Lesson 4 – Do it your way

I’m new to photography and I have so much to learn. I listen intently to recommendations from other photographers, watch training videos, read articles online and most importantly learn from my own experience.

Lighting has been the one area in which I have read about most. Subjects could be lit too much, too little, create undesirable shadows and so much more. Early on I experienced many failures with this however as a result have learned a great deal.

I started off with very simple kit which included continuous lighting in the form of two soft boxes. Over a period of time I encountered numerous issues and realised they just weren’t for me.

  • The soft boxes were a source of constant heat. From the moment the photo session started to the minute it ended these light sources were on. As you can imagine the huge bulbs heat up pretty well and in a small room can cause some warmth.
  • With two soft boxes I required two convenient electrical sockets or had to take an extension cable with me
  • Two electrical cables also meant two safety hazards not only for us adults but especially where children are concerned, especially if they decided to veer off set…which was quite often the case
  • These soft boxes didn’t have varying output which could be adjusted to suit the ambience of the photo shoot
I considered investing more money on additional/better/different kit as an alternative lighting solution. I spent a few nights online to see how other studio photographers managed their lighting and what they suggested was the better option.
Studio lighting obviously depends on what results you’re looking for but my goal was ultimately to eliminate the disadvantages I had encountered above.
One tutorial suggested a set up similar to mine with additional lights illuminating the backdrop. This just wouldn’t work for me as I was aiming to reduce the number of cables, heat and create a safer environment for children.
Another tutorial suggested reducing the lighting and incorporating a reflector. This seemed a logical solution but which toddler sits still long enough for a reflector to be positioned correctly? The alternative was a parent chasing their child around the set with the reflector.
Some photographers have the luxury of a dedicated studio where equipment remains in place twenty four hours a day. So their suggestions of white walls and ceilings or 12ft white panels are valid enough but they weren’t going to be an option for me. I have to fit my kit into the car if shooting at a clients’ house or taking it up and down in my own house.
I decided to create my own lighting solution by taking ideas from a variety of professionals and articles. I was a little nervous at the next photo shoot but I was ecstatic at the results, the reduced cables and cooler temperature of the room.
So although I’ve changed some of my kit and altered the set up slightly I’ll continue to use my old soft boxes for new born sessions. The number of cables won’t be an issue, the softer lighting will be more appropriate and I’ll not need to move them once they’re positioned. So they’ve not been retired completely.
Since researching how other photographers work I’ve realised even all the professionals have their own way of working, there isn’t only one rule. What works for some doesn’t always work for others. Listen to the advice and guidance, research alternatives and apply where you can but remember just because your way is different that doesn’t mean it’s wrong!

Lesson 3 – Take your time

I’ve always placed a large amount of pressure on myself to achieve in whatever I’m doing. At this point in my life, alongside being a mum I’m putting immense pressure on myself with photography, both technically and composition.

My sense of achievement is fulfilled by an image that I’d quite happily display on a wall at home or a shot at which I’ve taken numerous attempts until I feel a sense of satisfaction.

There’s a temptation to take as many photographs as you can during a photo session in the hope to capture ‘the one’. I know I’ve done it.

It took a while for me to realise how counter productive this actually is. After settling down in the evening with a cuppa and the plan to start editing I find myself with hundreds of images to sort through. This is not only due to shooting in RAW + JPEG and in continuous mode but also being ‘clicky happy’. I’ve ended up with at least six of the same image and in the worst scenario six of the same unfocused image!

I’ve since learned that the best approach is to move or direct your subjects until you’re satisfied with the composition (if you have to), focus, shoot once and check. This limits the number of files and flashes.

Also remember that your camera is portable so move yourself too! You don’t have to remain static throughout the session. Shooting from a variety of angles can give you some fantastic perspectives and something slightly different.

Stop rushing, take your finger of the shutter button and take your time.


Lesson 2 – Use mums and dads to your advantage

Parents are a great resource on set, use them to your advantage!

I’ve noticed on numerous occasions parents so desperate for their little one to smile, laugh and giggle on demand that they’ll jump up and down, sing and make faces on the sideline. But that’s exactly where they are, the sideline. While they have the child’s attention they’re not looking at the camera. But how do you address this without discouraging them from getting involved?

At first I felt uncomfortable but if I didn’t nip it in the bud I could just render all the images useless at the end of the session. I just tried ‘That’s great. Now let’s try something different. How about….?’ And that seemed to work pretty well. You’re not criticising what they’re doing but indicating that you’ve got what you need on that shot and to move on.

It doesn’t always have to be songs and silly noises, although they are pretty effective. Shiny or sparkly toys works really well for smaller children and babies. Attach them to a make shift fishing rod so the parent can dangle it just above the lens. That way parents are able to get the baby looking in the right direction without them invading your personal space or you trip over them. A good game of peek-a-boo behind the camera works a treat……not so much for teenagers. Although it’d certainly get their attention!

Parents are also very handy on set for wiping noses/faces. Well that is a parent’s job after all, isn’t it? 😉 As a result of one photo session where this didn’t happen I spent far too much of my time editing out dribble. Save yourself some unnecessary editing time and keep those wipes handy.

If the child has numerous outfits leave the parents to be the hair, make up and wardrobe department for the whole session. Feel free to make suggestions on what you think works well and what doesn’t. This downtime will allow you to take another sip of your much needed coffee which has been cooling steadily.

If you need a reflector of some form held in position parents are great for this too. This has much better results than if you attempt to hold it and take pictures at the same time, trust me. It’s also a lot less cumbersome than having it on a stand which would just be yet another obstacle for you to hurdle and the little one to trip over.

Just consider, both you and the parents want the same thing, fantastic results. So in most cases you’ll find the parents will be willing in anyway they can to achieve this. So just ask!

Lesson 1 – Be prepared for anything

When working with children be prepared for anything!

You’d think wearing a pair of jeans and flats are preparation enough, wouldn’t you? Jeans for rolling around the floor assuming a variety of yoga positions to get that crucial shot. Flats for jumping and running around after these energetic little creatures. However I hadn’t thought about wellie boots for jumping in muddy puddles.

During one of my portfolio building photo sessions I had the privilege of a lively three year old who was shy at first but it turns out an absolute natural in front of the camera. We spent a little time on set but while the sun was out so we took advantage of the local parkland and had a lot of fun. Some of the route was what can only be described as sludge. As I sashayed around puddles and tiptoed through the mud trying not to sink I remember thinking ‘if you’re going to fall, sacrifice your dignity, land on your bottom and save the camera’!

After plenty of running and playing ball we made our way back to the house with a full memory card, but not before making the most of the biggest, wettest, muddiest puddle!

Next time I’ll take more suitable footwear…….and maybe a spare pair of trousers just in case.