To Buy or DIY?


That definitely is the question that many photographers have to ask themselves when they’ve booked themed photoshoots. See that photo above? It took a lot of problem-solving to get there and it almost all started with the question...To Buy or DIY?

There are always ways to do things on a budget, yes. But, when time is of the essence, what to do?

I don’t know about you. But, I tend to compromise with a little o’ this and a little o’ that. I’ll tell you what I mean...

I recently recorded an interview with The Delaware Blogger that will air on September 11. So, I guess you could really say, that’s where it all really started. The Delaware Blogger has started a new podcast series where she interviews various Delawareans doing good things in their community. You should check it out.

In my interview, I reveal the code for a discount on some upcoming mini-sessions. I got the idea to do it from one of the questions I was asked for the interview about whether I had a special offer. So, naturally, with it being so close to the school year, I chose to do a Back-to-School mini for my offer. It didn’t dawn on me at the time that the interview wouldn’t be aired until September. By September, most mini-sessions for Back-to-School will be completed, giving way to fall mini session season. So, I had a couple problems to solve...One, how was I going to persuade folks to listen to my interview? I’m one of many photographers in Delaware. It’s no small feat. Two, how to give the listeners a little time to act on the code?


Well, my answer to that was to create a Back-to-School mini session marketing image. I’d make an image to promote the mini-session and announce the code for a discount on this year’s Back-to-School, Fall and Holiday sessions in the interview. Easy peasy, right?


You know what that actually meant? It meant I created another problem: I needed kids! For some reason, unbeknownst to me, most of the families I have immediate access to have kids in diapers. They’re nowhere near going to school yet. Now what?

I put a call out on my FB pages for some of my FB friends to find some people that would loan me their kids for the photoshoot so I could make an ad. I got a great response and had to close the call out within an hour. That was pretty awesome!

But, then, lo and behold. I had another problem...Where to source props on my budget? I mean, what’s the theme “Back to School” with no props, right?

I’m a creative, so I went to Michaels and looked around to see if I could get some inspiration. Of course, I found some things (well…more than a few to be precise-and I’m so glad I stayed away from the planner section, sheesh). The items I found had potential, though they honestly weren’t hitting the right notes for me. I found some baskets, some crates, some flowers and a few other odds and ends I probably didn’t need. Most of them were too…new, like these crates below.


Don’t get me wrong. I love me some new stuff! But, when I take photos, I feel like new things tend to sparkle and stand out. Sometimes, they take over an image. I like things that are muted and will stay in the background of a portrait. Old and worn stuff. Vintage stuff. Neutrals. Those things seem to balance well in a portrait and I can add colors in a way that everything doesn’t go haywire.

So, I took these new things, and with a few applications of a coffee, vinegar and steel wool combo applied every day from Monday to Thursday…



Ahhhh…Now we’re talking!

I bought some little decorations to go into the crates and the basket. I like how far they came along. And look how the color feels even more “color full” next to those neutrals (get it, color-full? Just kidding…).


The boyfriend and I were sitting around talking about this shoot when he mentioned getting me a desk for it.

Um...Hello! You don’t have to tease me twice!

I hopped onto the interwebs and found a desk set from the 1920s that I seriously loved. I must’ve emailed the link to him three times.

It was in MD and I couldn’t go get it this past week because of work conflicts. But, on Saturday, we packed up the kid and went to pick up my desk set. We were cutting it pretty close since I had photoshoots scheduled for Saturday afternoon. But, we made it!

Here are some of the photos from the first shoot using some of my new props. The basket and crates didn’t make it to this set. But, they’re more for sitting on and filling up with stuff anyway. I got a desk now! :) I’ll use the crates for the fall shoots.


Oh right! I don’t know who did it…But, somehow, my desk set got joined by a couple of vintage chairs. I just don’t know how…

Oh, okay. It was me.

Well, all is well that ends well. The parents that responded within the hour time frame were able to sign their children up for a Back-to-School mini-session on me for the rights to use their photos and I got some marketing photos for the upcoming seasons.


These last two use my favorite image from the set. I think it was a little soft around the eyes. But, I loved the expression, composition, and color! All I used for props here was a hat she didn’t like until she saw how cute she was (😂) and some silk flowers.

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Cool, no?

If you like what you see here, like my FB page and see what I do next. 😉

One Woman Show

Me: Entrepreneurship is AMAZING!!

Also Me: Entrepreneurship is freakishly time-consuming!!

One of the bloggers I read regularly posted a graphic on FB a couple weekends ago saying, “Thank God It’s Friday! No, wait! I’m a business owner!”

Boy, did she have it right!

I spent this past weekend updating my website with Style Guides for future SS Johnson Photography Families as well as creating gift certificates/discounts, gift cards, ads for upcoming specials, and call-outs for models for some ads I want to make. 

The Style Guides were easiest. It took a long time. Not difficult at all. But it was uploading one gallery set after another. Most gallery sets have at least 9 pages of visual Style Guides. Here’s a sample of what SSJP Families will see when they go to the Client Lounge for Style Guides this fall. 

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Here’s one for the current season, for SSJP Families that will get photoshoots while the weather is still warm.

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Pretty cute, right?

Yup. They’re also functional.

One of the questions I get asked before a photoshoot is about what to wear. Clothing choices can create a lot of stress for those who tend to get uncomfortable in front of a camera…and that stress can show up in photos. We definitely don’t want that! But, I think if folks feel their best, they’ll look their best. So, once the proposal process is completed, I head them off at the pass with access to the Style Guides, maybe before it even crosses their mind. Maybe they’ll find something there that they love and can approximate for their photoshoot. Then, they’ll be that much more excited about their photoshoot and a lot less nervous. And wouldn’t that be cool?

The ads...Well, they’re just templates, either bought or worked over in Canva (love that app). But they took quite a bit of time to select and put together for a set that felt somewhat cohesive that I wasn’t actually making myself. Well, some, I built from scratch using just the sizes I needed in Canva. Others, not so much. All of them have my own photos, naturally. But the typography was either bought, downloaded, or substituted for one I already had, etc. This is the one I posted to my FB yesterday. 


I just love using this photo! That child is adorable!

Anyways, I think next time, I’ll move the text to one side and put my photo on the other. It gets a little busy in places and I’d rather the face be clear to see. All in all, I’m pretty happy with it for a template. Besides that, I can keep using it as many times as I want.

Are you a “solopreneur”? What are your favorite tools that help you get things done and serve your clients better? Share in the comments.

Until next time. 

Our Stories Matter

I’m a big proponent of photography as a tool to help tell a family’s story. Those stories aren’t always the most glamorous or happy all the time. But what they are is true and inspiring. I also subscribe to the notion that there’s a certain power in imagery that lends itself to the prophetic.

Case in point, a few days ago, I was contacted by a lovely lady who needed some headshots. Although I don’t have a studio, I agreed to do the headshots in her home. That can be tricky because you often have to prepare for an environment you’re not accustomed to, making lemonade out of lemons whenever necessary. Note to self: Start packing a stash of black curtains. I was as prepared as I could be for a dim lighting situation. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was that the headshots would be used for such an astonishing story.


Sheila Walker, pictured above, was born in Arkansas, the home of the Elaine Massacre. If you have never heard of the Elaine Massacre, you’re not alone. Even though this September marks the 100th anniversary of the Elaine Massacre, many Arkansans are still learning about it for the first time themselves.

According to Mrs. Walker, “It was not in the history books. People in Arkansas didn’t know about it. It’s just…I would say in the last twenty years there was even something on it, besides what Ida B. Wells wrote and other people wrote. It was just buried in history. Buried. This is so much of our history-American history, that’s buried. ”


In September 1919, a group of black sharecroppers had a meeting in a church that resulted in one of the deadliest riots in history…all because they wanted to form a union for fair prices for their cotton and to own their own farms. When two white men, in a pursuit “to protect life and property”, were shot and killed in an altercation with guards at the church, posses from all around descended upon them, killing black men, women and children in order to thwart the “uprising”. The governor called upon 500 soldiers to help with the perceived threat of “the heavily armed negroes.”

In a matter of hours, 12 sharecroppers were rounded up and sentenced to death. This kicked off a series of events leading to the first intervention of the federal courts in the affairs of state courts, removing the protections that the state had in robbing citizens of due process based on the color of their skin.

“I believe in Dr. King. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Love triumphs over hate.”

Mrs. Walker’s uncles, Albert and Milligan Giles, ages 15 and 19, were among those who were convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Fortunately, they were eventually cleared of all charges and released. But, not right away, and not without scars. Not only were they wrongfully imprisoned for years, but her younger uncle remained stripped of the right to vote following his release.


Years later, upon reading books about the event, Mrs. Walker decided to contact an author who in turn put her in touch with someone from the other side of the riot-a poet by the name of Mr. Chester Johnson. They along with Mr. David P. Solomon connected over history in a way that seems to have brought some healing to the trio.

When I asked her what did they hope to accomplish through the symposium, she said, “It’s about reconciliation…and what I’m going to be talking about is why I have forgiveness in my heart.”

Mrs. Walker is referring to the time when she told her friend Mr. Johnson that she forgave his grandfather for participating in the riot.

With great resolve, Mrs. Walker said, “I believe in Dr. King. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Love triumphs over hate.”

Headshots are seemingly a basic kind of photo. The operative word here being ‘seemingly.’ But, I’m so grateful to have had this small part in helping her carry such a great message to others. This is not the face of someone embittered by the past. It’s someone who is intent on making the future a better place to be.

I can get behind that.


If you’d like to learn more about this piece of history, please see the following links:

Also, check out the upcoming documentary Bound By Blood in which Mrs. Walker’s daughter-in-law, Producer/Editor, Franziska Blome, Producer/Director Llewellyn Smith and Producer/Researcher Annie Stopford seek to unfold how the event continues to shape the lives of locals.