When Kristy came to me about the idea of creating a Death to Your 20s birthday shoot, I was more than thrilled to be her photographer. After doing quite a few in the past, as well as my own, I knew how monumental capturing a milestone birthday is.
So what is a “Death to Yours 20s” photoshoot? Or rather a Funeral to Your 20s?
Is it about celebrating death? Celebrating life? Do you have to be into emo or gothic fashion to have a desire to celebrate your milestone in this grotesque fashion?
Gone are the pink fluffy dresses and in is the black lace, leather and dark red lipstick. A Death/Funeral to Your 20s photoshoot is about kissing the past decade of your life goodbye and saying good riddance. We dress in all black, silently whisper Rest In Peace and pour another glass of the finest champagne in celebration to all that we've been, are, and are about to become.
By now, you’ve heard many women respond to “So how old are you?” with the classic “29.” “39.” “49.”
The evolutionary explanation of aging is science. It’s bound to happen and yet we continue to lather ourselves in firming anti-aging creams in hopes of preventing the process. Before the arrival of your 20s, you'll find yourself rushing time. Anxiously awaiting the prime of your life and all that you aspire to be. But as the decade continues, the haunting feeling that your youth will soon lie down in the casket, will eventually appear at the forefront of your mind.
To make it clear, a Death/Funeral to Your… photoshoot is not limited to your 30th. It can be to celebrate any milestone. Why? Because a milestone birthday is any special landmark age that deserves more than just a birthday cake. And for many, a milestone birthday can be overwhelming. Anxious. And at times, haunting. So why not celebrate the closing of a chapter with the new?
When Kristy showed me the dress she was renting from Colorado Gowns, I realized we needed something that would capture elegance. In the past, I’ve done sessions with black smoke bombs, water and outdoor settings. But this dress needed less of the rustic woods and more refinement. It presented the sophistication of a high end wedding dress.
As a photographer, I’m a part of many local photographer groups and came across a few suggestions to shoot at Joslyn Castle. As a Nebraska native, I’m embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even know Joslyn Castle existed. I knew of the Joslyn Art Museum but a castle? In Omaha??
I began my research scrolling through feeds, other photographers who had been there and gave Kristy my suggestion.
To further describe the location, the Joslyn Castle is a mansio located at 3902 Davenport Street in the Gold Coast Historic District of Omaha, Nebraska. Built in the Scottish Baronial style in 1903, the Castle was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972 and designated as an Omaha landmark in 1979. It was the home to George and Sarah Joslyn.
It was perfect. The 35 room mansion, 4 stories high, consisted of a Kansas Silverdale Limestone exterior which I knew would provide the right amount of bounce with her black dress. That's the thing with shooting a Death/Funeral of Your 20s. While the black on black, dark and moody aesthetic is always up my alley; it's good to find a white source to bounce some light and shine the dramatics of your subject.
After speaking with the Castle, I realized there was a cost involved with shooting inside. With a budget in mind, we were appreciative that shooting outdoors wouldn’t involve a cost. With five acres of ground consisting of gardens and landscaping, it would be just what we needed. Due to an event that evening however, we needed to bump our shoot up to earlier so we would avoid having a vendors and vehicles in our images. (If I can avoid photoshop, I will at any opportunity).
Kristy set up appointments for both her hair and makeup that morning so afternoon would be best for our session. The day came and so did the cold February wind, putting us into slight panic that we would need an indoor location instead. After reviewing the winds on my weather app, I realized pushing our shoot back to later in the day wouldn’t help. With Kristy already in the process of getting ready, we had to go with what we could. I encouraged Kristy that we would find somewhere indoor first to begin our shoot and finish at the Joslyn later to provide the most amount of comfort for her. After spending money on hair and makeup, I would have dreaded her to be freezing with makeup running down her face throughout her session.
And did I mention how fabulous her makeup looked? Keeley Dennis Beauty is truly such an artist. Every time I send clients her way I am blown away by her detail. She makes the smokiest eye look clean. A true contour queen, I'll spend the rest of my life wondering how she magically transitions the highlight and blush so delicately.
We found an indoor location in the Old Market and worked fast. Since Kristy and I have worked with one another multiple times, she knows I hate “posey poses.”
Posing to me is about my subject being fluid. It involves cool movement, creating angles and that means I want my clients to refrain from the stop/pose mentality. It will look like this: Look off into the distance, graze your hands up your chest and up to the bottom of your chin, raise your head up and allow your gaze to follow. Let the arch of your back naturally curve and if a leg kicks forward, let it. If your arm wants to rise up to the air and your finger points, let it. Flirt with the camera, let your gaze fall down to your feet. You’re looking tense, let’s relax. Close your eyes, breathe. Breathe again. One, two, three, open those gorgeous eyes. Give me that fierce Beyonce vibe. Shift your hands downward and grab the skirt and let it move back and forth like your ringing a bell. If you feel silly and laugh, laugh.
There’s no “posing.” There’s guidance. But ultimately, it’s about fluid continuous movement. For me, that’s how I capture authenticity the best.
We walked around and found multiple locations all within our initial frame and decided we should move on. I had remembered going into Havana Garage previously and described the setting to Kristy. Havana Garage is a laidback cigar bar with a fault of 500 whiskeys, a variety of cigars and it feels like you're in South Beach Miami or Puerto Rico as the large fans twirl around. She was intrigued, so we walked to the window and peeked in. A table of gentlemen sat at the corner, smoking cigars and eagerly waved us to come on in. Kristy grabbed her dress and we asked the bartender if he wouldn’t mind that we would shoot indoors. He didn’t mind at all so I ordered a glass of four roses to sip as a gesture for is kindness. We found a booth and whiskey barrel and continued to get more shots that captured the dark ambiance we needed. The hint of the neon light was just enough to add dimension to our photos and give it more appeal.
After wrapping up the indoor part of our shoot, we made our way over to Joslyn Castle. It was brisky to say the least, so we moved quickly. We walked up to the archway and found a beautiful staircase that I thought would present how long her dress train was. The wind picked up and added some whimsical looking flow to our shoot. As we made our way down the archway, I raised my F-stop to capture more detail in the shot. I struggled with the overexposure coming through from the bare winter trees but continued. I knew some editing and healing would come into consideration at the time of editing and felt confident my raw image would suffice with the vision I had created in my mind. We continued our way through the front of the building and used the wrought iron steel door to give an artistic look. The bright blue sky bounced off the glass adding another layer to the image.
Eventually I ran all the way to the front of the entrance to capture a wide angle shot of the Castle that I knew I would later enjoy and be able to reference to my own clients. I asked Kristy to stand in the frame giving it a “Where’s Waldo” appeal to it. I wanted to capture a lonely girl in her big castle look, so Kristy sat on the railing giving her best “I’m dreaming of another world” expression. After less than 15-20 minutes, we had all we could take in the bitter cold and wrapped up our shoot.
I think what I love in particular about this shoot, is how much artistic flow it carried throughout. You can Pinterest and save poses through Unscripted all day, but if you can’t embrace the naturality of the settings that unravel before you, you’ll completely miss the poetic storytelling in a photoshoot.
If every artist attempted to replicate the greatest master’s such as Monet, Van Gogh or Rembrandt, we’d never be successful. When we learn to appreciate and embrace our own perspective, we grow and expand our eyes.
So this is a reminder to you. Infuse your creativity. Grab your camera and embrace the unusual locations that force you to go out of your comfort zone. Discover the locations outside your back door. Let your natural talent become the gift you believe it holds.
And for goodness sakes, rent the fabulous dress and set up the milestone birthday photoshoot for yourself.
You get one chance in life. Why not let yourself feel fabulous for one of those days?
Alyssa Herold is the Visionary behind Hallie Jean Co. Photography and Owner of Cedar + Sage Studio located out of Eagle, Nebraska. She is a freelance photographer specializing in portrait, wedding, and lifestyle photography. Her studio is available to rent by other photographers and open as an event rental space.
To book a photoshoot:
Hallie Jean Co. Photography
To book the studio:
Cedar + Sage Studio