By Jordan Staggs | Photography by Gwen Hornsby
Photographer Gwen Hornsby urges adults to recall their favorite memory of Santa Claus from when they were children. This is step one in her magic-making process as she tells parents and grandparents about Santa’s Magical World, the incredible Christmas portrait production she stages in Freeport, Florida.
“Have you ever had a feeling that something is just meant to be?” Gwen asks. “I had that feeling twenty-two years ago when I first met my husband, but when I attended Santa’s Magical Summit workshop for professional photographers last March, I had that same feeling when I personally met Santa. I just knew that this was the perfect missing piece of my photography company that I didn’t even know had been missing up until that point. The beauty of the magical Santa artwork shown during this summit was breathtaking, and I knew I wanted to learn how to create and share those masterpieces as well.”
Those colorful, vintage-inspired photos of children meeting Santa Claus spark a nostalgia and sense of wonder not often found in your typical Christmastime photos with the jolly man in red. Internationally acclaimed photographer, storyteller, and artist Larry Hersberger is the creator of the Art of Magic and Light and host of Santa’s Magical Summit workshop, where he imparts his wisdom and demonstrates his unique style of nostalgic portraiture to photographers from around the globe.
An entire experience has been created: children become part of a story and journey into Santa’s workshop on Christmas Eve, where they get to see the magic happen and learn about it from Santa himself.
This concept is simple and yet such a departure from the shopping-mall Santa Claus photo experience with which most parents are probably familiar. An entire experience has been created: children become part of a story and journey into Santa’s workshop on Christmas Eve, where they get to see the magic happen and learn about it from Santa himself—who, by the way, is an accredited member of the prestigious International Brotherhood of Real Bearded Santas (yes, it’s real!). He tells them about Rudolph and the other reindeer, lets them speak with his head elf toy maker over the phone, shares cookies made with magic snow, teaches them how to properly “ho ho ho,” and more. Thanks to some behind-the-scenes preparation with Mom and Dad, Santa knows all about each child, and they even receive a personalized gift—a Wish Book and Magic Box—to take home.
Gwen’s gut feeling quickly elevated to solid belief that it was fate for her to learn how to create the type of portraits shown at the summit when one of the child models was unable to make it, and her own granddaughter filled the role during a production demonstration.
“Words really cannot describe how I felt as she shyly walked up to Santa, but as soon as he started talking to her, she only had eyes for him. My heart just got bigger and bigger, and my eyes welled up with tears as I watched her innocently and completely become engrossed in Santa for almost forty minutes—and then relive the moments through her continued excitement and joy that has lasted all these months. She shows off the Magic Box she received from Santa during the session and tells everyone who sees her portrait that she met the real Santa. Those forty minutes changed my entire professional life, and I knew right there and then that I would never forget that experience. I had to make sure that other parents and grandparents got to share those same feelings of amazement and pure love that I had felt as I watched my little granddaughter interact with Santa—and so Santa’s Magical World was created.”
I had to make sure that other parents and grandparents got to share those same feelings of amazement and pure love that I had felt as I watched my little granddaughter interact with Santa.
Gwen, a native of England who grew up South Africa, moved to the US with her son in 1989. “We first lived in Glens Falls in Upstate New York, and I thought we were living in the quintessential Tom Sawyer idyllic American town—until the first snowstorm started in October and stayed until June,” she recalls. “I couldn’t wait to move to Atlanta just to see the sun again.” When Gwen met her future husband, Murray, in Atlanta in 1997, they planned to get married at the beach and fell in love with Destin, Florida. The family relocated permanently to the Emerald Coast in 2000, which Gwen calls “paradise on earth.” She worked for years as a graphic and website designer, then started her photography business, Expressions Beach Portraits, in 2008. Since then, she has photographed around 1,800 families, along with glorious sunsets and the natural landscapes of the Gulf Coast.
“I am so excited to add Santa’s Magical World to my photography company and adventures and share it with the Emerald Coast and surrounding areas,” Gwen says.
Santa’s Magical World experiences start September 21 and continue each weekend through the end of November. Session dates and times are limited as Santa needs to be back at the North Pole to check on the toy-making progress, so book your children’s magical one-on-one time with Santa as soon as possible!
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Book your child’s session by contacting Gwen Hornsby via email at Gwen@SantasMagicalWorld.com or through Facebook.com/SantasMagicalWorldinDestin.
All images copyright protected by Gwen Hornsby of Santa’s Magical World and Larry Hersberger.