High school student Julia Yllescas lost her father when she was seven years old — but when it came time to take her senior photos, she wanted to show that he was still with her.
The sweet photographs, taken by local photographer Susanne Beckmann, show Yllescas, 17, alongside her father in a wooded area.
"The photo shoot was definitely one to remember," Yllescas told TODAY. "It was fun and even a little emotional, posing in different positions, pretending to be in the presence of my dad. It made me wonder if he was truly with me in spirit."
Yllescas's mother, Dena Yllescas-Johnston, said that the finished product stunned her.
"The photos literally took my breath away," she told TODAY. "Especially the one of him sitting on the log with Julia. It truly looked like he was having a conversation with Julia. It was sweet and sad at the same time because it made me think of all those conversations he's missed having with Julia over the years."
"Seeing the finished project was definitely an emotional experience," said Yllescas. "It brings up many memories of my dad, and another realization that he truly will miss the big moments in my life. I feel so blessed to have these pictures with my dad and am so thankful Susanne was able to let my dad experience this last year of high school with me."
Beckmann, a military wife herself, said that she was thrilled to be able to help the family with the photos. She never knew Julia's father, Army Captain Robert Yllescas, who died after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan, but she has been close with the family for about ten years.
"I take pictures of a lot of military families. Her mom and I had actually talked about doing [pictures like these] a few years ago. I had mentioned 'It'd be really cool to do a picture and have Rob included with your girls,'" Beckmann said, but the timing had never been right. "We do family pictures every year, and I brought it up when we scheduled her senior pictures, and she was like 'Yeah, absolutely, I want to include him in her senior shoot.'"
According to Beckmann, the haunting images are made by layering the photos over each other in PhotoShop. It isn't the first time she's created such images, but it's the first time she's done it where one participant is deceased.
"Susanne came up with the idea to take an already-existing picture of my dad, fade it, and crop him into the picture to look as if he was an angel, my angel, she caught in the picture," explained Yllescas. "My mom and I were sold right away."
"There was no real specific significance to the photos I chose," explained Yllescas-Johnston. "I just wanted to find one that would look good in a recreated photo. The one of him standing, we took right before he left for Afghanistan... I loved the one of him sitting because it shows his wedding ring, and also shows him engaging in a conversation."
Beckmann had the family's permission to post the photos on Facebook, but nobody could have anticipated the viral response as the images were shared thousands of times. Beckmann said that she's gotten lots of messages from people asking for similar photos.
"It has been super overwhelming and unbelievable," said Yllescas-Johnston. "Never in a million years did we think these photos would gain so much attention."