Advances in digital photography have made it affordable for the masses and more and more of us parents are trying to learn the art and craft of photography to help us document our children's lives and our lives with them. Kicking off our week-long series, Ask a Photographer, is Tracey Clark. "Photographer, writer, mom" is how she describes herself and it's apparent that these three words don't represent different hats Tracey wears, but have woven themselves together into one creative identity.
I had the opportunity to meet Tracey last year and she is as passionate, genuine and spirited as her pictures would lead you to believe. Tracey's enthusiasm isn't just making photos for herself or for clients, but in sharing the creative process with others and facilitating a photographic community of sharing and celebration. The result is the collaborative blog, Shutter Sisters, the essence of which found its way into book form with the fall release of Expressive Photography: The Shutter Sisters' Guide to Shooting from the Heart. Tracey also has her own website, Tracey Clark, and keeps a busy schedule of teaching and speaking. Her latest endeavor is 52 Weeks of Photocentric Creativity and Community an online workshop series on Big Picture Classes. "You'll only need a camera, any camera."
Reader Question: I would love some tips on photographing many kids at once. Seriously, to get all our kids looking at anything at once let alone a camera...and twenty shots later there will always be someone with their eyes closed or crawling off or just distracted. Help!
Tracey Clark: Getting all your kids to look good in one shot is never easy. The key is to try to have fun with it because if you're stressed when you're shooting, your kids will be too. Sometimes I take my kids someplace interesting without giving them a clue that the main goal is to get a good shot of them together. Even just taking them for smoothies can be a perfect way to keep them all engaged (and together) as you shoot. Brightly colored cups and straws can add a playful charm to the shot. I often lure my kids to the beach and let them run around and play and then get shots there. I chase them around and snap away and then I set my timer and we race to see who can make it in the shot in time. A little reverse psychology can help sometimes!
If you're looking to do something in your home and can't rely on the novelty of shooting someplace new, I would suggest giving the kids something to keep them occupied when you're prepping the shot; like a book or a small snack. Getting them in positions where they can't just get up and walk away helps; like all on their tummies. And when I do that, I'll get down on mine too as I shoot. They usually think that's pretty funny. When I have to shoot large groups of kids (or even of both adults and kids) I act really silly. I pretend like I see ladybugs or butterflies and ask the kids if they see them too. I pretend to have a sneezing fit (my secret weapon to get everyone to look and laugh!) or I get in close and ask if the kids can see themselves in the "mirror" of the camera. It gets everyone mugging for the lens, even if only for a few seconds. You really have to have some fun with larger groups and work quick!
Reader Question: I'd like ideas for family portraits on a budget, i.e. DIY family portraits. Recommendations for what should we all wear - same colors, all black, all white? How to choose the background and what to do for lighting when you don't have pro lamps? Any hints for getting as close to pro as possible!
Readers Question: I'm home all day with my kids and would love to actually have some photos of myself with them. Any advice for getting in the picture myself? (Do I need a tripod or other gear or just very long arms?)
Tracey Clarke (addressing both question): I love this question because I am constantly taking family shots on my own. I actually do it more for fun than anything else. I love using my self-timer for all kinds of group shots because I like being included in the photos! If it weren't for my self-timer, I would have no photos of my daughters and I.
I start by arranging the group as artfully as possible, leaving a space for me to run into as the timer is counting down. I'll then do a number of shots where I run back and forth from the camera and back to the group. The best part of this is that I am entertaining my family in the process and am able to get pretty authentic looking expressions. I only use a tri-pod when I have one handy. If not, I use any sturdy surface. Even the ground works if you can't find anything to prop it on. It's not only convenient, it makes for an interesting perspective. The more you use your self-timer the better you get at it and the more comfortable everyone is with it. Obviously, to step it up a bit, you can coordinate outfit colors and styles (avoid all wearing the exact same color) but if colors seems to clash (because you're shooting on the fly) then you can always process the shot as a classic black and white. Works (almost) every time! The best advice I can give you is to have fun with it. You will never regret taking family photos, professionally or by your own hand!
Reader Question: I was a photographer for a national children's portrait studio several years ago, so I have enough knowledge to understand how a camera works, how to set up basic lighting, and some classic poses for a variety of ages. But now that I'm a mom-to-be, I'm worried that my number one struggle as a photographer is going to haunt me once my baby is born: Cutting down the zillions of photos I take to just the choice few. I don't want to be one of those moms who posts a Facebook album of 100 pictures of my baby during tummy time one afternoon, and each photo is just slightly different than the last. Yes, each one will be precious to me and I'll find each expression unique, but by photo number 10 my album will be boring to everyone else (and someday me too, once I'm out of the babymoon stage). How to I train myself to see "these photos are all basically the same" and just pick the best one? How do I put together an album (on FB or in a real paper album) wherewer each photo is unique and precious, no matter who looks at them?
Tracey Clark: This is such a funny (but important) question/comment! All the zillions of photos you take of your baby will never be boring to you (guaranteed) BUT I totally get your question and concern. I have always found it more difficult to edit my clients photos over my own because I never know what shots they'll like best of their own kids. For me and my photos of family, I try to choose my most favorite shot of each "session" of my children and pick one to use for an 8X10 photo album. That way I am sure to have a nice collection of classic shots in a book for my kids to look through.
So, how to I pick "the one"? My first consideration is always expression. There's got to be a look that my child is giving, an endearing gesture or a feeling that the photo evokes in me that makes it book worthy. Ask yourself if you'll look back on that shot and see it as a quintessential moment in your child's life. Does it feature or showcase something you never want to forget? Secondly I ask if the image tells a story. Is the shot taken in context of an event or happening that was important? And lastly, I look at the visual interest of the shot. Is the perspective or angle unique or compelling? Does the light make me swoon? Is the color irresistible? Those artistic elements are important to me in creating a beautiful collection of my children's portraits.
Once I quickly run the images through those three filters, I know which ones are the true keepers! Good luck and be thankful you're not having to pay for every shot you take, like in the old days when my kids were babies!
Reader Question: I find myself trying to compose a photo while I'm looking through the lens but should I be shooting wider and just cropping it later? I usually really like the up-close photos of my kids, but maybe I'm missing out by not leaving myself options?
Tracey Clark: I learned how to shoot by filling my frame exactly how I want it so cropping for me isn't really a strategy to improve my images. It sounds like you're like me that way. I think composing as you go is the way to do it, for sure! If you're worried that you're not telling enough of a story by leaving out context then shoot both kinds of images. I find that the tight crop is my favorite way to capture my kids as well but I do know that I value the images that offer context too. Sometimes you just can't beat seeing the entire scene or having some room to breathe around your subjects. I would just encourage you to get in the habit of shooting a little of both. You'll find plenty of options when you cover all your bases. If you just left it up to cropping later, you'd probably be disappointed with the results and you'd be spending more time cropping and less time actually shooting.
Thank you Tracey!
(All images: Tracey Clark)