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Yearly Archives: 2011

How to Plan a Truly Great Family Photo Session (Part 2: The Style)

In case you missed the first post in this series, I’ll update you (even though you know you really SHOULD go back and read it!). I’m writing a series about planning a truly great family photo session based around one of my favorite family photo sessions ever, the Cottrells (with a little help from some of my other favorites as well, The Ellisons and Chip and Kay’s family).

There are 3 categories built into making a truly great family session: the style, the attitudes, and the interactions.  This time we’re talking about the style. Because I love organization and lists I’m going to break down “the style” into 3 important categories as well: the wardrobe, the location, and the props.


The Wardrobe…

I will say, Nicole has super unique, super awesome style that I’ve always been jealous of… and when you add on her husband Jon’s expertise fashion sense (I think he probably dressed up Scottie for our first few dates when they were roommates) you have quite a little fashionista (fashionisto for the boys?) family.

So I know that not just anyone could pull off this type of style with their session.  However it at least has that…. it has STYLE I mean! Style of some sort, any sort, that is truly you is welcomed!

I don’t know when family photo sessions became all about colors and matching, but that’s only ONE aspect of fashion and for some reason all the others seem to get thrown to the waste side when it comes to family photo time!  Instead of thinking “what colors would make us look good together” think what “Look” could we all work from to look good together.  Start with one piece of your wardrobe that you want to build around… probably a kid’s accessory since those are a little harder to find.

So for example, say you found the leopard print tights the little Cottrell girl is wearing and you absolutely adore them for your own little girl and want to incorporate them into your session.

You have just picked the look for your family.  Now you know you need to incorporate a sort of modern/funky/urban feel for the rest of your outfits.  Voila!

Your family now has a whole look, not just a color (you can have a color too, but that’s secondary to the main look). The thing I can’t stress enough is ACCESSORIZE!!!  Especially when it comes to your kids!

The accessories these little ones are wearing are what MAKE this session have the feel it does.  Imagine this same session if they were wearing just a normal shirt and jeans and that’s it.

It definitely wouldn’t be the same at all!  The accessories have more to do with how great these photos turned out than even the photographers themselves have to do with it (a big statement coming from me!). So I’m stepping out there and saying that if your session lacks style, even the best photographer in the world cannot remedy that… it has to come from you. And it begins with your wardrobe.


The Location…

It’s amazing how different the two locations in this session feel. Two very simple locations with a different wardrobe to match each. The crazy part is how much the location change helps communicate two different sides of the family entirely, which is important for this family because both sides are very true to who they are.  The shots at their house are very warm and cuddly and showcase the intimacy in the family.

The shots at the wall outside showcase that this family is always ready for a good time and has some mad style going on that helps them showcase their unique personalities (I can’t even tell you how much the little girl’s clothes match her personality!!).

The thing is that you don’t have to pick a wild and crazy location to have a good session and it definitely, definitely doesn’t have to be done in green grass… especially if you want your pictures to look unique! The Cottrell’s chose to start at their house, which happens to be a great location because of it’s simple, consistent decorating and great natural light.

Not all houses will work like theirs did, but if your does or even if one room in your house does, consider it an option. In your house you interact a little more naturally, the kids are much more relaxed plus they have stuff to play with, and the parents aren’t stressing out about what the kids are doing to public property when their backs are turned. So there are some major benefits to shooting in settings that are comfortable to your family members.  And honestly, good lighting is the main ingredient so don’t always focus on how stunning the background is.  We’re trying to capture emotion in the prettiest way possible and often times a clean/simple background with good lighting is the very best way to do that.

The Cottrell’s nailed the clean, well lit, relaxed location and then moved on to a location with a bit more of an exciting background.

The second location they chose was one of the last ones I ever expected someone to pick for a family session.  They chose this wall.

Nicole had never even seen this wall in real life.  She found a picture of it online that said it was in downtown Phoenix and began a google map hunt to find out exactly where it is. The thing I like about how she went about this was that she didn’t get location inspiration from other family photo sessions but from something normal in life that she thought was beautiful (which we think is awesome because that’s how we work as well… we don’t get wedding inspiration as much from other weddings, as we do from real life and art).

The really unique part about this location choice is that’s it’s based around one object. When Nicole thought of locations, she thought of one specific thing she’d seen in the past that she thought was cool, rather than trying to think of an entire area that’s cool. And it’s amazing what can be done with that one thing!

So think simple: your home + one specific item can work great!

This same formula worked for one of our other all time favorite family sessions (The Ellisons) who started at their home and then found one “superhero wall” to use after that.

Another of our favorites (Chip and Kay’s family) thought of one simple item… a specific field on the side of the highway they’d driven by before and we did the entire session there.

We would normally have wanted to have more than one background or location option to let us create different looks for Chip and Kay, but they used very well chosen props to fill that need and create the feel of having different looks even with one very simple background (since we were out in the middle of nowhere for their session and not about to find other looks there!).

Notice that all three of these families not only chose a specific item to base their photo location (2 walls and a field) on but they also accessorized or used props with tons of style! That’s one reason why they are our favorites… they nailed the style aspect! You know your kids, you know how many locations and looks they’ll hold up through before exhaustion takes over so plan a session with that in mind and be thinking of that one thing you love enough to plan your session location around!


The props…
So I mentioned Kay and Chip’s family session right? That is one of the few times I think Radiant Photography has really done props well.  And guess what, it had nothing to do with us.  And guess what again, we really suck at props.  It’s just not our thing.  If it was, we’d be styling weddings rather than just capturing the things that other people style for us. Which is one way to have great props and a well styled session… to hire a professional session stylist.  We haven’t actually done this yet, so we can’t speak to it but I’m assuming it would work out great if you found someone to work with who really got your style and could figure out the perfect way to express it with props and decor (we work with plenty of wedding stylists so we can give you some recommendations if you want!)!

But speaking from the very limited experience we do have with props… it has to come from you (or a professional stylist like I said).  What I mean is, it can’t come from us.  We’ve tried that and it was a total flop. Maybe it was because we’re not good at this, but really it felt like it was because the props were unnatural for the people using them. Unless we’re BFF’s with you and your family or style experts, I don’t think it’s possible to tell you what props to use.  Even if we are great friends, it’s still hard because chances are we have different styles and the things I’m picturing are not at all what you would use.

What I’m trying to say is that at least for Kay and Chip’s session… the reason the props worked was because they meant something to them.  They REALLY meant something to them. Their theme was multi-generational family (aka really cool vintage stuff with sentimental value). The items they brought were mostly family heirlooms like a quilt her grandmother made that they sat on (with a blanket underneath to protect it from getting too dirty!), and they even had their kids wearing clothes that their parents and grandparents actually wore and saved from when they were that little!

When you put that much heart into a session and base it around something so meaningful to you… it’s bound to be a success. So my advice on props is to either hire a professional stylist to make it beautiful, or if you’re going to go the DIY route, to make sure you are using things that have real value to you. This family session isn’t just about looking cool or being pretty, it’s about the heartbeat of your family so choose something that represents that. (and then remember to bring some cheap playschool toys your kids can play with during the session to get some good smiles out of them too… even if they don’t fit your style!).

So if style is not necessarily your forte and you’re known a little bit more for not having great style, you can still pull this off I promise.  Notice that all three parts of this style category begin with one choice.  The wardrobe begins with one accessory that you build the rest around. The location begins with one item in a place. The props begin with one thing that tells the story of your family that will let you build the rest of the story around it.
So to summarize the past 2 blog posts…

Pick the right time to schedule your session, then pick 3 things to build around: the accessory, that one thing in a place, and the heartbeat of your story. You have a plan and you’re well on your way, now just expand from there and you’ll have a session with truly great style!

If you want to know when the next part in this series is posted Like our Facebook page to stay updated! Click here to read part 3 about “the attitudes”. Click to go back and read the first in the series: Planning a Truly Great Photo Session Part 1: When to do it.

Radiant Jumps the Pond: A UK Engagement Session (by Josh & Kelley)

Hello dear Radiant blog readers, this is Kelley Johnson again (1/2 of the Radiant Photography associate photographer team). My husband Josh and I have some pretty exciting news for you. We had the awesome pleasure of shooting an engagement session with a couple in the UK! See, I told you it was exciting! Do you guys want to see a few of the photos and hear about the amazing time we had? I thought so!

Meet David and Jen, newly engaged and one of the most hospitable couples that Josh and I have ever met. David is a web guru/ninja who sometimes thinks he is Jamie Oliver (he’s stylish, British, and a great cook, so I’d say that he’s not far off), and Jen is a dentist who has a lot to say about the fluoridation of water 😉

This session was a two day long adventure full of laughs, beautiful sights, and lots of firsts for both Josh and I as well as Jen and David. For example, while at the location pictured above, Tatton Park, Jen and David encouraged Josh and I to buy our very first Christmas pudding. They were astounded that we had never tried it.

After Tatton Park, we drove over to Erddig, which is a large stately home on the outskirts of Wrexham, Wales. I was sure that Mr. Darcy was going to walk right out of this house and give us a tour. In case you’re wondering, that didn’t happen. Not to worry, we didn’t need any Jane Austen characters to make this a romantic location. It was beautiful all on it’s own, and David and Jen are obviously one of the cutest couples around.

(Seriously, how cute are they?)

While at Erddig, David was coerced by a very persistent elderly salesman, to join the National Trust (an organization whose goal is to preserve and protect historic areas and buildings in certain areas of the UK). This was definitely a first for him, as National Trust memberships are apparently reserved for people who like to go to bed at 6pm and play BINGO on Friday nights, if you know what I mean.

We had a few laughs about David being the newest member of the Nation Trust Organization, and then we put that new membership to use by heading to another Nation Trust location, Chirk Castle. All I can say about this location is that it was astonishingly beautiful.

The garden area out back was even more gorgeous!

Jen was a bit nervous about being in front of the camera, but David did a great job helping her relax. They’re such a perfect couple!

After exploring the castle for a while, we were off to our next location. While driving through Horseshoe Pass, this was our view! Simply breathtaking. We just had to pull over and get a couple of shots!

After this, we decided to head to dinner. Josh and David chatted about technology (they are both hardcore Mac nerds) and tried to explain things to Jen and me by using our water glasses and salt shakers to represent “Apple” and “iOS”… Poor Jen and I, who were both thoroughly confused at this point, just looked at each other and laughed. I can tell that she loves her Mac nerd as much as I love mine.

After dinner, David and Jen, being the amazingly hospitable people they are, let us stay with them for the night. We stayed in Jen’s Parents’ beautiful home, where we chatted and had tea and biscuits. Jen made me my very first cup of English tea with milk, and I can confidently say that it was delicious!

The next day we got a few shots at the house before heading out for our final adventure.

Jen and David drove us to Chester, a town with many interesting historical areas and structures, including a beautiful large wall that wraps around the entire town. We spent the afternoon walking along the wall and taking in the sites.

(This is the area where Jen and David do their Christmas shopping. Somehow the mall I shop in is just not the same…)

(These two are constantly making each other laugh!)

So, what do you think? Amazing right? Josh and I are so happy that we had the opportunity to meet Jen and David and share a couple of special days with them. Congratulations on your engagement you two, and thank you for an amazing tour!

(You can see more photos by Josh and Kelley here).

How to Plan a Truly Great Family Photo Session (Part 1: When to do it)

What do you think of when you think of family photo sessions?  Green grass, matching colors, and pearly whites? Well OK, but we think of a lot more than that and we want to share some of our insider info with you on what it means to plan a perfect family photo session!

Considering that a lot of what we have learned as been through experience, we’re going to tell the stories of some of our past photo sessions to give you ideas about what you can do well.  The main session we’re focusing on is The Cottrell Family session because I titled their original blog “The Cottrells Are our Dream Team” and really that still holds true.  The Cottrell session is the one that we show people whenever we want to impress them and make them think we’re the best photographers alive.  It’s the session we show off to other photographers when we’re teaching photography classes so that they know we know what we’re doing and that they should listen to what we’re saying.  The thing is though, that while this photo session turned out AMAZING, it had just as much to do with who the family was as who the photographer was (listen closely and you can hear the sound of my ego blow).

So what gives? What is soooo special about this family that they were able to create such a perfect session? Well for starters they really are just a special family. They definitely are a rare and creative breed who are the trend setters in our world.  The thing is, just because they’re creative enough to have figured this out on their own, doesn’t mean that you have to be able to do the same.  They’ve set the standard and now you can learn from it.  Their tricks can be taught!  So that’s what I’m going to be teaching in this special blog series that will pop up on the Radiant blog from time to time about “How to Plan a Truly Great Family Photo Session”.

And so we begin….

I believe that the key to a mind blowing, tear inducing, life time of remembering family session can be broken down into 3 categories.

1. The style

2. The attitudes

3. The interactions

Bam!  Now you know it all! Well, not really.  But let me get you started at least.  There are good reasons and times to have a family session and there are not quite as good reasons and times to have a family session.  With kids, particularly infants and young children, there are definitely different times and stages that will help your photo session live up to it’s full potential….

For infant photos…

…you want to shoot your baby within 10 days of being born. Yep, that’s right.  You have a 10 day window, which means you still feel terrible after what your body just went through, and you still don’t know exactly what you’re doing as a parent.  But that’s OK because we know what to do and we will do our job best if you sit back and let us do our thing. Once they’re more than 10 days old, they begin to be much more difficult for us to pose, they have their eyes open more (but they are never actually looking at the camera so sleeping eyes are best), and they have developed favored positions which means they are less moldable and poseable for us. So to schedule a newborn session, the best idea is to call when you’re pregnant and let us know your due date so we can put it on our calendars and at least make sure we don’t fill up the weeks surrounding your date so that our schedule is flexible enough to work with you on that 10 day time frame when the baby actually comes.

For baby photos…

… anything after they can sit up on their own is great.  That’s why people usually do 6 month photos… they are a lot more responsive to people by that age so they interact better and their little personality begins to show through a little bit better.  So aside from your sleeping infant photos, this is probably the time that will remind you the most of who your little one was as a baby.

For 1 year photos…

… this has less to do with their developmental stages and more to do with commemorating the year. I love the idea of yearly photos to see how your baby grows and to give you a marker to remind you that you haven’t had photos done in awhile so you don’t just wake up 10 years later and realize you forgot to schedule photo sessions for the past 9 years!

Anytime past the 1 year mark….

… these have a lot more to do with family interactions than anything.  We want to capture your child’s personality and their role and relationships within your family. This is the stage I’m going to be focusing on when I talk about “Family Photos” in this series. Mostly because that’s the age the Cottrell kids were at the time of their session so it helps me talk more specifics. Of course many of the same principles will apply to earlier in life so you know, just use your brain to make these tips fit for you and your family.

When the Cottrells scheduled their family photo session….

When Nicole (the mom) was inspired. The ages of her kids weren’t as relevant as some of the beginning years so that gave her the flexibility to wait until she had an idea. THIS is genius. I had shared a photo session by another photographer on my personal Facebook page because I thought it was such an amazing session.  Nicole saw the post and was immediately inspired by it so she called me saying, “I have a good idea, we should do it”. And I love that.  During our first call, she was just rambling on and on with ideas. This is a huge deal because SHE knows her family way better than I do so for her to come with her own ideas versus relying on me to come up with ideas made the session work 1,000 times better.  By the way guys, I only have so many ideas so they definitely begin to repeat after awhile!  I need LOTS of help from you to come up with a creative family session! They were HER ideas to represent HER family as who they really are.  And that is always the goal of a family session!

So start looking for inspiration!  When you see it, call us and go with it! I just started a Pinterest board called “Ideas for Clients” that you can start following to give you that little added push! And actually that inspirational board is what inspired me to start this blog series!  I kept coming up with good tip ideas from the Cottrell session so I figured I’d put it all together and share it with our fans! I hope you love it!

If you want to know each time we post the next part in this series  Like our Facebook page to stay updated!

Read part 2 HERE about the first of the 3 things that make a family session truly great: the style.

Shannon and Mark’s Crazy Awesome Family Photo Session!

And the winner of the Radiant Photography Sportsmanship award… Mark and Shannon Smith (studio audience cheering sounds)!!!

Actually, who are we kidding, Shannon, you did great but we all know Mark REALLY deserves this award!  I mean seriously, being married to a very creative wedding planner can’t be easy, especially when it comes time for family photo time!

You should hear some of the crazy things Mark has done to satisfy some of Shannon’s creative whims!  He says he has a line, but since he’s such a great guy, I’m guessing that line’s a pretty soft one.

I mean, I at least know he’s willing to set up and tear down an entire bed 3 separate times for one photo shoot and that he can do it all with a smile on his face!  Oh yes, I did say THREE times, that’s actually the exact reason I considered giving this award as a tie to Shannon as well… because she too had quite a great attitude throughout the shenanigans that defined this shoot!

Let me tell it to you from the beginning.

We were in search of a field. With one tree. And green grass. Oh, and we happen to be in the desert. Needless to say, finding this particular looking location was not the easiest task in the world. Add to that the fact that we needed to have the ability to set up a full metal frame bed in this particular location, and we had quite a challenge on our hands!

We did finally find a place, and it happened to be about an hour and a half outside of town… make that 2 hours- 2 STRESSFUL hours- when you are driving with a giant bed and mattress flopping in the wind as you head down a 65 mph road going only 40 mph, hoping the entire time that your mother-in-law’s mattress isn’t going to start growing mold as the rain pours down on you.

This is how Mark’s morning started out. Mhmm, I told you he deserves this award, but wait, I’m not done yet.

So the rain wasn’t looking too good, the wet mattress wasn’t looking too good, and Mark’s face wasn’t looking too good… it was at this point that Shannon decided we should all turn around and head back into town in hopes of finding another location for this shoot.

As we pulled in and faced an entirely empty vast space of dirt… with a few brown desert plants scattered here and there.  Shannon’s face fell as she saw her dreams of a grassy dreamland blowing away with the dust around us. However, she remained in good spirits in spite of it all… and Mark was back to his normal chill self by the time we reached the straight up dirt lot.

Luckily, the irony of the ending up in the EXACT opposite location from what Shannon dreamed about just struck us all as funny at the exact same time.  It was at this point (as Shannon was actually laughing about her misfortune) that I turned to her and told her how impressed I was with her.

Seriously, when your entire job and skill set revolves around planning hundreds of details and enabling them to all align JUST right… it’s not the easiest thing in the world to let go of when things DON’T go right… especially when it’s your own event that you planned! But there she was, letting it roll right off her back and adjusting her vision of the shoot, while just laughing and throwing her hands up in the air.

This dirt space was on the Indian Reservation. And (as we soon found out), they don’t take too kindly to you setting up a bed on their land. Just as the bed was all put together and we were ready to start putting the sheets on and get their kids out of the car, a tribal police car pulled up.  Let’s just say, she wasn’t in the best mood and her shift had already ended.

She told us we had 3 choices:

1. Pack up and go right now.

2. She could tow our trucks AND our bed (I’m not sure how exactly she planned on pulling that off).

3. She could site us with a $10,000 ticket (no exaggeration, that was seriously the amount).

Hmm… let me think about this for a second….Yeah, it was a unanimous decision… we packed up quickly.

Sooo… now we had a bed in the truck, a couple of tired guys, two kids who were being unbelievably patient thus far but probably couldn’t make it much longer, a quickly setting sun, and a group of very discouraged people. Now what?!

Luckily, Shannon got on the phone and started pulling her wedding planner card with a few of her connections. And within 10 minutes, she had us a place!  A BEEEEAUUUTIFUL place, nonetheless (seriously, call Sassy Soirees if you want things to really get done for your wedding!!)!

We were going to an actual fancy golf course, I couldn’t BELIEVE they were going to let us set up an entire bed there! It was a miracle! There’s no way we would’ve thought they’d say yes, or else we would’ve called them from the beginning!

So we showed up at the wonderful, beautiful, safe haven of even green lawns at Ocotillo Golf Resort. Ahh… a sigh of relief. Just knowing we were actually given permission to be there felt good… let alone that the lighting was perfect, the scenery was stunning, and the cooped up little boys had plenty of space to run around in (as long as all the grown ups served as a human shield between them and the lake).

Yes, we’d finally found our spot… and it couldn’t have been better!

Shannon really had set up an amazing plan for this. She’d ordered a large sized version of a Peter Pan book, bought the boys adorable matching pajamas, and even grabbed some real feather pillows for a very messy pillow fight!

It was beautiful and so so SO adorable to watch this family together in action.

I grew up with 2 brothers, so I know boys and I know how they run. But oh WOW do these boys run FAST!!!  And in exactly opposite directions nonetheless.

Often, the younger child sticks like glue to the older sibling, but not in this case!  This little one had his own places to go and things to do… and Shannon or Mark (whoever wasn’t after the other one) was off and running at full adult speed to catch them!All of them laughing and having fun together the entire time!

(See, getting caught isn’t always such a bad thing!).

So overall, this family holds up very, very well under pressure!  The kids, waiting an extra 2 hours in the car and still laughing and playing when they finally got out…

…Mark, doing fast manual labor several times in a row while being responsible for keeping his family safe during a slightly scary trip, and still smiling and laughing by the end… Shannon, watching something she’d put so much time and attention into falling apart before her eyes, while still taking the time to remember what’s actually really important in this situation… having fun with her family and creating great memories with them.

Good job, Shannon and Mark, I seriously am so impressed with the attitude you both had about this session! Scottie and I agreed that even though we already really liked the two of you…. we now like you that much more after seeing how amazing you both handle things not going your way in life and bad days.  Not everyone can laugh about life the way you can and we were both thoroughly impressed.

The first thing I said when I got in the car after giving up on our first location was how amazed I was that Shannon was handling this so well. And the first thing Scottie said after we finished the shoot was, “that Mark is a really amazing man”.  So if it’s not true that you guys are fantastic, you have us fooled really well!

Good job guys, you all win the award and we’re so proud of you.

Click to see the rest of the photos from Shannon and Mark’s Crazy Awesome family photo session!

Mareah and Greyson and their joyful wedding day!

If it’s at all possible to see past Greyson and Mareah’s stunning eyes, you will see the magnificent love that lies behind them.

This couple is absolutely perfect for one another! Greyson’s sister and brother-in-law (Chris and Jillian, a past Radiant couple) even spent time telling Scottie and myself about how perfect this pair is for one another.

They just fit like a glove and it seems that everyone around them agrees!

Mareah and Greyson decided to go pretty unique with many things about their wedding, right down to their Coffee shop wedding location!

Janey’s Coffeehouse in Cave Creek was more than happy to host this couple and all their smiling friends and family as their vows were exchanged and the party commenced!

(I LOVE how happy Mareah looks in this picture!).

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I heard they were doing everything at a coffee shop, but I was pleasantly surprised by how charming and beautiful everything turned out!

(Speaking of beautiful, can you BELIEVE how beautiful Mareah is?! She looks absolutely breathtaking!!!!).

All the details were rustic and put together so perfectly!

Cara Morrison and her team at A Day to Cherish Weddings and Celebrations did a great job pulling things together and working out all the unique logistics of working in such a unique location.

Cara’s team did such an excellent job and we were so grateful to have them there to help free us up from scheduling worries so we could focus on what we do best… capturing the moments and telling the story of this great couple and their wonderful day!

Speaking of the couple’s story… it’s definitely a love story.

Everything from the letters the couple exchanged at the beginning of the day…

…to their ecstatic reveal moment…

…to their joyful sparkler exit…

…just screamed how happy they were to be experiencing all of this together, and how excited they were about living life together like this for the rest of their lives.

Just beautiful!

Thanks Mareah and Greyson for allowing us to be a part of such a special event in your lives and for being so much fun to just sit back and watch as you interacted together! We couldn’t be happier for you guys and we wish you all the best.

(Like our Facebook page to tag yourself in some of the photos)!


Click to see the rest of Mareah and Greyson’s joyful wedding day!