Editor’s NOTE: I’m very lucky to be associated with the very best people in the photography industry. That gives me access to the top talent pool. And when it comes to children’s photography, it’s tough to beat Tamara Lackey. She’s a regular speaker on the wedding and portrait circuit, a trainer and an extremely talented photographer with a heart of gold. I’m proud to introduce Tamara as a guest poster on Photofocus.com.
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As I watch the little tot race across my studio, giggling up a storm and haphazardly spilling juice behind her as she goes, I’m struck by two thoughts: a) I really need to invest in spill-proof cups b) what a dynamic capture this would be shot wide open with my 85m 1.2, as I crouch underneath the large window directly across from her. I especially want to photograph her while she’s looking back at me in mid-twirl (because oh, this child will twirl).
I know, too, that I want to catch that half-laughing, half-exasperated expression on mom’s face as she watches in silence, keeping to our pre-agreement that all admonishments are off limits while we’re in the midst of a shoot. That image will be composed so that the girl is just a silhouette, nearly off-frame – out of focus but the object of my subject’s interest and, accordingly, a significant component of the overall composition.
In about half an hour, this child’s mood will swing the other way. Sometimes these shifts are dramatic; sometimes they’re a slow burn out. But she’ll get a little tired and start to lose interest in this shoot and also, probably, in me. I’ll capture a whole different range of expressions then because we’ll be interacting in an entirely different manner. Those images will be a bit moodier, often more soulful – maybe edgier, and sometimes dramatically so.
That is important to me, as a portrait photographer – to capture the full range of expressions, more of the whole spectrum of who an individual is. As human beings, we are faced with such a deluge of information coming our way; we have to find a way to catalogue it all. And, so, we encapsulate people quickly, and we make rapid determinations as to who a person “is” – she’s friendly, he’s mean, she’s spoiled, he’s thoughtful. While cultivating the talent of getting a quick, early read on subjects can be quite helpful when conducting a portrait session (and I encourage studying techniques on how to do this), it’s also vital to recognize that who a person seems to mostly be is never who they completely are, all the way.
So the cheeriest toddler in the world will break down. And the most reserved and skittish child in the world will open up, engage actively – will even laugh and dance. But you need to meet them where they are and interact with enough “give” that they care to show you that side of them, too.
But back to the toddler trashing my studio. For right now, from the outside, this shoot looks chaotic, messy, and the photographer (me) appears to be fully encouraging this most improper behavior. But that’s the perspective from the outside. From the perspective of the photographer (me), things are moving along quite nicely. I’ve already captured some gorgeous, stand-alone images, a few tryptic layouts, and I know we have enough for a portrait album already, just halfway through the shoot.
So… perspective. I mention it often because I believe it’s the cornerstone of contemporary portrait photography. As a photographer, your perception of the subject, the thoughts and feelings you intuit and then wish to convey, is a critical component of the story you tell. Factor in the way you interact with your subjects, the manner in which you make your capture (composition, technical settings, lens selection, distance from subjects) and – now, even more so – the way you post-process your images, and it’s even more apparent how much your perspective effects the entire look and feel of that final set of portraits.
Hopefully, your perspective is compelling and multi-fold, allowing you to show your subjects a mirror of all that they are: a fascinating mix of thoughts, feelings and behaviors – or, basically, raw and imperfect creatures in a raw and imperfect world.
Just, also, strikingly beautiful ones.
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