Cover Shoot – Behind the Scenes

I was thrilled when I found out Frank (Owner of Super Franks) and Tracie (Publisher of Active Kids) wanted me to shoot the cover of Active Kids, the September 2010 issue.

The theme for that issue is parties.

I was given allowance to run with my creative ideas, and the only known facts I had to work with was the location — the Princess Room at Super Franks — which I knew well because I had shot there before, and the image orientation — portrait — because that was the shape of the publication.


The night I found out I was doing the cover shot in the Princess Room, ideas started forming pretty quickly…

~ I knew I wanted only 3 kids in the shot.  Even though it was a party theme, I didn’t want a large group because then the cover would be too busy.  With 3, the image would be “cleaner”.

~ Since the location was going to be in the Princess Room, I wanted the 3 kids to be girls — specifically, girls who knew each other and girls who were preferably different looking (ie, different hair color), so the cover would a appeal to a wider audience as well as look like friends at a party.

~ I also wanted a tight shot of the girls in the foreground and most of the castle in the background, so that meant the girls needed to be towards the front of the room for me to capture most of the castle in the frame.

~ My vision was that the girls would stand behind a medium-sized round birthday cake.  I would sit the cake on a small round stand, so I could see most of the models and their Princess dresses.  The shape of the cake was key in this set-up because only a round cake would allow me to capture an image that showed most of the girls.  I wanted the girls to be the main focal point, not the cake.


Once we settled on a date, it was all about the light.  I talked to Frank about the best lighting in the room we were going to shoot in, and then did a little research myself.

I went to Super Franks before the actual shoot to do some test shots and take some visual measurements.  I even brought Melia to be my stand-in because I wanted to see what the light looked like on skin as well as figure out the height for the cake, table and lighting equipment.

On the day of the shoot, I had only 90 minutes to get in and get out!  I had another appointment immediately following the shoot, so I needed to be ultra efficient on the day of.


I couldn’t have chosen better 4-year old models.  They were great listeners, followed direction well, and stunning!



Every shoot has challenges, even if they’re small ones.

Challenge #1: Mixed lighting!

Though the window provided ample light near the castle, I needed my models to stand towards the front of the room, which had flourescent light that casted a yellowy-orange tinge on skin.  See Melia below.  Notice the light on her skin and chairs (yellow) compared to the light near the castle (white)?

Mixed light poses a problem because I can’t properly adjust the white balance in my camera for one type of light without messing up the colors in the other type of light.  I also can’t bounce light from my Nikon Speedlight because of the colored walls and ceiling.  A reflector would also not work because the window was too far away to catch the sunlight where I wanted it.  The only solution:  bring in studio lighting.


Challenge #2: Wrong prop!

On the day of the shoot, I found out the cake was the wrong size and shape!  This was my most vital and only prop, so it was important it was right.  Aiyaiyai.

The bakery provided a large rectangular cake instead of a smaller circular one, as ordered.  The funny thing is that we think they changed the size as a gift to Super Franks.  Little did they know, they were changing a prop for a cover shot.

I still spent time getting the cake shot and just changed my angle, so I could see more of the girls’ faces, but in doing so, I couldn’t get as much of the castle.  I knew it was now time to change it up and get some other contender shots because there was a good chance the cake ones weren’t going to work.  I had to think fast!


I brought one large softbox that I moved around depending on the set-up.  Thank goodness it was on wheels.  This softbox provided beautiful white light, which looks the same as sunlight from a window.

I had all the furniture moved to the front of the room, so they were out of the way.  The parents and Tracie, the Publisher, watched from behind me and helped with the girls and set up. 



Below are my favorites from that hour of shooting.

What would you want to see as the cover?  Cast your vote in the Comments section.

Image #1

The rectangular cake and table were overpowering in size for the photo, but this was my favorite among this set-up.


Image #2

Close-up shot taken straight on.


Image #3

I laid on the ground and got an upward angle (with my wide angle lens) to get most of the castle in the background.  It would need a little cropping, but otherwise, it is one of my top 2.


Image #4

Tea party!


Image #5

Shallow depth of field with the models.


Image #6

Action shot!


So which one should be the cover photo for September 2010 of Active Kids? (I actually don’t know which one was chosen.)

So to see which was chosen, pick up an Active Kids in September to see!  You can get one at most Bay Area children’s places, like preschools, children’s entertainment centers, and libraries.

If you can’t find one, you can click here to see the online issue!

#ActiveKids #CoverPhotoshoot #SuperFranks

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