Just as you are and why I love it

Just as you are.

It sounds pretty simple but at times it can feel far more complex than we’re really willing to admit.

When it comes to photographing my own family I have journeyed through “this is how I’m supposed to do it” to “this is how I want to do it” and the resounding answer is JUST AS YOU ARE.

Why? Because I see this as our most beautiful selves, when we can be just as we are without pressure to behave in a certain way, dress a certain way or even look a certain way. We can go about our daily lives and photograph that it in all its glory, mess and quirkiness.

Ultimately what I am most passionate about is being our selves because there’s no one else we can be, and isn’t it awkward, time consuming, difficult to try and be something we are not.

My number 1 goal is to document as honestly and respectfully as I can. This is not without it’s challenges, for example I am torn about documenting things like tantrums (although these feelings are valid is it necessary to document it? maybe I should be as it brings about more societal acceptance that it’s ok for small children to feel upset about different things - to them it IS important)

I hope through my work we can collectively (myself included) reframe our ideas of what family photography is and what is worthy of being photographed. And to also really embrace the multifaceted dimensions of life and all the complexities and simple joys it brings.

I spent a rainy Saturday morning with this gorgeous wee girl and her Mum who are dear friends of mine. We had a loose idea of some activities that we thought would be fun to document (making pancakes, getting ready for ballet, crafting etc) but litte Miss had other ideas. From brushing her teeth in a variety of colourful hats, masks and crowns, to an all out dance/gymnastic bonanza to the Moana soundtrack, we had so much fun!

The Pineapple Shorts

When I first started photographing our everyday moments I was drawn to the work of other photographers work as inspiration. In the work I was drawn to the children were beautifully styled and colour co-ordinated in their outfits and it all looked so adorable. I wanted my images to look as beautiful and I thought the key was in my styling. I began purchasing clothes for my eldest (I was pregnant at the time with my second son) that followed a muted colour palette, that were classic in design and that could be easily mixed and matched to what I owned. If I knew we were going somewhere that would provide a great photo opportunity I would purposefully attempt to dress my son in the clothes I had set aside as being photography worthy. As he was only 2 he didn’t care what he wore, apart from some exceptionally itchy woollen jumpers he was quite happy to be dressed and styled by me.

The problem was my pictures were still not great. I found the pressure of having the “right” outfit washed and ready for him to wear was stressful, my husband was quietly surprised at my insistence on specific clothing for our son, and worst of all I started to run out of ideas of what to dress him in.

One day my husband told me a story. When he was about 6 or 7 he had a pair of bright yellow shorts with tiny pineapples printed all over them. He loved his shorts so much that he wore them every single day for the entire summer, and even when they grew too tight and too short he still insisted on wearing them. For him these shorts were the best item of clothing he owned and all these years later he still remembers them with great affection.

In that moment I realised that I didn’t want to continue on this track of trying to style my children’s outfits with my own or the setting I was planning on taking photos in. I didn’t want the responsibility of thinking about all the elements that would have to come together to make a “perfect” picture, but more than that I wanted my children’s personalities to shine through the photos I was taking. In my husband’s story of his beloved pineapple shorts, the shorts were a representation of his personality and despite adult disapproval over the colour/style/continuous wear he LOVED those shorts. I want to remember my children’s clothing quirks, their favourite t-shirts, hats or shoes. I want to remember how they learnt to dress themselves and chose “odd” outfits for the season or event. I want to remember those things because it’s a reflection of them but also because it’s a nostalgic feeling touching on our own childhood.

Photographing our family holiday; an exercise in managing my own expectations as a photographer and mum

We went on holiday to the beach last week. It was a trip we were all looking forward to, 5 days of continuous holiday is a rare treat for us. Without really realising it I had built up an idea in my head of how I was going to “finally” have time to photograph the children to my hearts content.  We would have the most beautiful location (a beach) and lots of wonderful light to play in which would equate to thousands of portfolio worthy images. Can you tell I had very high expectations?!

As seasoned mothers know, when you go on holiday especially to a self-catering setup, you’re not actually on holiday in the true sense of the word and what it meant pre-children. When holidaying with young children you are still doing all the same things you do at home, but you are now in an unfamiliar environment that is not baby proof, trying to manage the children from destroying everything in sight, all the while trying your best to relax and enjoy yourselves! The only difference with being on holiday is that my husband is there to help me.

Knowing all of this, you would think I would be able to manage my own expectations around how I would fit photography in with everything else. A lesson I haven’t quite mastered and that the universe continues to gently remind me of, is that in this season of my life I need to let go of ALL my expectations. I of course thought I had made progress in this area, I am nearly 4 years into this mothering game after all, 2 and a half as a photographer so you’d think by now I’d be on board with this notion. From “missed moments”, to feeling frustrated that why-can’t-we-for-once-go-to-the-beach-during-golden-hour!!!! I found myself feeling grumpy and disappointed that like usual, I was scrambling for my camera and trying to make pictures with tiny snippets of time, instead of the leisurely approach I dreamed of.

Looking through some of my images from the week I know I captured us in our essence and to the best of my ability. Juggling a 3 and half year old, a one year old and all the other parts of mothering whilst trying to capture what is happening in a beautiful and authentic way, is really hard work. I would say to anyone in this situation, bravo for taking even one single photo! I’m writing this just as much for myself as for anyone else who might be reading this thinking; oh my god me too!

Our few days at the beach reminded me to be gentle with myself, let go of any ideas I have e.g. golden hour (laughable I know), follow a spark, any spark no matter how weird, and ALWAYS always have the camera ready to grab.

My approach to photographing my children

I feel like this a is vast topic that could be explored in many different ways, but in a nutshell I currently inhibit the grey area between the genres of documentary and lifestyle photography. I only realised that it was ok to be in the space between (as if we need permission to decide our approach???) when I read Andrea Moffat talk about it in her Clickin Moms breakout “The Stories that Make Us”

She says “But in the gray, between rigorously true and

thoughtfully guided, lies something else. And that is:

The Artist’s Story.”

Through my year of experimenting in 2018, I tried both approaches to the best of my ability at the time. What I learnt was a “lifestyle” approach to photography enables the artist to make decisions about the ultimate story that is been captured. They can make choices about they style and colour of clothing, location, and light to enhance positive feelings such as togetherness, love, playfulness, and adventure. Creative license can be taken in post processing from removing minor distractions, to changing skies and adding overlays.

A pure documentary approach places the photographer as an active observer but does not allow for any artistic influence over the scene or in post processing. A documentary photographer’s job is to capture the scene in front of them in the most authentic and honest way they can. There is a degree of influence that they have in terms of what they deem to be interesting and worthy of capturing, for example they might find certain emotions more interesting than others. The documentary photographer makes very minimal adjustments in post processing, perhaps only fixing issues with exposure or white balance.

After a bit of experimenting I came to the conclusion that I cannot choose one approach over the other because it isn’t me. A 100% documentary approach would dictate that I cannot touch lights, curtains, move toys or direct my children in any way. This I find it harder in my own home with my children because I CAN manipulate the light or eliminate a distraction from the frame, whereas if I’m photographing them at the zoo for example I can’t control those things.

On the other hand a 100% lifestyle approach would mean I take full control of lighting, styling of clothing and giving my children direction. I found this to be quite stressful and time consuming, so I quickly moved away from doing any of that. I have therefore come to the conclusion that I can choose what works for me, leave the rest, and occupy this grey space between the two approaches.

Here’s what I do:

  • I dress my kids in whatever clothes I have to hand, I don’t worry about colours or style. My 3 and half year old is starting to dress himself so he wears whatever he wants.

  • I choose to photograph moments that have happened organically, they are not moments that I have thought of myself. For example my son made a crocodile swamp in the garden so I photographed him playing in it. I did not preconceive that idea for a photo shoot!

  • I will take an activity that my boys love, for example playing with the train set and I will set it up in a certain place that I know has beautiful light. I will remove distractions from the scene if needed.

  • I anticipate what my children might do in the routine of our day, for example run to the window to look for Daddy coming home so I will have my camera ready to capture that moment.

  • I spend a lot of time observing and considering the story I want to tell. One of the main things I look for is repeated behaviours for example my son spent about 2 weeks “writing” in his notebook. I had plenty of time to choose my moment to photograph him.

  • My post processing is pretty minimal in Lightroom (I try and get it right in camera) and rarely use Photoshop (I only know how to do one thing in there anyway!)

Below are a collection of images that I have observed organically and then anticipated or set the scene for it to happen again and captured it.