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Isahi’s Extended Family Portraits at the Belair Mansion in Bowie

Isahi and her family have a long-standing tradition of getting together for a portrait session every year. In the past, we’ve gone to other great  locations like Jonas Green Park in Annapolis, Great Frogs for a Quince, the Agricultural History Farm Park, and the never-ending opportunities of St Johns College in Downtown Annapolis. Each session has been something new and something special. I always look forward to these sessions. They are a chance to reconnect with people who have become good friends, and see how they’ve changed since the last time we got together.

This year, Isahi was hoping to do something beach-themed for the session. Our original plan was to shoot at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Annapolis, which just happens to have one of the few publicly available beachfronts nearby, and a beautiful one at that. Unfortunately, when making our plans with the venue, we found that our Saturday session would be interrupted by a wedding being set up at the same time — calling ahead is always a good idea to avoid such conflicts, and the handy locations directory I made provides tons valuable information like this to help you prepare for your shoot. But, I digress

We decided to take a completely different approach and visit the Belair Mansion. This historic venue is an almost universally perfect backdrop. It’s one of my favorites. Not what Isahi originally had in mind, but with its easily accessible grounds, manageable size, and a unique setting that contrasted with our previous sessions, it was a great choice. In the past, our options have often either been big, or busy or both, and the Bel Air Mansion is none of these things, so I was excited to see how the change of scenery would inspire something new for this family.

The session took place on a Saturday in mid-November, as the late afternoon sun cast long shadows over very colorful fall leaves. The kids, who used to be a bit shy and less than enthusiastic in their participation, were in a wonderful mood and starting to get excited to be involved. It’s fun watch a challenge start to melt into a something that’s just fun and heartwarming.

After some quick catching up and hugs in the parking lot, we started with some shots of the three youngest children together – Isahi’s twin daughters and their cousin. These photos have been the most challenging to capture in the past. But this year, they were in great spirits and we were able to get some lovely images of the trio right at the top.

We convinced Isahi and Andy to relive their engagement session from “ages ago” (her words, not mine), posing under the iconic stone archway that leads to the butterfly garden. Isahi always feels a bit awkward in photos with just the two of them — lots of moms and dads do, actually — but they looked cute anyway and their kids will thank them eventually. It was a sweet moment to capture. What can I say, I have a sentimental streak in me.

We then took a few shots of Isahi’s twin daughters on their own, before wandering around the grounds behind the mansion and bouncing chaotically through a shot-list Isahi and I have pseudo memorized in our heads. Will and his mother. Cleo the fluffy white dog basking in the sunlight. Isahi’s immediate gang in front of a vibrant orange tree. When you’ve been working together for as long as we have, it’s easier — and arguably better — to go with the flow that check things off a to-do list. These are natural moments, and I just know which one’s I’m aiming for when they happen.

As we moved through the session, worked our way around the opposite side of the building. We got some great shots of Will and Maddy together, as well as Will and his son. The three little kids were also in rare form — playfully draped and tumbling over each other as if they thought they were going to end up in a catalog for a family vacation resort.

As the session started to wind down, we made sure to get some great solo shots of Isahi, one particularly stand-out in black and white of her and Cleo — her fuzzy pandemic baby. A few more group photos started to take shape, including a colorful and lively shot of everyone together, and looping back around to the front of the building, we did a few shots of all the adults together while the children were off collecting leaves just out of frame. Well, partially out of frame. You can still kind of see them in the adult’s anxious laughter.

We finished the session, briefly heading back onto the rear lawn where I got a funny photo of Andy holding a very disinterested Cleo above his head with one hand, like some kind of super hero. Or maybe villain. It’s hard to say for sure. Finally, one last shot of the whole crew together in the near picture-perfect light of the butterfly garden was the perfect way to cap off the day.

There’s something truly special about getting to witness families grow and change over time, and this year’s Bel Air Mansion session was no exception. Isahi and her family’s infectious energy and genuine connection come through in this one, and I feel fortunate to have been a part of it. We didn’t get to do our beach photos this time around — the best laid plans don’t always pan out — but the results can still be spectacular when the people you love are there.