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Saturday Light: Gianna

Christmas photos of Gianna Gravine taken at Fell Charter School on the evening of 02 December 2011.

Now for something completely different: Gianna, my first foray into the world of children’s photography. This was a shoot done for Gianna’s mom, who is a friend of mine, and wanted some photos to include in the annual Christmas card. We kicked around a few ideas and settled on a two-part shoot, starting with some outside candids and ending with some more traditional studio shots.

I’ve known Gianna since she was a new born but hadn’t seen her since June. If you have any experience with little ones, you know what this means – when they showed up for the shoot, Gianna took one look at me and hid behind mom! I was sort of expecting as much, however, and our plan dealt with this issue by starting outside, on a playground, where she had so much fun that she forgot to be scared of me.

As far as lighting goes, this shoot was a major departure from the norm: I used no artificial lighting during the outdoor portion. No Speedlites, not even a reflector. Why? Well, it was a decision with a couple of factors. First off, we were shooting under solid overcast in the late afternoon. There as plenty of light still, very soft and diffused, so I didn’t need any more. (In fact, even if the day hadn’t been overcast, our site would have been in the shade, so I could still have shot ambient.)

Christmas photos of Gianna Gravine taken at Fell Charter School on the evening of 02 December 2011.

But perhaps more importantly, there was simply no way to keep up with a high-energy toddler on a playground, shooting and worrying about a lightstand with a manual flash. With an assistant to wrangle the flash, I might have tried it. But realistically the smart move was to work the ambient and keep all my attention focused on Gianna through the camera.

Here’s the other thing I’ve learned about kids in the few shoots I’ve done; their ideal moments are fleeting. A really good smile is here one second and gone the next. Look away for just a second and the kid is behind you, doing something cute that’s over by the time you focus. The best thing you can do is keep your eye to the camera, and the camera on them.

Christmas photos of Gianna Gravine taken at Fell Charter School on the evening of 02 December 2011.

As the light was fading we moved back inside for the studio session and broke out the lights. Simple setup, key light with a shoot-through umbrella to camera right; BG light shooting into the cloth backdrop from the other side. Kids never can sit still in a studio setting, so the goal was a setup that would spread the light pretty evenly across the backdrop without requiring adjustment, so that as Gianna moved about I could keep shooting with as much consistency as possible.

The studio style shots are a tradition, albeit one that seems to be fading out of style. Thank goodness. We’ve all seen crying kids in department store studios. Well, as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter what studio you’re in, trying to force a little kid to sit in one place, pose with a silly prop, and smile for the camera is an exercise in frustration if not outright futility. Kids are happier when they can move about and have some fun, and photos of kids are better when they’re candid.

Christmas photos of Gianna Gravine taken at Fell Charter School on the evening of 02 December 2011.

I shot the whole session with very basic gear: Canon 400D + 50mm f/1.8 Mk I lens. The outdoor shots were all around f/2.5, ISO 125, SS; the studio shots were f/XX, ISO 100, 1/200. I really, really, really like the shallow DOF look with kids portraits and the 50mm worked great for this look, with one caveat: for close-ups, I had to position the lens pretty close to Gianna, which distracted her attention from the fun she was having, back to me. A longer lens would really be ideal – which is why I have a 85mm prime on it’s way.

One final thought: happy moms talk to other moms and are great for word-of-mouth advertising and referrals. I’m really hoping to expand this market – (hopefully) more to come.

Brent Pennington

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