16 Jun 2013

First communion session: part 2 - taking pictures

After some preparations the actual session finally took place on a sunny and windy afternoon in one of the parks in The Hague. I will not write in this post about all technical aspects of the shooting, because there are people who already did it and they did it, in my opinion, very well (Photography Life, Cliff Mautner, just to mention some of my inspiration sources). Instead I'd like to share some observations that are rather specific to the interaction with other people (especially children) during the session.

Avoid "programmed smile mode"

Children (and adults, by the way too) are nowadays trained to smile as soon as they see a camera pointing at them. Smiling is of course a very nice and desired gesture, but sometimes it takes kind of a programmed form, which makes the portrait looking not so natural. Two pictures below illustrate this.

On the first photo the girl took the 'directed' smile. Cute, but it is not her gesture. 2nd photo looks much more better because of her smile is just natural. 
How to avoid this phenomenon? I don't have enough experience to give here a generic advice, but during this session I applied a few things:
  • I gave the children (and their family) some time to get familiar with the fact that I was in front of them, pointing with a big lens. After a quarter or so they paid less attention to me, giving me the chance to take natural-looking shots,
  • I was joking a lot. It helped,
  • During the session I gave children some simple assignments, so they could focus on something else than posing only. For example, I have asked the little brother to find a flower for her sister (more on that later).

Stick to the plan but be ready for unexpected all the time

During preparations I have assumed 5-6 different locations and several different configurations of photographed people. In any case to have enough material to create a paper album which would be appealing and interesting for the readers.
So the plan consisted of:

  • Portraits of the girl (alone)
  • Portraits of the girl (with her brother, mother, father),
  • Family portrait (with parents and grand parents),
  • Photos with sacral attributes associated with first communion
Since I had just one hour, I had to watch the time and operate sometimes rather quickly. Nevertheless taking pictures was not continuous. We moved from place to place, I discussed the ideas with participants, etc. And many interesting photos I took exactly during such break. There were moments that children start to play with each other, but also the parents didn't pay much attention to me behaving more natural:

Direct the show but let participants play

As I predicted, the participants expected from me that I would direct them during the session and tell what they have to do, how to pose and what will be the next steps. Which is fine, but on the other hand I think it is important not to 'over direct' everything, since at the end everyone wants to look natural on the photo. In this case the task was easy, since children were involved. And they don't let anybody to direct their behavior (at least not for the long time). So I was able to get some pictures expressing true emotions. For instance, I asked little brother of the girl to give her a flower. He actually liked the idea very much and long after the 'flower scene' was finished, he was bringing her other stuff as well, giving everyone a lot of fun:

Observe interactions, make use of it

During the session I have discovered that the girl likes her cousin very much. They apparently had a good time playing together. So I decided to take an additional session with those two children.  Whether they will be chosen to the album, I don't know, but to me they are my favourite shots of the session:

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