So far in our Five Questions series we’ve covered concerts, food, and dogs – and specifically, how to photograph them. Today our subject is child photography, and so we turned to Elizabeth Halford, photographer behind Gracie May Photography. She’s produced some remarkable portraits of kids (and a Blurb book called Cheequal). She’s got a knack for child photography, bringing out her subjects’ personalities in pictures that are both naturalistic and full of style.
Blurb: What kind of gear do you use?
Elizabeth: For a few years now, I’ve been increasingly focused on gear. Ya know, two cameras strapped to my body, an assistant schlepping a reflector, a soft box on a Speedlite, etc. And I found that as my focus on stuff increased, my attention to detail and actually maintaining a rapport with my young clients diminished. So now, I work mostly without using the following:
A Canon 5d Mark kII or 7D camera body. I rarely use both at once. I own 24-105mm f/4 and 50mm f/1.2 lenses and I often hire a 70-200mm f/2.8. Of the lenses I own, the 50mm f/1.2 is my favourite. I always have a reflector on me and usually just balance it against my body or lean it where I need it.
Blurb: Studio or outside, and why?
Elizabeth: I closed my studio last year because I found that it was just a glorified storage space. I was shooting more on the farm where it was located than actually in the studio. It was there that I truly fell in love with the countryside and now, I shoot in the forest almost exclusively. Why? Children are alive in nature. They are able to run and jump and play and stop for the occasional portrait and sometimes I have to follow them up a tree. My clothing takes a beating when I shoot and it isn’t uncommon for me to just plonk down in the mud if I have to. Whatever, I have to do to get the shot I want!
Blurb: How do you approach capturing the unique personalities of the kids?
Elizabeth: No matter how much I would love to be able to answer this question definitively, the truth is that with children I barely know, I don’t actually know their personalities. I mean, it takes parents years just to figure that out themselves. But what I can offer is that I don’t force anything. I would never encourage a child to ‘say cheese’ and I’m perfectly comfortable with a non-smiling face in a portrait. In fact, I prefer it. I just spend a lot of time with the children and we talk about kid stuff, I tell silly jokes, I tell them about my own children. I actually get to know my clients as we walk through the forest waiting for magic to happen. And it always does.
I think that I must be on the right track with regards to capturing the essence of these children because I’ve had many’a a parent crying during viewing sessions which is always a good thing :)
Blurb: What about kids that are camera shy, antsy, or just not into it?
Elizabeth: You know, lots of kids are camera shy. And it’s because they’ve been introduced to the concept of ‘picture time’ in such a negative manner: bribery, demands to smile, because it usually cuts into something fun they were doing. I’ve had many parents say they would like me to get a good shot “if you can” – assuming their child won’t comply. But I’ve never had a child say “no.” Even when I shoot in schools, if one kid doesn’t want to sit, I just say “ok,” and move on. They watch from a comfortable distance and jump in when they’re ready. And their parents are always pleasantly surprised.
Blurb: Is parental input and participation helpful? Or do parents get in the way?
Elizabeth: Oh man. It’s a tough one, because they’re paying me. But often, I just subtly handle it in such a way where my husband or assistant will engage the parents and I will just move off to the side with the child and then come back. We never go out of sight, but I do like to get alone with them if I can. Parents mean well, but the demands they can often place on their children are unhelpful and I’ve never gotten a genuine portrait of a child who feels the pressure of being on stage.
Get more tips and photos from Elizabeth at her personal website, elizabethhalford.com, and her photography studio site, graciemayphotography.com. Also, check out her Blurb book, Cheequal. Elizabeth donates her profits from the sale of Cheequal to the House of Heroes Orphanage in the Philippines. And if this post has you inspired to make a family photo book, get started now.