Artist Living

Let the Story Guide Your Photo Shoot

Me Ra Koh

We all approach photography in some form or fashion.  My approach is fueled by a passion to capture the story of people’s lives.  I’ll be sure to grab the classic group shot of everyone smiling at the camera.  After all, that is still the photo that most grandparents want for Christmas.   But when the “expected” shot list is done, I dive into the unexpected–the place within where I have the opportunity to connect with the complex beauty of my subjects.

Sharon Sossaman is someone I had the honor of capturing recently.   I first met Sharon years ago when she attended our CONFIDENCE workshop in Sonoma, CA.  Eventually we met Jeramy, her hilarious husband, who you will often see comment on the blog and co-wrote with Brian the Top 12 Reasons to Send Your Wife to a CONFIDENCE Workshop.  (It’s hilarious if you haven’t read it, especially the comments!)

So when Sharon Sossaman offered to come model with her baby Jillian at the San Fransisco Workshop, I was a little nervous.  I feel so deeply connected to Sharon and Jeramy that I wasn’t sure if I would stay composed with their shoot.  They have gone through much pain and joy these last several months, and I had yet to meet the miracle baby, Jillian.  So I dove in and had Sharon and Jillian be our models, and I found that Sharon was comfortable with this moment, this space, despite all the loss they’d suffered this summer.

Photo by Sonoma Wkshp Graduate: Wendy Zippwald

Jeramy has posted a moving account of their twin girls; Jillian and Anne.  You can read about their story in more depth on his blog.  In the end, baby Anne didn’t make it, and yet her tiny, strong, determined life lived long enough to make sure her sister, Jillian, did make it.  At 28 weeks, the twins entered the world and forever changed their siblings, parents and community.

While I was in the hospital with my dad this summer, Sharon and Jeramy were in the hospital with Jillian.  Every day was a struggle.  Every day was another mountain to cross.  Every day felt more and  more overwhelming.  And yet, somehow this family made it through.  But they not only made it through, they found beauty in the darkness.

Sharon and Jeramy would post FB images of Jillian making progress in the hospital so we could all celebrate each baby step.  Sharon would ask for prayer on days that felt too tough, and then she would post breakthroughs–sometimes all within the same day.  It is a honor to call them friends.  It is a honor to have them so tightly knit into the support of this blog’s community.  They not only acknowledge how dark the darkness is, but they find beauty within it.

Beauty within the darkness is what I wanted to capture for Sharon.  When the groups started working with the baby models, I made my way back to Sharon and baby Jillian.  I watched her hold Jillian.  I considered the light.  Where did I want to stand?  What story did I want to tell?

I decided to shoot into the window light because I wanted a darker image of them.  I decided to use a slower shutter speed because I wanted to show movement in the darkness.  And I decided to frame tight so that our focus would be drawn to Sharon’s beautiful presence that fully embraces Jillian’s life while never forgetting Anne.  This is what I walked away with.

When your subject no longer becomes a person to photography but evidence of all that is beautiful and right in this world–when their story of pain and joy becomes your guide to the decisions behind how you set up a photo–then you never have to worry about whether or not you are good enough, or whether or not the competition has better photos, or whether or not you know how to use the latest technology–all that stuff falls by the way side.

What determines whether your photos are good or bad?  Photography that is rewarding to you and your subjects is not always based on how sharp the photos are, how saturated the color is, how cute their outfits were–all those things can play a part–but the reward comes from a much deeper place.  And I’m convinced that whether you have a Point-and-Shoot or DSLR camera, you can experience this reward.

Capturing a single moment that shows evidence of how powerful their beauty lives and exists whether they are surrounded by darkness or light…this changes my world every time.

I love you Sharon and Jeramy (and all the kids!).





  1. Michelle S says:

    I am so glad I read this before putting makeup on. The tears are a flowing.

    I love that picture of Sharon and Jillie! It is so tender yet heartbreaking and beautiful yet powerful.

    Sharon and Jeramy are such strong, beautiful souls and though I cannot imagine what they went through losing Anne, they managed to show us through their blogs and Facebook what a miracle life is through Jillian.

    Sharon – when do I get to meet that chubby cheeked peanut???

  2. shawna says:

    me ra, this is so true and the most important aspect of being entrusted to capture a family’s memories.

    sharon and jeremy, what a road you have walked. your family is in my thoughts. i can see the love that lifts you up and keeps you strong in this week’s photos of jillian. and jeremy, thanks for your constant encouragement and humor in the comments. they mean more than you might know.

  3. Oh I LOVE this post and I Love the Sossoman’s! The Sossoman family has touched my heart in so many ways over these past few years.They truly have weaved their fun,loving spirits and beauty into this community in infinite ways. For me they have been a touchstone of hope,courage, strength in weakness and the display of PURE LOVE. It’s amazing how close one can feel to others even without ever having had the pleasure to meet face to face. Pictures can tell a powerful story and every image speaks volumes MeRa. Your words are a beautiful testament to all this family has been through…your images speak tenderly of their strength, grace and faith through lifes most difficult storms. Because of you, your blog, Soar and all the many people you have helped connect. I too have been blessed by the Sossoman Family. I feel blessed and forever changed for sharing in their journey and witnessing their story. What a gift, that just keeps on giving!

  4. Delanae says:

    Your images are so beautiful Me Ra, and the Sossaman’s, thank you for opening your selves up and sharing a glimpse into your lives.

    This hits too close to home for me. I nearly lost both of my babies. My son was born a preemie and 3 years later I had to be on bedrest for 6 months when I had my daughter. I read stories like this and it all comes flooding back to me, over 20 years later.

    I have just recently become aware of an organization called, “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep” and will be volunteering with them in the future. I only mention this because I know a lot of photographers read this blog and they may not be aware there is a service like this where they could volunteer their talents.

    (If I’m out of line here Me Ra, please delete this.)

  5. Michelle says:

    Oh Me Ra..thanks for making me cry this morning. I feel so lucky to have met Sharon & Jeramy at that workshop almost 3 years ago. They are such AMAZING people and I am so honored to call them my friends. I was with Wendy when she took that photo of them and we both remarked how that image was such a perfect image of them. For some people, it could end up looking “posed”, but for them it showed exactly who they are as husband and beautiful wife. The image you captured of Sharon and her little Jillie Bean is just perfect. Sharon..I don’t think you even realize how beautiful you are.

  6. Charisse says:

    While I don’t know the Sossamen’s personally, I have seen many posts with thier unyeilding support for the women of this community. Jeremy…when I see your name it makes me smile. Smile with the beauty that pours out of you for the love and respect for your wife and the support that it translates into for the many other women that you bless through your words.
    I finally had the opportunity to meet the Sossamen’s at the SF Confidence workshop and Sharon’s beauty and radiance, compiled with the love so clearly given for her family was truly like smiling in the face of our Creator.
    An image I captured of her and Jillian as well as Jeremy and Jillian were actually my two favorite images.
    Thank you both for all the “light” that you share in a dark world. And thank you MeRa for this wonderful, post, tribute and bringing us all alittle closer to this beautiful couple.

  7. Delanae says:

    I followed the link to Jeramy’s blog and read all 4 postings. I am now an emotional wreck. How I wish I would have had someone like you in my corner Jeramy. You have to know that you may have been feeling helpless, but you were and are your families hero. Sharon, you are so blessed… but I know you know that already.

    Charisse, you wrote so eloquently what I was feeling but unable to find the words. Thank you.

    Now I must go for a walk!

  8. jeramy says:

    oh mera. 🙂 you have such a way of connecting the dots, don’t you? to challenge people to go to a deeper level of artistry and connection IS what you’re all about. to all of your readers, i say GO FOR IT! GO DEEPER! CONNECT!

    i think i told you how i was caught of guard a bit on saturday when the ladies were taking pictures of sharon and the bean. i hadn’t even considered how i might feel as i watched them capture images of one where there should have been two until i was there, in the moment. as i watched, i felt the profound impact of the hole that we have in our hearts for anne. even though we held her for only a few hours before she died, she has changed us forever. and we remember in a strange emotional collision every time we look at jillian. i’m not sure if you noticed me starting to cry or not, but you came beside me and hugged me at just the right moment. thank you.

    thank you and brian for your friendship and love and support over the years. it means a lot to sharon and i both. know that we are for you guys in all of your endeavors. i’m so happy that the kids finally connected (keep an eye out in the mail for a special nor-cal package). here’s to going deeper…and connecting for years to come. 🙂

    love you guys!

  9. Jody says:

    What a beautiful and real story. Life is like that, beauty and tragedy all tangled and weaved together. When you can capture the full spectrum of emotion, well that is where the real story is told. Jeramy and Sharon, I love you both and am humbled by your ability to be so open and honest. I can only imagine the pain you must feel for the loss of little Anne all the while feeling joy for beautiful Jillian. In your love for Jillian you will always have a reminder of Anne. What a beautiful and painful reality. I love you guys!

  10. Sharon says:

    Me Ra… thank you! Thank you ALL so much! I have so much in my heart to say, but its not coming out right! I’ve typed and re-typed what I want to say half a dozen times and its just not sounding right and now Jillian is crying and the kids are hungry for lunch!!!!!!
    I’ll come back later when its quiet and share! =D

  11. tears!! sharon and jeramy are amazing. simply amazing. i’ve been touched and many have been touched by them. watching them walk with grace through this journey. thank you for bringing more light to their story. these images make me cry!!

  12. What a beautiful story…heartbreak and triumph all blended together with this little family. My prayers are with them.

  13. Rhonda says:

    So beautiful.
    Thank you MeRa for not only challenging us, but showing us where the real beauty lies. You live a life of example before us all that is beautiful and that encourages me in so many ways.
    Thank you Jeramy and Sharon. You, too, are an amazing example of love and grace.
    What a blessing this must be for you.

  14. Oh MeRa, I’m in tears. Such beautiful images to go with these amazing hearts. I think everyone who knows their story is touched by their courage, love and spirit. So honored to know Sharon, and hugs to you guys.

  15. Oh my! Beautiful post! I was standing there at the SF Workshop in the back and just watching and listening to you explain how we should approach a mom and baby. I was taking it all in! I too was getting emotional.

    Thinking just how thankful I was that Sharon was holding her little bean in her arms. Reflecting on the last several months. What a roller coaster they have been. So thankful for how God has held the Sossaman Family. I have learned so much about grief and praising God in the storm this summer.

    Thank you Me Ra for making us see the deeper side. So many times I choose not to go deep. For fear that the tears will start and never stop! Thank you for reminding me that connection is so important. And the feelings and emotions that go with it are so important too!

  16. jeramy says:

    @nick…. 🙂

  17. This is one of — perhaps THE most — beautiful posts that I have ever read on this blog — and that is saying something, isn’t it? Oh Me Ra, your gift to the world is beyond words. It is an honor to call you my friend.

  18. ajira says:

    When I met the Sossamans I couldn’t help but remark to myself how lovely you both are, and how much like you are online. It’s a special thing that you can both be so real and open, precious in fact. Thank you for sharing yourselves and your beautiful family!

  19. Natalie Johnson says:

    Jeremy, I have seen your name on here many times, but today I went to your blog to read the whole story. I am so sorry for your loss of Anne.

    TTTS is not that common, but we have gone through this with two sets of friends from our church. When I see the photos of your little girl Jillian I see an amazing miracle. My husband and I have been at two hospitals when both sets of our friends have gone into labor at around 26 weeks, both were pregnant with two girls, and sadly both sets of babies did not make it. My husband is a minister and one mother wanted her girls to be dedicated to God during the few moments that they lived. It is such a hard loss when you finally get used to the idea of twins and then go through most of the pregnancy and to lose the baby or babies is just devastating. One of my friends has gotten involved with raising money for TTTS so that other treatments may be found for future families, and the other friend has her girl’s names tattooed on her leg.

    I pray that Jillian will bring your family so much joy to help heal your hearts. Thanks for allowing your story to be told, and I am so glad that Mera had the opportunity to capture your little miracle in images. What a beautiful family you have!

  20. This story touched so close to home that I am unable to say much other than THANK YOU! It is a beautiful story, and I don’t know if the hurt ever completely goes away. However, I do hope to hear more about the healing they will continue to go through.