As a professional portrait photographer, it’s all about the light. My style is very light, bright, and true-to-life colors so Tally, being an artist herself, was a dream for me! Due to Covid restrictions, when I first met Tally she was wearing a mask. I never realized what a difference they make in my understanding a senior. During her consultation, I would have thought Tally would be one of those girls in flowy dresses and playing in the lake, a true boho styled photo shoot. Wrong!!! Tally is a wild creative that needed a colorful urban setting for her senior pictures. I had one picture from a 2017 senior that really stood out to Tally and she said multiple times that Mercy was her inspiration. She also mentioned that SHE wanted to be that type of inspiration for others. This girlie gives me goosebumps!
Gilbert Classical Academy Senior Pictures
I spend a lot of time hunting down the right colors and light for every shot. However, just sometimes, someone brings them to me. Tally Thompson was one of those lovely people.
An Artist’s Photo Shoot
I don’t need to tell you that triplets have a very special bond with her brothers. Tally envisioned using primary paint colors for these photos. She chose not only her favorite color (yellow!) to star in most pictures but also those of her brothers, Cole and Wyatt (blue and red.) Now, I’m not going to say it’s a coincidence, but these sibling favorites worked together perfectly for these crazy artistic images. I can’t tell you how fun this was for both of us. I was a little nervous about getting her messy during her photo shoot, so we chose to do a little pre-session shoot so we could paint her without worry. Because she had frames and no lenses (awesome idea, let me tell you!) we both laughed when I slid the paintbrush right through to avoid smudging and mixing colors. Certainly can’t do that with glasses on!
The colors may have helped to illuminate the photos. Still, Tally was the artist behind it all, making each photo into a vibrant masterpiece. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t clicking away constantly through the shoot – she’s just so full of expressions and happiness!
Imaginative, Energetic, and Oh-So-Photogenic
Preferring a more urban feel, Tally suggested Downtown Phoenix as the setting for her senior photos. It was the right pick as I fear no other place could’ve matched her limitless energy. There was a lovely sense of freedom to Tally’s photo and posing ideas. I felt like the world thanked her for her optimism when the sun cracked over the city buildings giving me the perfect opportunity to catch this starburst!
I fully believe the perfect shoot requires us to collaborate, and Tally was of the exact same opinion. She allowed me the freedom to make suggestions on pretty much everything—however, no matter where, when, or how, she rolled with it. The camera just loved her, and how could it not? Nothing translates better than personality in photography, and Tally had buckets full with more to spare.
Showing her true colors through her senior photos
Tally let me know that “creativity is intelligence having fun,” and I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I think she may be the perfect example of it! We searched for fun backgrounds and “artsy” settings, even finding this “be kind” gem. Perfect? Yes I agree!
Tally’s father bought her an easel just to use for the shoot, which really worked well to represent Tally’s love for art. Not to mention the paintbrushes and piles of paint!
Looking towards a bright future
We took photos of Tally running since cross-country is one of her favorite hobbies. And she clearly excels at it, as can be seen from those sweet medal pictures!
Soon to graduate from Gilbert Classical Academy in 2021, Tally has dreams of attending Northern Arizona University. And wouldn’t you know it, secondary English education or art education are her top class picks. Since her creativity shines bright, I can only imagine the intelligence that lies behind it. She’ll go far in whatever she sets her mind to – she doesn’t need me wishing her luck!
Final word …
I’d like to say that I’m honored Tally and her brother chose me to shoot their senior portraits. Every moment with them was packed full of fun and excitement, which is proof that I have the best job in the world!! We had the best time thinking of photo ideas, and I hope I have captured them well.
Your High School Senior Photo Shoot: A Not-So-Top-Secret Look Behind the Scenes
Everyone wants to know—but not everyone wants to ask—“What in the world actually happens at a photo shoot?” I’m about to give you the inside scoop so you’ll be ready to tackle your day with enthusiasm and kick the nerves to the curb. Hint: It’s probably a mix of some of the things you were thinking and a surprising amount of things you hadn’t even dreamed up. Trust me, your day in front of the camera lens is going to be all you imagined…and then some.
Choosing a Location
Don’t worry; you don’t have to choose just one! I like to wander during sessions to find unique spots. Sometimes you find a hidden gem when you least expect it, so bring comfy walking shoes. We’ll move around a lot during your photo shoot so I can capture you with as many different backgrounds and environments as possible. If we’re in a downtown area, we’ll easily walk several blocks to find the best locations for you.
Sometimes we go to popular areas like the Riparian Preserve or Nichols Park. Downtown Gilbert or a small local park are great because they are often less crowded and we’re able to get more creative shots and use the great backgrounds and colors that nature provides. Most high school seniors like a combination of both the natural elements AND a bit of the urban environment. When you’re with me, we cover a lot of ground—and that means we get a wide variety of shots.
C’mon, let’s take a look behind the scenes of what will make up your amazingly fun photo shoot!
Behind The Scenes
We typically arrive at our first location between 3:00-4:00 in the afternoon, depending on the weather, the sun, and the locations you’ve chosen. We’ll go through your outfits to determine which outfit will give the best vibes, which ones are “must-haves,” and you’ll use our portable changing room to change into your first outfit. My team and I will set up the equipment and take some test shots, and then we’ll be ready to capture some amazing shots of you in action!
In this shoot, I am working with my clients, Trevor, a 17-year-old basketball athlete from Mesquite High School, and his mother, Gina. During our session, Gina snapped a few pictures of Trevor’s session and I thought it would be fun to show some behind the scenes pictures compared to the final senior portraits.
This red wall really isn’t anything special, but when paired with Trevor’s flannel shirt, the headshot is great! Couple that with some prompts to get that genuine smile, and it’s a win for both of us!
It’s All About Lighting
Well, if you’re gonna do basketball pictures, we need a basketball court. Gina told me about a great park near their home with a nice basketball court. While this was a great opportunity to highlight Trevor’s love of basketball, I needed to assess the location and lighting—and we had to be careful because often, neighborhood parks can be crowded, making it tough to get the shots we’re after.
Gina was able to snap a few casual pics for me so that I could determine the layout of the park, including potential lighting issues, landscaping, and other details. The park was at street level with a lot of trees, so I instantly knew I could shoot great photos without houses distracting the scene. Score!
It’s not uncommon to find me climbing a ladder or laying on the ground to get the exact shot I want. Sometimes we just get creative and see what the results are! These shots really show what it’s like behind the scenes!
As the sun went down and we were done with action shots, it was time to pull out the lights. Since Gina is a huge Dallas Cowboys fan, she also chose to paint a ball silver and the results were even better than we’d hoped!
We were having such a great time we kept shooting after dark. After a quick uniform change, we captured even more unique basketball shots. The sun sets quickly, and with the off camera lighting we can choose how much of the background to include in each photo offering plenty of variety.
Trendy Night Shots
If you want nighttime portraits—a popular photo trend for the Class of 2021—then we continue shooting into the evening. Downtown Gilbert is a favorite nighttime location, even if it’s just the edge of a parking lot or parking garage!
Highlighting Your Hobbies and Interests
Many high school seniors choose to include their sports because it might be the final games of their career. Trevor added basketball in several ways. We chose to start with Trevor’s Mesquite high school uniform (shown above) and a standard basketball. You want your senior in a suit and tie? No problem! It’s an incredible look and trust me, the guys love it when we combine this snazzy look with their favorite sport.
You don’t play sports?
This is actually a very common concern with my high school seniors! “But I don’t play sports, I’m not active in clubs, I’m just a regular teenager!” Well, one solution is to include your favorite pro sports team, as Trevor did. Now, his was even more awesome because he has a personalized Phoenix Suns jersey! However, any of your favorite sports teams would work. Don’t overlook your college team!
Or how about the college you’re attending? It just so happens that Trevor got an academic scholarship to the University of Arizona in Tucson!!!!!
Finishing the Photo Session
Most daytime photo shoots take 2 – 3 hours. I like to end the day by making sure we have at least 35 great shots. A checklist includes basic poses, close-up shots, and even some candid fun and funny shots of you being your quirky self. Whatever makes your personality shine through, that’s what I’m looking for—and that’s what I’ll capture in senior portraits.
Your memories of high school should be cherished. I will work with you to create a modern, authentic plan. When you trust me to capture your look, personality, and style in high-quality professional images, you’ll be proud to share your high school portraits with friends and family!
Yep, this is one of the first questions most people ask, but it shouldn’t dictate your decision. Am I more expensive than other photographers? Yep. Are there other photographers priced higher than me? Yep. Are there photographers who shoot for little or nothing? Yep. None of that matters to me. What matters to me is the relationship I have with my clients, the memories we create together, and making sure you have something tangible to enjoy once your little bird leaves the nest. Can you guess what the next question people often ask?
But Was It Worth It?
Nearly every client that comes through my door spends more than they were planning, but 100% of them are glad they did! You can read reviews and ask around, but today we’re shaking things up and letting the parents take the wheel so you can learn a little about what makes my sessions different.
A Parent’s Perspective
Meet today’s guest blogger, writer by day, and mom 24/7 to 5 kids, Janelle Stahl. Also known as Marissa’s Mom. She’ll take you behind the scenes and tell you why she’s glad she had her daughter’s senior portraits with Magical Memories by Michelle. This is Marissa, one of my wonderful graduates from the Class of 2020!
The One Thing All Moms Do
I’m one of those moms. For my first kiddo, I have a Sears Portrait package dating back all the way to 1994, in 6-month increments—all stored neatly in a plastic tote to protect them from humidity. The second kiddo has her fair share of portraits, too, all stored in the same tote. It gets a little skimpier for the kids after that. The days start to fly by, things get busy, and before you know it those staged studio sessions grow fewer and further between. I also faithfully purchased the school portrait packages, twice per year, per kid. (By now, I’m pretty sure I could have purchased a yacht. Ok, well at least a really nice boat.) Care to guess where those pics are stored? Yup, in the plastic tote.
Why the Tote?
Because those pre-planned packages come with approximately 50 of the same image of your child making the same face, with their head tilted at the same awkward angle. If you’re lucky, the school pics happened BEFORE recess. Otherwise, you’re also the proud owner of a lot of pictures of sweaty, dirt-streaked children with hair that you didn’t even know could defy gravity like that. These pictures are in the tote because there are only so many people you can gift them to on Christmas, Hanukkah, Mother’s Day, and Groundhog Day. (Yes, when you have that many of the same image, you become a very creative gifter.)
And Then Life Happens
The years have a funny way of zipping past us in a blink, and before we know it, that little boy we stuffed into a snap-bottom sailor suit for baby pictures has graduated trade school. The red-head who dressed up as Ariel has gotten married. And the next one is getting ready to graduate. You reminisce and realize that eventually all your studio photographs were replaced by in-the-moment snapshots, often blurry, sometimes unrecognizable, but full of memories. This was me as Graduation 2020 approached and I proudly watched another kiddo prepare to graduate. This would be the first one to leave home to go to college though. She’d be going out of state, flying the coop. Maybe it was an early case of homesickness in reverse. Or a minor mid-life crisis. Or potentially even a feeling of mom-guilt at having realized there was a substantial lack of photographs to document the most recent years. Whatever it was, when the topic of senior pictures came up, I was ALL IN!
Let’s Call the Portrait Studio
Thank goodness for friends, luck, and being in the right place at the right time. You see, I had the good fortune of mentioning this topic in the presence of Michelle—yup, the very Magical Memories one. She told me what she does, how she loves to work with seniors for their portraits, and how she really differentiates every photo session and focuses on building self-esteem and confidence. She laughed at the perplexed look on my face. “Yeah, I missed all that at Sears and Walmart,” I told her. I was intrigued, and I’m not gonna lie. I checked out her biz as soon as I got home. (As well as her google ratings. Trust me; they’re up there!)
The Big Difference
I was convinced Michelle was an awesome photographer, but I knew she wasn’t cheap. I wanted to know the true difference between what we would get if we went with her vs. doing pics ourselves or even going the traditional studio route. Boy, was I schooled!
Here’s what I learned:
You won’t get a ‘45 pics for $19.95’ coupon at Magical Memories, BUT at the (I’m gonna call them Bulk Photo Producers…BPPs)…at the BPPs, you won’t get the experience you get at Magical Memories. I couldn’t even believe everything our daughter’s senior portrait experience included…sure didn’t get all this at a discount BPP:
Loads of prep-time with Michelle
Amazing style guide & help with fashion & make-up
Guidance & referrals for hair & make-up pros
Access to a stocked-to-the-brim style closet
A 3+ hour photo shoot at multiple locations (moms, wear comfy shoes!)
Professional retouching…but only what we wanted
I also learned that my already-amazingly beautiful and talented daughter had another side to her—one that I had never seen before. I probably wouldn’t have gotten to see it if she hadn’t been working with Michelle. Here’s what happened.
I don’t know how to explain it. Michelle has a way with these kids. I’ve now seen her work with Marissa, my daughter, as well as a few other grads, and she puts them at such ease in front of the camera. She develops a rapport with them that, within 15 minutes, makes the camera, the worried mom, the make-up bag, the cell phone, and everything else magically disappear. (See what I did there? Magical?)
When we first stepped into the ditch (it’s beautiful, don’t worry), Marissa was stiff. And she might have been ‘tromping like an elephant,’ although Michelle would only say something like that out of love. BUT…
And it’s a big BUT! Within 10 minutes, those two were laughing like sorority girls at a carwash fundraiser. The props, the stress, the mom, the heat? All of it forgotten!
A complete transformation occurred before my eyes, and I was able to stand back and watch Michelle capture images of my daughter. The beautiful daughter that I see every day. The girl that I’ve seen for 18 years as she’s grown and flourished and learned.
At her senior picture photo shoot, Marissa was looking forward to a limitless future. Graduation, college, competitive diving, working toward a career, so many things! And at that same photo shoot, her mom was filled with dreams for her daughter’s future; but she looked back—just for a minute—to glimpse that little girl with the freckles and curls who carried a very ladylike purse full of pacifiers with her when she was four years old.
I don’t know how Michelle did it, but at Marissa’s senior picture photo shoot, she managed to take Marissa through an entire journey of the things that have contributed to the wonderful person she is today. We had fun. We laughed. We were exhausted. I saw my girl transform in into the carefree, lighthearted spirit she’s always been right in front of the camera. And it happened in such a natural way! Michelle captured the glint in her eye. She captured the way she tilts her head when she’s being goofy. She captured how she loves her dog, Savannah, more than anything else in the world.
I can’t tell you how long Marissa’s photo shoot lasted, but I can tell you it was longer than three hours. And I can tell you that never once did Michelle get tired! We were the ones to call it…she wore us out with her energy, ideas, and enthusiasm for her art. And in the end? Did we end up with a packet of cloned prints of the same image? You can bet we did NOT! We invested in heirloom-quality keepsakes that will last forever! We have an beautiful image box, a wall collage, and plenty of different prints to share with the entire family. We even have a flash drive full of her digital images and slideshow!
To my previous two kiddos: Mom is very, very sorry. I think I have some very fine snapshots of your graduation. And I promise to get fabulous graduation photos for my grandkids! To the next two: Your graduation photos will also be with Magical Memories by Michelle, so they will be equally as fantabulous!
That’s all I can say. As I read Janelle’s words for the first time, I cried. I didn’t even get through the first few sentences and needed to stop. It’s overwhelming to hear such a detailed about one of my photo shoots. Now you’ve heard what a senior portrait session is like, how it all comes together, and why parents choose to hire me for senior portraits. Price is what you pay, value is what you receive.
You want to look your absolute best for senior portraits, right? Of course you do! There is so much to plan and think about before your photo shoot, so don’t neglect your brows! There are so many options when it comes to eyebrow products, so Carolina is here to share her expertise!
About Our Guest Contributor, Carolina Takahashi, owner and lead artist at Mode Artistry in East Mesa.
Meet Carolina Takahashi, owner and lead artist at Mode Artistry in East Mesa. Carolina and her team are available to help you look and feel your best during your senior photo shoot!
“I started my makeup career after graduating from Makeup Designory (MUD) Burbank, CA in 2008. I’ve always had a huge love for clean beauty looks! For years, I worked as a freelance makeup artist on a variety of photo shoots, some TV and film, and special events, including weddings. After moving to the Phoenix area in 2016, my bridal makeup business really started to gain traction. It was a very exciting time in my career! Fast forward to 2020 — I’ve enlisted a team of hand-picked artists to provide makeup services for weddings, photography, and all other special events. MODE Artistry was born. These ladies have helped and assisted me on weddings and photo shoots over the last few years and I am so happy to bring them along with me on this incredible journey! I hope you’ll stick around to see what we’ll do next!”
Tips for Amazing Brows
We are in the era of the fluffy brow! Every girl wants a good set of full brows. The “Soap Brow” technique is among the best ways to add volume to brows. I take clear soap (like Pears Transparent Glycerin Bar Sap), sprits a bit of MAC Fix+ on the soap, and then use a disposable mascara spoolie to apply a thin layer of soap to the brows. This makes the brows appear thicker, and it also has incredible hold and staying power. You can also try WBCo. Soap Brows. From there, I fill in the gaps as needed with either Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Definer or Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Pomade.
If you’re a ‘less is more’ kind of girl and like to keep things extra simple — I recommend trying a brow gel instead! Check out Anastasia Beverly Hills Dipbrow Gel or Glossier Boy Brow.
Carolina’s Favorite Products
Nope, no affiliate links. Just a quick list to help out my girls!
I believe that a great reputation is earned and built over time–and it takes a combination of great clients, a desire to continually learn, and a passion for what you do. It’s about more than just being voted the best or having a huge social media following. I’m always looking for ways to deliver a unique experience for graduating seniors, as well as provide Mom and Dad with photo shoot fun that will forever remind them of their kiddo’s exciting day. Of course, the heirloom keepsakes I design after the photo shoot don’t hurt either! Storyboards, images boxes, and heirloom albums are always a hit, and there are plenty of creative portrait gifts the grad can choose for family and friends too.
In both 2019 and 2020 I was voted one of the Best Portrait Photographers in Mesa by Expertise.com! Expertise.com connects people with the best local professional photographers. Portrait photographers are rated on more than 25 variables across five categories, resulting in a hand-picked list of the best portrait photographers in Mesa, AZ. Over 160 photographers were nominated this year, and then Expterise.com selects the top photographers based on the following criteria: Reputation, Qualifications, Experience, Reliability, and Professionalism. Don’t take my word for it. Go check out the complete list of the Best Portrait Photographers for 2020!
These days online reviews are everywhere, but isn’t it frustrating when you’re searching reviews for a particular service and one site gives 5 stars, but another site gives 3 stars? How do you know? Top Rated Local helps take the guesswork out of online ratings by combing reviews from several sites. Every month I receive an updated report and I’m proud to say that since joining in 2019 I’ve had a 97% rating! Here is the most recent update from October 2020.
Reputation: A history of delighted customers and outstanding service.
Since 2009, Magical Memories by Michelle has had the honor of photographing clients from all over Arizona! High end portraits are my number one priority! If people didn’t love my portraits, I wouldn’t be in business. By treating each client with respect and collaborating together to create their dream portraits, then finalizing with top notch quality prints, wall displays, albums, and custom artwork, I’ve earned a perfect 5 star rating across every review site! I want every single client to be thrilled with the process and the final images! Feel free to check out all of my online reviews!
Qualifications: Building customer confidence with licensing, accreditation, and awards.
While I didn’t necessarily start out strong, I did start out right! Magical Memories by Michelle has been licensed with the State of Arizona since 2009 and became an LLC is 2012. I am also an active member of PPA, Professional Photographers of America and my membership allows me to be insured and provides numerous resources and classes. Feel free to visit my profile there too! In June, Senior Year Magazine published a special edition for the Class of 2020. I had 8 images selected featuring 6 of my seniors! Just last month I learned that 5 of my teens were published in the premier issue of Teen Years Magazine. Since 2014, I’ve had 38 images published nationally and internationally in 12 of the industry’s leading magazines and had dozens of teen and senior images featured over the years!
Experience: Masters of their craft, based on years of practical experience and education.
As an artist, it isn’t easy to hear about your mistakes and flaws, but it is necessary. I’ve spent years having my work reviewed by my peers, because let’s face it…my family and friends always think I’m amazing! Annual classes and workshops keep me at the top of the field for senior pictures and ensure that I am able to offer the best experience to graduating high school students. With a wide variety of skills, my sessions take place during the day, and now we can even shoot at night for a completely unique look! I’ve even been named one of the Top 200 Senior Photograpers Worldwide!
Reliability: Consistently approachable and responsive, so customers never feel ignored.
The key to my success has been staying low volume. I always thought I’d need to shoot hundreds of clients annually, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that’s not what works best for me or my clients. You’re not just a number to me, I want you to feel valued. By never having back-to-back sessions you’ll never be rushed out to get the next session started. I only schedule a maximum of 8 sessions per month, so there is flexibility to reschedule due to illness or weather.
Professionalism: Providing service with honesty, reliability, and respect.
I can honestly say that I’ve had very few client issues throughout my years as a photographer. By using only professional print labs and having a relationship with each one, I’m immediately notified of any problems. They call if I mess up…and I have. I’m not perfect, but I am a perfectionist which means I will require a lab to reprint artwork with even the smallest flaw. I’ve only had one product that was damaged over time, and that was replaced within three days.