Recession-Proof Photography

by Caresse Muir

Linnea Lenkus

August 01, 2011 —  Her clients pay for her ability to connect with them and capture those special moments that look into the soul or portray relationships. Many of her clients come back time after time because they love Linnea’s work. “I know the type of expression I am looking for and I know when people are connecting. It’s usually after they give me the expression they think I want. I make sure to take the image when they let their guard down,” Linnea explains.

Linnea is constantly looking for emotional moments while photographing. She wants her clients to look natural and genuine, and looks for that image where the viewer can feel or imagine what the subject is thinking or feeling. Her background in psychology enables her to find the meaning behind the person, as opposed to simply taking a picture. Her fine art portraits reveal what is beautiful and unique in each person, whether her subject is a pregnant woman, a baby, toddler or an entire family. Linnea says, “While studying a person in a session I watch for clues in body language or the way they talk about things, about their families and about their place in the world. Everyone is defensive and covers up who they are inside. I am always trying to mirror them back to themselves, which I guess is what a psychologist does.”

All the years of working with her camera and her ability to capture her client’s emotions led her to specialize in pregnancy and baby photography. Linnea’s goal was to capture the excitement of new or expecting parents celebrating a new life. “When one of my portraits is displayed in a client’s home and guests enter and say ‘Wow,’ then I know I’ve done my job.” Her pregnancy portraits have a simple, elegant look, and are emotionally evocative because they are raw with no clutter to distract a viewer from the emotion. Linnea likes to capture newborns when they are just days old and “tiny and tender.” She reminisces about the portraits she treasures most—of her son at 11 days old and her twins at five weeks. Her son is now nine and her twins seven. Because she has twins, Linnea has photographed many multiples over the years. One technique she likes is to focus on the baby or child and have parts of the parents (shoulder or hands) in the background.

Sensing stranger anxiety in her younger clients and how they relate to their various relatives is key. Linnea has literally photographed thousands of children and has a sixth sense of how to conduct the session and a natural ability to bring shy children out of their shells. “It takes a child to photograph a child,” she says. “I find inspiration in kids because they are so free and full of life. I love to present that to parents because it is such a wonderful sliver of who they really are.”

Celebrities and creative professionals ranging from art directors, graphic designers, set designers and movie directors all count themselves among Linnea’s clients. “It used to make me feel very uneasy to photograph their families,” she says. “But then I realized that it was the ultimate compliment that these creative individuals chose me. Interestingly, they have a total trust in my vision.” Her fine art images have been featured on television, in newspaper stories, billboards and on magazine covers worldwide. Her clients have come from as far away as Asia, Scandinavia, Australia and throughout North America. She recently photographed Brooke Burke and married thespians Sterling Brown and Ryan Bathe.

Linnea credits her talent for recognizing and interpreting her subjects’ frame of mind to her academic background. She grew up in Las Vegas in a family of three children. “I compulsively study people. It comes from being the youngest in my crazy family.” When Linnea was deciding what to do after high school graduation her father suggested the lucrative career of a showgirl, but she chose to move to L.A. where a chance meeting with Eileen Ford (of Ford Models) ended with a recommendation that the six-foot-tall Linnea pursue modeling. She was quickly hired by Wilhelmina Models and was sent to Paris to model. It was while she was modeling that Linnea developed her love of studio lighting. “I always knew how to direct the photographers in how to light my shoots. It was as if I had an innate ability to see and feel the light.”

However, she found the lifestyle a little to fast for her liking and, after one year, moved back to California where she attended college and earned a degree in psychology. Linnea decided not to become a psychologist and instead began a series of jobs in various photography-related businesses including labs, camera stores and studios. She took courses at Santa Monica College and extension courses to learn more about her future craft. “My first assignment was to show my work in front of class. I was horrified and didn’t turn it in. But when I saw the work of the gear-toting, specs-bragging, bravado guys in my class I knew I had nothing to worry about,” she says. Linnea became an expert working with children while working at Kinderphoto, a chain portrait studio. She officially began her career as a professional photographer in Los Angeles in 1990, and then moved to Seattle in 1992, where she opened a studio.

She and her husband eventually moved back to the L.A. area where she opened her fine art studio in Long Beach, CA in 1998. Linnea decided to open another studio in Pasadena, CA and a third in Irvine, CA so that her busy clients wouldn’t have to drive so far to have their portraits created. She travels to each studio for her sessions. Her art consultant meets with the clients after their sessions and shows them the images Linnea has created and handles the sales. Most clients order several wall portraits and often a memory box with matted 8 x 10 images. Gallery wraps are becoming very popular as well. Linnea sells about half of her images printed in color and half in black and white. She also gives her clients low-resolution files with her logo embossed for Facebook and feels that it satisfies most of her clients’ needs for computer display and is also great advertising.

A self-proclaimed digital enthusiast, Linnea says, “Don’t give me diamonds and jewelry. Give me computers and camera gear and every new thing they’re making. I am not your usual chick.” She uses two Canon EOS 5Ds, along with a host of studio strobes and a dozen computers. She manages her Web site as well as her husband’s, currently getting over 3000 hits a day.

Linnea will soon be offering online seminars to teach other photographers how they can achieve similar success. She advises all aspiring photographers: “Don’t hang a shingle until you know your craft. Work for other photographers; work in sales, labs and camera stores. Find out why and how things work and practice, practice, practice until you find your voice. Don’t find your voice through your clients.”

“And when you do become good enough to open your business, charge for your talents. Don’t compete in price with the mall photography studios. Educate your clients as to what they are receiving when they hire you. And if they don’t value what you do, they are not your clients.”

Even though the recession has hit many photographers hard, Linnea’s ability to connect with her clients, create one-of-a-kind art and educate them as to its value is proving recession-proof for her and her three studios.
For more information about Linnea Lenkus Fine Art Portrait Studios please go to www.linnealenkus.com and www.fineart
nudeportraits.com.


Caresse Muir specializes in family, high school senior and children’s portraits.  She has owned her own photography business for 14 years in San Diego, California. She has been a contributing writer for Rangefinder magazine for over six years.

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