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Some of our Favorites Photos from the 2023 Fall Mini-Sessions

After spending about 5 years hearing people ask for mini-sessions, we decided to give it our first go a couple years back. Part of what made mini-sessions challenging in my mind was that in my recipe for great portraits, time itself has always been an important ingredient. If you have worked with me, you know that a portrait session can often be a meandering experience that feels casual and playful. I’m there to do a job, but seldom are my subjects professional models. Part of that job is helping people to relax and have a good time, so that when I take pictures of them feeling good, they will look like pictures of a person who feels good.

Funny how that works.

In the process of making a nice set of portraits, the time I spend sizing up a location, configuring my lighting, framing a shot, choosing camera settings, and providing my subject with guidance is crucial. But almost just as crucial is the time I spend not doing any of those things; just strolling from one spot to another, talking about the minutia that adds texture and flavor to life, is essential. The idea of a 20 minute micro-session seemed to fundamentally preclude using time as an ingredient like I am accustomed to.

Now, when it comes to family photography, I have never really been much of a fan of overly contrived set pieces littered with thematic props — If I found these kinds of images compelling, I wouldn’t think mini-sessions were quite so challenging. Just shuffle people through the same thing again and again. Instead, I’m interested in creating the kinds of images that a family member might create under more organic circumstances, were that family member uncommonly adept at the craft. I aim for photos of people melting into themselves, not photos of people stiffly trying to act the part. The challenge with a short 20 minute mini-session, then, was how do you make sure that all the ingredients have time to mix together?

I thought it might be interesting today to share some favorite images from the most recent mini-sessions from back in the fall. We can look at the results and talk about how I have translated my working style so that I’m still getting the best of both worlds. To make this work, I needed to simplify some aspects of the shoot.

With only about 20 minutes to work with, there’s no time to be fighting the natural lighting conditions. So we arranged sessions in two blocks, one during the morning light and a second block during the afternoon and evening light. There also wouldn’t be time to experiment with the unknowns associated with new and lightly tread locations we hadn’t visited. So we hold our mini-sessions at tried and true locations where we already have a sense of what does and doesn’t really work. This preparation allows us to skip the more time consuming challenges of deciding where and how to spend our time — I already know. With that left-over time, I’m freed up to interact more casually.

For this most recent mini-session day, in the AM, we would often start our sessions along the south lawn in the scattered shade of the trees abutting the nearby public pool. In the PM we would start our sessions on the north lawn where light would speckle through the trees that line the neighborhood next door. In these cases, I knew approximately what would work with the location and the light, and I could spend the creative energy engaging with my subjects. This has worked fantastically well, and each session dramatically exceeded the expected image quantities we aimed to produce.

In this way, it’s less of an adventure we’re going on together, and more of a guided tour. Both approaches offer an opportunity to move casually and exchange a kind of natural candor, but the guided tour takes a lot less time.

This approach has worked most smoothly with most subjects old enough to engage and communicate naturally. It was more challenging for the small children who really needed the experience to be a game. All the sessions produced great photos. However, for some, mom and dad probably would have enjoyed the session a lot more had their little one not been in competition with the clock.

Mini-sessions aren’t for everyone, but if all you want are a few great photos, you can probably get them from our mini-sessions, and then some. Scroll through and check out some of the highlights from last fall’s mini-sessions at the Bel Air Mansion. We’ll be scheduling another one for the spring, typically on a Saturday with about 3 weeks notice. If you want to scoop up one of the sessions when they come along, keep an eye out and sign up early. The slots usually sell out quickly!