Category Archives: Behrens Blog

Personal blog of Mark Behrens Photography

Rock Star Families!

Very few families these days are looking for the traditional family portrait; I’m not saying this to give you the excuse to revolt against sound lighting and posing techniques. It is however a revolt against the same old thing, nobody wants a family portrait that looks like everyone else’s.

I realized a few years back that when I approached a family photo the same way I approached a rock band promo my sales went way up. By using extreme angles or by shooting from directly above from a ladder or standing on top of a hill to capture a unique angle, shooting from a lower position or even lying down on the ground creates a different feel.


There are so many unique ideas out there, try just shooting a families feet hanging over a picnic table or have each family member hold pieces of paper with letters written on them that spell a word, a family of four can hold up the letters L-O-V-E.

Consider placing subjects in unusual settings, of late my favorite setting is a junk pile behind the local concrete plant. Turn those families into Rock Stars!!!

Posing is for posers…

I have officially re-launched my photography workshops  under my Lighting Asylum umbrella which are focusing more than ever on helping photographer develop and learn skills that matter in the real world. There is plenty of fluff out there and multiple opportunities to photograph “pretty” people, I want to teach techniques!


Last week was no exception as myself and whole Lighting Asylum team put on a “Posing” workshop. The class was attended by 17 photographers from all over Northern California and 7 models.


We met early on Saturday morning and took a two hour photo walk around Old Town Sacramento, this gave us a chance to get caught up with old friends and meet new ones.


After the photo walk it was off to class where  we mixed both instruction on stage with hands on assignments, I always say that it is one thing to see something done, it’s another to have to do it yourself.


We are looking forward to a more advanced posing class soon as well as we already have a September 13th Photoshop class scheduled for the Sacramento area!

How’s your composition?

What is the second most important thing a photographer must have in order to be a great photographer?

In his book Learning to See Creatively, Bryan Peterson, stated “There is no better time to crop a bad composition than just before you press the shutter release”.

Imagine for a minute that every time you pressed the shutter on your camera you ended up with the exact image you envisioned.


If there’s one element that can radically improve your photographs, one feature that can lift your picture from snapshot to art, it’s a sense of composition. Today’s cameras and image processing software provide impressive control over exposure and color balance, but your photos will never succeed if the contents don’t gel together.

Just as a composer has to arrange a piece of music, deciding which instruments will work together, which sounds flow and which clash, so it is that a photographer has to construct powerful images from the visual overload hitting them from all directions. To picture a scene through a photographer’s eyes is very different to just looking at it for what it is.


Are you ready to dive in? We are beginning a series of blog posts on composition to remind some of the rules, introduce others to them and encourage all to keep pressing the shutter button! After all, we are all addicted to the same thing… photography!

Read the book by Bryan Peterson
Get to know a photographer that inspires me!



Do you have anything that you are really passionate about? You know …something that you just cannot not stop thinking about; something that frequently wakes you up in the middle of the night?

About thirteen years ago I became passionate about photography. It started with my friend John who had been a professional photographer many years before. Though he is about twenty years older than me, John and I have shared many interests over the years. He is a great friend.

At first I was like every other amateur photographer just shooting pictures at random hoping something would be spectacular. Occasionally I would take a nice picture, but nothing out of the ordinary. Under John’s guidance I upgraded my camera several times and then began adding lenses and filters. And the pictures certainly got better as I learned how to properly use each new thing. But still, none of the pictures were like the ones I saw as I perused the photographic books and magazines on my regular trips to Barnes and Noble.

I was eager to learn all I could from John and I will always be indebted for all he taught me and for generating that spark that became a passion. One of my best memories is teaching a photography class at the local college with John. But, the professional quality pictures that I so longed for still eluded my grasp.

Then one day it hit me. It was as if a light had gone on in my head that revealed the missing secret to taking great, professional quality photographs.

The light that went off was the light itself!

Lighting! That was the secret; the missing ingredient in my formula.

Oh sure, I knew about lights and had read articles and watched videos about lighting, but by and large they all said the same basic thing, “Place your lights here.” I did that, but there had to be more to it. And believe me, there is.

I spent the next few years learning EVERYTHING I could about lighting. Frankly, I was surprised at the limited information available but gradually I began to put it all together. Like anything else, once you understand all of the elements and put them together, fantastic things begin to happen. And so it was with my photography.

Now I was taking those photographs that generate the oohs and ahs at the local photography club. More and more, other photographers, including many professional photographers, were asking questions like how I was able to get such rich tones in my photographs, how I was able to generate such depth, and many other similar questions.

While anyone of these photographers could probably write a book about f-stops, iso speeds, and other technical aspects of photography, it was amazing how few recognized the correlation of these technical aspects to lighting.

I was encouraged to teach others what I had learned and actually started conducting workshops throughoutNorthern California. At this point more than 3,000 photographers have attended these workshops. The feedback I have received has been nothing short of phenomenal, but I guess that’s not surprising when you are following your passion.

Conducting live photographic workshops is arduous …and expensive. Typically, it involves the efforts many people and is limited to a specific location.

The one thing I hear over and over from those who have attended my workshops is that it is too bad I cannot reach a larger audience. Please understand, these comments come from photographers who have invested tens of thousands of dollars in equipment!

Well, I’ve found the answer! It seemed crazy at first. Why not take the mountain to Mohamed?
How could we do that? By taking all of the information presented in our local workshops and putting it all into a video. So crazy was the idea, that after 18 months of work putting it all together, we decided that we would call it, ”The Lighting Asylum.” How crazy is that?!?!?

Teaming with Blown Apart Studios, “The Lighting Asylum” DVD presents everything I teach in our live workshops …and more. We have produced, what we feel, is the most thorough teaching ever produced on lighting. We held nothing back. It’s all here in our one hour video.

DVD stacksmall

Order Your copy today!

What is real beauty? Are you looking for it? (Part 2)

Occasionally we need to be quiet if we want to see beauty, if you’re finding it hard to find a subject to photograph maybe it’s because you’re being so loud that you miss the beauty all around you.

Steam engine builder
It’s not until the shop goes quiet that we see the love for his craft really come out, just try and stop him from talking about past projects.

Let’s talk about poetry, they say the poet says in twenty words what the author takes a thousand pages to say. The poet composes with words, using only the most important ones…

sometimes the beauty is because of what has been left out

How about trying to compose your next photo with poetry, poetry doesn’t contain everything, sometimes the beauty is because of what has been left out.


Remember when a mentioned the photo of my son with his new baby sister? Sometimes beauty is deep and comes from meaning… Do you want to make more meaningful photos? The answer is simple, photograph something that means something to you.

Christopher looking back
One of my favorite personal photos, I can still hear my son yelling “come on Dad, the beach”!

I’m sure you have heard this expression “The eyes are the window to the soul”? I believe it! More often than not beauty is found in the eyes. Try making a portrait where they steal the show.

The eyes have it.
There is no doubt that the eyes are the subject here.

Beauty is all around you, are you willing to look for it? When you do; the ordinary becomes extraordinary! To just sit and wait for beauty to find you… Now that’s a sin, it’s just sad… Go seek it out, you’ll find it, I promise.

Family time
Nothing more beautiful than special moments with family. So beautiful that all the late nights, sickness and bad attitudes are worth it…

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen

My good friend Boris Borisov inside the giant kilns outside of Death Valley

You’re a photographer, look for life’s imperfections, these are how the light gets in.

Read part one, did you miss it?

What is real beauty? Are you looking for it? (Part 1)

Have you ever really thought through the idea of beauty? Is it a tangible thing? Sure it is, however beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. Let’s look at an example, I can show you a photo of my son with his hair all a mess and a smile filled with missing teeth and all I see is beauty. I don’t see beauty just because he’s my son, I see beauty because I know that smile on his face is there because also in this photo is his brand new one day old sister, he’s no longer JUST a little brother… He’s now a BIG brother!

My son with his little sister
He’s no longer just a little brother… He’s a big brother!


Beauty can be found in the most unusual of places. Sometimes beauty is profound, I can be heard in the lyric of a song, speaking of such things as redemption, victory even loss. Every time I hear Steven Curtis Chapman sing about the loss of his young daughter I don’t hear despair, I hear beauty. Sometimes the flaw in beauty is bigger than a physical flaw, it can be loss…


So many times beauty is not found in order or symmetry but it’s found in the scars and imperfections. Think about that odd beauty left behind after a forest fire, can you see those beautiful dark scars framed by a brilliant sunset…

Burned forest
There is beauty in the scars


Helen Keller once said, and I’m paraphrasing “the most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or touched, they must be felt”.

Baby girl
Nothing more beautiful than the unconditional love of a child.


I so love photos of people who have let their guard down, when they are not trying to fake a smile, when they are just being themselves. I think this is why I’m drawn to the works of Richard Avedon or Irving Penn; both photographers had this ability to capture the soul of a person rather than the face they are trying to show the world.



Stay tuned for part two…

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