Maya's Old Town Alexandria, VA Portrait Session
The excellent thing about candid portraiture, particularly that which seeks to capture each subject simply as they are, is that it doesn’t require experienced models. In fact, for me, one of the greatest pleasures of running a photography business has been getting to create someone’s first ever portrait session, to give someone the gift of confidence through looking at photos of themselves that capture their essence in a beautiful way.
When Maya and I chatted on the phone the night before her session to firm up our last second plans (I’d only just posted in the GLT Washington DC group a couple hours previous that I’d be in the area), she told me she didn’t really know what to expect because she’s never done a photoshoot before. I was already excited to shoot with her, but once she told me that, I knew that this was going to be an unforgettable experience for both of us.
For these shoots in particular, one of my storytelling devices has been leaning heavily on our locations to frame the narrative. Because I’ve met each one of these ladies in a group focused on leaving home to travel all around the planet, I thought it important to capture each woman at home, to examine how someone with wanderlust in her soul interacts with her chosen sanctuary. Since I got to scout out Old Town Alexandria the evening before our photoshoot, I had a few spots in mind that I knew would create great leading lines, these triptych windows in particular. Because we were shooting in the middle of the afternoon, I also wanted to make use of the harsh sunlight to create a spotlight directly on Maya’s face, highlighting her smile while letting everything else fade into the background.
One other thing I stress before each shoot is that this is going to be a creative partnership. If my model has an idea of something they want to do, something that will make them more comfortable or show off who they are, I’m totally game to try it! I had somehow never thought to include props until Maya suggested she bring her bike, but that suggestion was a game changer. Not only is Maya an avid cyclist, but her easily-transportable folding bike has a name - Bins (derived from Robinson Crusoe.) As Bins is one of her constant companions, it was fitting that she bring him along. This also made for easier “posing” as we had a readily available device that Maya was comfortable interacting with, so that she visibly relaxed as soon as she sat down on her bike.
There seems to be a trend with all of the GLT women who I’ve photographed so far: they’re all old souls. This suits me just fine because I am too. Perhaps that a prerequisite for wanting to see and experience all that the world has to offer, to learn from people of all walks of life. Or perhaps we connected online simply because of our similar natures. Either way, every one of us seems particularly interested in stories; sharing our own and listening to others’, sometimes sharing others’, too. As we walked through Old Town, I got to listen to Maya talk about her family vacations growing up - picnics in Egypt, exploring in Russia - her experiences as a teacher and her love of exercise and sports. The more I got to know her, the more badass she was.
And so after a while of taking brilliantly-smiling portraits, I asked if she could give me a more serious face. Her reply? “Oh but I’m having so much fun! I don’t smile so easily normally!”
Though I love black and white for film, I prefer to shoot almost exclusively in color for my portrait sessions. As an artist, I try to create a color palette for each shoot that will convey the mood we’re looking for. For Maya, it was all about finding the brightest and most colorful backdrops to show off her vibrant personality. My only direction for attire had been to wear what she felt most comfortable in, so I love that she chose the colorful cardigan and scarf, which perfectly coordinated with the beautifully painted architecture of Old Town.
Finally, one more “selfish” purpose of these photoshoots is to try out new techniques to test whether I’d like to use them in later client work. For Maya, who seems to be always on the go, I wanted to incorporate panning to show a sense of movement while keeping this strong lady still in focus. This made the most sense to do as she was biking along the river, so I followed her with her camera on a slow shutter speed until I got the perfect background blur. My favorite of this set, however, is (above) when Maya was sitting on the bench and kicked her heel-clad feet into the air while laughing.
After our photoshoot she treated me to lunch, although my tight schedule meant that I had to bring the food with me rather than sit down and continue chatting. Since then, we’ve kept up with each other online, cheering each other on in our latest endeavors. And each time I post a portrait from Maya’s session I get to relive how fulfilling it was to create a genuinely fun experience for a first time model where she was enjoying herself so much she didn’t even think to be self-conscious.