Today’s interview is with Elena Blair!
Hi, Elena! We are excited to have you here today. Start by telling us a bit about yourself, your sweet family, and how you got started with photography.
Thank you for having me! I consider myself pretty laid back. I come from a large family and they are everything to me. The chaos of having three children makes me feel alive and complete; I really love to be busy. I tend to get involved in many things because I operate best when I have a lot going on. I think my ten years of being a registered nurse made me an excellent multitasker. We love to travel and are always up for adventure. I have always been interested in photography, and started this journey shooting film about fifteen years ago. After having children, I jumped into digital and have never looked back. I have always wanted to capture raw and honest moments in my work. I strive for that every time I pick up my camera.
Your photography style is described as “fine art documentary portraiture.” What can clients expect during their sessions? What types of images will be in their galleries?
After a session with me, clients often say “wow, that was easy!” or “that was so fun!” I think this is because I don’t ever ask my clients to be anything but themselves. My goal is to turn their deep connection into art. I am documenting this time in their lives in an artistic way, hence the description of my work. I direct them into good light and I allow them to settle in and love on each other. My galleries have a variety of images from more traditional portraits to images with movement. My client galleries tend to be on the larger side because I provide so much variety.
It’s no secret that you are a master of directing families into natural, connected poses. Did this ability come easily for you? How have you honed this skill?
Thank you! I am a people person and I think that I am good at reading people. I think directing takes practice. I have photographed hundreds of families and I learn something new every time. It is important to take charge during a session and I always have a plan. My families are expecting me to create images of them similar to those they have seen in my portfolio, so it is my job to help them relax and to direct them into connected images.
The love between families and couples is palpable in your images. What are some ways you help draw out emotion in a couple’s or family’s session?
The first thing I do to bring out emotion between subjects is to get them as physically close as possible. During a session with me you will hear me say “closer” a million times. Simply getting humans close instantly creates connection. I will often ask them to look at each other and constantly remind them not to look at me. Yes, we get a few shots of them looking, but that is not what I am after. I use breath a lot in my work. What I mean by this is I will ask a couple to breath in, and then breath out while either gazing at each other or embracing each other. This helps them to relax their faces and bodies. I ask families to breath each other in. I arrange them close together and then say “now just breath each other in.” That may sound strange, but it always translates to an emotive and deeply connected photo. I also use movement a lot to create connection. I direct families into movement by asking them to hold hands and run, chase each other, make a circle and spin around and those are just a few ways I direct them to move together. Portraits with movement are always rich in connection.
You’ve said before that the photographer’s connection to the client is paramount. How do you establish rapport with your clients? Who is your ideal client?
I believe this starts with your portfolio being a true representation of your work. When I get a client inquiry, they are already connected to me through my art. That attracts the right type of client, which is a person who wants images that are rich in connection, have interesting uses of light, and are full of movement and life. Before I book a client I ask them a number of questions, almost interviewing them, to make sure they are a proper fit. I ask them what their expectations are of the session and what their must have images are. This way there are no surprises. Once they book, in my questionnaire I ask them to tell me about their family. This simple question usually give me a good idea of their families vibe. There is usually a short walk from the parking area to our location and I spend that time with my camera in my bag and simply chat with them. I talk to them like they are friends, not clients. If I am in their home for a session I take 10-15 minutes doing the same thing. This really relaxes them and lets them know I am truly interested in who they are. Many of my clients have become friends and that is because I truly do want to connect with them, it’s not an act.
What are some challenges that come your way during a session? How do you thwart or embrace them?
I think the two biggest challenges I face are a child who is not at all interested in having their photos taken or a dad who is not at all interested in having their photos taken. With children, I go with it. I never ask them to come away from their parents arms if it is going to make them feel uncomfortable. I work really hard to gain their trust by being silly, letting them touch and see my camera, and adjusting my behavior to match their personality. If they are shy, I will speak quietly and keep my distance. If they are rowdy, I will allow them to run and jump and play and capture that. With difficult dads I use humor a lot. I also give them the freedom to not look at me. When they realize that I am not there to tell them to put their hands in their pockets and look at me with a cheesy grin they quickly relax and just connect with their family. Again, I never ask families to be anything but themselves. That is where the real beauty is.
Fine Art School Photography is another of your niches. What challenges and rewards are there to this venture?
My Fine Art School Portrait division of my business has taken my business from a small venture to a full blown photography business. It has provided significant income and powerful marketing. Since launching this part of my business I don’t have a slow season anymore. It is challenging because it is a lot of work. To provide this boutique service takes a lot of time and effort but it has been well worth it. My school work puts me right in front of my target market and brings attention to my business. It has turned into a beautiful business model.
What final advice do you have for photographers wanting to capture more meaningful portraits?
Think beyond stiff and boring portraits. Instead, take the time to really feel your subject’s emotions. Don’t try and make anyone be anything but themselves. Learn how to direct them into connected moments and capture those with your lens. Your work will be more powerful and be so much deeper.