Osborn on Osborn & The Anatomy of a Photo Session


"For many years I loved being a scenic art photographer, my images inspired by the grand vistas of Ansel Adams and the wonderful detail studies of Edward Weston, with a dollop of my own proclivities tossed in.

However, for the past decade I have been completely, totally, utterly captivated by art portrait photography. People. More to the point; Montana people.

This has led to an extraordinary circumstance: I have been invited into deep reservation life and permitted to photograph the people. This is a huge honor and a unique opportunity to make powerful, eloquent images.

Don Rattling Thunder La Rocque is a member of the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes. He is a Sun Dancer, a Ghost Dancer, a modern day warrior for his people, and a friend of mine. He is my guide and advisor on the reservation. He looks out for me. Without him, these street people photographs would not be possible.

On photographing the homeless: I see bone-deep despair. I see people with nothing left to lose, nowhere else to go, with no escape except into alcohol or meth. If every bit of this is not in my final image, it will be weak and have little to say. If all of this is in the image, it can have the power to change people, to affect the lot of the Indian homeless, possibly even to change the reservation.

On photographing traditional Indians: I see dignity and pride. I see warrior strength and bravery. I see history and sorrow and distrust of the white man in general and of this white photographer in particular. I understand all of this. I try to capture all of it. I want all of it to be in the final image." - R. O., Livingston, Montana

Note: All profits from the street people photographs will be used to directly benefit the Fort Peck Indian Reservation homeless.


"To me, my photo sessions are creative whirlwinds of intent, empathy, imagination. Time bends. Ideas appear, fly around, collide, separate…sometimes to rejoin in wonderful new ways.

But to describe this to someone else with any clarity I need to divide it into its component parts…

·      Prior to the photo session I will have developed some ideas to work with. I begin the session with these ideas and by setting my preliminary lighting. Lighting will improve as the creative ideas improve.

·      During the session I talk to and listen to my subject. Sometimes I'm listening for something that might add a new element, sometimes I'm directing, sometimes I'm verbally pursuing an emotion or an attitude.

·      As the session progresses I carefully watch my subject for some unplanned movement or expression; something that speaks of the true, unguarded person. This can lead to an image that is better than anything I could have planned or imagined.

·      Make or break for the image I am creating is the look in my subject's eyes. Their eyes must tell their story. Their facial characteristics and expression and everything else in the picture should add to or support that story, including the lighting. But their eyes must tell the story.

·      I try to get their hands into the picture. Hands add to the story and provide a strong compositional element. Always, always I'm thinking about composition.

·      Affecting everything in my photo sessions is a driving desire to create beautiful, enduring, powerful, singular pieces of photographic art that will stand on their own, speak for themselves, and have something important to say.

Mix all this with some persistence and determination, some luck and maybe a little magic, and you have a Robert Osborn photo session." - R.O., Livingston, Montana

Photo by j.d. VanLandingham