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. 

Using Format