[France], where traditional portraiture is still the norm?
If I’m perfectly honest, I would say that the first reason I embraced lifestyle photography is my own dislike for being in front of the camera. I’m so incredibly self-conscious if you try to photograph me! If I start to pose, it makes it even worse. I look stiff and embarrassed or just plain ridiculous… It’s truly awful. The only way to capture me with a normal face is to make me move and forget about the camera.
As a result, when I’m photographing others I can’t help but think that they feel just like me. Posing my subjects makes me ill-at-ease because I feel like I’m torturing them. It’s rather irrational, because I know that some people actually enjoy posing for the camera and getting directions, but it feels incredibly unnatural to me to do it. So I’ve chosen a way to photograph my subjects that would make ME feel comfortable, because it’s the first and main step to make my subjects feel comfortable too!
Another reason is that my passion for portrait is actually a passion for emotions. I don’t want to photograph a face, but a feeling. The stronger the emotion is, the happier I am. And I’ve quickly realized that making my subjects move and interact in the most natural way possible was the best trick to let their emotions shine.
Looking at your website, you come out of each session with a wide variety of images and looks. Can you describe your studio set up and any tips on achieving a variety of looks in a small space?
Ha! This is so true, my natural light studio is incredibly tiny! It’s just a spare room in my appartment. I would lie if I said that I’m perfectly happy with it, because I would LOVE to have a bigger space. However, it’s what I can afford at the moment and I’m so thankful I have it, because I’m truly having a blast when I’m shooting in it.
It’s actually a simple bedroom, white all around, with a bed sturdy enough to have a whole family jump on it!
I have big windows facing North, so the light is very soft and I can shoot there at any time of the day.
Frankly, a bed is all I need to get a wide variety of family images, because it’s such a natural place for everybody to have fun together, as they would do on a lazy Sunday morning. They can cuddle, wrestle, tickle, jump, pretend to sleep, hide under the sheets and so much more!
Your clients seem to have a very fresh but comfortable style. What direction do you give them as far as wardrobe is concerned?
I tend to attract clients who have a very natural, laid-back style so I don’t need to give them lots of direction. I give them two main pieces of advice:
- Be comfortable! We are going to move a lot, run, jump, play and wrestle… You need to feel good in your clothes to do that.
- You have everything you need in your closet, stay true to who you are.
I always joke with my clients about the fact that the best part of family albums is to make fun at how you looked 20 years ago, screaming “I can’t believe I was actually dressed like that!!”. Wearing their normal favorite clothes during the session is the best way to make sure that my clients will have endless fun during their future family reunions 😉
I still give them a few specific directions like avoiding big prints or logos and I advise them to make sure that the colors won’t conflict when they will all be in the frame together, but other than that I give them free reign.
The back office portion of running a photography business can be overwhelming. Do you have any time saving advice on managing a full time photography business while giving individual attention to clients?
I’m clearly not the best at preventing my little business from invading my personal life. I know we’re supposed to have “business hours”, but I rarely succeed. I check my e-mails at night, first thing when I wake up, on week-ends, on vacations… It’s a job that never ends.
Over the years, I’ve made a few choices that really helped me get a better professional/personal life balance, though.
First, my pre-session consult is done over the phone, and I deliver my clients through an online gallery. No in-person sales for me. My average client is a family in which both parents work, so meeting them in-person before and after the session would mean to schedule meetings in the evening or during the week-ends, which would invade my much-needed family time. While my clients discover their images in the quiet of their home, I’m usually jumping on the bed with my boys in PJs. It’s the best of both worlds for me.
Second, I have limited the number of week-end sessions to two per month. This is a strict limit. The rest of my week-ends is for my family. You would be surprised to see how many clients who first said “I’m available during week-ends only” suddenly find a solution when you tell them “OK, but my first available date is in 4 months. However, I can find you a weekday spot next month”. Now most of my sessions are done on weekdays, and I’m a happier photographer, and a more relaxed Mom!
Your work is filled with infectious smiles. How do you go about winning over shy children or reserved parents?
Oh, this is actually pretty simple. I use parents to get smiles from their kids, and I use kids to get smiles from their parents. I’m really not doing anything special myself (people always think that I must have all kinds of irresistible jokes to make people laugh like this, and it’s so untrue!).
Shy kids are never shy with their parents, only with strangers. So if the kid is really shy, I’ll just step back to help him forget about me, and I’ll direct the parents. I will make them tickle the child, or run after him, or swing him in the air… Whatever it takes to make the kid have the most infectious belly laughs. The parents are doing all the hard work while I’m focusing on capturing the best moments!
With reserved parents, I’ll do exactly the same thing. I will ask them what makes their kids laugh and if they can show it to me. Hearing your kid’s laughter is simply irresistible, no parent can actually resist. So the kid will start to laugh, and the parents will laugh too without even noticing it. Once the laughter has started, you’re on the right track to a happy, relaxed session.
You are speaking at Click Away about infusing movement in family portraiture. Can you elaborate on why movement is important and what it conveys about familial relationships?
First of all, I love photographing families in movement because it’s true-to-life. Take a few hours to observe the daily reality of a family, and what will you see? Wild action, noise, laughter, fights, silly games, tantrums… and some rare calm moments in-between. Family life is full of MOTION.
Photographing a family quietly seating on a bench, smiling at the camera can make a nice portrait for your wall, but is quite unrealistic. Unless the littlest one is picking his nose, big brother is plugging his finger in his sister’s ear to make her scream, and Dad is watching them with a frown on his face.
On the opposite, photographing families being active and having fun moments will give them a true memory of who they really are as a family.
Movement is also my best trick when it comes to photographing joy and family interactions, it helps me unleash my subjects’ emotions! But don’t get me started on this, I would talk about it for hours. Well, this is actually what I’m planning to do during the conference… You’ll probably have to stop me!
You photograph a lot of toddlers and young children. How long does a typical studio session last and how do you turn things around if a child is grumpy or uncooperative at first?
With toddlers and young babies, a session will last one hour, very rarely longer than that. It’s true for studio sessions and outdoor ones as well. I make sure that my little subjects have LOTS of fun during the session, which is a good thing to capture happy smiles, but it can become tiring for them if it lasts to long. One hour is enough for me to have lots of images to choose from (usually way too many!). I simply follow the kids’ mood: we keep on going as long as they are still having fun, but when I see that they are over it, I don’t force it and we simply stop.
Uncooperative kids aren’t a problem since I don’t expect any kind of cooperation from them! They don’t have to follow directions simply because I don’t give them any. The ones I’m driving during the session are the parents, not the kids! Parents are usually very cooperative since they are the ones who hired me to get beautiful images haha. By working together, we can win over a grumpy kid in no time, just by finding the thing he won’t be able to resist, whether it is being tickled, or being hold in the air like an airplane… Unlike adults, kids never stay grumpy for long, you can change their mood in a fraction of seconds just by focusing on what makes them happy.
Your clients tend to be very loyal and return to you time and again. Besides your beautiful work, what business practices or communication techniques can you attribute this to?
Of course, clients will only come back if they loved their images. However, I do feel that they come back year after year because they loved the experience, too. Being in front of the camera is scary for most people, so when they realize that they actually had fun, and that the session was just a giant play-date with their kids, from which everyone got out happy and smiling… they want to do it again. I can’t count the number of times where the kids asked at the end of the session: “Oh please Mommy can we come back tomorrow?”. When my clients return to me, they not only anticipate the joy of getting pictures to cherish for a lifetime, they also expect to spend fun, quality time with their kids. It’s a great reason be loyal!
Another thing that may help is making sure that they are hearing from me at least twice a year. It’s not a marketing thing like a newsletter or sending them a promotion, I’m just sending a note to check on them, or send birthday wishes, or a happy new year card… Something friendly to make them know that I care about them. I love getting news from them even if they don’t book a session right away! Knowing about their littlest one’s first steps, or how their kid’s first day of school was, always makes me smile. From a marketing point of view hearing from me will very often remind them that it’s been a while since their last session and that it might be time to book another one, however it’s perfectly fine with me if they just answer with some news and not with a booking. Following families over the years make them feel like close friends, so it’s always heartwarming to get a little note from them.
Can you share your current favorite image involving movement and tell us why it is your favorite?
This is the toughest question of this interview! I can never choose ONE image. So I will cheat, and pick a very recent one of my boys, because it’s always a challenge to have them all 3 together in the same image, and this one is a complete sucess in my books. It has so many elements that I always love to combine in my work: strong body language, uninhibited joy, wild movement and a little touch of quirkiness to make the viewer smile ☺
Thank you Lisa for the fantastic interview! Make sure you head over to Lisa’s website, facebook, pinterest, and google+ to view more of her amazing work and keep up with her happenings!