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The Sketch Pad Session

Several months ago while the kids and I were driving around, scouting out some new photo session spots for a client, we came across a place with a lot of graffiti and street art. Some of it looked commissioned but some of it looked illicit. I explained the difference between artists that are hired to make a beautiful mural or art on the side of a building or wall, and people that illegally vandalize. Sometimes the vandals are very talented and it can be hard to determine the difference. They developed a fascination with graffiti after that. Recently when we were driving through the Mojave desert, we spotted what looked like a deserted little town or group of vacant buildings that graffiti artists had completely filled with different murals and writing. One of the large rocks near the vacant town was spray painted with the question, "Well, if you lived here, what would you do all day?" I chuckled to myself and tried to snap a photo but the mixture of going 75 mph and one of the kid’s hands popping up at the wrong time ruined my shot.

The missed opportunity still stings when I look at this picture.

I try to take photos of the kids every year on their birthday. I say “try” because there have been many years we haven’t done an official birthday session. Bellamy has far more birthday portraits than her brothers because she has always been the most excited about it. This year for Bellamy’s 5th birthday photos my goal was to make the shoot completely “her”. I gave her a little interview and asked her what her favorite color was, what she wanted to be when she grew up and went over outfit ideas with her. She said her favorite color was pink (of course its blue now so…) she wanted to be an artist and a mama, and she helped me pick some bell bottom overalls with a black and white striped shirt for underneath. The shoot had been hanging over my head for a few weeks as it was a really busy time of year for us. One night a couple hours before dinner while Colt was at work, I told the kids we were going to take some birthday photos of Bellamy. It was completely on a whim. The entire shoot took less than 20 minutes and I was over the moon for the photos. We used a paint brush in her hair, dipped in pink paint to remember her five-year-old choice of occupation and favorite color.

I also saved some of the sketches she left around the house of flowers, hearts and the like, and included them in the photo as “graffiti” on the wall behind her. When I showed her the photos, she felt so special. She didn’t quite understand how her flower sketches ended up in the photos, but she was so happy they had found their way there. 😊

Bellamy and her flowers

This week when I mentioned (belated) birthday photos to Beckett, he got a great big smile on his face. The first question he asked was, “Can I bring my drumsticks?” With just a little brainstorming and contemplation, these yearly birthday photos have gone from a chore to cross off our to do list, to a really special time where each kid feels celebrated for their idiosyncrasies. Of course, he brought his drumsticks. I asked him to sketch a few things that he loves and he drew two different drum sets (one with a large gong behind it), the word GOD in graffiti type letters, a lighthouse, a boat, and babies. 😊 The siblings usually hop in a few photos too so I had them sketch a few things as well. Once again, I didn’t have a day or even outfits in mind for the shoot. A couple days ago, once again while Colt was at work, once again a few hours before dinner, I told the kids we were heading out to take birthday portraits. We chose outfits within 10 minutes, packed some water, my camera, a microphone, a guitar and a tom tom drum and headed out. Once again, the shoot only took about 20 minutes. The creative juices were flowing and I had so many more ideas, but our plans got deferred when the sun selfishly decided to set. We didn’t need the extra time after all because we got all the shots I wanted plus a gazillion more. The best part is, they are all completely and wholly “them”.

Beckett's graffiti signature

If your smile is starting to look staged, a quick thump in the belly from your little sister could do the trick

We’ve all scrolled through Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook and have seen thousands of portrait sessions. Although the people are all different, the photos look strangely similar. Your photos sessions don’t have to be a nightmare scenario. You don’t have to have matching outfits. Your kids don’t have to be standing perfectly still, looking at the camera. You don’t have to have the perfect hair and makeup, or use the most picturesque field, beach spot, or photo op spot of the moment. It doesn’t have to be difficult! It just has to be “you”. Otherwise, what’s the point? Why would you want to spend good money to remember scenes from a life that isn’t yours? All that to say, I’m certainly not against getting dolled up and finding a beautiful spot to photograph your family, but I would encourage you (as I have to remind myself sometimes) to embrace all the madness that goes with it. Some of my favorite shots from sessions I’ve done with families or kids have been in the midst of a total meltdown, a fussy teething moment, a sibling disagreement or after someone has accidentally stained their new outfit. If you can find some way to personalize your session, DO! If I’m photographing your session and you need some help coming up with ideas, I’d be glad to brainstorm with you. My most treasured photos, professionally and personally are the ones that can be looked back on years later as meaningful heirlooms, depicting a time in its reality.

So here they are in all their glory. None of them are standing still. There are shirts untucked, zipper pockets unzipped, blurry appendages, a pink stain on Bellamy’s shirt that is already coming untucked out of her overalls (probably because its two sizes too small), last year’s Thanksgiving pants that are slightly too short and too tight, and shoes all missing socks. But they’re tickling each other and really laughing. That sketch of the guitar and amp is one Cash left in the office a few days ago. Beckett drew that drum set for his graffiti birthday portrait because they’re his favorite thing right now. Bellamy is really into flowers and hearts and apparently heart flowers right now. Cash drew the word “Clark” in a really cool abstract way so I stuck it in over their heads. And its them. And I love them, I love them, I love them.

I’m calling these special shoots, “Sketch Pad Sessions”. You can collect some samples of your kids’ drawings, some special writing samples, wedding vows, love notes, etc. and give them to me at the session. Once I’ve incorporated them into your photos, you’ll get all the memorable items back intact. 😊 Individual “Sketch Pad Photos” can be added on to any regular session for a little extra, if you’d just like one or two personalized photos. Brainstorming ways to make your photos more personal during your session is of course, on the house. You can contact me through my website at Did I ever mention I'm a photographer? Well I am, so there. Ha! I’d love to hear ways that I can expand on this idea, so leave any suggestions in the comments below! I hope this is a service that can be as valuable to my clients as it has been to my family.

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y're my daily sunshine! thanks!



Simply amazing!!! Brilliant. Love it 😍

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