Imagination v. Reality In Lifestyle Photo Shoots

When it comes to documenting life’s big moments, is there room for both the imagination and reality?

I used to co-host a podcast with three other photographers. Once we were on the topic of retouching and how it has affected people’s perception of reality. The conversation headed in the direction of responsibility for the truth. However, one photographer made the point that it is also in our creative freedom to express ourselves through fantasy + imagination. 

I often think lifestyle sessions can mimic this conversation, especially with maternity shoots.

In times of transitions it can be a powerful medicine to use your imagination. Exploring how you want something to feel, to see yourself in a different light, to express yourself, to take time for play, to step out of your comfort zone + to move organically and freely can all be opportunities to feel alive.

It is also undoubtedly incredibly powerful to see yourself in the beautiful truth of your life. 

So, like a lot of contradicting thoughts, I believe there is room for both fantasy and reality, imagination and truth. 

To see this idea play out, I am going to walk through how this (capturing both the fantasy + reality) organically happened in a recent maternity shoot with my client + friend Ashley. 

Planning the Shoot

When thinking of locations I often ask people to think about places that are meaningful to themselves because I believe “being in your environment” matters in terms of your comfortability. 

With Ashley we landed on the idea of doing it in her backyard mainly so she could feel free in her wardrobe or lack thereof 😉 

Wardrobe

Ashley opened the box with her white lace gown at the time of my arrival. Based on my experience, this is dangerously optimistic – quickly changing bodies and online shopping don’t often work out on the first try. To our delight and surprise, the dress fit perfectly, adding to the excitement of the shoot. It was all coming together on the spot.

Our second outfit choice was jeans that no longer button (a reality of maternity life) and a simple white bra.

Shooting

I loved that this shoot took me out of my usual timeline of putting the camera down when the sun sets. Instead Ashley and I shot together for about two hours starting as the sun was setting.

While we still had sunlight we moved quickly around the backyard to create as much variety as possible.

Once the sun was gone we moved up to her porch where we played with Ashley’s vision of capturing the string lights in a more casual shot. 

The lighting was super interesting and I would have missed it had I assumed we were done with the sun. We even moved off the porch to utilize the light falling off the side and created some of my favorite images from the shoot. 

I felt a second wave of creative possibilities and asked Ashley if we could move inside. 

To my delight, she was down for it! 

I truly appreciated Ashley’s trust + vulnerability in letting us shoot in her home. Maybe it is just me, but I feel very vulnerable letting someone into my space. When you have little ones your house is often an exact translation of the chaos of the day. 

However, I do believe this is another opportunity for photography to be healing and reflective.

It is an opportunity to see beauty in the chaos and to acknowledge that these days won’t last forever.

And surely one day you will miss the mystery stickiness on the table and stepping on stray blocks. 

So I threw on some flash + photographed Ashley in the reality of a beautifully messy life.

Editing

I don’t love talking about social media but I think it is important to acknowledge how it has shaped how we edit images. 

About 12 years ago I was sitting down with my mentor as she walked a potential bride through albums from past weddings. She explained that although yes, she has a specific aesthetic, when it comes to editing a gallery they will look a little different based on the style of the wedding and location. For example, a rustic farm wedding will not look the same as a modern downtown wedding. Makes sense, right?

I understand that clients want to know what they will be getting from the photographer they choose to hire. No doubt that is important. 

With that though, I feel like we have lost our creative liberties in some ways with the pressure to adhere to “the grid”.

As I grow as a photographer, I feel that certain images, sessions, moments beg for a different edit. I want to be able to listen, feel inspired and create based on that motive rather than what it will look like in my feed. 

For Ashley, I felt a lot of these images called for a more vintage edit. Therefore, I used an editing approach that mimicked film and played more with colors. 

Also because we were in one location, her backyard, I liked how editing some of them in a different way added variety to the gallery. 

Play in both!

So you tell me. In the conversation around photography being a medium that is meant to capture fantasy or reality, do you believe there is room for both?

I do. 

Not only do I believe there is room for both, I think it is necessary. Let your imagination run while also documenting your truth. 

We are complex beings and social media tries to tell us that only the happy/pretty/positive should be celebrated and shared. 


Such a ridiculous thought, because that is not a full life. 

Ashley’s whole life, real and imaginative, is incredible. I’m so grateful I got to photograph this moment with her and show how amazing + dynamic she is in her motherhood. 

I hope in sharing the behind the scenes of this photo shoot that you are inspired by the possibilities of both your imagination and reality. Personally, I look forward to more photo shoots like this as I was incredibly inspired by the duality and magic of motherhood.

Takeaways

Imagination v. Reality in photography (+ life) | there is room for both + both are necessary

Planning | have one but then go with the flow  

Shooting | remember the are possibilities that live outside of your normal routine

Time | variety and creative exploration requires time 

Editing | the creative process requires being open + listening the entire way through


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