A Seaside Storytelling Newlywed Couple’s Session in Oahu

If ever I could make a dream session come to life, this is one of those sessions. Shooting + mentoring, newlyweds, salt water, sea turtles, and food all in one… need I say more? This session is one that has stolen a piece of my heart that will forever remain in Hawaii. Brian & Amber tied the knot about 3 months before this session was held, so they truly were fresh in the middle of newlywed bliss in their cozy, humble Hawaiian home on Oahu island.
In this post, I want you to pay close attention to the transition throughout. We started in the latest of the afternoon hour and ended in darkness. This is the final post in my 3-part blog post on the length of time for documentary-style sessions. You can see the previous posts here: post 1 and post 2.

I learned an abundance of information about Brian and Amber as a couple and as individuals using the Storytelling Questions for Couples + Personality Worksheets. When it was time to do my brainstorm call with them, echoing back their story, this was the gameplay for the session:

Khalilah and I would arrive just before 5 p.m., to give us plenty of daylight for the session. They are new to this home and new to the island, yet already have fallen into a special dinner routine (why will be clear in the photos below). To aid in ridding the feeling of “a camera-is-in-my-face,” I began going back and forth between photographing them doing dinner prep and grabbing some scenic images of the home and property. Since it’s unclear how long they will be on the island, subtle reminders of home details is important… this is their first home together after all.

Knowing they were going to cook, it was important I had a dinner talk with them. They love to make scrumptious food, but I had to make sure they weren’t going to set themselves up to cook for most of the session… this kind of thing can happen when activities are planned (they take longer than you think and eat up your session, making your session about the activity rather than about the story). I suggested to pick something that doesn’t have them in the kitchen for hours on end, but would allow for them to spend some time in there since this is true to their story. For this evening, they made some homemade pizzas with fresh mango and goat cheese… I was just so in dreamland, let me tell you!

Individually, it was evident from the questionnaire responses how head-over-heels Brian is for Amber. He mentioned her smile…. her radiant smile (his words)… at least 3 times. I knew Amber has an artsy side to her, which was very clear with the artwork throughout their home. I learned one of her favorite things to wear is her yellow cardigan, so when we had the “what to wear” talk, this was an easy go-to piece for her to choose to make her recognizable to herself (and to Brian) in their photos.

Amber and Brian walk along the rocky shoreline most evenings and frequently eat together overlooking the Pacific. I learned from their questionnaire responses how in-tune with one another, making it a priority to ask each other 7 questions each week, read the bible together, play board or card games, and occasionally Amber will pull out her ukulele that she got to learn to play a song for Brian as a surprise at their wedding. For dessert, it’s a rule that they feed each other the first bite… always. It was clear that romance is an honest part of their everyday.

It was important that I encompassed these things in a way that felt like their truth. It was clear before the session, that I didn’t expect them to “activity hop” as I call it (where it’s obvious they are doing activities for the camera). My goal was for them to go through our time together in a casual, spontaneous feel. Having some ideas of what to expect for a typical evening with them is what fuels my inspiration, but it’s important for me NOT to put these things on a timeline to strictly follow in order for me to fully document our time together rather than orchestrate. I couldn’t do this session in an hour or two, so we planned for this session to be just over 3 hours… including the end where Khalilah and I put our cameras down to share some heavenly raspberry cheesecake with them.

So while I give you a break from reading to check out the photos, think back to the two previous posts about time to see if you can see the difference from a short session in this more lengthy session.

 

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You may never believe me, but I honestly did not direct a single part of these session with the exception of a few romantic portraits we did on the rocks in the ocean (because I can and why not?), I encouraged them to exaggerate a moment (make it last longer while I “got my perfect shot” while kissing in front of the candles at the end of dinner…. they were doing this already, but I almost missed it), and at the very end where I asked them to hang out in their living room while I shot through the window (though what they were doing was all them). My point here: the majority of this session was purely a documentary approach, but I didn’t limit myself to this approach when I saw an opportunity to include my artistic vision while maintaining their storyline. Having the longer session length truly allowed me to stretch my photography legs throughout without pressure.

Brian & Amber were the most affectionate couple I’ve ever worked with and watching Amber’s crinkle-nose-smile in reaction to his love was the sweetest thing I’ve ever witnessed! This couple was just plain cute and it was an honor to be welcomed into their home to help savor and preserve the story of what newlywed life is like for them.

Going back to our topic of time, can you see how there is a wider variety of scenes in this session compared to the previous two posts about this topic? The full story of their evening exists in these photos, rather than a short glimpse of time. Again, this session lasted a little over 3 hours.

I have one more session, already blogged, that I’m going to send you off to. You are going to think I’m nuts, but this session was 12 hours long. The couple booked me for their 2016 wedding, which includes an engagement session (usually would be 3-4 hours). However, I wanted to try a true day-in-the-life of a couple and they agreed to the longer shoot this past October (2015). I think it will push the envelope a little bit just to see how the length of time affects your sessions. You can check it out here.

I’m not saying you NEED to have sessions that last 12 hours, but I want you be mindful in planning a session to truly photograph a recognizable story with fully relaxed subjects vs. how to get in & out of a session as quickly as possible… because, it matters. You’ll see it’s NOT about getting more photos (quantity driven), but it’s about story-driven as you can showcase some of your best photos from each scene… less is more. As we wrap up this time series, comment below with your thoughts or questions. I’m listening! This will help me to provide more content to help you in this area.

 

Challenge: 

Think about the dream sessions you want to take on. What does this look like? What exactly are you providing (simply great photos, a full story, both?)? This should be your starting point in determining how long your sessions should be… not basing it on what other photographers are doing.

 

 

Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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