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Learn history, tips, and best practices for photographing children in this inspirational and beautiful book.
Learn history, tips, and best practices for photographing children in this inspirational and beautiful book.
THE AUTHENTIC THE IDYLLIC & THE FANTASTIC
WHAT'S THE OBJECTIVE?
When I was little and had a quandary I would often go to my father for help. No matter the question, his reply was always the same, "What is your objective?" My father knew that it wasn't necessarily an answer I needed from him (answers often live inside us). Rather, what I required was a platform for understanding my question. Having an objective often clears a path for decision-making and lays a foundation for what we'll choose to communicate; what will we emphasize, what will we minimize, and what will we leave out all together? These are the elemental decisions that literally frame our photography, but before we make them, we must answer: What's the objective?
Why we do what we do
I can't help but wonder why we do anything. Is it because we were preordained to a certain lifestyle, purpose, or involvement? Is it because we were influenced through training or circumstance? Only the individual can answer these questions. Our answers will provide valuable insights as we dare to ask.
Why are our cameras drawn to childhood? Is it the authenticity of their little lives, their spontaneous ways and the plain nostalgic beauty of a time we've all left behind? Perhaps, and with no disrespect intended to the intrigue of the individual child, it could be that they are just there, willing participants to a world of make-believe and show for the camera.
Each of us is drawn to this segment of life for our own reasons. But though childhood is multifaceted and as diverse as the photographers who capture it, the draw of its images is almost as universal as the experience of childhood itself.
Childhood has a lot to teach the artist-photographer who is willing to put in the time and effort to advance their work within the subject. It has been said that everything we need for a successful life we learned in kindergarten, and so it is in the photography of childhood. Working with children will teach the receptive photographer valuable lessons of interaction, respect, and agility. The patience and skill required to shoot children well will support all photographic endeavors.
To photograph a child we must be flexible and prepared. We need to make decisions instinctively and not bog ourselves down with deliberation. Childhood also requires respect and kindness if we want to elicit cooperation or at least avoid flat-out rejection. We require participation from not only the child, but also those who care for and look after them. In the time we will spend with the child, we must also intend to care and look after their needs as well. We cannot demand and dictate to a child and expect cooperation and ease; we must earn it. At the risk of sounding too reverential, this interaction involves a sacred trust of which we must never take advantage. Forever remember that we are charged to create a safe and protective stage for their world; and in doing so our ability to create honest, sincere, and authentic images, whether on set or location, will flourish.
Before I introduce the general categories of possible objectives in our images, I want to suggest that these segments of photography are intertwined. Although it is perfectly acceptable to do so, we need not feel pressure to choose and focus on just one category throughout our career. Many will focus and specialize. However, our niche might be the subject, rather then the objective or approach. Edward Steichen (p. 54) never bound himself to a certain style or genre. He simply followed his heart and interests and his strong results spanned the gamut of methods. In the final analysis, it's about you and where your inner compass takes you.
The purpose of this chapter is to help us clarify our personal objective for each shoot. This will determine the approach, equipment, and preparation required. Generally, the objective of all images fall into one of three categories;
The Authentic: Candid and journalistic images showing life as it is.
The Idealistic: Formal portraiture and staged scenarios, depicting life in its "Sunday Best."
The Fantastic: Conceptual and imaginative images that explore concepts in a world a little left of reality.
Each one of these is enhanced by the categories before it. Idealized images, like portraits, are aided by a splash of the candid. Fantastic images combine the strengths and requirements of both the authentic and the ideal and saturate them with concepts, production, and personal vision. So, who are you? What are your strengths? What is available to you because of your background and current circumstances? How will you share your perspective? How will you expand it? Artistic perspectives can have roots in all these categories.
When utilized authentically, these objectives are vehicles for your perspective and offer a serendipitous connection between you and the viewer of your work. We mustn't worry about manufacturing that connection; as we make authentic work, the connection will come naturally to those ready to receive it. Plot your objective, but allow the work to flow organically through that objective. One of the many beautiful things about photographing childhood is that it tends to lead us away from concerns about merely pleasing an audience and allows us to focus on the subject and our objective. Before every shoot, clarify for yourself: What is the objective?
A candid image
The objectives within "The Authentic" image are foundational for photographs of all types. Although it holds its own category in the classifications presented here, it often defines the "success" of all images because of the subtle power in candid gestures, expressions, and poise. The authentic is what we do when no one is looking.
It provides our viewers with a window into the everyday, not barred by self-concern or show. Authentic elements ground images and allow for a connection with the viewer to our work simply because it honors, at least in a small way, real life and provides new insights into the everyday.
When we photograph things as they are, rather than a manufactured scene, we approach image-making through the role of a detective. It is up to us to discern what moments before us are essential to capture. Rather then getting overly involved, the authentic requires that we step back and observe! Observation is the hallmark of this objective.
The same questions we asked ourselves to determine our own personal objectives in photography can now be placed in the scene before us. A candid and authentic photograph is frank, honest, truthful, and sincere. It is the foundation of journalistic photography. The best images will be backed by a story, the life before the lens.
Who is the child? What are his or her strengths in gesture and interaction? What is the child's background and current circumstance? Can we tell just by looking? How will you share your perspective of his or her story? Will you expand on it by including elements of the environment, or eliminate them focusing solely on the child's face or body language? How does the child interact with others, their environment, or themselves in their imaginary world and play? Is the child aware of the camera or have they bored of it and forgotten its presence? Generally, the younger the child, the shorter their attention span. This can be a great asset for a photographer who is after candid moments. However, this freedom is harder to come by as the child grows into adolescence.
What is the best way to be invisible to the child? Be around long enough that you are not noticed (sudden movement and arrivals make us conspicuous). Because children act very differently when they know the lens is on them, be less apparent and consider using a longer lens and blending into your environment, but just for the initial shots. Don't be afraid to get close and interact with children. Ask the parents for insights that will aid the interaction. The child will more likely be at ease if they've seen you interact with a parent. Although a long lens has its place (and certainly this works for the paparazzi), I would suggest that it be only one tool or approach to capturing candid images.
Henri Cartier-Bresson (p. 62) rarely used a lens wider or longer than 50mm in focal length. As we'll discuss in Chapter 3, this is considered a "normal" lens and best approximates what we see with our eyes. What is more authentic than that?! Still, using an even wider lens, like a 28mm or 35mm, can allow you to get even closer to the action and still capture important environmental information. With a 28mm lens we are not just looking at the scene, we become a part of it and allow our viewers that same access. Many street photographers, like Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, and Cartier-Bresson avoided long lenses. Using a long lens defiantly narrows the perspective of our shots. It's up to the photographer to determine whether that is a good thing or not. Remember, there is also nothing wrong with the child being aware of the camera, as long as they are not terribly influenced by it, therein losing the candid flare of their gestures. If we don't want our images to feel voyeuristic, we can't simply hide behind a long lens like a paparazzo.
Another common misconception is that one has to shoot a lot of images of childhood to get anything good. But as we observe and develop skills of reading the behavior of others, we can better discern the "decisive moment" and capture just the best photographs. This will actually benefit us (and our time editing) as we are selective and only shoot when we anticipate the shots that fall within the objective. Cartier-Bresson coined the term "Decisive Moment;" visually it is defined by gestures, expressions or significant action. Be patient and calm, wait for it, and when it presents itself, get the shot! Nervous energy and fear prompt us to engage the shutter beyond what is necessary, and the image we are after can fall between frames.
Don't be afraid and trust your instincts! Procrastinating and thinking you'll get the shot later is a mistake. Capture the image when you see it. If you can anticipate a similar image, use that foresight to make another photograph, but never neglect the first shot. Each photograph belongs to its own time and it may or may not happen for you again. As we learn more about the subject and scene through observation, experiment with angles and position relative to the light source. As a general rule, avoid flash, as it is conspicuous and can cause the spontaneity of light and circumstance to be rendered flat. As candid moments present themselves, try moving around until you've completely exhausted the possibilities of the shot you're after.
When it comes to the possibilities for candid photographs, no camera is better than the one you have with you. We don't always know when the perfect shot will present itself, so always be ready with a camera. Luckily, nowadays, cell phone cameras are always at our fingertips. Yes, I am making a plug for knowing how to use a cell phone camera. Although these are not cameras that generally produce high-quality images (because of their tiny sensors), they wonderfully accomplish the first requirement of a candid image: having a camera when the moment presents itself. This minimal equipment allows for spontaneity, and if we know how to fully take advantage of all it's capable of doing (including but not limited to incorporating apps built for it), we can embrace the inevitable flaws that occur with this limited tool. It may sound quaint, but we have a lot to gain by knowing how to best use our cell phone cameras. They are not that complicated and there is not a lot to know, so as we become a scholar of this small bit of information, we'll best utilize that camera which is always with us.
The next step up is the ever-popular point and shoot variety. Although they generally have much smaller sensors than Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras, their sensors and lens quality often dwarf the size and performance of our cell phone cameras. Carier-Bresson did not capture his timeless images with a hefty SLR, but with a smaller, compact Leica™ camera. Today many street shooters who target candid moments still turn to this workhorse of a point and shoot, proving that a good quality compact camera is still a contender, even for highly acclaimed professional photographers.
Jacques Henri Lartigue (p. 58) also had a knack for capturing candid moments. One of his biggest assets, aside from his talent and passion, was his access. Not just anyone can maintain his or her subject's unaffected ease in the presence of a large formidable camera. For Lartigue this ability was a direct result of his familiarity with his subjects. There are two lessons to be learned here. The first, we must look closely at what is nearest to us: a world that may only be accessible to us alone. However, if your camera leads you to discover new horizons, outside the familiar, find a home in this new venue. If it is dear to us then a natural approachability will occur with our subjects, because we care. Second, although we are the one with the camera, making all the decisions of what to capture and how, there is something very powerful about maintaining a humility and small presence when photographing, especially with children. This allows us to slip into the background and be a "fly on the wall" through more observation and less talking. As Perry Farrell put it, "I want to be more like the ocean, no talking, all action."
Excerpted from PHOTOGRAPHING CHILDHOOD by LANOLA KATHLEEN STONE. Copyright © 2012 by LaNola Kathleen Stone. Excerpted by permission of Elsevier Science.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
CHAPTER 1: the authentic, the idyllic & the fantastic
Why we photograph: exploring intent
CHAPTER 2: early image makers
What history offers us
CHAPTER 3: tools of the trade
Nuts and bolts of image making
CHAPTER 4: timeline of childhood
What to expect and when to expect it
CHAPTER 5: before nostalgia
The Image and the Memory
CHAPTER 6: artists & images to inspire & inform
Contemporary Photographers: art, style and insight
CHAPTER 7: storing, printing & sharing your work
how to archive, and share your photographs
Posted March 15, 2012
Getting that fantastic shot of a child is a combination of many factors. In her book, Photographing Childhood, Lanola Stone shares her experience of how to capture children in photographs in a way that even those who work with children on a daily basis can benefit. She has practical suggestions on how to engage children, giving us tips that can make a huge difference. Additionally, Stone includes a wide variety of photography tips such as how to handle aperture and lighting to understanding histograms and shadows. Mixed in with the practical are some beautiful photographs, a brief history of photography, and bonus interviews with some well-known children's photographers. The book is a treasure chest for anyone wanting to capture the life a child with pictures.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.