The truth is, Jeff wasn’t fully on board with me hiring a professional photographer while we were on vacation in France. After all, I take hundreds of photos on our trips. Travel is expensive enough, and professional photography is absolutely an investment and a luxury. But despite all the photos I take, we rarely have a good family photo from our travels. I bring my professional camera on vacation, and I’ve never had any luck trying to show a stranger how to use it in 10 seconds or less.
For this trip, I wanted documentation of our time in France together — for me, but also for our girls and for their kids. So I set off to find a photographer whose style I liked, and after a Google search, I knew I had found my girl! As soon as I saw the work on Katie Donnelley’s website, I knew that she would be a great fit for us. And, while I love the French, it was an added bonus that she was an American living in Paris — so no language issues to worry about either.
As a photographer, it was also great for me to go through the process of booking a photo session, just to see how it feels from the other end. We’ve had our photos taken before, but always with someone I already knew as a friend. When you hire a photographer you’ve never worked with before, there is a certain leap of faith involved. It helped that in addition to being totally professional and thorough in the booking process, Katie seemed excited and confident that we would have a great session with her.
Tip: When booking your session — whether or not you’ve worked with me before — don’t hesitate to ask questions about anything! I’m there for you every step of the way. If we’ve never met before, a quick phone conversation can lay the groundwork for a great session.
Once we booked, I tried to take my own advice and not stress out about it. That was easier said than done. I immediately questioned whether I even wanted photographs of myself, after having gained a bunch of weight over the last few years (working on that now with the help of a personal trainer! :) . I even contemplated cancelling. In the end I figured — all I need is ONE photo with me in it that I am happy with. Just one.
Next, I set out to choose what we would wear for the photos. I knew that I wanted us to be ourselves — not too casual, not too dressed up, and I wanted to feel good in what I chose. It was a little tricky because April in Paris could be warm, could be cold, could be sunny, could be rainy! I finally landed on a cute skirt from Boden with a navy sweater and some great wedges and that set the color scheme that everyone else would have to follow.
Grace had her heart set on a particular pair of jeans and top. Ellie wanted to wear a dress, but didn’t have one she liked. Grace’s other big concern was her (lack of) height (she’s 5’1″), so she insisted on also wearing a pair of 3.5″ wedges. I decided to just go with it even though I knew we’d be doing a lot of walking during the session, with the caveat we bring a back up pair of flats. Ellie found a great dress at Marshalls (awesome find!) paired with some espadrilles we picked up in Provence, and Jeff — well, Jeff put on what I told him to. :)
Tip: You can always ask for advice about what to wear. I sometimes have advice specific to location or time of year. I often have clients who send me iPhone photos of the clothes they are thinking about and I’m always happy to give my opinion. My clients also receive a link to my “What to Wear Guide” upon booking. It’s packed with tips on choosing the perfect clothes for your session.
Katie suggested we start our session at the Place des Voges, and then wander. I trusted her implicitly and was happy that all I had to do was show up to the spot she suggested and do what she said. I took off my professional photographer hat and tried to forget everything I knew. We immediately felt at ease with Katie — and started chatting up a storm. Before I knew it I forgot that we were there to have our pictures taken, but felt like we were just spending time with a friend who happened to have a camera.
This is, I think, one of the keys to a great photo session, and something that I try to do for my clients as well. If I can get my clients to relax and not worry about this and that and everything being perfect, and get them to smile because they feel like smiling, and not because they are told to smile, then that ease comes out in the images. I really do think that in addition to technical and creative strengths, good photographers have that ability, and I know that Katie does. She was so much fun!
While I do have plenty of photos of the girls, Katie brought out a different side to them — their smiles were so much more natural than when their mom is behind the camera. They also didn’t goof off for her the way they do for me!
As much as I love those photos of the girls, it’s the family photos that I will treasure the most. And guess what. I’m so glad I didn’t cancel. And I have many, many pictures (WAY more than one!!) that I have proudly displayed on my walls and in an album.
Thanks to Katie’s ability to make this whole experience fun and positive and thanks to her being an amazing photographer, I find myself doing what I tell my own clients who are a bit self-critical. When you look at photos of yourself, don’t pick yourself apart. Look at yourself the way other people see you — they don’t notice the flaws you nitpick about yourself. When you can do that, you’ll see all the good — your joy, the smiles, how lucky you are and how beautiful your family is. And that’s what matters.
We ended our session (during which we covered a couple of miles!) at this café in the Jardin du Palais Royal. After this photo was taken Katie even joined us for a well deserved cold drink. And to prove that it was an awesome experience all around, even Jeff — Mr. Hesitant — said he had a lot of fun and he was really glad we did it.
Thank you so much Katie! 😘
All images in this post were taken in Paris, France, by photographer Katie Donnelly.