Today’s interview is with Shalonda Chaddock!
Hi Shalonda! We are just in love with your whimsical children’s portraiture. How long have you been creating and styling sessions and where do you find inspiration for new ideas and set ups?
I started just like so many others in the Clickin Moms community, as a mom who had a really cute squishy baby and wanted to capture every sugary, magical moment of her day. That squishy baby is now 8 years old, sniff sniff. The concept of the All About Me sessions came about several years into my photography business journey in 2009, when I watched my own child’s interests change as she grew up before my eyes. After years of questioning how clients would accept this idea, in 2011, I finally jumped in feet first and launched the idea of a styled session with a purpose, the all about me session. Inspiration comes from kids, my own and those around me! I always say kids see life in a magical way, sugar is sweeter, colors are brighter and jumping off the front porch steps feels like you just jumped off the empire state building. The idea of creating a session just for one child at that moment in their life filled with their dreams and imagination was MY DREAM! I wanted to enter their world of cotton candy clouds and backyard battlegrounds… I wanted to laugh and fall down doing cartwheels or go on a dragon hunt in their own backyards…. that’s how it started. But it was also about remembering the way we giggle when we think about how cheeks #1 was the girliest girly princess yet she was infatuated with Thomas the train so much so that he made an appearance in her 3 year old preschool pictures (yes individual pic AND class pic ha). The OBSESSION with Disney princess dresses in this house for years and years. The book we read every single night for 3 months straight because it was cheeks #2 favorite. I WANTED TO REMEMBER THOSE MOMENTS; I wanted to freeze the memories of that time, Of WHO THEY EACH WERE at that time…
The ideas truly come from that, the magical way that children see the world, their thoughts, their dreams and their imagination! In fact every single All About Me session begins with a questionnaire that I ask my clients to answer WITH their child.
Do you have any tips on keeping things fresh and unique when utilizing the same set up for several sessions? You do a great job of creating variety in a small space.
When I offer kids only mini session events the days are long, the shoots are very fast paced, and I often shoot several children throughout the day in the same set, so honestly, the best part of it is that the one variable I have no control over is how each child will react to the set up. This allows each session to take on a totally different and unique pace just like each child. I try really hard to tell the story of each child’s personality whether it be in an All About Me session or in a pre-designed mini session.
I’m sure that you’ve had your share of toddlers who hit the ground running at the start of your session. How do you coax them into your set up and bring out those natural, happy expressions that you are known for?
Yes, toddlers are a wild card, hahaha! In any session that requires set up beforehand I always meet the client away from the set typically at their car, this ensures that the child doesn’t run through the set before I have had a chance to shoot but also gives me the opportunity to chat and play with them before I have a camera in their face and I can set the tone of the shoot as more of a “play date with a plan” rather than a stuffy boring photoshoot.
You have a variety of interesting props that you incorporate into your sessions. Do you have any tips for photographers who are just beginning their prop collections? Is your garage full of fun photography props?
Yes, my garage is full of craziness, ha! I always wonder what the people who drive by my garage think with all of the chairs, giant claw foot bathtub and carousel horse. Honestly, I would say a good chair or quilt, a gender-neutral pair of kids rain boots, and lots of craft paper is really all you need. In fact, my very first All About Me session was with a little boy who loved astronomy and as in most cases, because he loved those things, his parents had a ton of props that we were able to incorporate in the shoot such as his quilt from his bed with the solar system on it, plastic planets hanging from his ceiling, and his own telescope. Therefore, all I added was a really amazing location and some homemade stars tied in a unique way with colored yarn that hung from a tree.
Your “All About Me” stylized sessions are designed around each child’s unique interests and personality. How much time do you spend preparing for one of these sessions and what kind of reactions do you get from the children when they first see their set up?
All About Me sessions definitely require more planning than a normal portrait session and months of constant communication with the parents in advance. I always give myself plenty of time to plan an All About Me session and usually book them about 2-4 months in advance. Not all sessions are easy to create a concept around, some are very literal, like the Give a Pig a Pancake All About Me shoot and others are not as obvious. Last year I created one for a little boy who was going into kindergarten and while we tossed around a ton of ideas, we settled on portraying the idea of him embarking on this new adventure and taking this giant step from being a baby to being a little boy – the session had everything from a magnifying glass, to walking out onto a pier with a lamp. As far as their reaction, kids are kids, they just want to play. Like I said, the most important thing is meeting them away from the props so I can gain their trust and then talk to them about all the fun things we are about to do, sort of give them a treasure map of how we are going to do this and then we will go over here and do this, etc.
What type of gear do you normally bring to a session? Do you like to sit back and observe with a long lens, or do you like to get up close and personal with your clients and utilize a wider angle?
I bring a Canon 135L, 85L, 50L and 35L to every session because you never know what type of personality you are walking into a session with. Some children want to see you and hear you and play with you, so I need a lens that allows me to be close to them and interact with them while I shoot. Others enter their own world when they see the dreams you have brought to reality for them and I can sit far back and observe. I also take all of those focal lengths because I truly believe capturing the entire scene and the details are integral to capturing and telling the story.
Do you have any tips on designing a set up while keeping your client involved with the process? Do you utilize shared pinterest boards or do you have other ways of making sure you are on the same page?
The questionnaire is vital to nailing down and creating the right concept for each child, then it’s just constant communication about location ideas, clothing suggestions, additional props, etc. The thing to remember is that we are the artists, not everyone can envision things as easily as we can and people hire us for a reason, so not being afraid to speak up and tell clients what to wear, buy, or bring is very important.
How do you maintain work life balance and what have you learned about setting boundaries over your years as a professional photographer?
Work life balance is always a struggle. I never get it perfect but what I have learned is that if you don’t set boundaries you will resent your business and your art. Around the time I started the All About Me sessions in 2011, I also started a personal project of documenting my girls’ everyday moments. I have always credited this project with single handedly saving my business because it reminded me why I started shooting in the first place and continuing to do this will always pull me out of a rut or re-energize me after long nights of editing. I also take breaks and I shoot in spurts. Living in Texas it is quite possible for us to shoot all year long but I don’t, I schedule my entire year in December and have learned the hard way that shooting clients non stop does not help you grow as an artist, a business owner, or a mommy.
Can you share an image from your favorite stylized session to date and tell us what makes it your favorite?
After years I stopped and made a promise to myself to create an All About Me session just for each of my girls! To treat them as I would treat a client from start to finish… and so I did… and so I have given myself but more importantly, I have given each of my own children something that they will no doubt cherish when they are 35 year old mommies witnessing the magic of childhood for themselves. That is why this is one of all my all time favorite images but let me tell you, the video of the session is even better ☺
Thank you Shalonda for the fantastic interview! Make sure you head over to Shalonda’s website, facebook, pinterest, instagram, and vimeo to view more of her amazing work and keep up with her happenings!