As photographers, our goal is to make compelling images right? Images that make people stop, look a bit longer,and feel something.
So how do we do that?
There are a few elements that make an amazing image. Those things are interesting light, composition, and authentic emotion. You hear and read a lot about compositional rules and how to use light effectively. These topics are a little easier to give concrete tips about. It is harder to describe how to create authenticity in an image but I am going to touch on this subject today.
With all the images we are bombarded with in today’s social media world, it can be a difficult task to create a stand out image. There are so many really good images shared every minute. Don’t let this get you down. We should all avoid the comparison game that is so easy to get sucked into.
“Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
This quote sums up my philosophy. I just want to show my truth and what inspires me in an authentic way. When I do this, my images naturally stand out to the viewer because they are uniquely me. That is first and foremost the key to authenticity. Shoot what is you. We are all unique. All of our life experiences cause us to see the world differently. Focus on what makes your heart flutter when you pick up your camera. Tapping into that enthusiasm, in a pure way, is the best way to make authentic images. Try to shoot what makes you feel something and not just what you see.
I mostly shoot children and families. And whether I am shooting clients or my own kids, creating authentic images of children has been something that has taken me a long time to figure out how to do consistently. I’m not the hilarious kind of person that can make everyone laugh with my overwhelming wit or super outgoing personality. Luckily kids are a pretty easy crowd. I have figured out a few things that work for me. It may sound strange but I am able to most consistently achieve authenticity in my images through movement. What do I mean by that? I mean quite literately getting your subject moving.
Let’s face it, getting a camera pointed in your face is intimidating. I know when someone photographs me, I feel very uncomfortable. The longer I sit in one place, the more awkward I feel. I have a rule for myself when shooting. If I am requiring my subject to be stationary in one place for longer than three minutes, it is too long. They will get bored and it will show in my images. During a session with me we “go on a walk”, stopping many places along the way. We are constantly moving and interacting.
When shooting this way, I have to set myself up for success. l have to pick a location that allows for moving and exploring. For me it is very important that I pick a place that kids can wander and explore a bit. Kids like to be free. I live in a place that has many beautiful locations that allow for this. You might be thinking to yourself that these types of places aren’t available to you. I promise they are. You just have to get creative and really spend the time looking. It doesn’t have to be majestic. Kids are easy to please and fascinated by the smallest things. Just make sure the light is right and the area safe.
Most kids are just happy to be outside in a new environment. There are numerous places that will allow for this kind of freedom and exploration. I like parks, hiking trails, lakes, ponds, and wooded areas to name a few. Let them roam and have fun. Explore with them. Point out anything that might spark the child’s interest and talk to them about it. Observe them and figure out what interests them. It’s different for every child. Pick up leaves, wildflowers, rocks or climb fences. Just don’t forget to keep shooting while you are playing.
If a child is interested in something in the environment. I go with it. I look to them for cues as to what we should do. It’s human nature for your countenance to light up when you are interested in something. You want to tap into that? Let the kids explore and be kids. If you are observant, you will see what makes them tick.
Encourage running, jumping, twirling, dancing, and even getting dirty. If you can get a child to get lost in the environment or busy doing something she/he enjoys, she/he will forget about the camera.
Even a portrait will feel more authentic if your subject has been moving. As I am playing and exploring with a child, I will often tell them to stop and look at me for a few seconds as I shoot a few frames. I get glances that are very natural and authentic. I talk to them and ask questions as I am shooting. Just remember to be quick. Get the shot and move on. You won’t hold their attention for long and you will soon get the dreaded phony smile or unconnected gaze. I would prefer an authentic gaze over a phony, forced smile any day.
But of course when the smiles and laughs come, I am a happy photographer.
People come to life and feel more like themselves when they are moving.
The same principles apply when shooting in your everyday environment. Get them busy doing something they love and capture it. Shoot what makes you feel something.
Having your subjects on the move might mean slightly awkward facial expressions or unruly hair across their little faces. Embrace it. You have to let go of creating perfection. Perfection itself can feel inauthentic. Childhood is messy and full of life.
Authentic childhood means messy hair, laughing, crying, loving, and playing, not sitting perfectly still with every hair in place. Kids want to be kids and run, jump, and play. . Don’t fight it. Embrace it. Let go of perfection. Strive for authenticity. It’s way more interesting anyways.