Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Pros Photographing Their Kids--Do It Sparingly

The families of professional photographers are at special risk of having an obnoxious lens aimed at them at any time and in any place. That just comes with the territory when your parent or partner is obsessed with capturing images with a camera.  I plead guilty as charged with having been one of these overbearing
souls who has a tough time letting a good photo op get away. But for the sake of family harmony I have always made the effort to at least moderate the urge to pick up the camera and shoot when on family outings.

Neverthless, there are those impossibly compelling moments when camera addiction overrides all other concerns and a particular image is just destined to be captured, no matter what. At those times the photographer just has to bear the consequences of his or her behavior which can range from a simple nasty look to having to sleep on the couch for a week.

The images that cry out to be taken are always obvious, such as the one above, when my daughter, Heather, was five months old. My wife and I were headed out the door carrying Heather, a stuffed Easter bunny, and a small blanket.  The lighting on our front porch was decent and the potential just too great to pass up the opportunity. I actually don't remember whether the photo in this case was my wife's idea or mine. But for certain it was just an ad-libbed afterthought as we left the house and not a planned shot. Before getting into our car my wife quickly laid the blanket on the porch, leaned Heather and the bunny against the front door and each other, and I snapped off a few shots. It was all done hurriedly without any fancy choreography and then we were on our way.  Those were the days of film and I never even got to see the results until a few weeks later.  Upon seeing the transparency I knew it was a great shot and shipped it off to one of my stock agencies. They subsequently sold it to Avanti for use on their greeting cards and subsequenly the image has been used to advertise various products. Serendipity is important in photography. One needs to take advantage of it whenever possible.

It goes without saying that some people are more comfortable in front of cameras than others.  At least that's the case with adults. Children, however, almost all love to have their picture taken.  This is especially obvious in foreign countries, such as India and Vietnam, where kids come running over enthusiastically in groups to be photographed, even when they are not the subject of your attention.  Fortunately for me my daughter was never camera shy and was always a good sport (and still is). Plus she has always been photogenic.  Every April for many years I took her down to Homer, Alaska to camp on the beach and have an Easter egg hunt. At that time of year many starfish wash ashore and Heather didn't complain in the least when on one such trip I lined up a row of the creatures along her arm for this photo op. There are not many adults that I know who would sit still for this treatment.

The cutesy period for photographing one's own kids doesn't really last very long.  Perhaps eight or nine years at most, if that.  Once they start looking adult-ish the subsequent  photos you will be taking are relegated to the usual family albums and sending pictures to grandparents.  The commercial potential of extreme innocent youth won't be there any more.

And speaking of family albums, when I was selecting images for my recently published novel, Golden, about a girl and wild horse, I realized that I needed a photograph of a young girl riding a horse to show the human protagonist of the story. I could have gone to a stock agency and purchased such an image. But instead I remembered a trip we took with Heather in the Spring of 1993 to a friend's ranch in Ellensburg, Washington.  Heather was nine years old at the time.  I went to my collection of family images, found a transparency of Heather at the ranch galloping on a horse named Cassin, scanned the slide, and inserted the digitized photo into my Word document of the book manuscript.  Family photos can be where it's at.

Mark Newman

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