Building a Shoot Part II- How?

In Building a Shoot Part I, I talked about the value of planning before a shoot. Quality images that are consistent, increased client confidence, and greater creative control are the reasons I started planning my shoots. This week I want to talk about the quality of both images and client experience  

I started in the same place as most aspiring family photographers...meeting families at a park, planting them on a quilt in grassy, open shade, and firing away— while technically good, my images were boring; repeatable. 

I was starting to bore myself.

I was making good images, the kind that grandma proudly displays on her wall, but I longed to express more creativity in my portraiture. 

The Planning

After a client books, the envisioning and pre-planning start. I want to help my clients choose a set and styling that fit them, and I want to create the energetics in our shoot space that will help set them at ease. One of the ways I achieve this is by having them fill out a questionnaire before their session. This helps me get to know them a little bit better so that we can work together to tailor their session to their unique personalities, interests and style.

Once the client returns their questionnaire, I start dreaming up the shoot. I like to come up with two or three different ideas/directions the shoot can go before we get together for our in- person creative consultation.

Where to start?

With kiddos, I find the easiest place to start is with a single prop.

Kids need props. I think they do, anyhow.

I know that the kids have more fun on the shoot (and I do, too) when they’ve got a set of some sort to interact with. Often, my main reason for introducing a prop into a photo with a teen or adult is to give their hands something to do… but with the littles it’s so much more than that. It gives them something to do and brings some entertainment to what could otherwise be kind of a boring situation for a small person.

I don’t know about you but my photo experiences as a child were very traditional department store photos… sit here, put your hands here, look here… then a flash and the click of a shutter. Not exactly a young one’s idea of a great time, and I want to be the fun photographer.

I want the experience of a shoot with me to be a really good memory, and I want kiddos to be excited for me to photograph them again in the future.

A session with me is more than just photographs, it’s an experience. Creating a set allows space for them to go to to the magical land they inhabit while they’re engaged in their everyday play. This is a big part of how much of my work looks so candid, and it’s an even bigger part of why I think my job is so much fun.

This can be as simple as their favorite rain boots and a puddle to jump in, the superhero cape she wears everyday, the toy kitchen they cook and serve delicious pretend food from…

...or if none of their own toys/accessories suit the images their parents are looking for, I will either make something myself or purchase a handmade item.*

*I prefer my images have a handmade feel- that they look like something mom lovingly put together in an afternoon. 


An example.

An example of how it all starts with a single prop…The magic wand cookie shoot.

I knew I wanted an image of a little girl eating a magic wand cookie (basically a pretty star shaped sugar cookie on a stick).

From there I found the Green Toys tea set.

Then we made a beautiful ribbon wand.

Then a gorgeous bubble wand made of wire and colorful beads.

And, finally, the strips of colorful fabric turned tu-tu. Wardrobe and three sets were all born from a single, simple prop idea.


One cookie started it all.


A tea party in a field.




Twirling, ribbon wand in hand, in front of the setting sun.


Blowing bubbles with mom by the lake.


Even though our model was only 4 years old, she was more than happy to take a little direction now and again because we were playing the whole time.

Everyone had a great time, and together we made some of my favorite images in my portfolio.

It isn’t just about a prop or an outfit or a location, it’s about learning to envision your images before you ever pick up your camera. It’s learning to think of making images as storytelling.

Every frame has a story to tell.

And each little detail helps tell that story--- the focal length, the lighting, the styling, the posing….

I feel like the more intent I put into the creation of my images, the more creative control I have and the more impact my images have.


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