what is a narrative brand session? | dfw branding photography

In 2018 and 2019, I photographed a number of female business owners who inquired needing “headshots.” And, what most of them said in their initial correspondence was, “I don’t want a typical headshot.” Thank goodness, because Let’s Retire the Word Headshot, please. They went on to explain that they did need something classic and timeless for LinkedIn or to send for speaking engagements and publications. And, of course, we created that. But, what they most needed were photos that told the story of who they were as women and business owners. 

So, in December, when I took a sabbatical, I reviewed my entire portfolio– the portraits as well as my feelings about the process. And, what I realized was this: I needed more time for these projects. I’m not sure I can adequately tell the story of your business that’s been built on years of your own blood, sweat, and tears in one hour in a studio (Don’t get me wrong we can do a bunch in an hour. See a studio session HERE). Hence, the narrative brand session was created. In Cabo. You can find those glorious photographs HERE. Please don’t stray too far off in my happy place, as I’ve got some beautiful content to show you on this page, too. 

A narrative brand session is completed over the course of a week or a month depending on your schedule. With this session for Tabitha Mahaffey of Tabitha Mahaffey Designs, I photographed each project for her not-yet-live website piecemeal. Sometimes if it’s important to showcase an event, I’ll photograph that and coordinate another separate date with you for your own individual portraits. I knew I’d enjoy working with her because I have photographed her sweet family (see that session HERE) and because I love collaborating with other creatives. I love  design. I actually think I missed my calling. However, with these narrative brand sessions, I get to style stuff which gives me my fix. 

The first project was a bathroom. Check out these details. 

My assistant was asking me how I liked photographing bathrooms, and I actually revel in the change of pace from portraiture. Bathrooms are not like the children whom I have to bribe with Skittles. Bathrooms are not like the women whose inner critic views the photos and critiques her every curve. Bathrooms don’t require retouching. The bigger the tub, the better, and so I do not take a deep breath and feel vulnerable when I hit send on a bathroom gallery. I do not wonder if I should have liquified her legs a little.

As I was leaving this bathroom, I decided to take two medium format film photos with Connie, my cranky Contax 645. Just for fun. I try to create at least one image per session that is for my own enjoyment. And, I actually love these two.

From there, I began photographing the details of a residential design project. I asked Tabitha the same question that my wife asks me, “What is it you feel when you create?” My wife is not what I would describe as creative, but she has seen time and time again over the past twelve years how vibrantly alive I become in the creative process. I mean, most recently, it was in designing our son’s new big boy room. Sometimes I hire a designer, but sometimes I do it on my own becuase I actually love the process. But, I don’t know how to answer her question. What is it I love? How do I feel when I create? I think it’s both alive and at ease. Is it possible to feel exhilarated and calm at the same time? So, I asked Tabitha, and she put it so much more eloquently.

I’m gonna paraphrase because I did not get my tape recorder out, and my memory is foggy as any aging mom’s. She said something about how when you walk into a room that’s designed well, you feel at ease. She actually made one of those parasympathetic sounds like, “Ahhhhh” because in an environment that’s balanced and beautiful, we can sink into ourselves and feel at home. On our initial call, I asked her about her style and what inspires her in her process, so I’d know where to focus my lens, and she told me about her love of white and texture. 

I have this thing for oversized light fixtures…

…and shelves…shelves are art.

Kari Does Makeup and I have this ongoing talk about how ghost chairs are all wrong for seating, but look how cute and minimal visual space.

The details make all the difference.

I’ve never met a hard light I didn’t like, and a flour sack doesn’t mind.

I actually love photographing people. It just holds a little more water than photographing a bathroom. See what I did there. Stepping in front of the camera says to the world that you’re here and you matter and your life is worth celebrating. And, for 95% of women, that elicits a great deal of vulnerability. Something I do with my clients is guide them every step of the way. Some of it is general cheerleading like “You’ve got this” and “You’re doing great.” Some of it is logistical like coordinating hair and makeup and lists of items to have on hand. Some of it is my beforehand preparation and planning. Finally, I’ve put together five tips for preparing for a photo session that you can download HERE

With Tabitha, I literally just stood there and said “Bigger Smile Bigger Smile, Bigger Smile” like it was one of those self-help affirmations. And, she was kinda like, “How is this going to look good?” And, at that point, Carly, who assists me chimed in to share her experience with smiling, and finally, we were all smiling. So, in her feedback after receiving her gallery, I was thrilled when she said, “You were right: bigger smile is best.” 

From bright and airy, to powerful and I can command a room, a branding session captures all of your facets.

Our clients want to know who we are beyond our business. So, for these sessions, a casual shot is always a must.

What I was not prepared for was the cat photobomb. Cats know how to pose and do not respond to suggestions or incorporate feedback. It works for them.

Admittedly, I was a bit torn on who to focus upon, but I chose Tabitha.

I hate to end this on a sad note, but days after I delivered this gallery, the cat “Kate” passed over the rainbow bridge. I’m always sad when that happens, yet it reminds me of the importance of what I do. Photographs freeze a moment in time, and they keep the details of the memory alive. RIP, Kate. I hope you’re relaxing in a puddle of warm sunshine.  

If you’re interested in this type of session, I have an opening the week of February 19th and two in March. I’d love to narrate you and your brand’s story. 

branding your business | studio headshots

Can I be honest? 

I think I can. People tell me they appreciate my honesty.

I am not sure I was born with that gene where I cannot be. Sure, I make up stories in my head every day, but mostly, I strive to tell the truth about myself and to myself. 

I taught English for many years, and I feel like this blog about branding your business should begin with an ode to Charles Dickens:

It is the best of times, 

it is the worst of times, 

it is ultimate freedom,

it is relentless discipline, 

it has seasons of sheer joy, 

it has seasons of utter despair, 

it is a life we would not trade for anything, 

it is a life that brings lots of long days turned sleepless nights.

I began my path as an entrepreneur in 2011. My goal was to see if I could make it one year. I never really allowed myself to think about creating photographs as a long term career. It was something I loved and something people asked me to do. Only recently have I begun to realize that day by day, quarter by quarter, year by year, I’ve been doing this for a while now. I still feel so new, and I am riding one of those waves in business where I need all new computers and to upgrade my tired equipment, so in some ways I feel like I’m just starting up. It’s still scary sometimes because in an age where everyone has a camera in their pocket, I pay my mortgage and taxes and save for retirement with what I earn as a photographer. 

During that time, I’ve experienced a number of highs and lows. If I were to name why I’m still here photographing people, it’s not because I have the most talent. It’s because in moments of desperation, I reach out to others for help. 

And, during one low period in particular, I remember reaching out to fellow family and newborn photographer, Sabrina Gebhardt. I don’t really remember what all she told me, but I took copious notes, and I left that meeting feeling like I could keep on, keeping on for a little while longer. Gosh, that must have been at least five years ago. Since then, she’s begun mentoring photographers, and I would recommend her to anyone and everyone. She is a natural teacher with a passion for sharing what she’s learned. I consider her the queen of lifestyle photography and a baby whisperer. 

As a photographer, she understands that photos matter. I’m thrilled to be creating some branding photos to help her share the various services she offers. 

There was a time when I would have been really nervous to photograph a fellow photographer, but I honestly relish it now. I know how much we hate being in front of the camera, so I just see my job as putting a person at ease. 

People sometimes ask how many looks they can expect in an hour studio headshot session, and this session shows what’s possible. 

This was my first session of 2020, after an entire month “off” where I tended to back-end business work but did not photograph anyone. Sabrina has taught me to call this type of work my “CEO Day” which sounds so much better than “administrative tasks.” I actually look forward to my CEO Days when I crunch my numbers and handle my website and today, I’m actually writing this blog. Anyway, when I arrived to the studio, I had 2 frames remaining on a roll of medium format black and white film that I knew I needed to purge. I’d used it to test my equipment the night before with my family. So, I began with this double exposure. Except, there was some “camera advancement malfunction” so it’s four or five exposures. I dig it though. 

From there, I began to photograph in color. We kept it neutral. I love a white shirt for headshots. And as a photographer, wearing a white shirt makes you a natural reflector, so it’s fitting for her. 

behind the scenes at the DarkRoom.

What’s of utmost importance in selecting clothes for your session is the fit. If you wear something baggy, I’m not above using a backdrop clip to make it look more fitted.

From there, she added a jacket, and we stepped outside for some casual lifestyle images. The power of good branding is that you can charge more for what you do. For instance, Starbucks can charge $6 for coffee. Remember when that was insane! My son recognizes the Starbucks logo anywhere and yells, “CAKEPOP CAKEPOP CAKEPOPPPPPP” until I pull over. I know lots of entrepreneurs who balk at paying for photos, but photos build your brand, and if you use them right, you certainly see a return on your investment. More on that another time. 

Because she works in studio but also at home and is a casual lifestyle photographer, we wanted a set to communicate all of that. We took this rug out of the DarkRoom bathroom and layered some backdrops because I just like stuff to have some dimension. And chaos is part of Sabrina’s brand. 

Carly, deep in thought, trying to read my mind and execute my vision with these layered backdrops. She nailed it– as always!

She just went to mirrorless (like me, except a different model). #cameranerds

As a photographer educator and mentor, much of her work is done behind the scenes. She is a colour lover, so we added some pink here. 

One of the services she offers are simple portraiture in studio of babies, toddlers, and now adolescents where she captures the stage they’re in. I just thought it would be fun to play on that with her many accoutrements in tow. 

What would a headshot session of a photographer be without a photo of her with her camera. I mean, as I was talking with her I said, “In your quest to be creative, you ever miss the obvious shot?” I try not to. So, I feel like this photo shows her essence. 

If you’re in need of some photos for your business, I offer two packages: one in-studio session like this, which starts at $350, and a full narrative brand session designed to offer you content for at least a couple quarters. Info on that is found HERE

a week off the grid | a week in Cabo

Nearly a year ago, I told my wife that I wanted to go on a retreat during the first week of December. And, my pattern when I want to do something is to say I’d like to do the thing, and then list all of the obstacles and talk myself out of doing the thing. It doesn’t matter that a big part of my career as both photographer and mother is to encourage and inspire people to do the thing. When it comes to myself, I’m often more the doubter than the dreamer. We all need people in our lives who help us be great. I am so grateful for  the people in my life who say, “Yes, you can” and “Come on, I’ll help you.” 

This fall didn’t pummel me this year because I planned well and held my ground and ultimately kept my word to myself, which I’ve found is the best predictor of how much other folks can trust me.

And, I spent five days in the desert near Cabo, where a chef prepared three meals each day for me and I practiced yoga twice daily. I made few decisions with the exception of a day trip to Flora Farms. Over the course of the week at Prana del Mar, I became so gloriously bored that I created new things and crunched last year’s numbers and reflected on how grateful I am that I get to live this life. Whether it’s the posh life for a week or the peanut butter cracker-inbox overflowing-plastic paradise life I live the other 51 weeks of the year, I try to live it gratefully. 

For you film aficionados, these photos are mostly a combination of Portra 800 and Cinestill Daylight 50, shot on a Nikon F5, processed and scanned by Richard Photo Lab.

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