7 Jun 2013

First communion session: part 1. The preparations.

Couple of weeks ago I was flattered by a request of my acquaintance who asked me to take 'a few' pictures of her daughter, who would receive her first communion these days. The euphoria however was diminished quite quickly, as soon as I realized how serious the assignment actually would be. First communion in the catholic church is one of the most important sacraments and in some countries (like Poland) it is a big celebration for a child and his/her family. So I need to do a good job as photographer.
Another issue for me is that I am not so acquainted with all the nuances behind this ceremony and the day of communion. Sure, it takes place in church, children are dressed nice and tidy, but what are the sacral attributes used nowadays during the ceremony? What is important for parents?
Finally I took the request, but I knew that I had to make quite some preparations and precautions to make the session a success.

Talk to parents, discuss the expectations

This is actually most important part of the preparation. I have talked to the mother several times to discuss the time of shooting, expectations (of her and of mine), to share initial ideas.
I believe it helps both sides. Her, because she can do some preparations and me because I can shape the expectations to some extent and check whether my ideas would match hers.
For example, I discussed already my initial plan of the session:
- Duration of 1 hour,
- Start at 7:00 p.m.
- Four parts: portraits of a girl, session with parents, session with the rest of family, session with sacral attributes.

Get inspired - look at others' work

However it may sound lame (we photographers are creative people, aren't we?) looking at the portfolios of people making money by taking photos helped me a lot. As I stated already, in Poland the first communion is a big thing, hence big business. So there was enough blogs and websites to go through and see what people actually sell to their customers. Next to getting some ideas it is good to check what are the trends and what the customers perceive as appealing.
Other quite good source of good photos was 500px.com.
And for gathering the shots that were interesting to me I have used a Pinterest page.

Find the patterns, learn from them

Knowing what the event is about and how people act during such day (e.g. how are they dressed) makes possible to start searching for something similar and again learn from those experiences. To me first communion event resembles in many aspects the wedding ceremony:
- there is a strong emphasize on a main person being dressed like little bride,
- there is a compulsory shooting part involving the family (parents, grandparents, pete parents, etc.),
Obviously there are differences as well. Most apparently, the attention is directed to a child most of the time.
So the pattern to look for would be something between wedding photography and children and family portraiture.
So it is worth some exploration of techniques that can be used in such situations. Therefore I use materials on kelbytraining.com  and discussion forums on nikonians.org. Kelbytraining is a collection of video courses showing different kinds of techniques, tricks and tips used by different (very good) photographers. It is not free but it is worth money you spent in my opinion.

Choose and scout the location

Since there will be several people involved, there should be kind of direction given to them during the session. And the director will be in this case, well, me. So having a location explored a bit in advance helps. I want to avoid the moments of hesitation where nobody knows what to do next and where to walk. For sure those moments will probably come (I don't want and cannot plan everything), but I would like to minimize them and let them, especially in the beginning of the shooting.

Get acquainted with the people being photographed

Here I was lucky twice: I know the girl and her parents and I was able to see some photos of the family on Facebook. This gave my basic idea (or sometimes a couple of questions) about the personalities of people. For example I noticed that the little brother of a girl was not present on the photos published. Doesn't he like to be photographed? Or had just not a good day? After some talk to the mother I know that he was just not in the mood on this day but he loves to pose for the photos. Another example: I saw that the grandfather of the girl looks very seriously on all pictures. So it will be a challenge to cheer him up a bit during the session. Whether I will succeed I don't know, but at least I am aware of the challenge.