The Power of Photographing Your Parents

Last month, I photographed my mother-in-law and the responses I received from people were heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking, and most of all… eye opening.

As photographers, we are the absolute WORST about getting in front of the camera and documenting the special people in our own lives. We’re all so caught up in running our businesses that we forget how important it is to have beautiful portraits and family heirlooms of our own.

“Let’s just do our family portrait session next year after I lose 30 pounds.”

“I want to wait to have my picture taken until after the summer so I have a nice tan.”

“I hate my hair right now, let’s just wait until it grows a little longer.”

“I just had a baby, let me lose some of this baby weight first.”

We’ve all been there. It’s all so relatable, honestly. I’ve been working with Sal for over 10 years and I still don’t have family pictures because of those reasons above. 10 YEARS.

So, what happens if you keep pushing it off? What happens when it’s too late? The excuses are going to be the only thing left you have to remember. This moment in time– today, your flesh and blood, as they are right now. Don’t you want to remember that?

That was the eye-opening moment for me after I posted the story about the photo shoot I did of my mother-in-law. So many people reached out telling me how badly they wished they would have made the time to photograph their parents while they were still alive.

Photographs keep our memories alive. We capture these amazing moments in time, and sure, maybe your mom is not at her ideal weight, or she probably thinks she’s too old to have beauty portraits done (cough cough: my mother). But at the end of the day, the idea of NOT taking the time to create images of my own mom with access to everything I need to make it happen? Well, that would just be foolish.

I know I want to be able to look at portraits of my mom from a time in our lives when we are actually friends. I don’t want the only photos I have of her to be from before I was born, or really, before she and I had the special relationship we have today. I want today’s mom captured in a photograph. The mom I share the most laughs with and spend more time with than 16-year old me could have ever imagined.

So, I hope you enjoy these images of my mother, Diane Zimmerman. I know I will get to cherish these for the rest of my life and will always be able to look back on this day (and this point in our relationship) and just feel genuine happiness. And that’s pretty cool.

The Planning Process

I, obviously, know my mom extremely well. And for this shoot, I decided to be a little selfish and pick her outfits to match the way I wanted to remember her.

My mom has piercing blue eyes, so I wanted three outfits that really made them pop. She has a fairly neutral skin tone. I would say there are more yellow undertones than anything else, so I felt safe putting her in blues and cool tones. The pop of red in the first look was done carefully. If I would have gone with an orange-y red, it wouldn’t have looked right with her skin.

With her bright blue eyes, I also think she can handle a heavier black eyeliner and more dramatic eyelashes. I gave Brandi, our hair and makeup artist, one inspiration image and told her to go a little heavier on the eyeliner, but other than that, she did her thing and it turned out perfectly.

I think a lot of people go overboard with curling hair for photoshoots. A beauty portrait session like this, I want my subjects to look like themselves, but a more spiced up version of that. I don’t want them to look like they’re going to prom with tight ringlet curls. It just isn’t the right look for an adult woman. Curled hair should be loose waves (unless your subject has naturally beautiful tighter curls, then definitely work with their natural magic). It should be hairsprayed to make sure the curls stay, but shouldn’t be sprayed with so much hairspray that you lose the element of sensuality. Hair should be able to blow in the wind and create that movement I love so much in beauty portraits!

Look #1: The Go-To Robe + Flowers Shot

I wanted to start the session with my favorite robe + flowers look. For this, I bought a baby blue robe off of and paired with some blue and red flowers. The pop of red was in the flowers and in her earrings. Other than that, it was all about the blues for this look.

I did my typical lighting setup for this scene: One single continuous light with a softbox. I love using the Westcott Solix with the 2×3 softbox for this look. By placing the light close to my subject, I was able to create a nice, soft light that evenly lit my subject and the flowers she was holding, while providing nice fall-off behind her to showcase the green of the background without having to add a second light. I used the Mud backdrop from Intuition Backgrounds in their canvas material for this shot (and all other shots, actually).

I used a Manfrotto Nano Stand, clamped a bundle of both blue and red flowers to the top with a backdrop clamp, and placed the stand between the camera and my subject to shoot through the flowers and create the color in the foreground of these images. You’ll need to maneuver either your body or the flowers around a bit to create a natural gap in the florals for you to shoot through. Adding an element like this is a great way to frame your subject and add a pop of color without having to do an elaborate set design.

In this scene, it’s all about finding the perfect frame up + the perfect expression + the perfect gust of wind in the hair. There is minimal movement needed from your subject here, but these small details will make or break your shot.

Settings: f4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th
Settings: f4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th

Look #2: Jade Green and Glam

My mom’s favorite color is jade green and I knew that would be a gorgeous color to photograph her wearing. I wanted to show a little skin here with my mom, but nothing too saucy. I found an off-the-shoulder sweater on Amazon and grabbed earrings and a necklace we already had in our jewelry stash at the studio.

See, with this outfit I could have gone softer with the jewelry and created a completely different look. I chose to add the bold jewelry because it fits my mom’s personality perfect: sweet and reserved with a little bit of sass and edge (ok maybe a lot of sass :)).

We have a chair in our studio that complimented the jade green and the tones of the background perfectly, and the shape allowed my mom to lean back to look more relaxed in some shots, and also lean forward to show a little more power in the images.

In this scene I shot both artificial and natural light.

I started with one light: The Westcott FJ400 and the Joel Grimes Beauty Dish from Westcott. From there, I added a hair light camera right, the Westcott FJ80, to add a little more separation and shape that side of her body. Once I got those shots with strobes, I turned everything off and had Brandi hold a piece of vintage brown-toned lace in front of the camera. I also had a piece of nude chiffon that I wrapped around her to create a completely new look with just two pieces of fabric. Shooting natural light for this allows the lace you’re shooting through to be lit the same as your subject so you get that painterly effect in-camera.

Settings: f4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th
Settings: f4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th
Settings: f4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th
Settings: f4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th

Look #3: Classic White with a Pop of Boujee

I love my mom in white, it just looks so good with her skin tone and eyes. I also feel like a woman in a classic white button down shirt is so casually sexy and classy. It’s soft, yet powerful. Strong and kind. Masculine, but still very very feminine. I got a few shots with my Westcott Flash System in this outfit as well, then finished out the session with natural light, as I could tell she was starting to get tired.

For lighting, I used the Westcott FJ400 and the Joel Grimes Beauty Dish with the Westcott Eyelighter and the FJ80 as a hair light. When I switched to natural light, I kept the Westcott Eyelighter in to lightly fill in some shadows and to create a nice sparkle in her eyes.

Settings: f4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th
Settings: f4 @ ISO 50, 1/200th

So there you have it. I picked a Saturday afternoon and gave my mom the full experience. We had an awesome girls day, with mimosas, glam, and family all together. This will be something I remember forever, and I hope the same for my mom. I am a firm believer that giving your family the gift of quality time together is the best gift they could ever want. Making memories, that’s what it’s all about. Now, I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to remember this moment in time for the rest of my life because I will always have these images to look back on.


Editorial Studio Portraits

With editorial portraits, you always want to mix things up so you have a good variety of looks to choose from. For this shoot, I started with a Westcott FJ400 with the Joel Grimes Beauty Dish on camera left, with the Westcott FJ80 as a hair light behind my subject, camera right.