As I was waiting for this evening’s clients to arrive at our location, I had the chance to observe another photographer. I always arrive early for any shoot by fifteen or twenty minutes which gives me time to mentally prepare, and to scout the area for light – because even if you shoot at the same location three days in a row at the same time, the light will be different each time. I’m always surprised at just how different my approach is… For me, what I do is normal, it’s natural, it’s just how I am. And I can, and do, forget just how different the experience I provide is.
When I first arrived on the scene, I knew the family gathered there weren’t my clients. The ages and number of people were wrong… but it was clear they were nervous. So I laughed with them a little about how popular this particular spot is with photographers, and how it’s unusual to find less than two or three there at any given time. They invited me to photograph them if my clients failed to show. LOL It was casual, easy going, and fun. We all shared some smiles and laughs – which made everyone feel better. That’s when the patriarch of the family pointed out their photographers, saying “They’re supposed to be taking care of us.” The two photographers, or photographer and assistant (their relationship wasn’t clear), were off on their own standing and talking secretively with their backs to the family.
From the moment my clients arrive, it’s my job to help them relax, to put them at ease. It’s an odd situation – trying to look and act natural in circumstances that are anything but. If I can help make my clients feel better about things, especially if I can get them to trust me enough to laugh and let go of their fears a little, it makes a world of difference. Not just when it comes to their experience, but for their photos as well. Not every photographer does this… and sometimes I can forget that.
After a while I watched the photographers call the family over and begin setting up their posed shot. Now, I don’t do posed photography, but many many photographers still do. It’s a personal preference, and there are clients who feel more at ease being posed. It certainly requires less effort from your subjects. Working with me is about give and take, you have to be willing to put yourself out there a little. Share a little with me, and I’ll give it back to you in a beautiful and amazing way… it’s exhausting though. Most of my clients end up pretty tired by the end of a shoot, we’re busy and engaged, a shoot goes fast and by the end you’ll be tired. Posed shots are easier, they don’t require anything of you. Just hold a pose and paste on a grin. But when you don’t give of yourself, the finished product won’t be personal either. Take a look at the snapshot above, it took the photographers fifteen or so minutes to set it up – and while it will likely be a nice keepsake, it doesn’t tell you anything about the family or their personalities. There isn’t anything wrong with it, but it’s not a style I can understand or would ever emulate.
When my family arrived, and I say “MY” family quite purposefully, we got the necessary paperwork out of the way but then it was all fun. We were laughing and sharing. I get to know their quirks, and how they relate to one another. I watch the dynamics present, and do my best to capture those quiet moments of knowing. Sure, we get the portraits where everyone is looking at the camera – the ones for the holiday cards… but even those share a whole lot more about who each person is. Their individuality shines through in a big way.
I love my clients, I love working with them. I love that a photo shoot is about sharing, and supporting one another, creating together. That is what portrait photography should be, at least in my eyes.
If you ever walk past a family I’m working with, you’ll hear laughter, see people being silly with one another, people being honest and having fun. The couple of times we walked past the group above it was quiet, I sensed a lot of apprehension and nervousness. My clients may feel those things at the very onset of a shoot, but in the end? They are MY families. I do my very best to take care of them and make them feel great. It’s not just about creating photographs, it’s about creating memories, it’s about photography as legacy… and that just means so much more.
I was working on the shots from the Pederson’s family shoot, and a couple of things came to mind that I think many families could learn from. And where better to share these things than here, on my blog. 🙂
One: The Found Object
I am all about going digging and exploring for cool things. When we are out on a shoot, why not have a little fun? You never know what treasures we may discover. In this particular instance, we found a few “word rocks” tucked into the big wishing boulder out at Gabriel Dumont Park. Sometimes the object, or the message, is the most important thing. Why not let your kids share their excitement over their finds? I can think of an absolute ton of things a family could do with a photo like this:
There is nothing greater these days, than a message of courage. And by simply allowing children to explore we found the perfect way to deliver that message. Can’t you just envision this on a great big canvas in the family home’s entryway? Or how about shared with family and friends on a custom printed greeting card? I think it would be the fabulous beginning to an inspirational digital scrapbook page.
So let your kids explore – or do a bit of exploring yourself. You never know what we may come across. Or if you have a special message you know you want to share, bring something along. We’ll find a way to use it.
Two: The Most Effective Portraits
Contrary to what the portrait studios of the world would have you believe, the most effective portraits do not involve you sitting still. They do not involve you tilting your head to the side with a smile plastered on your face, staring down the lens of the camera. The most effective portraits share a little about who you are.
We can definitely grab a few shots of your family all looking in the same direction, smiling, for the sake of posterity (and the holiday greeting card). But lets make sure to grab a few of you just being yourself. After all, your family knows what you look like, but how often do you really share your true self? I’d say it’s time we got a photo of you doing just that.
The first step to capturing a truly effective portrait is choosing a place that speaks to you. Lets hit the river, the library, an old bookstore, a snowy field… someplace you can just relax and be yourself. Get involved in the world around you, and do your best to just forget about me and my camera. It’s hard to do at first, but we’ll get there – and that’s when my work begins to fulfill me.
Charmaine contacted me hoping to combine a graduation shoot and a family photography session, and when she told me a little more about her family, I was only too happy to oblige. Her eldest, like me, has a very special bond with one of her younger siblings. So it was truly a pleasure for me to be able to capture all that they share, never to be forgotten, never to fade with memory. Families like the Erman’s are the whole reason I do family photography. So thank you Charmaine, for inviting me into your lives and allowing me to be a part of your very special family – even just for an afternoon.
I remember being a family of three… Damon, myself, and our Chihuahua Nico. It may be a cliche, but it really was a simpler time, and one I remember with fondness. So it was a treat to be reminded of it as I photographed another family of three.
Allison, it was a pleasure. Your boy is a charmer. How could anyone resist that face? Just makes you want to grab him by the jowls and smoosh him up. Hope you have many more years together. 🙂