At FOTO, we are committed to helping our fellow creatives flourish. In our Q&A style blog series, Coffee with Creatives, we are highlighting the unique expertise of some of our favorite professionals, sharing tips and information on relevant topics to bring you some practical insight and inspiration for the important work you do.
Today, we are uncovering how to capture the magic of childhood with professional childhood and family photographer of Chubby Cheek Photography, Shalonda Chaddock.
First things first, how do you take your coffee? (And if you are not a coffee drinker, what is your beverage of choice to energize you?)
Shalonda: Hahahaha does anyone survive running a photography business without drinking coffee? My coffee is more of a caffeinated chocolate milk - cream and sugar until it's light brown is my jam!
Tell us a bit about yourself and Chubby Cheek Photography. How did you pick that name (which we love!) for your business?
Shalonda: My story is probably very different yet very similar to so many photographers these days. I grew up in Austin and had a pretty typical childhood yet I was always the child that craved creativity and imagination, even as I stepped into adulthood that didn’t change despite my “grown up exterior.” I graduated from Texas A&M University with an Engineering degree and joined the real world as a salesperson for an engineering manufacturer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After realizing rather quickly that I was not cut out for cold weather or for leaving my home state of Texas, I returned to Houston. Life happened… I got married, had two chubby cheek’ed baby girls 18 months apart and decided “mom life” was where it was at, but that little creative bug kept buzzing. I got my first DSLR camera in 2006 and immersed myself into learning to use it and capturing the magic of childhood that I sat right in the middle of every single day. The rest is history - I’ve been photographing children and families in Houston for almost 12 years.
My business name was chosen out of necessity because helllooo no one in their right mind can spell my first or last name properly so you know I couldn’t use that. Daddy cheeks and I have ummmm “high cheekbones” and everyone always joked when we got married that our kids would have a double dose of cheeks. Well guess what?! They were absolutely correct! Both girls were all cheeks when they were born and we always referred to them as Cheeks #1 and Cheeks #2, so when I started my business it just seemed like the perfect fit.
We think your work evokes such magic. How do you concept and create such beautifully styled shoots?
Shalonda: I always say kids see the world in an unfiltered way: sugar is sweeter, colors are brighter and jumping off the front porch steps makes you feel like you are jumping off of the Empire State Building! And I mean it! But at some point in our lives, we lose that, we become aware of what other people think or that people are watching and we hold back. We shield who we really are because we are afraid of what the world will think or say about us. I know this filter and this fear all too well. When I started my photography career, styled wedding photo shoots were all the rage! And I had this idea, what if I did a children’s shoot that had props and it was sort of styled but that it had meaning to it!? What if I tried to go into each kid's imagination and dreams and created a shoot around that!? Well I was one year into my career and that idea sat in the back of my mind, waiting for me to have the guts to DO IT! But I didn’t, I spent my hours away from my girls and my husband shooting what other people wanted me to shoot, how other people wanted me to shoot. Two years later and still sitting in the back of my mind, scared of what others would think, scared clients would reject the idea or not “get it” but everyday shooting my own kids doing what they loved...watching my oldest daughter who was 3 and the "princess-iest" of all princesses have an utter obsession with Thomas the train. I captured our weekly trips to the grocery store in full princess garb because our addiction to all things glittery and girly and Disney was in full effect! But there it sat, my idea, held back in my mind because of fear! THEN one day I stopped listening to that fear! I had a session coming up with a family that I had photographed since their son was born and they were just crazy enough to listen to my idea …And so, I did my very first all about me session. I started basic, the props came from his room: his pottery barn quilt with the solar system, planets hanging from the ceiling, and the telescope he had gotten for his birthday with some homemade stars thrown in and voila!
Obviously the concept has evolved since then and I have even taught photographers all over the country how to create these sessions for their little clients based on who they are and what makes them unique. A styled session with a real purpose!
What is the most special part of photographing children and families?
Shalonda: The funny thing is, while I am probably most known for my styled children’s sessions (thanks to Pinterset ha), the majority of what I shoot are good old fashioned family sessions! I do offer family sessions with a twist as well though. You see I love the difference and unique sparkle that each person/client brings into my life. Like y'all, I am fascinated with how differently people make their sandwiches or pizza ha! I want everyone to know that what makes them different makes them special and that should be celebrated. And just like people have a unique sparkle that makes them “them,” each family has the same special unique quality so I created “The happy place session.” It’s a little different and unique to each family, in fact NO ONE else can ever have another session just like it! This is the type of session that a family will remember forever, because we capture the magical moments that can only happen in a setting that defines the essence of what makes your family special. This session takes place in a family’s happy place doing what they love to do together the most. Playing games in their home, exploring one of Houston’s local parks or eating ice cream at the zoo, roasting S'mores at the family farm, or even baking together in their kitchen.
Any quick tips you can share on incorporating props (or not) into shoots?
Shalonda: Sometimes less is more… You don’t always have to have an elaborate set up or a car full of props to tell the story of who this one child is at this one moment. In fact 80% of the types of sessions I shoot are just normal regular old sessions - no props, just me, my camera, a child and their IMAGINATIONS! Don’t be afraid of taking the props out and playing a good old fashioned game of make believe.
Do you make your props?
Shalonda: I do make some and I do buy some but I REUSE them in unique ways so I’m not constantly breaking the bank on props. I will say my husband is extremely handy and he makes a lot of my larger prop dreams come true by taking a sketch I give him and turning a pile of wood into exactly what was in my head!
Any other advice for aspiring photographers who want to work with kids?
Shalonda: 1. Think like a kid… I have learned through the years that I am most inspired by this lack of filter, the magic of childhood, the idea of looking at the world in a different way. You have to enter a child’s world of imagination and fun! Sometimes we all need to dance in the rain or run through the backyard chasing ladybugs! So when I need inspiration the most I look toward them and I lead by example… I just let go of my filter and breathe in the moment!
2. Backup your backup… Be prepared for the unexpected…like all of a sudden their favorite book isn’t there favorite today or maybe they have decided they don’t want to paint today…so have a backup plan…if you really look at all of my shoots, I could potentially strip away most of the props and still shoot the child in a classic way of them simply interacting with their environment: gathering rocks, jumping into a pile of leaves, peeking from behind a curtain or ribbons backdrop. So having a backup plan is vital! And when all else fails, one word y'all…bubbles!
And lastly, what Fotostrap(s) do you wear?
Shalonda: So I have two Fotostraps, Blush and Sky both with a custom shoulder strap and then the Graphite one is already wrapped under the Christmas tree. Fun fact: my youngest is 10 and has gotten really into photography this past year so she asked Santa for a DSLR for Christmas. We added her very own Fotostrap in her favorite color (Seaside) under the tree as well.
Looking for more inspiration from industry creatives? Check out these other Q&A's:
Coffee with Creatives: Misty Rodda's Tips on Keeping a Fresh Perspective
Coffee with Creatives: Katie Lamb's Tips on Finding that "Mompreneur" Work/Life Balance
Coffee with Creatives: Caroline Jurgensen's Tips on Running a Business with her Spouse
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