I worry. I fret. Time. It is passing much too swiftly.

Disquieted. A quick, yet recognizable hard pound of a few heart beats as I allow my mind to linger and to dwell on the reality. That moment when I realize my little loves, my muses, my children, are not so little any more.

I see them every day. Yet, when I finally lay my head down at night, too often my heart aches and I feel as though I have neglected to truly ‘see’ them. Individually. Free of their own inhibitions.

I crave to know who each of them are and to be connected. Each day is an opportunity for not only them, but for me to discover their gifts. I remind them often that they have gifts, unknown, but waiting to be discovered. I am privileged when they are vulnerable. When they allow me to peel back another layer of their being, through time spent together, just the two of us, to know them better inside and out. I feel blessed to be able to do this through my photographic lens.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to spend time to think about this subject and share my feelings about what it is like from my point of view to photograph just one of my children at a time. It is a gift.

Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.

– unknown

The notion of knowing, and honoring, your child or each of your children and who they are might seem simple. For me, through a lens, often it’s not that simple. I wonder, are there other parents that this resonates with? Are you able to share a small glimpse of who your child or children are in one simple photo? I suspect it may be just as difficult if you have one or 12 children; to give your child, the subject of your lens, a unique voice. I work at it each time I bring my camera to my eye, equally while it’s put away.

The quieter you become,
the more you are able to hear.

– Rumi

I have four boys and three of whom are triplets. Identical. It’s been a whirlwind from the moment my husband and I started a family. There’s never been quite enough time to spend with each of our children one on one. So we do what we can and we steal moments as often as possible.

Although others may not see each boy as three different people when they look at my work (and in person!), with their unique personalities, I know as their Momma, and a photographer, it’s my calling to create photographic memories of their special and unique beings. Sharing their likenesses as well as their differences is paramount for me as the documentarian of my family. When you have one subject and you’re able to reveal various moods and emotions of that subject, you create a story; their story as well as my own. It is significant. Document and share their story. I don’t think it’s absolute that others are able to tell my boys apart all the time, but I do want those that spend time with my work, whomever that may be, to be able to get a sense of who that child is. Likewise, I also want my viewer to get a sense of how I perceive him too. Allow your audience beyond the outward appearance and empower them to feel, to linger, and to become a bit more acquainted.

It’s important to ask yourself what you want to evoke? A sense of who’s story you want to tell. Theirs or yours? I say both. Tell their story and let their voice be what moves you to click the shutter. But it’s up to you to create the opportunity and to create photographic evidence of who that person is. And in doing so, your own voice will also shine through.

1. Be quiet. You not them.

Let them be. It’s so much easier to direct, it’s in our nature as humans, but instead, try to just let your child do what they want and just be ready. Anticipating the moment is so much more authentic, than directing the moment. When I am quiet and hold back on instructing my son, I am able to capture a wider range of emotions. Allowing him to direct the flow of the photo shoot takes the pressure off him to ‘be’ a certain way or to live up to an expectation – my expectation.

boy blowing a water bubble by Celeste Pavlik
boy in the snow covered woods by Celeste Pavlik

2. Change your perspective (angles, distance, lens, composition).

It’s easy to always keep the same lens on your camera. If you tend to shoot in the same location with the same lens, be brave, step out of that comfort zone and try a lens you normally wouldn’t reach for. Changing the lens I typically use has had a huge impact on the way I compose a picture.

Going wide with the Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens allowed me to stand over my son and allow him to reach for me, yet still create the feeling of some distance between us. In addition, here I used the freelens concept in order to create a dreamlike feel to this portrait.

Read more about freelensing here.

black and white freelens photo of boys hands by Celeste Pavlik

3. Be unconventional, take risks.

I adore unconventional portraits. Break the rules. Use framing, composition, and defocus to propel the story you want to tell.

Consider that using the rule of thirds for every single photo you take isn’t always the best way to take a portrait. By taking risks in your art, you will allow yourself to experience being outside of the box and hone in on the essence of your subject.

Your subject doesn’t just live in the left or right third of a rectangle. Nor the exact middle for that matter. Fill the frame, make your subject a bit off center.

Create something quirky and uncomfortable perhaps, or not, but create something that is a reflection of who you are as an artist and who your subject is.

Learn about going beyond the rule of thirds here.

freelensed portrait of young boy by Celeste Pavlik

This one was taken with my Lensbaby and he was having some fun with the towel on his head and I anticipated at some point he would swing the towel and I wanted to capture the movement as well as the sweet joy in his expression.

boy playing under a towel by Celeste Pavlik

which leads me to…..

4. Be intentional.

Being intentional by taking the time to anticipate the unexpected can really allow the creation of portraits you wouldn’t normally ’see’ when shooting your subject.

The unexpected, the quirky, perhaps the awkward glance. Shooting in tight spaces, such as a shower or bathtub, a small corner of a room or a hallway, or even just forcing yourself to use a longer lens, really lends itself to being more creative and thinking outside the box.

Frame your subject tightly so that he and the rest of what you’ve included in the frame fills the majority of the photo. Filling the frame with your subject can create tension or it can create a sense of your subjects’ emotion or personality.

Quite literally I will often use this technique in order to convey my boys mood by using the available space and literally projecting his mood on to the viewer. Playing with a Lensbaby lens or freelensing is also a fun way to slow down and create with intention.

picture of boy hiding behind a curtain by Celeste Pavlik
close up portrait of boy by Celeste Pavlik

5. Give your subject room.

Shoot from afar. Include environment or incorporate some negative space via the use of a wider lens and/or your distance from your subject.

I have recently come to love using a wider lens. The Canon 24-70mm f 2.8 L is a great lens for both indoors and out. Indoors it allows me to have enough room to be able to provide some of the environment around my son.

In addition, it helps when shooting in smaller spaces. Of course outdoors you have room to play with how much and how little of your surrounding you want to include in your story. Be mindful of all the elements within the frame in camera.

black and white portrait of boy on a hill by Celeste Pavlik
boy throwing snow in the air by Celeste Pavlik

6. Shoot the details.

Having a longer lens like my Canon 100mm is great for up close and detail work and it’s an excellent choice when you want to convey texture, luminance, and small details. There’s nothing like documenting the little hands holding a gift to share with a loved one or capturing the summer feet of your barefoot child. It makes the viewer feel as though you could reach out and touch an element within it.

boys hand holding ice by Celeste Pavlik
picture of boys feet and hands by Celeste Pavlik

7. Use darkness.

Shooting in low light is one of my favorite ways to create a sense of drama and create a story with light, or lack of light in and of itself. Lack of light means shadows and depth, and often lends itself to a bit of mystery. Crank up that ISO and don’t be afraid to use the natural light at all times of the day throughout your home.

pic of boy looking out a window by Celeste Pavlik
ice light photo of boy in a chair by Celeste Pavlik

“Make visible what,
without you, might perhaps never have been seen.”

– Robert Bresson