Thursday, November 29, 2012

Clauss Family Portraits

If you’re a follower of this blog or of my work in general, it’s evident that I don’t typically photograph people.  On occasion, you may see an image or two of a human being here or on my Flickr stream, but it falls into one of a few different categories:  (1) my wife, my muse; (2) street photography; (3) travel photography; (4) project-related photography and (5) work shoots (of which you won’t find on my personal photography sites).   Outside of those instances, family portraits, senior pictures, wedding/engagement pictures and child portraits have never been featured.  I consider myself a fine art photographer with a focus on still life, inanimate objects, architecture, decay, project-based photography and generally subjects that don’t require human interaction.  Yes, individuals are unique and fascinating (in most cases); however, it’s not what interests me when I’m behind the lens.  

I’ve begun to establish myself photographically over the last four years and while I’m happy with this fact, it brings about many requests from friends and family members.  It’s been my experience that the general public unknowingly thinks of photographers as having one specific purpose – portraiture work.  If I speak to someone outside of the photography or art world and I tell them that I’m into photography, they usually ask if I take senior pictures, family pictures, etc.  For some reason, that’s what’s been ingrained in their memories when someone says photography.  Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Alfred Stieglitz, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, etc. are never thought of.  Perhaps it’s because our (America’s) lack of focus on art education; I’m not sure, but that’s a debate for another blogpost.  Regardless, my photography has automatically been associated with the aforementioned styles.  Most of the time I politely decline; other times, I have agreed, but for one reason or another, participants change their mind about having the portraits.  Well, a few weeks ago I was asked by good friends if I would be willing to take family portraits.  Normally, this wouldn’t have been a complicated request, but this shoot would include their newest family member - their two month old son.  I thought about it for awhile and I decided that I would go ahead and help them out.  

If I was going to break out of my comfort zone, I wanted to do it my own way.  I immediately asked if they would mind if I shot black and white and instant film in addition to digital.  They didn’t mind, so I began brainstorming.  I checked out some of the portrait photographers in the area to see what type of work my new clients might be expecting or hoping for.  I developed a creative shot list and started thinking about different locations to use.  We initially set the shoot for a weekend day during the week of Oct. 21, but the weather forecast was not being kind to us.  With temperatures in the mid 70s during the week, I was able to accommodate a shoot on the evening of Oct. 25 with the option of a follow-up shoot on Oct. 28.  I asked them to meet me at Menke Park in Troy at 5:30 p.m.  I arrived early to scope out locations, lighting, leaves, etc.  Once they arrived, I was ready to get to work.   I knew we had very little time to work with the light changing every minute, but little did I know I was in for an even bigger surprise.

The moment baby Logan was taken out of the car, my carefully planned shot list went out the window.  Having a two month old on a photography set is like playing roulette.  He was tired, cranky, happy, crying, content and hungry, but never the emotion you were hoping for at a specific time.  I realized that my Hasselblad would have to stay in the bag and I was going to focus on getting what I could with my digital camera and my Polaroid SX-70.  I shot for a little over an hour, using the remaining light and providing a small amount of direction.  I decided it was best to let them naturally interact with each other and just shoot.  This is the exact opposite of how I normally approach my photography.  I take a great deal of time to set up a shot, use one to two exposures and then move on.  Moments with family and children sometimes happen so quickly that I found myself firing away.  I don’t prefer this type of shooting, but it served its purpose for this job.  Afterwards, I immediately went home to look at the images.  I was surprisingly happy with the shots, but I pushed for one additional shoot with the hopes of using some different techniques and cameras.

The second shoot was scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 28 at Charleston Falls around 12:30.  It was chilly and windy, but I was hopeful that the overcast day would provide nice lighting and I could experiment a little more than I did the prior shoot.  I found some great locations and I was upbeat about the possibility of Logan being in a better mood for this shoot.  That, unfortunately, didn’t happen.  He was crying more than the previous shoot and the colder air didn’t help him or his parents.  We shot at about half the locations I had planned to and the Hasselblad stayed in the bag for a second consecutive time.  I got a nice mixture of usable shots that complimented the images from the other shoot.  

While it didn’t go exactly as I planned, I adapted to the situation, I enjoyed the nice change of pace in subject matter and I delivered images that I was satisfied with.  I hope that they enjoy and cherish them as much as I enjoyed shooting them.  I wouldn’t mind doing a shoot like this again, but I would prefer to have more control over the situation so that I could shoot more conducive to my style and output.  As they found out, regardless of the true style or nature of the photographer, it never hurts to ask.

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