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I’ve seen powerful images in all facets of photography, from street portraiture to landscapes. As I grow and see my own photographic vision develop, more and more the powerful moments I’m capturing are the small, personal moments... the moment two children make each other laugh, a family all snuggled in bed together... a mother bathing her child in the kitchen sink.
These are the instances that leave me in awe of the beauty of the life I’ve been blessed with. These are the moments that bring a tear to a mother’s eye, whether seen from the perspective of five or 50 years.
In the same way your sense of smell can take you right back to a moment in time, truly personal images can pull a viewer into that moment. Too often we get caught up in styling our family portraits like a commercial photo shoot. What is the purpose of a family portrait, if not to remind us of who we really were at that moment?
I always love a client who starts off by telling me about some little expression or aspect of personality that they are hoping to capture. This tells me that we are working toward the common goal of capturing the essence of this moment in a life that is so precious they don’t want to let it go.
I think it’s important to take a moment and decide what aspect of your subject’s personality you want to capture. From that point you can start figuring out how to let them shine. A messy toddler might be best photographed in a driveway with a bucket of sidewalk chalk. I’ll often ask little boys to help me “fix” something and click away as their facial expressions reflect their attempts to puzzle out a problem. Want a great portrait of a mother and a newborn? Instead of trying to get all faces pointed at the camera, smiling away, have mom look at her baby and watch her face come alive with joy and awe.
When working with a family, it can often be difficult to get past the "perfect" image they imagine. Traditionally, I start a session with the more formal images to give them the impression and reassurance that we have the “important shots” done. After that I encourage them to relax and play while I capture a few extra images. The families that are able to really let their guard down and be their true selves with a camera present are the ones who can truly capture "time in a bottle"—or in a photograph.