Family Portraits

It helps if you’re a talker. Apparently, that’s the secret to taking good portraits, to make people feel relaxed in front of the camera and maybe even encourage a smile. The thing is, I’m not much of a talker.

I don’t take a lot of pictures of people. It’s not because I don’t find people interesting or beautiful. In fact, I’m fascinated by people and take a hundred mental photographs of them every day, but I rarely photograph people with my camera. About ten years ago, I started researching copyright and privacy rights and waivers and found that much depends on the intended use of the photos and I never know how I will use my photos, especially not at the moment I am taking them, and much also depends on whether or not the people you are photographing are in public or if you are taking the pictures from a public place or if the subjects of the photographs can be identified or not. The easiest thing seemed to just ask people’s permission, but I am most interested in candid photographs of people whose behaviour is unchanged by the presence of a camera, so that seemed to defeat the purpose. So for a while, I just stopped taking pictures of people.

My partner, Monna, however, has become an excellent and fearless photographer of people. Her smart-phone street photography is brilliant (she posts shots on her blog, here). She is helping me to be more brave. I have, on occasion, had the chance to take portraits of people who actually want me to photograph them. I’ve done headshots for plays and a school campaign designed to challenge our conventions of what we find beautiful. I’ve even shot a wedding or two. This summer, I had the chance to shoot some family portraits. Monna came up with the basic idea of setting an old table and chairs against a natural backdrop of a field or some woods, and she ordered some festive fabric flags. Then we brainstormed ideas about what might make it more fun to sit in front of the camera. Subject to the demands of haying on the farm, we had to shoot in the middle of the day, but despite the heat and the squinty bright, the family were fantastic and creative and willing to be a little bit silly. The photos, I think, are the better for it.

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