When my oldest was born in 2013—my beautiful little girl—I was over the moon. She was so tiny and so perfect. As she grew physically, her personality and opinions grew as well, and by the time I was pregnant with her little brother almost three years later, I was scouring the library shelves for books on parenting “spirited children.”
When my water broke for my second go-round with birth, I foolishly assumed everything would be the same as the first: contractions would take a while, but they would start just in time, he would be born in a birthing center, attended by loving and supportive midwives, and we would all go home around four hours after his birth.
Anyone who has given birth more than once can tell you just how foolish this assumption was. My little boy, from the very start, has done things in his own way. The birth center was not the place for his birth, since he was on his own timeline, not mine or the midwives’. We were discharged from our beloved birth center to Denver Health for a big dose of Pitocin to help contractions get started under the care of a nurse named Susie who terrified me at first with her promise that babies were usually born on her shift (which I understood to mean she meant to give me enough Pitocin to make this thing happen). She turned out to be an amazing care-giver to whom I will always be grateful, and my son was born after a relatively short and easy labor. I literally cried I was so relieved that it wasn’t the same as my first experience with birth.
The point is, every individual, from the very start to the very end, has their own personality, and I see it as my job as a lifestyle family photographer to capture that tiny spark of who they are and not just get a “cheese” for the camera.
Here’s an example from a recent portrait session: Mom and Dad needed a series of pictures for an adoption book they were preparing, something the birth mom would look through to decide which family was the best fit. We had discussed all the details—the location, what they would wear, what kind of images they wanted to capture, how we would time the shoot to get the best light possible without keeping their one year old up too late.
The portrait session started out in the tall grasses near a line of elm trees and something with white blossoms in the background to add interest and balance to the composition. We got some beautiful, classic family shots and some cute snuggling pictures, but their little guy just didn’t seem all that happy. We tried offering him some independence, capturing him walking between Mom and Dad, but that didn’t quite do the trick either. We decided to try a new location, and it was in transit--walking along the gravel path--that we realized it was the tall grasses that he didn’t like. They were cramping his style, tickling his legs and getting in his way. On the gravel, he let loose, got playful with me, and we could really see his personality shine.
When I start a portrait session, I have an exact plan in mind of what I’d like to capture. I have scouted the location—usually the night before—so I know the precise lighting and composition that I hope to capture. But a portrait session is a little like birth—you can only control so many details, and sometimes you have to work with the challenges you are given in order to create the best experience possible. Was the light perfect when this little guy wanted to play on the gravel path? No. Did I find a way to get us back to the gravel path once the sun had gone down in order to capture his joyous celebration of his independence from Mom and Dad? You betcha! Because it’s not enough to understand light and posing and which images will make stunning wall art and which images will tell the perfect story in a photo book. A photographer has to quickly tap into a person’s center and their source of joy. For kids, it often means movement, eye contact and engagement. For adults, it usually means snuggling into their kids, or words of affirmation and direction that help them feel confident that the photographer sees their essence and is capturing their best features.
I work hard as a photographer, as a mom and as a person to treat everyone as a unique gift, to elicit their individual strengths and to capture their essence because no two children are the same, no two people are the same, and we all deserve to be seen and photographed as we truly are.
Click above to see a video that includes the little boy with the BIG personality. Click here and here to compare videos of my children—same portrait session, same backdrop, same music playing during the session—totally unique images and personalities!
Holly Freeman is a lifestyle family photographer from Lakewood, Colorado with a knack for getting people to light up in front of her camera. If you would like to learn more about a portrait session for your family, reach out. She'd love to chat!