I had a viewing this morning with the parents of this little girl Hannah, and they were very pleased. I thought I might use the opportunity to speak about my intent with all of this. Why shoot families?
Let’s go back a step…I met up with this lovely family of five early in the morning at the National Australian Botanic Gardens – Melissa and Darren (the parents), Lauren (the eldest), Hannah, (pictured here) and Samantha (aged 4). Darren is the director of Outward Bound Australia, which means that this family lives and breathes the bush. If you don’t know the Australian landscape, it’s textured, layered, soft in the colour palette, and the Botanic Gardens was the perfect venue for them.
I’d spoken with Melissa a couple of times on the phone and we’d emailed back and forth while I was overseas last year (they booked me for this gig before I left, back in April or so last year). I had not yet met them in person before, and that is the usual approach. I know I’m pushing the envelope a bit doing this – there’s no prior understanding of the personalities and dynamics, I wait to see what unfolds before me on the day. The surprise element encourages me to focus on my intuitive responses which then then governs my shooting decisions.
The interest for me in a Family Session like this lies in the hunt, the dig, the discovery, and making a permanent record of what I find. I dig around various ideas as they present themselves throughout the session. In the case of the pictures above, my gut response to Hannah was that she is a thinking, reflective, gentle type of person, so I decided to secure that idea in my images of her. This was my approach:
I took a few frames at the commencement of my little chapter with Hannah, at the left and middle above, the usual. Anyone can do these, to me they’re just glorified school photos, she could be anyone. Sometimes I rattle off frames like this just to get my eye in and to allow my subject to become accustomed to the camera. I took some time to speak with Hannah, I asked her about school, I even asked her to close her eyes and to tell me what she could see. When she opened them again, we got the frame on the right. By then I was in her space, down on her level, and in close. Because I’d taken some time to get to know her and speak with her, in her language, she could then relax that bit more and be that bit more of herself. I deliberately set this frame off centre, to give the feeling that we, as the viewers, are just catching a glimpse of her little spirit, she’s looking off frame, over our right shoulder, something has caught her eye, her mouth is closed, she’s not talking, and she’s thinking about what she’s seeing. We could just as easily not be in her presence, and she would look like this anyway. There’s also a subtle sense of movement here, with the swing of the pendant, and the light falls gently on her neck, she’s delicate, and feminine and the lighting helps communicate that.
This is why photography is addictive for me. There’s a challenge in that, to capture the essence of the person. The only way for me to do that is to suspend judgement, step in quietly, be respectful, honour my subject, say thank you, and then go to work creating beautiful, artful images out of our session. I do feel that Melissa and Darren will treasure the images we took for a long while to come, and Darren’s emotive response to the images when he first saw them was all I needed to see.
I’d like to know how you approach people – and you don’t have to be a professional photographer! If you’d like to add something to this post, please pop in a comment, I’d love to hear from you.