The Most Stressful Photoshoot of my Life

This was the most stressful photoshoot of my life. 

Joshua (right) reached out to me to shoot him proposing to his boyfriend Reuben (left). We met at Alloro Vineyard in Sherwood, Oregon. Joshua organized all of their closest friends under the ruse that they were celebrating Reuben’s sister. According to Joshua, it’s incredibly hard to sneak things by Reuben. So everything had to work out perfectly to avoid Reuben finding out what was actually happening.

Joshua told me that at exactly 2:25pm he was going to gather everyone in the small garden directly outside of the tasting room, give a small toast to Reuben’s sister and then give a small toast to him and propose. It seemed simple enough. I got there early, got my own glass of wine and blended in with the crowd so Reuben wouldn’t be suspicious at all.  

At exactly 2:25pm about half of the group, including Joshua and Reuben, got up and walked away from the small garden and towards the actual vineyard. This is when the stress started. 

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know if he was going to propose at a different spot. I didn’t know if they were just walking around for a bit. I was freaking out. This is not something you can miss as a photographer. 

I grabbed my camera and did a big loop around the tasting room because I didn’t want anyone to see me. Joshua’s friends didn’t know he was proposing either so I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible (I found out later that literally everyone saw me and thought I was super strange). I eventually found Joshua and Reuben and the small group they were with in the back vineyard. I didn’t know if this was the moment or not so I hid behind a bush and waited, camera in hand, ready to jump out and start shooting like a madman. 

I heard someone say, “Wow, what a nice view.” And then they all turned and starting walking back towards the garden. It turns out this was not the moment. 

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But now there I was standing alone behind a bush with a camera. I wanted to remain unknown so I hid my camera in the bush and pretended to be on the phone as they walked by. 

Did I need to do all of that? Probably not. Did I do all of that? You better believe it.

About 10 minutes later Joshua gathers his friends and starts his toast to Reuben’s sister. I sigh a breath of relief with the knowledge that this is definitely the moment. I snuck around behind Joshua and Reuben, so I could capture the moment with all of their friends in the background. 

As I’m setting up my shot I realize I need to be a few feet back in order to get their full bodies in frame. I turn around and there’s an older couple standing in the exact spot I need to. This is roughly 20 seconds before Joshua is going to propose. I whisper to the couple, in my quietest and most secretive voice possible, “Would you mind if I stood her for just 30 seconds?”

The old man responds, very loudly, “OH WHAT  ARE YOU DOING THERE?? TAKING PHOTOS???” 

My heart dropped. I thought Reuben was going to turn around, see me waiting with a camera, and the surprise was going to be ruined. 

Luckily he was so enthralled with whatever Joshua was saying that he was blind to the rest of the world. Joshua got down on one knee, proposed, and thus began the rest of their lives.

This was by far the most stressful shoot I’ve ever had. Of course, most of that stress probably stems from my stupidity and personal overreactions. Either way, it ended up being a huge success and I could not be happier with how the photos came out. 

Engagement Photos - Beacon Rock State Park

Bri and Brandon said the same words to me that every couple I have ever shot has said to me.

“Ok just so you know, we’re really, really awkward so these photos are probably going to be awful.”

I mean it. Every couple I’ve ever shot has said something along those same lines. And it makes sense. Being in front of a camera is awkward. Publicly showing love for your significant other can be awkward. Overall, engagement photos can be an incredibly awkward experience. 

But that’s ok. The most important part of engagement photos isn’t being perfectly posed and elegant, it’s about capturing the love between the two people in front of the camera. In 30 years, when Bri and Brandon look back on these photos, they’re hopefully going to smile and marvel at how young and supposedly awkward they were. Ideally they’ll look back on this experience fondly. And that’s what matters. 

Engagement photos are about capturing genuine love. They’re also about finding really beautiful locations and shooting in really beautiful light. We went to Beacon Rock State Park along the Washington side of the Gorge and lucked out with the most beautiful light and location. 

None of us had been there before, and we didn’t realize it was actually a fairly steep one mile hike to get to the top. Luckily, we got there in plenty of time before sunset, shot photos along the way up, and made it to the top at the perfect moment to capture the setting sun. 

August and Sumeet Grad Photos

If you’ve been following my work for a while you know that there is no one I enjoy shooting more than my good friend August. If I wanted to I could dedicate an entire section of my website to just portraits of her. So I was absolutely thrilled to shoot her and Sumeet’s grad photos. 

August and Sumeet seem to be on the exact same wavelength at all times. Of course having been best friends and teammates for four years will probably do that. Their individual energy and spirit perfectly complements the other in all aspects and it was so much fun to watch and shoot that relationship. 

Speaking on friendship, I remember before going to the University of Oregon everyone told me that the friends you make in college are more likely to become your friends for life. I didn’t understand it at the time but it makes sense now. As cliche as it is, college is where you discover who you really are. It’s a time to develop your sense of self and solidify what you want and who you want to surround yourself. The friends you make in college are made based off of a more thorough understanding of yourself and because of that, they’re more likely to be friends for life.

I can see that lifelong friendship in August and Sumeet. And it was my hope to portray that relationship in my photos. Hopefully I was successful.

Also, quick shoutout to August for being the best and moving to Italy to play professional volleyball. She’s the coolest. 

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Alexis Grad Photos

Fun fact: I actually met Alexis when I tutored her a few years back. Why I was trusted to be a tutor is beyond me, but that was how we met! Fast forward three years and she reached out to me to shoot her and her boyfriend Sam’s grad photos!

This was a really fun shoot. Both Alexis and Sam and were athletes at the University of Oregon (thus the softball bat and golf club in the photo below this). I definitely have a soft spot for athletes so it’s always fun talking to different people about their collegiate athletic experience. 

It’s also always fun talking to soon to be college grads about their future plans. Everyone walks a different path. Some have great jobs immediately out of college (Sam), some pursue grad school (Alexis) and some take six months or more to find a job post grad (me). Everyone approaches post grad life in a slightly different way with a slightly different mindset.

That variety in personal experience and thought process between college grads is one of the reasons I love shooting grad photos. College graduation is a celebratory time and it’s interesting to me to see how different people react to it. It’s also especially fun to shoot a couple like Alexis and Sam because they were both such a large part of each other’s college experience so it’s special to be able to capture them together as they both embark upon the next chapter.

All in all, grad photos are awesome. Sam and Alexis are awesome. And Oregon’s awesome as well. 

Nature is an Incredible Thing

I always bring my camera with me while hiking. Typically I snap a few photos here and there and try to capture the scene but primarily try to enjoy the hike (like I wrote about here). This hike was a bit different. 

I went to Falls Creek Falls with my friend Kristy (who I’ve already wrote about before). The idea was to shoot REI style photos of her interacting with nature. This was new for me. I’ve shot photos of friends while hiking many times in the past, but I’ve never done so with a specific purpose. It was really fun to challenge myself to think more critically about the placement of my model and her gear than I regularly would during a hike themed photoshoot.

I intentionally chose to showcase photos in which Kristy is turned away from the camera. We did get a lot of awesome photos of her actual face, but I love the idea of her being immersed and amazed by nature so it made more sense to only show the photos of her facing the waterfall and not my camera. 

What I love about shoots and experiences like this is that nature does different things for different people. People flock to hiking trails and waterfalls and lakes for different reasons. Some to relax, some for exercise, some to feel inspired, some to remind themselves of their place in the universe. Whatever the reason, human beings have a special connection with nature. And it was so cool to be able to capture that relationship in Kristy. 

Also if you haven’t been to Falls Creek Falls, I highly recommend it. It’s a relatively short hike (about 1.7 miles) and the view is well worth it.

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Taking Time Off

My idea behind this blog is to write about every shoot I do. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to write about this one because it wasn’t technically a shoot. I did bring my camera, and I did shoot photos, but it wasn’t a photoshoot. I’ll explain the difference.

When I embark on a shoot, there’s typically an end goal in mind. I’m shooting for some specific purpose, whether it be financial, commercial or for my portfolio. There’s generally a set structure that guides every action I take in order to capture the best photos possible. My trip to Latourell Falls was not that.

The goal for this day was to explore nature and hang out with my friends. 

That’s it. 

I know that doesn’t seem like a big deal, but to me it was. At this current point in my life, almost everything I do is in order to advance my career and my craft. I’ve missed out on a lot of trips and nights out and other fun adventures because of shoots, or photos to edit or blogs to write or any other number of things that I’m focusing on for my career. And while I’m extremely happy where I’m at in life, it can be easy to get burnt out. 

It’s important, at least every once in a while, to take some time off. Even if just for a day. 

Yes I did bring my camera for this hike. Yes I did take photos. But that wasn’t the main goal. It wasn’t for my portfolio. It wasn’t for a client. It was purely for fun. A different level of fun than actual shoots I go on. A more blissful fun. A more calming fun.

I left our hike feeling refreshed, inspired, and ready to tackle the next week of work. 

Also shoutout to my guys Jimmie (@jimmieswain) and Kenny (@kenny.x.hamlett) for making the trip with me. 

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How Collaboration Leads to Success

I wanted to use this post to share some photos from an amazing shoot I had a while back that never really got to see the light of day. Shortly after this shoot, I made the conscious decision to only post and focus on fitness work, and thus these images were never shared.

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My shoot with Kaleen was initiated as a collaborative effort between me and my friend Major (shown below). I met Major through Instagram, and we wanted to get together for a shoot. We contacted Kaleen and then all got together for a sunny afternoon shoot. 

It was the first time I had ever shot a model in conjunction with another photographer. And it was an absolute blast. Between the three of us there was constant creative energy flowing. If I started to falter for ideas, Major would step in and pose Kaleen. If he didn’t know where to go next, Kaleen would offer an idea. And so on and so forth.

It was a damn good shoot. It was also definitely a learning experience for me. 99% of my shoots are just me, my model, and whatever ideas I come up with. So to have another photographer there, to have an entirely different perspective and set of skills along with me, was different.

It challenged me to think more out of the box. It allowed me to peek into someone’s else creative process which in turn made me think more critically about my own personal creative process. 

Collaborating can be hard. It can be hard to relinquish control during a shoot and allow someone else to call the shots here and there. But it’s worth it. 

As I’ve discussed in the past, the best way to learn and grow is to surround yourself with other motivated and successful people. Working with and collaborating with other photographers and models is a really good way to do that. 

It's OK to Switch Your Plan

I learn a lot from the people I shoot with. And Kristy was no exception. 

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Kristy is a freelance writer with a distance running background who decided to pursue bodybuilding. Just for the challenge of it. She wanted to test her body and see what would happen if she dedicated herself 100% to bodybuilding.

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It goes without saying that bodybuilding is extremely challenging. The workouts are brutal, the discipline needed to stay on track nutritionally is amazing, and the overall bodybuilding lifestyle is not easy to keep up. Needless to say, I was impressed.

A month or so after this shoot, Kristy told me she was done trying to be a bodybuilder. She said it was too much for her and instead was training to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She essentially traded one extremely challenging lifestyle for another.

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Here’s what I learned from Kristy. It’s ok to change your plan. It’s ok to switch your goals. It’s ok to try something, fail, and then try something else. There’s always something you can strive towards. 

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This is an ideology I’ve unknowingly practiced in my own photography career. I first wanted to shoot live sports and live sports only. And then I focused really hard on weddings. There was a period in 2017 when I desperately wanted to be a nature photographer.  Then I transitioned into portraits. And from there narrowed down into primarily fitness portraits. And currently that’s the challenge I’ve set for myself. That’s the lifestyle I’m pushing myself to live. 

Kristy has taught me that it’s ok to try different things, fail at some and move on to others. 

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You're a Product of your Environment

Before I start this post: if you haven’t already heard of Claire you should look her up right now (@clairepthomas on Instagram). She’s an incredibly inspiring and genuine fitness personality whose impressive muscles are surpassed only by her kind heart. It truly was a pleasure to work with her.

I wrote on this topic briefly in an Instagram post a couple of months back but I wanted to expand upon the idea that you are a product of your environment.

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Whether you consciously realize it or not, you are influenced by the people you surround yourself. If you’re constantly spending time with motivated and inspired minds, you’ll be motivated and inspired in turn. If you spend most of your time with lazy and uninspired minds, you’ll be lazy and uninspired as well.

I’ve been fortunate enough in my life and career to always be surrounded by incredibly motivated and hard working people. And Claire is no exception.

I realized in the few weeks after I first met and shot with her that I was pushing myself harder at the gym. I was waking up earlier. I was eating better. I was inspired to create more, work harder, do better.

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The more I thought about it the more I realized that this inspiration didn’t start with Claire. It started way back when with my teammates on my high school track team. It continued on with the amazing athletes I got to shoot at the UO. New waves of inspiration hit me with every shoot I do, every model I meet and every motivated and successful person I interact with. 

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You truly are a product of your environment. And surrounding yourself with the best people is the easiest way to ensure you will be your best self.

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