Behind-The-Scenes: Crystal

Styled Shoots involve more directing of subjects, which is a fun contrast to my regular shoots (Lifestyle Photography) that are more natural-flowing.

In this shoot with Crystal, for instance, I took her into a deserted building and a cemetery ==> NOT your typical photography locations.  Some of that occurred on a whim because the other areas were occupied by another photographer.  Instead of leaving altogether, I got more creative!  It feels amazing to still achieve the quality of images I had visualized beforehand, even with the unplanned changes.  Boo-yah!

Before diving into the behind-the-scenes (BTS) images, I’d like to share a phone selfie of me and Crystal taken before the shoot, so you can see what she looks like on a “normal” day.  She is stylish, cute and gorgeous, right?!!


And, I know you’re thinking it, so I’m just gonna come out and say it for you… I need a tan!  😉  Alright, let’s get to it!

Behind-the-Scenes #1

I chose this area because I liked how the green in her top (it was a silk scarf!) matched the leaves in the tree, so I placed her here.  Since she has never done a professional shoot before, I gave her a branch to hold, so her hands had something to do.

(PHOTOGRAPHY TIP:  Sometimes hands can look awkward. They need to have “a purpose”.  Don’t just let them fall to the side.  I call that “a dead arm”.)

I also love her muscular arms and back, so finding ways to curve and bend her body highlighted those areas.  It also makes the image more editorial than headshot-y.  (Do you like my formal terms?!!)


What I Shot


[Specs:  ISO 400, 1/1000 sec, f/1.4, shade.]

Behind-the-Scenes #2

I started shooting her in different angles (straight on with the cemetery behind her, through the trees, etc), but none of those gave me the “wow” effect that I wanted.  I ended up moving closer and closer, and shot her from the side, as you see below.

I found the side view more flattering.  It showed off her arms in a feminine way and created a harder line around her jaw, which I liked.

Also, from this side view, I can see her wrist tattoos, which offers a visual detail that I find interesting.


What I Shot


[Specs:  ISO 400, 1/400 sec, f/1.8, open shade]

Behind-the-Scenes #3

I could see that the sun was hitting the bush with the flowers, so I knew I wanted to shoot through that for a cool foreground bokeh.  To get into position, I am looking through the viewfinder the entire time, so I guess I ended up in a funky legs-all-twisted kind of position!  haha.

The other image (below right) shows me giving Crystal posing direction.

BTS-styled-shoot-Crystal-4     BTS-directing-a-styled-shoot-Crystal

What I Shot

I love this shot of Crystal.  She looks flirty and fun!  Her stance also shows off her athletic build.  (She is a volleyball athlete!)


[Specs:  ISO 400, 1/1250 sec, f/1.4, speckled light]

Behind-the-Scenes #4

So at the end of the shoot, I looked around for a strip of light.  I visualized a dark environment with a tiny bit of light, so I could create more of an emotional, storytelling image than just “a pretty” one.

I found this strip of light inside a deserted building that worked great, however, based on how the sunlight streamed in, the light was very low to the ground.  I gave Crystal directions to sit, kick off her shoes, and bend forward into the light.  I painted a story for her so she would have “activities”, so that the image would have a story…

She was a girl at a party who stepped away from it to be alone for awhile so she could think.  The rest was up to her.  Was she sad?  Pensive?


What I Shot


[Specs:  ISO 250, 1/4000 sec, f/1.4,  super bright stream of light]

Then I walked up to her to get a close-up.

I wanted to highlight the shapes from the light and shadows on her face and body, so I had her body produce even more shapes by making her limbs bend and her body asymmetric.


[Specs:  ISO 320, 1/5000 sec, f/1.8, bright stream of light]


If you want to see more Behind-the-Scenes posts, check out this one.  And this one.  And don’t forget this one.  🙂

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  1. This a great blog! I’ve really end up learning something new with your photo tips. I was curious what lens you were using for this and also wondered if you always shoot your portraits in such a wide aperture, preferring to adjust shutter speed. Lovely results!

    • Hi Jen,

      Thanks for your kind words! 🙂

      Camera settings are not just about getting the right exposure, but they’re also about your artistic style. For me, I love visually separating my subjects from the background (a narrow depth of field), so to do that, I need a wide aperture. In some cases, I will use a smaller aperture, but only if I have to (ie, super bright sun, multiple subjects).


  2. Elissa McMeniman

    Your photography is stunning. If I lived in California, I would work for you for free just to learn from you!

    Quick question, if you don’t mind sharing your secrets: how do you get all parts of your model in focus with a 1.4 aperture? Magic? 🙂 I love how it makes the subject pop from the background, but I always get the cheek in focus and little else. (I’m still learning.)

    • Hi Elissa,

      You are SO SWEET! Thank you for your comments!

      I don’t mind sharing. I prefer using a wide aperture (ie, 1.4, 1.8 and sometimes 2.8) because I love bokeh! To get sharp focus at such a wide aperture, you can do a few things:

      – Use a long lens
      – Make sure your shutter speed is fast enough
      – Have a sturdy stance and camera grip (otherwise there will be motion blur or you’ll miss your mark)
      – If photographing more than one subject, make sure they’re all on the same plane
      – If photographing one subject, focus on their eyes (or the eye closest to you, if they are turned)

      Hope that helps! 🙂


      • OOH OOH! I just thought of something else…

        I use “single point focus” on my camera. I never ever use auto focus or multiple point focus (or “matrix” focus).

        • Irma Furnish

          thanks, Annie! So for the focus point, when you have a couple or even 4 people, where would you put the focus point? I understand about having them on the same plane, but just curious where you put the focus point.

  3. I thoroughly enjoy your images, and your comments are wonderful. But I’ve always wanted to ask how you “stage/setup” your models/families. You mention in this blog using stories to create an atmosphere, but is that also how you have your lifestyle families work? Do you mind sharing how you interact with your families to create the powerful images you share on your blog? What do you say, how do you direct them, etc.? Thanks so much.

    • Ooh, this is such a fabulous question, Michael! Let me think about that a little more, so I can give you a more thoughtful response. If you don’t mind, I’m going to share the Q and A with others — either on my FB page or on my blogsite (this one), but as its own post. I don’t want the Q and A to get buried in the comments bec it’d be hard to find. I think a few others may be interested in that as well. Gimme a few days. Thanks, again, Michael for the question.