Way back at the end of June (oh, I am so behind in my portrait session blogging!) a client commissioned a portrait session out at Mer Bleue Bog. She wanted to give a portrait of her kids (ages 3 and 6 years) and her brother’s kids (ages 3 years and seven months) to her mother as a birthday gift. How much do I love this idea? Portraits make a wonderful gift for the grandparent who really doesn’t need any more tchotchkes, especially when you can bring several branches of the family tree together!
It was a warm sunny summer morning, perfect for portraits. While I’d always meant to get out there, I’d never been to Mer Bleue before, so the weekend before the boys and I had scouted it out. As you know, I do most of my sessions on the porch, and being out in the park I was a little worried about leaving my props and gear sprawled across the park while I paid attention to chasing the kids with my camera, so for the first time I hired an assistant to help me out with the shoot.
That’s Tristan, in case you didn’t recognize him on the job. He’s pretty affordable – cost me $5 and a Tim Horton’s frozen lemonade, and he helped me out for the rest of the season whenever I had a portrait session away from the porch. Not only am I officially a small business, paying my way with taxes and whatnot, but now I’m an employer as well!
So we had a beautiful summer morning, a well-prepared photographer, a gorgeous scenic location and four adorable kids. What could possibly go wrong, right? Oy.
I have to say, this was one of the most challenging photo shoots ever. The kids were perfectly adorable, but they were — kids. They had no interest whatsoever in sitting nicely on my blanket, or my little wicker sofa, or even (gasp!) my pretty red wagon. We were in the park and they wanted to explore, not listen to the crazy lady with the camera. I tried all my usual kid-whisperer tricks: jokes, games, reverse psychology (“I bet you can’t sit on this nice blanket until I count to five!”), follow-the-leader… nothing worked.
There was a lot of this going on:
(I love this photo, to be honest. I call it “The Standoff” but it’s not exactly what the client had in mind for a sweet family photo for grandma.)
I could get a great picture of one cute kid:
(I love this shot, too! We were trying to get a shot of this guy and his big brother, but his brother had other ideas and kept wandering off. Mom and Dad were off wrangling big brother and this little guy was just waiting patiently in the woods, checking out the trees. I love love love the expression on his face! But alas, also probably not the kind of shot grandma wants to hang on the wall.)
And I had no problem sneaking up on two kids being adorable:
Getting three kids was a bit more of a challenge and I had to work pretty hard for that one:
But no matter how much I cajoled, begged, joked, or sang, every time I got close to catching all four kids together, one would bolt or topple over or wander away or make scowly faces at the camera. It was really such a gong show that even Tristan noticed how hard of a time we were having. The two sets of parents and I couldn’t help but laugh (thank the universe for parents with a sense of humour!) and we were almost falling-down laughing by the end of a long, sweaty morning where we all tried just about every trick in the book to get the photo. We gave up pretty quickly on the idea of a “sitting nicely looking at the camera” photo and started aiming for “any shot with all four kids in the frame”.
I knew when we finally gave up that I had some pretty good shots and that grandma would get her portrait. But when I saw this photo at a decent size on my computer screen, I completely fell in love with it. Not only was this the shot I loved most from the session and the one that the client picked for grandma’s canvas, but it’s one of my favourite pictures of the whole summer. It says way more about childhood and family than four kids grinning at a camera ever could (in my absolutely biased opinion!)
It’s funny how my heirarchy of planning started to fall apart. I was originally trying to pose them in the open shade and ended up in the far more challenging dappled sunlight. Nobody is looking at the camera. Nobody is smiling. Nobody is posed or really paying any attention at all to me. Just following them with my camera and watching for the moment and being ready when it happened made all the difference between settling for an okay shot and getting the one grandma would love. I like to think that’s where I’ve become really good in photography – being willing to chase the moment instead of forcing it. It makes for a much more natural sort of storytelling portrait.
But I have to admit, on the drive back to Manotick after this session, Tristan and I discussed at length the merits of amending my photography contract to ban three year olds. They’re as wilful as they are adorable!
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