Cuddles, tickles, kisses, dancing, running, lifts in the air. Leave plenty of room for the family to adlib and be themselves. Repeat. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Session done. Boom!
So how does one “leave room for a family to be themselves”? You can’t just place a family in front of a camera and say “pretend I’m not here and just be yourselves”, and then expect magic to happen. We’re shooting real, everyday families here, not actors. Guidance is needed to a certain extent. For me, I feel like after 7 years of doing this, I’ve found my own special way of garnering genuine expressions. It’s actually as simple as having a conversation. Getting to know you. Having a laugh. Creating a welcoming and relaxing environment where you feel able to “let your guard down”.
But it’s not that simple is it? Because not everyone is able to loosen up quickly during their photo session. Some take a bit longer. Some families aren’t naturally touchy feely, and that’s ok. I find that I am able to read a family fairly well and quickly so that I can bring an energy to the session that helps them to create the magic between them. It’s a mixture of knowing what angle to shoot from to get the expressions shot with gorgeous light and figuring out what conversation or sometimes “game” is going to work well for you at that moment.
I’ll let a recent client explain further…
“I’ve followed Kate’s work for some time and I loved her ability to capture natural emotions in her shots. I was also hesitant at the same time at making the investment for my own family pictures because our family aren’t publicly affectionate. My kids and partner hate taking photos. We’ve tried with other photographers and have ended up with the awkward family photos where clearly we tried too hard. All I could think was how could she capture something that I felt, didn’t exist with us? I highlighted this to Kate several times and she was confident we could get some great shots. I figured why not, we could only try right? On the day of our shoot, the kids took some time to warm up but by the end, they were best friends with Kate! When I got a sneak peek of the photos, I felt so overwhelmed. These were exactly what I was looking for and I was surprised that Kate was able to capture affection that only usually happens behind closed doors.”
Everyone will tell you that this parenting gig is hard work. And they’re right, it really is. The challenges you face can often seem overwhelming so it’s amazing to have a support system that “gets” what you are going through. I’ve been lucky enough to find an amazing due date group of women from all around Australia (some also living o/s). We met each other online and have formed beautiful friendships along the way. I highly encourage you to find an online group to vent to and share your highs and lows. Facebook groups are the new village. So I’d like to share some real advice from real mums.
Here we have: 1. a tip for parenting and 2. one amazing thing that you have to look forward to as a parent.
“1. You’re basically not going to sleep well for the next three years so strap yourself in and just go with the flow. 5am is the new black. 2. Teaching them about the world is the best thing ever. You get to blow their tiny little minds with the simplest of facts.
1. Research shows it’s the quality time spent with kids not the quantity that matters, that strung out parenting where there is a lack of self care has a detrimental affect, and that “good enough parenting” is all that’s needed. So lower those expectations mumma and give yourself more credit than you think you deserve! 2. It’s been said kids are like having your heart walk around outside your body – you get to feel the greatest highs, love and laughter in life imaginable. It’s worth all the sleep deprivation, tantrums, potty training and sickness xxx
1. You need a village and sometimes you just have to pay for your village. Find a fab daycare and have a cleaner on standby (if your budget allows). 2. Every age is tough but incredible. You learn something new about both of you (mum and Bub) with every new milestone or “challenging” period
1. Some days will be harder than others just remember to Take each day as it comes! Don’t pressure your self into being that “perfect mum”, to your beautiful babies you are perfect in every way. 2. Enjoy the laughs and the play time and the snuggles. They grow so quickly and become independent before you realise.
1. Parenting is bloody hard. Find your ‘village’ that will help you through the tough times, any hour of the day or night. The ones that will not judge you for your bad parenting choices. The ones that will laugh and understand you & stand by you through all those funny, sad & tough parenting moments. 2. You will be amazed by how quickly they grow. The nights may be long, but the weeks past ever so quickly. Capture every moment!
1. You will always feel mum guilt, and it’s normal. No matter if you stay home, you work, you breast feed or bottle feed. You’ll always feel you can do something better. But trust you are doing amazing!
2. Seeing all the amazing things your child learns and just thinking wow!
1. Look after yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup and if you don’t look after yourself you cannot expect to look after your baby. And always accept the help. Let someone hold bub while you have a nap or a shower!
2. One day they will look you in the eyes and say mama. In that moment every sleepless night will melt away in a big gooey puddle of love.
1. You can listen to everyone’s advice (everyone will tell you something!) but only use what works for you. If that’s different to everyone else it can still be the best option for you. 2. When your beautiful little creature does things for the first time it will melt your heart. Your first hug, kiss, when they say ‘love you mummy’ and even ‘I’m sorry mummy’ treasure every one
Everyone will have an opinion – choose what you want to listen to and make your own opinion.
Babies don’t need the world. Basic and easy. Forgot about all the fanciest outfits and choose jumpsuits. Always use a singlet.
The house work will still be there whether you do it now or later.
If you want to stay home and not have visitors who you have to entertain. Say no. It’s ok.
2. The love that the kids have for you and appreciation. My eldest messages me and asks for advice on some things. Which I feel honoured to give him advice. And if he doesn’t take my advice. So be it. The thought of me is enough.
1. Invest in disinfecting wipes for the inevitable toilet training…
2. Looking forward to: being able to properly travel with them, when they are old enough to fully enjoy the different cultures, foods and experiences that the world’s has to offer.
1. Follow and trust your instincts. You can read all the parenting literature in the world but only you know what’s best for your baby 2. Children truly are little sponges, it’s amazing hearing them or seeing them use something you taught them last week, all on their own
I was talking to someone a little while ago about risk. The “risk” you take when booking a photo session; what you have to gain and what you have to lose. I think a lot of people are fearful to book a photography session in case their children are uncooperative on the day and it’s some kind of total disaster. Well Imma ‘bout to drop a truth bomb on you here… spoiler alert: ALL KIDS “MISBEHAVE” AT THEIR PHOTO SESSION! It’s not in their nature to want to sit still and follow commands for an hour but let me tell you, THEY DON’T HAVE TO! That’s the beauty of lifestyle photography. It’s relaxed, it’s natural expressions, it’s unforced and it’s actually YOU…. Just as you are, just perfectly imperfect. And that’s ok. It is ok for kids to not be interested in having photos done. It is ok for them to lose the plot and start acting “crazy”. It is ok for them to not listen to you. IT. IS. OK. And it is normal. You need to let go of perfection and just chill. You also need to be able to hand over control to your photographer. I know a lot of people have control issues cough me cough, but you need to place your trust in your photographer that they know how to elicit the reactions that you want to see in your family. That is exactly why you hire a professional! It’s actually our job to work with kids in a way that enables them to enjoy themselves. To be able to have strategies in place that calm them when needed and failing all of that, to be able to move really quickly to get the shots when things turn upside down.
I know I’ve come out of sessions before knowing one of the parents (usually mum) are worried because they thought the kids didn’t “do well”. I know that later, once they saw their photos they were amazed! Your perception of how well your kids “behaved” during the session does not equate to the end result.
I do understand that having a photo session is always a challenge with children and you have to take out a financial risk that they won’t “behave” on the day. As an experienced photographer I have many tricks to help the session flow more naturally with young children. Of course in the worst case scenario, if your children were “terrible” (there is no such thing) on the day, the only outlay you would have is the initial session fee and an hour of your time. You’ve really got so little to lose and so much to gain by just jumping into it and placing your trust into a photographer that they may come out the other side with something pretty special for you.
When Tanya wrote me this letter I was in tears. Tanya’s daughter Lara was diagnosed with Leukaemia 2.5 years ago. Lara’s journey to end leukaemia treatment has been brutal but met with the greatest strength, courage and grace. I am so honoured to have been invited to capture many memories for the bravest of the brave. I am often bought to tears behind my camera having photographed births, deaths, funerals, illness and lots of love. The day Lara rang her end of treatment bell was the happiest moment of my photography career and not a dry eye in the house!
My words cannot adequately describe what it means to be able
to offer families this gift of memories so I will let Tanya’s words do the
work. Thank-you for allowing me to share
your words with the world Tanya.
“Tanya Allen 2/7/19”:
“I didn’t think about family photographs until I was
desperately worried one of us may be missing from the frame. Before hearing the
words ‘your daughter has leukaemia’ I didn’t appreciate the power of a
photograph. I was always the girl who had such a great time soaking up the sun
on the beach or the fun at a party that I’d completely forget to snap one
photograph. I figured the moments were so beautiful I would surely remember
them. What I know now is that memories are often not quite enough to completely
take yourself back to a moment in time and that a photo is actually a hell of a
lot more than an image.
When Lara was first diagnosed the beautiful Kate offered to
come over and take some photos of the family. I was SO grateful. Lara’s looks
had already begun to change. She had lost her healthy colour, had put on
alarming amounts of weight from very high dose steroids and her curly blonde
hair had begun to feel straw like and would soon fall out. I DESPERATELY wanted
to remember the family we were before cancer – but that day Kate captured
something far more important than the family we had been.
What Kate captured that day is the story we had begun to
write for ourselves. Lara was facing 2.5 years chemo treatment. We had decided
to live our story with optimism and determination and making the most of it. In
the photos we’re together and we’re laughing which is how we had decided to
tackle cancer. Photos from that day are so much more than images of my family,
they fill me with the steely determinism we had decided to fake until it was
The second time Kate photographed our family we were four
months into treatment. Stunningly Lara hadn’t lost her hair yet and she had
managed to avoid a feeding tube. These were extended family photos – my sisters
and their families. These photos are SO much more than images of my family.
They tell a story of a family facing a mountain, together. I look at these
photos and I feel my family’s support and I feel soaked in their love and
understanding. If the world wants at one of ours, they will have to get through
11 other people to get there.
Kate photographed us again yesterday. 800 days after Lara
started treatment for Leukaemia she rang the bell. The bell ringing signals the
end of treatment, it says I’m done and I’m safe. Our nearest friends and family
who had supported us through those 800 days were in that room with us. Kate was
there to make sure we have so much more than images. I haven’t seen them yet
but I can already predict what Kate’s photos from yesterday will say to me.
Kate’s photos will tell a story of love and endurance, family, friend family
and our oncology family. They will say that tears speak many different
emotions. When I look at the photos from yesterday I have no doubt that they
will be far more than images to me. We will look at them and know we can get
through the hardest of times and still dance.”
This is Lara’s favourite song.
Song credit: This is where it all begins – Summer Kennedy. Licensed from Musicbed.