How I Made It: The Story Behind Marla Michele Must’s Romantic Senior Portrait

Photo of senior couple

To professional photographers, a “senior portrait” is typically captured of a graduating high school senior. To the general public, however, it might resemble something closer to the image at the top of this story by portrait artist Marla Michele Must.

Must’s photo showing an elderly couple on the cusp of their 50th wedding anniversary has been hugely popular on social media, where viewers have been touched by the romance of the moment and the artistry of how it was captured.

We were moved by the photo as well and Must agreed to answer a few questions about the image for the latest edition of “How I Made It.” You can see previous “How I Made It” stories here, here, and here.

Q: Can you give us a little background on you as a photographer?

Marla Michele Must: Someone placed a Canon AE-1 in my hands as a young child and I found myself hooked on composing the world around me. That camera was around my neck everywhere I went – to college in Arizona where I worked on the campus newspaper, and then to Los Angeles where I worked in the fashion industry.

It wasn’t until many years later that, prior to a trip to China to adopt my youngest daughter, I purchased a new Canon and joined the digital age. It was on that trip to China that I began to document the bonding process between my children (ages 8 and 10) and their new little sister (age 3) and discovered my love for capturing relationships between siblings (www.mustlivealifelessordinary.com). The gift of adoption to our family brought with it the return of the gift of my passion for photography.

Now for the last decade I’ve been running a fully booked portrait studio specializing in families, high school seniors, and dancers. In 2017 I became a designated Master Photographer in Portraiture as designated by Master Photographers International. In 2020, I was offered an ambassadorship with my favorite lens manufacturer, the Sigma Corporation of America.

Q: What’s the story behind this photo?

Marla Michele Must: I’ve lived across the street from this endearing couple for 10 years. I often catch glimpses of them out my kitchen window as they take walks arm-in-arm almost daily, caring for each other in the most loving way. Although his health has deteriorated somewhat and their walks have slowed down, nevertheless, they continue walking. 

One day we stopped to chat, and I asked them how long they’ve been married. They said were approaching their 50th wedding anniversary. I asked if I could photograph them to celebrate this amazing milestone. During our portrait session they shared some of their love story with me.

It began as a campus romance. They were Introduced in 1969 by a colleague at Oakland University in the student center. She was wearing a short two-piece white outfit that he remembers fondly. They were both members of the faculty in the English department. It appears English is truly a romance language.

I witnessed chivalry in its finest form as he walked around to open her car door and made sure she was situated safely in the passenger seat. She said he would be wearing his blue suit for our portrait session and that he was very handsome, and surely, she is the luckiest woman in the world. She agreed to wear her wedding dress and veil from their July 10th, 1971, wedding. 

Q: Why do you think this image resonated so much with people?

Marla Michele Must: I believe this image touched people’s hearts during a difficult time in our history and gave them hope in the idea of longevity in love and marriage.

Q: Your twist on the traditional “senior portrait,” which typically feature high school students, seems to be part of the reason this image was so popular on social media. But with this country’s population getting older and older, do you think there’s also an untapped market for professional photographers to capture more portraits of senior citizens?

Marla Michele Must: We need to include grandparents in family portrait sessions, I find the older generation to be somewhat reluctant to join in, however if it’s handled properly with precautions, it can be very successful! Capturing portraits of grandparents/grandchildren especially appeals to me. Things to consider when photographing senior citizens – mobility, terrain, topography, distance from the parking lot to location. Not to be funny, but always make sure you are operating with liability insurance with your business. Take your time….

Q: Can you share some technical details about how this image was shot including gear used, settings, etc.?

Marla Michele Must: I captured the image with a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and Sigma 105mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens at f/2.2, ISO 200, 1/1250 sec. It was a sweltering hot day, and we were being inundated with comments from people passing by admiring the couple

Q: What’s next for you?

Marla Michele Must: I will continue to create magic and hope to encourage others to submit their Enchanted stories for a chance to be featured next at www.enchantedbymarlamichele.com. Tell me a few sentences about what makes your story so enchanting and feel free to nominate someone else too.

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