The Micro-session: A Guide to Underthinking Your Photography | by Cami Turpin


I don’t know about you, but sometimes, the more I think about something, the more convoluted, complicated, and overworked it becomes. For instance, when I’ve been editing a shot for 30 minutes—bringing up shadows here, changing this color cast there, cloning out that wrinkle—and the whole thing just looks like a mess and I almost give up on it. Then in a moment of clarity I decide to hit the “Reset” button, do a 3 click edit, and realize the shot was almost perfect to begin with. Sometimes we get so bogged down with what we CAN do, that we don’t even think about if we SHOULD do.

The same thing applies to shooting. There are times when I have months to think about a shot I need and go over scenarios in my mind for weeks. I think about every detail—what time of day I’ll shoot, location possibilities, wardrobe, prompts and poses, techniques, and even edits. Then when the day comes, I’m so overwhelmed with my own expectations that when I look at my first sketch images on the back of my camera and see that they aren’t what I was hoping for, I start to panic. I start getting frustrated and short with the kids, then they feel that tension in my voice and body, and then NO one is having fun. Even if I get a shot in the end, the whole session is mixed with disappointment or frustration. Sometimes I start feeling guilty or feel like I’m in a slump, and it sets back my confidence and creativity. I know we all go through this. So is there a way to avoid it?

When I look back through my work and think about my most successful or favorite shots, they are almost always connected to a spur-of-the-moment shoot. I’m not talking about documentary-style, walk into the room and see a perfect moment and grab your camera kind of shoot (although those are awesome). I set them up. I plan them out and even style them, but I do it in 30-seconds, and the whole shoot takes 5 minutes or less. I call it a Micro-Session.

It’s when my husband wakes me up early on a Sunday morning and says, “You are going to want to get up. There’s fog outside.” So I throw a white dress that’s too small on my five-year-old and rush her outside wearing the hat she refuses to take off. Then she runs around for 3-minutes while I shoot, and we’re done.

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It’s when I see an amazing sunset in the middle of my ten-year-old’s birthday party, so I order her outside to the hill at the park. She knows the drill, so she runs across the street with her friends and does a few jumps for me in her unicorn onesie PJ's. We take a few snapshots with her friends to document the party, and we’re done. In two-minutes.

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It’s when I forgot I needed a “texture” shot for an Instagram loop and realize I need it in 30-minutes. So I find any kids that happen to be in the yard, have them sit on the splotchy front steps with their feet covered in dirt and sidewalk chalk, take 2 shots of their bruised and dirty summer legs, and let them go.

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It’s when I notice my Mother’s Day flowers happen to match my little one’s new dress while she’s trying it on, so I give her a little bouquet, we run back to the neighbor’s grape vines I’ve been looking for an excuse to use, and we take some pictures for 5-minutes. 

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It’s when I happen to be reading about inverse square law, so I open the garage door and wave my daughter down as she rides by on her roller blades and ask her to just look at me for 3 shots and watch her roll away again 30-seconds later.

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I always have my equipment out and handy so I am ready the minute I think of a shot I want. I get everything set before I even approach a kid and ask for a few minutes of model time, and I never give them more than a little direction. Because most of my spur-of-the-moment sessions really do take 3-5 minutes; my kids are happy to participate. I don’t have any expectations, so everyone is relaxed. The best part is, these micro-session strategies have dramatically influenced my longer sessions. I’ll still take a special trip to a lake just for pictures, but I’ve stopped planning out every detail. It’s best if I just let them go and watch the magic unfold. Sure, they might end up drenched in dirty, boggy lake water and we have no towels and maybe they’ll contract horrible diseases, but man did we create some magic. Even more importantly, man did we have fun.

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xoxo, Cami

Megan Boggs1 Comment