“There is only one sun. We can’t all claim to only have one way to use the light, but we can REDEFINE how we choose to express it.”
Why are you passionate about this topic?
I am so passionate about celebrating what makes each child unique and special and that’s why in 2013, after years of wanting to launch this idea – I finally did it, I finally launched what I call my all about me sessions for children! An all about me session is a styled session with a purpose because the goal is to tell the story of this one child at this one moment! Each prop or activity is chosen for a reason and plays a key role in allowing me to capture the inner quirks and dreams that makes this child unique. You see we all have that special something that makes our voice unique – EVERY.SINGLE.ONE.OF.US has something special within us! It is true though sometimes with the ins and outs of every day happenings – the soccer games, the swim team practices, oh, and the piles of laundry – that sometimes we don’t see it! Sometimes we just can’t hear it, we can’t hear that little voice that is telling us that we are special and unique and DIFFERENT, and stepping into a world of make believe is all we need to be reminded.
When did you first learn this technique? Or, when did you first realize you liked this topic?
I always say kids see the world in an unfiltered way – sugar is sweeter, colors are brighter and jumping off the front porch steps makes you feel like you are jumping off of the Empire State Building! And I mean it! But at some point in our lives, its a different time for everyone, but at some point in our lives we lose that, we become aware of what other people think or that people are watching and we hold back. We shield who we really are or and idea we have because we are afraid of what the world with think or say about us. I know this filter and this fear all too well. When I started my photography career, styled wedding photo shoots were all the rage! And I had this idea, what if I did a children’s shoot that had props and it was sort of styled but that had meaning to it!? What if I tried to go into each kids imagination and dreams and created a shoot around that!? Well, I was 1 year into my career and that idea sat in the back of mind, waiting for me to have the guts to DO IT! But I didn’t, I spent my hours away from my girls and my husband shooting what other people wanted me to shoot, how other people wanted me to shoot. 2 years later and still sitting in the back of my mind, scared of what others would think, scared clients would reject the idea or not get it but everyday shooting my own kids doing what they loved, watching my oldest daughter who was 3 and the princess-iest of all princesses have an utter obsession with Thomas the Train. I captured our weekly trips to the grocery store in full princess garb because our addiction to all things glittery and girly and Disney was in full effect! But there it sat, my idea, held back in my mind because of fear! Then, one day, I stopped listening to that fear! I had a session coming up with one of my very first “google” clients, I had photographed their son since he was born and they were just crazy enough to listen to my idea and say “yes.” And so, I did my very first all about me session. I started with basic, the props that came from his room, his Pottery Barn quilt with the solar system, planets hanging from the ceiling, and the telescope he had gotten for his birthday with some homemade stars thrown in and voila!
What are the tips you would share with anyone trying to achieve this technique or subject/topic?
- Think like a kid…
I have learned through the years that I am most inspired by this lack of filter, the magic of childhood – the idea of looking at the world in a different way. You have to enter a child’s world of imagination and fun! Sometimes, we all need to dance in the rain or run through the backyard chasing ladybugs! So when I need inspiration the most, I look toward them and I lead by example… I just let go of my filter and breathe in the moment!
- Rein it in…
The most important thing to remember when creating a concept for an all about me shoot is to only choose one concept! It can get exciting an overwhelming brainstorming ideas for kids because they are multifaceted, right?! But, sticking to one solid concept allows you to really dream up new things while having a way to rein it in.
- Asking the right questions to the right person…
In my online class, The Magic of Childhood, I share a copy my client questionnaire but ultimately the most important thing to remember is to have the parent answer the questions WITH their child so that you get the child’s real answers not the answers the parents wants you to photograph.
- Backup your backup…
Be prepared for the unexpected… like all of a sudden their favorite book isn’t their favorite today or maybe they have decided they don’t want to paint today… so, have a backup plan… if you really look at all of my all about me shoots, I could potentially strip away most of the props and still shoot the child in a classic way of them simply interacting with their environment – gathering rocks, jumping into a pile of leaves, peaking from behind a curtain or ribbons backdrop. So, having a backup plan is vital! And when all else fails, one word ya’ll… bubbles!
- Sometimes less is more…
You don’t always have to have an elaborate set up or a car full of props to tell the story of who this one child is at this one moment. In fact, 80% of the types of sessions I shoot are just normal regular old sessions – no props, just me, my camera, a child and OUR IMAGINATIONS! Don’t be afraid of taking the props out and playing a good old fashioned game of make believe. It’s not about creating a world for them – it is about joining them in their world!
About the photographer:
Shalonda is the face and camera behind chubby cheek photography. She is a nationally published child photographer, based out of Houston Texas, where she is drowning in glitter and princess dresses with her two daughters, affectionately referred to as the cheeks girls, and the love of her life, daddy cheeks. Her shooting style focuses on the magic of childhood and finding the unique sparkle that each child shines with. She allows REAL life to inspire her and shape her journey as a photographer, always recognizing that the little moments do mean the most, even when it means stepping on a Barbie shoe before she has had her coffee.
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