Capturing the children at home
Here's what you need to know
Before I had my beloved studio in Winterthur's old town, I often did photoshoots in my customers' homes. Of course, this was really exciting for me on the one hand, but it was always a bit of a challenge too as I never really knew what to expect.
To begin with, I often made the mistake of being led, or perhaps misled, when selecting a good spot for a photoshoot. Meaning, I looked for the nicest piece of furniture and then took the pictures there. Over time, I realised the importance of light and finally, I was all about the light and moved the furniture around if necessary.
How do you find the best light in a home?
I am really systematic when it comes to answering this question. First, I discount any rooms with direct sunlight. If there is a lot of light, there also is a lot of shadow, and I want to avoid this in my pictures wherever I can. Obviously, it's easier if it's cloudy outside. Otherwise, your best bet is in north-facing rooms. My studio also faces north by the way, and I always work only with daylight there. Next, I look for the biggest windows, and ideally they should go all the way to the floor. When you are taking pictures of children at home, you always need to consider the fact that, at most, their heads will be at window level and the rest of their bodies will be a little darker in the pictures. So the lower the window, the better. Once I've sorted these things out, I look at the furniture last. But normally we don't need much. Just placing the child by the window and asking him or her to look out and tell you what they see can produce some wonderful pictures.
The brighter the colours, the brighter the pictures
Ideally, the windows should have fine white curtains. They act like a diffuser and make the light soft and even. Lots of white spaces in a home are good as they reflect the light. By contrast, a big black leather sofa absorbs a huge amount of light. And the same thing applies to clothing. The lighter the colours the children wear, the better. As the photographer, I never wear black during a photoshoot as it would absorb light unnecessarily. Strong colours like red and green can cause strange tints on the images. Of course, these errors can be corrected during post-editing. But if you don't edit your images, it's something you should look out for.
I always ask the parents to switch off any sources of artificial light. These have a different colour temperature to daylight, and the result can be a mixture of lighting. The white balance function on the camera is easily overloaded and there are colour discrepancies as a result. So, if you can do without with artificial light in your particular light circumstances, do it.
The art of staged spontaneity
So you have overcome the first hurdle of the light. So let's move on to the second hurdle: the children. I know from experience that taking pictures of your own child can be much more stressful than taking pictures of other people's children. I really do know what I'm talking about. There is a good reason why I get a fellow photographer to take pictures of my son once a year. Firstly, the children listen less to their own mum than they do a strange photographer and secondly, mum always sees the stray lock of hair or the Nutella around their mouth, so she can't concentrate on taking pictures as much.
What's the solution to this problem? The important thing is to take your time and try and plan it into your day. Taking spontaneous pictures is great, but difficult to do with children. A great moment will definitely have passed by the time you have fetched the camera and set it up properly. Which is why I love staged spontaneity. What does that mean? Plan an activity. What I always find a good idea, is taking pictures of children in the bath, for example. With lots and lots of bubbles. Or building a tower with the new Kapla blocks they got for Christmas. The important thing is they can do it alone and do not require your help all the time. And it should be something that will keep them entertained for at least 10 minutes, but not the television. It doesn't sound much, but we parents know how ambitious this is. Alternatively, one parent can entertain the children and the other one can take the pictures. Of course, these are all staged situations. But the beauty about children is they are 100 percent spontaneous even in staged situations. Children just forget and are immediately themselves. This is just one reason why taking pictures of children is so rewarding. Now it is just down to you to capture this spontaneity.
A seasonal touch: Baking Christmas cookies
A couple of days ago, I was lucky enough to visit a family and take pictures of the children baking Christmas cookies. It's another thing children love doing and a perfect motif for Christmas cards or presents. It takes a bit of preparation and you mustn't underestimate the level of mess it will cause, but I think it's worth it.
The children had tons of fun and only needed a bit of instruction. With the windows all around and the white kitchen, I had enough light despite the miserable weather outside. The children pretty much stayed in the same place, and I moved around them and took pictures from different perspectives. Let the kids get on with what they are doing and do not distract them with instructions. That can make things more stressful.
Details are another thing I really love. You don't always have to see the whole child on the picture. It is these kind of detail shots which look wonderful in your collection and make it something special.
Christmas greetings in the post
I used the pictures from the cookie shoot to make two different photo greeting cards. The first was postcards in the traditional postcard format, and the others were a slightly more playful folded greetings cards. There are lots of design templates, but I opted for two simple yet Christmassy designs.
The new 10x15 cm shake photo frame is also really cute and would make a lovely present for grandparents, for example. I picked snow for this time of year, but you can also opt for sand or little hearts.
Sarah Menzi is a passionate family photographer and mother to one son. She lives with her family in Winterthur, which is also home to her wonderful boho-style daylight studio in the heart of the old town. Her pictures are simple and emotional. You can see lots of her natural shots of babies, families and pregnant mothers-to-be at www.sarahmenzi.com as well as Facebook and Instagram.