Styled Shoots {an interview with Amy Teague}

Capturing the extraordinary in ordinary moments will always be at the heart of SnapShop Online. However, we are also huge proponents of pushing ourselves creatively and exploring all the different aspects of photography. Amy Teague of Amy Teague Portraits and Film has inspired us for years in the way she creates stylized shoots with her kids. Often these types of photography sessions are used with little ones. Amy has a gift for capturing her tweens and teens in sessions that are stylized, but also capture the personalities and interests of her children. We are so excited to share this interview with you.

1) How much time and effort goes into planning your shoots?

When my children were little, I spent more time planning creative shoots. I would typically choose a theme, such as a fairy tale story, and gather costumes and props- sometimes this step could take over a year depending on prop availability, time, season, and finances. I usually had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted from the shoot and kept my eye out at thrift stores and friends’ homes for pieces I could procure or borrow.

I have several ideas for styled shoots written down in a journal just waiting for the right time. Keeping a running list is helpful for me because when I feel discouraged and need to create something just because or I feel super energized and want to throw myself into a project, I have a starting point.

As my children have gotten older and their own styles have evolved, I love photographing them being themselves. Often times, when one of my kids steps out of their room in an extraordinary outfit, I beg them to let me take a few pictures and I promise to be quick. I don’t know if they are unusually compliant children or just used to my requests. Either way, if I say I’ll make it short and sweet, I always to try honor their time since they are so willing.

2) From where do you find your inspiration? Do you shape your stylized shoots around the props you have or do you seek out your props when you get an idea of a shoot you would like to do?

I read a lot and most of my ideas come from the stories, poems and even song lyrics. But sometimes it could be as simple as a wildflower patch, a desert landscape, an outfit, or some street art.  Since I’m rarely in front of the camera, I may choose to include my subject(s) in the pre-shoot planning. Either way, for me, the props typically follow the idea and not the other way around.

3) When it comes to styled shoots- most of us don’t choose our children as our subjects because it can be really difficult to photograph our own children. Do you have any advice for those of us who are hesitant to have our own children in the shoot?

First, don’t be afraid! Years ago, I remember feeling hesitant too, but each time the shoot ended up being really fun and a good way to connect one on one with a particular child.  Because I was usually very organized and had a specific plan in mind, I didn’t waste time and that made it more fun too.  Also it was great practice for me as new photographer and gave me the opportunity to hone my skill without fear of disappointing a paying client.

When shooting some of the fairy tale stories, I would often read the story aloud before leaving the house or retell the story as we did the shoot.  This helped me stay on track and take the images I wanted AND it kept the kids engaged in the story telling aspect.

Another way to get my kids buy-in in the early days was to do a “Friend Shoot”.  One daughter would have a friend or two over and they would all dress up together and we would run around town taking pictures.  It felt like a really special play date for the kids and years later, they still talk about those shoots. My oldest daughter, who is a high school senior, is even asking to recreate a shoot with her two best friends that we did when they were in 6th grade.

If you’re new to styled shoots using your own children as subjects, here are a few tips on getting started:

  1. Start small- ask them to play a part in the shoot that isn’t too far off from who they are right now. If your son is a super hero fan, ask him to dress up and run around, cape flying in the wind.  If your daughter dresses up like a princess, paint her toes, help her craft a glittery crown and find pretty spot for her dance.
  2. Stay organized- give the shoot some thought in advance. Plan out the few images you really want and execute those on the front end and then just let yourself play and interact with your child.
  3. Relax- when we as parents feel uptight, our children can sense the frustration and will often act out. Remember, if this is a creative and fun shoot then there is no pressure to deliver an award winning image. Take advantage of not having a deadline and just enjoy yourself.
  4. Let them decide when it’s over- smaller children have a short attention and engagement span. Forcing them to continue just because you don’t have what you wanted will only end badly. So when your child is losing interest or not following directions, before getting frustrated, put the camera down, take a deep breath, and reconnect with them.  Sometimes just taking a few minutes without the camera will bring them back to the shoot. And if that doesn’t work, just stop.
  5. Now that my children are older, they are willing participants and they can out last me on a shoot. But I respect their time and if I say I need just 30 minutes, I always try to honor my word.
  6. Be professional- When I photograph my children, I try to direct and speak to them as I would a client. I am respectful, kind, and grateful.

4) Are your children always willing to deliver what you are asking for? Do their ages help in that?

Most of the time my children are able to give me exactly what I have in mind and I do think it helps that they are older and able to follow directions. But I do miss the young years and regret not taking the opportunities to create more styled shoots while they were little. There’s no going back.

You know, we have plenty of “blooper” pictures. And although that can feel frustrating during a shoot when I have something very particular I’m after, in the long run I try to keep it in perspective that my children are ultimately doing me a favor and if they want to be silly here and there, so be it. Honestly, when I come across the crazy face during the edit, it tickles me and I end up saving it too.

5) How do you benefit as an artist from designing and shooting a styled session? What is your “why” behind it?

As an artist, I feel I do some of my best work on these little styled shoots.  Or maybe the work just feels more rewarding.  There are no constraints, no demands or expectations outside of the ones I put on myself.  I feel free to explore, try new things, and if I fail, I’ve lost nothing and disappointed no one.

There are several reasons I continue to design and style shoots. First, I try to challenge myself with each shoot. For example, I may only take one lens or shoot everything at F-stop 2.0.  I might try to double expose a few images, free lens, or shoot both stills and video.  Seeing my daydreams come to life is incredibly fun and fulfilling.  Also, spending time with my children and having beautiful images of them is a wonderful bonus.

6) What equipment do you use and what processing do you like to use?

I usually just have my go-to equipment with me: a Canon 5D Mark IV, memory cards, 2 batteries, my 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses. I use Adobe Lightroom to cull and color correct images and occasionally apply a present. Very rarely I’ll pull a few images into Photoshop to fix or add a detail.

7) What advice would you give to all photographers, whether it’s someone photographing their everyday moments or someone wanting to build or carry on their photography business?

Practice. Be present. Be observant. Be grateful. Practice some more.

You can find Amy in the following places:

Website | Instagram | Facebook


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