When I was a child, my father gave me a camera. It was a manual film camera, not the digital ones I use today, and I was enthralled by figuring it out. I learned every aspect of photography that I could from that camera, then moved on to the next, and so on for many years. I practiced with nature as my subject, though I didn’t discriminate against whom my subjects ended up being.
Eventually, I found that I enjoyed interacting with people rather than nature behind the camera. Whether it’s event photography or taking portraits of families, children, and pets, there’s a unique problem to solve when you work with humans.
I find that I don’t consciously think about the majority of the shots I take. In fact, the shots are much better without actively thinking about them. It’s almost as if muscle memory kicks in and I’m allowed to naturally flow with the subject instead of taking the time to think about what’s happening. When that active thought occurs, there’s a good chance that you lose that connection to the subject and a great moment is gone.
That isn’t to say I don’t pay attention to what’s happening in the shot. I’m always inspired by and drawn to different patterns, colors, and background elements that tell a story. I like to let my subjects move in their own ways without much direction, as that feels most natural and the best photos of them are taken that way. However, if I notice a composition that’s particularly compelling, I’ll suggest different positions for someone to try to enhance the story.
I also take a lot of inspiration from subjects themselves and the spaces they live in. If a kid is all about running around and playing, I want to allow them to use a large space to do just that. On the flip side of that, if a child is more interested in quietly reading with her parents, we will find a comfortable place with great lighting to snap photographs that feature their special bond. Either way, I don’t want my vision to be so strong that it overrides their creativity. I’m just a fly on the wall telling the story.
I’m most inspired from other families’ photos that I see on their Facebook pages or hanging in their homes. In that sense, I can see the compositions they already like, the way that everyone in the photo interacts together, and the colors and patterns they enjoy. I try to continue the thread that’s already there so these new portraits fit with the vision they’ve already started for their family.
There are as many different styles and inspirations in the world as there are photographers. No one person sees the world exactly the same. When it comes time to work with a family, I want their vision and aesthetic to inspire my photos of them. It feels much more authentic when that happens. That’s what I love about photography: you’re able to give the gift of how you see the world to someone else.