THIS IS A GUEST POST COURTESY OF JODIE JOLLEY OF AVEN WILLOW STUDIOS
There was a day when you would have found my studio filled with rolled up printed backdrops from all sorts of vendors. Vinyls, weaves, poly papers, canvases, you name it!! There were so many that they even lined the walls in my overflow storage room and my husband and I had to create a hanging system just to ensure I had enough floor space to store all of the rest of my extra studio stash!
Now, don’t get me wrong. We all love an incredibly amazing backdrop, but when it comes to these little milestone babies it has always seemed like the backdrop and setup were being captured more than the adorable little person sitting in front of it. Over the years as I evolved my own personal art and transitioned into a fine art portrait studio, those endless piles of rolled up dusty backdrops found new homes, and I fell in love with the beautiful simplicity of photographing the milestone baby.
If you have ever photographed a “sitter” baby (6-12 months old) you know the session is anything but slow paced. Depending on baby they are either crawling all over the place, wiggling arms and legs, or eating every fur, prop, or layer you have in arms reach. Our job is to take those crazy 20 minutes and make a timeless moment for mom to remember the stillness of her baby. We create a portrait she can put on her wall that she can look at and relive that emotion years from now. Mom does not care about the latest hand painted backdrop design or crazy artistic idea we have always wanted to try. She only cares about that connection with her baby and being able to relive that when they’re not so little anymore.
Over the years of photographing these sessions I have come to design each one using the following precepts:
It’s ALL about Baby
There’s two things that when they come together they can be a very dangerous combination: Mom & Pinterest! Even though mom’s intentions are in the right place, they’re coming to a professional for a specific reason and for a desired outcome, which is to have beautiful portraits of these important and fleeting milestone of their baby’s first year that they will love for a lifetime! To help with the bridge between mom’s pinterest searches and my art that they fell in love with, I have a planning session with mom at our consultation, or over the phone, where I explain the reasons behind keeping all the focus on baby. I then ask her if there is a specific color or special toy she wants to incorporate in the session. That’s it! All other decisions are left to the professional. It all comes down to simply making it about baby, which mom is more than excited about. Now, she can leave the pinterest boards tucked safely inside of her purse.
When planning the session and picking out the things I’m going to use, I literally ask myself, “Will this ADD or distract from baby?” If it errors on the distraction side I move on and use something else. Simple as that.
Yes, I did use monochrome and colors in the same joined idea. If all sessions could be just varying degrees of cream I would be in heaven, but people like color and using a color the client likes or uses in their home decor is a great way to ensure they will love the images for more than the reason that one of their favorite people are the star in them! I will only pick out 1-2 colors to be used in any session and build the backdrop, props, and layerings around those colors. I never mix colors in one setup such as purple and yellow. I stick to only one of my colors and I choose my layerings and accessories in varying shades of the one color. That way no matter what, the end result is that the portrait will never be contrasting. Purple goes with purple, cream goes with cream, pale blue goes with pale blue… you got the picture! This helps to once again add to the simplicity of each image and keep the focus right where it belongs! By using this rule you can add decorative embellishments without distracting from your subject.
Props and Outfits
When you simplify the backdrop and the colors it naturally simplifies your props and your workflow. Once again, because the beautiful fine art products I sell last 100-200 years (depending on storage) and I want my clients to love their portraits just as much 50 years from now as they do today, I stay away from any “dated” props or outfits that will be able to be pinned down to a specific time period when looked at years later. (think lace ruffle rompers and bellbottoms!) If its’ a super big “fad” type of a prop I don’t use it nor do I purchase anything like them out of principle.
As far as outfits go at this age, the less the better! If mom is ok with naked baby then I’ll do naked baby every time with a simple bonnet or halo so that once again the focus is all on their baby and what they looked like in this moment. No other time will they be able to capture those adorable baby bums and rolls that moms love so much. When I do use an outfit or romper I use my monochrome color rule accordingly.
The “Smile” and Connection
I’m going to say something that maybe only a few photographers have ever said in history! I don’t care about smiles!! There. I said it. Smiles don’t necessarily fit my brand nor do I believe they are the thing that captures the essence of the child best. The connection is in the eyes. When I take a beautiful portrait of my clients child and they look at that image years later, I want them to feel what it felt like when their baby gazed into their eyes. That gaze while they’re nursing or feeding them. The gaze when their softly snuggling before nap time. That is what I’m capturing. Not a “smile”. Now, some babies are super smiley (like this one!), and that’s great, but I never try to make them smile. During the session I try to involve the parents as little as possible. I have a nice little padded bench right where I’m shooting at that they can sit and be part of every little cute thing their baby does and are close enough for baby to not be nervous at all. I most definitely never let mom and dad stand behind me and clap and try to talk cute baby talk to try to get baby to smile and look at them. That would cause a disconnection in the image. We discuss this in our consultation or planning session with each client so that their not caught off guard at the session. The person they need to connect with is the one behind the camera. By talking softly and truly connecting with them, you’re able to not only capture the “smile” mom wants, but also the smile in the eyes that connect the viewer to your portrait.
The image that will last a lifetime in the heart of our clients is the one that is beautifully simple; capturing true connection that focuses on their baby and what they love the most about them.