Photography never truly seems like work. It is difficult, it consumes time and resources, but once in the act of taking photos I am content to remain there for as long as my subject feels there is something remaining to capture. Along that concept, I did my first family portrait session for a dear friend who had a recent addition to the family about eight months ago. While families have not been a focus for my work, I have learned that putting good people in a room will always yield rewards. *Please note that while I am dying to show some of the photos in full, I always really respect my clients and never place anything without permission after the shoot. I will post two tightly cropped fragments just to give a sense of lighting, but none of identity.
I shoot images of people almost every day during the school year for our yearbook, and have learned how to get the shot for my own needs, but it is a more complicated matter when you are trying to capture the images that a client might want. He might want a photograph to hang proudly above a fireplace or twenty images for a small book or three hundred wallet-size shots for his extended family. She undoubtedly knows what she likes, but may have difficulty expressing that in terms that communicate what she imagines a portrait to look like. The minute details may be scrutinized or it may all be about the experience of going for a family photo. The one constant is that each person wants to look their best and to feel like it was positive to come, sit and pay some photographer money to capture a moment in their lives. They have probably also seen the work of the 17 year old at the Big Box Store who takes kids’ photos against a tacky teddy bear background for $19.99 with a wobbly tripod: flash, flash, flash – done – now pick your best shot for printing while you shop for shoes and a refrigerator. I don’t do that; that’s not me.
I will admit that I spent an hour prepping for the session by looking at other people’s family photography: Leibovitz’s Sopranos and the Obama portrait, some formal portraits from 1800s and then the worst of tackywearingthesamesweatersockscombination photos from the 1980s. I looked at Anne Geddes‘ masterfully creepy collections and WalSearsCostMart’s promo shots to see what babies even look like. It was a roller coaster of the great and the horrific. I would like to think that my photography edges towards the greater, especially by the end of any shoot.
The family arrived well-dressed and ready for business. I felt that the baby was really the focus of the session, especially when the little guy came into the room. Not having children of my own, I was more than a little apprehensive about being able to capture the love everyone else had for him. I know that 30 years from now he will find some of these in the bottom of a drawer and wonder if that was really him. He might laugh, cry or feign disinterest, but those moments will be the official record of his first year. I wanted those images to be the best they could be.
In the two hours we spent taking images of the various family member combinations, we captured some great things: some smiles, some drool, a first wave, and a series of solid portraits that have a classic feel to them that should last the test of time. V. was a lifesaver with keeping Mingus from licking the baby and squeeking a blue dog toy on my head at various points. The one regret I have from the shoot is not asking her to take some photos herself to lend her talent to the session; next time that will be a definite requirement. Overall, it went very smoothly and it was positive enough that I would consider doing that again for people who like what I do.
The hard part is now editing the photos. Since I am not sure what the final products might be yet, I need to provide a series of possibilities for the family to choose from. Unlike commercial work, there is a lot more personal identity at stake here, and I want everyone to feel like they translate well onto the photo paper. Given that this is a first shoot for the genre, I expect this to take a considerable time investment on my part, but that is part of the fun. I cannot think of a better way to spend a Sunday morning than with good people like these; sometimes you don’t need to chase the light because it finds you.
On other news, I should find out about the possibility of the EXPOSED exhibition in May…keep your fingers crossed on that one.