Working with your Own Kids
With those kind of photographs, I only need one, because how many photographs do you really need of your mom or your mom and sister. This isn't like exactly how I would've photographed them. It would've actually been in more of an armchair by one of the big windows in our house. And it would've been a little bit familial and then can you imagine that kind of a velvety chair, tan chair, granddaughter on her lap. But I would've done the same thing as far as connecting, so hopefully that's what you're getting out of this. I don't even know if that's not a great picture of my mom, but there were a couple in there right, were there?
And hopefully you started to see to when I was working with her, when she started talking about her dad, that did something different. Like at first, it was pretty awkward, and if you noticed like maybe for all of us, oh I have my sister's phone. (audience laughing) Do you mind passing that off to her? It was pretty awkward and her eyes were darting a ...
little bit. And so obviously eye dart means that you are unsure. Like any normal human being would be if they come into a room of strangers and have cameras on them. And so then when you find these touch points, you can see things happen. Now I could've, I mean this context wasn't totally right but she warmed up with her daughter. She warmed up with other things. And even when she came out, it was kind of emotional too because it was like you know there's a lot there. So hopefully there's some takeaways. Are there any questions on this and then Jim, help me too as far as context, timing, where I need to stand or sit or whatever.
Chris, you can feel free to walk all over. Your clicker is up here. You have that for kids. So how from here a question from the internet. Can you tell us a little bit about how, you have a special, you're a kid whisperer. A kid whisperer. We saw a little bit about that here. Other sort of techniques like the lollipop, or a prop something you might use to help build the connection with the kids.
Yeah that's a great question. The lollipop I wouldn't normally use. Some people tape pest dispensers on top of their cameras and stuff like that. The only reason is kind of like anything like that it's a little too dramatic. You win the kid, then you lose the kid, too fast. And it also creates this tension. Anyone who's given a kid a gift, then they kind of want another one, they want another one. But this was such a short thing. And it was all these crazy variables coming together at once. I pulled out the lollipop right? But other things to think about is you probably saw I try to get on her level. I tried to find something to talk about. I tried to pick her up. I tried to do different things, kind of let her be her a little bit, and see where it went as well. So that does mean sacrificing some really beautiful shots, but if you have a kid that's a little bit more quiet, or you know there one of, there's this one shot of my daughter Annie in the wagon. Do you remember that one? She had a fever. Otherwise she would've been running around like crazy. And sometimes melancholy as creators gives us a slowness, also awareness in a different way. So sometimes if you can catch a kid when they aren't very like bubbly, beautiful picture chance. Obviously you want to like talk with them and not just but let's say ET was kind of bummed. We could've got some sweet shots of her just sort of leaning into grandma. So paying attention to where they are at and going with that. Anything else from you all or anything you observed? Or questions yeah?
I have two questions. The first is between your two lenses, what was the aperture setting that you had on your camera?
And then how do you balance between portrait orientation and landscape, is it going back and forth, but mostly portrait?
Yeah I was mostly because I just felt like that she or they were kind of fitting better and then there was two, they sort of fit better that way. I think my composition is gonna be in the cropping, like sort of getting them in the right spot, so shooting a little bit loose, if that makes sense. It's almost like maybe if you're gonna, a painter is gonna paint something, they know that the frame is a little smaller. They'll paint past the edge and then they'll cut it in. So I knew that, and then the focal length, I was just trying to experiment to tell you the truth. And say did the 50 feel like, what did it feel like with a more isolated scene. I think the ones of my mom, I'm guessing when I did the 70-200 were better. Is that what you guys saw? Tony what did you see? Do you think those were better or do you think the 50 were better?
I like (mumbles).
Okay, little more acceptable. (participant talking off mic) Yeah the tan didn't work as well, did it? No it didn't, but... (participant talking off mic) Yeah it didn't have enough space and also the light was just so different. Before I photographed someone here yesterday, a couple of test shots, and it was just like smooth and soft as can be. Because it was complete clouds. What do you do? Okay photographing your own family. Here are my kiddos. What are some things to keep in mind? One of them is that you have to have fun. And whenever it becomes less than fun, everyone just picks up on it. It's a little bit of a chore. And that's true if you're at the Disneyland, if you're at the beach or you're just goofing around. So if kids want to make faces, by all means, let them make faces. And then they'll go from a face, and this is just PJ morning after breakfast, to something else. If they, see if my slide thing is working here. If you're at the park and they're coming out of a little tunnel, that's an opportunity for a shot as well. So it's just that plain and integrating your camera into what you're doing. It's more of an integration. This is this week. I came home to Elsie dressed as a bunny, 'cos it's almost Easter hopping around the front yard, so of course I did get a couple of photographs to capture that. And really that's just about that the fun. I mean the fun is so much more. It's just so much right because that's kind of what you remember I think the most. Another thing to think about is crafting the setup. What that means is this. Families in Hawaii, hey would you take a photograph of our family, and this is what they capture. And I kind of knew it wasn't right, so I said wait can we do one more? And it's not that I'm going all out but I say I got lower, so that if we look at the horizon line, let's go back. Where do I point this thing? We go back to the horizon line. I changed my horizon line, the side light. Remember I talked about sometimes the side light someone gets blocked. My wife there is kind of blocked. So I said hey you guys, stand there. And this thing has a lag. I'll try it again. That's a little bit better and I'm not going overboard with this. This isn't like a formal portrait. And then the next one hopefully I will go there, is the one where, maybe I have to do two clicks. The next one is where I just hop into the frame. So even with selfies, it's helping other people out. And it doesn't have to be overdone. I'm not trying to create an epic composition here, but that represents our trip to Hawaii last year. Then the previous shot. So crafting that setup even when you're bringing other people into the equation, and then there's our before and after, and when you agree, that one's a little bit better. I could've done better with Elsie got her more into the mix, but at the same time, this just kind of happened accidentally. And there's tons of examples I have like this. So you want to set people up for success a little bit and say hey shoot the camera from this angle, or even hold it there, and say have them come and hold the camera as well. Otherwise, you just get that same shot. Eye level photography is barely very interesting. Because it's how we see the world. You want to get something different, above, below, whatever else. With the kids a lot of it is thinking about just getting a bunch or a bundle of kids. This is Thanksgiving at my sister's house. California Thanksgiving right, outdoors. This isn't a good shot, which is fine, but sometimes with family that's okay. I'm gonna get to a better shot. I'll show you in a second. But the point is, everyone is separated. It's just kind of like an event. My mom at this point isn't there because here she is really in the middle of chemo and radiation and isn't doing well. So she is asleep right now taking a nap, but she made it to Thanksgiving which was a kind of a miracle at that time of her treatment. So I'm kind of trying to figure out okay maybe a picture of my sister and dad. These guys goofing around and then this was the moment I realized we have this setup, which is the light I like, which is like a garage. I could open up French doors, pull a couch to the edge, so it's illuminated from the outside. And I have to bundle the kids up and so I get my mom in the middle and have a whole bunch of kids on the couch and so thinking through how you can find that, part of it's proximity, getting them close, but then also figuring out where could you use light. Could I have bundled them up around that Thanksgiving table? Yes but it just would've been kind of confusing, but this photograph actually was a good one because it doesn't look like. My mom is a fighter and she is an optimist and she is an amazing, strong, wonderful person. But we almost lost her like two weeks before this kind of thing, and so to have a picture like this, with all your grandkids is really important to do, and it's all about the bundle. And it's also about the light. Alright lead the way. What I mean by that in Tahoe, winter time with the kids, we go down to the Edge Lake, not just looking at the lake from a distance. I'm leading them down there. I'll take a shot, knowing that we got to just it's fun to be there, and then I see that out there. I'm like Annie and Soph, let's go hop on the rocks out there. I'm thinking photography. They're thinking cool, we get to hop on rocks in ski clothes. So we hop out there, 'cos I know there's a photograph out there. I know without a doubt. When they start getting away on to these rocks, Sophie hops back. I say Soph what if you jump from one of those rocks? You think you could make it? Question. And of course she jumps, and this photograph is actually really important, because what level is the camera here, iPhone, eye level. It's okay and if you look at like say her knees, look at her knee. She didn't jump that high. I just dropped the camera low and it makes her more of a jump. The first jump wasn't the one I was looking for. But that as a photographer, that going down, leading her there, figuring out my framing a little bit, figuring out that I need to go low. She does one jump that's kind of cool. I say what if you jump back and then she does another one that I really liked. And it looks kind of super human and wonderful. It's not a fun shot, and then of course we just walked right back, but I was leading out to that and I was thinking like a photographer, also of course like a dad. So when it comes to photographing your own family, leading the way is really important. Another tip I have for you is this idea of establishing a routine. What I mean by that is this. With my little Elsie, we somehow got in this idea that we could stand on this crack, on our brick walkway, every morning before school. And so I would forget and she would be like dad, we've got to take the crack picture. (audience laughing) I was like okay and we would do it every day. And who knows what it would be right? Whatever her mood was in the front yard. And you kind of see different things. (audience laughing) I probably asked her to smile, that was kind of funny. And first day at pre school, who knows what? Princess dresses, and in this case it's not so much some friend of mine doing some work on the house. It's not so much that these are the most epic shots you've ever seen, but they're important, they're significant. And she was actually making me take them because we established a routine. Some families have routines like every time they go to the beach or every time they go skiing. They get a picture from the top of the mountain with all the ski poles up in the air. That's an important routine to have. That guarantees your photograph every single time. If you only do it one out of 10, they're like come on dad, I wanna go ski right? And so routines in different ways with different kids and family groups are a beautiful way to photograph your family. Next with your own family and kids reduce and simplify. This again, this actually visiting my sister up in San Luis Obispo. And we go to the swings, these old fashioned big swings on the beach, and I capture this shot. This is the shot hopefully you can identify with, which is kids are doing something fun, push the shutter. This is how I think of the shot. My friend who is a National Geographic photographer says, the job of a photographer is to go to San Francisco or wherever, take the postcard shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, then do the work of the photographer. In other words, capture the obvious shot, or the bad shot, then do the work of the photographer. And it rarely happens on the first shot, at least for me. Can you relate to that? And so all I know is kids are swinging. It's really complicated and confusing. Reduce and simplify though tells me, of a good sky. We have kids getting really high on this. They are competing. All I need to do is get low and I can start getting a little bit more. That's still little too cluttered for me. What if I get low sort of in front? Okay trying it, get working towards it, and then I think for this one, she is up in the space and then there's one more where I really get her with her feet all the way up. Now if you saw this shot, you're kind of like how in the world does someone get that? But did you see that path? And did you see how you could take that path? You could make that your own. The message you want to tell yourself is there is no such thing as bad art. Get the obvious shot or cluttered or whatever, and then what's next? Maybe it's reduce and simplify. Is this only relevant for family and kids? Heck no. Is this all the photography? Yes because images that are simple are always stronger than images that are complicated, unless you're kind of a genius. Geniuses can handle lots and lots and lots of stuff in the frame. For most of us, we work better when there's a singular element or there's something really driving the thing. It's almost like music a little bit. If you think some people musically can create like a Mozart, really really complicated stuff. Then there's those of us who can create harmonies or melodies or that line. So that's more the type that I am. Alright let's keep going. Is this stuff good? Magnificent in the mundane. The reality of family photography or your own family is that you have a lot of mundane moments. Stuff just like not interesting, here we are. We are at the store. We are at wherever. Your job is to look for the magnificent. Here's a ballet recital. It's not totally mundane but it's like kids on there, every person in the whole place has their camera up and is like taking a picture. So part of that for me is post production a little bit. This is my Yanni here. So I got a little closer and it's almost really about her. Do you see the change? I mean obviously there's a little color temperature. This is kind of about like bunch of kids. This is about her post production. As far as Lightroom, white balance, crop, nothing else. Then afterwards, she is out there and we give her flowers, with my beautiful wife. And I take a shot, I don't know what I was thinking. Probably my camera was not right or sideways or something, but I know there is a shot here because it's open shade. Because there's lot of brightness around. And so I just arranged them there to get in the position, and then I did do a little retouching on this one, which you can see if we go back, we see if we'll go backwards for me. You know there's just some little stuff that I wanted to get rid of and then cleaned it up. But that looks like an image almost that was like crafted or designed but it's really just after the ballet recital and everyone is goofing around. Then Yanni didn't want to do any more pictures of course. I needed to just play. Because the dad who only takes pictures, isn't really that good of a dad. Lot of times people ask me, you must take photographs of your kids all the time, and I don't, because that would jeopardize the whole thing. Maybe I took two or three pictures. And then I'm swinging Yanni, we're rolling on the ground and we're having a ball. That is almost as important photographically and also lifewise as a photograph. Are you with me on that? Does that kind of make sense where I am going? This is Elsie, fell asleep on the bed. I've shown other photographs like this. Those little times it happened. Rock climbing, right before her tooth fell out. Yeah that little chunky belly. The first time she wore curlers and I did set it up. The grandma's rocking chair there wasn't inside. I just brought it in the backyard, looking for those little moments. This is with our dog Daisy. You saw here later when she was grown up. Walking to school in the rain. This is a week ago at the beach playing in the waves. These are these moments that they stand out like this or this, but you have to remember there's all this busyness everywhere. It's like that swing shot right? If someone else would've looked at the scene, they would say I'm never gonna take a photograph here. Yeah the light's good but it's kind of a mess right now. Just reduce and simplify, get close, find magnificent inside of the mundane. On top of a gate in our front house, and what I love about this is just the toothless grin and stuff like that. Getting in the car with Elsie. One of the first times she wore makeup. iPhone shot and I love that. Kitchen table. Front door before she was leaving for a friend's house. She dressed up and again I love that light. It's doorway, it's dark overhead. It doesn't look dark behind her but cameras see darkness that way and all the lights, it's like she is glowing, illuminating. Go on a date with Elsie to get shoes, and capture those along the way. PayLess Shoe Store or something. It's not like some elaborate place. Mud mask, camping, getting ready for Halloween. Climbing on a picnic table, putting on grandma's glasses. And my clicker isn't, there you go. Pushing for a ride in the stroller. A little sculpture outside of a restaurant where we ate lunch. There are all these photographs to be made. There's so many photographs. Camping in Joshua Tree. And you kind of get where I go with some of these. I tried to simplify. There's probably 15 kids over here, there's probably trash and graffiti right here, but I'm getting into that spot. At the playground, at school, walking home from her friend's house. Directing, how do you do this with your own family? I think it's this. Here we are in Hawaii, Poipu Beach if anyone's been there. Beautiful place. And I actually don't take photographs at the beach very often because I like to swim and surf and do all those things, but I see them floating out in the water and just think this is it, this is the life, but the shot is just, it's a mess from photographically speaking. I need to direct just say scoot together and I need to get low and close. And that's all it is. Just one moment, get the little shot and that's so much more fun. Because the funny thing is the camera like the feeling of this when you are there is actually amazing but the camera doesn't feel like that. You have to help the camera out. And so what that means is directing, get close, and then Elsie I think did the little shocker sign, so everyone else did. And it almost looks like at least to me like I'm in the water. That's because my camera is just low and the water is transparent. So doing things like that. Playground at noon with the park. And there is no shade except from these beams kind of right here. So I just pushed her swing. Her sister was next to her. I pushed her into the shadow like this, and I'm holding her with one hand with the 50 of course and I do that, get the shot, and then keep swinging her along. And so I'm getting her there, and I'm connecting with her and asking her to I'm like I probably, we're smiling or laughing. She climbed into a little wheelbarrow. I got up close, asked her to look at something off to the side. There's a field behind our house. A big field but then also a soccer field. We found this giant tire on it. And so of course the kids starting playing in it. And I'm like yes big tire this is great. And then Annie is like well dad what if kind of walked on it or jumped on it and then I said, what if you jumped really high on the wheel? And so she started doing these jumps and this is all iPhone. And the only reason this works or you guys tell me, someone from the audience tell me why this works.
Low angle. How big you think the tire is really? It's like this tall right, but it looks gigantic. So it's low, what else? (participant talking off mic) What's that?
Froze the motion.
Froze the motion, yeah. Kind of caught it at that right moment. What else?
It's something totally different. It's not an everyday.
Not everyday I think that's true. (participant talking off mic) You can't tell if she is like jumping over it or not, and it's simple. Remember that whole simplify thing. At the beach again, as we love to do. Kids playing. This shot is almost too much, too much information. Most photographs are too much. And then you say what if I just photographed Annie by herself? And then what if I wait to the wave just clears up all this stuff, so that's retouching on location. Just let the wave clear it away. Annie while you jump, she is a jumper as you can tell, always has been. And then I get a little lower and then I say, well what if we get Sophie in there. Got to get a little lower. So all I did with camera just dropped down low, you see that horizon change. How much better is this photograph? This one I wouldn't actually even keep. This one I was patient. I let the water go back. And then I got low. Again hopefully you're seeing this isn't about me. But I just tried showing you my path. And what I deeply hope is that at some point you say okay I can make this path my own. And then a few more shots in that same scenario. This to this is just our light. We go from what kind of light, side light to back. And the color temperature goes from cool to warm and it's a very different feel. and then get the kids up on the surfboard goofing around. Here's the takeaways. What we can do with our own kids is look at how we can craft the setup. What I mean by that is when someone else takes photographs of us, 'cos the reality of a family is that you do that all the time. Even like we did that here. I didn't craft it with you but that was fine. Taking that extra effort. Thinking about how you can get kids together, like a whole big pile of kids, is much better than kids in disparate places. It's where how you can start with the mundane, make it magnificent. Direct them, hey family, like get closer together. Or connect with them and talk with them, and then reduce and simplify in that way. So those really are our big takeaways hopefully from this one. This leads to questions and conversations from those folks at home or from you all here.
Chris I thought this was an interesting question. How do you balance being present with your family but also capturing those memories with your camera?
Yeah good question. So the question is how do you present with the family but then also capture. Couple of things, one get insurance for your camera. It sounds silly but I really mean that so you're not worried about your camera. Parents are worried about their cameras. What if the kid knocks it over? What if they spill milk on it? What if the lollipop touches it? So that's important and just be comfortable with your camera. And be comfortable with getting some shots and not getting some shots, and then keep it really quick. What I mean by that is, almost all the photography you've seen here, of my own family, is like a little moment. And most people who will hang out with me, my friends, they say when the heck did you take that shot? I was at the beach. I said it was the one moment I walked out and I handed Sophia surfboard. They're like what are you talking about? I'm like yeah just a split second and then go back to throwing the football or chasing the dog or being there. And that's at least for me what helps. How does it relate to photographing other families? Is having that same sort of approach keeping it light, light touch. You're not heavy handed, you are not over bearing. You are finding small movements along the way. So it's different. It's very different than everyone gets there. We set them all up. We all sit there for two minutes and we get a frame. So it's a unique approach.
Chris one more. Jay would like to know do you schedule portrait times with your family or do you take advantage of every day activities and outings?
Yeah if I were to schedule it, they would all revolt. (audience laughing) Yes, yes, yes.
I'm just curious myself. What percentage of the time when you're going out, on daily outings, do you bring some of your equipment or are you doing a lot of stuff just on phone stuff these days?
Yeah a lot of stuff's on phone. And then like the daily routine. Of course it's just I have my phone in my pocket. So lot on the phone and then some with my camera. The trick with the camera I find is like let's say ET. Let's say for some reason I'm gonna do uncle date with ET. And we're gonna go to the park. I can't really play with her and have a big camera swinging on my side, 'cos it actually might hit her eventually 'cos you saw how I needed to kind of pick her up or do something. So in those situations, that's making the decision. The age of the kid. If I'm with Annie, like with the tire that was an iPhone shot, but I wish I had my real camera because she is older. So when they get a little older, I'm not tying shoes as much and fixing those things so that's the mix for me.