Guest Blog: Environmental Portrait Photographer and Conceptual Digital Artist Kirk Marsh


Over and over again, we are told to create a personal style. As we find our personal style, it starts to become recognizable and that is fantastic. What do we do when the bookings start to come in more and more and the work starts to become, well…work? Many people relish this thought, but coming to terms with the reality of creating the same type of image day in and day out for clients can become a grind.

Several photographers whom I highly respect have had this happen to them in my chosen field of compositing. I find myself struggling with this as well. It can sometimes be a long slog for an image, sometimes up to 40 hours for some of my projects, and it’s not always easy to complete them in a timely manner. Your vision doesn’t always align with the client’s vision, and it can make for images you don’t always find to be your best work.

This composite was shot in two different states. My model Jason Barnes (who incidentally just landed the ‘Earth: Shot on iPhone’ campaign-look for his lizard photo on a billboard near you!) was photographed in San Antonio and the Venardos Circus tent was photographed in Florida. Then I had to rent a bicycle and overlay leaves.
Working time: 6 hours

Another possibility is you become restless in your creativity and want to try other things, but the time isn’t there because you’re creating work for other people and for goodness sake, you’re an artist! You need to experiment and ‘art!’

So, I’m encouraging you to shake it up! If you do epic composite work, try some natural light portraiture (terrifying to me, but I do it every once in awhile). If you make natural light photographs, push your boundaries and try a strobe. If you like landscapes, mix in a human. If you only shoot studio portraits, try some street photography.

Well over 8 hours of work as well as combing through countless stock photos to match what is on the pinball machine or what this performer uses in his magic performances. Take a look at the pinball machine image and we recreated it basically in this guy’s house. This is The Amazing Arthur. Omaha, Nebraska

Make a simple personal project. For you and only you. What would you like to create? Start doing that thing now. Do it little by little, so you are creating more of what you love. If there is any way that it will make you money in the future, fantastic. If it won’t, that is fine as well. This is for you. Your own personal creativity. Getting you out of the box of other people’s ideas or what other people expect you to post on IG. The expansion of your mind, your eye and possibly even create a new portfolio are great excuses to experiment while creating new content.

What I have been doing for the past several years is to shake up my composite work with portraits and environmental portraits with one or two strobes. Simple work with simple backgrounds, and the editing must be quick. It’s about the opposite of creating a composited image. For me it almost feels like I’m cheating. There is very little pre-planning, and I use some simple umbrella boxes I made that pack really small. For me it’s almost improv photography.

Two hours worth of work plus a photo shoot with the model and capturing the moon in my friend’s amazing telescope.
Model: Bethany Bond

Most of the time it is men I’m photographing for this respite from my work as they are so much easier to photograph for me. I am not trying to recreate the portrait world in these moments. I’m simply trying to capture a moment of time, a beautiful image, and their personality in one simple click of the shutter.

This work is faster, simpler, and different than what I am known for, and on Instagram it doesn’t get as much love most of the time. That’s okay! I’m completely fine with that because it makes me look more broadly at my photography. There is less PS in these images, but there is still some because I don’t feel any shot is complete straight out of camera. Some kind of dodging/burning, color correction, sharpening, etc. is usually needed.

Suggestions For A Photo Shake-Up

Here are some suggestions for you to shake up your photography and create something new:

Read your camera manual and try something you haven’t done before.

  • Long Exposure with Rear Curtain Sync anyone? Always interesting to me.
  • Stroboscopic Flash?

Take your camera with you somewhere you wouldn’t normally do so.

  • Ask people to do a portrait at the gas station.
  • Go to a senior center, community center, or dog shelter.

Reach out to someone who can put fresh faces in front of your lens.

  • Collegiate acting class (call the instructor first)
  • Improv comedy club
  • Contact HR wherever you are currently working and do headshots – silly or serious or anything you’d like.

Choose whatever you WOULD love to photograph if you could photograph anything. Figure out a way to make that happen, and you’ll be brightening your future and making yourself more excited about your photography.

Use these images to create a new portfolio for yourself or a gallery exhibit that you can place somewhere. You only need about 6-10 images for a gallery and about 15-20 at the most for a small portfolio. I did this with environmental portraits and got to photograph some random people I had met at different networking events. I was able to photograph Bruce Manner of NASA for an environmental portrait portfolio build. He is in charge of avionics for the International Space Station. He makes things happen in space. So cool!

This is a project I decided to work on for a group of performers with the limitations of one light and one location:

This is a model test with one light at midday in full sun to see if I could do it. They look NOTHING like what I normally do for a shoot.

This is a two light setup I’m enamored with right now. One large umbrella box behind and one medium umbrella box in front at the same power. Studio anywhere.

So, mix it up a little bit here and there so you can continue to find the joy in your passions. Keeping your work fresh and your mind happy to create will keep you working for a long time. Find your projects that inspire and make some experiments along the way. Drop me a line and show me what you’ve done to step out of the box and try something different.

Have a great time with whatever you’re creating and it will pay you back in fulfillment. Enjoy it all!

Kirk Marsh is an environmental portrait photographer and conceptual digital artist. With a background in the performing arts and circus (he toured with The Greatest Show on Earth for a year as a clown after attending Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Clown College. He has also toured his solo silent comedy show around the world to over 53 countries) he has a style that is influenced heavily by magical realism and the fictions of our own minds.

You can see more of Kirk’s work at, and keep up with him on Instagram and Facebook.

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