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BEHIND THE SCENES | Trees Marie by Alex Thomas

For this new "Behind The Scenes", we delve into one of the standout projects of Alex Thomas—a captivating photo shoot with Trees Marie. Alex shares the serendipitous story of how the shoot came to be, her creative process, and the unique experiences that made this session unforgettable. We also get an inside look at her approach to planning, directing, and editing, revealing the dedication and artistry behind her stunning images. Join us as we explore the world of photography through Alex's lens and learn from her journey and insights.

Hey Alex, please give our readers a short introduction of yourself.

My name is Alexandra (Alex) Thomas, I'm a 23 year old photographer and videographer specializing in documenting tours and working with musicians/bands on all creative visuals and digital marketing. I also shoot weddings, family portraits, nature, and anything and everything else; but my specialty is definitely touring and music content.  I now own & run my own music publication, Tour Life Mag, to help other women, LGBT+ & POC photographers and journalists get their start in the music industry.  I've been taking photos literally since before I could walk and I've been working in the music industry since I was about 14 years old.

So, we came across your amazing photos of Trees Marie and would love to learn more about the shoot. How did the shoot come about?

Thank you! I've worked with Trees since I was about 16 years old; so I definitely consider her a close friend and a very strong female figure and role model in my life. A lot of my favorite shoots I've done throughout my career have been with her.  

The way this shoot specifically came about was really funny actually. I had seen photos of the Dallas Dream Haus, this gorgeous rococo styled photo and video space in Fort Worth, TX, a few years back and I always REALLY wanted to shoot there; but I hadn't had the money to excuse booking it for a TFP shoot so I just hadn't shot there yet. I was still not quite able to excuse spending the money on it this time around but I was seriously debating on saying "fuck it" and doing it anyways for my birthday and having Trees model it. On the exact day that I was going to reach out to her to discuss the idea of doing a shoot there together, I had posted on my Instagram about being in Dallas and having some availability and she reached out to me wanting some new promo photos, and she actually mentioned the Dallas Dream Haus without me ever mentioning to her that I've been dying to shoot there or anything. This shoot I guess was just one of those meant to be moments and she booked the space and hired me to get some new photos and we had a blast there.

Trees Marie by Alex Thomas

And what was her request? What was the purpose of the pictures (press pictures, cover image, social media content, …)?

Originally I think it was just supposed to be just new press/social media photos, but it's sounding like one of the images will be used for some cover art eventually. No deadline, but generally deadlines aren't a problem for me. I always make sure all of my photos from any sessions or concerts are edited and sent over to the client within 24hrs max; but usually I'm able to have them all edited and sent off within 2-5 hours. One of the perks of touring for nearly a decade is you get really used to all photos and videos needing to be edited to post that same night of the show, so I'm really quick with editing. We took a lot of photos because we were having fun and I think we ended up with 216 photos total that I edited within about 4 hours after the shoot and sent off to her. We didn't have any requirements other than let's have some fun and get creative! 

Can you tell us more about the planning of the shoot?

I can't say there was much if any planning for this one, which is funny because I am autistic and have OCD, so I'm usually REALLY big on planning everything out to a T and at least making myself go in with a specific vision in mind. I do like to ensure the client and I are always on the same page for any shoots. When Trees and I create though I don't know that we ever really try to mood board it and plan things out. I think there's a common trust between us having worked together so many times where I really trust her modeling abilities and she trusts my photography abilities, so when we work together we don't ever really have to go in with a big plan, we just find locations we like and we get there and we both do our thing and make cool shit. As much as I will say it's very important to plan things, especially when trying to create promotional content for artists, I do think once you're close enough with someone and worked with them enough times to know how they work, it is a lot more fun and usually turns out so much better to just show up and make something out of nothing together. 

How was the setup? Where did you shoot? How long was the shoot?

We started at the Dallas Dream Haus and then we went over to River Legacy Park in Arlington for some open fields and flowers. It was actually so kind of them, the owners of the Dallas Dream Haus gave us a little extra time for no charge because they had spare time before the next people got there and they saw how much fun we were having creating there, so I couldn't recommend them more highly. They were so kind and helpful. I think we ended up shooting there for 2 hours, and then we shot at River Legacy for maybe 15-20 minutes. Again I had found the Dallas Dream Haus online years ago and I think Trees discovered them while shooting a music video at their other location the Dallas Doll Haus; and then I've been going to River Legacy park since I was a really little kid so I just love going out there to walk or bike and it's got lots of beautiful photo locations.

Trees Marie by Alex Thomas

Did you have any assistants? What did you have to prepare? 

Trees' husband Ryan was amazing enough to come along and help out and was shooting photos as well which made me SO happy. He's been getting into photography and videography recently so I loved getting to teach him things while we were shooting and I also learned new things from him so it was a lot of fun. There wasn't really anything on my end to prepare outside of charging my cameras and I decided to primarily use a flash attachment inside of the Dream Haus instead of soft boxes for this shoot, I just felt it gave it a more godly look. Ryan and Trees did bring one softbox though that we used by the fireplace to give it a softer feel that I think turned out beautifully. But yeah this shoot was really nice and easy where we all pretty much just showed up and started creating together.

What strategies did you employ to direct her? Did you provide any specific instructions or prompts to evoke certain emotions or expressions?

I'm not big on directing photo sessions personally. Music videos sure I'll happily direct, but with portraits I'm all for letting the subject do what's comfortable for them. I think it creates a better image where they aren't so in their heads trying to do what you're telling them and questioning if they are doing it right or if they look okay (and it's different for everybody, some people are more relaxed when being directed, but I've found more often than not people look much better and more natural even in unnatural poses when you let them take the lead on posing). Especially when working with people like Trees who I know can model and pose themselves beautifully without me saying a word. There would occasionally be a "lay down here", "look that way", "let's do a new outfit now" sorta thing out of my mouth; but for the most part we just both got into our zone and did our thing. We were actually laughing about it at one point because I think Ryan pointed out how quiet it was while we were shooting and we were like, "yeah we like working together because we can have so much fun being introverted and quiet together". 

What camera equipment and lenses did you use for the shoot, and why? 

I was shooting on two Nikon Z6's, a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens on my primary, and, I know a weird choice, a 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 lens on my secondary camera. I usually only use the 12-28mm for tour recaps because it's such a great wide angle lens for when you're piled into a van or small greenroom together; but I've been loving using it for wide shots at certain photoshoots lately. I do need to invest in a better wide angle lens for photoshoots soon, but for now it works great.  And then I honestly don't even know what my flash attachment is, I bought it super cheap on amazon like 7 years ago and it's still amazing. But that was all the gear I used.

Were there any particular camera settings or techniques that proved especially effective? 

I rarely use that flash attachment for anything other than backstage content when a greenroom is especially dark but honestly using the flash attachment was such a great choice for this shoot. I loved how it made the photos look. It's something I would normally never do for a portrait session but it turned out awesome. Outside of that I don't think I used any specific settings or techniques, just made sure everything wasn't too dark or too bright like I normally would. I think for the most part inside the Dream Haus since I was using my flash on my primary camera my ISO was probably 200, shutter speed 1/200, aperture f/2.8 and then on the secondary camera with the wide angle I didn't put the flash on it so I was probably using shutter speed 1/250 ISO probably around 2500 and aperture at f/3.5. Oh! I did also lay fully down on my back on hot concrete to get some cool shots of her laying on a table in the gazebo outside.  That was also a different thing for me laying fully down and shooting pointing directly upwards.  It burned my skin pretty good on that concrete but it was worth it haha.

Trees Marie by Alex Thomas

You shot both inside and outside. What were the differences and challenges? What did you prefer?

I used to religiously shoot portraits outside and was strictly a natural light photographer for portraits. I still do portraits outside a lot of the time just because for one thing usually it's free so there's no extra expenses for the client and for another thing I just love nature and started out as a nature photographer for the first 14 years of my life; so I love being outside and creating in that environment. But lately, especially for this shoot and for any shoots with artists, I really love shooting inside a studio. They are definitely two very different experiences though, being in a studio or whatever indoor space and being fully in control of how the lighting will be, where it will land on the subject, how bright or dark everything around them will be, etc is wild and so much fun. Being fully in control of the lighting can also be a challenge though, making sure it's all perfect, you also have the challenge of arranging the furniture and anything in the space perfectly and so on. The outdoor shots we got during this shoot were a little rough, it was in the 90s in Texas humidity and direct sunlight so we were sweating like crazy and even in only 15 or so minutes out there I got a little sunburnt. The park was also pretty crowded so we were working around people playing soccer and having picnics and kids running around and stuff.  We also encountered a wild Karen on this shoot who had a blast taking photos of us and then screaming at us which was fun, luckily before Trees or I could yell back at her some random guy biked over to us from out of nowhere and started yelling at the lady on our behalf which was so amusing, shoutout to that guy. But yeah for the most part I really enjoyed both but they are for sure two VERY different experiences. 

How did you approach editing and post-processing to enhance the mood and aesthetic of the photos? Which software did you use for editing?

For editing I do all my lighting, color adjustments, sharpening, etc in Lightroom. It's how I'm able to have such a quick work flow. For the most part the lighting and colors in the rooms are the same throughout the shoot, so most of the time I just need to create one preset per room we shot in and one preset for everything we shot outside and then I can mass apply them to everything else that was shot in those spaces. Obviously some of them need little adjustments here and there but for the most part it's quick and easy. Then after that I'd go into Photoshop for a few of the shots to expand the background, remove something from the background, or for a lot of the shots at River Legacy I photoshopped some clouds in the sky since the sky was clear just to add a bit more drama to the image. One of the biggest things I've found to be important when editing my photos to keep them on my brand color pallet is the color grading option in lightroom. I'm using a bit of just about everything under basic, tone curve, color mixer, color grading, detail, sometimes effects and calibration; but I think color grading is where I'm spending most of my time in lightroom to help make things look on brand for me. 

Can you elaborate a bit on the following image? How did you shoot it? How did you edit it?

For those shots where she's laying down-- I really wish that I brought a step stool or ladder because I'm fairly short (5'2), but again we didn't go in to this shoot planning to do that, it was a spur of the moment choice; so I had to stand over her and hold the camera on the 12mm lens up as high over my head as I could and just hope that it was in focus and well framed. As mentioned before I did all my color and light adjustments in Lightroom and then I took it into photoshop, removed the furniture parts that were visible in the shot because the room we shot those in was kind of small so we had a lot of random things on the borders of the shots, then once I removed all the objects I expanded the background, and I think on that first shot I also added in a lens flare in photoshop to add to the feel of it. I love those shots so much and am so glad we decided to do them, even if I wasn't fully prepared to do them haha. 

Trees Marie by Alex Thomas

Can you talk us through your selection process?

I don't mind clients, especially friends, seeing the RAW images during the shoot but I won't send those for culling (selecting what's kept and edited vs what's trashed). If someone is curious how the shots are turning out while we're shooting I'll happily show them in the back of the camera, but I do all of the culling on my own. I do this just because I do send a very large percentage of the shots we take, and anything I'm not sending to them is literally just a shot where their eyes may be half shut or something is unflattering or it's almost an exact duplicate of another shot I already included because I do tend to take multiple shots at once. Or, with this shoot specifically, when we were outside there was no wind and we were trying to make it look like the dress was blowing in the wind so we were trying to get a lot of action of her twirling in the dress and running around and stuff and only like one in 30 of those shots would look like the dress was really flowing. I think we took 700 photos and I sent 215.  And again a lot of those were trying to get this long flowy dress to look full from motion. For me it varies from shoot to shoot, I think more times than not I cull as I edit. I'll scroll through the images in lightroom and when I see one I like I edit it and then I scroll through deleting the duds along the way until I find the next good one to keep.  

What software/service did you use to provide the images?

I have always used Smugmug. I love them so much. I'm able to organize everything so well into so many different kinds of groupings, the files are high res, I have unlimited storage for super cheap I literally currently have over 100,000 images stored on there from every concert and shoot and wedding and whatnot over the last 10 years and my clients so long as they keep the link I send them to download/view them always have access to them (and if they ever lose the link and haven't downloaded the images or whatever I can easily in a matter of a minute find their gallery and resend it to them even 10 years later). They also now have the option for unlimited RAW photo storage for an extra $4/mo which is insane, I haven't used that yet but I love the idea of that. But yeah I can not speak more highly of them. Not sponsored, but anyone at Smugmug if you see this just know I constantly highly recommend y’all to photographers and even just people who have lots of personal photos they want to store online soooo feel free to hit me up hahaha. 

How long took the planning & shooting & editing? 

I think maybe 6 1/2 hours total. There was no planning for this one, the shoot not including driving to/from locations took about 2 1/2 hrs, and I was probably culling/editing for 4 hours.

Trees Marie by Alex Thomas

Looking back on the shoot, what were the most valuable lessons you learned as a photographer? Was there anything you struggled with?

Oh wow I don't know. With other shoots with new clients or shoots where someone else comes in with a VERY specific vision in mind I could give you an amazing answer I'm sure but again with this one it was really such a get together with a friend and just have fun kind of a thing that I don't think there was anything hard about this shoot. I guess make sure you have fun and don't take life too seriously all of the time, enjoy what you're doing, be in the moment and if you're a creative make sure you're creating with people you love and know you can trust. I think starting out in the industry at 14 I worked too hard to prove that I was a professional and not a kid and so this year I'm focusing really hard on just enjoying life more and letting shoots be more fun and when I work with artists I'm friends with I'm trying to learn to be more present in those moments with them and appreciate that time with my loved ones. So this shoot was a lot of fun and I was really grateful she trusted me to do it but also I was really appreciative of getting to spend time with a friend doing something we both really enjoy that helps us both mutually grow. 

Is there anything you would do differently if you were to shoot with the same artist or at the same location again in the future?

BRING A LADDER OR STEP STOOL. Hahahaha. I for sure want to recreate those shots again from even higher above and be able to get more full body shots over head. And one of the things I love about shooting with Trees is we always shoot at the coolest locations on such a whim.  Our shoot in a sunflower field a few years back is still one of my favorite shoots and favorite memories throughout my career. I love that with every shoot we do we get to catch up and talk and then have fun creating together, so I'm very excited for whatever we do next but truly who knows when or where or what the next shoot will be haha.


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