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Monday, March 30, 2015


Photographers do it with light!  This is downtown Billings Montana at night, photographed through my awesome studio windows.  The lights shining through the old school windows in my studio looked like brush strokes to me.  I’ve had painting on the mind lately, hanging out with painters, shooting paintings in the studio, and painting some new backgrounds.  I made this photo after 2AM as I finished shooting a painting in the studio.  It was a long day, and I was bleeding thanks to running my face into an umbrella pole on a lightstand.  It was a scary cut because I barely missed poking my eye out (my right eye though, which is less important than my left J).  But all of that and my bed calling me, and I still couldn’t pass up this pretty light.  It’s during moments like this that I am so thankful to be doing what I love and am passionate about.  I can never get enough photography.

First and foremost, I am a wedding photographer.  I shoot a lot of things, but they all help me to become a better photographer and I put every ounce of skill that I gain into my weddings.  Everything I shoot is like pre-season for wedding season.  Despite my specialization in wedding photography, I don’t shoot a large number of weddings.  I try to shoot 10 or less each year and the reason is because I give each wedding my full artistic attention and every last bit of effort I have.  I go to great lengths for my wedding clients, sometimes traveling around the world with them, or hiking to the tops of the earth.  There is no wedding too big, too small, or too remote for me.  Each one is special and each one deserves my full creative force, with nothing routine or ordinary about the way I work.  I’ll never be burned out, I’ll never be tired from the wedding I shot the day before (because I don’t shoot more than one wedding a week), my creativity will always be at 100% and I’ll never give anything but my absolute best effort.  That much I can guarantee.  www.paulbellinger.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Leslie and Rebecca rocked their corporate headshots!  I’m so glad they came to me for an upgrade, and chose to go with the ultra-modern horizontal headshot on a black background, which is definitely the hottest trend in headshots.  Most screens are horizontal, or at least have a horizontal viewing option (such as phone), so horizontal photos tend to look better and draw more attention.  A horizontal photo also crops nicely to a square, which is useful for social media, profile photos, and is also growing in popularity.  Here in Billings Montana the horizontal headshot is almost a totally new concept, so it has the added advantage of helping it’s users stand out from the crowd that much more while the rest of Billings catches on.  Using black as a background is both modern and timeless and works to further emphasize the subject rather than the background.  The traditional vertical head and shoulder headshot is not going away, but increasingly people prefer to have a more modern horizontal headshot to go with it.  I offer one of each with my “All Business” corporate headshot package, along with square crops, and black and white versions of each.

Tips for photographers:
The most difficult thing about headshots is that the subject expects a very quick session, usually less than 15 minutes.  With such little shooting time you’re not going to get a lot of great expressions out of the subject so you better be ready to catch them when they happen.  You can’t be fiddling with lights and composition, and you can’t miss focus.  Cropping.  There is an art to cropping someone’s head and it’s not always easy to find the perfect crop.  Sometimes it comes naturally when I’m shooting, and if it doesn’t, I try to find the right crop as soon as possible when the subject comes in.  If I’m struggling I’ll give myself a little breathing room to crop in post, but I prefer not too.  Lighting.  This is a two light corporate headshot technique.  These photos are lit with one 3x4 foot softbox camera left about a foot above head height (meaning the strobe head is about a foot above head height, not the entire softbox) and about 6-12 inches in front of the subject and perpendicular to the subject so they are hit with feathered light from a large source.  You can see the large catchlight in the eye.  The result is very soft light that is flattering for all skin types with some directionality to shape the face.  There is a 4x8 foot white reflector out of frame to camera right to bounce the soft light back onto the shadow side of the face.  This further softens the transition from highlight to shadow, but it doesn’t eliminate the shadows so there is still some dimension in the face (that’s why I prefer to use a reflector rather than another light source, it will automatically adjust to whatever you do with the main light, but will never wash out the shadows).  The background is lit with a second light, a bare strobe with 6 inch reflector about 3 feet above the subject’s head pointed on the background so that none of the light from this light hits the subject at all (you can adjust the placement so that some of this light catches the top of the subjects hair if you want a hair light).  This is a simple, go to lighting technique that is very forgiving and looks good on any subject without the tacky “overlit” look that adding a bunch of strobes can create.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Spring is here for Billings and the mountains aren’t far behind us.  It’s time for summer Brides to start putting the final pieces of the puzzle together and finish planning their upcoming weddings.  For Montana wedding vendors it’s kind of the pre-season, where we start to have a few early season weddings while we gear up for the summer wedding season.  Many wedding vendors are booked entirely for 2015 at this point, so any brides still making decisions had better hurry!  For brides looking for wedding design, planning, rentals, or florals, I’d highly recommend the team that brought together this shoot, with Katie Bennett and Cassie LaGreca at the helm.  These two ladies are raising the bar for Billings Montana weddings and we are lucky to have them here.  Thanks to everyone who made this shoot possible.

Photographer: Paul Bellinger
Model: Hayley Anderson 
Styling: Cassie LaGreca Better To Gather Events
Flowers: Katie Bennett Mac's Floral
Dress: Belle en Blanc
Hair and Makeup: Kendra Halvorsen
Venue: White Deer Ranch, Vacation Rentals
Rentals: Party Time Plus
Assistant: Kaushik "Babu" Mukherjee

Tips for brides: Get your planning done early for a stress free wedding.  If you’re a summer 2015 bride, hopefully you’re already finishing up your wedding planning and putting the final touches in place.  If not, or if your “to do list” is starting to get overwhelming, now is the time to call in the pros to help you out.  Professional wedding designers, coordinators and planners can get you back on track for your wedding.  They are well worth the peace of mind they bring, and without them you’ll almost certainly be stressed out on your wedding day, even if things go well, and that’s not how you want to look back and remember your day.  If you’re a DIY bride and moving forward alone, my best advice is to temper your expectations and not be too hard on yourself for expecting perfection on your first attempt to create a wedding.  Even pros with decades of experience make mistakes every now and then, so don’t expect you will get it perfect on your first try.  About 24 hours before your wedding day you need to just let go of the reins and enjoy one of the greatest events in your life as it begins to unfold (and let your family, especially your mother enjoy it too, without having to do a bunch of work).  Spend time with your family and friends that have come to see you and relish every moment of it.  Because when the wedding is over, it’s the feelings you had on your wedding day that you will remember, and you want it to be all love and friendship, with no stress.

For more wedding photography posts and tips for brides click here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015


It’s that sad time of year when we bid farewell to the snow and the slopes and put the skis away for the year.  This winter was too short and not cold and snowy enough for me!  Now we’ve hit a warm spell and the snow is pretty much ruined at Red Lodge, and there doesn’t appear to be any more snow on the way.  The powder is long gone.  It was a fun season for me, even though we didn’t get great snow until February.  I was lucky to get in a few powder days with my friend Ryan, who didn’t mind posing for a few photos in mid air.  I’m already dreaming of the fresh powder next winter will offer!  Until then I’ll just have to suffer through another beautiful cycle of spring, summer and fall in Montana and all it has to offer.  Let the next adventure begin!

Ryan was kind enough to hit this huge rock jump for me and when we saw this image on the back of the camera it was so cool that he had to do it again so I could try for something a little more “in focus.”  But the landing on the hard pack was rough so we thought he could squeeze into the powder right next to me.  He ended up landing partially on me!  And to add insult to injury, I still liked this out of focus shot better!  Oh well, I wasn’t hurt at all and it was worth the try!

I love being a photographer in Montana.  It’s such a beautiful place and the more I get to know it, the more I am grateful for living here.   I take my camera everywhere and I never stop shooting.  I am obsessed with photography and honing my skills.  I do something photographic everyday, usually most of every day, and my passion only seems to get stronger over time.  I look forward to facing each day as a photographer and getting better with every challenge while I explore this beautiful land.  I'm a lucky man and I won’t take it for granted.

Friday, March 20, 2015


Wow this has been an amazing week!  My friend and model Arley won first place in swimwear on a Global Stars Network cruise competition!  It looks like all of her hard work is paying off because this is her second first place finish in swimwear in the last few months!  Arley is a great model, who besides moving well and knowing how to pose, she’s just a great person that is polite, shows up on time, and works hard on and off set.  She’s fun too!  Thanks Arley and congrats again!!!

These are two of my favorite photos from our most recent session with Arley, and we were blessed with having the amazing Sydney Ross on set for hair and makeup, which is always a treat!  The three of us came in on the Sunday before Arley set sail for her cruise competition so that she could get some extra practice and get a little more comfortable modeling swimsuits and lingerie.  But of course she was already awesome and didn’t need much practice at all!  We made lots of great photos that I’ll share over the next month, so stay tuned!

So many ways this week has been awesome:
I mentioned this was an awesome week!  Besides Arley’s win, the new Kendrick Lamar album dropped a week earlier than expected (on Monday) and this album does not disappoint at all.  It will likely be in the running for album of the year and definitely nominated for best rap album of the year.  I also helped out with a film shoot for the Art House Cinema and Pub on Monday, which had it’s grand opening this week (another huge bonus for Billings this week).  Art House is a pub theater that will also be a hub for local artists, and it was fun to help out.  Another treat was receiving my new camera, the Sony A7ii, as well as a new Zeiss lens, the Loxia 35mm f/2 manual focus lens and I’ve already been putting them to work.  Lastly, my wife got some great news from a publisher that is interested in her book.  To top it off the weather has been great, we’ve been smoking ribs, chickens and pork loins on our smoker all week, and going for hikes on the rims with our dogs.  Wow, we are so blessed!

Tips for photographers:  Before I get to the lighting techniques for these photos, I think the best tip from this shoot is to have a good team on set for any given shoot.  For this shoot there were three of us in my little studio, and that was the perfect number of people for a lingerie shoot in a small space.   Having too many people on hand can clutter up the small studio quickly, and it can get distracting for the photographer and model.  We had Sydney Ross doing hair and makeup in the studio and she was on set for the shooting to make sure everything looked great.  It’s nice having an extra set of eyes that you trust on set.  At most I’d add only one extra person, an assistant.

Lighting info: The first photo is lit with two 4ft softboxes stacked on top of each other out of frame to camera left just a couple of feet in front of Arley.  The light behaves like an 8 foot softbox with two strobes, and the result is super soft, full body light.  Some of the light is spilling onto the gray background, which is otherwise dark in the absence of a dedicated background light.  There are no fill light on Arley’s shadow side, no reflectors out of frame to camera right, just a black wall that absorbs the light from the soft boxes and prevents it from bouncing back onto Arley, leaving her shadow side profile in silhouette.  The separation from her shadow side and the background is entirely created by the little bit of light spilling onto the background from the softboxes (hint, it’s important to put some light on your backgrounds!).  The second photo is lit with a large window out of frame camera right and two large 8 foot white reflectors out of frame camera left bouncing the soft light back onto Arley’s shadow side.  My black curtains are opened in such a way as to create a 4 foot wide bank of light about a foot in front of Arley so that she is being lit with feathered light spilling around the edge of the curtains.  There is some additional fill coming from behind me as there is another 4 foot bank of windows that are diffused with white cloth to produce a very soft front fill (the second window bank is about 12 feet in front of Arley, right behind me to camera right).  I used a tripod so that I could slow down my shutter speed and catch a little motion blur (shot at 1/40th f/2.5 ISO 160 with the Zeiss 55 f/1.8 on the Sony A7 body).

I am Billings Montana portrait photographer, Paul Bellinger and I take the art of portraiture seriously.  It would be my honor to make your portrait.  http://www.portraits.paulbellinger.com

Thursday, March 12, 2015


My beautiful wife is a political scientist at MSUB and I really enjoyed making her new professional headshot.  She is all business when it comes to political science, so she wanted to look serious and chose the most serious pose from the whole set.  She’s not messing around!  Haha!  It was fun to have her in the studio again after a long time.  I used to make her pose for me all the time when I was learning the art of portraiture.  She used to get so mad at me for making her pose for too long!  And that’s usually when I got the best poses out of her, looking mad.  So I love the stern look on her face, it reminds me of the good old days!

Tip for photographers:
This is one of my favorite lighting setups at the studio.  It’s all natural light from a big block of windows out of frame to camera right about two feet from Nisha and two 4x8’ white reflectors in a V pattern opening towards Nisha out of frame to the left.  Without the reflector the shadows on her face would be too dark and her hair would blend into the background even more than it already does.  The background is a black wall.  Beside my preference for black backgrounds, I also like having my walls painted black because it helps control the light in my studio, which can be difficult because it is small, so it’s hard to prevent the light from bouncing everywhere.  With a really large studio it’s easier, because light falls off (reduces in power) over distance, so as long as you have enough space between subject and background you can always make the background go black, or light it separately and make it any exposure or color you’d like, without having the background light affect the subject and vice versa.  But in a small studio we have to use a lot of flags (usually black foam core) to block the light from hitting anything we don’t want and reflecting back into our shot.  It can be tricky, but if you’re struggling in a small studio, I recommend reducing the light from ambient sources, and using flags, grids, and light modifiers that will let you control your strobes.  If you have a window, you can control the quality of the light by opening or closing the curtains (or you can use a flag or reflector if you don’t have curtains) to create just the light you want.  Read more about manipulating natural light in the studio here.

Making lasting portraits of the people I love is one of the most rewarding things about being a professional photographer.  Portraits become more powerful with time, even if they are often taken for granted in the short term.  We will cherish this portrait one day, and I would be honored to make a portrait of you for your loved ones to cherish.  www.portraits.paulbellinger.com

Monday, March 2, 2015


My fashion editorial for Montana Bride magazine featured an early look at spring/summer 2015 fashions from two outstanding designers, Theia and ti Adora by Alvina Valenta.  The Theia dress is featured here and it is truly something special with intricate bead work and sleek silhouette for an elegant and luxurious look.  My jaw dropped when Katalin (the stylist for this shoot and publisher of Montana Bride magazine) pulled this dress out for the shoot.  Katalin has the best eye for style in Montana, hands down, and the connections to get us these dresses straight from the New York bridal fashion runways.  We had an exceptional team for this shoot and it wouldn’t have been possible or successful without everyone on the team.  Thank you all!

See previous photos from this shoot here.

Photographer: Paul Bellinger
Styling: Katalin Green
Hair and makeup: Sydney Ross
Models: Arley Knerr and Braydon Sinclair
Dress: Theia
Hairpiece: Paris by Debra Moreland
Bowtie: Hitched Bowties
Suspenders: Jess Leather
Wedding band: Montague’s Jewelers 
Men’s Clothing: Jim’s Formal Wear
Stylist assistant: Brett Conner
Photo assistant: Zak Jokela
Location: Paul Bellinger Studio, Billings Open Studio

Tips for Brides:
There is a lot that goes into picking out the perfect wedding dress.  You want something that fits your body type, your personal style, your wedding theme, and your pocketbook.  Few people have more expertise in making sure you get all of these things and more than Katalin Green, the stylist for this shoot, publisher of Montana Bride magazine and owner of Avant Bridal, an intimate bridal boutique where you can meet with Katalin herself so she can help you pick out the perfect dress.  Get in touch with Avant Bridal on Facebook here.

Tips for photographers:
There a few different lighting techniques featured here, including natural light and studio strobe.  The first photo is lit with one large beauty dish (mola setti I believe, it’s about 3 feet wide) about 10 feet away from the models and the shadow on the background gives away the placement.  The two photos on the black background are lit with window light.  The window is closed down with the curtains so that the opening is about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide with the opening up high, above 6 feet.  This use of the window light resembles a high beauty dish (or softbox if it’s cloudy outside). The models were surrounded on three sides by black, either a wall or the black side of my V-flat reflector to eat up the light spillage (also known as negative fill) to accentuate the fall off define the shadows more.  The remaining white background photos were all lit with one light, a bare strobe about 12 feet away from the models creating a hard, edgy light that I love in black and white.

I am proud to call myself a Montana wedding photographer and I love to mix studio work with my wedding work, which usually takes place out on location.  I am always working to improve my photographic craft so that I am at my absolute best for my clients, whether it’s a wedding day or a marketing campaign.  It would be my honor to be your photographer.  Please visit http://www.paulbellinger.com for more info about my wedding photography.