Michigan Wedding Couple

#75 Dawn Jarvis on Posing Naturally & Location Scouting


In Oh Shoot! episode #75, Cassidy Lynne and Dawn Jarvis talk about how you can pose clients in a natural way, balancing work & home life, finding locations, bringing your client the best experience possible, and SO much more. Dawn is an elopement and portrait photographer in Oregon and provides education for photographers too! 

Listen to the full podcast on Spotify or watch it on Youtube!

How did you get started in photography?

I never thought I was going to be a photographer. I went to college and hated it. I actually have a degree to help people with special needs using horses. I did photography all through high school (taking senior photos for friends) and I was the yearbook editor. Photography was always a hobby.

When I got to college I joined a sorority and everyone wanted pictures. Then everyone was getting married and engaged. I went along for the ride and was their photographer! After I graduated I decided this is what I was going to try to do for awhile.

How did you know you were ready to go full time?

I got lucky. When I graduated college, I moved back to my family property and lived in the guest house rent free. I worked at a camera shop part time, bartended part time, and also did photography. So I had other jobs to help support me and I didn’t have to pay rent. I had the financial freedom to also pursue photography and not be as stressed out about it. I quit the bar pretty quickly and just did the camera shop and photography. So I think I stayed there for 2.5 years. I also got all my gear at an employee discount, so I stayed until my entire bag was stacked and ready to go.

Do you feel like working at that camera shop helped you learn things about photography, other than the gear?

So much! We were talking to reps weekly like Nikon, Sony, and Canon. At the time I was a Canon shooter. I learned so much about fixing cameras, memory cards, settings, anything you need to have a fully functioning system. I can fix a camera. I’m not scared of that. I learned a lot of hands on things there. It was great! 

I’m now a Sony shooter. That job really taught me a lot about Sony and I always appreciated it. So when I made the switch I knew how the systems worked and knew how everything was. It wasn’t as scary for me to do that jump.

What gear do you use? 

I have two Sony a7iii’s. Literally before this call I purchased a Sony a7 IV. I have all the Gmaster lenses: 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. The 4 core lenses.

Work Life Balance

How do you balance your work with your home life?

Honestly, it’s really hard, but you figure it out as you go. My husband is a stay at home dad and we have a really good routine and a really good babysitter. Before I had my son, I would say “I can never get all this done in one day. I’m so overwhelmed. I’ll never get all this stuff done.” And then I had a kid and was like, “How the hell am I going to get all this done with a kid?” Now that I have him, I feel like I work ten times harder in the time that I get, versus an eight hour day without a child and I’d still never get it done. No one else was asking for me to do anything. I feel like I work a lot harder in the small amount time that I let myself have, so I can spend more time with him or go on a walk with my family. 

It’s seriously a mindset shift. There’s not necessarily a balance. I just have to get my stuff done in the amount of time I have otherwise I’m just missing out. I can hear my kid in the other room behind me giggling it up all day with my husband or babysitter and I’m so jealous because I want to be out there. So I gotta get my stuff done so I can be giggling with him.

What tips do you have for someone who is struggling with the work life balance in general?

Batch Working

I would just try to balance it out. Every week figure out what’s your most important to-dos and block it into your schedule. I’m a batch worker. I prefer to work in sections, so like all of social media I plan out in one section like planning the feed. All of the culling. All of the editing. All of my emailing. I don’t like doing that stuff every single day. So I’d rather pick to do emails two days a week and social media one day a week so when I get to do it I’m fully into it. Instead of doing a section of it and going to something else. 

Limit Distractions

I have to put my phone on “Do not disturb” mode. I have to put on music. I can’t watch movies, or Netflix or anything anymore while editing. I end up staring and 30 minutes go by and I didn’t edit the last 30 minutes. Write things down and have a checklist. Getting to cross off that batch section of your day is the best feeling. That also helps with motivation that you got it done. 

Even finding an app you really like that helps you take notes. There’s this app I found called Milanote that I am absolutely obsessed with. It makes me excited to make my notes or make a mood board or figure out something for my virtual assistant. It makes me so much happier to do stuff because it’s aesthetically pretty and it makes sense for my brain. Versus some people love Trello or Asana or something else. Find the program that works for you, and you’ll be more excited to work.


How do you find your locations?

If it’s a local thing and I need to find a new spot, I’ll just get a coffee and drive around and look at everything. Or I’ll make my husband drive, so I will be watching and trying to find a new wall for senior photos. 

If it’s for an elopement or couples or something more outdoor, adventurous, I feel like Pinterest and TikTok have been sharing really good locations. Even if they don’t say where they are, you can do some stalking and figure it out. Anytime I have an elopement somewhere I try to go hours before or the day before, stay the night and do some scouting for other locations that are nearby it. I can park on the side of the road and check out the trails. If they’re awesome I’ll keep them in my back pocket for the next time I’m here. Or if it rains that day and we can’t hike to this one spot, now I have a back up. It’s just nice to have those other spots. It takes a lot of time and scheduling it just so you can make sure you have the time to go and check it out. 

Elopement Locations

I feel like having a plan A, B or C for an elopement is crucial for your job. You might not feel like you’re supposed to be doing that, but if you do it you’re giving a better client experience. You never know what’s going to happen especially if you live in the PNW. The weather changes every 25 minutes so you have to be ready. If for some reason your client can’t hike that day or it’s too muddy, you have to find somewhere more safe. It’s worth it. Even if you have your phone and you snap some pics and text it to them. It’s still good enough. Anything you can show them to be like “Hey it’s a cool second location.” They’ll mostly likely be down for it, if you’re down for it.

Client Experience

Client experience all comes down to the connection with your client and creating a positive environment for them. It really is giving your client the best experience possible. It comes down to you respecting your client and treating them like actual people and thinking about how you would want to be treated in that situation. Obviously talking to your client a lot. Listening to their needs. I’m huge on love languages, so checking in with them in the ways they need help. Like if they love acts of service, I’m all about location scouting, planning, and outfit help. If they’re words of affirmation, and they send me outfit pictures, I’ll be even more excited with my responses. However you can genuinely be for them to help their experience be better. Vendor help. Planning locations. Phone calls. Texts. Facetime. Obviously, the day of experience and making sure it’s very catered to them. Personally, I don’t pose a lot. I’m more of a directing kind photographer and action based. Like I’ll tell them to walk somewhere and somewhere and snuggle. I don’t tell them, pose like this and put your hand here, or do this. I let them fall into it naturally. For my style of photography that works really well in a way to capture their story and make it a unique experience for them.

Posing & Directing

How does it look when you show up to a session? What are some things you would say that aren’t posing, but more directing?

A lot of time it happens naturally with getting to know my couples through a questionnaire or prompting them with like “I want you guys to think about your relationship and how you act at home.” Or like it’s me and my husband and someone’s asking about us, “What happens when I get home from a photoshoot?”  Or when we wake up in the morning and he comes out to hang out with me and our kiddo. Does he snuggle up with us on the couch or do I sit between his legs, or does he kiss me on the forehead or are we hand holders or arm over the shoulder kind of couple? If I want my couple to sit on the ground, then asking, “How do you guys normally sit on the couch?” Versus I want you to sit between so and so’s legs and lean like this or arm like this. I don’t say any of that. I say, “How do you guys sit on the couch? I want you to do that here.”

It’s however they are at home and they can bring that to the session to feel most natural versus posing how I want them to look.

What touch points do you have with couples before the session? And do you feel like that impacts how the session goes?

100%. Definitely the questionnaire. Try to send it between a month and 2 weeks before the session. It’s very much a “get to know you” kind of thing. Like “What do you do for work?” Or “Who’s the big spoon?” I ask if there’s an activity they always do together and if they’d like to incorporate that in their session. If there’s a feeling they want their session to convey whether it’s fun or romantic or nostalgic, etc. I have two sections at the bottom that are separate per person. So it’s person one and person two answering the same questions such as:

  • What’s your favorite thing about your partner?
  • When you first met, what were your first thoughts about this partner?
  • Where’s your favorite place to be with this person?”

It’s such a good way to get to know the people you’re about to photograph. With that, I typically have a FaceTime date or phone call beforehand. We’ll talk about locations, outfits again, and double check everything.

Touchpoints Before Weddings

It SO depends on the couple. Some people are like, “We’ll talk to you when we talk to you.” Some couples text me weekly when they buy anything for the elopement. Such as when they bought umbrellas, or a rug, or hired another vendor. And some couples don’t and that’s fine.  Some clients are very invested in the call/Facetime/text process. Some are just like send me the questionnaire, locations, and send me your elopement guide and we’ll talk to you as it gets closer. It just depends. I cater it to each client with their needs and not overwhelming anyone who doesn’t want to be overwhelmed.

Dawn’s Style

How did you get to that point where you found that editing and shooting style where you’re like omg I love this?

It’s so funny because I feel like I’m constantly evolving and changing. I’ll look back, 6 months ago and think “Oh my god what was I thinking?” I just think it comes with just doing this for so long. I’ve been full time for 7 years. It’s been a long time. I feel like I’ve honed in more and more on not the comparison game even though it still gets me every once and a while. Just really focusing on me and my clients and what their needs are. Honestly, that’s it. Every time I shoot my couples, I’m shooting it for them. How the photos turn out is based on what they give back to me. In terms of their energy and what they’re open to sharing with me, I’m able to photograph them and their story to the best of my ability. But in terms of editing, I feel like that was just a slow growth to find. I’m evolving it like every day still. I feel like it’s never right where I want it to be.

What are some tips for using Instagram as a photographer?

Show up as yourself.

First off, I would just 100% show up as yourself. If you can Instagram story as much as possible or do that in Reel form or whatever. Talking on your stories. I know it’s scary. Some people don’t love it, but I personally love it. On stories show what you do throughout the day, not just photography. What movies do you watch? Do you have dogs? Do you have kids? Your clients want to get to know you and connect with you on another level that’s not just your artwork.

Update Instagram Highlights

I would really make sure your Instagram Highlights are curated. So many people’s highlights are old. It happens very fast because you’re not aware of it, and now it’s two years old. Curate the highlights again. I personally check highlights before I DM somebody. I don’t want to see BTS shoots from two years ago. It’s different now, things have changed. 


Try to put energy into your captions. You don’t always have to post about your couples, you can talk to the person who’s going to book you because of that session. What do they want to hear from you about this session? Maybe you shot at the beach and want to book more sessions there. What can you talk about that’s not about the couple, but why the beach inspires you or why you’re an expert at beach sessions. Utilize your captions to connect to the next person. 

Batch & Find a Posting Schedule That Works for You

If you know every week you want to daily post stories then pop on there 3-5 times a day. Or shoot all your content through the day like little phone videos, clips, pictures, and at the end of the day batch post them. With reels and posts if you can do like two posts a week, one reel a week or two reels a week. Whatever you’re able to find a rhythm with. Either bust out the batching once a week or batch all your reels for the month in one section. Whatever works best for you to find that system to make Instagram not so scary.

What’s one thing you wish you would’ve known when you first started your photography business?

This is the most lame answer, but it’s a very real answer. I wish I would have known to start a retirement fund when I started my business. Anytime we put money toward our retirement fund it actually saves us money on taxes and we don’t have a retirement fund as a photographer as a self owned business. You have to do that yourself, so go get a financial advisor. Start a retirement fund. Even if it’s literally $1000 a year. Freaking do it now. I promise it’ll make such a difference in your future and it saves you on taxes.

Thanks Dawn for coming on as a guest! You can follow her here:


Show Notes

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