Theis Photography

Making memories to last a lifetime
April 30, 2013

"Anyone with a camera can take a picture, but it takes a special degree of sensitivity and attention to detail to create a Portrait that stirs the emotion of the viewer," said Steve Theis of Theis Photography Ltd. in Seaford, Del. "That's the goal I have for everyone who comes before my camera — to bring out the inner beauty and personality each of us possesses."

The end product should be not just an image on a piece of paper but a captured moment in an experience, whether a family's afternoon on the beach or roasting marshmallows by a fire, or something that shows the bond between a mother and child or the love two people share. That's one of the benefits of going to a professional photographer who has been properly trained in using subject placement, lighting, camera angles, composition and design. A professional understands the value of proper planning and choice of location as well as the best time of day.

"Most families in this day and age don't have a lot of opportunities to spend time together," Theis said. This is especially true for "extended group families” that include grown children and grandchildren who are widely dispersed geographically. With all the effort involved in getting them all together, why choose a photographer without the experience to capture the moment? Theis equated the decision to a choice of restaurants. "A lot of people go out to eat and choose fast food, but on a special occasion you want a quality restaurant where you know you'll get a delicious meal served in a quiet, pleasant atmosphere and have a great experience," he said. "If you're having a family portrait made, something you don't do that often, why not have it done by someone who has experience and knows what they're doing?"

Theis may be best known for his wedding photography during the past 40 years, but he is now focusing on his first love, "custom portraiture."

For custom portraits, he has more control over the situation and can take his time in planning and photographing. He has the clients come in for preplanning consultation to discuss their goal for the portrait and their lifestyle. It helps him gain insight into what kind of personalities are involved and what they enjoy doing with their family. Then he can recommend a location, whether it's their home or farm, the beach, a golf course or Theis' own beautiful gardens on Williams Pond.

One couple, for example, had nearly grown grandchildren who had helped restore a vintage Chris Craft boat. They chose to be photographed in the restored boat. They liked the family portrait so much that six years later, when some of the grandchildren had married, they asked Theis to take an updated portrait in the same setting.

He has had some unusual requests such as for portraits around a tractor or in a dried wheat field by an old barn. "The portraits tell a story," he said.

"Life is a series of short stories woven together by the passage of time. I have had the privilege by God's grace of turning their stories into works of art for their walls."

Theis completed his 39th year in business in April. He has seen photography change from sheet film for large portraits which had to be loaded one by one in a special holder, to rolls of film to digital. "I had to convert to digital because Kodak was losing money on film and they cut out a lot of professional films I used to use,” he said. “My big challenge now with digital is to still be able to produce a portrait so it doesn't look computer created, but has the look and feel of film. In the future, people won't know what a good photograph looked like back when we had film."

The largest family group he ever photographed was of 53 people ranging in age from 3 months up to "the birthday girl" whose 100th birthday coincided with the 100th anniversary of the invention of the ice cream cone. After the portrait was taken in front of the family home, everyone went to an ice cream social at church.

"Forty years in business — it's been an amazing ride," he said. "I don't see myself ever retiring."

With a specialty of custom family portraits, he may never have to retire. The taking of the photograph — now with digital cameras — is only the beginning. With computer programs Theis can create artistic renditions like watercolors, a realistic oil painting on canvas or an impressionist oil painting in the style of Monet. Theis' portrait of Dr. Anis Saliba, former chief of surgery at Beebe Medical Center, was to have been an image for an artist to work from to create an oil painting to honor Saliba's retirement. When the hospital’s chief financial officer saw the quality of Theis' work, they had him do the artistic rendition oil portrait — at one-tenth the cost.

While clients are choosing which of several poses they want for the final portrait, Theis uses software that will show them just how much space a given size portrait will take up over their sofa or fireplace. It even helps them choose the style of frame for the portrait. The portrait becomes an heirloom.

Theis wants the experience to be one the subjects will remember for a lifetime, too. One child saw him in a grocery store years after a family portrait had been taken when he was only 3. The boy asked, "Can you still make my belly button squeak?" Theis hides a squeaker in his hand to get children's attention.

When he photographed the Dave Hutt family at the beach last fall, he asked them to wait until the sun was just right. Hutt's wife Wendy admitted to being a little concerned about keeping the four children, ranging in age from 4 to 11, happy while they waited, "but they all did very well," she said, "mostly because of Steve. He brought little props to make the kids laugh."

She and her husband were pleased with Theis' work. They found it difficult to choose one portrait from all the excellent poses for the one to display over the fireplace.

Theis divulged a secret — he uses a tripod to position his camera and operates it with a remote control. That way he can get the composition, camera settings and focus just right, then step away from the camera so that the subjects are relaxed and relating directly to the photographer, not the camera. The smiles are real, not fake.

Theis puts as much effort into preparation as he does the finished product. He discusses details such as the following with his clients:

Clothing: Keep it simple. Clothes should be plain and simple, solids not prints, not loud and busy with any distracting patterns. Three-quarter to long sleeves are preferable. One may consider choosing clothing in the colors of the décor where the portrait is to be displayed.

Glasses: Have your optician supply you with empty rims for the day of the photo shoot because glasses not only catch light reflections but can distort the face-line in some portraits.

Make-up: The center point of interest in a fine portrait is the eyes. Apply eye shadow lightly; use two coats of mascara on both upper and lower lashes. A non-flare foundation or powder base is best.

Shaving: Men should shave just prior to the appointment to avoid a "five o'clock shadow."

With this attention to detail, it is no surprise that Theis has received more than 150 state and national awards, including MPPA “Portrait Photographer of the Year” in 1984 and “Candid Wedding Photographer of the Year” four times. He was the first photographer in Delaware to receive the degree of “Master of Photography” and “Photographic Craftsman.”  In 1982, he earned the recognition of “Certified Professional Photographer” and has been successfully re-certified three times since.

To discuss a portrait of your family, contact Theis Photography, at 24325 Greenbriar Lane in Seaford, telephone (302) 629-6000. On the web visit


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