My husband’s father is a pilot.
In fact, he was Director of the Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport for 25 years. (Anyone who’s ever traveled to Montana knows exactly where that is, amiright?).
When we decided to move out West from Annapolis, Maryland last year, I decided to get creative. I wanted a beautiful reminder of our time on the East Coast, and a commemoration of our imminent travels.
So, naturally, I needed an airplane photo shoot.
The finished product, in my opinion, is gorgeous, so I thought I’d share the steps I took to get there:
1. Gather your props
I knew that I wanted my little guy to be dressed like a pilot (since this shoot would be the closest I’d ever let him get to actually piloting a plane…).
I scoured the Internet and local stores, and came up with the following:
The toy plane that we used was actually hand-made by a vendor at the local Curb Market in Hendersonville, NC. We spend a week in the mountains of North Carolina each summer, and the Curb Market is part of our old stompin’ grounds. This year, the little guy was only 9 months old when we went, so we bought him this painted toy plane for “when he got older.”
Who knew it would be the perfect prop for this shoot! And it made the photos that much more nostalgic since it contained a piece of a long family tradition, too.
In addition to these props, I wanted postcards of Salt Lake City, since that’s where we were heading. I bought mine off of eBay, but you can find them almost anywhere. I had our photographer, Penny Lane Lifestyle Photography, take some close-ups of that, just for posterity.
I won’t lie to you about the suitcase in these photos, you guys. I’d had this thing with me since college. My mom found it at an antique store and used it as a box for my graduation gifts. It had never served a real purpose until now, and was honestly sitting in my garage for years.
One day, though, I happened to be rummaging through our storage area, and I stumbled upon it again. It was perfect. I literally could not have conjured up a better suitcase for this photo shoot.
And so it joined the party.
Well, now that we had the props, I needed a location.
2. Find a location (namely, an airport)
When we lived in Annapolis, I had an hour+ commute every day, each way, to work in DC. Most of that commute consisted of highway, as Annapolis is a straight shot out Route 50. On my way home from work each day, I had a lot of time to think because all I saw was trees.
That is, except for the airport.
That’s right. There was this fascinating little airport right on Route 50, up a little sloped hill littered with conservative campaign signs. (Yes, that would stand out in the super Blue DC area).
I had noticed this airport frequently, especially leading up to the 2016 election. (Because, you know, the signs.)
So when I thought about which airport I could bother to let me shoot there, I immediately thought of that one.
It would be perfect – Close to home, and quaint!
On my next commute home, I scoured the hill for any sign indicating something other than a political candidate. I found it: Freeway Airport.
As soon as I got home, I shot them an email. I told them my story of moving across the country, and then asked them if I could use their airport for a photo shoot. I also asked how much they charged for the location.
Well, folks. I could not have asked for better customer service. The man I spoke to happily agreed to my pitch, and mentioned that many a couple have used their airport for photos. (I checked this out, and it’s true! There are some gorgeous photos at this place!)
Best of all, there was zero charge! These kind folks allowed us to use their airport for as long as we wanted for free. They even let us put the little guy in the cockpit!
*Note: Since it’s an active airstrip and planes were taking off and landing while we were there, we were advised not to use the runway. I was hoping to get a photo of us walking away on the runway holding hands. I was told that a couple did that once and almost got hit by a landing airplane. We erred on the side of alive for that one, and nixed that shot.
3. Book a photographer
I have a few go-to photographers in the DC and Annapolis area:
Elle Meredith Photography (wowzah!)
But I like to help out as many photographers as I can, so I tend to try new photogs for each shoot. (Ask me about the one MAJOR time that backfired. Ugh.)
For this shoot, I went with Lindsay from Penny Lane Lifestyle Photography. (Note: She switched over to doing exclusively maternity and newborn after our shoot, sorry!)
Lindsay was awesome and got a really great feel for what I wanted out of the shoot when we got there. She captured some amazing moments, and gave really great direction, which is always important from a photographer.
I have two pieces of advice for choosing a photographer:
1.Look at their entire portfolio. Don’t just assume from one photo that you’ll mesh with their entire style. Good photographers can give a client what they want, so one photo might not be an indication of their overall style.
2. Give direction. Yes, photographers should be able to give you solid direction in terms of posing to the light and accentuating body parts. But if you have a clear idea of what you want from a shoot, you have an obligation to let them know. It’s like going to the hairdresser: You wouldn’t just walk in, sit in the chair, and say, “Go ahead, do your thing!” They would look at you like you were nuts, and probably not make a move until they knew exactly what you wanted. Same goes for photographers. They want to give you the images you imagine — Part of the fun for them is bringing your ideas to life! So don’t be afraid to tell them what you’re thinking. That way, everyone goes home happy!
At our shoot, I told Lindsay that I wanted a close-up of the suitcase with the postcard.
When I saw a random gas pump on the lot, I told her I’d love a family photo of that, too.
Finally, as we were leaving I noticed a car with “For Sale” written in its window. It was seriously the perfect car for this kind of shoot, and part of me thought someone had parked it there just for us. I let Lindsay know that it would be a gorgeous prop for us, and we took a moment before we left to pose in front of it.
She even held the little guy so we could sneak a kiss!
Turns out these were my favorite photos of the bunch! If I hadn’t pointed them out and semi-insisted on incorporating the car, we wouldn’t have had the beautiful Christmas cards we had last year! I’m so happy with these photos, and so glad I spoke up. (And since the client’s happy, Lindsay is happy, too!).
Now for some tips on maximizing your airplane photo shoot.
First of all, aim for dusk. There’s nothing like a gorgeous setting sun reflecting off the wing of a Cessna. Your photos will be so much more dynamic if you feature a transitioning sun in the background.
A sunset enhances the narrative of “change,” not to mention the whole “Sun setting on this chapter of our lives” metaphor. It also helps to reiterate the theme of the airplane shoot, since it draws attention to the sky. Wins all over!
I’ve got a thing for sunsets (more on my wedding photos later), so I think of them as a minor detail that can have a tremendous impact on the quality of a photo shoot.
Second, incorporate “airplane” movement into your poses.
If you have older kids, have them run around with their arms out like an airplane.
If you have a baby or toddler, toss them in the air like an airplane, or play “Airplane” by lying on your back and lifting them in the air on your feet. (Anyone else play this game with their little??)
These poses drive home the airplane theme and give you precious memories of carefree playtime with your little ones.
Finally, and this is especially important for the moms: Be there.
I’m about 75 pounds heavier than I was before I had my son. It’s a struggle every day for me. All of my clothes (and I do mean all of them) are packed away in boxes in the basement, and I’ve worn maternity stretch pants every day for the past two years.
Did I want to be in photos? You bet a flying Piper I did not.
But I knew that years from now, I’d want to look back on memories of me with my son and my husband exactly as we were that day. Love handles and all.
And I’m so glad I decided to just jump in because the way he looks at me in these photos is more satisfying than any low number on a scale will ever be.
And to think I’d have missed it…
(Plus, photographers can work magic when it comes to making you look good! Angles, people. Angles.)
Well, I think that’s all! I hope you’ve gotten a few good ideas from our experience with our airplane photo shoot. My little guy won’t ever be allowed to go up in an airplane by himself (sorry, Grandpa), but these photos have got us flying high!
As I always say: Terra firma. The firma the betta.