Saturday, January 29, 2011

Add Meaning to your Portraits with Emotinal Symbols

I have always loved the red embossed cover of the little photo album my mother started for me when I was a baby. It has roses on it and I love to run my fingers over the design. I picked it up the other day and opened it. There was a picture of me with my favorite doll. Her name was Connie. She had plastic hair embossed on her head and a little hole in her pursed lips where she could take a bottle. We were inseparable for years but I grew and became careless with her over time. One day I left her outside overnight and found that the dog had chewed off her little hands! Sigh.

I don't have Connie anymore, just the memory of her. Just like that little five year old girl with the toothless grin is only a memory now.

This photograph has huge meaning and emotion for me because it shows me holding Connie. She is an emotional symbol of that time in my life.

Here is what I would like you to take from this: As you plan your next portrait session, think about what is meaningful in your life. Is there a physical object that would symbolize something to you and add deeper meaning to the portrait? It might be featured prominently or it might be something barely noticeable in a corner of the image. How to incorporate it artfully into the portrait is up to me. Your job is to let me know it exists.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Take Better Pictures of Your Own Children

So you want to get better photographs of your own children? I would love to photograph every milestone in your child's life but realistically I can’t be there every moment and I want to make sure you have the best photographs you can. Here are some tips that can help:

1.      First of all, if you are going to some effort like driving to a special park with the idea of getting some great photographs, choose a time of day when they are going to be at their best. How about just after a nap rather than when they are starting to get tired and grumpy? Morning tends to be best for most kids but think about your child's schedule and temperament.

2.      Bribery is ok! This is not the time to be worrying about good parenting. If the promise of ice cream or a trip to McDonald’s is going to win cooperation in the moment, do it! Take into account the development and attention span of your child when choosing the right bribe. I am sure you know this already, but a 20 month old won’t respond to delayed gratification. The reward has to come within the next 30 seconds or forget it! I do not like food bribes during the photography. The Cheerios might keep your little sweetie in the right spot and happy but then you get “chewing” pictures and the mouth just doesn’t look right, not to mention drool issues.

3.    Put thought into choosing your background and lighting. If you take your child to the park and want to chase them around snapping away, you will get a few good pictures but here are some tips to increase the odds:
a.       Choose open shade rather than direct sunlight. The light is softer and more flattering.
b.      Pay attention to the background and try to keep it simple and without bright spots. An easy way to do this is to have the camera at a high angle and shoot down on the children so that you have nothing but grass behind them.
c.       Have the children looking in the direction of  the light so there will be light in their eyes. I don’t mean looking at the sun. (That would be bad!) Stop and turn around and see what is behind the camera. Is it a big patch of open sky? Is it a building with sun hitting it? That is the light source.

Finally, I have an assignment for you: 

Hire a professional to take pictures of you with your children. Promise me that you will do this! Do not wait until you have lost weight or your hair is just right. If you just can't hire a professional then get a friend to snap a few. Your children love you just the way you are and you need to show your love for them by being in photographs with them. I guarantee these will be family treasures so swallow your pride and just do it! You can do more after the weight is gone and everything is just the way you want it but this moment right now will be gone.

So JUST DO IT! Pinky swear and cross your heart?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Photography of My Own Children (not easy!)

I got everything set up. The kidlets were in the cute outfits I had picked out for them. I had the lighting and background just right. I had checked and rechecked the settings on the camera. Ready, set, ACTION

Ok, so action was not really what I wanted. I just wanted beautiful, story telling images of my children in this great studio setting I had created. And that required my children to be on the set, not dismantling my camera. I discovered how difficult it can be to photograph your own children. Other people’s children LISTEN to me and they don’t cling to me...they may cling to their mom but I am not trying to pry their fingers off of my skirt. 

With a few bribes and threats, I managed to get the kids to do what I wanted and Neil just told me the image below from this session is his favorite that I have ever taken. He swears it isn't prejudice!

Do you want to know how to get better photographs of your own children? I will be sharing a few tips in my next post.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Year in the Life Program

Babies completely blow me away! 

Each one is a miracle, so full of promise. It is a fresh new life evolving into a tiny human being. There is no greater experience that a person can have than to become a parent and watch as this new life unfolds. To guide, love and care for this little one can be incredibly difficult at times and we are forced to become selfless as we endure sleepless nights, rashes, ear infections and the like. The reward comes when that tiny baby looks up into your eyes, an enormous smile erupts across its face and the cares of the world melt away.

I love being a part of babies’ lives and watching them grow and change and capturing every moment in photographic images. In fact, I can’t get enough of it! That is why I am so excited to be offering our new “Year in the Life” Program.

How “Year in the Life” Works
Every month you bring your baby in to the studio for a session and pay only $65 a month. At the end of the year, I will create a custom book for your child with the best images and incorporate text and beautiful graphic design. There is no extra charge for the book. 

When can you start?
It is great if you can start with the very first month of a baby’s life and chronicle the entire first year but it is ok to start later. This book could be a celebration of “toddlerhood” or even kindergarten and losing that first tooth!

An Added Bonus
Just because I think it is hilarious to photograph babies being themselves, I will include a birthday cake for the one year session and provide the cleanup crew to deal with the aftermath.(Clarification: YOU clean the baby, WE clean the floor.) Imagine the possibilities! :~)

I love each and every one of these babies and can't wait to see what they become!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

More than Just Pictures

Twelve years ago, I went into the hospital for some surgery. Neil was there as they were prepping me and bouncing Lars who was six months old at the time and nursing full time. I never did get him used to a bottle so he had to stay pretty close to mama. You probably think I am crazy but Neil and I both agreed that it would be easier for all of us if he and Lars stayed in the hospital with me rather than saying home and trying to get Lars to take a bottle.

I was nervous about the anesthesia and I remember the nurse trying to reassure me that it wouldn’t be much different than when I had my baby. I had to tell her that I had had three babies and had never had any anesthesia of any kind so, no, it was going to be different!

In walked Dr. G, my anesthesiologist and he was very gentle and reassuring. As we chatted, Neil and I mentioned that we had a photography studio. Dr. G said that he had two little boys and would need some portraits. (I tried not to be embarrassed, but there I was in a hospital gown with no makeup and wild woman hair and this guy is talking about portraits? My professional image was in trouble!) Neil dug out a business card.

Two months later, I was photographing Dr. G’s youngest and that was the start of a long and wonderful relationship. I have been photographing each boy at birthday time every year for twelve years now. I love these guys but it hasn’t always been easy.

The first time I photographed Janson was for his third birthday. His mom brought in a beautiful, handmade rocking horse. Janson was wild and crazy and not really interested in being anywhere near the horse. Out came the bubbles and somehow I managed to get him to be near the horse for a few shots.

Here we are out on the frozen pond!
Now the props are more likely to be books or Nintendos as Janson and his brother are becoming teens. They still have their own ideas. Sometimes I still need to rein in and channel their “creativity” but they are usually game for whatever I come up with. Last year, our pond was frozen over so I said, “Let’s go walk on the pond, it will be fun!” When little brother, Jaren came in in June, I felt inspired to capture one of the last gasps of childhood innocence and brought a kite to the session.

I love being a part of these boys’ lives. They are certainly a part of mine!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

My Camera is an Extension of My Eyes...

My camera is an extension of my eyes, of my heart.

A portion of me is in every single image I make.
It documents, not just what is in front of my lens but what is inside of me.

These are some of the images that are speaking to me today.

What are they saying?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

In the Cold of Wintertime

I have been photographing Dylan since he was two. He is sometimes quiet (for the first 5 minutes of any portrait session and then he gets silly. His mom is Autumn and is the best all around employee for the studio I could ask for. Naturally, his mom and I are always conspiring to come up with something new and creative for his portrait sessions and pushing his patience to the limits.

For his sixth birthday, Mom wanted to do outdoor portraits. It is January so my first thought was, "Really? Are you sure about this?" Temperatures were well below freezing but it was sunny the day she called. I checked out the forecast and it was supposed to stay cold and dry for a couple of days before the rains returned. I looked at the choice between cold and dry and cold and wet and decided that dry sounded really good to me!

The Filbert Orchard

I had been driving by a filbert orchard a few days earlier and loved the starkness of the bare trees, the blanket of soft brown leaves on the ground, and the symmetry of row after row of trees and was inspired to photograph someone in an orchard. Now was my chance!
We did a few with his little sister, Addie....

And some more with the dog....

Then we went to a spot with rusting carcasses of ancient railroad cars....
When we were all done, our noses were red and our fingers were numb but the images are awesome and Dylan (a rough and tumble outdoor boy through and through) had a great time!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Queen of Chaos

Neil affectionately calls me the Queen of Chaos. My brain does not always work in a straight line. It is more of a zig-zaggy, jump here, then leap there, kind of process. It can be very annoying, particularly to my dear husband and particularly when we are photographing together. Here is how it goes: we are at a wedding and in the middle of it the light bulb goes on. I have an idea! The problem is that I can’t really explain my idea to him in any way that makes any sense to him in 20 seconds or less. So, instead I splurt out some chain of consciousness thing, he looks confused and I just charge ahead with my idea.

This is how my brain works. It is like I have this pile if index cards laying around in the back of my brain with snip-its of ideas scribbled on them. I start shuffling them around and throwing aside the ones that don’t fit the current situation. I grab an idea that I have been wanting to try, I see a spot where the light will work and I go for it. This is when I am at my most creative and Neil understands that it is best to just let me go.

Watching me work with a toddler is probably when it is most evident. I have an idea that I start the session with but after that it is usually very free form. I see what the kiddo is responding to and sometimes it has nothing to do with the idea I had in mind to begin with. So the first prop gets thrown to the side and another one brought out. Somewhere in there little Joey gets annoyed and starts crying. Have no fear, out come the bubbles and the tears stop and the giggles start while I figure out what the next plan of action is. And so it goes.

Now, if you are not in the room, what you might hear is thumps and bangs and screaming children and it doesn’t sound like there could possibly be beautiful photography happening. Sometimes, even the parents who are right there can only focus on the fact that Suzie cried and didn’t do what Miriam asked. But I know about the tiny slices of time when she looked over her shoulder at me with her big eyes and the whole world stopped. It is that little slice of time that I live for, held forever in the photographic image in my camera.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hanging Photographs and Keeping Them Straight

If you read my last post, you know that I went to Cristy's home recently to hang 16 prints. I had worked out an arrangement in Photoshop and showed up at her house with hammer and level in hand. They all needed to be level and straight or it was going to look really bad.

Now keeping things straight is not my strong suit, as Neil will tell you, so I knew I was in trouble!

I usually hang prints with picture wire on a small nail and I know that if you use two nails a distance apart, the frame will stay in place much better than with one nail in the center. Then I looked at this project and thought about putting 32 nail holes in the wall. I knew that the 32 holes would quickly become 64 (or more!) as I found that the position of some of the images wasn't quite right. Yikes! I am just not that patient!

My solution was to use one nail to hang each print. I double checked the spacing and look of the arrangement as I went along (I did have to move a couple of nails). Then I whipped out the level and when I was confident that each print was straight, I used a ball of Stick-Tak behind one corner of the print and pressed it against the wall. This is the stuff that college students use to put posters up that won't damage walls.

Voila! The prints will stay straight and won't have to be repositioned every time someone slams a door! I am so brilliant!