I remember assisting my husband at a wedding some time ago, and whilst setting up the rows of guests in lines in order the throw confetti I overheard a couple commenting upon the approach not being as natural as they would have liked. This isn't the first time I've heard this criticism, but I would have loved to have been able to explain to this couple that this preparation was totally necessary to set up the shot effectively. Without a certain degree of planning it would have been one big disastrous mess... people would be standing in front of the photographer and crowding the couple, throwing the confetti randomly at different times to one another, and the chances of getting that shot would be slim.
Believe it or not, even the most natural and candid shots are usually very carefully set up by a photographer in certain situations. Don't get me wrong, there are many photographers who shoot purely reportage style photography in an unobtrusive fashion, usually with a zoom lens and out of sight, but I find that when photographing children in a short space of time this approach isn't always the best one to take.
Much time and thought is taken when planning a photography session. Location is the first box to be ticked; I select the location based upon what it is I'm looking to achieve in a certain shot. For example, with the image taken recently of Joseph I knew I wanted a location with earthy and neutral tones as I wanted the colours in the Indian headdress to be the main focus.
Time of day and light is also extremely important when looking at getting the perfect shot. With the featured image, we had gone to the beach when the light was behind clouds so it was diffused. This creates a beautiful even light, which helped me to get the shot I had envisaged. I wanted Joseph's eyes to be a focal point of the image, which was easier to achieve given that the light was so even, so there were no shadows or the risk of him squinting.
I am a big fan of photographing in the early evening in the height of summer, when the sun is going down and there is a beautiful glow during the golden hour. In these situations, I'll ask the children to play but position them so that the sun is where I want it to be. In the case of this image, I asked them to sit on the log with the sun behind them so I could backlight them, after this they were just left to do their own thing.
If photographing kids in the middle of a glaringly sunny day, I make sure I choose a location which offers lots of shade so that we can shoot there. I will place them in the desired spot, then usually try to keep them entertained so that they remain there. This is where bubbles, balloons or other fun things are brought into the shoot to give the kids something to focus on for a second or two. This shot was taken beside a wrecked boat, which offered much welcome shade in the height of the winter sunshine for a number of photoshoots from last year.
I am also a big fan of getting children to look deep into the lens as I love these pensive shots which focus upon the eyes, and have a few tricks up my sleeve to entice them to do this. One of these is a now rather shabby looking homemade 'lens pet' which is supposed to look like a bird, which I made with an old scrunchy and some felt and which wraps around my lens. He's admittedly a little funny looking, but certainly does get some rather inquisitive stares, giving me time to get the shots I'm after.
The key to getting the best results out of children is to have fun with them. I've been known to wear bunny ears, sing songs badly, make animal noises, play hide and seek and chase them around a field for what feels like hours...anything to try to engage with them and make them relax. Many of these natural shots were achieved because I had managed to gain a certain level of trust with the kids in the short space of time we had together.
Oh..and I find the occasional fake moustache works wonders too!
Lynne Atkinson - Alice Rose Portraits