Photographing newborns is one thing. Photographing children is quite another. I love them both, but they take different talents and a different sort of patience. Child photography rocks my world (in a good way). Really. I love figuring out kids, what they like, who they are, how they smile, how they don't smile, their particular expressions, their personalities...
I am not a big fan of over-posing children; I like them natural. Give a child just about anything -- a flower, a chair, a hat, a tutu, a box and see what happens.
Kids show themselves if they are comfortable in the space. They will shine through. If I offer a child a rubber duck and s/he grabs a truck, that's the shot I want. If we sing Baby Shark and the child claps, that's the shot I want. If the child prefers the Beatles and wants to dance, that's okay too. I am trying to take a portrait of who the child IS, not who I want the child to be or how I want the child to look.
When children haven't developed language skills beyond "no" and "mama" -- it can be challenging to figure out what exactly they want. Being patient helps. But it sure is fun to go with the flow. You want to let loose an 8 inch line of drool? Sure. You want to prance around the studio in your diaper? Okay. You want to crawl right up to the lens with a unicorn hat and peer in? I adore it. You want to hide behind a red balloon? Well, happy first birthday to you!
I am in quite a few groups on Facebook geared to photographers. In one of them, I recently saw someone ask if photographers' cake smashes were real or staged. Photographers weighed in. Some replied with comments along the line of, "Absolutely genuine. Nothing staged!" to "If I didn't stage it, the child wouldn't have touched the cake!"
The cake smashing event is a more recent thing, as far as I can tell. One-year old birthday parties used to be a mess anyway since the little ones had a lot of fun in their high chairs and it took a mop (or a dog) to clean up the kitchen around the high chair. And though I've heard some say it's ridiculous, wasteful and other stick-in-the-mud sort of comments, I say, let's do it! It's fun and silly and why not!?!?!
In fact, I think it's the "icing on the cake" of a one-year old's session. (Bad pun, sorry.) What matters most to me is to capture photos of a child at age one -- to take photos that show the stage the child is at. Some are not yet walking. Yet some are carrying chairs around the studio. Some sit nicely on chairs. Some can't figure it out. But they have these adorable baby teeth, are very drooly, smile up a storm, and seem to respond to any goofy thing their parents do, or any silly thing I stick on my head. (Though I have to say, Baby Shark is better than anything!)
I like to take portraits of the one year old first - before we have fun with cake. One never knows which children will actually have fun with the cake. Some have not eaten cake before. It's too sweet. It's too sticky. Some dive in. Some are wary.
So is it real? Yes...mostly. There are ways to encourage one-year olds to dig in. Mom or dad might show them it's okay to stick their hands in the cake. Or they might put a little frosting in their mouths. Sometimes an older sibling cheers them on. Sometimes they cry. And then there's that moment -- the moment in the photo session when they are simply done! (My secret talent is to recognize that expression because what follows is a child covered in cake crawling around the studio.) When they're done, they are done.
And for those parents that aren't into cake, there's always a spaghetti toss. Well, why not.
Being a photographer isn't about the art to me. It isn't about the fancy backdrops or wild props. It isn't about creating a new version of reality. To me, it's all about the relationship. The relationship of me, as the photographer, honoring the person who is on the other side of the lens.
In creating a relationship -- whether it's for 30 minutes or 3 hours -- we create an experience bounded by the intimacy of taking images. It's about honoring who the subject is, balanced with my perspective and sense of beauty and composition.
I've noticed a trend towards very busy and creative "sets" for photography. While I love to look at those images, and marvel at the amount of time, energy and money that goes into them, I lean towards a more simplistic set up. Using neutral tones to find beauty. It's in the eyes, the fingers, the toes, the lips -- those are the bits of babies I love. And the eyes and curve of the mouth for children and adults -- expressions of love, humor and humanity.
I was reminded of this yesterday when I was photographing a 2 year old child and her parents. She was all about the word "no" precisely as many two year olds are. No - to being held. No - to sitting on mom's lap. No - to being held by dad. No - to sitting or standing or whatever was being asked of her. Oh, she was a curious one, climbing on a tree branch, peeking down at the stream through the bridge slats, and then taking my hand.
She took my hand to lead me down a path, leaving her parents to sit "posing." It was sweet in the moment. And sweet in the memory. She knew exactly what mattered....having someone who was interested in her and would explore together. Isn't that what it's all about?
When you're a child, the world tells you what to do.
It's just the way it is.
So it's nice to find ways to let kids be in charge of their environment. Sometimes, this takes unexpected turns, as when I let my color blind son pick the paint color of his room (I told him 'no black,' and then backed down at the bright green choice).
In the studio, this means letting children have breaks to play with the toys. Someone else's toys are usually way more fun than one's own, even when I remove all batteries from mine so they don't beep, vroom or talk. I have trucks and cars, books, loads of stuffed animals, a tea set, wagons, shape sorters and more. After taking some photos, kids take time to do their own thing. Then hopefully, they're ready to go when I lift the camera!
When it comes time to take family photos, I have a few techniques that let the children be in charge. It doesn't always work....
Outtakes are included in your gallery....because they're real. And funny.
"I'm done." "Me too."
"This is where I want to stand, okay?"
"Can I color now?" (he's holding a crayon)
"You don't see me doing this, do you?"
And finally, knowing when the session is over.
Once I saw this idea, I was all in! I wanted my own big white box.
I don't quite have the carpentry skills needed to build such a box (though I have all sorts of nifty tools including a circular saw), so I asked a good friend who has his own tools and enough carpentry skill to pull it off.
Let the building begin. My budget was $150 for materials and I came in pretty darn close.
The concept: take a set of photos and then build them into a super cute collage. Key to success is to get folks to "relate" or "connect" to the people that will appear around them. (This, it turns out, takes a bit of coaching on my part!)
Interestingly, I thought the building of the box would be the most difficult part of the project.
But it turns out, it is perspective. As a studio photographer, I have lights and props and all that. But the angle that I shoot INTO the box matters. Trigonometry class was a long time ago and figuring out where to put the camera (mounted on a leveling tripod) was challenging.
Some people have been asking about the details -- it's one box. You get in it. With props. Anything goes. Even tutus. Or tiaras. Or party hats. Or puppies. Or confetti. Ya gotta love confetti....
And then the fun begins......
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