Interview: How a Photographer Makes Her Enchanting Photo Shoots a Family Affair

Fantastical Family Photos

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Driven by a need for creativity, the photographer known as Alexandria’s Lens creates enchanting portraits that involve her whole family. Her husband and three children offer both creative input and pose in her images that are soft in focus and contain magical elements that are digitally edited into the photos after the shoots are done.

Inspired by fairy tales, Alexandria infuses elements of the iconic stories into her work. But despite the familiarity, each of her images has a point of view that feels special to her family. In one photograph, Alexandria and her daughter traipse through a field of larger-than-life mushrooms a la Alice in Wonderland–the scene includes a white bunny and all.

Harry Potter is another big influence. “Our family's obsession with Harry Potter prompted me to experiment as well because I wanted to show magic in a different way inside of my portraits.” Magic wands and Patronus Charms, and Gryffindor colors are motifs throughout Alexandria’s portfolio.

We spoke with Alexandria about her work, including how she makes the shoots a family affair, in an enlightening interview. Scroll down to read it.

Fantastical Photos by Alexandria's Lens

When did you first become interested in photography?

I first became interested in photography when my oldest daughter, Emma, was born. My husband and I were both young and in college, we couldn't afford to get her photos taken, so I saved up for a used Canon DSLR on eBay, and began taking photos of her on my own.

Where did you learn how to shoot photography and edit images? 

I took some courses and received an associate of arts in photography when my first daughter, Emma, was a toddler. Courses helped me learn all of the technical aspects of photography, how to shoot in manual, print, and the general rules, but it didn't do much for me in terms of creativity. Creativity flowed once I learned the technical aspects because once you learn your camera, inside and out, it allows you to capture the moment without thinking about all of the settings, etc.

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At what point did you start experimenting with post-production effects?

I learned the basics of Photoshop early on in my photography career, but I didn't begin experimenting with magical post-production effects until a couple of years ago. I began experimenting with props and lights to create magic, but eventually, I wanted to create more magic than props could provide, which made me dive into Photoshop a lot more. Our family's obsession with Harry Potter prompted me to experiment as well because I wanted to show magic in a different way inside of my portraits. I started reading Harry Potter to my daughter, Emma, when she was 4 years old. She instantly fell in love and has been a Harry Potter character every single Halloween since. When we are children, everything is possible, and that is something I have learned all over again through my own children. I wanted to create images that would bring the impossible to life because I wanted to show my children that you are never too old to believe in a bit of magic.

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Are there any resources you found helpful and would recommend to people wanting to learn?

Phlearn and YouTube are both great resources for learning editing and even photography techniques, but there are many more resources out there and online courses. I am not personally familiar with them, so I can't recommend anything further.

Fairy tales and fantastical stories are two driving forces behind your work. What excites you about these tales, and how do you use them as jumping-off points?

Oh, fairy tales and magic have ALWAYS inspired me ever since I was a little girl. They make you feel like anything is possible and they spark the imagination, which is something I think we should all try to hold onto throughout life. I hope I can simply brighten someone's day through my work, bring a smile to their face or simply help them get lost in a magical world for a little while. Magic fills my heart with such joy when I create, I want to give that same feeling to others. I think inspiration can be found in so many places such as books, films, nature, my children, etc. So whenever an idea strikes, I jot it down in my notebook.

Magical Family Photos Fantastical Family Photos

Your husband and kids appear in many of your photographs. What is it like working on the images as a family?

It is definitely a team effort! I love creating photos with my family, it inspires me constantly and it's a great way to spend time as a family. Most of our shoots are outdoors. We usually head out on mini day trip adventures to scout locations and because of this, we spend most of our weekends outside!

Do they ever give their input?

We all contribute ideas. My husband and I brainstorm ideas constantly and the kids are always providing ideas. Their imaginations are endless! Emma has recently started writing down ideas and sharing them with us whenever she can and she has even shown an interest in learning how to edit with me. Brainstorming together can really turn good ideas into great ones. Creating these images just wouldn't feel the same without my family being apart of it.

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Can you walk us through a typical (as typical as they get!) photograph? 

Each shoot is different! Typically a shoot starts with our “idea notebook.” Before we take off into nature for a day trip, or sometimes overnight, I look at the notebook and decide what props/outfits to bring along for the different ideas we may want to shoot. Our car is usually then filled to the brim with props and clothes because we often shoot more than one idea in a day and we always want to have a plan B just in case the first shoot doesn't work out.

After we all pile in the car and check the house for things we may have forgotten a thousand times, we take off! Sometimes we know exactly where we are going, other times we just have a general idea of the area we are headed, and there are even times that we have no idea where the trip may lead us. The adventure and location scouting is a huge part of the fun in it all. We definitely have locations we shoot at often, especially when we are racing against the sunset, but it is fun to find new locations whenever we can.

Once we find a spot, we grab props, change clothes (if needed), and head out. The kids love being in nature, so this is definitely their favorite part! Every idea is a bit different, so this part varies, but typically we capture the kids first and then us (if we are in the shot). We have used music, pretend play, and even a bit of candy sometimes to keep everyone motivated! Our oldest loves to act, she has been in acting since she was 6, so she usually stays in character the whole time. Our toddler is all over the place, and he tends to make every shoot hilarious.

After sunset, we head home and get the kids to bed. This is when the editing starts. There have been many nights where I edit late into the night/early morning to finish a piece in time to post. Since a lot of edits are time-consuming, they are often edited in pieces over quite a few late nights, and this allows me to be a present mother as well as an artist. It is also why I don't post as often as I'd like to.

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Some of your most striking photos obscure a figure's face or torso. What meaning does that hold for you?

I tend to shy away from the camera because I am way more comfortable behind the lens, so hiding my face can make me feel a bit more comfortable. Over time, it just sort of morphed into a style I now use when I am in front of the camera. As far as the kids, I don't actually mean to hide their faces all of the time, it just happens naturally. Sometimes it is easiest to capture them running around, doing what kids do, and I find that they are a bit more natural in front of the lens when they don't realize I am shooting. They definitely pose for me as well, but I want them to feel as natural and comfortable as possible. I also feel that obscuring the face or torso can help the audience relate to the image because it may be easier to imagine yourself in the image when there is a lack of identity. We all feel so many of the same feelings, and I hope my work can help people connect.

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What are you working on now? Anything exciting you can tell us?

I am working on a few exciting things at the moment that I can't wait to share soon! One thing I can mention right now is that I have an upcoming project that will focus on how photographers can utilize artificial light alongside natural light to help create magic and save time when editing. Lighting has really changed the way I shoot and using some artificial light on my subjects in the camera allows me to save a ton of time in post-production. I began my career as a natural light photographer, but I now use both artificial lighting and natural light consistently. Lighting is really so valuable!

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Alexandria's Lens: Website | Instagram 

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Alexandria's Lens.

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Sara Barnes

Sara Barnes is a Staff Editor at My Modern Met, Manager of My Modern Met Store, and co-host of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. As an illustrator and writer living in Seattle, she chronicles illustration, embroidery, and beyond through her blog Brown Paper Bag and Instagram @brwnpaperbag. She wrote a book about embroidery artist Sarah K. Benning titled 'Embroidered Life' that was published by Chronicle Books in 2019. Sara is a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. She earned her BFA in Illustration in 2008 and MFA in Illustration Practice in 2013.
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