Themes Done Right


While sometimes I pick on themed shoots for a few reasons… the truth is I wan to do more.


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Mannequins for my idea… no

I’m not gonna ask my clients to dress up like alice in wonderland, a disney princess, the newest most popular movie character.
I also won’t insist they need to go with a desert, beach, stadium or race track just for the heck of it and make it very themed based on those locations.

It just doesn’t work for what I’m doing… if their friends look at the picture and ask why are you on a beach towell at utah lake having a pic-nic. You hate Utah Lake, you two have never been on a pic-nic and that’s not even your beach towell nor does it have anything to do with you or your wedding.

I don’t want a mannequin for some idea i have… “you go stand here and put your hands just like so”
I want to use the location and light and their personalities to create something that works just for them.

I create art around them… I don’t just put them into the art I create.

I know there are plenty of photographers that do this other way… and I think it’s cool and they come up with great stuff… it’s just not me.


So when I do more themed it’s because the client was also creative… and we collaborated.

What usually happens is they have an idea that they think shows off their personalities and their relationship… and I… adapt it to make it look photographically much more appealing.

That’s the way I pose… you do what you would normally do and I’ll tell you when it sucks and adapt it to make it much more photogenic.

I communicate a ton with my clients and give them what I consider lots of instructions… and yet they always tell me they feel like I didn’t pose them. That I’m not a poser.

So with themes they say:

  • Our first date was …
  • We love to…
  • Our favorite location is…
  • Our favorite music… our favorite store…
  • Our favorite activity together is…

I say: Let’s run with that… I have some good ideas that will work for that. Such as…

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My photography is about personality.

I want my clients and their friends and family to say “Oh my heavens that’s so ‘Bobby and Susie’ ”

  • Does it reflect them?
  • Does it reflect their wedding?
  • Does it reflect incidents in their dating history?
  • Does it reflect things they like? (at least)

I do want to do more themed shoots

  • They get lots more attention
  • They are more creative and artistic (in general)
  • I like the challenge.
  • Even the challenge of making the repeated theme fresh and new in my own way.
  • They are better for business. (the attention they get)
  • They are more desired by wedding magazines and blogs

Why I have sometimes been hard on themed shoots.

Well it’s not because I’m against themed shoots or think they’re bad for photography.

It’s because I worry that people don’t do a good job of distinguishing creative direction for photographic skills.

I think a picture can be a great picture while being a poorly taken picture.

The key is to appreciate each are for what they’re worth!

Areas of impact to consider

Locations, creative ideas and selecting photogenic subjects are all GOOD things (needful things)… but then there’s that other pesky little thing… taking good/skilled pictures (light, emotion, composition, processing, the moment)

People can be praised in the picture for many items

  • The Location
  • The Idea
  • The Subject
  • The Photographic Skill

I guess what I desire is that people can look at a picture and see where each of those skills came in.


Part of this came from thinking about typical Orange County or NYC weddings where they’re spending crazy amounts on the weddings. There is so many pretty elements on the wedding day that I worry potential clients are seeing all the pictures of the pretty things and confusing it for pretty/skilled photography. (Yes they can certainly be skilled photographers as well as pretty items/locations/subjects of course.)

I myself have been fortunate to have taken pictures of a lot of typically pretty people. I have also taken pictures of couples at nice places (a lot of LDS temples) and a few more exotic locations.
I don’t do the fancy very expensive receptions (not like OC or NYC) … in fact often I do cultural hall weddings.

I have tuned my skills dealing with mid day light and crazy colors of a church basketball court for many a reception. (I am thankful for that tough teaching)

Making up for deficiencies

You deserve it all

A client deserves all those things we can offer, good ideas, good locations and good photographic skills.

I think the Photographic Skills can make up for possible deficiencies in the other areas.

  • They can make a boring or “ugly” place look great.
  • They can bring out the most beauty in the subject
  • And they can portray the idea/theme in the best possible way.


Here’s the deal on these pictures.

They had a long distance relationship.

He would fly up from California almost every weekend. He had graduated BYU and had a job in California and she was still going to BYU living in Provo.

So they said Airport and we rolled with it.

We then threw in some other pictures… Like these Memory Grove pictures.



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  1. darron says

    This is a great idea! How did you get through security (unless you were also flying out)? Is it a hassle to get permission to gain access in the secure area of the airport to photograph? Are there limitations or guidelines for photograpy within the airport?

  2. ScottJarvie says

    The airport should allow you to photograph there. It is public land. Don’t cause a disturbance and don’t even make them think you’ll take pictures of airport operations.

    I was certain they would harass me… as it has been shown that airport people are trained to disrespect the rights of people. But they didn’t… kudos to them!

    I am always a courteous photographer… the world doesn’t revolved around me… I rarely if ever disrespect fences and private property. (I know many photographers flaunt their lack of caring about private property)

    I’d say don’t get in customer’s way while there, pick less trafficked areas and don’t annoy people.
    And the airport themselves says do not take pictures of their operations. (which is probably BULL as far as rights go… but I didn’t want to push it and it was no where near what we wanted to do anyway)

  3. Jess Curren says

    Very fun! You call it “themes”, I call it “lifestyle”. Either way its way fun and I love it when my clients are up for something like this!! You’re right though, they very much have to be into it, or it doesn’t work.

  4. […] posted a write up about their pictures at the SLC […]

  5. Kristina says

    Airport = totes cute, original, and unique to them. Good job.

  6. Dale and Shoko says

    Where has my little girl gone? I think of the Kodak moments, i.e. pictures I shoulda took when Alisa came to my class at Seisen and Aoyama Universities. She was a kid then, but a pretty tough cookie when it came to expressing your opinions. I am thrilled but also feel a sense of loss. That’s all part of the cycle, I guess. As I approach the retirement years followed by the golden years and eventual decline, I hope to see A&A blossom into a wonderful couple, raising their family and contributing to making the world a better place. May God bless them and keep them safe and well. Love always, Dale

  7. Melissa B says

    What a fun place to shoot! Great job not getting harassed by security. :)

  8. Madelyn Wayment says

    When I saw your facebook status about doing pictures at the Airport, I thought….really? BUT I have to say, you can capture amazing pictures anywhere. The great part about these images is that they show the love between this couple AND they are unique. Very fun!

  9. Eric Quinney says

    Even before you mentioned that the reason for the themed shoot, I was able to tell through the pictures that the relationship involved distance. I love the idea of using a theme to express more about the situation so the picture can speak “a thousand words”

  10. Kaylynne says

    I have to tell you that the day you posted this, I immediately sent a link to my friend Jessica (a fellow photographer) it hit us both like a freight train and we’ve both been SO inspired by it that now we can’t stop brainstorming ideas for super fun and creative themes for future photoshoots (some to put on the back burner for those portraits where the client says “I’m not sure what I want” and some to do Just for Fun)!

    I also think these pictures are unique moreso because of the time we live in – how many other photographers are really gonna do a whole engagment session in an airport in a post-9/11 TSA ruled world? My guess is probably not many just because they don’t want to have to worry about harassment from security and what-not. So definite kudos there!

  11. Miranda says

    I love these. Totally different from the norm and full of personality. Super cool!

  12. Chris Manning says

    If the theme doesn’t have any significance to the couple, you’re basically treating them like models’ and that’s no way to treat a client.

  13. Robbie Petersen says

    really really liked the idea of shooting at the airport. Not a lot of people would think of that as a spot for engagement pictures, especially where it has a meaning to the couple, in this case, a long term relationship. I think more couples should be thinking of places that have special meanings. In this case, the place itself wasn’t necessarily special but it said a lot about how their relationship formed. Well done.

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