Newborn babies melt me. I love their earnestness, their freshness, and especially how cozily their bodies fall naturally back into the most compact of positions, the fetal position. It is simply irresistible to me.
It was with a great amount of joy, therefore, that I went to photograph little 3-week old Elya, the same little one I had photographed prenatally, in her mama’s tummy. Elya was sweet and interested and demanding, and let me know when she had had enough of my camera in her face for the day. As beautiful as Elya was for the official shoot, some of my favorite photos were unposed, taken during “breaks” when Jonna and Peter (aka Mom and Dad) were attempting to calm little Elya down.
Thanks, Elya, for letting me take some of your very first portraits! I couldn’t have asked for anything more in a model. Enjoy a few shots from our session…
As the holidays approach, I look forward to lots of picture-taking fodder. For anyone interested in documenting things that are taking place around them, holidays can be wonderful opportunities. Most people lose their self-consciousness to the flow of activities, people, and preparatory work, and it’s easy to quietly slip in and capture images that are natural and organic. The hardest part of photographing people, for me, is enticing them out of their self-consciousness long enough for a good shot, so this is no small thing. Here are my top ten tips this holiday season for shooting documentary-style pictures of your festivities; let me know if you have other good methods to share!
- Keep your camera out and in use throughout the day(s). Most things that are happening are completely photographical, whether it is washing dishes or a rousing game of Catch the Greased Watermelon. Sometimes I get striking, beautiful shots from the most easily-forgotten moments. Another benefit of taking photos throughout the day, is that the people around you become acclimated to being photographed, and will start to forget the camera’s presence. This is a great place to be if you are interested in a documentary approach.
- Keep talking while you photograph. It’s not so easy to keep a semi-natural conversation going when you are wrestling apertures and shutter speeds and ISO’s in your head, but I find that my subjects relax much more quickly if I can keep them distracted, talking or listening. This approach has the added benefit of urging you as a photographer to place more trust in your compositional and technical instincts.
- Be tactful and respectful, but assertive. I became a photographer in part, because I preferred being behind the viewfinder, to being in front of it. I don’t like to make an ordeal when I’m shooting photos, and try to remain as unobtrusive when possible. The line between being respectful and being overly self-conscious, though, can be very grey; in fear of coming across as paparazzi, I have missed many a lovely shot. On the flipside, I feel quite strongly that there are moments that simply shouldn’t be subject to my lens. Sometimes, it’s shooting in the dark (no pun intended) determining what is most appropriate, but as a general rule, I recommend erring on the side of caution. In the spirit of a pursuance of beauty, balance, and art, it is not worth injecting discomfort into a sacred moment for the sake of a photograph; photographs always reflect the tone in which they are taken.
- Re-train your family and friends NOT to “Smile!”. In this age of rampant imagery and cameras, we are all trained from a very young age to say-“Cheese”-and-smile when a camera is pointed at us. The newest cameras now have smile reactors in them, so that the picture will be automatically shot when the subject displays a smile. I have worked long and hard to re-train my friends and family NOT to do this! As fun as cheese-and-smile pictures are, when I shoot, I always hope to get beyond these traditional posed images. My family now knows that they are to completely ignore me when I am photographing them, continuing on with whatever they are involved in.
- Educate your family and friends to appreciate the beauty in documentary photography. As we are all conditioned to see cheese-and-smile pictures of ourselves, let’s be honest, we have all perfected our picture smiles/faces, through long, tedious hours in front of a mirror. This leads many to feel a little discomfited and shocked by seeing natural pictures of themselves. Be prepared for a lukewarm reception to your work at first; but if you feel it’s strong work, stand behind it! This might mean doing a little image-counseling for some, assuring them of their beauty, though it be non-traditional beauty; it might mean deleting certain offensive images (hard though this may be, going through with this is critical to building trust with your subjects [see below]); and it might mean needing to do some explaining about your editing rationalizations. Do it, if you appreciate this style of photography; it’s worth it. They will come around.
- Build trust with your subjects. Just like in any relationship, if you don’t maintain and build up trust with your subjects, you won’t get very far. Cameras inherently possess dominating and colonizing tendencies; the more aware you are of these unspoken dynamics that are present in any photographic relationship, the better you can diffuse them and be sensitive to the subject’s needs. Ultimately, you will get the image that you create; do you want an image that speaks of discomfort and distance (maybe you do, in which case, excellent!) or one that speaks of trust and openness?
- Photograph the food. Every family has food traditions, and holidays tend to be a smorgasbord of heavenly foodscapes. Don’t miss this opportunity to document these feasts! Food is interesting, ever-changing, and is constantly being interacted with (cooked, eaten, presented, prepared), all of which make it an ideal subject. Posting these pictures later to share is also a nice nod to the chef(s) for the hard work they put forth for these ephemeral works of art. A dear friend of mine recently defined an artist as someone who has found their life’s work, and does it with intent and passion. I consider photography an exciting medium through which I can acknowledge the unacknowledged artists in my life.
- Focus on interactions. I find the most compelling documentary images to be those that capture an interaction of some sort. This isn’t always the most obvious interaction happening; keep surveying your surroundings to see the big picture, so you know which details you want to capture.
- Know when to put your camera down. I sometimes fall prey to a feeling of responsibility to capture everything that happens while I am holding a camera; this is detrimental to my own enjoyment and natural engagement with the event in which I am partaking. It is as important to know when to put your camera down as it is to feel assertive and confident in taking pictures. I don’t want to look back at my life and only remember things through the photographs I have captured. I interact differently in a space when I am with camera than I do without; it is good to acknowledge this and make proper accommodations for this.
- Be aware of zoom and angles. Depending on the space, many people in an un-posed situation can be hard to compose nicely in your viewfinder. Move around the space; try new angles; and work different levels of zoom. Keeping yourself active and mobile will also help you to catch smaller moments you otherwise might have missed.
In my humble opinion, there are few things so beautiful and awe-inspiring in this world as a pregnant woman. It was my great pleasure to photograph one of these beauties, recently, only a few short weeks before she gave birth to her first child, a daughter, Elya. I went over to Jonna’s house one bright, crisp, fall morning, and took photos of her, her sweet and gracious partner, Peter, and their as-yet unborn babe. The light streamed in their bay window, offering my favorite kind of spotlight, and we collaborated to capture some really lovely moments. I am so honored to have been invited in to be a part of their pregnancy experience; congratulations to Jonna and Peter, and welcome into this world, Elya.
Looking out my window today at the glowing orange, red, and golden yellow Minnesota fall vista, in the park across the street from our house, my thoughts wander back through this fleeting summer we just came through… Tom and I were fortunate enough to have many precious family visits over the summer, spending long weekends and an occasional week with loved ones around Minnesota and Wisconsin. Our families stretch across the globe, all over the United States, to England and Russia, and when you are lucky enough to have family visiting from such distant regions, a four hour car drive doesn’t seem so bad.
In the spirit of the dwindling (or already gone?) summer, I share with you a few snapshots from a couple of memorable visits: a trip to Madison to meet our Russian in-laws, with family coming in from Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota (us!); and a family reunion in Perham, Minnesota, where my family gathered from all over Minnesota, Virginia, Utah, and Florida. I feel so privileged to have been able to share all of this time with people so dear to me, and hope for many more summers so full of reunions, laughter, frustration, sleepiness, excitement, memories, late nights and early mornings, and all the other experiences and emotions that we go through when we love others so dearly. Love going out to our many family members, wherever you are.
My sweet sweet cousin, Nya, was able to visit this summer from Virginia, and while she was here, we had a fabulous time with a fashion photo shoot. Nya is quite a little fashionista, already, at 16, and was completely at ease in front of the camera. Enjoy a few shots from our photo shoot around Northeast Minneapolis.
A dear friend of mine, Mandy, was married in the end of August to Ben, her partner. Their wedding was a weekend-long affair, with colorful tents peeking through the woods in the park where their wedding took place, and where a production of Midsummer Nights’ Dream preceded the wedding. (Mandy & Ben are a part of the theater company, Upright Egg, which put on Midsummer as an open-air play this summer.) After this hilarious and rousing reminder of the state into which love can put us, Mandy and Ben were married, barefoot, both in white, (Mandy in her grandmother’s wedding dress and veil), under the gazebo as the sun sank into the western sky.
Mandy and Ben served up the food that they and many family and friends had prepared, on compostable plates, handing out a plate to each guest before sitting and enjoying their own meals. The love and sense of community were inspiring. Many, many thanks to Mandy and Ben’s lovely family and friends, it was wonderful to photograph all of you! Enjoy a few of the shots from the evening…
My uncle Kent and aunt Janene requested that I shoot some family portraits this summer, while we were all together at an annual family reunion. As children grow up and begin their own families, I have seen how difficult it can be to get everyone in one place at one time; it was quite something that only one of their children was missing at this event, so they grabbed the opportunity while it presented itself. This beautiful family gathered together after hours of travel from Salt Lake City, Duluth, and Minneapolis, at our grandparents’ farm in Perham, Minnesota. Theo and Jasper, the first grandchildren in this family, (as well as “Blueberry”, pictured here, but as yet still a very small fetus), were particularly excited to see Grandpa Kent and Grandma Janene. Jasper spent most of the week on Grandpa’s lap, impressing us all with the strength of Jasper’s love and trust for Kent, transcending the distance between Utah and Minnesota. Much love going out to all of you in Utah!