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Chelsi McFadden: “Here Are 5 Strategies To Take Stunning Photos”

Forget about your photographer. Yes, this means during your photo session, you have my permission to pretend your photographer isn’t there! Truth is, the less you focus on the fact there is a camera in your face and the more you focus on how in love you are with your person, the better the photographs! Pinkie […]

Forget about your photographer. Yes, this means during your photo session, you have my permission to pretend your photographer isn’t there! Truth is, the less you focus on the fact there is a camera in your face and the more you focus on how in love you are with your person, the better the photographs! Pinkie swear, it’s true. So go ahead, stare into his/her eyes, forget there is anyone else around, and focus on how much you love each other. Feel free to snuggle, hug, kiss, heck make out if that’s your thing. Look what we just did! We seriously turned your photo session into a make out sesh! Now your photos will be more natural and less posed! Who doesn’t like a good make out session?!?


I had the pleasure of interviewingChelsi McFadden of Chelsi McFadden Photography. Chelsi is a destination wedding and couples photographer based in Fort Bragg, California. She lives for seeing the world and capturing authentic love. Her style is emotive, authentic, and fun. She believes in laughing too much, singing too loud, and most importantly living life to the fullest and prefers capturing every single authentic moment to evoke emotion over perfectly posed photos.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ihave been intrigued by photographs since childhood, so it is only natural that I would love to take photos of my friends and family. Around 11 years ago, my husband and I welcomed our second child into the world. At the time we had a Nikon N90, a film SLR. I had taken at least one photo of him every day after bringing him home from the hospital. Once I completed the roll, I placed it on the side table next to our couch. Well, on this particular day, I also had a glass of water sitting on the end table. Our 4 year old, being a curious boy, came over and dropped the roll into the glass of water ruining the entire roll. My husband decided that it was time for a DSLR and bought a Nikon D40. I started taking more and more photos and posting them on Facebook (according to my teenager it’s where moms and old people hang out). Eventually people started inquiring if I would take photos of their families and that’s how it all started.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I remember the phone call like it was yesterday. “Would you be willing to come to our cabin and take photos of our family again? It may be our last opportunity.” Wait, what? “I was just diagnosed with cancer.”⁠

If you know me very well, you know that I am afraid of heights. Like shaking in my boots on the third rung of a ladder terrified. The day that I arrived at the cabin for the photos of the family, Mandy asked me if I would be willing to “hike’ down to a little waterfall in the woods below the cabin. I said “of course”, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. When I saw the descent I was facing, I was shaking in my boots. If Mandy was going to have to bravely stare cancer in the face and say “not today”, I was going to conquer this monstrous mountain. I put one trembling foot in front of the other and made my way down the mountain. Terrified the whole way, but doing it anyway. ⁠

My friend decided that day that she wanted her entire story documented. I accompanied her to chemo treatments, my husband photographed her before her hair fell out, she even honored me by allowing me to take photos of her after her hair had all come out. What’s even radder than all of that, is that we were able to share her story of hope with the world when Artifact Uprising wrote a blog post about here and then Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhoade Island picked up one of her photos for their “no one fights alone” campaign. It was surreal and beyond our wildest imaginations. She’s been remission 7 years now and has become a warrior of hope for many women. I am so proud of her and all she is doing in the world.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I photographed one of my first weddings with a friend. We were taking portraits of the bride and groom and she ran out of space on her SD card. I handed her one of mine and she proceeded to format it. When I got home, I realized that the card she had formatted was full of ceremony photos and she had formatted over the top of them. Now, 9 years later, once I am finished with a card, I place it in a completely separate card holder from my unused SD cards.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I create art for me. Before I was ever a wedding photographer, I was an artist. I pursued photography at a young age because I enjoyed it. I was drawn to the way the light flooded through the windows in the morning illuminating all the dust particles in the air. Or the way the way dew drops kissed the rose pedals outside. Later, after I had my first child, I couldn’t get enough of photographing their squishy faces and every little milestone. ⁠

So while I believe it is important to meet the expectations of my clients, I believe it is more important to create art because it is what I am passionate about. I don’t want to be everybody’s photographer. I only want to photograph people who are drawn to the artwork I create and appreciate it for what it is.⁠

And that my friends, is what sets me apart. Being fearless in the pursuit of my inner artist.⁠ What are you passionate about and how are you setting yourself apart in your industry?

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Create art for art’s sake. Don’t try to be trendy. Create art that speaks to you and share it, hoping to attract your ideal client with your authentic creativity.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There have been a lot of people along the way who have helped shaped who helped shape my success. I think that I owe most of my gratitude to my family. My boys are always encouraging me and believing that I am the best photographers in the world. My husband puts up with my endless photo editing and typing on the computer. Without their love and support, I could do this job. I am so thankful for them.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

I just finished up an art series that I will be revealing very soon, but I also have something else in the works that I am not quite ready to share, but ya’ll it’s going to be good!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have always believed that what humans truly desire is human connection. I use my social media platforms to share my story in hopes that it will positively impact someone’s life. I haven’t always been a successful photographer, and I have made my fair share of mistakes in life. Through those mistakes beautiful things have happened and I love to share those stories with the world.

Can you share “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Take Stunning Photos”. Please an example for each.

So you’ve decided to hire your favorite photographer to capture your amazing love story. Now what?!? You’re probably nervous. You’re likely dreading the moment that your photographer lifts their camera and sticks their lens in your face. I GET IT! It’s kinda scary right!?! The moment that camera comes out we all of a sudden we feel awkward and shy, and what the heck am I supposed to do with these arms?!? Can I get an amen?!?

Not to fear, I want to help you prepare so that you are more comfortable and ready to have fun during your next close up. All it takes is a little advance planning and knowledge. I have come up with 5 things to do to get comfortable for your next session.

Let’s say yes to self confidence and “bye felicia” to shyness and anxiety. You ready?!? Ok, let’s go!

1. Forget about your photographer. Yes, this means during your photo session, you have my permission to pretend your photographer isn’t there! Truth is, the less you focus on the fact there is a camera in your face and the more you focus on how in love you are with your person, the better the photographs! Pinkie swear, it’s true. So go ahead, stare into his/her eyes, forget there is anyone else around, and focus on how much you love each other. Feel free to snuggle, hug, kiss, heck make out if that’s your thing. Look what we just did! We seriously turned your photo session into a make out sesh! Now your photos will be more natural and less posed! Who doesn’t like a good make out session?!?

2. Get Your Hair & Makeup Done. I’m not saying that you can’t go “au naturel” if that’s your thang. What I AM saying is that no matter your style, a little attention to your hair and makeup will go a long way in photos! Makeup is naturally smoothing to the skin and helps even out tones. Hair can be done so many different ways and depending on what style you are going for in photographs in can add an intentional vibe. Here’s a bonus tip: consider getting your hair and makeup done professionally and then going out for a day on the town all dolled up! Spa day plus a date with your lover, win/win right?!?

3. Plan your outfits in ADVANCE! We’ve all done it. Threw together outfits 10 minutes before we needed to leave on a date. And of course, nothing looks right so it looks like a bomb went off in our closet by the time we finally choose our attire! yup. Been there! Trust me, you do not want to be doing that on the day of your photo session. It will add unneeded stress to your day. So here’s my tip, PLAN IN ADVANCE. Heck, send a few outfit options to your photographer and let them help you decide if your coordinated enough!

The clothing choices that you make for your session are EXTREMELY important. They are the center of what guides the look and feel of your session. You want to choose an outfit that is both form flattering and comfy. No one wants to be feeling like they need to adjust a too tight dress or scratching because they chose an itchy fabric. Solids are always a safe bet, but don’t be afraid to go for a pattern. Just make sure that whatever color/pattern you choose that they compliment each other. IF you opt for a pattern, choose something simple, like jeans and a solid t-shirt or oxford for your partner. Solid, neutral colors are always a good rule of thumb, but don’t be afraid to play with color or patterns! For colors, make sure they are complimenting whatever your partner is wearing. And PLEASE, don’t be matchy matchy. It’s awkward and really leaves something to be desired in photographs.

4. Accessorize and Bring Props (bonus points if you bring your fur baby!). Have a fun hat that you love to wear? WEAR IT! Love statement jewelry? ROCK IT during the session. Pack a picnic. Bring flowers. Have a favorite board or card game that you like to play together? Let’s do it! Anything that adds to the style and mood that you are looking for is fair game. We LOVE props!

5. Choose a photographer you trust. This is the most important tip that I can offer. In order to capture true emotions and comfortable photographs, you MUST trust the person giving you direction. The difference between a good and GREAT photograph has little to do with you as a person and EVERYTHING to do with lighting and posing. Find a photographer whose work resonates with you. Make sure that you LOVE their style so that you can ultimately trust their direction. Find someone who is going to capture your LOVE exactly the way you want to remember it. LOVE is RAD and it deserves to be documented awesomely.

That’s it friends. I hope that these tips and tricks help ease your fears and rock your next photo session!

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

What I desire most is authenticity and a world in which my children can live free of judgement, where they don’t have to be afraid to be themselves.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can find me on instagram at @chelsilmcfadden and facebook at @chelsimcfaddenphotography

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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