It was the birth of her little girl, Mia (now aged 6, and about as photogenic as they come) that inspired fashion photographer Essie Graham to sideline into kid’s portraiture. “I began to chronicle her life and it just snowballed from there,” says Bushwick-based Essie, who now has more than a hundred Brooklyn-based clients.“It seems like more and more people want images that are a step away from posed shots of kids smiling all in a row. It’s about making memories; photographs that capture the spirit of these little personalities and at the same time feel like a piece of very personal art.”
So, if (like us) you’re a point n’ shoot rookie but long to take photographs you’ll treasure, this is Essie’s no-nonsense guide to getting reportage-style pictures of your little ones. First tip: the diaper bag ain’t invited.
1. Be a sleuth. I think the best pictures of kids (or anyone for that matter) are the ones that they never even knew you took. So try not to get too stuck on your kids smiling for the camera or turning to pose. Those shots where they are in their own little world; picking at bugs, gazing out of the window or snorting with laughter are the ones that let their personality shine through and that you’ll covet in years to come.
2. Copycat. Seek out pictures you love – for me it’s all that vintage 1920s stuff and photographers like Mary McCartney, Diane Arbus and Corinne Day – and get inspired. Maybe your style is modern and all about super bright colors or ultra minimalist, whatever. Start to scrap together images you are drawn to and it’ll help you to frame shots to get the feel you like.
3. Watch the clock. Get the timing right. Basically the first few hours of morning and the last few before the sun goes down are the easiest times to shoot. If you have to take pictures around noon however you can seek out shade so you don’t get stark shadows (unless that’s want you want of course, those pictures can look great too.)
4. Don’t be a seal. No clapping or squeaking! It’s a temptation to waggle toys maniacally in front of babies and make weird sounds to get a reaction. But this just makes them get bored and frazzled fast. They react far better to a calm environment.
5. Lose the Bugaboo. Sorry but strollers in shot are my pet peeve! Actually diapers bags are right up there too.
6. Avoid a Santa color palette. Stark white and red clothing tends to glare in pictures (they are just trickier colors to make look great.) Safer bets are earth and natural tones.
7. Look like a tourist. Make taking photos an everyday thing. The more you take pictures of your kids the less aware they’ll be and the more likely they are to just go about their business whilst you get wonderful shots.
8. Sometimes cheat. Head to a great backdrop then let your kids adventure. My go-to spots in Brooklyn have to be McGolrick park, the stone pillared walkway is so beautiful and they have colorful weekend farmers markets, the East River Ferry (what kid doesn’t perk up aboard a boat). Red Hook (the waterfront is packed with interesting parks and warehouses) Brooklyn Botanical Gardens and Greenpoint, which has vast pieces of street art, old brownstones and a gorgeous Manhattan backdrop.
9. Splurge on a good lens. Basically your lens is even more important that your camera. There’s little point spending the big bucks on a great camera if you have a crappy lens. The best lens for taking portraits is a 50mm, I use one for 90% of pictures I take. You can buy one for around 100 bucks. It allows you to get closer to your subject, without actually having to be in their face and the depth of field it allows just makes for stunning shots. Camera-wise I think a Cannon 60D is an ideal professional quality, but not too expensive or complicated option.
10. Go on adventures. It sounds obvious but setting off somewhere new that you have never been will be full of genuine moments of awe. So jump in the sea, nose around derelict buildings, explore a tangle of forest and get off the beaten track.
All photographs: Essie Graham. Portrait packages with Essie start at $350. thelittlestlittles.virb.com