Behind the Lens of Social Media: Photographer Jen Trapnell Discusses How to Capture Stunning Photos

We find ourselves in an age where social media has made sharing photos an integral part of our daily lives. With camera phones, everyone is constantly documenting their lifestyle and posting snapshots that illustrate the very best of how they want to be perceived by the outside world.

On Facebook, many of our friends regularly post pictures of their activities, ranging from cooking achievements, family excursions, travel snapshots, children in dress-up outfits and selfies angled with perfect precision (don’t “duck face” us - we see you do it).

On Instagram, photography takes on a whole new level of sophistication. Your friend’s filtered photo of their dog freely devouring their birthday cake is juxtaposed with a magazine-quality portrait of an immaculately groomed dog, basking in perfect harmony with an idyllic family in front of their cozy fireplace.

Your friend’s dog, once a reliable source of adorable adventures, has been overshadowed by the Instagram family’s dog, who seemingly stares directly into the camera on the first try and doesn’t have a single spot of dirt on their matching Santa sweater coat.

If you haven’t seen the “Instagram family,” they appear to be nothing like you and they have the photos to show it.

While you’re praying for time to wash your hair today, they’re relaxing in their kitchen at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, making strawberry smoothies with their pink retro-styled blender.

While your child is wearing a Halloween dress in May, the Instagram family is wearing matching pink gingham outfits in perfect, angelic lighting.

While your house has toys scattered everywhere, the Instagram family has a spotless backdrop in their photos, complete with a carefully-curated collection of maps, hydrangea vases and hand-painted signs that say things like “Blessed.”

It’s enough to make you wonder if you made a wrong turn in life, and ended up somewhere far beyond rock bottom.

Yet, before you envy the photos of the Instagram family, or worse, go sulk in a corner because your life doesn’t look picture-perfect, trust that there was an enormous level of work that made their perfection look effortless.

There was nothing effortless about it.

The art of illusion is a powerful tool in photography and it is amplified on social media constantly. If you’re new to Instagram, it can be downright depressing to see everyone living their best life while you’re eating Ramen noodles and wearing pajamas at three in the afternoon.

But, if you’ve ever tried to capture perfection with a camera, you’ll soon realize that behind every stunning photo is a tremendously talented photographer.

When we created our first pink tulle dress, the design was largely an idea on a hanger that we couldn’t figure out how to showcase.

The beauty in our dress is motion, but the perfect image eluded us. Blurry images were all we captured when trying to photograph the movement of the design. We knew kids loved it, but it was difficult to capture a genuine smile when taking a staged photo. We knew our design was comfortable, but kids often grow uncomfortable when confronted with a camera lens.

So there we sat, watching the Instagram feed go by, with kids twirling and tumbling, bursting with radiant smiles across their playful faces. We wondered how their photographers managed to accomplish everything we strived for but could not attain.

Until, one day, our own dress appeared in our feed with a beautiful little girl, who was twirling with energy and exploding with a brilliant, genuine smile that conveyed her sheer joy. Unlike our photos, everything about her smile, the lighting, the movement and the backdrop was perfection.

We reached out to find out how the photographer was able to capture our dress so perfectly, when after many months of trying, we couldn’t accomplish what these photos seemed to convey effortlessly.

In doing so, we found Jen Trapnell, the photographer that took the photos of her oldest daughter in our pink tulle dress.

Not only was Trapnell gracious enough to allow us to use her images of our dresses, but she has been patient and enthusiastic about explaining the techniques she uses to create photos. These photos are more than just good camera shots. They are a careful study in photography as an art.

In the time our brand has spent working with Trapnell, it is clear that we’ve been wrong about the Instagram family: They aren’t lounging around at 10 a.m. drinking smoothies in their gingham outfits effortlessly. Their photos are a reflection of how much effort was exerted, both as the family and the photographer, to make those flawless photos possible.

Trapnell, a professional photographer with her own company in New York, sat down to answer some basic questions about photography for our new blog. We’re sharing her advice to hopefully help others develop their photography skills using some of her basic techniques.

1. When did you receive your first camera? What model was it and did you enjoy taking photos right away or was this a passion that started later in life?

My first camera was an old Panasonic VHS video camcorder where my sister and I would make music videos and we created our own news station! I was about eight-years-old when my dad trusted me enough with that equipment.

Later, I remember my mom and dad buying me a simple digital camera in my pre-teen years and my sister and I would model for fun and put backdrops up.

My love for photography definitely started at a young age, but I didn’t really take it seriously until age 25 when I decided to make a life transition and fully immerse myself into the photography world and start my business.

2. What is it that you enjoy most about photography?

I enjoy so many things about photography! I enjoy the satisfaction of taking a vision I see in my mind and being able to express that through my lens. I also love how diverse photography is and all the paths where it can lead.

It’s truly an art. No one can ever duplicate your vision, angles, and work. There are so many different elements and factors that make it fun and exciting.

3. What are your favorite subjects to photograph?

I really love photographing my kids, other children, newborns, families, lifestyle, and pregnancy journeys. I love being able to see my clients in these exciting stages of life and knowing that they are letting me into their world to preserve those precious memories for them. It is especially fun seeing clients return and how much their families have grown since our last photo session.

4. What inspires you?

Other photographers inspire me to keep growing and learning. Also, my husband, family, and friends are a big inspiration as well.

Honestly, inspiration can come from such random places. A ray of sunshine or a song can inspire a feeling inside me to shoot a certain way, or even a dress will spark an idea - just the way the material is flowing.

I’ve always been a very deep nostalgic person and have vivid imagery flashing through my mind. I think just being able to be still and think of memories actually can lead me to another idea for a project.

5. How do you bring out the best in your subjects?

Since I mainly work with kids, I’m always finding new ways to get them to smile! It is key to make a photo session as natural as possible when photographing children.

With my kids, I’m always telling them to have a good time and just pick a flower, or run around, or “look at my camera and tell me what color the lens is because it’s about to change!” I’ve come up with some pretty crazy things to get them to focus on the camera when I need that one shot. The list goes on and on.

I think it is important to make a family feel comfortable during a photoshoot. I am constantly talking to them to put them at ease during a photoshoot. I find that silence makes people nervous.

When I’m photographing a family or a child, I find that it’s vital to keep reassuring them they are doing a great job. A photoshoot may be fun and stress-free for one family, but for another it may not come as exciting and natural.

6. What is your favorite time of day to take photos?

My favorite time is the “Golden Hour.” I used to be afraid of shooting at sunset because It can be challenging at certain angles. Now, I love that time of night because the photos come out so majestic, eye popping and artistic.

There is so much depth and beauty that radiates from a sunset onto the subject.

7. What do you think is the most important thing that amateurs should know or learn about taking great photos?

Funny story - I actually bought a DSLR camera about three years before I bought my current camera. I wanted to learn how to shoot in raw format so badly and, after trying for one day, I gave up. It was way harder than I thought and I returned it.

Timing is everything in life and I truly believe that it just wasn’t the right time for me, but it is funny looking back now.

Three years later, I made a decision to learn everything no matter how hard or frustrating I found the process. I knew I loved photography and I knew that I needed to get through the growing pains if I ever wanted to get somewhere.

When I returned my former camera, I wasn’t buying it for a business, but just for fun. When I became serious about starting a business, I bought it again and knew I was going to make it work this time no matter what difficulties I encountered in the process.

So, with that being said, my advice to amateurs is to never give up. Most of the time we fail before we succeed. Failing is telling yourself it’s just not possible. I’m here to tell you it is possible.

It’s really easy when you first pick up a camera to get overwhelmed and frustrated. I’ve been there. Like anything in life, it takes time to develop your skill-set, and also to develop a brand for yourself. You have to figure out what you love to shoot.

I had no clue when I first started shooting that I would love sessions with kids and families. I thought I would just do everything. Even though I am capable of shooting a wedding, animals, and scenery, my passion lies in the other areas. Only time and experience will allow you to gain that perspective.

It takes time and patience to develop any talent. I believe that there is a spark inside of you that ignites once you start something that is meant for you.

It took a lot of time and patience to learn photography. But, I also love what I do. When you love something, much of it comes naturally.

I still have a lot of growing to do within this field but it’s fun to see how far I have come since the beginning and how my work flow has changed.

9. How did you learn to photograph so well?

It takes a lot of time and practice to learn to photograph well. What you put into something is what you will end up getting back from it in life. Since 2015, I have been picking up my camera every single day and self-educating myself.

YouTube is also an amazing source for learning. I have two notebooks filled with “How-To” notes that I’ve developed as I’ve learned new techniques. They are great for reference, but now most of those notes are committed to my memory. A lot of the techniques are second nature to me now.

10. What do you do with all the photographs that you take of your family?

I love printing photos. What is the sense of having a photo just sit online or on a hard drive?

I love making photo books, printing on canvas, making large prints, and gifting photos to family members. I’ve even made magnets, ornaments and so much more. I think it is fun to have our memories on display.

To learn more about Jen Trapnell’s photography, visit her website at or follow her on Instagram at @jentrapnell

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