The Art of Light in Portrait Photography

Any photograph capturing a special moment is beautiful, I think we can all agree on that. But what makes one better than another? The light.

The word “photography” is based on the Greek words phos meaning light and graphê, meaning drawing or writing. Photography, therefore, is “drawing with light.”

Sometimes you just get the most gorgeous light and it turns a photograph into a piece of magic. And sometimes it’s cloudy and rainy and that’s what you deal with, and it doesn’t mean you can’t still get great images, because you can still show emotion on a cloudy day, and often you can’t reschedule a session last minute.

But when that light hits… it’s amazing. Late afternoon and evening is when you hear about the golden hour or magic hour. It’s true! That nice warm light in the afternoon can take an image from good to downright beautiful.

These images were all taken in late afternoon and early evening and show gorgeous golden light spilling onto the subjects from behind.

I’m not saying you can’t shoot in the middle of the day or in the morning. There’s a little bit of a golden hour REALLY early when the sun just comes up (but the dust and pollution that builds up during the day helps make the afternoon light a little more golden and special, ironically!), and if you’re shooting in open shade, a midday shoot can work. But sometimes it’s difficult. I have shot in midday before because it’s convenient for the client, and I don’t think I’ll budge on that again unless I’m really familiar with the session location and I know we have some nice shaded areas to work with. Don’t shoot in an open area unless you’re prepared with heavy lighting… which can definitely take away from the beauty of an outdoor natural light session.

These images were taken in the middle of the day, but I had lots of open shade to use to my advantage to make nice images. Notice that nobody has harsh light in their face and there aren’t any dark shadows under chins or noses, or black shaded eyes, and every person has a nice catchlight in their eyes, which gives soul to the images.

Now, I could try to dig up old portraits I took before things clicked (ha!) and I realized how important the surroundings are- not so much your backgrounds, but the quality of the light around the people you are photographing- but I won’t embarrass myself and my clients from so long ago.

Next time you get out to take some portraits, remember these tips and see the difference!

Want to schedule a beautiful light session with me? If you’re in the Kansas City area, check out my website and contact me. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook and Instagram!



Jackson is ONE!

I first took photos of this family last fall, and mentioned to Julie, Jackson’s mom, that we should definitely schedule a cake smash photo session for his first birthday. Cake smashes are fun- the kid gets to enjoy some cake, and I get to take some cute and messy photos to celebrate a milestone first birthday. Julie put all the props together for the shoot and we were ready to go!


Except when the birthday boy doesn’t like his cake. That’s right. Julie ordered an adorable cake and Jackson did not know what to do with it. When he tasted a little of the icing, he made a face like he had just eaten something more along the lines of sauerkraut or pickle juice!

This was quite a surprise to Mom and Dad, who noted that he puts everything in his mouth. Leaves, dirt, you name it- much like every other kid his age. Maybe he just doesn’t know what to do on the floor. Maybe he’ll start eating if we put him in his high chair?

Jackson started out being really excited, but his attitude changed when he realized he was getting that same old cake in the chair. He wasn’t having it… Although, Dad was kind of proud of him for not tearing into the cake.

And if he had gotten all messy with the cake, we might not have gotten these adorable photos with the red balloon.


Happy Birthday, Jackson!

P.S. I hope your mom and dad enjoyed your cake!

Contact me to book your baby’s one year portrait session- cake or no cake! 🙂

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Melissa McGhee


Meet Baby Vera

Sweet little Vera entered the world less than two weeks ago. I was so excited to photograph her and her beautiful head of dark hair, which is quite the contrast to her three siblings when they were born! I had the pleasure of taking each of their newborn photos, and it’s so awesome to see traits of each of them in her.


I was happy to have the opportunity to put this flower wreath to use, and the photos turned out so darling. Look at the sweetness!


Vera was sweet and sleepy for the most part- a perfect newborn model! I had MANY ideas for her photos, and we got to most of them before her sisters and brother arrived for the sibling images. But I still have a swing prop I’m hoping to use soon on my next newborn girl for another garden-like look.

When I planned for the shots below, I had it pictured perfectly in my head. The oldest girl will hold the baby in her lap, the little boy on the left will lean against his big sister and the little girl on the right will cheerfully lean against her sister’s legs and everyone will look at my camera at once and I’ll get the perfect shot! …And then I laughed to myself, because that was probably a pretty far fetched idea for children so little.

And you can’t blame the kids- they’re kids, of course! Short attention spans are perfectly normal. When you’ve got little toddlers with minds of their own, it’s easy to feel a bit overwhelmed, wondering if you’ll ever catch a shot where each kid is cooperating at the same time.

What I do see in these images is a connection between siblings. I see interaction and- obviously-  adorable faces. But the best part was when I showed their mother the preview images. She saw these and an “Ooohhhh!” came out of her mouth. That’s what makes it special.


I’ll leave you with that! Enjoy this? Visit my website and follow me on Facebook!

If you’re in the Kansas City area, contact me to learn more about my photography sessions. eight-one-six 522.4678


Melissa McGhee



Welcome to Melissa McGhee Photography!

Hey, there! Thanks for checking me out. I’m a photographer in Lee’s Summit, MO, part of greater Kansas City (Go Royals!), and I specialize in two separate areas: architectural and interior photography (I’ve photographed hundreds of hotels, resorts and other businesses over the last 8+ years all over the U.S. and internationally); and I also run a portrait business. 

More recently, I’ve slowed down on the travel work to spend more time around the people I love- my family, my friends and the love of my life, Cory- and have finally realized my dream of having a dog for the first time in my adult life. Arlo has destroyed SO MANY of my shoes, but he’s got my heart for sure, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Cory, assisting me on a resort shoot in Grand Cayman
Arlo at 8 months (currently 9 months old)

Now that I’m not jetting off to a different destination every week or two and have more time for new clients in KC, I’m growing my portrait business.

With this blog, I hope to offer several different things to keep it interesting and informative. Here’s what you can expect to see from me:

  • I’ll share my recent work, obviously!
  • Giveaways, contests and special offers! Everyone loves FREE stuff and DISCOUNTS, right?
  • Helpful tips for prepping for a photo shoot (I’ll break it down for each type of shoot: engagement, wedding, maternity, newborn, children, family, seniors, seasonal, etc.)
    1. Inspiration
    2. Outfit/accessory ideas
    3. How to take the stress out of photo day
    4. Much more!
  • What to expect from ME during a shoot- how I work and make it fun for you
  • Guides for awesome photo displays in your home
  • News on upcoming specialized mini-sessions and other photo promotions

If you’ve gotten this far in my blog, I’d like to thank you with a giveaway! Just sign up for my email newsletter and you’ll get a free download of this image to brighten up any space! I’m ready for summer vacation, are you? Sized 8×10 to easily print and throw in a frame. I took this photo last year during a resort shoot in Aruba. It was so pretty- I can’t wait to go back on a vacation sometime to relax on the beach and enjoy the awesome snorkeling in the waters around the island.


Just visit this gallery, enter your e-mail address and click the download link below the image and it’s all yours for FREE! (Please limit use to personal use- don’t go selling my print!) By entering your e-mail address, you’ll be automatically signed up for the newsletter. And know this, I’ll love your email address like I love bacon. It will be special to me- I will keep it to myself and not share it with anyone. I will never spam you!

By signing up for the email newsletter, you’ll never miss a chance to enter future giveaways, and you’ll get exclusive offers toward portrait shoots and products that you won’t see on the blog. Emails will be sent a few times a month, depending on preferences, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For now, don’t forget to follow me on social media:

Instagram: @melissamcghee and @melissamcgheephotography


Twitter: @mmcghee84

And visit my website:

Thanks, and you’ll be hearing from me soon!

Melissa McGhee