This Photo Challenge Looks Like A Craft Store Threw Up AND WE LOVE IT

This photo challenge is perfect for rainy days and MAHvelous models. Gear up and head for the ‘burbs; it’s time to break some portrait photography rules! (Featuring BRENDA DE LOS SANTOS and TONI BLACK)

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The Craft Store Photo Challenge: What Is It?

Maybe you’re familiar with the astonishingly lovely images photographer Jenna Martin made at a Lowe’s home improvement store in 2017. (If you’re not, remedy that right now! Jenna is an absolute unicorn!)

Jenna’s idea was to make pretty pictures in an ugly space, and the craft store photo challenge is no different – except, instead of a Lowe’s, photographers are turning craft stores into impromptu portrait photography studios.

Sound fun? Here’s how to do it…

Little girl photographed for Michael's Challenge photo project amid white flowers.
Photo: BRENDA DE LOS SANTOS


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Choose Your Craft Store

Here in the U.S., there are two leading craft store chains: Hobby Lobby and Michaels. While Hobby Lobby officially prohibits in-store portrait photography shoots, Michaels is actually welcoming photographers! They simply ask photo challenge participants to notify management when they arrive, show respect to shoppers, and leave everything as they found it.

Craft Store Photo Challenge photographers Brenda De Los Santos and Toni Black pose for their headshots.
Craft store photo challenge photographers BRENDA DE LOS SANTOS (above left) and TONI BLACK (above right)

Portrait photography mavens Brenda De Los Santos (Connecticut) and Toni Black (Texas) each individually tackled the craft store photo challenge with lovely results! I reached out to them to find out exactly how they approached portrait photography in the narrow aisles of a craft supply store.

Portrait photography of little girl among silk flowers in a Michael's Craft Store for a photo project.
Photo: BRENDA DE LOS SANTOS

ANNE: Tell me about the people you photographed for the Craft Store Photo Challenge. Were they paying clients? If not, would you ever do a shoot like this with a paying client?

TONI: For this photo challenge, I had the pleasure of photographing model and blogger Necia Robinson of Virtuous Virgos, as well as fellow photographers Stephanie Michele Bolton of Phoenix Michele Photography, and Tanisha Calhoun of Ada Lee Photography – all at a local Hobby Lobby. 

BRENDA: I photographed my five-year-old niece! She had a half-day off of school, so I brought her to Michaels when she got off the bus. I would definitely be game to try this with a paying client, too!

Behind the scene photo of Brenda De Los Santos' models for her Michael's Challenge photo project.
Brenda’s niece/model, and her nephew, who assisted with his aunt’s photo challenge. Admit it: these aisles don’t look like much of a spot for a portrait photography session!


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Know the Photo Challenge Rules

ANNE: How did you “get away” with holding a portrait photography session in a craft store? Did you get permission first, or just play it cool?

BRENDA: I did a little research and learned that Michaels has been encouraging people to do the craft store photo challenge in their stores! Michaels does ask that photographers check-in with store personnel before shooting, which I did. I also tried to be inconspicuous while photographing. I think I photographed for 10 minutes, tops.

TONI: We didn’t ask for permission, and no one took issue with us having a little mini session. We played it cool though, cleaned up after ourselves, and made a purchase when we were done.

Close-up portrait of a woman with flowers as part of Toni Black's photo project.
Photos: TONI BLACK – Follow Toni on Instagram!


Pack Light

ANNE: What gear did you bring along for this photo challenge?

TONI: I used a Sony A7 and a 50mm f/1.8 lens.

BRENDA: Since I wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible, I went in with only my Canon 6D and 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. That lens is an unconventional choice for portrait photography, but I love the compression it provides. It really helped disguise the fact that I was in the middle of a craft store!

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ANNE: Did you use a flash or any other lighting?

TONI: I did not use a flash this time, but if I were to do this photo challenge again, I would use a flash with a small soft box.

BRENDA: I kept my setup as simple as possible by only using ambient light. I had my entire camera kit in the car with off-camera flashes available, but I knew the store’s overhead lighting would provide enough light to expose the photos. 

Brenda De Los Santos' photo project featuring little girls inside a Michael's store.
Photos: BRENDA DE LOS SANTOS – Follow Brenda on Facebook!


Photo Challenge: Accepted!

ANNE: What difficulties did you face, photographing in a craft store? 

BRENDA: The limited space between aisles meant I could only photograph from certain angles. Additionally, I had to compose each shot very carefully to avoid product fixtures and price tags that would be difficult to retouch. My nephew assisted me by holding flower bunches to block unwanted elements or create a more pleasing background.

TONI: Our biggest challenge was in the staging. We couldn’t figure out where to photograph because the selection was so vast! Our other challenge was photographing while people were shopping. For some reason, the aisle we were on seemed to be the most popular!


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Before & After: Portrait Photography Post-Production

ANNE: What kind of post-production was involved in crafting the final photo challenge images? 

TONI: The out-of-camera photos were a little warm for my style, so I adjusted the white balance in Lightroom. Then I pulled the images into Photoshop to do a bit of frequency separation, dodging and burning, and curves adjustments.  

Before and after examples of portrait photography from the Michael's Challenge photo project by Toni Black.
Photos: TONI BLACK – See Toni’s boudoir website!

BRENDA: My niece has such a free spirit, I wanted these photos to reflect that! I edited the photo challenge images with a more fantastical vibe than I generally apply to my portrait photography work, removing unwanted background elements, and extending the background on certain images. While I did shoot through various flower bunches to create foreground blur, I also liberally used light leak overlays in Photoshop to create a whimsical end result. I also used color layers to enhance the color on certain background flowers. 

Before-and-after portrait photography of little girl on flower aisle at Michael's Craft Store.
Photos: BRENDA DE LOS SANTOS – Follow Brenda on Instagram!


Advice For YOUR Craft Store Photo Challenge

ANNE: What advice would you give other photographers wanting to try the same photo challenge?

TONI: Visit the store in advance to scope out their selection, and start the photo challenge knowing which colors and flowers you want to use. Don’t be afraid to stick flowers in your models’ clothes and hair! It’s super-funny, but it makes for a great shot. If you can, bring a portrait photography assistant. Most of all: have fun!

Close-up portraits of woman with flowers by Toni Black for her Michael's Challenge photo project.
Photos: TONI BLACK

BRENDA: Have an idea of what you want to do going in. Be courteous to the store, and check in with them so they’re aware you’re there working on a photo challenge. I would also encourage you to go at a slow time of day, both as a courtesy to the store and their shoppers.

Craft Store Photo Challenge Tips


Focus On What Matters Most

ANNE: What does it mean to you both to “focus on what matters most”?

TONI: For me, focusing on what matters most means knowing what’s important to you, what you need, what is expected, and not letting anything interfere with that goal.

Portrait of little girl among flowers for Michael's Challenge photo project.
Photo: BRENDA DE LOS SANTOS

BRENDA: For me, what matters most is people: my family and friends, my community, and the world at large. We photographers are so fortunate to capture moments for people – the triumphant, mundane, joyful, heart-wrenching moments that life is made of. I strive to do this not just for my paid portrait photography clients, but also for my loved ones and perfect strangers. From volunteering my time with Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, to hosting or participating in Help Portrait every year, I want to leave the world a better place than it was when I got here.

I want to leave the world a better place than it was when I got here. - Brenda De Los Santos

Have YOU tried a photo challenge recently?

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