The girls brought out their “play” make-up this past weekend for a short salon session. Ignoring my paternal fears of their possible future battles with body image, they are hilarious to watch as they inexpertly layer coat upon coat of makeup on each other.
Halloween round #2 is kicking off as I type and the kids are recostuming to head into Chardon.
Happy Holloween everyone.
Let’s be honest. Three-year olds and newly tottering 1-year olds are not the most obedient photographic models. I was reminded of that on a beautiful fall day last weekend as I photographed my sister and her family in my professional guise.
It didn’t take long to realize that my niece and nephew were far more interested in exploring Century Village than in standing still for photographs. While I was able to distract them into motionlessness temporarily here and there by pleading and begging, in the end I ended up with many images of their backsides walking away. That’s not a horrible thing. I am still quite happy with those images and it kept the kids happy, the portrait session moving along, and new possibilities possible. 
Photographs with people's faces can create a connection between an image and the viewer (especially photos that have eye contact with the subject and the camera) and by removing that possibility it allows a viewer to take in the scene more readily as a whole. And, certainly with children, images of subjects walking away from the camera can add a sense of innocence and independence. A sense of togetherness as well when the image is of more than one person and there is physical contact like holding hands. Indeed, as my nephew has grown the relationship between him and his big sister has also and it’s been fun to watch.
Not every portrait session works out as planned – in fact many don’t and it’s important to be flexible and inventive. Especially in child portraiture.
Continually pleading and arguing with them to patiently wait for more traditional portraits would have ended in tears and frustration. Theirs and mine. ↩
The objects that cluttered my daughter’s dresser caught my eye recently. I liked that what sat atop her dresser so represented her interests and personality. That insight led to the series of stills below.
6 Year Old
9 Year Old
10 Year Old
I scored a front-row seat at the latest in-house fashion dance party!
I spent a few minutes yesterday getting some glamour photos of the chickens. Why? Well, because my camera was just sitting on the counter whispering to be used and the girls were strutting around the yard feathers a’gleaming.
In truth they weren’t all that interested in posing. They were fidgety and restlessly pecked about ignoring my coaching about positions and the vision I was trying to attain. They had me appreciating the feigned obedience and charitable mood of my kids last week during their portraits.
Finally the prima donnas just quit on me and strutted back home.
Oh, for those following: still no eggs.
I hesitate to admit that for the past several years we have been paying for our kid's “school photos” that are taken in class. Each of those years I have argued against it, but my wife has steadfastly refused to listen. I have nothing against the photographers that are hustling and making a living from school portraiture. In fact, I give them a lot of credit. I know that trying to get useable portraits with just a few entropically energetic kids is a dispiriting gamble at times, let alone an entire building of them.
My argument against purchasing school photos is based on the fact that over the years I’ve bought lights, umbrellas, lenses, a camera, and photographic knowledge that enable me to take photos of equal quality myself. Why pay for them? In her defense, my wife has argued that the she wants the class photo of our kid’s with their teachers and classmates for posterity and the only way to get that has been to buy a picture package.
Well, this year (when I’d actually begrudgingly accepted defeat) my wife surprised me and suggested I photograph our kids. Last night I set up a mini-studio in our living room and fired away. I’m quite happy with the results. Another bonus was that I was able to get an updated photo of all 3 kids together while we had them camera-ready and dapper.
Oh, the class photo? Apparently this year that can be purchased separately outside of other picture packages.
One of the most fun parts of parenting is watching a child grow and pass through various stages as he or she matures. Some of those stages I happily bid farewell, but there are others that I miss when they have passed.
It is becoming obvious that our house is nearly past the imaginative “dress-up” stage. Our older 2 children no longer rummage through the box we have that is full of various costume pieces-parts and our youngest rarely does any more. Today, however, Supergirl made an appearance!
I was able to talk her into taking a break from battling household evil to pose for me.
Despite her superhuman powers her meanest look isn’t all that frightening.
I speak for my wife and I when I say that we are happy to know we have a superhero around the house still; for a little while longer at least.
Or a pirate. Or a dancer. Or a princess. Or a ballerina. Or cowgirl. Or a vampire. Or a …
Earlier this week I returned home from a family roadtrip to Montana. We are still coming down off a vacation and mountain high and getting back into routines of school and work. I am still working through photos, but a quick perusal of them has been fun.
We traveled 4777mi over the 2-week vacation and looking back it has many what feel like “stages”: our visits to National Monuments and Parks on the ride West, our stay in Missoula and the mountains of western Montana, our trip back over the Continental Divide to stay with our friends at Prairie Heritage Farm on the plains of the Rocky Mountain Front, the stop into Lewis and Clark National Forest outside of Great Falls, MT for a wedding, and then long, focus-driven drive home to get the kids back to school.
Looking through the photos I realized that a lot of what I am calling “road shots” give a nice overview of our trip. These are photos that I or my wife took of the landscape of the United States as we drove through. We were usually traveling 70 mph so don’t expect amazing sharpness, but the photos show the transition from the hilly, green farm pastures of the Midwest, to the gray and evergreen starkness of the Black Hills and mountainous West, to the parched openness of the Western plains.
Yesterday morning I photographed my nephew for his 12 month birthday. A year old already. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I photographed the first in his chalkboard images when he was just 3 months old, but yesterday we completed the quarterly series. My sister did a rush print job on the final quarterly image and had it in a frame beside the others before the party started.
We did a few more photos around the house and yard to help get Reid in a party mood. It was late morning so we sought out shade where we could find it and battled the contrasty sun when necessary. It was a lot of fun and there were laughs, mustache themes, big balloons, a cake to tear into and one happy little 12 month old.
A few weeks ago I packed up my lights, gray seamless backdrop, and other lighting gear, and drove to Geauga Mechanical Inc. for a few hours to photograph employee headshots for an upcoming update to the company website.
There isn’t much to say about the headshot session. I commandeered the lunchroom and by the time employees began to get out of a company meeting I had the room set up for photos. The beauty of headshot jobs and the inherent tight framing of the photos is that you can squeeze a makeshift studio in the most unlikely of places. The photographing went smoothly and successfully. The Geauga Mechanical crew were pros and employees cycled through in front of the camera and went back to work as the next person came into the room.
Along with the headshots I was also hired to photograph some exterior photos of the Geauga Mechanical building for the new website. Architectural photography isn’t my focus at this point and the exterior photos were a side project tacked onto the headshot work, but tacked on or not, the exterior images were more challenging than the portrait work in some ways. The building’s black windows are the most interesting aspect to the building, but they also function as one large mirror reflecting the surrounding landscape. I scouted the building a few different times at various times of day and decided, rather than fighting the reflections or dealing with them during processing (no less a nightmare), to use the feature and photographed the building with a late day sunset reflected in the windows.
Thanks to Geauga Mechanical for the work and support.
Our daughters, Charlotte and Abigail, both had their birthday in the last 2 weeks ; a 6th and 9th, respectively. Needless to say, there has been a lot of cake and candles blown out around our house recently.
That recent bout of parties had me thinking again about an issue I have been bumping against for the past year and that, as society become more technology laden and social network driven, has been gaining notice from others as well: How much should I try to document my family’s lives by photographing them and how often should I leave the camera down and experience things in the moment without it?
It’s no longer a new phenomenon to have a sea of glowing smart phones held high and recording at concerts, speeches, graduations, and all manner of events that used to be enjoyed in the moment. Even family parties. Worldwide we have rapidly become a society that feels the need to document and share everything.
Could it be that hiding behind a camera, experiencing events through the viewfinder or LCD might actually be taking away from our experience of it? Interrupting our formation of memories of what we experience? There is some evidence that taking photographs might obstruct our memories of events rather than assist them. Personally, I know that over time I began to feel like I hadn’t witnessed my kids blowing out birthday candles without watching it through a camera in quite some time. And it felt like a loss.
I suspect that everyone will have a different personal threshold for when they begin to feel that they are missing out on things when photographing them. Lately, I have begun to put my camera down much more during family events. And I’ve been enjoying it. I feel more involved, and there really is nothing like meeting your child’s eyes with your own over a glowing cake or wrapped present and seeing and sharing the excitement you see in them.
I still take photographs at family events just not as many and, if I feel I need more photos, other family members bring cameras and share their photos freely. But how many photos of an event or moment do we need?
“Research has suggested that the sheer volume and lack of organization of digital photos for personal memories discourages many people from accessing and reminiscing about them.”
As I’ve put the camera down more for personal events, I have also begun to relax some about documenting every part of our children’s lives. There are simply too many moments and too many image files produced when I try for that to be possible. And to what end? Most of those images will linger on my computer never to be used. Do I ever go back and look at them all? Rarely. I’ve rated the best ones and sort by those when viewing my archives.
Will my kids want to browse thousands of images when they are older like I used to dig into the shoeboxes and print albums of my parents. Possibly, but those shoeboxes and albums contained degrees of magnitude less physical photos than people are producing today with multiple image files produced from rapid-fired digital exposures (often all of quite similar expressions and moments only seconds apart). It’s much more likely that in the future my kids will page through our yearly photobooks (made from my highest rated images) to reminisce rather than wade through bloated folders of digital files on multiple hard drives.
I’ve found that I need to remind myself that our family events aren’t paying jobs, it’s personal. I don’t need 100 images from a cake cutting to show a client. I am the client. While I do try to make quality, special, and skillful photos of my family to fill our yearbooks, (we all like to look at pretty photography and it’s still good practice to keep my photography skills active) I don’t want to sacrifice actual memories of the moment to do that. I’ve needed to find a compromise, and, at times, am still seeking it. I still photograph family events but less than before and I play more outside of those events making photographs at other times, or staging them at times with my kids’ help.
Maybe it’s time to put the camera phones and DSLRs down more often and reenter, re-interact with the moments and people around us in our personal lives. Or maybe that boat has long since sailed and we are living in a time and generation in which social interactions have evolved through technology into something different than they were. Maybe part of socially interacting has changed to include the immediate or post-event sharing of images and videos with each other and absent friends. It has become obvious to me that, as my kids grow, my wife and I will have to constantly monitor and evaluate the invasiveness of technology in their lives. Road trips that used to involve board games and reading when I was young, for my kids involve movie and electronic time limits and repeated urges by me to look away from the screens to the beauty outside. My wife and I will have to guide our kids in finding a balance for technology in their social lives. In the safe, respectful and even ethical use of the making and sharing of media that is so easily produced today on pocketable devices as we also make concessions to a rapidly changing time when technology is becoming more ingrained in everyday life.
We will have to show our kids that the moment isn’t within the pixels of a screen but behind it. Show them that a captured moment isn’t the same as an experienced one, and, at the same time, remind myself.
It’s not a new phenomenon but it is increasingly annoying. Bear in mind that most of the people attempting to document whatever event they are at are in conditions and distances that will result in files that are nearly unusable or really indecipherable. ↩
“Taking photographs ruins the memory, research finds.” The abstract for the actual research paper by Dr. Linda Henkel can be found here. ↩
This 6-year-old skipped a cake on her birthday this past Tuesday since there will be one at the family party this weekend and decided on a birthday cone instead.
A few Saturday’s ago I met Tess and her parents at a local park for a portrait session. Selecting parks for portrait session locations is tough. The ideal park isn’t crowded (at least during the photographing period) and has a good mix of natural “backdrops” (brick walls, trees, playsets, etc.) with some shade. We were lucky with our final location choice.
For a warm, sunny weekend morning the park wasn’t very busy and the portraits turned out great. Primarily because Tess brought a lot of smiles. Yesterday Tess turned 1 year-old.
Happy Birthday Tess.
I spent a little time Monday morning photographing my nephew, Reid, for his 9-month pictures. I’ve rarely met a happier toddler, but Reid was off his usually jubilant mood that morning likely due to the pain from the 2 upper teeth he was cutting. Still we were able to power through at times for some smiles.
My sister once again had the chalkboard wall in her basement caligraphied and ready with Reid’s updated milestones since his 6-month photos, unfortunately this time she chalked those milestones down with permanent chalk markers. It’s fair to say the wall is going to need a fresh coat of blackboard paint before we finish the series on Reid’s 1st birthday.
Reid is sitting much steadier now than at 6 months of age so after the chalkboard photos I sat him at a table in a corner and gave him a toy train to play with. These photos are my favorite from the morning. Toy train, blocks, blue wall, to me they definitely say boy.
After finishing the inside photographs, we moved outside for some sunny, spring pictures. It was after 11am and the sun was high overhead and casting a harsh light so we worked with shade and what we could with the sunlight. Shortly after moving outside we were able to get a few more smiles out of Reid by playing “Flip the Toddler”, but he was getting fed up with the session quickly so we wrapped up soon after.
Toddlers are tough photo subjects at Reid’s age. They are sufficiently mobile that you have to be quick on the shutter or find something that will occupy their fleeting, but insatiable curiosity long enough to make some photographs. It’s easy to loose a toddler quickly and often the parents follow as they begin to feel a mixture of embarrassment and frustration as their child’s mood deteriorates. It’s my job to find the cracks, the moments when the toddler is cheerful. It’s my job to make those cracks as necessary. To make even the photo sessions that don’t go off so well, look like they were smooth and simple. I was able to get several photograph’s of Reid that I am really happy with, but I feel like I left many unmade.
I suppose that is one of the reasons I keep making photographs.
Lighting info: for the images inside I used two speedlights with triggers. One speedlight was umbrellaed on a Westcott ProGrip. My wife acted as my human lightstand and ran the ProGrip without disappointing (although she was rather disappointed to be shielded from seeing the action by the umbrella). The other speedlight, which was on a short Ultra-pod tripod and diffused through a small softbox, I moved around and put behind Reid to light walls. For the outside photos I used only the speedlight on the ProGrip. ↩
I have many fond memories of the camping I've done throughout my life.
The carefree, timeless feel of the campsite.
The crack and heated glow of the fire and the persistent smell of wood smoke on unsuspecting objects over the following days. The odor of burnt marshmallows blackened crisp without, pristine goo inside.
Dice clicking and cards shuffling by lantern light.
A flashlight’s circle of comfort in the dark.
Contentedly zipping into a warm sleeping bag on a cool night. Stealing out of the tent early morning to sit near the smoldering campfire with a book and steaming coffee or to ramble the woods as they slough the night and greet another day. The smell of breakfast chasing away sleep.
All these things and more fill me with a nostalgic rush of joy and memories that I love sharing with Jude, Abbi, and Charley. It means a lot to me to know they are making their own.
Recently we joined the increasing ranks of people that own chickens for fun, well, and eggs. A little more than 3 weeks ago the local post office called early in the morning to say that our 4 chicks had arrived boxed, chirping and ready for pick-up. For those not in the know, chick's can live for 3 days on the yolk reserve in their body after hatching from the egg before they need other food. Our chicks had a short overnight trip from Meyer Hatchery in Polk, Ohio and arrived healthy puff balls of down ready for the homemade, kid-decorated brooder.
The kids quickly claimed a chick as their own leaving their cast-off as mine and my wife’s.
We were forewarned not to name the chicks, not to think of them as pets
if we planned on slaughtering them later (“Go ahead and try to kill Daisy.” I was told by a friend). I can only assume those people didn’t have young children or they would have known the impossibility of that advice.
After chicks are in the brooder there is little else needed to maintain them: fresh water, warm temperatures, plenty of food, caution for pasty butt , and interact with them to be sure they are comfortable when handled by people.  Beyond those few requirements you simply watch them grow. And they grow quickly. It was only a week-and-a-half before the down on their wings was nearly fully replaced by true feathers. Tail feathers quickly followed. They haven’t fully molted into their adult colorations yet, but the kids are excitedly watching the birds’ gradual color change into maturity.
Where to end the story I wanted to share of chickens that we plan on having for years? Their initiation into the outdoor coop seemed like as good a development as any. The equivalent of chick high school graduation. Weeks before the chicks arrival we began building a mobile chicken coop (which as it came together quickly became heavy enough to be borderline immobile) and then it sat waiting for occupants. As the weather warmed into May we began to bring the chicks outside during the day, penning them in a small enclosure, and returning them to the brooder inside at night. But as the chicks quickly grew it became obivious that the brooder was size limited and we moved them out to the mobile coop permanently a few days ago. The coop dwarfs them at this age, but they took to it rather quickly and will easily grow into it with room to spare. We are months away from collecting eggs, but our youngest is greatly anticipating collecting eggs from her chicken (named Sunshine I think) and hardboiling them. Until then the birds will be living a fine life roaming around the yard munching greens and bugs, mooching and relaxing until they begin to give back.
Oddly this chick became the runt and was noticeable slower in maturing and loosing its down. Some sixth sense for species survival in my kids? ↩
To be honest, while this will be a controversial view with some, I view the chicks as production animals more than pets. Watching my kids interact with the birds they, unsurprisingly, see it differently at this point. Yes, that could be a problem in a few years when the birds have slowed their egg laying and I begin to consider them for chicken stock material, but I will confront that then. Too many kids are growing up disconnected with where their food comes from and how it reaches their plates. They may fill the role of pets in the end, but I hope to teach my kids that there are pets with a purpose. I hope to teach them good animal stewardship, raising animals humanely and ethically, and, for the same reason we have a garden, to teach them to have a personal investment in and knowledge of the food they eat. ↩
We did pick breeds bred for their docility and lack of brooding (egg protection) to help ensure that we had kid-friendly chickens. ↩
Our youngest has been funny lately about photos of her and my sharing of them. At times she is adamant that I not post any photo that I have taken of her – an issue that I bumped up against often while working on my now defunct #kidslifepjct – and I respect that request. Instagram project. But this morning she was very excited to be wearing a new dress and denim jacket and was more than happy to sit for a short modeling session before school.
As a parent you get the willing photos when you can. As with most of my child portraiture sessions I keep it light and add a batch of funny face poses to keep the interest. Actually, with my own kids it seems as if I need to add more of those than normal. Conditioned to the camera I guess.
Ok, at times I may have chipped away at her and convinced her to let me post a picture that I thought was important for a theme I was working on or that would be a good addition to my website, but overall I try to set an example of respecting people’s opinions and requests about posting images on the internet. A lesson that I hope all 3 of my kids take to heart as they grow. ↩
I'm always happy to see my images hit paper.
My sister printed handout wallet and framing sized prints from my niece and nephews' last portrait gig. Although, I stress to every client the importance of printing out images, that the files I provide them shouldn't just be left to linger on a computer, the truth is I need to take that advice more often myself. Other than our family photobook it's rare for me to print photos.
Hey, I'll work on it if you do.