One fall afternoon, I arrived about half an hour early at the coffee shop to meet my senior client and her mom for the first time. I sat at a table facing the door so I could waive down a mom and daughter in hopes that they were my clients. While waiting, a girl walked in with long-layered dark hair, floral shorts, layered tees and a textured cozy light sweater. She looked around a bit nervously and pulled her sweater sleeves over her hands as she made her way to the back of the coffee shop. I totally secretly wished she was my client. She had effortlessly great style and the girl next door sort of vibe.

As people entered the coffee shop, I continued to look for a mother and daughter pair that appeared to be meeting someone and then a pretty lady entered and looked straight at me as if I was expecting her. She approached me with a smile and said she was meeting her daughter here for our meeting. Brianna, the girl with effortlessly great style, came from behind us to join us at the table and made my wish come true!

We connected immediately and had our details mapped out in matter of minutes. This girl didn’t just have effortless style, even her beauty was effortless. We opted for an urban shoot over a nature shoot, because it suited her personality better and we agreed to keep her wardrobe simply styled since she shopped at Free People and Nordstrom, but also loved Forever 21 and Target. See? Total girl next door. She didn’t need much help with planning clothes and showed up with outfits that spoke EXACTLY what her style was about.

I wanted to use her simply fashionable styling as an example of how to be effortlessly beautiful in photos.


Brianna chose a “no make up” makeup look and natural hair style with body.   She wanted her senior photos to show both her friendly and approachable side and also laid back side.  Our makeup artist, Lucy Gonzalez, gave her a soft matte finish on her skin, softly blushed cheeks, a natural lip pigment and accentuated the natural beauty of her eyes and eyebrows.  Our hair stylist, Justin Arrellano, gave her a subtle body boost and added a touch of texture to her dark mane.

This first outfit is a dress from Free People.  She paired some light brown wedges with it as well as a black bandeau.  With clothes being so sheer these days, it’s important to find the right under garment that looks intentional and coordinates with the dress.  For jewelry, she kept it simple with her everyday delicate layered gold necklaces and a simple bangle bracelet.  She chose this dress, because it was a dress that she would wear on a girls night out to feel free.  This brings me to the first DIY styling tip.

Tip 1.  Pick a special dress that moves easily and speaks about your character.


Brianna also wanted to wear an outfit that she would wear on a casual day with friends.  She chose this flowy white top from Free People, her favorite jeans and brown booties.  She kept the accessories simple again with an African beaded eternity necklace to add a cultural feel.  We played around with the hat from Urban Outfitters to mix up the look.

Tip 2.  Add a jean or pant look to your wardrobe and dress it up a bit with your favorite top.


To catch more of a playful side, Brianna chose a back wrap top from Nasty gal, a maroon circle skirt, black wedge booties and a light patterned white and black scarf.  The wrap shirt exposed her belly more than her dad would have liked, so she brought along a lace tank to wear underneath it.

Tip 3.  Pick outfits to show different sides of your personality as well as back up undergarments and camisoles if needed.




Although all of these looks are SO Brianna, this last look says that she is the kind of girl who can have a great conversation over a cup of tea.  It’s comfy and casual, but so effortlessly styled.  She paired this Free People transparent sweater with a turquoise bandeau underneath to match her turquoise ring.  She also wore black cutoff shorts with black gladiator sandals and polished the look with a neutral skinny belt and long opal and tasseled necklace.

Tip 4.  Pull together an outfit that is SO you and make it special with all the right touches.  They can be subtle, but channel your inner stylist by browsing your favorite shops and clothing brands.




Over all, you outfits shouldn’t feel forced, but should feel like a more alluring version of what you would wear.  You senior photos are all about YOUR style during this time, so as you are soul searching to find the right brands that speak about your spirit pay attention to how the clothing is styled in magazines or on Pinterest and just tweak it to suit you.

How about you?  Do you have any DIY styling tips that have helped you come up with an amazing outfit? I’d want to here it! Leave me a comment and I’d love to add it to some future DIY styling posts!


Happy DIY styling!





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The morning that I met with Mady was an early one.  Seven a.m. before school isn’t so bad though when you are chatting with a beautiful and lively senior over coffee.  No, that is not a typical time for a pre-planning meeting, but when schedules get tight and she says, “Yes! Coffee is always a great idea!”, it makes it that much easier to roll out of bed.  Her desire was to capture her inner beauty as well as her outer beauty.  More specifically, her incredibly hilarious sassy and silly personality as well as her stunning sweetness.  She was very simple with her requests, but I knew that there was more to her than met the eye.  It’s immensely crucial for me to instantly relate right off the bat with my clients, so I can find other clues that will lead me to the window of their unique personality.  The transition of going from your last year in high school to your post grad years speaks volumes about not only who you are, but of you may become.  It is my mission to help you see it, embrace it, and celebrate it.

Not everybody tells you everything all at once and that is why relationships are so important to me.  They can really make or break your connection with someone.  I learned this the hard way a long while ago (but it feels like yesterday) during a very awkward photo-shoot, and I was the subject.



When I was seventeen, I tried out for a boutique modeling casting call. At that age, lip gloss was the only makeup I wore and my hair was long and straight. I even washed my hair with Pantene ya’ll for extra silkiness. That was before I knew any better. I wore a sundress to the event and thought I was ready to go. When I showed up, there was another long haired girl and her mom in front of me and she was being fitted for one of the boutique’s formal dresses as her mom was coaching her on how to pose. It had appeared that she had makeup professionally applied and I quickly began to feel like my lipgloss was dulling by the second. The photographer spent a great deal of time with her and the girl seemed like a pro. I fiddled my fingers together as I watched and waited. I was obviously underdressed. When the photographer was done taking the shots, she looked at me and directed me to sit on the stool. She had a confused look on her face (maybe it was my ankle sock tan-lines from Track), then told me to stand up next to the ladder. She took a few shots and said I could pick up my proofs in a week. I thought to myself, “that was it?”. I was hoping that they turned out amazing like the girl who went before me, because I seriously got like a hundred compliments on that dress at school.

I returned in a week only to discover a doe-eyed girl (the kind caught in headlights) laying flat on the counter next to an enchanted princess. I shamefully picked up my packet and jetted through the door. My mom was waiting for me in the car and asked to see them and I silently shook my head. She anxiously pleaded to let her see and I wanted to rip them up and throw them out of the window. No, I wanted to throw them out the window going 70 miles per hour. I was so confused as to why I saw a different version of myself in print and by different, I don’t mean good. I felt like there was so much more to me than a blank stare and stiff pose. My school pictures were better than what laid on my lap. But, this was a casting call for a boutique in the mall and the photographer obviously had a “vision” in her head.


At first, I wanted to quickly forget it all happened and erase the whole experience, but I learned something really important about people and I learned a lot about myself. First, I learned that I should be more prepared. I also learned that you have to seek beauty to find it. I learned that people are complex and the beauty simply lies in the complexity. This does’t happen at first glance. You have to peel back layers and dig deep. Then, you have to invite one’s essence to exude out in the open.

It wasn’t until a few modeling opportunities post high school and during college that I learned how to be confident in front of the camera. However, it wasn’t until after working with my astounding Engagement/Bridal and Wedding photographer Ruby Muza, that I was able to happily see myself back and feel something that moved me. Something that made me see and feel what I was really about. Yes, I felt beautiful. Who doesn’t want to feel look and feel beautiful? But, it was more. She captured the beauty of how I felt in the very moment that the photo was recorded, and now I  had a tangible memory  that I LOVED, celebrating that season of my life.


Whether it be personally or professionally, I vowed to always try to look past the surface and really get to know people. I didn’t want to risk missing the very core of people. I didn’t want to miss their stories and what made them feel alive. Yes, beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but when you are dealing with people you have to seek WHAT makes THEM beautiful. You are not photographing a tree, a landscape or a flower. You are photographing a soul.

When you do this, it suddenly feels like you can shoot forever or at least until the sun majestically dips below the horizon. That is EXACTLY what we did during Mady’s shoot. These are only a few moments of her sweet, silly, sassy, and undeniably stunning personality.



P.S. We’ve lucked out with some sunny days! Since some rain dates have not been used, two new dates have been added! One in April and one in May.  If you would like to celebrate your senior year with us in your element, simply click on the Contact tab above! Let’s get our shoot on!





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The clinking of forks as they skimmed across white ceramic plates, seemed like a symphonic beat as she described her ideas for the shoot. The echo in the room gracefully carried every word aloft the busy lunch crowd and the timing of the rays that entered through the large paned windows couldn’t have been more impeccable as she illustrated her aspiration. Hannah, had been pondering the idea of a dreamy shoot. One of unending fields, delicate flowers and a touch of romance and playfulness.

We brainstormed the concept over an early lunch at Le Madeline, the perfect environment to evoke the inspiration we needed. Over freshly baked bread and the most delicious Caesar Salad, we had scattered our thoughts in a journal that would soon bloom as her field of dreams.



“She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.” Proverbs 31:25



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I sometimes get this excited, yet uncomfortable feeling when submitting a photo to a contest. Especially, when it’s the fourth time entering and you THINK that your skin has toughened from past rejections. But, I keep remembering that you remain unheard until you speak up. This is after all, what I tell my clients, as we chat about what makes them one of a kind. The funny thing is, that out of ALL the talk, the result is even different and “one of a kind”.  Every girl’s look, every session and every subjective idea manifests into something that doesn’t even exist, until the very end.  And, that’s why I am so in love with collaborating with my clients for their senior shoots.

Amantha, who is the most darling of flower child spirits, loves photography, the Free People blog, unending love stories, and flowers in her hair. Always. And, even though her vision board had the washed aesthetic appeal of a hippy look, she also pinned color and elements of a more polished vibe.

More than a free spirit, which is usually associated with “Boho”, I believe that a Bohemian soul is one who appreciates beauty, romance, and the world on a level without limits.  After talking with her and REALLY connecting with her, she didn’t NEED any of the materials to convince anyone that she has a Boho heart. Yes, they help add to the visuals. But, if you look beyond that, you clearly see and feel it, because of her essence.

I can’t wait to feature the rest of her senior shoot, but for now I wanted to boldly submit this photo to Chic Critique Forum’s Boho Themed Cover Contest.  Regardless of the outcome, each move that I make based on expansive feelings, always leads to growth.  So, go grow.  Continue to do the things that interest you and are aligned with what you want to contribute to the world.




Happy Tuesday!




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I often wonder how my life would have been, if I had the opportunity to give my nineteen year old self advice. I say nineteen and not eighteen, because the first year in the real world makes a huge difference.

In hindsight, it was all a whirl wind of events. Some memories bring back the butterflies of happiness and some make me shutter at the very thought. I wonder how I ever survived that one horrible relationship, and after kissing many frogs, finally ended up with a Disney prince. I wish I could take back that time, that I fell asleep at a friends house (one that my mom did not know) and my cell phone died, leading my mom to think that something tragic had happened to me.

It sometimes feels like an outer body experience, when thinking back on the times that I cared about what people thought of me. Wondering why I tried so hard to hide who I really was, feels like robbing a zebra of it’s stripes. Although, I sometimes wish that I could rescue my younger self from heartache, embarrassment and regret, I wouldn’t change who I have become, because of it. Perhaps, instead I would give myself a little encouragement for the journey.

Maybe there is a reason that we can only go forward in time. Maybe, that very reason is why we can count on the stories and wisdom of others. I think that the wisdom and stories shared are a form of love. It’s the love of the past, handed down to us in the present, so that we may have a better future.

I was inspired by a blog post that my best friend shared with me, where 21 people gave their 19 year old selves advise. I asked 19 pretty cool people of my own to help contribute some wisdom for you. So why should you listen to the advise of those before you? It is meant to be passed down, because we CAN’T go back in time. Never stop seeking wisdom and never stop leaving it.

19 people’s advice to their 19 year old selves.

Alicia 29: People are going to tell you who you can and can’t be. Tune them out and tune in to your own true voice before you believe the lies that you’ll be told and that you’ll want to believe as truth. You are the best you, embrace it. You’re not as weird and unloveable as you think you are.

Treacy 46: Don’t be in such a hurry to “arrive”. Enjoy the journey of your life. That’s where all the happiness is. And hug your parents a little tighter and a little longer because you’re really going to miss them when they’re gone.

Frank 38: Start investing in an IRA/Roth IRA now! At least educate yourself on it.

Shaina 28: Don’t worry about knowing people. Make yourself worth knowing.

Nikki 55: Don’t rush into marriage and get all the education you can.

Nadeena, 27: Know your worth.

Zoe 24: You are capable of so much more than you know, you just need to believe in yourself. Everything is connected and your thoughts affect your future, try to live by that truth because it will change your life. Don’t let the limiting beliefs of others make you doubt yourself or change who you are. Stay true to yourself and embrace the idealist in you. Stop apologising for believing that the world can be a better place. And that gorgeous boy – he’s a keeper.

Abbie 22: Begin your healing NOW because the longer you wait, the more layers you’ll have to work through. Take care of yourself. Go to bed earlier. Don’t listen to people who label you, because that’ll only set you back. Keep moving forward and looking up. Pick your battles and priorities instead of wasting time doing/being something/one you’re not meant to do/be. And relax a little into where/who you are right now- you’ll change so much, like a tree, over the next few years- and that’s okay, love. Slow down, your whole life is ahead of you.

Adam 36: Don’t you dare embarrass your mom.

Katie 25: Trust your instincts. Lead with your heart and your gut, not fear or insecurity. Don’t be afraid of your authenticity.

Jax 35: That is not a free credit card.

Genny 47: Always try hard to do your best the first time, because you may not get another chance.

Lauri 34: You are blessed with a gift. Immerse yourself in it and don’t let emotional attachments distract you.

Shayna 21: Stop comparing yourself to people on your Facebook feed. You are an original so your life will always look different to everyone else’s. Go with your own flow. Take risks. Always look forward. Don’t let circumstances define who you are and where you want to go.

Justin 37: Travel more. Even if it’s by yourself. Don’t wait for others.

Gabi 25: The chance of meeting “the one” is slim to none right now so have fun and put your friends first. Make mistakes, because they help shape who we are. Don’t forget to tell the people you love how you feel, because life is short and you never know when one of them might not be here.

Mary 36: Just so you know your 20’s are some of the most amazing, yet unstable times of your life. You don’t have that much money. You’ll go through different friends and boyfriends from college to starting your career. At the beginning, you will think you’re are sure of who you are and who will come out with you on the other end in your 30’s. You will be part right and part wrong about both. And that’s a good thing.

Michael 24: Don’t give up on college just yet.

Alejandra 29: Write down your favorite memories. Whatever you feel confident in, do more of that. Constantly. But, don’t be afraid of struggling – some thing are worth the fight. And, definitely apply for study abroad.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Lot’s of love,

Sandra & the Twelfth Element Team

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