There is some saying out there in the photography world about never work with kids or animals as both are unpredictable. I don’t think that is precisely true. It is their unpredictable nature that is predictable, right? Huh? No. That makes no sense. Let’s try this again…
Photography and kids do not mix.
There. Short. On-point.
But add a rank amateur to the mix of photography and children and you have a recipe for something akin to a disaster. Or, at the very least, a lot of pictures being taken with only a few worth keeping. But I’ll take a few keepers…
A few weeks back our friend and neighbor Sandi asked if I would consider shooting her family’s Christmas pictures. They like to have a few family portraits in celebration of the holiday season and send out one of those family picture Christmas card things. Very suburban of them. I wasn’t certain I wished to get involved and not because I’m either difficult or uncooperative, but because I really have no fucking clue what I’m doing. Just look at my photostream for the evidence.
And this “no fucking clue what I’m doing” thing is particularly true of family portraiture as I haven’t ever done any. And I’ve barely used my quaint (i.e. inexpensive and incredibly basic) light kit so I haven’t yet quite got a real feel for it. So….no experience with family portraits. No experience working with kids. No experience working with posing. And no appreciable work with my light kit.
A recipe for failure if I’ve ever heard of one.
As I elected to do this favour and opted to look at it as a learning experience, what precisely did I take away from it?
First, kids are difficult. Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong…Kendal and Elise are lovely children, but there is something about dressing them in Sunday finery, setting up overly bright lights and placing a camera in front of them that makes them…no….FORCES them to stick fingers up their noses. Or to not smile. Or to look over at the interesting thing happening somewhere else. Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ! Smile and look at the camera!
Second, difficult kids mean you don’t pay enough attention to the parents. While trying to help focus the girls on my needs for the picture-taking extravaganza, I inadvertently stop noticing to what the adults are doing. Suddenly Sandi is slouching. Or Bruce has lifted his chin and now his glasses reflect the overly-bright soft boxes. Or that lovely smile previously upon Sandi’s countenance is now a grimace as she struggles with a child.
You can begin to see how we managed to burn through 146 images in less than 25-minutes.
Third, while smallish soft boxes are better than nothing, larger soft boxes would have been ideal. Looking over the images (including the keepers) I distinctly felt that larger boxes would have cast light over a larger area, thus reducing the difference in light fall between the adults and girls (the height difference). And a third would have been handy…something higher up and above me (centered upon the subjects). During moments like this it frustrates me to think that I could use more and better lighting, but dollars being limited I have to be thankful for what I have. But what I have clearly shows its limitations. However, between the limitations of the checking account and the lights, I’ll have to defer to the checking account as it, like the Ring, rules them all.
Fourth, PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR COMPOSITION AND FRAMING! For example…
This should, or one would hope, seem rather self-evident, but it is so easy during the heat of battle to forget the simplest of matters. In this instance I genuinely believe I might have noticed how much dead space I was leaving above them had I not been frazzled by the dealings with the kids just moments before. And it’s this sort of image that just leaves me so frustrated. Even though they took at as a keeper, I think it’s awful. They look fine. The composition is for shit.
All that said, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Because it was Bruce, Sandi, Elise and Kendal it was fun. They are such a nice couple and family. I always enjoy spending time with any of them. And it was, like I had hoped for, a learning experience. And the single greatest thing I learned was to take my fucking time.
Not wanting to seem slow (in both speed and mental capabilities) I pushed instead of taking my time and letting the pictures come to me. Instead I pushed to move through everything so that we could get in a lot of pictures from which to select. Had I been patient and took some time we very well may have taken fewer pictures and had more keepers.
Live and learn, eh?