Move It: Summer Murdock’s secret for authentic photos

  • beautiful family photograph by Summer Murdock

Move It: Summer Murdock’s secret for authentic photos

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.

children playing in curtains photo by Summer Murdock

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.

black and white photo of father and son by Summer Murdock

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.

backlit family portrait in tunnel by Summer Murdock

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.

family walking along nature path picture by Summer Murdock

kids playing pic by Summer Murdock

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.

boys walking through water puddles photo by Summer Murdock

sunset beach pic by Summer Murdock

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.

girl holding dandelion photograph by Summer Murdock

kid climbing fence picture by Summer Murdock

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.

girls picking flowers in field photo by Summer Murdock

toddler walking photograph by Summer Murdock

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.

boy playing in water ripples pic by Summer Murdock

kids riding scooters picture by Summer Murdock

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.

black and white portrait of girl by Summer Murdock

boy standing in grass picture by Summer Murdock

photo of child at beach by Summer Murdock

But of course when the smiles and laughs come, I am a happy photographer.

laughing child picture by Summer Murdock

smiling girl photo by Summer Murdock

People come to life and feel more like themselves when they are moving.

girl running photograph by Summer Murdock

children running along path picture by Summer Murdock

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.

child in water photo by Summer Murdock

girl looking out car window pic by Summer Murdock

kid jumping on trampoline photograph by Summer Murdock

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.

children portrait on beach photo by Summer Murdock

girl surrounded by sky picture by Summer Murdock

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.

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About the Author:

Summer is a wife, mom of four, and photographer, who calls Salt Lake City, Utah home. She has a real passion for capturing her own kids who you will often see in front of her camera. but she also is family and child photographer. She is very inspired by the quirks of childhood, pretty light, and the great outdoors. Utah, and all of it's amazing landscapes, is the perfect place for Summer to merge those elements to capture authentic portraits. She is always working on personal projects to push her creativity and explore her craft. Her work has been published in various publications and featured on many leading photography blogs. She also teaches and mentors other photographers. When Summer doesn't have a camera in hand, she will most likely be found outside, barefoot, in the sunshine, exploring, and going on adventures. Visit Summer Murdock online.
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19 Comments

  1. Caroline Jensen Jun 18 2014 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    Ok, Summer…you rock on a whole new level! You completely put into words what I feel in my soul…movement paired with freedom is magic! Thank you for this! It is priceless!!

  2. Lauren Jensen Jun 18 2014 at 8:34 pm - Reply

    Thank you for putting my thoughts into words for me! My new goal recently has been to not ask the kids to say “cheese” or to pose them in any way. And I’m loving the results! Now to use this philosophy on clients!

  3. Chelsea Etheridge Jun 18 2014 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    I loved this article! I am just starting but do get caught up in striving for that perfect picture, but your so right, because all I really want is to capture a moment. Anyway-thanks, great job!

  4. Kristin Jun 18 2014 at 9:40 pm - Reply

    This is so wonderful!!! You finally nailed down exactly what I love in my favorite images. I love when my kids get lost doing what they’re doing and just moving along and being them. Thank you for putting it into words!!

  5. Sonia Jun 18 2014 at 9:44 pm - Reply

    Wow! Your images are stunning Summer!! And what a great article. Thanks for sharing, really helpful!

  6. Summer Murdock Jun 18 2014 at 10:30 pm - Reply

    Thanks everyone for all your encouraging feedback. Glad this resonated with you. And thanks Clickin Moms for letting me share my thoughts.

    • Alison Feb 07 2015 at 9:54 am - Reply

      Hi Summer! I also live in Utah and am wondering if you will tell me where the location is from the cover photo of this article (I think it’s the same location in the picture of the family of three walking up a hill and the mom looking back?) thanks!

  7. Liz Godfrey Jun 18 2014 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    Many thanks for sharing this wonderful article!! It was very inspiring and you have such a wonderful way with words. I wish I could express this as clearly as you did – thanks again!!

  8. Lissa Jun 18 2014 at 11:27 pm - Reply

    Thanks so much for this, Summer! I needed to read this tonight.

  9. Annie Jun 19 2014 at 9:38 am - Reply

    BEAUTIFUL!! Thank you so much for sharing! Authenticity is so important to my work as well… I feel compelled to capture the beauty, the life around me. I think it’s so important for photographers to shoot what’s meaningful and inspirational to them. Thank you so much for expressing this so eloquently and for sharing your outstanding work.

  10. Samantha Jun 19 2014 at 10:05 am - Reply

    Fabulous article, Summer! Thanks so much for this…capturing movement is a love of mine, too <3

  11. Rachael Jun 20 2014 at 6:36 am - Reply

    I love your photos. So inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Jodi Jun 20 2014 at 7:00 am - Reply

    Such an inspirational article! I was nodding my head and saying “YES!” through so many of your words! I’m so motivated to get out there and capture movement now! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Summer!

  13. christy johnson Jun 20 2014 at 1:32 pm - Reply

    Thank you so much, Summer! I need to incorporate more movement into my work, and I’m glad for the inspiration!

  14. Megan Bradley Jun 23 2014 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    Your tips are very specific making them so helpful. Thank you for the article and your beautiful inspiring images.

  15. Christina Slater Jun 26 2014 at 10:00 am - Reply

    What a wonderful article, thank you so much Clickin Moms and Summer for sharing!!

  16. Ophelia Jul 21 2014 at 2:31 pm - Reply

    I love reading this! Thank you so much for all the inspiration!

  17. Renee Jul 24 2014 at 9:17 pm - Reply

    This article is an incredible and much needed reminder that perfection is not necessary for a great image of my little guy! Thank you!

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