Bassett Family at Douglas Evans Nature Preserve
Bassett Family at Douglas Evans Nature Preserve. (Photo courtesy of Marla Michele Must)

The owner of Enchanted Photography in Birmingham is offering families an opportunity for a free nature walk photo session.

Metro Detroit parent and master portrait artist Marla Michele Must knows about the wonder and calm found in nature. For the past few months, she’s been carving out time to walk in the woods and explore green spaces with her 13-year-old daughter, Sasha Jade. It’s the medicine we all need, she says. In hopes of extending these moments of serenity to others, the owner of Enchanted Photography in Birmingham is offering families an opportunity for a free nature walk photo session.

Marla Michele Must
Marla Michele Must

“Parenting during a pandemic is not for the faint of heart,” she says. “Add into the mix a child diagnosed with PTSD [Sasha Jade] and things can get stressful in an instant. I’m doing all I can to stay creative. I’m missing human interaction.”

But the time has been most challenging for Sasha Jade, she says, who, like so many kids, is separated from friends, school, clubs and activities. To escape moments of disappointment and loneliness, mother and daughter are regularly grabbing the camera and heading outdoors; they’re on the hunt to find beauty and joy.

“Nature’s consistency offers us a much-needed sense of security during this insecure time we’re living through,” Must says. “It makes us feel better emotionally, reducing heart rate, blood pressure and production of stress hormones.”

After nearly three months of social distancing, remote learning and parents working from home, Metro Detroit families could use a little de-stressing. For the last several weeks, at local outdoor haunts, Must dons a mask from 10 feet away, while she captures families, including canine members, wading into lakes, walking through forests and flopping on grassy knolls to play.

“We’ve all been so cooped up,” says Reena Herstein of Bloomfield Township. She and her husband have two boys, ages 10 and 8, and their daughter is 4 years old.  “It’s been a really hard adjustment not to see people.”

Herstein Family at Kensington Metro Park
Herstein Family at Kensington Metro Park. Photo courtesy of Marla Michele Must

As with many families, Herstein says the cancellation of their summer camps make it difficult to imagine what summer will be like. “So just being able to schedule a photo shoot was really nice,” she says, “to be able to hang out and pretend everything was normal. [The kids] were just so happy outside.”

The Herstein family savored the golden hour with Must while playing in and out of the water and at Kensington Metro Park. They’d had to cancel their spring vacation to California in April, Reena says, so, though it wasn’t nearly the same, it was definitely a joy to have family photos captured at even the small Michigan beach.

“We’d never been there before, and when Marla suggested it, it was just perfect. My daughter’s been asking to go to the beach for the longest time.” she says. “She doesn’t ever remember having been to one. The water was surprisingly warm, and the beach wasn’t crowded, so we felt safe.”

These are moments designed to help us all forget our troubles,” Must says. She wants families to feel uplifted, to celebrate their intimacy and to laugh as much as possible.

The joy starts even before the photo shoot, says Kate Bassett of Birmingham, while choosing a location that’s just right. For the Bassetts, this was the Douglas Evans Nature Preserve in Beverly Hills, a haven they’d discovered early in the pandemic. At that time, Kate, who’s a classroom teacher taking time off for medical reasons, had begun schooling her three boys, ages 7, 5 and 4. Fridays were set aside for outdoor field trips.

“It’s crazy that we live by all these beautiful places and we’ve never really taken the time to enjoy them,” she says. Being in the woods together with Marla, who’s kind and calm spirit can be felt, she says, brought them all a sense of joy and relaxation. “It was such a happy experience.”

As someone who’s immunocompromised, Bassett says her family has had to be extra cautious about where they go, and that getting to spend time outdoors together has been a lifeline. She struggles to be able to stand for long periods of time and because of this, was initially nervous about the shoot.

Photo courtesy of Marla Michele Must

“But Marla was wonderfully accommodating,” she says. “She checked in often, making sure the whole time that we were all comfortable.  It was nice to be in nature, but we also haven’t had outside human connections. Just to talk with her, even through a mask, made for a really happy day. And we got to document these memories of a time that will go down in history.”

Tyler Bassett, 7, says it was fun in the forest with his brothers and parents. He wants to tell other kids they shouldn’t be worried about doing a photo shoot with “Miss Marla” because she’s a really nice person and even lets you pick out prizes.

“It was kind of cool looking at the places we’ve been before,” he says, about the woods where the family dodged a rainy day to take silly photos and cuddly ones, and Tyler’s favorite — the five of them sitting together by the tree.

“You think of kids not wanting to get their picture taken,” Kate Bassett says, “but they feel the opposite with Marla. She does it in such a fun setting. We’ve made wonderful memories with her.”

Marla has 10 sessions available for appointment during September and October. The session fee ($275) is waived which covers Marla’s time, talent, creativity, editing and retouching. A purchase is not necessary. Artwork is not included. There are no other qualifications. Visit enchantedbymarlamichele.com for more information.

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