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Emily’s Express Family Portrait Session at the Bel Air Mansion

Two children sitting on the steps of Belair Mansion in Bowie, Maryland.

Toward the end of 2022, we introduced a new kind of service which we called Express Personal Sessions. They cost our clients a lot less than ordinary portrait sessions, but they come with some restrictions which make it possible for us to operate at that price point. For example, they’re shorter — about 25 minutes, compared to the roughly 90 minutes typical of traditional family sessions. They can’t be scheduled on weekends, dates for them can’t be reserved more than 7 days in advance, and most importantly, they have to take place in either Bowie or Crofton. The idea was to offer something to folks nearby where we live, who only need a handful of pictures, might be on a time crunch to get it done, and often might be trying to come up with something at the last minute. It’s proven to be quite popular. It’s a lot like a mini-session that you can reserve on-the-fly, whether we have an official mini-session day scheduled or not.

But, they’re definitely not for everyone. I generally wouldn’t recommend them for folks with small children, younger than maybe 4 or 5 years old, who may need time to warm up to the photographer and the occasion. But for things like a few quick individual portraits, dating profiles, couple’s photos, and families comprised of older children and adults, they can be a really great choice.

Emily’s family was a great example of just about the perfect fit for these Express Sessions. Back in October, Emily wanted to get a jump on her plan to send some holiday cards out at the end of the year. There were two things she knew about this session — first, they really didn’t need all that much. Just a few nice shots of the family and the kids. And second, the kids would play along without much of a fuss. These two things made her family a perfect candidate to have a great experience with an Express Session.

We planned to use the Bel Air Mansion, which is a popular spot in general, but especially for Express Sessions because it’s easy to get to, park at, and navigate around to create variety. When we arrived, I took just a few minutes to get to know them a little bit and attempt some early buy-in from the kids — kids around this age can really make or break any session, but especially when you’ve only got 25 minutes to make it happen. We got started with a few family portraits, literally, right there on the edge of the parking lot. Just as Emily expected, the kids started to play along right away, and they liked the kind of attention the portrait session gave them, so I made an effort to capitalize on that by quickly moving into some photos that emphasized each of them individually.

This is a useful technique when working with children to help them recognize and feel like they’re an important part of the project. When a kid is showing signs of engagement and enthusiasm, giving them a few minutes of the spotlight all to themselves can really help them come to life. Of course, in the case of Emily’s kids, that probably wasn’t strictly necessary. They were more than happy to play ball from the very first shot. I captured some photos with her oldest on the steps out front of the Mansion, and then her younger child between some trees out back, with the late afternoon sun catching her golden hair. Then I invited the two of them to sit for some photos together, which they enthusiastically agreed to and had fun with. We played a question and answer game which elicited some very cute and natural expressions.

At this point, the kids were well warmed up and we shifted into another shot of the whole family together. This second shot with the family felt significantly more relaxed. The kids continued to take minute direction beautifully and I could see Emily & her husband relaxing, sensing that things were going very well. From there we moved onto the steps out back for one of my favorite hero shots at this venue. With the whole family together, these shots took on a lot more levity as my own self-deprecating sense of humor and gentle ribbing brought out some great shots of them laughing together.

As our time was coming to a close, the sun had dipped behind the nearby tree line and was low enough to give us some really nice warm light, bouncing off the atmosphere above. I had the family take a stroll away from the building for a dramatic portrait with the mansion falling out of focus behind them, and producing a very cute black and white of Emily’s daughter hanging on her husband’s arm while her son held her hand like the small gentleman that he is. As we made our way around the opposite side of the building from where we started, we snagged a few quick photos of Emily and her husband together under the Bel Air Mansion’s iconic stone archway, and I caught a couple more cute shots of the kids individually, sitting crisscross on the stone pathway through the small butterfly garden.

In total, Emily’s session produced 90 images, which is, quite frankly, a lot of images for a short 25-minute session. But it worked because of the confluence of two major conditions — the family was ready to play along, and the weather conditions at that time of day were nearly perfect. I loved getting to shoot this short session with Emily, and even I was surprised with just how much we were able to make in such a short amount of time. No, not every session will return that much, but this is a great example of how well it can work when the conditions are right for it.

If you think your family is ready to play along, and you like the idea of trading some flexibility for savings, an Express Session might just be perfect for you, too.