Anatomy of a Magazine Shoot

Every photo shoot I do begins with a conversation. This is true with all of my shoots from business portraits to the editorial portraits I do for magazines like Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine for whom I created the August cover & cover story photography for.

 Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine:  Margot Kong at Calistoga Ranch 
Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine:  Margot Kong at Calistoga Ranch. This photo of Margot Kong was taken at the Calistoga Ranch for Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine. Photography by Jennifer Graham Photography.
Margot Kong on the Cover of Luxury Travel Advisor

Lighting up the cover is my client Margot Kong Founder & Luxury Travel Curator of Journeys Unparalleled , and this is where the conversation begins. I love getting to know my subjects and clients. Creating a portrait is always a collaboration between myself and the person being photographed. So, for me it’s important to know things like: Margot is an advisor, a mother, a wife, a dancer, a foodie, a planner, and an art lover. She started Journeys Unparalleled in 2014 after having spent 15 years in sales and marketing in the travel industry.  A.K.A. SHE KNOWS HER CRAFT! Her company designs unique travel experiences for the luxury traveler. Whether it’s a quick weekend getaway or a multi-week vacation for a couple, family or solo traveler, she is THE person who can help you craft your next amazing journey. 

AHHHH sign me up!

It’s All About the Why

Her WHY resonated deeply with me. In her own words here it is,

“My hope is that the more people travel, the more they will appreciate the world and people from other countries and cultures, and in turn, they will be good to the earth and more accepting of those who are different from themselves.”

I LOVE her “why”! Knowing someones WHY drives the photoshoot for me. It tells me exactly who I have standing in front of me, what is important to them & what I can call upon during the shoot to better connect with them. I love knowing she is dancer, this informs me she is going to be comfortable in her body during the shoot. Being able to connect in a deeper way allows her, and my other clients, to physically feel the joy they have for their business and clients which then shows up in every expression, smile and nuance they offer me.

Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine:  Margot Kong at Calistoga Ranch. This photo of Margot Kong was taken at the Calistoga Ranch for Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine. Photography by Jennifer Graham Photography.
Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine: Margot Kong at Calistoga Ranch

Location, location, location!

Initially Margot thought she would like to have the shoot in the city she loves and calls home, San Francisco! She mentioned the Golden Gate Bridge and Palace of Fine Arts. Two gorgeous locations. However, when I got on the phone with Ruthann Terrero, Editor-in-Chief of, Luxury Travel Advisor I began pondering the concept of luxury and what really spoke to that theme.

While these two locations are beautiful and iconic they do not necessarily relay the theme of luxury. I knew from Margot she was currently back and forth from Napa & staying at the stunning Calistoga Ranch. This two-hour round trip was well worth my time to take the shoot to the next level and create the photographs I knew would tell the story of this luxury travel curator.

Once the location was set, Margot and I talked wardrobe, timing & hair & makeup. Every element needed to be perfect. Margot gathered as much of her wardrobe as possible to provide ample options. We narrowed down her pieces with iPhone photos & email. I booked the incomparable & nationally acclaimed Christina Choi Cosmetics as her makeup artist & she found a wonderful woman in Napa for her hair.

On the Day of the Shoot

I arrived at Calistoga Ranch an hour early to scout the grounds while Margot was pampered having her makeup done. This time allows me to see the best areas & settings to create a magazine cover quality photograph. I am looking at lighting, location options & thinking about the story I want to tell. I actually new before the shoot began which locations on the property & corresponding photographs would end up in the magazine, and my instincts didn’t fail me.

Over a two hour time period Margot and I explored each area I scouted. I knew which wardrobe look would work best with each location and what time we needed to be at each for the perfect lighting scenario.

I work with everyday people just like you and me, and we all need a little “getting comfortable” time in front of the camera so the first 30 minutes were dedicated to simply getting her comfortable and seeing how she moved. We have gorgeous photos from that part of the shoot will which serve many of Margot’s business needs even if they didn’t make it to the magazine.

PDF of images I deliver to Luxury Travel Advisor Magazine for selections
The PDF I shared with the magazine to choose which photos will end up on the cover on for the story.

The last location and shot of the day was what you see now as the cover photo. I knew we’d have to wait until dusk to get this one perfect. I wanted the lovely twinkly lights warm glow mixed with the soft light of the setting sun. By this time being photographed was old hat to Margot. Her ease filled smile and confident posture were a winning combination. I created multiple shots of her, playing with poses, expressions and composition. It all came together perfectly.

My process is actually the exact same for any photoshoot I have. This is the pre-production work necessary to create a stunning and memorable portrait.

If you are looking for a photographer for Business Portraits, Lifestyle or Editorial who knows hoot bring out the absolute best in you, schedule a chat with me! I would love to work with you!

I Don’t Want to Be the Creator, I Want to Be the Creation.

I’m unsure the author but there is a poem which goes something like this, ” I don’t want to be the poet, I want to be the poem. I don’t want to be the dancer, I want to be the dance. I don’t want to be the musician, I want to be the music.” I giggle involuntarily in deep recognition the moment I heard this. It resonated in the bones of my body while my mind took a moment to catch up.

I have been struggling lately going into my studio to sit down and do the work of running my business I have created the last 30 years. I realized recently I did not want to be there doing this kind of work. This busy detached work the must be done. I was feeling overwhelmed by my to do list of social media postings, marketing, bookkeeping, blog writing, endless emails, & editing. Any photographer will tell you it is these things that you dedicate most of your time until you can outsource some of it.  Some it, like writing these posts I love but when the lists go on and on and you can forget why you love things. For most photographers the “running the business part” isn’t why any of us started down a path into photography. It’s not why I did at least. I honestly had no idea what a career in photography and running a successful business looked like so many years ago. They simply didn’t teach you this when you’re getting a BFA or Masters in photography.

So here I am sitting in my studio slogging through the drudgery of it all until my next photoshoot when I get to be in connection and be IN the creation. Up until a few days ago I saw no relief in site and then I heard, “I don’t want to be the poet, I want to be the poem.” I found the word which spoke to my situation within the structure of the peom, “I don’t want to be the creator, I want to be the creation.” AHHHHH, yes, that was it.

So what’s a gal to do in this situation? Well first I noticed there is relief in the knowing. Once I was able to identify where my struggle was I instantly exhaled. I made the phrase my mantra since that moment, “I don’t want to be the creator, I want to be the creation”  and  say it the minute I begin to feel overwhelmed or lost. It reminds me to make sure I am the creation and not the creator aka the do-er. Next I had to find balance. A few things which help are working when I can from a cafe where other live humans are. YAY connection! Other days it’s working from the coziness of my own home and taking walks intermittently. Sure there are times I need to be at my studio computer editing but on days I don’t I can be in the creation of life, and flow through until my next photoshoot when I truly feel present and in creation.

To be the creation is to be in communion with all of life, to feel it all.  I don’t want to stand alone doing this all by myself. I don’t want to and never have wanted to create in a bubble, to be separate from the whole of it all.  My work at its core is all about collaboration & connection and it’s why I love being a photographer. I could not do what I do without the subjects complicity, openness and willingness to be creating with me. I want to be in the swirling beautiful flow of all that is creation and connection, to be in the experience of all of life.

Here are some photographs I created during my 2016 trip to Italy, one place I feel in the constant flow with all of creation. I am all at once creating but also connected to everything and everyone around me.  I am enlivened and completely free. I hope you each have a place like this.




View From the top of the Duomo in Milan, Italy. I wanted to create from a perspective not many saw of Milan.

During a hike around Lago di Braies up in the Dolomites of Italy. Nothing is more precious to me then being in nature.


A gentlemen along the hike. He nodded in agreement to having his photo created.

Another of Lago di Brdi Braies. Yes, this place was a favorite.


Business people during the hustle of lunch in Milan, Italy. I loved the grace with which the people of Milan glide around their day.

How to Get a Free Photo Shoot in Italy!

Who doesn’t want a free photoshoot in one of the most beautiful countries in the world?! I’m a photographer and I know I DO!  So here is how you can make it happen with minimal effort.

1. Walk around in a gorgeous red flowing dress at the Duomo in Florence!  Yes, you will have to get yourself to Italy. Feel free to pick another stunning place with breathtaking architecture in another part of Italy or even another country.  Airfare is on you unless you live there and there is only so much I can do.

2. Have your boyfriend already photographing you leaving everyone to wonder what famous star you might be. I think its clear your going to need a partner of some sort and I haven’t expended my business to match making just yet.  If you’re in a bind I suggest trying a dating    app…I “hear” its great fun. 😉

3. Make sure a professional photographer( ME! ME!) who is in love with Italy and on a vacation high sees you.  Hmmmmm, I am staring to see the level of difficulty but never say never!

4. Make sure to be one of the sweetest two people said photographer has ever met. Easy peasy!

While these To-Do’s may seem daunting they are not impossible, Emily and David are proof of that. This well timed synchronistic unfolding was what brought 3 travelers from the U.S. together this past August in one of my favorite cities in the world, Florence, Firenze if you’re a local or in the know.

As I rounded the corner to the front of the Duomo in Florence I spotted Emily in her stunning red dress, hard to miss her. It’s only been a few months but I was so excited trying to figure out if this was another photographer working with her or a companion that I don’t recall who approached whom. My mind is always working matrix style when I am trying to decipher a situation. All I knew is somehow I wanted to take the opportunity to photograph one or both of them. It quickly unfolded and I learned David was in fact her boyfriend. Score! One is always better then two!

Look at this sweet couple and THAT DRESS!

Both adorable and sweet I took a few photos of Emily and David with his camera first and then I asked if I could create some images with mine.  Many people assume that since I am a photographer I can magically pick up any camera and use it to its full capabilities. Not so. Sure I could take a couple of nice shots but knowing your equipment is key in creating stunning photographs. The camera works for YOU. So for the next few minutes I had two real life models to create, play with and photograph. Seriously, this was a dream for me and I knew I could give them something they would never have otherwise, a professional photoshoot in beautiful Florence, Italy! I love when these moments of synchronicity present themselves and I will always take advantage of these gifts.

These two are sweet as pie!

While I do a lot of my portrait work in my studio I love creating photographs on location whether it’s in the San Francisco Bay Area were I live or around the world. I’ve been lucky enough to have been hired for shoots in Kenya, Italy and all over the U.S.  One of my dreams is to be booking in Italy two months out of every year and I really believe putting that intention out there creates these opportunities to unfold.  Here’s to the dream and big thanks to they beautiful couple for allowing me to create something special for them.

My time in Italy was magical and this was one perfect experience that added to the entire experience.

I have tons more to share about my trip so make sure to follow me on FACEBOOK or INSTAGRAM. or just BOOK A SHOOT and we’ll create!  You can see more of my portrait photography HERE

By Emily and David! See you next time!

Bye Bye!