. This was the beginning of my journey into the art of photography, and I took what I consider to be my first photograph (right). I returned and settled down in my home state of Massachusetts where I now live with my husband and three children.

I’m creative. I started playing the piano when I was four-years-old, often accompanying my father who was a classical singer. I think music and photography both appeal to me because they use a similar combination of the technical and artistic—left and right sides of the brain. I believe the most powerful music and photographs are those which invoke an emotional response.

I started my training in the technical aspects of photography in 2000 with black and white film. I have long since switched to digital but retain a classical approach where I strive for a perfect capture through lighting and technique. I have spent years studying and learning to manipulate light and know the setup in my studio to be the most flattering in smoothing the skin and making the eyes shine.

Over the years I rose to many challenges and gained experience in photojournalism, portraiture, architecture and event photography, but I became increasingly aware of how much I enjoy photographing people—their relationships, their moods. I particularly enjoy narrowing in on one person at a time. It is fascinating to me that a person’s face can be completely transformed by a passing thought. While beautiful lighting and composition are the foundation of all photographs, it is expression and emotion that give them life. With the technical aspects second nature, I am free to engage with people on a deeply personal level, put them at ease in front of the camera, and draw out natural expressions. This defines my work.

In addition to headshots and portraiture, I also work on developing my artistic vision which lately has been bringing me back to old cameras and film. A common theme that runs through my work is Time and how we perceive it—a dancer whose expression and motion are frozen in a split second capturing what is not perceptible to the naked eye, and the night sky in which we see light from distant stars as they shone before the dawn of humanity.

I am thankful that I am able to express myself through photography and for how it changes the way I see—people, light and a thousand little things that most people don’t notice. There are always new sources of inspiration and more techniques to master. It’s a journey that will never end as long as I can hold a camera. And I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

I am grateful for my teachers who have been invaluable to me along the way. They have included Peter Faulkner and Kirk Jalbert (b&w processing, zone system), Kevin Focht (fashion and studio), Scott Stulberg (headshots and natural light), Richard Radstone (studio lighting), Pierre Chiha (portraiture), Sue Bryce (contemporary portraiture) and Peter Hurley, headshots (SHABANG!).

Kathryn Costello