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Building Community One Magic Hour Photoshoot at a Time

How we show up for each other and what you may find when you look for the deeper stories we all carry with us

Hey you, over there, looking very busy. It’s going to be a beautiful day outside and those photos aren’t going to take themselves—okay, these days they might very well take themselves—but they’ll be so much more vibrant and alive If you come too.

There’s an over-ripe field of yellow-gold grasses with no one in it, just waiting, restless, under a low winter sun. There are treasures to behold and my camera is growing cold and I want to know more about you. Any of you. All of you. Whomever is interested in roaming the rural outskirts with the lingering grasshoppers and this seeker of hidden open spaces.

We can spread a blanket or tromp around the underbrush. You can be elegant or goofy or however you please. Just be the you of today. Bring your willingness to try something different. Bring your inner child, your fur baby or your best friend. If those are all one and the same, even better.

What to wear? I have ideas! Colors that fit a mood and complement the place. But above all, wear your comfort. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Wear the thing that makes you want to show up.


The Call of the Photographer

These were my thoughts on a recent December day when I sent out a photoshoot invitation to friends on facebook.

It was short notice and during working hours since the sun sets so early this time of year and I wanted to catch magic hour—the sixty minutes or so of the most luscious, flattering light leading up to sunset. Many people were interested but either not nearby or not available within the requested timeframe.

Then Mac, a former colleague, replied she’d be happy to help a photographer out. It just so happened she had the afternoon off. Outgoing and always willing to lend a hand, this came as no surprise to me. Delighted, I sent over the location info and suggested wardrobe. Oh, and could she bring one of her rescue pups I’d seen her post about?

With no particular plan in mind other than seeing what this gem of a field I had discovered would unearth within us, I packed my gear and headed out to our rendezvous spot.


Etched in Ink and Pixels

The sign at the all but hidden driveway read L. Kirk Edwards Wildlife and Environmental Area. (Since you’ve read this far, I feel comfortable disclosing the name of our top secret location and trust you will handle it wisely.) Not even built up enough to be considered a park, there are no facilities other than a gravel driveway, a fence and a stretch of mowed grass.

I brought a step stool, a blanket and some camera gear. Mac, dressed in a flowing and brilliant combination of the three colors I suggested, brought Teddy. He wore only a collar.

We walked the five or so minutes to get to the tallest and goldenest of the grasses. Mac bravely waded in, shoulder deep. Teddy patiently perched in Mac’s arms while I worked the camera. Music played from my phone because I couldn’t pair the portable speaker I brought. The sun softened even more.

When it became obvious Teddy needed a break from modeling, the pair relaxed on the unfolded blanket next to the darkening but still glowing thicket. I noticed small tattoos on both of Mac’s arms and asked her about them.

Her left wrist tattoo read “Strength” in cursive writing, underscored with a flourish. Her right forearm tattoo, written in a more hurried and harder to read script, a signature, read “Love Dan.” She explained the meaning behind both.

Before I share what she told me I want you to know something. I truly do try to listen to people when they tell me things during a photoshoot, especially very touching, very heartfelt things. But when I have a camera in my hand, the visual part of my brain continues to whir and stir, overriding much of the listening and remembering parts of my brain. Let’s just say I’m working on it.

So, in an effort to make sure I don’t mess up the details I messaged Mac after the shoot.

I asked, “Would you mind if I shared about your tattoos? I remember you said the signature of your dad was from a letter he wrote before he passed, when you were three, but I'm trying to remember what you said about the strength tattoo. Could you refresh my memory? Any other details you want to mention about them? Also anything you want me to say about Teddy?”

Mac replied, “Of course! I got my ‘Strength’ tattoo in 2012 or so. In remembrance of my Nana whom passed in 2010 and my dad. I find strength in all the experiences I’ve gone through (good and bad). My dad’s tattoo I got in 2017 I believe. To me, my tattoos always have a message and are thought through before going to get them. Teddy was my first rescue in 2012 when I went to FSU. He’s been my little sidekick through it all.”


An Hour and Some Change

We spent a lighthearted hour together during the photoshoot and I left knowing just a little bit more about Mac than I did going in. The pictures, souvenirs from the afternoon, continue to remind me how little we often know about our friend’s and acquaintances’ stories and inner lives. They don’t just show up, birthed anew and fully formed into our own experience.

It makes me want to delve deeper and know what other cards a person might be holding. It also makes me want to give everyone a hug.

In my work as a magazine photographer, I have had the privilege of arriving at a photo session having already read expertly crafted and edited articles about the people I’m about to photograph. But not all of my shoots come with an editorial department. I wish they did.

Going into the new year, thinking about the changes I want to see in myself and in the world, I realize I want to connect with more people. I want to be the writer that comes with the photoshoot, even if the writing is a simple blog post, sans insightful editor, that may not see any eyes but my own.

Thank you, Mac, for showing me a glimpse into the greater you. Your strength is inspiring.

I intend to build on this momentum and continue growing community, one photoshoot and one blog post at a time. Please join me when you can.

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