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Shooting for Story: How to Make Your Portrait Sessions Tell a Complete Story

I love shooting for, designing and selling albums to my family portrait clients (and then visiting their homes and seeing them proudly displayed on their coffee tables.)  In my third year in business, over half of my clients opted for an album and many ordered “bundles” – multiple copies to gift relatives and/or leave at the office – and I anticipate those numbers growing.

I’ve been told that what made my albums such a hit is that they tell a story. As a former television writer, my scripts had a clear structure, bookended by “Fade In” and “Fade Out.” When I transitioned into portrait photography and found myself producing album after album, I realized that I needed to shoot like I wrote, and approach each session like a day on a television set to ensure that a clear, beautiful and loving story would be told.

I constantly hear from clients how much their children love their albums and how proud they are to show them off (with clean hands). Being able to look back on their session in story form not only gives my little subjects ownership of the session, but it makes them excited for our “next time” and the fun surprises it may bring and even allows us to start that next session where the previous one left off.

We all learn at a young age that stories start with “Once Upon a Time” and end with “The End” – but it’s the in between that makes a story unique, and makes it sing. The same holds true for session albums.

The Set Up: “Once upon a time, in a far away place, there was a princess who…” Most successful stories start with that sentiment and I start each album with a cover image and first page that establishes and introduces the family, all together in a big group shot, in their setting.

©Kate Botel


The Characters:  Next, I go deeper into each subject, with each child getting his or her own two page spread, showcasing their individual personalities. Kids love this and take pride in “their pages.”

©Kate Botel

The Story:  Once the characters have been established, their story “takes off.” We dive right into the fun of the session with images upon images (and pages upon pages) of play, laughter, loving and doting.

©Kate Botel

The Dramatic Midpoint: In a script, this is the high point that drives the rest of the story. With session albums, I have found that a single image spread over two pages has that “wow” factor and is a great midpoint. I always try to build to at least one into each album.

©Kate Botel


The Third Act: After that “point of no return,” I typically wind down with photographs representing the heart of the family. Loving moments of siblings together and/or Mom and Dad that leave the “reader” perhaps a little teary eyed, and definitely yearning for more, which leads us into…

©Kate Botel


The Conclusion: Whether it’s that final jump, swing or the family walking off into the proverbial sunset, I aim for “The Ends” to also imply “To be Continued…” I have built my business on repeat clients, so this sentiment rings true with clients who turned their session albums into a yearly tradition…

©Kate Botel

Lessons Learned and Additional Tips for Successful Album Design:

  • Shoot the Details: While parents may never purchase a 16×24 print of their child’s finger, toe, bow, curl, tear or drip of drool, these details are perfect for an album and define their children in the exact moment in time you have captured then.
  • Go Wide: I love wide establishing shots and including negative space in a group shot that I know can be turned into a kick-ass two page spread in an album.
  • Count Before they Do: I learned very quickly in my script writing days that actors count lines, and the same holds true with kids and pages.  I always take that burden off my clients and make sure that each child is equally represented in the album.
  • Date It:  With the first “second” album I did for a family, I started putting the year on the back cover. When the latest album takes over the coffee table, last year’s hits the bookcase and before you know it, you’ll have an entire shelf dedicated to your albums!

The Reviews are In:

I love hearing from families and gift recipients of albums. Here’s a selection of emails I’ve gotten from families enjoying these heirlooms:

“We’ve had several opportunities to sit down with people and go through the album you made, and it’s a home run! I’m finding new things I love about it every time I go through it.  Thank you for so thoughtfully and artfully putting together such wonderful pictures.”

“Tears are falling as I look at these beautiful children that you were able to photograph so exquisitely. I wish I could see them more than once or twice a year but I pull out my photo book and revisit each image, nearly every day. Thanks so much for utilizing your talents and sharing with Grammies everywhere.”

“The book is AMAZING! My parents and husband have no idea what they are  getting.  I can’t wait to see their faces :-)”

About the Author
©Kate Botel

Katie Botel moved to Los Angeles from Philadelphia to pursue a dream of writing for television.  She did that, for many years, and then transitioned to telling more personal stories through still photographs.  Going on her fourth year of Katie B. Photography, Katie celebrates her growing cast of characters’ everyday joys (and sometimes pitiful sorrows). Instead of ending her stories with her previously celebrated “Fade Out,” Katie prefers “To Be Continued” –as she looks forward to seeing her little “stars” for next year’s photos and capturing their ever-evolving stories.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!