Schenectady County

Families smile for camera at Help Portrait event

It had been six years since Melissa Krom’s family had posed for any kind of a portrait.

It had been six years since Melissa Krom’s family had posed for any kind of a portrait.

Krom said it’s difficult to get her family together for a photograph. But she made the effort Saturday and brought her sons Peter Krom, 16, Shane Conway, 23, her daughters Breeana Aricl, 24, Jasmine Krom, 15, and Kaitlyn Krom, 6, as well as her grandmother, Lillian Proctor, 84, and her boyfriend, Troy Fludd, to the community center of Christ Church on State Street.

Krom’s family was one of approximately 100 who had professional portraits taken for free at Christ Church as part of an event called Help Portrait.

“It was our chance to get a family photo and my grandmother, we don’t ever really have a picture of her as part of all of us together, so we wanted to get one for Christmas,” she said.

The Capital Region Help Portrait event was organized by photography enthusiasts Cynthia Smith and Matt Milless, who are part of a Yahoo Internet group of photographers from the Capital Region. Smith said one of the members of the group discovered the international Help Portrait day event, founded by professional photographer Jeremy Cowart, and decided they should try to have a Help Portrait event in Schenectady.

According to Cowart’s Web site — — there were approximately 420 Help Portrait events Saturday in about 55 countries. The purpose is to spread enjoyment of photography to people unable to afford professional portraits. Free family portraits were donated at every Help Portrait location.

Milless, who works for Union College and takes pictures of Division 3 sports teams part-time, said his group organized six professional portrait photographers who agreed to donate their time.

“So many of us in our society take for granted photography, photos and images. It’s so important to be able to document family history and moments in life through photography. All of us sit home and sit with old photo albums,” Milless said. “I think creating an opportunity for people who may not be able to get high-quality portraits taken is just so exciting.”

Each family who participated in the Help Portrait event will receive three free photo prints. The largest will be 8 by 10 inches, another will be 5 by 7 inches and the smallest 4 by 6 inches. Families also receive a free compact disc with all of the digital images.

Milless said a company called will print all of the photos after he uploads the pictures to the Web site.

Smith said, “They are giving us a substantial discount. They’re absorbing most of the cost and the rest is paid for by donation.” The time from the professional photographers was donated.

Dennis Hays, the photographer who did the Krom family’s portrait, said he’s worked part-time as a portrait photographer for about 30 years. He said to take a good portrait the lighting is essential.

“You design the lighting to flatter somebody,” Hays said. “If somebody has a big, round face then you want to have more shadows on one side so it thins them out and it’s more flattering. If somebody has a very thin face you do the opposite. You give them almost a flat lighting on the front and it makes their face look bigger.”

Hays said there are many tricks to the portrait trade.

“If they have a prominent feature, a nose, if it’s a big nose you probably want to put the head more forward so it diminishes the size of the nose, rather than turn them to the side.”

The Kroms said it was good experience having Hays take their picture.

“He was funny,” Jasmine said.

Hays said getting his subjects to relax and forget they are having their picture taken is also a key factor in portrait taking. His experience taking portraits has given him insights into the psychology of families.

“Unfortunately, we’ve seen a family or two come in where you could see that the family dynamic is not healthy and it’s a lot of work then because the children don’t want to express themselves,” he said.

Smith said her group is already discussing plans for another Help Portrait event next year. She said she’d like to see two venues for the portraits and perhaps a doubling of the families helped to about 200.

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