Backdrops for Photoshoots

The Backdrop Project

A photograph is not made in the camera but on either side of it.

-Edward Steichen
I’m happily at work on backdrop number six. This is when I began feeling a little more in the groove and carefree with my painting technique.

When I first began capturing portraits in the studio I relied on natural light from a large bay window. The north facing window supplies so much light that I needed to hang a double row of sheer curtains to diffuse the light. Using natural light – or “God light” – as we like to say in the biz, will always be a favorite for capturing portraits and, in particular, the ethereal back-lit portraits that my clients love so much.

The trouble with relying solely on natural light is that even in sunny Tucson, there are rainy and overcast days. And on those gray and cloudy days there isn’t enough light coming through the big bay window to capture properly exposed portraits. No light, no photography is an indisputable rule. As a business owner, I need to be ready to capture portraits under any conditions and deliver images consistent with my brand whether the sun is shining or not.

The answer to being able to photograph at anytime in my studio – rain or shine, day or night – is strobes. A strobe is a device that produces a controlled flash of light. The studio’s photoshoots typically include the use of natural light, strobe light and a mix of both to create and capture a range of looks for my clients’ artfully stylized Fine Art Portrait Collections.

The backdrops are painted on both sides to maximize the available color options to complement the wardrobe selections for photoshoots.

Many studio photographers will start out using black and white V-Flats and seamless paper as backdrops in studio. V-Flats are used to control light and they also work well as backgrounds. Seamless paper is convenient to use because the roles of paper are available in 65 colors and 5 different sizes. Seamless paper is also relatively inexpensive and one roll of paper can last a long time. Gray paper can be lit to appear white, gray or black in a photograph making it a convenient and versatile studio staple.

For portrait photographers, painted backdrops are a key component to crafting an image. The most coveted hand painted backdrops are made by Sarah Oliphant of Oliphant Studio in New York. There isn’t a portrait photographer I know that wouldn’t love to own at least one of her gorgeous signature backdrops. Excellence, as we know, comes with a price. And her bespoke backdrops start at five figures and are well worth the money. My challenge is that I enjoy variety. I don’t want just one gorgeous backdrop. Apparently I want twenty.

Once I added studio strobes to my lighting set-ups I began purchasing backdrops. The first backdrop that I purchased is what I refer to as “Old Masters” red. The color is deep, rich and textured. The red backdrop is still, after all this time, one of my favorites. After red, came gray. Then gold, followed by the blondie silver. Then periwinkle, then olive green. And so on. You get the picture… once a photographer starts down the path of acquiring backdrops it is difficult to stop. But hand painted backdrops are an investment, no matter who makes them, so that helps reign in the addiction but does little to negate the desire.

The studio has five distinct areas for capturing portraits with natural light,strobes and even a mix of both. The space is designed for maximum flexibility so that we can make beautiful images together. Every photoshoot is a collaboration and a unique experience.

Here’s the thing. Not everybody enjoys painting. I do. Back in the 1990’s when specialty painting arrived on the scene featured in popular catalogs such as Pottery Barn, my oldest sister, Linda and I were inspired to faux paint the walls of my home in northern California. Based upon that successful experience I couldn’t help but think that painting backdrops for the studio shouldn’t be too difficult. If I can faux paint a wall, then certainly I can faux paint a canvas. I just needed space and time, two things that were in short supply until Covid-19 arrived and for all practical purposes shut the world down.

In July, after months of trying to talk myself out of it, I stopped vacillating and made the decision to embark upon “The Backdrop Project”. Over three weeks I painted a whopping thirteen backdrops in my family room. I started out painting carefully and by the end I went all Jackson Pollock on a large gray canvas while trying to be mindful to not inadvertently splatter paint on the surrounding walls and furniture.

In the next umpteen blog posts or so, I will dedicate a post to each studio backdrop along with example photographs. Documenting the various backdrop options will help my clients and I design photoshoots together. Keep in mind that each photoshoot is unique and designed specifically to meet the needs of each client. Styling is certainly an important factor of designing a cohesive photograph and it is the background, whether it is subtle or assertive, that combines with the other elements to complete the look.

Yours truly working on the “vivid gold” backdrop. The “Old Masters” brown and black backdrop is hanging to the left and it is painted cerulean blue on the reverse side.

Link to the studio’s portfolio.

Link to the studio’s Free Magazine and Style Guide.

Headshots and Personal Branding Spotlight on a Tucson Business

EL Design Studio

Personal branding images are delivered to my clients in multiple crops for a variety of uses. For example, this landscape crop provides negative space for overwriting text.

Meet graphic designer, Elisa Ng. One of the nicest, most giving people that you will ever have the pleasure of meeting. What I also like about Elisa is that she’s not afraid of color, bold colors specifically (and neither am I). She’ll gladly add color to a design to make it pop, such as choosing magenta for her company’s branding. Her logo definitely catches the eyes. Simply stated, Elisa has the skill and experience to help small to medium businesses gain visibility in a crowded market by helping to elevate their brands.

A Personal Branding session includes clients being photographed on both
light and dark backgrounds. Seamless color papers for backgrounds are available in 60 colors if specific hues are needed to blend or match with your branding palette.

At the beginning of Elisa’s career she worked as a production artist and graphic designer for large firms in the greater Phoenix area. She managed creative projects from beginning to end as part of an in-house creative services team. Collaboration is one of her core strengths. Elisa has built strong relationships with vendors and can manage print productions to provide her clients with full service solutions that save time and money.

Elisa has the experience to create and expand your brand’s image across print and digital media. Her projects have spanned across a variety of print and web media designs including print ads, collateral, signs, direct mail, emails, landing pages and websites.

Traditional square crop for headshot.

Elisa is a prolific networker and referral partner. She is passionate about connecting people with people, and people to businesses and services. In fact, I met Elisa at a networking event. She proactively followed up with me after the event to schedule a one-to-one meeting so that we could learn more about each other and our businesses. We’ve been friends since our initial meeting and from time-to-time we carpool to various networking events in Tucson. I really appreciate her enthusiasm and willingness to help me and my business and in return I want to do the same for her. It’s her enthusiasm, willingness to help, ability to listen and ask pertinent questions that make her a great designer and a pleasure to work with.

Elisa and I collaborated on the print and digital media for the Beauty from Ashes Ranch 2019 Charity Gala. Our companies were sponsors of the event for this important cause. The not-for-profit organization founded by Tucson police officer, Sara Haught is building a long-term care facility in the Tucson area for rescued children that are survivors of sex trafficking aged 11-17.

In Elisa’s spare time she enjoys donating her capabilities and energy to organizations that help improve the lives of children and animals. Elisa and I enjoy reading mystery novels. A favorite series of Elisa’s is Joanna Brady by author, and U of A alumni, J. A. Jance. The novels feature a strong female protagonist, an Arizona County Sheriff. The novels play out against the backdrop of southern Arizona with events unfolding in locations such as Tucson and Bisbee. Another fun fact is that Elisa enjoys listening to foreign music while she works, in particular Korean pop and songs from Bollywood soundtracks.

For future authors like Elisa the portrait crop is perfect for the inside of a book jacket.

When asked about the keys to her success, Elisa says, “Being authentic and friendly while listening to my clients. This builds lasting relationships and effective designs.” Well said. I couldn’t agree more.

Now that you know who Elisa is and what she does, give her the opportunity to help you elevate your brand. #LevelUp

Do you have a graphic design project that would greatly benefit from Elisa’s expertise? Learn more by visiting EL Design Studio, seeking her out on her Facebook Business Page, or calling Elisa directly at (520)369-2515.

Elisa and I had a blast attending a Marana Chamber of Commerce event.
Keep an eye out for the two of us at networking events in Tucson. If you see us,
be sure to introduce yourself and say hello. You can see we’re friendly.
Oh! And, aren’t those magenta hued Hollyhocks absolutely gorgeous?

View more images from Elisa’s Personal Branding and Headshot session.

Jump to Artifact Photography Studio’s Personal Branding Portfolio.

Jump to Artifact Photography Studio’s Portfolio.

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Mermaid Crowns

Mermaids have more fun. Just ask Isabel.

I’m a California girl born and raised. The Pacific ocean was a quick twenty minute drive from my childhood home on the central coast. The first coffee table book I purchased was a tome on the lore of mermaids. Nearly everyday I wear a hand carved mermaid that hangs from a cord around my neck. She is my taliswoman. So it is of little wonder that when I began planning a creative photography project during my first year in business that I set my sights on capturing mermaids.

My sister, Juliette made this crown with a shell pendant and strands of beads purchased during an annual excursion to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show. She also incorporated sea shells, natural pearls, metal seahorse ornaments and artificial sea branches. Due to its flexible construction this crown can be worn by a child or an adult. The mermaid themed necklace was found in a thrift store by my keen-eyed niece Avalon, who learned successful thrifting from the master, her mother, Juliette.

Recently I have been surprised to hear more than one person say that they think the mermaid crowns are added to the images in Photoshop. Nope, not true. Folks are also surprised to discover that the mermaids are actually lounging in shallow water. Yup, true story. These conversations have compelled me to give a “behind the scenes” glimpse into how the crowns are made and how the images were captured in my backyard. I am a proponent of capturing images “in camera” and doing as little work in Photoshop as possible. The less time I sit in front of my computer the better.

Style 1: The base of the crown is formed by twisting and shaping 12-gauge floral wire by hand. Rough spots and cuts are covered with gaffer tape. The floral wire is wrapped with decorative pipe cleaners.

I found very little information on the internet to help me design the crowns. As Marie Forleo says, “Everything is figureoutable”, so I proceeded with figuring it out. Inspiration came from how some fascinators are made. I determined a strong base was necessary and that it should fit over the head—from ear to ear—for stability. I also needed a material that could withstand hot glue to hold the various decorative elements securely. The gluing conundrum was solved by wrapping the floral wire with bushy, metallic pipe cleaners. As a bonus the pipe cleaners are available in a variety of colors.

Style 2: The base of the crown is formed with 12-gauge floral wire with rough spots and cut ends wrapped in gaffer tape. An inexpensive metal tiara is attached to the base by wrapping the ends on to the wire frame. For a uniform look and easy gluing of decorations all parts of the base and attached tiara are wrapped with pipe cleaners.
Get your glue gun ready. Both styles of crowns are now ready for decorative embellishment. This is the fun part of the project for my fellow crafters.

My sister, Juliette is an accomplished artist and I enlisted her help with decorating the crowns and assisting with the first photoshoot with Lindsey and Campbell. Juliette was dismayed to discover that I had not purchased high heat glue sticks (for its strong bonding capabilities and durableness in all weather conditions, including exposure to water). Well, that would have been nice to know. Unfortunately, it was too late to buy more, the stores were closed, so we used what was on hand. Ignorance is not always bliss. I also discovered that these types of projects use a lot of glue and that it is smart to buy extra long glue sticks. #lessonlearned

Upper right image: Our mom watches the decision making process as Juliette deliberates over what materials to use to decorate a crown. To add a floral accent to the “pink” crown, I selected artificial succulent flowers and then applied glitter to add a lovely shimmer. The crowns are decorated on all sides so I could photograph the mermaids from any angle. Juliette’s favorite glue for glitter is Mod Podge. When applying the glitter, do so over a paper plate so you can easily save leftover glitter and pour it back into the container. It pays to be a thrifty crafter.

It was extremely helpful to have separate folding table set up that contained all the decorative elements: shells, abalone, sequins, glitter, artificial flowers, faux seaweed, strands of beads, buttons, pearls, rhinestones, costume jewelry, blingy broaches, charms, filigree connectors, broken jewelry, thrift store jewelry, hat pins, assorted chains, and a mish mash of miscellaneous decorative items. As you can see in the image below, everything got pretty messy, but there was, thankfully, some semblance of a system in place.

We covered our work areas with heavy duty aluminum foil, which is especially helpful to protect the table from leaking hot glue guns. Juliette is detail oriented and applied glitter to the crevices of the sea shells by thinly “painting” Mod Podge with a toothpick.
The brooch was an inexpensive purchase from a craft store.

The styrofoam heads are really helpful with decorating and displaying the crowns. Because the frame is floral wire, the crowns can be adjusted a little by delicately pushing inward on the sides to fit a child’s head, or gently pulling outward to fit an adult’s head. The wire at the base of the neck helps the crown stay in place.

Refrain from gluing until you are satisfied with how the more prominent decorative elements are fitting together. Once you have the larger “anchoring pieces” selected and glued in place, then it is much easier to find smaller items to accentuate the design and fill in gaps. Use Popsicle sticks, toothpicks and tweezers to help press items into the hot glue. These tools will also help to protect your fingers. Regardless of how careful you are, the odds are against you experiencing at least one hot glue burn. Ouch! With that being said, to quote The Hunger Games, may the odds be ever in your favor.
The mermaid project was a family affair. While Juliette and I decorated crowns, my husband set-up the seasonal pool in the backyard. I lined the pool with netting decorated with sequins. We sisters were like parakeets with this project. Everything shiny and sparkly thrilled us. Juliette brought sea shells from her personal collection to add to the water and place around the happy mother and daughter mermaids, Lindsey and Campbell.
The studio has a plethora of costume jewelry to complement the showy crowns. At one point in my life, before I opened the photography studio, I was wondering why in the world I was keeping all this jewelry that I didn’t wear. Now I know the answer. My mermaids have so much fun draping themselves in “jewels”. It doesn’t matter your age; playing dress-up never gets old.
Lauren asked if she could decorate her own crown and I was happy to comply with her request, so we scheduled an art day, which was a blast. Art, music, snacks, conversation… what could be better? I made the base of the crown ahead of time and Lauren embellished it with pieces of jewelry, faux fauna and shells. After the photoshoot, Lauren generously donated the crown to the studio’s collection so you have the opportunity to wear it, too, if you like. Yay!

Just in case you are wondering, the bubbles in Lauren’s mermaid portrait are not added in Photoshop. My daughter was wielding the battery-powered bubble machine during the photoshoot. It was pretty funny seeing Maddie run around trying to master the best way to surround Lauren with oodles of bubbles. Lauren kept cracking up and a good time was had by all.

I am dreaming of using these necklaces made of Roman glass in a mermaid photoshoot. The beads are artifacts that are made from salvaged glass that is ~2,000 years old. Will you be the one to wear these beautiful antiquities?

I have plans for more mermaid photoshoots during the hot weather months, as well as creating other creative fine art images utilizing the shallow pool, think maternity and boudoir.

Would you like to explore your options? Contact me for more information: (833)277-8721 or

Please leave a comment if you have any questions, or please let me know if you have suggestions to improve my crown making process.

Link to the studio’s portfolio.

Link to the studio’s Free Magazine and Style Guide.

“Always be yourself unless you can be a mermaid then always be a mermaid.”

Word of the Year

Fitness is the Word

Tales from the Quarantine presents Artifact Photography Studio’s newly minted blog featuring the not-too-philosophical musings, transformational progress, curious explorations, artistic endeavors, spotlight interviews, random pursuits and ongoing wanderlust of your hostess with the mostess, Michelle Owens.

On top of that I will throw in a recipe here and there because cooking and baking are, and will continue to be, a way of caring for myself, my family, friends and clients. Even when I want to I can’t seem to stay out of the kitchen.

And if that wasn’t enough, as a prolific reader I will not be able to resist recommending a piece of writing when a book, article, poem or quotable quote moves me. Likewise with films.

“I’ve always loved butterflies, because they remind us that it’s never too late to transform ourselves.” —Drew Barrymore

As an artist I’m constantly inspired by my environment, community and the world. And most of all: transformation. I rely heavily on creating vision boards to inspire my creativity. As a business owner, I am continually working to create and deliver a truly outstanding experience for my clients while also refining my back-office systems and delivery mechanisms. I’d like to write about these topics, too.

Before moving forward, I’d like to step back for a moment to the start of 2020. Not only was I looking forward to starting a new year, but also embarking upon a new decade. Oh the glory of all the possibilities to be considered and mulled over. To focus my actions I decided to select one word to drive a transformation process.

My “word of the year” for 2020 is Fitness, as applied (in a kind of multi-tasking way) to improving physically, mentally, spiritually and financially. We’re nearly a third of the way through the year and the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly tested me physically, mentally, spiritually and financially.

“Personal metamorphosis begins when we stop saying
‘I should’ and begin saying ‘I am’.”Rita Schlano

During trying times I have always turned to writing to work through my thoughts and feelings. My guidebook on how to do this constructively is The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (©1989 by Tarcher Perigree). I’ve wanted to start this blog for a while now but with a packed schedule I didn’t feel as if I had the time or the energy to overcome the aggravation of learning WordPress. After six weeks in quarantine, my objections have one-by-one been overruled by slowly crossing off items on my to-do list.

One of my lingering concerns has been… is blogging dead? Do I want to put time and effort into this medium? I questioned if people are just kind of over it? In the pro column I included my favorite blogs that I regularly read. So the answer is no, blogging isn’t dead, and it’s here to stay unless (or until) vlogging slowly takes over. Now that we’re all “Zoomies”, vlogging doesn’t seem like such a horrifying idea. Then it occurred to me that there are topics that I want to write about and haven’t because of the limitations of Facebook and Instagram for longer form writing. At least for my style.

My current objections are rooted in my past experience. I have been blogging since 2010 over at Salvation Sisters, a food and lifestyle blog co-founded with my sisters. Over ten years we have published more than 300 recipes, and we continue on with the project albeit at a stunted pace. Some years were certainly more prolific than others. What we learned is that blogs—or any endeavor really—require time, attention and consistency to flourish. We learned that posting a blog weekly was optimal. That frequency is challenging to maintain especially when recipe testing is involved in the equation.

“The wings of transformation are born of patience and struggle.” —Janet S. Dickens

As anticipated, launching Artifact’s blog has not been without its aggravations. I have come to believe that most small business owners are to some extent masochists. #jokingnotjoking We’re always juggling a million things and dreaming of the day when we can outsource certain activities so we can get back to doing more of what brings us joy.

You will surely see changes along the way as I learn the ins and outs and widgets of WordPress. My business mentor assures me that done is better than perfect. My rallying cry is that nothing is more difficult to learn than Photoshop, so WordPress here’s what I have to say to you, “Drop and give me twenty.” Nice inclusion of a fitness reference relating to my 2020 word of the year, don’t you think? Yeah, I’m just that good… lol.

“Human life runs its course in the metamorphosis between receiving and giving.” —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

To wrap up, please know that I welcome and solicit your feedback. Reading comments always makes me so happy. Well, let’s be honest, most comments anyway. Please feel free to leave constructive, on topic feedback to contribute to the conversation. Diverse point of view are welcome, but everyone, as Austin Powers would say, “Behave!” Please refrain from writing anything you wouldn’t say face-to-face. I reserve the right to refuse service to anyone (but you don’t have to wear your shirt or shoes if you don’t want to). Furthermore, rude comments will be removed without notice. Now that we have that said and done and out of the way…

…thank you for dropping by, tuning-in and commenting. My goal is to have this blog be a fun, educational, interactive, and interesting place to visit. Welcome to my little home on the internet.



P.S. If you are interested in having a photoshoot designed specifically for you, please call (833)277-8721, or send an email to

Let’s dig in to my favorite question that I will ask of you. “How do you want to be photographed and with whom?”

Maddie transformed into a modern Marie Antoinette for this Rococo era inspired photoshoot. “Details, I love madly in details.” ⁠—Butterflies Rising