In case you were not aware, there is this phenomenon happening right now where professional photographers go to atypical shooting locations (sometimes deliberately "ugly" ones, for eg. the lighting department of a Lowes Home Improvement store, or the parking lot of a Target) and conduct a portrait session.
After many photographers sought them out, Michael's craft stores officially approved of the practice (see, "Yes, You Can Do That Portrait Challenge In Our Stores") and it became an even bigger thing than it had been previously. So I thought, why not?
Now about 99% of the shoots that I have seen at a Michaels involved the photographer heading straight to the florals department and hanging out there nearly the entire time. Their goal was to try to make the pictures look like they were not in a store with, what I consider, mixed degrees of success.
I decided to completely forgo that notation of deception and just admit it with the pictures: we're inside a store. But I was hoping to create a bit of the surreal. Hence the spacebuns, 70s running shorts, and general quirkiness.
Here are some fun behind the scenes so you can get a feel for what we were working with.
For my portraits I really like clean lines and unfussy backgrounds. Michael's stores are basically the opposite of that so the only way I could figure out how to get what I wanted was to put Kaitlyn up high...
Finally, we were practically ready to leave when we passed by the aisle with all those different vases I pulled out some fairy lights and we crawled under the floral display and rounded out our morning with this:
All told, it was definitely a fun way to spend a morning. The staff at the Michael's in Dublin were extremely gracious when I checked in at the start. And a shopper or two actually asked us if we were doing the Michael's Challenge.
If anyone reading this is interested in doing the challenge I have a few recommendations.
1. Definitely bring your own lighting or if not, make sure that you are shooting in RAW because the white balance of their lights is pretty funky.
2. Check out the store in advance. You'll notice color themes throughout that are helpful to work with.
3. Have your model wear makeup that is bolder than normal. I asked Kaitlyn to wear red lipstick because I knew that the weird lights were going to wash everything else out.
4. There is a lot of stuff to work with there. Think outside of the box!
The Ruth Bancroft Garden is a dry garden in Walnut Creek featuring an incredible diversity of colors and textures in succulents. Anyone who knows me knows that I have a thing for spiky plants. And for spiky plants this venue does not disappoint!
Hows THAT for a succulent? This sample looks like something out of the Triassic period! I love how it looks like it's exploding behind Emily here.
One of my favorite aspects of this location is how there are fuzzy or fluffy plants right next to the spiky ones. We could be in Arizona, right?!?!
For styling your shoot here plan on working with background colors like minty green, yellow, peach, and firey red.
Outfits with peach and pink tones work perfectly with the setting. Definitely consider some statement jewelry. Gold or silver would both be great. Turquoise would also be a fantastic choice.
We will absolutely be doing some full sun shooting at this venue for your session. Bring along a favorite pair of sunglasses (or a few). A floppy hat is also a great accessory here.
Interested in some garden art? This lovely rusty orb can be yours for only $21,000...
Agave for the win!
One of the benefits of booking your portrait session at the Ruth Bancroft Garden is that it looks absolutely stunning year round-- even in winter and early spring when most of the trees haven't leafed out in other areas. So if you love succulents, or even boho styling in general, this would be the perfect spot for your senior portrait session!
Each February the Cal High Leadership team puts on the Formal Faire: it's a lunch-time fashion show that takes place at the quad. A prom dress boutique loans out dresses, Men's Warehouse loans tuxes, a salon donates their time doing full hair and makeup, and for the past two years I've been invited as the paparazzi. Now, I'm not typically an event photographer but I make an exception for the Formal Faire; it's always a ton of fun.
If you are in leadership and would like to bring this event to your school, here are a couple of tips to get you started.
1. Start planning early. Definitely get in touch with all the vendors *before winter break*! November is not too early to start reaching out to explain your concept to local businesses!
2. Make sure you've got a greenroom available the day of the event where the salon can set up and work on at least 6 people at once.
3. Find a good centralized location for the catwalk: hopefully outside.
4. Have people available from leadership to help the vendors set up tables near the catwalk.
5. Find a charismatic person to be the M.C. Make sure that they have accurate information about the outfits that each couple is wearing so that they can announce everything correctly.
6. Pick a fun sound track to play leading up to the event and for background music during.
7. Promote, promote, promote! Signage, IG posts, do your thing!
8. Finally, DM me if you'd like more info! Like I said, this event is so much fun-- I'm happy to help you make it happen at your school!
I am not a makeup expert by any means, but makeup is kind of a big deal when it comes to photography so I make a point of paying attention to what the experts have to say.
Towards that end I came across a fun article written by Tynan Sinks (a contributing writer at Allure) about the best drug store makeup buys. His suggestions were surprising to me so I thought I would share his picks with you.
1. L'Oreal True Match Foundation. He described this foundation as light, natural with a soft touch and some SPF. (Because of the SPF, I would NOT recommend this for photoshoots- but we can talk more about this later.)
2. Wet n Wild Photo Focus Foundation. I did not know this but Wet n Wild is a cruelty-free brand (Yay!). He described their formula as luxurious with finish that dries matte.
3. NYX HD Photogenic Concelaer. He says this is creamy, hydrating and "should be in everyone's makeup bag."
4. Physician's Formula Butter Bronzer. The downside of this product is that it's $15, which is expensive for a drug store product but he said that it's hard to find a high end bronzer that beats it. So there you go.
6. Maybelline Dream Bouncy Blush. It has a unique putty texture that's great for blending.
7. Wet n Wild MegaGlo Highlighting Powder. This was originally a limited edition item but people went berserk over it so they brought it back. "As good as anything at Sephora's" is how he described it. And it's only around $5! Now you know how I feel about highlighters for photoshoots (see here) but for everyday, I know you all want this.
Maybelline's Color Sensational Lipstick is his pick for lips. Maybelline is "the MAC of the drugstore," he writes.
Maybelline's Volum' Express Mega Plush Mascara. About this he writes it's "the most underrated mascara in the drugstore." It's a gel-mousse that is light weight yet high impact. High impact is what I'm all about. I LOVE shooting eyelashes and think that even for everyday wear, mascara is worth the effort.
Tools of the Trade
Now this one isn't from Tynan but instead is my pick. Just recently the high end brand Japonesque started to carry their line of implements at Target. This is really great news because they offer really high quality products but now at a totally affordable price point. So if you are in the market for a new pair of tweezers or an eyelash curler, check them out!
Did you know that 17 year olds can fly planes...solo? Yeah, me neither...before I met Dylan that is. "Was is scary going up all by yourself the first time?" I asked him. "Not really," he said. "It's a pretty standard flight path you take for that first solo. What IS scary though is when you do a forced downward spiral." Gulp. Yeah, I bet.
So it turns out that, just like the standard parallel park for a driving test, the forced downward spiral is something that you have to prove you can deal with as part of your pilot testing. You better be a pretty calm person in general before taking this on. "Unflappable" is how Dylan's mom describes him. I'm onboard with that one, and let me tell you why...
In addition to proving that he could deal with the downward spiral, Dylan also dealt with an ample amount of heckling during his shoot. Dylan's uncle, the owner of this lovely plane, was around for the shoot and just so happened to be playing the theme song of Top Gun-- Highway to the Danger Zone-- on his phone pretty much the entire time. Actually...it was kind of awesome. Was Dylan phased? Not one iota.
Not surprisingly, Dylan is interested in pursuing aeronautic engineering. ("He wants to be an astronaut," his mom said. To which I replied, "Don't we all?" But, um, he's actually working on it.) He's already been admitted to Purdue, but is still waiting on a few other schools.
Before Dylan's photoshoot I had never been to the Livermore Airport. I've driven past it a million times, but never pulled in and actually walked around. There were several surprises. First, I was totally floored by the fact that you can literally just walk right onto the runway. No checkpoints, no gates. You don't have to take your shoes off- heck, you don't even have to sign in anywhere. Second, it turns out that there are actually a TON of great places to take pictures!
Thanks so much Dylan for introducing me to this fantastic location! I can't wait to see you soon for your Cap & Gown mini session and find out where you'll be next year!
I did the cherry blossom shooting over two consecutive weekends.
And from one week to the next we switched from a high of 70 degrees to around 50. So appreciate that this set was taken when it was pretty dang cold! The shots of Kaitlyn (down at the bottom) were after the sun had set and it was probably 45 degrees for her there!
But I think that this particular shoot is so unique, so different from anything else that you can get in our little valley, that everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. And I'm so glad that they did! I hope you love these shots as much as I do. Enjoy!
Oh yes! So I've had several other photographers ask me how I styled this shoot. And the quick answer is that I briefly explained to my team what I had in mind via email and I included a link to a Pinterest board for inspiration on makeup, hair, and outfit ideas. If you'd like to check out the board it is here:
I am a high school senior portrait photographer in the SF east bay area.