I traveled to Northern Virginia from Bristol for this project (about a five-hour drive), and I met some amazing people while there, including the one you’ll see featured here.
This session was part of a brand photography project for a nonprofit who needed lifestyle portraits of their clients in their home environments to accompany those clients’ stories in their marketing materials.
These types of story-driven brand photos are extremely effective in annual reports, on websites, and in marketing campaigns because they feel trustworthy and authentic. The polished presentation helps them feel true to the brand’s standards, quality, and professionalism, but they’re not stock and they don’t feel staged. They’re real people, in their real homes, in their real community, and they help tell a real story.
I’ve done over a dozen sessions like this over the last year (pre- and post-quarantine). I absolutely enjoy the people I photograph and the challenges the photo sessions present.
It’s a fun challenge for me personally! Why?
Time is limited. I don’t usually have a lot of time for these sessions, so I tend to spend between an hour and two hours on location, including introductions and getting to know my new friend(s), setting up my equipment, taking the photos, and tearing down my equipment. If my videographer friends are on set as well (which is the case about 25% of the time), sometimes, we will take turns creating; when that happens, I might be there for three to six hours assisting, but only taking photos for one to two.
The story is really important. Every photo must tell a story (show a glimpse into the person’s life) and work with an overall campaign. This is one of the reasons these sessions are so special to me…I love getting to know the people I’m taking photos of and helping share their stories. Before and during our photo session, I get to know them to decide what their photos will be like. What kind of personality do they have? What is their life like? What do they do every day? Why do they live where they do? Do they have hobbies? Are they retired or where do they work? If they’re local, do we know any of the same people? I don’t ask these questions directly…I just gather information in natural conversation. I feel like I actually get to know some people really well in just a few minutes, and I’ve made so many sweet friends.
It’s not in-the-moment, but it needs to feel in-the-moment. The subject may not be talking on the phone and laughing at the person on the other line, but let’s make it feel like it. The subject might not really be washing dishes, but let’s make it feel like it. The subject may not be reading, but let’s make it feel like it. Relaxed posing, “acting,” and freezing in-motion are all important here.
I don’t see the environment beforehand. I don’t get a preview of the environment, so I don’t know if I will be taking photos in 10×10 room with orangey-yellow overhead lights and no windows or a 20×20 sunroom with beautiful natural light. It’s a fun surprise for me and always challenges my abilities. Most brands always want the light look as natural as possible (like window light), and sometimes that’s a challenge when there are no windows.
I travel light with very little gear. I’m not a “gearhead,” so I have tried to find the best ways to achieve the looks I want with very minimal gear. One reason for this is that the muscles in my body are extremely weak, especially the muscles in my back, so my haul needs to be lightweight. Another reason is that I like to be very flexible and sometimes spontaneous on location, so my haul also needs to be portable (battery-operated with no cords) and able to be carried with my own two hands/arms/chins in one trip. And the final reason is that I’m kind of impatient with setup. (Just like I don’t like cooking meals that require a lot of chopping up of vegetables, I don’t like photo shoots that require a lot of equipment assembly!) I guess an added bonus is that it allows me to save money on gear, which is great to keep my business costs down!
As far as equipment goes, I typically show up with my camera, three lenses, two flashes, a 5-in-1 reflector, two light stands, and two octobox umbrellas.
Here are some before/after image pairings to show you what the rooms looked like before I lit them.
In the first set of images below, you can also tell the “before” was also before posing if you’ll notice how I had him place his left elbow and right hand and laugh at the imaginary person on the phone. The room extended about three feet past the foot board, so there was no room for me to take the photo from inside. I stood outside of the door frame and did a “peek through” type shot; those also create more of a candid effect. The only window was the one behind him. I used an octobox above my head pointed at him, a reflector over to the left, and a flash in the floor to the right bouncing off the ceiling. I still wanted nice contrast and for it to look natural, like window light. The floor flash did create a few direct lines, but it changed the entire feel of the image, don’t you think?
There were no windows in this room, but I positioned my octobox as a “window” over to the right, and also bounced my flash off of the ceiling in the same area.
A lot of times, you’ll see windows above sinks, but here, there was a pass-through cut out of the wall instead. I positioned my softbox in the living room pointing into the kitchen through the pass-through. I sat my other flash on a stool and bounced it onto the ceiling behind him (to the left of me).
I hope you enjoyed seeing what was created when I was in Northern Virginia this month. I hope you also enjoyed learning a little about what it’s like taking authentic lifestyle, environmental portraits for brand stories. They have become some of my favorite types of photo projects!
Nice to e-meet you!
I’m Briana. I help service-oriented leaders create amazing brands using strategy based on their ideal clients. In a nutshell, I assist businesses with branding or rebranding by offering things like brand assessments, strategy, photography, design, and consulting.
I was born and raised in Bristol, TN/VA in the Tri-Cities at the center of the Appalachian Highlands, and I still live here with my husband Stephen.
In many ways, I am an old soul. I can’t help but have a desire to understand people of all demographics, generations, and personality types. I use that desire to your advantage: to determine how you can better serve your dream customers. It’s an emotionally-driven approach to branding that involves stepping into someone else’s shoes. After all, the emotion a brand creates for a customer is what keeps them coming back, and who better to take an emotionally-driven approach than me, one of the most emotional friends you will probably ever have!