Making A “Monte” Portrait
Take A Simple, Direct Approach

Photos © 2004, Monte Zucker, All Rights Reserved

My philosophy in my work: I don't photograph the world as it is; I photograph it as I want it to be. So, yes, I'm an incurable romantic. I confess.

Some of the portraits here were created digitally within the last year or two; some were created in the "olden" days before digital (25-30 years ago). These images are exactly as they appear in a new book of mine that was published recently by PictoBooks ( The original book is 15x15". It's available in the full size and in a smaller 5x5 version by contacting them (e-mail: Most of the images are printed on metallic paper--incredible to see and hold!

I gave the files to PictoBooks and they designed the entire setup. Each page carries my message with it. The photographs are displayed with good taste and not a lot of digital effects that take away from the images themselves are applied. It's difficult for some to not use the many gimmicks that are available now in digital printing. My hat is off to PictoBooks for preserving the dignity of my work. Here's a peek at some of their layouts:

Stay Under Cover For Directional Light
Over 30 years ago I made this picture under the eaves of the rooftop of a barn. I had no idea then that this was to be the beginning of a style that I later developed for outdoor portraiture--that is, keeping the subject under cover to get directional light. The outline of the photograph was created in Photoshop by going to Filter/Stylize/Find Edges and then changed to black and white.

Faces And Feelings
This page really shows me doing my thing--focusing on how people relate to each other in serious, smiling, sensuous, and, all the time, loving ways.

What's there is what I want you to see. Everything else has been left out. Whether square (Hasselblad, film-based era) or rectangular (I'm using Canon's EOS 20D now for everything), I usually crop in the viewfinder. The background for these pictures is a small selection from the fabric that was draped around the woman in the larger image. The selection is then stretched in Photoshop through Edit/Free Transform to cover the entire page; the other photographs are then layered on top of it.

Cheating With Window Light
It was almost like cheating when I photographed these models for an advertisement; my first professional digital camera. The reason that I say it was cheating is that there were a complete bank of ceiling-to-floor windows to my left. Large translucent panels that created an effect that you would get from north light windows covered them. White ceiling, walls, and floor bounced the light everywhere. Still, the main light was coming from my left. An additional wall of windows was at each end of the commercial studio. They were covered by sheer curtains that were taped to the walls.

The photographs were made in New York City with the help of Clay Blackmore and about 25 assistants walking around the studio. They were there to take care of the clothes, hair, makeup, accessories, kids, and me--what a fabulous experience! None of these pictures were selected for the ad, but they gave me lots of practice.

To keep the mirror from reflecting the studio background I positioned large white panels on wheels so that they were the only things that showed in the mirror. I removed the edges of the panels in Photoshop.

Black And White From Color
Both of these black and white family portraits were made under incredibly difficult circumstances. When you just can't get people to look at the camera and smile you can always get them to look at something or somebody. I felt like it was a miracle when I got both of these pictures.

I changed them from color to black and white by going into Channels in Photoshop and selecting either the red, blue, or green channel, depending on my inspection of each. I then changed the mode to gray scale, getting rid of all the color. Finally, I switched it back to RGB and did the final adjustments to contrast and brightness.

Full-Length Bridals
What do you see when you look at this page of full-length brides? The answer: Brides and gowns--not necessarily a lot of landscape. Why don't I take a lot of pictures outdoors in pretty gardens? Because I like to work in controlled lighting situations with simple backgrounds that add to the composition rather than distract from it. In my opinion, many photographers go out into the open areas because they feel that they don't have to worry about lighting. In fact, however, it's much easier to work as I do.
Take a good look at some of the illustrations on this page of my book. Notice, by the way, that although there are many images on this two-page spread, there is nothing in the arrangement to take your eye away from the subjects. The layout is simple. It displays the images just the way I want them to be seen.

For the couple with the stained glass window behind them, I exposed for the window and matched my Quantum digital flash to the exposure of the window. A wide angle lens with the couple up close to the camera made them stand out and caused the window to act as a simple background.

The bride with the huge train was photographed under cover at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, with all natural light. A part of the back of her gown is the background for the whole double-page spread.