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OFF THE CUFF

In Portrait Photography, Flattery Is an Art Form

March 23, 1995

E verybody's a star at Figge Photography, a family-owned business in Newport Beach that's been primping, posing and photographing clients from the ordinary to the extraordinary for 50 years. Subjects have included Richard Nixon and more than 40 Playboy centerfolds (not in the same shot). Greg Figge, 47, son of founders Bill and Melba Figge, learned the technical side of the business from his dad, who died in 1976. The creative side comes from his mother, who, though in her 70s, still assists Greg by touching up clients' makeup, selecting clothes and using her trademark blue humor to keep them at ease. With the right makeup and lighting, Greg Figge says, anybody can be photogenic.

This is another in a series of first-person columns that allow people connected to the fashion industry to talk about their encounters.

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There are a few hams in the world, but most people don't want to have their pictures taken. To them it's like having their teeth cleaned. Most people are here at the prodding of someone else--spouse, partner or for business reasons--and they put it off as long as they can before they finally come in.

The session really starts when they walk in the door. We get them to talk about themselves so we can know them, and we get them to feel comfortable. There are a lot of great photographers who do what we do, but they aren't as much fun.

If we can get them to feel relaxed, we'll get good expressions from them. Our work tries to have a lively, nice feeling to it. You can see in the clients' faces that they're having fun; it's not a fake smile.

The shooting part is actually pretty easy. There's a lot of analyzing that takes place before a client goes in front of the camera. We check out their best angle and set up the lighting that's most flattering. People want to be flattered as much as possible.

If the photograph is for business, I use a little diffusion, but I will diffuse it to make it even softer if it's a sexy shot for a husband or boyfriend.

We do as much as we can with makeup and lighting, but if you want to look your best in a photo, get lots of sleep. You should act as if you're like any actress or model; take care of yourself and it will show. Also, wear clothes that make you feel confident and you'll look great.

We allow an hour to an hour and a half for a shoot. It takes more time if it's a big family or if the client wants to change clothes several times.

Proofs take a week. The usual reaction to the proofs is that most people are thrilled, but there may be one thing they don't like. Maybe they don't like how their head is tipped, but we can crop the photo and fix it. We can also change a photograph by making the print light or darker, or with retouching.

But we're not egomaniacs. We'll shoot it all over again to please a client. Sometimes it's like a baseball player; you have to swing more than once to hit a home run.

The most unusual assignments we get are location shoots. We've photographed weddings in Panama, several in Idaho, Colorado and Hawaii. We get an interesting road trip every year, and that means a free vacation for us.

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