I spent a day a week or so ago working as hard as I’ll ever work for the next year or so – I had a full day photoshoot. It was glorious & wonderful & I can’t WAIT to share the results with you. They are bonkerdoodles brilliant and even more Leonie than anything I’ve done before.
I thought I’d share with you a bit of a behind-the-scenes for you so you know all the deets to how I organise and pull these kinds of shoots off.
This is a 3000+ word resource post chockfulla photos, diagrams & spreadsheets. Whether you’re contemplating a photoshoot, or interested in behind-the-scenes business stuff, or want to know how I work with ASD… I hope this is a useful post for you! Settle in with a cup of tea! And! Have a listen to the companion podcast as you read along!
Firstly: pro tip for neurodivergents & ASD humans!
I find writing out and cataloguing events helps my brain & body process them faster. Sometimes I do that in my journal, sometimes I do it by spreadsheet, sometimes I do it by blogging about it. Writing the narrative, capturing the details and processing photographs helps my brain feel calmer and less stimulated, and allows me to churn through the backlog of sensory inputs a lot faster.
Here’s how I visualise it:
Here’s all the photoshoots I’ve done over the years for my business (& life):
- 2004-forever: My husband took ALL of my photos for a long time in my business, and I still corral him into shoots from time to time. We’ve had a few digital SLR cameras, loved photography and even photographed some weddings together when I was dabbling in professional photography. I’m so grateful he’s captured me at so many times through my business (and life) journey.
- 2008: We had an engagement photoshoot with Robecca McLean.
- 2010 & 2011: Our awesome doula & friend Rachel did a pregnancy photoshoot for us, photographed our birth and we even flew her up to photograph our wedding as well.
- 2011: My wonderful friend in Proserpine Trish McNeill did a couple of short photoshoots for me & my little family.
- 2014: After we had our second daughter in Cairns, we had a beach photoshoot with Peppermint Lane and a rainforest photoshoot with Chanel Baran which were amazing. They were both a combination of family photography & portraits I could use for business.
- 2015 & 2016: In Canberra, I did a photoshoot with Tracy Lee Photography, and she also photographed my conference. We also had videographers at the conference.
- 2017: I hired Screencraft in Canberra to create a sales video & they also included some still photography. I wrote about that process in full here: How To Create A Pro Sales Video
- 2018: Did a quick 20 minute shoot with my rad friend Nic Yardley from Living Studio.
- 2019: I did a branding photoshoot with Michelle from Eyes of Love Photography. I wrote about the behind-the-scenes of that day here. Just for fun: the 2019 photoshoot from the perspective of my photographer Michelle
And behold… the extent of my cataloguing ways.
I have made you THIS! A complete compendium of business photoshoots from the past 16ish years. Also hilarious: the see saw-ing of hairstyles from mermaid to pixie to mermaid to pixie.
Our last shoot’s photos with Michelle from Eyes of Love have lasted us a full two years, and branded my new website, my podcast, blog posts, and all my new programs, including Sales Star, Money, Manifesting & Multiple Streams of Income, 40 Days To Create & Sell Your E-Course, 40 Days To Finish Your Book & more.
We were definitely starting to run out though, my assistant was starting to want to look at new photos and I wanted new photos for all the new programs and products I have in my brain.
What I wanted to differently this time, what I wanted to do the same
I knew I wanted to use the same photographer as last time – Michelle from Eyes of Love Photography. This is what happens, guyzzz, when you don’t move across the country all the time! You can use people you already know and love! Plus, it’s hard to go past Mich. She’s an expert in brand photography for online entrepreneurs. Most of all though, she’s an absolute earth angel of a human, and I love her and her husband Jacko. I love Jacko so much, in fact, that I conned her into bringing him onto this shoot as well just so we could do an awkward prom photo together. #priorities
ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED. WE CAN PACK UP AND GO HOME NOW, PEOPLE. WE NAILED THIS PHOTOSHOOT ALREADY.
Last venue I used a very white, plain contemporary AirBNB that I took a vanload of my pillows, blankets, artworks & decorative crap to and made as Leonie-fied as possible.
This time I took a different approach. I managed to stumble upon a venue online that looked ridiculously creative and Leonie-fied already. I booked and hoped for the best, and also had weird fever anxiety dreams that I had made yet another one of those terrible AirBNB mistakes.
Thank goodness my fever dreams were in vain… because what we found when we turned up was BEYOND my wildest hopes. We booked Noosa Valley Manor Boutique B&B and it was everything and more. Incredibly stunning design in EXACTLY my kind of maximalist, creative, colourful kookiness…. plus amazing gardens, so many beautiful nooks to shoot in, the very best of hosts and they also cooked us a delicious Italian feast for lunch. Me and Mads just kept looking at each other and screaming because it was all so very, very beautiful. We will now attempt to move in and become part of the furniture because it was just that great.
ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDDDING ME??? MAMA LOVES MAXIMALISM.
Hair & makeup
I now just budget in for a hair and makeup person to sort me in the morning to save me having to stab at my face with a mascara wand, blind without my glasses. I always request natural-looking makeup on shoots. To look like me IRL, but less washed out on camera.
Last time I used Valentina Pintus (who was awesome) and I tried to book her again, but she already had a wedding up on that day.
I ended up hiring Sian Howard, who is a friend/colleague of Valentina’s, and she was bloody brilliant. We laughed like terrors the whole time, and I totally wish we could have hung out the whole day.
I tend to use the same outfits over and over and over again in photoshoots – all turquoise blues with dashes or lavender and fuchsia. This time I decided I wanted to go bonkerdoodles with rainbow and colour as well.
I picked up a few duster jackets from local boutiques, some t-shirts and jewellery, and made my first (and last) purchase on Wish.com – this ridiculous full length rainbow tutu.
Then, because I am 100% anal, I made a Pinterest board JUST to lay out what outfit options I had.
I found my brain was STILL madly trying to make outfit puzzle pieces fit together at night however, so I found it quite therapeutic to draw it all out in my journal as well.
Guyzzz, if you give up social media, you’ll have SO MUCH FREE TIME that you can undertake hilarious projects like this too!
Last time I had Ellie Oster as an assistant and she was brilliant. I knew then I would ALWAYS hire an assistant on shoots – they make life so much fucking easier on the day (I’ll talk more about that soon!) Ells wasn’t free this time as she works full time now, so I hired our mutual mate Madi Beaufort.
Mads was bloody awesome. I reckon anyone with a drama background works brilliantly in shoot days – they are already well versed in stage production & getting shit sorted for the next shots.
I always produce a rough schedule for how photoshoots will go, and then give it to my assistant & photographer to follow. It just outsources that part of my brain.
We didn’t end up heading for a beach shoot… we finished up at the B&B around 5ish.
Just for something different, I got some oversized foil balloons from Big W as well – ones that can be refilled for my kids’ endless amusement!
Even if it did create this hilarious conversation:
Worth it though… between that and the stupendous rainbow skirt, I felt like I was living my Inner Child’s Best Life!
Why I have an assistant on photo shoots
When the B&B owner introduced herself to us, I introduced her to Madi and she said:
“Oh! You must be the makeup artist then!”
I laughed, and said:
“Nah, this is my assistant.”
She did a double take.
“Gosh, you really ARE fancy then!”
That makes me cackle. Because, yes, having a personal assistant for a photoshoot seems like a Very Posh Thing To Do.
HOW CAN I NOT HAVE AN ASSISTANT WHEN THEY ARE AS CUTE AS THIS?
But here’s why I always budget to have one:
I’ve done photoshoots without an assistant before. But when you have an assistant, you absolutely can get through MORE photos and sets faster because they can pre-emptively organise and set things up for you and the photographer, and manage all the props/clothes etc.
If I was running for stuff myself, I’d be FAR sweatier (a real problem when you do photoshoots in tropical Queensland!) and more flustered and not be able to do my job as much – which is to have a great time, and show the camera every glorious angle of me. Get amazing photos that celebrate me, my identity and my work in the world… knowing they will be fodder for me to use and create projects with for the next couple of years!
A couple of days before the shoot, I took Mads out to lunch and presented her with a little brief of the day.
The assistant’s brief included:
- Contact details of all suppliers involved
- Schedule of the day
- A checklist of tasks for her to do before and during the day.
Here’s the checklist for before the photoshoot:
To save me running around town the day before, I got her to pick up supplies for SNACKS and drinkypoos and other props. She did a BONZA job of it.
Then the morning of, I got her to swing by our local smoothie joint & pick up my favourite smoothie to start the day with – it saved me an extra 20 minutes on my day.
Hilariously though, I have a very specific way of asking for my smoothie... and when Mads asked for it, they were like: “Is this for Leonie by any chance?” (I go to the same smoothie shop at least 4 times a week at the same time in the morning and ask for the exact same smoothie.) HO HO HO. WOT CAN I SAY. I AM A CREATURE OF HABIT.
Here’s her day-of checklist:
Mads also ended up spending a large part of the day holding photographer lights at precarious angles in search of that elusive perfect lighting. We probably wouldn’t have been able to get a decent amount of the indoor shots we wanted without her.
Also: it made for an extraordinary number of lightworker jokes.
I can’t emphasise how important the care & feeding of Leonie part is, either. I find it really difficult to get enough food or water in on big work days like this… I get pretty fixated on the job at hand, and don’t notice my physical needs at all. And then by the end of the day, I’m dehydrated and woozy. I got Mads to Mother Hen me into more drinkypoos and snaccccks.
I am WELL pleased with Mads’ charcuterie board skillllz. Also: I told her to make sure it had CAKES on there. It did. I ate them all.
Dealing with photoshoots (& other big events) as an Autistic person
Here’s how I describe my experience of Autism: my brain records images, sounds and smells in 4K video resolution, whereas neurotypical brains record in a lower definition. This means I record more detail, but it takes much longer for my brain to process it (just like a computer takes longer to process a high definition video).
That’s just how I see and feel my own Autism, but amazingly, science & research backs it up: People with Autism potentially see motion faster and Autist brains work faster & have more visual processing power.
How I prepped for the day:
Creating the schedule, brief & Pinterest boards of outfits etc helps my brain to catalogue what’s coming so it’s easier to digest when it does. For weeks leading up to the photoshoot, I had on my daily to do list: “Prevent burnout”. So that meant a lot of time with my weighted blanket, clearing my schedule & doing a bunch of other things to mitigate my sensory overwhelm.
Disclosing to others
I also talked to Michelle & Mads beforehand about how we could take care of my autism on the day, and they were fully supportive. Michelle was really happy to work around my energy levels, take regular breaks & do a shorter shoot if I needed to on the day.
I’ve taken to disclosing being ASD whenever I’m working with a service professional (including massage therapists, osteopaths and hairdressers). So far, everyone is very accommodating and like learning what works for me and what doesn’t. And I try to make sure to tell them that everyone with ASD is different, so it’s a matter of them asking if they can do something first before they do it. It strikes me as a good model of consent for all humans, really!
I disclosed my ASD to Sian right as she started working on my hair & makeup, and told her I feel really uncomfortable with a lot of smells. She was great – she would get me to sniff potions before she applied them to make sure I was happy with them.
I recognise not everyone feels comfortable or safe disclosing their personal details with service professionals. I’m happy to do it because I feel pretty rad in my own skin, I have great support and if I can raise awareness as I go, that would be helpful for others.
How I cope the day of the photoshoot
If you’ve ever met me, you would possibly not notice I have ASD – I can be wildly extroverted, make eye contact, hug peeps and talk shit for hours.
For me, however, that doesn’t come naturally. I’m not faking it – that is my personality at heart. But the social stuff is something I’ve had to learn very intentionally and conscientiously, and it takes a huge cognitive load (a cognitive load that neurotypicals don’t with social situations – it comes more naturally to them).
I can fair okay at “masking” for most of a day for a big event like this (or at a conference etc). I’m excited for new people! New experiences! Look at pretty things! Doing the things! Much fun! However, at a certain point, it becomes difficult to function. It’s like my brain has recorded so much data and detail that it begins to chug.
What that feels like for me:
- I start losing vision around the edges of my eyes – it feels like tunnel vision
- my brain becomes increasingly fuzzier
- it’s harder to understand what people are saying
- I become quieter and slower.
I warned Mich by about 2pm that my energy was starting to wane, and that we likely wouldn’t make the beach for final shots. That I had enough in me to get some more set changes in at the BNB, but then we needed to wrap.
She was groovy and totally accommodating. So we got the shots in, packed up (usually takes at least 30 minutes), high fived each other and headed off.
Pretty much as soon as I’m in my car driving home, my autism is in overdrive.
I can keep it up in public, but as soon as I’m by myself or with my family, my brain starts trying to process the backlog of information it’s received. Imagine a laptop that is trying to render a long video or pushing Indesign to spout out a print-ready PDF for a book. The laptop begins whirring, heating up, and can’t do much else except that one task.
- I become either muse or close to it. If I do speak, it can be slightly slurred. I will be like this for at least the rest of the day. I will be quieter for days to come afterwards.
- If I’ve come into contact with any smells I don’t like, I usually discard all my clothes at the door and go have a shower straight away.
- My husband & kids aren’t concerned by any of this – they know if I’ve had a big day, I need to repair before I return to being myself.
- I head to bed super early – usually 7pm. When I’m overstimulated however, I can’t go to sleep even though I’m exhausted. I usually put a weighted blanket over me in an attempt to pin myself into place. My brain will race and be very hyperactive. It usually takes at least 2 hours for my brain to calm down enough to actually fall asleep.
- After a big day, I can sleep for 12 hours easily. My brain feels SO much better after I’ve slept overnight – it helps with clearing the sensory overwhelm quite a bit.
- It will take at least 3 days for me to process a big day – sometimes much more.
- In the days after a big experience, I am more likely to get breakthrough anxiety (even though I am medicated). It takes time for things to resolve.
- I find that writing, journaling, blogging, making art – anything to document the experience helps me to process all my feelings and experiences faster. Thus why I thought to write this blog!
Here’s a sneak peek at some of the UNEDITED photos:
You’ll see all the photos being rolled out over coming months/years… but I thought I’d give you a tiny peek.
I want to stress: these are completely UNEDITED, and straight out of the camera. In the photography business they are called “proofs”.
Often photographers will give you proofs for you to choose your favourites from for editing.
It usually takes a couple of weeks for photographers to present the edited photos to you.
Mich sent me a few edited photos faster just so I could get my grabby little hands on them faster and start making stuff with them.
Are photos THAT worth the time & expense?
They are for me at this stage in my business. I use the photos for all new programs, websites, and some blog posts. Having a great library of photos is a really important part of my creative & business approach now.
Does every business need a full day photoshoot?
Fuck no. When I was starting out, I got by on photos taken in the backyard by my husband.
This was the biggest photoshoot I’ve done for my business… and I’ve been doing it for 17 years now.
I’m planning to use these for at least the next two years of programs and offerings!
I hope this was helpful!
Whether you’re contemplating a photoshoot, or interested in behind-the-scenes business stuff, or want to know how I work with ASD… I hope this has been an insightful post!