Technique Thursday: creating moments of magic

Beyond learning the basics of creating great portraits, lies the world of creating magic with images.  Sometimes those come along as happy accidents, and others are prompted by us.  We truly start to find our voice as photographers when we are able to create those moments consistently with clients.

Maybe I’m a bit partial because I hired her to photograph my own family, but Yan Palmer is a master at creating magic, both through connection and movement.  Part of what causes her to be so good at this is intuitiveness.  In other words, she reads people well and sees what makes them special. So, tip #1 – Connect with your clients.

I wanted Texas to show in my images.  We have land west of Fort Worth that’s very special to us, and so it was important to show that.  Thanks to a cooperative horse, Yan was able to see this image and make it happen.  I love the connection with my youngest daughter, and just that she “saw” this image so fast, based on what she knew about us as a family.  It is without a doubt magical, and I’m very emotionally connected to this image.

Wendy Laurel (founder here at Let the Kids) also knows how to work her own brand of Hawaii magic.  Her images always just look like so much FUN!  Her focus here is connection over perfection.

In this image, she told all the kiddos to dogpile mom. I love the expressions of pure joy on everyone’s faces.

Another great way to give energy and life to your images is through MOTION. This image from Tavis Johnson is such a great example of that. Shot on film at f5.6 and 1/30th of a second, this photo is so much more than it would have been without the motion blur.

Sometimes, especially working with small children, we have to know when to become a quiet observer to allow a little one to not be so conscious of the camera, as was the case with this image from Meg Hamilton.

Meg said: “This little flower-girl was somewhat elusive all day- it was a hot summer wedding, but I was determined to get a happy shot of her…the guests were enjoying their salads being served…and she was just in her own world dancing outside the tent. I just kept my distance and waited for the right moment…she had no idea I was watching :0) Shot with my Canon Mark 3- 85 1.4 shot wide open.”

Another way to lay the groundwork for magical images is to literally let the kids dress themselves (or otherwise create a kid-friendly, comfortable environment), like this image from Kate T. Parker.

From Kate: This shot was taken in my studio on the four year old’s playdate…they decided to dress up and jump on the couch, as four year olds like to do, and got the dog involved as well.  I just happened to be there and catch it.

Having some fun and age appropriate activities up your sleeve is a great way to break the ice and get your clients comfortable. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just be willing to PLAY, like this adorable photo from Jenn Fletcher.

From Jenn: Babies love that feeling of flying through the air and dropping out of nowhere. In this moment, a father and daughter share their time playing the “throw baby into the air” game. For both Dad and baby, it’s a time of pure fun, shared laughs, and magical moments.

And finally, in this image from Posy Quarterman, we see that magical moments can be caught on camera by knowing when to be still.

From Posy: Capturing magic moments between loved ones is my goal for every photo session; it’s what I want most for my clients – their magic moments captured – and it’s what I thrive on.  The quiet moments between a mother and child are possibly the most magical of them all. Unfortunately in the chaos that is life with children sometimes it can be hard to capture those times of quiet magic. This photo is of my friend (and photographer) Shelby Brakken, and her daughter Indy. I knew these two had these peaceful moments together regularly, so I went with the goal of capturing their magic. But when I arrived the excitement level skyrocketed and before I knew it I found myself in the midst of kids bouncing off the bed, and booty-dancin’ to Macklemore. I needed to find the stillness between these two, so I asked Shelby’s husband to take their son out into the hallway. I then quietly shut the door, suggested where they lay, and just waited. Indy put her hand up on her mama’s face, Shelby closed her eyes, and just like that: magic moment, captured.

I am so inspired by these little slices of real life and beauty. I hope you are too.


  • meg says:

    what an honor to have my image up with some of my all time favorite photographers- and i truly feel that a lot of what we do is creating magic. making something simple look fabulous. reminding us that the small things matter- the connections, the emotions…the MAGIC. xx

  • I’m pretty sure I can’t say it any better than Meg did. There are some great photos here and I’m honored to be included!

  • I love all of these tips and love LOVE that you picked this topic. Plus I think the Yan-PQ sandwich is rad (okay I really just wanted to say Yan-PQ sandwich!).

    That photo-intuition or 6th sense has always felt like magic to me. Combined with the magic moments we capture, and the magic in creating these images for families, is truly what feeds me.

    Nice work, ya’lls.
    xo, PQ

  • Katie Cawood says:

    I love all of the photos in this post! (And can I please live in Kate T. Parker’s studio? Like, now?) I’m seeing a big shift in what the average client is wanting… more and more families are after these natural, fun moments and less of the cookie cutter images. Thank goodness. 🙂

  • a subject so close to my heart ……… love this post !!!
    i truly love the magic moments too and reading your clients plays such a huge part………………
    beautiful images ….. all of them …….
    xxxx sam

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