“The desert, when the sun comes up…I couldn’t tell where heaven stopped and the Earth began.” – Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump

As photographers we often let our photographs tell the story.  This week we were very lucky to recieve a beautiful narrative right along side a gorgeous desert family photography lifestyle session from Marisa McDonald Photography complete with tips on how to get great loosely posed lifestyle shots.

What We Love:


I live and work in a very small desert community just outside of Joshua Tree National Park. So may families around here appreciate the beauty of the desert and love to bring that out in their family portraits. Sadly, the National Park is off limits without a pretty pricey commercial photography permit. The bright side is that us local photographers are forced to get out and explore to find beautiful desert spots that are not on National Park property and also not on private property! I had a few nice desert spots and even some big boulders about 45 minutes outside of town but this family was really wanting to find some boulders closer to town. Rock climbing and exploring the desert are huge parts of their family life and it meant a lot to them to capture that in their portraits! I was determined to make it happen! The night before their session, I scoured google maps, scanning the border of the national park until I saw it – Coyote Hole Canyon! I homeschool my boys so we set out on a little field trip the next morning to survey the spot. Pure desert magic!

And let me tell you, the session was magic too! For this session I used my Canon 6D and my Sigma 85mm 1.4. We jumped right into some posed shots to make sure we got those before two-year-old patience wore thin. I like to mix up the posed shots by asking them all to look at dad, or asking someone to tell a joke or make someone else laugh. I try to use prompts that will bring out their natural family interactions. I figure they are much better at making each other smile than I am! The rocks lent themselves to natural candid moments as we moved from one spot to the next or transitioned from one grouping to another. Towards the end of the session Mom asked if we could do a silhouette. It was a pretty cloudy day so I wasn’t sure what we would get but I sent them on a mission to the top of the best rock I could find. Mom (and I) about had a heart attack as Dad carried their little man, bounding from one rock to the next but they all made it and we got the ultimate cloudy day silhouette!

I always love to pull mom and dad aside during a family photo session to capture their connection. I did that here and loved how they interacted and the portraits we got! In this family there was another pair that had a special connection I wanted to capture – the two sisters! Of course they were so sweet and nurturing with their little brother but when he was tired of posing, these two kept going. They loved posing together, climbing together, and playing together.

Lisa and Rachel: What’s not to love about this session and that great narrative Marisa supplied us?  We particularly love that Marisa included tips on how she gets her great lifestyle shots. We always love when photographers include tips and tricks for our readers on how they get their unique shots. Additionally, as desert dwellers ourselves, we love the red rock back drop and all the great links Marisa included to learn more about her little part of the world.   Thanks for sharing Marisa!

Marisa also included a link to her client’s Etsy shop, Painted Cactus.  We love to support small business and hope you will too.

Location: Coyote Hole

Links about location:

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Where to find Marisa:
Facebook: www.facebook.com/marisamcdonaldphotography
Instagram: www.instagram.com/marisamcdonaldphotography
Website: www.marisamcdonaldphotography.com 


We are always accepting submissions for possible features on the blog. Please see our Submission information for further directions. We are looking to showcase family photo sessions as well as milestone celebrations (birthday parties, baby showers, cake smash, religious celebrations) and style inspiration for both home (nursery, kids’ rooms.. ) and family photography sessions (what to wear, packaging, etc.)

Looking for more family session inspiration? Visit here for a beautiful session from Megan Lena Photography.

What would you like to see featured on Life + Lens Blog? We’d love to hear from you!

Life, Lens + Love,

Lisa + Rachel