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Behind-the-scenes at a photo shoot: Storytelling via words and images

June 11, 2015

Chicken at Brubaker homestead.

I’m a writer, not a photographer. But like any “Jill Writer” these days with a somewhat decent digital camera or a smart phone, I’m doing the best I can to use the visual dimensions offered by online blogs and social media to enhance my writing.

Moreover, the board at Media for Living which employs me as editor approximately 1/5 time (most of it worked at home in the wee hours of the morning) had begun asking for more local stories and covers with local people. You could say we’ve become locavores, if I can borrow that word from that food movement. Media for Living publishes Valley Living and a website, but informally we just call the magazine Living.

Local people on covers means photo shoots. My little Panasonic Lumix DMC-Z56 is not quite up to the quality required for newsprint reproduction in a blown up fashion, so we’ve worked with several local photographers in the year we’ve switched to local people on the cover.


Eric, Lydia, Norah and Peggy Brubaker enjoy some downtime.

This is both a fascinating experience which I enjoy, and a time suck, but whatever. I love having the chance to meet wonderful, interesting people (sometimes semi-famous) doing fascinating things, so why not love this? I especially enjoy the fact that for Living, it is not a news magazine nor do we engage in investigative journalism, muckraking, or hard news. Therefore the people we interview get to read the stories we’ve written before publication (which does NOT happen in the daily newspaper). This means our stories are not only more accurate, we hopefully don’t end up making the persons interviewed, mad.SwingingEdited

Living recently got to do a photo shoot with one member of The Steel Wheels, an up and coming “roots” and “Americana” band which has turned professional, in terms of its members not having other jobs. That’s a big leap, to go from part time gigs to full time touring, which can crunch into family life. So that is the crux of the article and dilemma as ably covered by our writer Lauree Purcell.

The Brubakers offered to let us do the shoot at their home, with allowed the least disruption to their home and family time together. Eric worked in construction in his previous life and built their home several years ago. I wrote a little about the issue of photographing children in the current editorial, and I got some of my own shots for Facebook aLeggingsEditedEggsEditednd to share here. But Amelia from Pinwheel Collective, did the cover honors and the photos featured in the magazine. (See the actual cover here. Read the story here. Then if not tired yet, read the editorial about the cover shoot and the trials of photographing families, here!)

Eric’s wife, Peggy had done a great job of helping their daughters chose outfits that would look summery in an outside shoot on a cool, early spring day, due to the lead time required in the set up, design and printing of a quarterly magazine. The shoot came on a day between rains, so I was a little worried for their darling leggings and sandals—that they wouldn’t get muddy.

P1070556Norah at seven is the older of the two and she is taking actual Suzuki violin lessons as Eric did when he was just five, and Lydia, five, is becoming familiar with her own pint-sized fiddle as well. But the girls were just as interested in making sure we saw their chickens in one of those cute little chicken houses, and Norah proudly displayed the eggs she quickly gathered.

Last fall I got to visit former NFL player Sonny Randle in his home near Staunton for a photo shoot. My family is pretty nuts over football so it was fascinating for me to enjoy the memorabilia in the Randle home, meet Sonny’s awesome dog, and hear Sonny’s outstanding memories from his career both as player, coach and radio commentator.SonnyAndShirtEditedSonnyAndDogEdited

And the year before, I was so touched to sit down with Debbie and Wes Songer as they re-opened their still-breaking hearts after their son, Ben, was murdered. They shared the pain in order to help others in similar situations and to change a law, which is often the case in this kind of tragedy.


Tomorrow I’m off to Sentara RMH local hospital to meet and photograph a man who says volunteering at Sentara “gave him his life back” after his beloved wife of many years passed away, for an upcoming issue of Valley Living. He probably won’t be on the cover of the magazine, but I can’t wait to see the mural he painted for the nurses’ lounge there and learn out more about his story. (To keep up with this forthcoming story in Valley Living and much more, I invite you to like the Valley Living FB page!)

Everyone has a story. Everyone. Even those never covered by any kind of media. Some of the best stories can never be told in print, on air, or online. It’s true. For reasons of confidentiality, decency or protecting a beloved family member, or indeed the lives of colleagues (as in one hostage situation in the Middle East a few years ago)—you probably know or have heard various stories perhaps you alone are privy to: precious life journeys that will never be public. I’ve finally learned to be ok with that, and to treasure the stories entrusted to me that I can never share. Those memories are valued and dear, and private. Those are the stories you hold on to, or pass on only orally, or in private journals and keepsakes.

But I’m also grateful for the parts of lives I’ve been privileged to listen in on and learn from, glimpsing someone else’s triumph and all too frequently, grief. In the telling of these stories, we create a history. It’s an honor.

And I love being able to share photos to go along with my stories. Can you tell?


All photos used on my blog are mine unless otherwise indicated.


Make plans to attend The Steel Wheels local music fest, Red Wings Roots Festival here in the Shenandoah Valley at Natural Chimneys Regional Park July 11-13, 2015, featuring The Steel Wheels of course but also numerous other bands. If not this year, put it on your calendar for next–a great vacation destination. Ask for tickets for a birthday treat or for Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, or any old day.


What are you tips for getting good natural looking photos of families? Do you favor posed and organized shots, or more informal?


What do you think about your untold stories? While I can’t/wouldn’t ask you to share them here (!), I would love to hear your thoughts on the untold, unsharable stories and how to honor them.


Or perhaps another question is, are there stories you hope your children never tell when you are dead and gone? Why or why not?

  1. You know I’m a fan of wedding text and picts as my blog posts reflect. Most of my posts include photos I shoot myself in my sewing room/studio, old photos which Cliff scans for me and touches up. Recently, I dipped into Ektachrome slides to tell a tale from long ago.

    The stories you have captured here are fascinating. What an interesting life you lead, Melodie.

    • For sure! I like that your sewing room has become your studio. 🙂 Another sign of adapting to new opportunities and new hobbies as we grow and times change. Interviewing and telling the stories of other people allows me to be nosy and ask questions I wouldn’t ordinarily ask! When we did some interviews for the documentaries we worked on at Mennonite Media from 2000-2010, interviewees frequently talked about the experience as cathartic. Thanks for commenting, Marian!

  2. Lauree Purcell permalink

    This is really good. Maybe Smita would like to read it.

    Sent from my iPhone


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