Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesdays


As I've said many times, I'm a 'fickle' photographer.  I love to photograph many different subjects (I get bored easily).  Shooting landscapes and still life and architecture all eliminate one challenge...these things rarely move!  They are stationary.  You set up your tripod and take all the time you need to compose your shot.  Even in most portrait photography, like engagement shoots, senior photos, executive shots, etc., your clients are anxious to cooperate in order to help the photographer get the shot.

Family portraiture, however, is unique, because usually, the only one who wants to be there is mom!  Dad knows this is a family duty, so he's usually cooperative, but the kids are a whole different 'ballgame'.

What seasoned family photographer has not been confronted with the sullen teenage boy in the family, spiked hair and a thousand pounds of chains pulling his pants down to his ankles, staring daggers at you.  (Hmm, might think about adding a can of pepper spray as part of your camera gear!) (J/K)  Then there's the teenage girl who rolls her eyes and flips her hair and shows her disapproval at every pose you put her in.  And what about the 7 year old boy who manages to have his eyes crossed and tongue sticking out in every single shot!

Once in a while you can bribe teenagers with a couple of movie passes, or free car wash coupons, or a gift certificate, and if that doesn't work, maybe the threat of grounding might work coming from Dad.  The seven year old might respond to some immediate gratification, like candy or baseball cards.

But this all pales in comparison to taking photos of toddlers.  They are a whole different story.  They can't be bribed and they have all the power.  They are in control and they know it.  All the adults at the photo shoot are using every possible trick they know to get them to stand still, look at the camera, smile, stop crying, stop rolling on the ground, stop screaming,  stop running away.  There is nothing that can bring a photographer to her knees, (literally, because that's where you should be when photographing toddlers), than trying to get the impossible:  an in focus shot of a smiling toddler!  In my opinion, photographers who make their living photographing children should be the highest paid in the industry!

So now that I've attempted to be a bit humorous describing a family photo shoot, I have to say, that taking photos of families and especially children is most always fun and rewarding.  To see families interact with each other and to know I'm recording family memories makes me feel good inside.  And even though the above situations happen occasionally, most families and children are delightful and a joy to photograph.  And toddlers are the best.  They are so honest, they do the funniest things, and there is no need to guess about what they are thinking, or what they think of you, or what they want to be doing at any given minute.  As a photographer of toddlers, you have to be in the moment, flexible, intuitive, creative, quick, and know your equipment and how it will function without thinking about it.

So here's what I've learned about photographing toddlers:

  • First, the prep work.  Make sure you schedule the shoot when mom says it's the toddlers best time of the day.  She/he should be rested, fed and in comfortable clothes.

  • Always take the formal shots first, if that is the main reason for the shoot.  Because initially, toddlers will be mildly amused at you and your camera, and mildly amused at your assistant who is getting their attention with some outlandish behavior.   It's downhill after that.  And your first thee shots will be the best!!!  At least that's been my experience.  I keep thinking 'the first three shots' rule is the exception, however, so every time I take family photos I persist in continuing until I've taken a hundred shots.  But almost always, the first few are the best.  So knowing this, the set up is critical.  First of all, you must work quickly because toddlers get bored, tired and hungry really fast.  Let someone take the toddler off to the side to play for a few minutes while you get everything set up.  Make sure your lighting/exposure and camera settings are perfect.  Then bring in the adults and other family members and pose them.  Take a shot to make sure you are all ready.  Next quickly have your assistant bring the toddler in and pose her where you've planned.  Then as the assistant blows a horn, makes funny faces and noises, and/or does cartwheels, start snapping away.

If you get lucky they'll hold still long enough for a formal portrait
  • After your attempt at a formal portrait, if you still want to pretend you're in control, try some 'moving shots'.  Swinging, bouncing up on Dad's shoulders, lifting into the air.....motion can usually bring a smile, or at least a pause in the crying for a few minutes.  But remember, motion also brings blur.  So make sure you set a higher shutter speed and maybe bump up your ISO, then explain what controlled motion you want the parents to do, and be ready to snap away.

Then comes the 'motion' shots
  • But in reality, the best shots you will get will be when you let the toddler be in control and you are there to record the adventure.  In other words, the candids.   Everyone begins to relax, and the photos are real and fun.  Sometimes we photographers get too hung up on wanting a perfect composition, a perfect background, etc., and we lose sight of the important part of family photography, and that is to capture family dynamics and personalities, and memories.

    And finally, you just let them do their own thing!