A Look Back at My First Couples Session & What to Expect During Yours

A few months after we moved to Alaska I flew back to Beaufort for the birth of my second nephew. While I was there I photographed my first ever couples session, and now, here I am, writing this blog post from our cozy little apartment in Old City, Philadelphia. A lot can change in a year (or, in this case, a year and a half).

For us, this time has held one cross-country move, a handful of beautiful vacations and a whole lot of growth. Exploring every corner of this city has made the months pass in what feels like only days. It’s incredible, really, not only how abruptly change can happen, but how long it can take to notice those changes. The simple habits of the day to day transform and fade away and suddenly you realize that everything has changed; the way it once was, the person you once were, may be completely different now.

Coming up on five years of marriage, I've seen a lot of this in our relationship (in a good way). We are so different than we were on that February morning when we signed our names across the bottom of that marriage certificate. In a thousand ways we are the same, yet our relationship has grown and transformed, blossoming into something more beautiful than I could have ever dreamt. This is, at the core, why I do what I do.

This is why I photograph love, in all of it's stages. This is what fuels me. Capturing those little nuances of a relationship, giving people a tangible piece of their past, a piece of their ever-changing story. It’s so much more than just the photographs though, its the session, the time spent together while we’re creating. 

That's why you will never, ever hear me utter the words "say cheese" or "pretend to laugh" during a session. My couples don’t look back at a photograph and see staged smiles, they look back and they see photographs that immediately bring them back to a moment; to the whispered words falling in their ears and causing that wild laughter, to the butterflies in their stomach, to the kiss that came after that sentence. The session is about slowing down, taking the time to savor your love and soak each other in. You'll look back in thirty years on photographs that transcend time. 

Since this post features my first ever couples session from over a year ago, I’m switching things up a little by sharing some insight on what goes into creating these moments. The words and questions among the following photographs are just a few samples of how we create intimacy during the session, how we craft those moments you’ll look back on, it's just one way that we put the feeling into the photos.

And the bonus? The following "prompts" aren’t just useful during your session. Think about how different your day could be if you asked yourself one of these questions as you walk through the door after a long day of work, or first thing in the morning when you see the love of your life next to you. How different would your day be if you took the time to celebrate your love, to ask yourself questions that instilled a sense of gratitude? 



"Tell each other about the moment you first knew you loved each other."





"What did you think of each other the first moment that you met? How did you feel?"





"Take a minute to think about how far you’ve come together, really think about the journey."





"When was the last time that you felt overwhelmingly proud of your partner?"





"What are three things that you always promise to do for one another?"





"What qualities are you most thankful for in each other?"





"How has this love changed your life?"



That last one might be my favorite: "How has this love changed your life?" Ask yourself this question as often as you can, and more importantly, share your answer with the one you love. 

Brasilito, Costa Rica, Home To The Most Serene Moment of My Life Thus Far.

There have been a lot of beautiful moments in my twenty-five years that I am thankful for, but this blew every single one of them out of the water (ha, no pun intended). Although I was too busy experiencing this moment to photograph it, I felt compelled to write about it, or, try to, that is.

Imagine you are handed the most exquisitely written poem in the world, only before you can pass it to anyone else the text fades from the paper, leaving merely smudges of ink behind, a blank white page, the words existing now only in your mind. That was this moment, a poem only we were able to read. 


Towels and flip flops were ripped from the sand quicker than I could even remove my sunglasses. Car doors slammed closed, their engines fading softly in the background. The sea was abandoned, crashing against a beach where only a handful of us remained. There were the locals, huddled below indigo blue umbrellas chatting over cold cervezas, and the two of us, trying to savor the last of my husbands cigar before the maduro wrapper grew as wet as our swimsuits. Raindrops began plummeting through the canopy of leaves we had sought shelter beneath, clumps of damp hair stuck to my cheeks and my lips grew wet with the taste of sunblock. Within moments we were weighed down with water, we looked at each other and tossed our towels against the tree trunk, sprinting toward the ocean.


Contrary to my expectations, the ebb and flow of the tide calmed with the darkening sky. The water enveloped me, as warm as a glass of iced tea left for hours in the July sun. I was waist deep, arms outstretched, fingers dancing gently within the waves of the surface, overcome with tranquility I spun within the water, it was absolute bliss. Raindrops melted into my skin and water splashed around my hands as my body made a circle against the tide. I was weightless. I was intertwined with the sea. Lightning pierced through the clouds and with a single clap of thunder the rainfall quickened. 


A cool breeze sprayed salty water across my back as the rain soaked into my shoulders. Time stood still. Standing there, our bodies moving with the pull of the ocean in a torrential downpour, this is a moment I will look back on for the rest of my life. I may never find the right words to describe to you the sound of those raindrops falling into the sea that day, but I won't stop trying. The rain traced a song upon my skin, a melody more pure and rhythmic than any sound I have ever heard, it’s become the song playing on repeat, the lyrics I can’t get out of my head.


The waves softened like silk beneath the weight of the rain and there we were, the sky pouring into the sea, into us. I glanced to the left and my eyes met Sam’s, he smiled and the most honest of laughs escaped my lips as we tilted our heads again toward the sky. Thunder shook through the trees and the black clouds above us flickered with lightning as we made our way toward the sand. If every one of my memories were taken from me in an instant, I have no question that my body could recall this moment. My skin has memorized the sensation and my ears will always remember the sound, this moment is ingrained in me, it is a part of me.


We joined a group of locals under their nearby tent to watch the storm pass, sitting on a fallen tree amongst a pile of surfboards with cold cervezas in our salted hands. Finally the clouds began to separate and the sand grew bright again beneath our feet. Cars appeared from the winding dirt road and multicolored towels once again peppered the beach, but the moment that everyone had fled from lingered. I closed my eyes and watched as raindrops carved holes into the ocean like craters on the moon, I felt lighter as I inhaled. It was as if what we experienced here was a gift, a secret almost. Dozens of people surrounded us now, soaking up the sun and swimming the exact spot we had stood just moments before, unknowing.

Writing is usually kept in my journal where only my eyes can see it, but if you'd like to see more posts like this let me know in the comments!  

Catherine & Tom // Philadelphia // A Wissahickon Valley Park Engagement Session

Catherine & Tom // Philadelphia // A Wissahickon Valley Park Engagement Session

The perfect Spring evening spent photographing Catherine and Tom at Philadelphia's Wissahickon Valley Park.

5 Ways To Take Candid Photos That Your Kids Will Cherish

Photography has always been in my heart, but my journey really started in South Carolina when I found inspiration living beside my nieces and nephew. The moments I witnessed in their day to day struck me as exceptionally beautiful. The way their personalities bloomed and their daily routines evolved made every moment seem delicate and fleeting, as if each of these little details and quirky expressions could be occurring for the very last time. This lesson gave me a lasting perspective and is one of my most valuable tools in the way I approach photography, both when I'm documenting my personal experiences and when I'm photographing my clients and their families. I capture those moments you adore, the ones that might not happen again tomorrow, because as much as you want to hold on to them, when your child is twenty-five, flipping through a photo album with their own children on their lap, they'll want to remember too.

Here are five tips to help you capture this stage of childhood for photographs that your children will love looking back on years from now:


1. Embrace Imperfection 

Embracing imperfection and mundane moments allows you to capture the stages of childhood in a real way, the way it feels to them and the way it feels to you. When I look at this photo I don't just see its smudges, its splashes, its technical faults, I see a little piece of the past. You see, it looks the way that so many of my own childhood memories felt, the smell of chlorine and sunblock fingerprints coating my sunglasses, shivering by the edge of the pool, waiting.

I like to think that when my niece looks at this photo she’ll be brought back to this moment in her own way, just as she remembers it, the heat of summer on her skin and the sound of her sister shouting "Marco!!!" from across the pool. 


2. Observe what happens naturally  


If you’ve watched a child interact with the natural world around them then you’ve seen them holding a piece of magic in their tiny palm, marveling at a seashell or smooth stone discovered in the tide. The magic is always there, but watching a child welcome and acknowledge it is a fresh reminder to open your eyes and appreciate what's around you.

Being a silent observer and letting your child lead is a great way to capture a moment like this, just before the shot where they smile ear to ear and excitedly hold up their treasure for you to admire! 


3. Capture the quiet moments 


As a child I was fascinated by the rain, I would lose myself for what felt like hours staring at the car window as we drove down the highway, watching each drop of water shimmy back and forth in the wind, trying to hold on, and inevitably, racing past all the rest only to be whisked out of sight. It was mesmerizing, watching the space fill with a thousand new drops as we made our way down the road. I don't have a photo of myself like this, but if I did I would cherish it, because I know this is exactly how I looked, it's exactly how I felt. 

Try to capture that for your kids. Document how they interact with the things that fascinate them. 


4. See The Bigger Picture


You're at the grocery store and every 14 seconds a little hand is tugging on your shirt and begging for ice cream, you finally have a moment of peace, you could check to see if that email you've been waiting for hit your inbox yet OR you could take a moment to really look at whats happening around you and capture it with that phone in your hand. 

I'd urge you to choose the latter. The key to finding beauty is simply to look for it. 

I'm glad I found it here because the next time I saw her pushing a shopping cart all by herself her shoulders were taller than the handlebars and there wasn’t a unicorn stuffie in sight. 


5. You don't always need to "saY cheese"

While I adore the contagious joy of their sweet smiles, they definitely weren’t happening naturally in this moment. South Carolina is HOT and after a day of exploring and a few peanut butter and jelly halves, tired and sweaty is kind of the norm.

The disinterested and exhausted expression on my nephew and the striking look on my niece paired with a handful of seaside treasures in her hand just pulls me in. Two kids, salty, sandy and tired. It feels so true of a summer afternoon, like wanting to go home, curl up within an air conditioned room and take a long nap. I know this photo will make them laugh when they find it in a shoebox in thirty years, it'll remind them of the humid southern air and their sticky peanut butter fingers. 


These genuine smiles are the best ones anyway. This pure, unfiltered joy is the kind of thing you can only get when you allow a moment to unfold without requesting that they smile for a snapshot. Just be present. 



And there you have it! 5 Creative ways to take candid photos that your children will love looking back on. I'd love to hear how these IDEAS work for you! share your experience in the comments or tell me about it on Instagram @itsmorganellis. 


How do I use this perspective when photographing your family?

I'm glad you asked! 


I knew going into this session that belly laughs and snuggles were two of the things this mom most cherished about this stage of her daughters life. I hope that the first photo shows this little one how loved she has always been, and that the second reminds her exactly how it felt to be a carefree kid looking at her mother through eyes blurred with tears of laughter. I hope that when she looks back on these photos she remembers how much those moments with her mom filled her with joy. 


What others are saying:

"What Morgan was able to capture was truly unique and one of a kind-she documented how I feel about being my daughters mother... it was big smiles, belly laughs, playing in fields, tickles...they even brought their lovies along and they were part of our photo shoot, because that is who they were at that moment in time. I am so lucky to have those images forever."

- Tasha B. 

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In-Home Engagement Session // Philadelphia Engagement Photographer

In-Home Engagement Session // Philadelphia Engagement Photographer

A cozy Sunday morning session celebrating Joe and Gianna's engagement.