If ever I could make a dream session come to life, this is one of them. Shooting + mentoring, newlyweds, salt water, sea turtles, and food all in one… need I say more?
Brian & Amber tied the knot about 3 months prior to our time together, so they were fresh in the middle of newlywed bliss in their cozy, humble Hawaiian home on Oahu island.
I learned an abundance about Brian + 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 (my mentor student) and I would arrive just before 5 p.m., to give us plenty of daylight to start with. They were new to this home and to the island, yet already have fallen into a special dinner routine. 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 + grabbing some scenic, detail images of the home + property. Since it’s unclear how long they’ll be on the island, subtle reminders of home details are important…
this is their first home together after all.
Knowing they were going to cook, it was important I had the 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 our time together… this kind of thing can happen when activities are planned (they take longer than you think + eat up your time, making your pictures about the activity rather than 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.
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 (my suggestion is simply: comfortable + familiar), this was an easy go-to piece for her to make her recognizable to herself (and to Brian) in their photos.
Amber + 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.
So, all of that (just from a questionnaire), allowed me to give them “permission” to do the things they already love.
(Not on a timed schedule)
It was important that I encompassed these things in a way that felt like their truth.
Because of what I learned in advance, I didn’t expect them to “activity hop” as I call it (where it’s obvious they’re doing activities for the camera, trying to fit the most variety in). Because of the honesty about what their actual Friday evenings look like, up front, everything felt ease-y all on both sides.
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.
Shile 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.
You may never believe me, but I honestly didn’t direct a single part of these 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 coverage was purely a documentary approach, but I didn’t limit myself to this approach when I saw opportunities to include my artistic vision, while maintaining their storyline. Having the longer time length allowed me to stretch my photography legs without the clock pressure.
Brian & Amber were the most affectionate couple I’ve ever worked with. 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 help savor + preserve the story of newlywed life.
Going back to our topic of time, can you see how there is a wider variety of scenes in this work 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 lasted a little over 3 hours.
I have one more session that I’m going to send you off to. You’re 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’ll push the envelope a little bit just to see how the length of time affects your sessions.
I’m not saying you NEED to book for 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!
Here’s more on questionnaires.
Think about the dream stories / clients / environments you want to shoot. 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.