The South 40 Creative Spotlight showcases creative talent we love to work with! Discover some of our favorite photographers, videographers and more!

This month we are excited to share an expert mom (of 5!) and family photographer, Marianne McCall. Although we highlight her unique skill in capturing family memories, her training in graphic art has enabled her to cultivate a creative vision which extends to all kinds of photography. She is the kind of photographer we all love to hire; offering a full menu of photographic offerings, from studio milestones to exciting urban shoots, professional shots for both individual and company marketing to breathtaking beach shots, Marianne helps her clients to reveal emotion and feeling in subjects of all ages. Join us as we discover Marianne’s distinctive style and her journey to taking such expressive shots.

What is your creative background? Do you have an education in photography or other art form?

I have always been drawn to bold images and creativity in art and design. I studied graphic and web design at Indiana University, then worked as a freelance designer for several years. I started out with logos and print material but transitioned to more website design and social media management as time went on. As I look back, I am amazed at how much images played a role in my design work. Images tell a story and connect us, and finding the right image is crucial in the design world. Photography was always a hobby I enjoyed, and as I gained experience, I added that service to my list of freelance design skills.

My first real gig was taking headshots for a little girl competing in pageants. She is now a successful actress in Hollywood, and it’s neat to say, “I knew her when”! After spending three years doing children’s ministry and design work at my church, I realized how much I love families and children and wanted to do something both creative and meaningful with the flexibility to spend time with my family. As I prayed and waited, the idea of turning my photography hobby into a business began to take life.


As a parent and photographer, what are some of your favorite milestones to capture and why?

Gosh, I really love them all! Each milestone is so unique and precious. I look at my own children’s milestone moments with such fond memories that I almost forget the sleepless nights and endless diapers—almost! I want to capture those cherished moments for other parents by focusing on those little details–the chubby cheeks, the toothless grin, the tiny toes, the dimply thighs, even the drool and the favorite stuffy that little ones refuse to let go of during the session.

To celebrate first birthdays, I do a lot of cake smash sessions. Each baby reacts differently to their first taste of cake and the opportunity to play in it, but their reactions and expressions are so fun to watch! I recall a session where baby was a little fussy and dad was trying to cheer her up by throwing her in the air and playing with her. She was dressed in only a diaper and the diaper fell off while she was in midair…and I caught the entire sequence on camera! The reactions of both dad and baby were hilarious.


You capture some of the most infectious giggles from the kids in your shots–can you share some advice to new photographers on achieving that?

High fives, peekaboo and the occasional poop joke are some of the best methods to get a laugh! If the child isn’t sure about giving a high five, I will begin by giving high fives to the parents to help them feel safe. I try to keep as much eye contact with kids as possible, take lots of shots and encourage lots of interaction between parents and children. I ask families to play games like tug-of-war, London Bridge, hide-and-seek, and airplane. I keep a squeaky toy and google eye rings in my bag to help get the kids’ attention. If a child brings their own stuffy to a session, I may borrow it to help me take pictures or allow the child to take a picture of it themself first if they are feeling nervous.


In many of your female-focused photos (moms with girls, multi-generational families, etc.) there is an almost ethereal aura with the ladies. Are there tools to help you capture this breathtaking look?

Something magical happens when a mom can take a moment and just look at her child. I encourage clients to take a few deeps breaths and just be in the moment. It’s easier to bring out this type of emotion in a full session due to the time factor. I encourage moms to sing to their children, make eye contact with them, give nose kisses, or just hold them. I tell the kids to whisper in mom’s ear, play with her hair or gently touch her nose. And sometimes just being completely quiet and allowing them a few moments to just do their thing gets the best results.


I really love your urban photo shoots–they really seem to bring out the unique personality of your subjects. How do you sell this idea to your clients and what are some of the pros and cons, both technically and artistically?

Urban photo shoots are so much fun, and I plan to incorporate more of them in 2023. Most of the time, clients come to me with a vision for a city scape in their background and I am thrilled to help them bring this to life. The possibilities for unique backdrops are endless, with a wide variety of textures, vibrant colors, angles, shadows, buildings, and people in the background. It’s particularly important to shoot with intention and purpose since the constant activity in a city can get overwhelming. My hope is to capture both the identity of the subject and the city behind them. Most urban shoots have been for seniors since they are often searching for a different location from their peers.

My first urban session was in downtown Carmel, Indiana, a city much like downtown Franklin. It was helpful to start in a smaller, familiar city, and we covered a lot of ground in a small amount of time and got some really cool, unique shots. I have found that urban shoots are perfect for a more adventurous client who is willing to take some risks for the. These are also much better served for full sessions when we have plenty of time to walk around and get the full experience of the city.


You were recently honored as Nashville Parent magazine’s “Best Kid Photographer” for 2022. What does this award mean to you?

This was truly such a cool surprise. There are so many talented creatives in Nashville, so the nomination alone was an honor. The best part of the recognition was telling my own kids about it. They are the reason that I really fell in love with photography, and they have grown up alongside my business. It’s such a privilege to have a job that genuinely excites and energizes me while still being able to be present with my family. Starting a business can be scary, and I’m grateful that my kids have been able to see all the work that goes into it – investing in people and relationships, challenging work, long hours, successes and failures, continual learning and a support network of family and friends that have cheered me on since day one.


Tell me how you began to incorporate branding shoots into your menu of services. What do you find offers value to both professionals and businesses?

When I did graphic and web design, much of my focus was on telling an individuals’ or businesses’ stories through design materials. I was continually asking what message my clients would be portraying when their potential customers interacted with their content. It just felt natural to incorporate branding sessions into my business model, and it has been extremely rewarding. It is inspiring to connect with others to discuss their business goals and then help them achieve those goals through visual content and storytelling.


What led you to choose an online gallery and photo release format for your clients instead of strictly providing an exclusive printing service for your pictures?

The choice to sell printed products or offer a photo release has been something that I have debated over often because I feel that pictures serve us better on our walls than on our screen. However, we live in a digital age and for now this model seems to best match my heart with this business. I really want my clients to have their images. It’s their people and their memories. I believe that having an up-front flat session fee which includes their images helps clients to budget and plan better for their session. I offer a gallery store through Pixieset for clients to order prints in addition to their digitals. I hope that they decide to choose prints—these are timeless, intimate and will be enjoyed in their homes for years to come.

The store feature automatically generates images from the clients’ gallery into different art formats like wall prints and canvases so they can get a visual for what it will look like in their home. I also offer my clients custom album design – I personally enjoy them and have created more than one hundred albums for my family over the years.


Tell me about “Style & Select” — why do you think coordinating clothing has become so popular in lifestyle photography today?

“Style & Select” is such a great visual tool and I love sharing it with clients! You choose your vibe, plug in basic info about everyone in your session, pick your color combination and the site creates your own custom style guide. It’s genius and takes some of the stress out of session preparation. Coordinating clothing creates a timeless look and helps remove distractions from your images.

I have a paid subscription to Style & Select so I can offer it to my clients free of charge. Prior to having this membership, I often had clients ask me for outfit suggestions, and I would put together Pinterest boards for them. Pinterest is a great tool which I still use, but Style & Select gives a lot more customization to each client’s family based on their individual needs.


Can you share some of your favorite pieces of photography equipment or other advice for new photographers? What would we find in your bag of “tools of the trade”?

I shoot with a Nikon Z6, and my 35mm 1.4 art lens rarely leaves my camera. I also have a 24-70 zoom lens that I keep in my camera bag for large groups and events. I keep some non-technical tried and true mom items in my bag–bug spray, wipes, a Baby Shusher (a sound machine on Amazon which I used with my own children), tic tacs, and some googly eyes to grab kids’ attention.

To help newcomers, I started a mentorship program this year to help other photographers make the jump from hobby to business. There are many things I wish I would have known which would have made things a little easier in the early days, but I’m also incredibly grateful for the journey.


What makes South 40 such a game changer for photographers of all abilities…is it the geography, the props, the wide variety of options, or the people and their expertise?

The title of game changer truly hits the nail on the head for South 40. I fell in love with this beautiful property on day one of shooting there. From the creek to the flower fields to the beautiful white room, all of it is intentional and lovely. It is simply perfect for any type of session.

Additionally, I can’t say enough about my appreciation for Ann and Jeff. They are abundantly personable and generous, and they make the entire experience at South 40 enjoyable. Their knowledge is invaluable, and I love hearing stories of their experiences in the industry. I could bring any client to South 40 with confidence that we’d walk away with beautiful images and a memorable experience.


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