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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Family Time
by Bill Hartley

Did you know the majority of all photographs taken are of families, and the majority of those images are of children? Funny however, in the realm in which we shoot the most film, we most often discount the quality of these photos. For whatever the reason, family photos of our kids end up as just "snap shots", and are often not taken seriously.

In search of great photographic images we sometimes travel to far off lands, traverse dangerous political climates, and wait-out adverse environmental conditions associated with the capturing of that image. Such opportunities are all around us however, that is, if we take the time to look for them. For what land is more foreign to a parent than a child's preschool, or more political than the little league or soccer field? And what can be more photographically challenging than dealing with the lighting at the school or church play? Think about it, if you have a child, you have a great photographic subject and bountiful, wonderful opportunities right at hand. These photographic moments can be more meaningful, and perhaps more important in the total scheme of life than those so vigorously sought after elsewhere.

This column, Family Time is designed to help you make those special "snap shots" more than just something to jog your memory in years to come. After all, if we're going to take the time to photographically document momentous occasions surrounding our children's very existence, why not do it well? If we're going to shoot film, and capture the essence of a special event, why not create images we can be proud to hang in our office or on our living room walls?

Never Say "Cheese"

What's the one thing everybody says to their kids just before they push the shutter release button? "Say Cheese", or some derivative there of! Think about it? Does "cheese" make for a better photo? I think not. Then, why do we do it?

Perhaps, we want to recapture a fleeting moment in time, an image just missed, and "cheese" is the look we think we had seen. Perhaps we want to improve the look of a pending photo and "cheese" will enhance the essence of that image. Or maybe it's simply a habit that we picked up a long time ago and have never realized how adversely "cheese" can affect the out come of our family photos.

In order to convince you, the photographer, of the downside of "cheese" we need to look at why we had decided to take a particular image in the first place. Let's ask ourselves, what draws me to want to take this photo? Was it something the child was doing before you caught their attention - or was it a thought of a photo having them standing, and starring into a camera lens with forced fake smiles? Was it the ease or the intensity in which the child was performing a task, or was it the consideration of needing an image more rigid, forced or posed? Perhaps it was the setting through which they were fluidly moving, or was it the though of positioning your subject in a planned place? I would be willing to bet in each instance it was the simple moment, action or intensity of the child that caught your eye, and you just had to have it on film.

The fact is, we missed the shot, and figure, why not recreate that look again. Or at least something that resembles what was missed. After all, these are just family "snap shots".

There are times when the concept of "cheese" is a necessary evil. Group photos are a good example. The problem arises when "cheese" becomes an ingrained and unnatural part of your photography - like with my son. Although we never use the concept of "cheese" he has experienced it so frequently with friends and other family members, that when he sees a camera he puts on his best lopsided grin, making it hard to photograph him in a naturally.

Teach Your Children Well

As with anything, if you want to be good at something, you need to practice and work at it. Family photography is no exception. It is your job, as the self appointed family photographer to take the task seriously and learn the ins and outs, the joys and failures, trials and tribulations of good family and child photography.

  • Observation Learn what it is that draws you to want to take that particular photographic image. Children, like all of us, have particular habits and patterns. If we take the time to observe their behavior in any given situation we'll begin to see patterns. My son for instance, will try to climb a tree every time he comes across a big one. If we pass in close proximity to a mud puddle, stream or lake embankment, I know he'll find a way to get wet. This knowledge can give me a photographic edge in capturing a candid moment.
  • Preparation There are different kinds of preparation in photography. The simple things are often the easiest to over look. Knowledge gained through observation will allow us, as the photographer to be better prepared, ready and waiting to capture that special moment in time. Through observations we become familiar with the patterns and rhythms of our subjects, we fall into sync with their actions and movements. We are prepared and awaiting, poised in the understanding of an event, and no longer at the mercy of chance. We no longer have to try to recreate what had been.

For instance, I know that my daughter, Jacqueline likes to day dream, particularly when there is some stress involved. I have come to realize that it's her way to deal with challenging situations. As the sometimes, self-appointed family photographer, (my wife and I share the task,) I have a good feeling when she is about to drift away. If I wait in the wings, unobtrusive, anticipating the moment, and I am prepared, there's a strong possibility I can capture a good, even great photographic image of Jacqueline in her own little world.

  • Patience However, all the preparation in the world will do us little good if we don't have the patience to go along with it.

Once armed with the knowledge of observation and preparedness we as photographers need to be patient. We need to wait for the right opportunity and not force the situation with "cheese" or some other persuasive action. If we missed a particular shot, we simply need to wait. Another opportunity will avail itself.

We are, all of us, creatures of habit. We stop at the same coffee shop, go to the same gas station, etc. Our kids are no exception. Their whole life is repetitive, from the ABC's and times tables to their after school activities. We simply need to learn to wait for the right opportunity, and to be patient in order to capture those sought after images.

This little bit of advice sounds so simple, and it really is. It is nothing we haven't heard before. But unfortunately most of us are so busy we don't seem to have enough time to truly be patient. We don't take the time to observe the little details and to remember them in our photographic quest. We are in turn ill prepared, having our pictures end up, once again, just as another family "snap shot", instead of as great family heirloom.

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