Here’s how a regular photo session for a Jamaican empowering woman turned into a unique 40th birthday photoshoot idea via striking photo illustrations.
This unique 40th birthday photoshoot is another success story of an all-day photoshoot. When you have an entire day at your disposal, a creative mind feeds off the most fertile grounds, no matter what type of photography is involved. It could be commercial, artistic, boudoir, maternity, youth, underwater, engagement, and even families!
As you can see from those all-day art projects, one perk is the opportunity to shoot both indoors and outdoors (a standard 2-hour session can only accommodate one or the other). However, shooting outdoors in winter sometimes reduces the options, so your subject is confined to a studio, living space, or a hotel. The latter worked perfectly for many of my boudoir clients. For this amazing woman, we decided on her house, but there was a challenge.
Meet Tameka. Her birthday is tomorrow, and she hired me for her unique 40th birthday photoshoot. She lives in Queens, NYC, in a house with her family and we first eyed her roomy basement to lessen our distractions and inconvenience to the family members, including her 10-year-old son doing online schooling (it was a weekday). The plan had to change, so we worked in the living room instead — the largest space, but it was in the middle of all traffic. Everyone could (and some did) watch us. 🙂 I also had to move my massive equipment to let the folks pass time to time.
With the work area effectively limited to just one spot, I did almost all my shots against a seamless paper background for eight hours (and we took no breaks). We prepared multiple ideas and had a different outfit for each, but when I went over all final shots in my studio, something was itching me. Although the results were in line with any in-studio photoshoot, I saw a greater potential to make this 40th birthday photoshoot truly unique.
As unique as never done before, in fact.
I thought of some form of digital art. Wasn’t sure what exactly at first… I’ve started building my fantasy art recently but to create it properly, you need to first have a concept in mind and then shoot for it with respect to angle, proportion, and importantly — posing and lighting:
The goal of a fantasy art project is just one super-duper signature image, maybe two. It just takes that much effort. Thus, it was out of question this time.
Then I thought of photo illustration, a.k.a. mixed media. I don’t want to spill the beans of something big that I pondered during last year’s lockdown, also highly time-consuming. There is a simplified variation of it, however, involving combining of photography and graphic art. I’ve never tried it so I thought, “Let this be the way, then!” We shot several distinct character ideas so each can be further illustrated. By the way, here’s an interesting article and inspirations I found when writing this post today.
Digital art like photo illustrations below are not included with regular photo sessions. They can be optionally ordered at around $100 per digital image on top of the usual photoshoot fee. Custom illustration rates are higher.
Let’s begin. Tameka is from Jamaica and devotes her life to the underserved communities of New York City. A job placement counselor, life coach, and a career guide, she describes herself as edgy yet classy woman, fun to be around. I built several concepts for her during the phone interview. I’ll open with the Jamaican heritage theme, already seen on the cover:
Next is an image that feels special to me artistically. It means a lot to Tameka — she wanted to express the importance of her roots — but the image is also the only dark one in this otherwise bright 40th birthday photoshoot series. Lots of my artistic portraits are on the darker side and I couldn’t resist tapping into my favorite genre:
We inevitably think of time on any milestone birthday. A concept of a ticking clock didn’t escape this 40th birthday photoshoot. Tameka brought up her “time jacket” and I asked to find a matching prop around her house. The kitchen had it:
She put together an outfit reminiscing of the color patterns of the school she attended back in Jamaica. I thought that any schoolgirl’s mind is full of dreams so this composition came about:
I’ve heard that Tameka is an aspiring real estate agent. She has just been licensed, and I offered her a professional headshot that any professional needs, with no laughing matter… or not. I’ll have a more conventional version of this groovy headshot for her, of course:
As we worked, I spotted a Banksy-stylized canvas print and asked her about it. She painted it in an art class event, giving me another idea for a photo illustration after the shoot:
Another bombastic discovery for me was that Tameka had two bars back in Jamaica! How cool is that?! She started as a bartender and then made her way up to running two places. This takes skills and fearlessness! A funky side, too, obviously. No wonder “fun to be around” is in her trait.
So, I ventured to a bar theme. First, we tried to find an actual bar which is open or at least accessible during the new wave of coronavirus restrictions. Since the whole 40th birthday photoshoot idea was spontaneous, the preparation took less than a week so we couldn’t find such bar quickly. Resorted to her home-made alternative. She’s a party girl and has a bar at home, even a new crazy alcohol version of an espresso machine (forgot the brand). To somewhat mimic a nightclub environment, I brought a fog machine and color gels for my studio lights. She also had strobe light, but my lights overpower it, leaving no chance to shine. Here’s a short behind-the-scenes clip with her family assisting me with smoke and moves.
Now, the only image in this series where I didn’t use the photo illustration style. As seen in the video above, a lot went into nailing these bar shots so erasing the background or not including the smoky versions would miss out on a story. The attempt with the flying hair didn’t work out, regretfully.
Her biggest hobby is dancing. As a conclusion, here are three more photo illustrations to go along with her fun-loving, stylish, and positive character:
Won’t hide it, I’m a little proud of myself here. This all-day photo session produced good results, but a picky me was aching for a more unique 40th birthday photoshoot idea. I’m happy to have thought of the photo illustration approach, turning regular (can’t really call it “boring”) photography into something more remarkable.
If you love this unique design and seek to create something offbeat in New York City metropolitan area and beyond, consider doing your own photo illustration and drop me a line. As noted, pricing is higher as it involves more creativity and effort, but you and your friends will appreciate the difference. ¡Avante!
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