Photography is all about light. And so the slushy grey days of mid-winter can seem like the death knell of creative inspiration. We produce commercial shoots every week, and I find it really challenging to stay inspired to keep shooting every time February rolls around. Where are the splashy bright puddles of golden summer sunshine?! But there is always beauty to find if you slow down enough to seek it out. In the slow, calm, cozy days of winter, there is beauty in the muted colors of dimmer days and the pastel effect of lower contrast light. Photographing in winter means finding warmth in a window and tracking down each sliver of sunshine. And my favorite of all, because the sun is lower in the sky, you can find delicious hazy flares even in the middle of the day. Anyone can take a pretty picture in golden hour on the beach, but it is deeply satisfying to discover the more subtle brightness in the stillness of mid-winter.
Next up in my totally random series of color galleries: PINK. I don’t think of myself as a real girlie-girl, in fact when I had a baby girl I went out of my way not to succumb to the overly pinky pinkification of everything and made a real effort to dress her in any other color possible. But I do find over and over again that I’m drawn to the right pop of fuchsia, blush, rose - peachy and creamy or bright and neon. It kind of makes me want to get some pink leg-warmers and go rollerskating with Beyoncé (that’s totally what I look like rollerskating, by the way). These are a few favorite pinks, mostly from the last few years.
The images I love best are full of energy and bursts of emotion. To elicit that kind of moment (especially when you’re photographing models, who likely haven’t met you or each other before) you need ways of creating an environment that’s up-beat and free. Music, of course, is one of the best tools for setting a vibe, whether it’s moody and soulful, toe-tappy and happy, or anything in between. In 15 years of shooting, we’ve gone through plenty of different playlists - there was that year that Marisa and I ODed on Christmas Carols before Christmas ever came. And that month or so we had Beyoncé’s “4” playing on loop. Usually, our studio tunes are a mix of upbeat indie rock with a strong current of girl pop running through. And Beyoncé. Below is one such playlist, which I’ve been bopping around to lately. May it bring you happy, jump-around shoot day vibes suitable for twirling and laughing in the most photo-worthy ways!
Click below to listen on Spotify!
I am clearly partial to these models- one of them I birthed, the other I’ve known since she was just fluttery kicks in Marisa’s belly. Honestly, we avoid hiring 2 and 3 year old professional models for commercial work, because the age is just so unpredictable - it can be damn near impossible to produce much in a day, much less stick to a shoot script. So rearing your own models for this age group is preferable…it takes the pressure off to produce a lot, you can just get what you get and quit when they say so. Here’s what we were able to grab from a shoot day with these buddies last week. And here’s a tip for shooting 3 year olds: letting them throw Cheerios all over the room piques their interest for a bit :)
When I have a chance to stop hustling and constantly looking forward at the next things to shoot, shoot, shoot, it can be really satisfying to look b a c k over the archive of work I’ve created in the past, to cull through my body of work and see how images play differently next to each other. Instead of always pouring over Pinterest and Instagram, I can inspire my own damn self for a change! Ha. For no apparent reason (or for the best reason ever, of just entertaining myself), I decided to blog a series of galleries of my work organized by color. A lot of these were taken in 2018, but some are from a few years past. First up, B L U E…
A few favorites from our commercial shoot in Brooklyn last week, finding pops of color to brighten the day while we wait for spring to really kick in!
I endured a few major changes in location last year - after my lifetime in NYC, my husband and I moved with our kiddos from Brooklyn to the suburbs (eek!) and after 10 years shooting in the same loft studio in Jersey City, Marisa and I packed up our props and said goodbye to our headquarters. Change is not my forte, and I was dreading the move on both fronts...but I have to say, I think I'm blossoming in the 'burbs! One perk to 'burb life is that living in a house is super lovely. When I pad down the stairs in my slippers for coffee in the morning, I feel like I've rented a quaint airbnb. And the house kills two birds with one stone, because it's also a perfect built-in location for the commercial photoshoots we do each week. We still miss our prop shelves and our Jersey City lunch orders (you forever have our hearts, Little Sandwich Shop!), but it's been a nice change to shoot in a home instead of building sets every week. Here are a few favorite images we've gotten from some recent commercial lifestyle shoots we've done in my new home:
Warmer(ish) days mean glasses of rosé, bbqs, cute summer dresses...and outdoor shoots with favorite models! Here are a few favorites from a recent commercial shoot around my neighborhood...
I've been so lucky to get a bunch of family sessions lately - I really love a chance to peek into a day of family life and find something unique and beautiful amidst the every day moments in someone's home. That's especially true of newborn sessions. Stepping into the home of a newborn instantly takes me back to those delicious, delirious days with my own newborn babies...only without so many hormonal tears or frantic Google searches on my part. It's really sweet and special to watch people literally becoming a family right before your eyes. Here are a few of my favorites from a family I had the pleasure of meeting most recently.
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with stuffing a newborn baby into a flowering can...
...but do we all have to shoot newborns that way? There seems to be a trend of propping babies up in jaunty poses, everyone wrapping them in the same nude gauze and holding up their heads or curling them up in baskets. If that highly propped and posed look is your thing, go for it! But there's nothing saying you have to photograph newborns in that style.
Finding your newborn style. Photographing newborns should be an extension of of your photographic style overall. For me, that means candid lifestyle moments. I aim to catch glimpses of the moments between "the moments" - not posed and premeditated, but hints of real life when families are just being together. Regardless of your style, you don't have to approach newborn photography any differently than you approach any subject - there is no right or wrong way to do it. If someone chooses you to capture this time for them, just make sure that they're familiar with your style and have the right expectations for the type of photography you shoot.
9 universal tips for shooting newborns. Regardless of your photographic style, here are a few tips to help any newborn session go smoothly:
- Be a force of calm. When you enter a home with a newborn in it, you are walking into a sacred, sensitive - and sleepy - place. Take your cue for the mood of the room when you get there. Wash your hands right away, talk in a hushed tone, and take the family's lead for how chatty or loud to be. Sometimes a mom is weepy for no reason, or is self-conscious about how she looks for photos, or is nervous about the baby "behaving" for a session - be as calmly encouraging and complimentary as you can to help put everyone at ease. The white noise from a sound machine can be helpful for covering up the noise of your camera shutter or your chatting while the baby is sleeping - most newborn households have one, or you can pop a little travel one like this into your camera bag to take with you.
- Follow cues for feeding and sleep times. More than ever, you should bend to the natural family rhythm of what's going on during your time there. If the baby starts getting a little fussy, don't push through to get the shot you want - encourage mom to stop whenever she needs to, and to step in and comfort the little one whenever she wants to. If they stop to nurse, I often ask if they'd like me to capture some of that moment as well, explaining that I can shoot details of breastfeeding without showing anything explicitly, if they prefer. Or if you get the sense that a mother is more private, you can leave the room for a few minutes. You can create an intimate photo by shooting into the room from a hallway, to set the scene of what newborn days are like without being right on top of them while they feed.
- Keep the shooting area warm. Especially if the you plan to shoot the baby naked or in a diaper, keep room temperature (and your hand temperature) in mind. If you shoot with available light, the sunny spot by a window is a great place to set up anyway.
- Bring a blanket or surface you like to shoot on. I've never walked into the home of a baby that doesn't have a surplus of blankets and swaddles around, but I always take a neutral, textured blanket and a plain white swaddle with me, just in case.
- Don't forget the tiny parts. Once you've covered a shot, get in close and capture the little details - hands, feet, lips, even the tops of their fuzzy little heads,
- When in doubt, swaddle. I say this with a mother's love: newborn babies can look like funny little aliens! I love those smooshy little newborn faces, but the lack of neck control or fat rolls of older babies and those spindly arms and legs can make it hard to arrange them in a graceful way. Swaddling makes babies calm and comforted and makes them look like adorable baby burritos - it's a win win.
- Shoot as much as you can in each pose. Don't disrupt a happy baby if you don't need to - once you've gotten the baby settled in a position, try to milk it before moving on and changing outfits or poses. You do the moving instead - get the shot you have in mind, then walk around and look at the baby from other angles. Changing your position and angle can make for an entirely different shot. Try shooting back lit instead, pull back and get it wide, or get close and grab some of those baby details.
- Be flexible. The parents may have hired you, but the baby is your boss! More than any type of photo session, newborn sessions have a way of taking their own direction. It's good to prepare and have a general plan of action, but be ready for the day to go differently than your plan...babies do not always nap on cue, for example, and you may not have a chance to get all those peaceful resting photos you had in mind. The best plan to have is to just keep shooting. If they have to change onesies three times because of diaper blow outs, or are frantically pacing back and forth trying to shush a screaming baby, change your plan of action and capture these moments instead.
- Get mama in the frame. A new mother is often self conscious about having her picture taken. Her body feels foreign to her, she might still even be in pain, and she probably hasn't worn make-up or done her normal beauty routine in the last week or so. But a mother is the real rock star of those newborn days. Her life and identity have changed in an instant, as she experiences a new and all-consuming love, and she has had to dig deep to tap into more strength and energy than she's ever found before. This, more than anything, deserves to be documented. So, be gentle as you encourage her to get in the frame - and whatever you ask of her, keep it simple - but make an effort to include at least a few photos that capture the bond between mother and baby. Dad and siblings, too, of course!
A few favorites from our foggy shoot in brooklyn this week...
There’s nothing more unnatural than the crusty position of a child’s mouth while he groans “cheeeeese” for the 18th time in a row. The moments most worth capturing are ones that have a breath of reality, spontaneity, and whimsy to them. There are a couple simple techniques, way better than yelling cheese, for capturing that spontaneity in our images.
I wrote a guest post over at the MCP Actions blog about capturing these types of candid moments when photographing children - for the complete post, including more photo examples and tips like "please, please don't ever ask them to say cheese," click here!
The hardest thing about leading a creative life is pushing yourself to keep creating day after day. The insecurities and doubts that niggle at your mind - what's the point? where do I start? - can stop a good idea before it ever gets going. And simple logistics can get in your way. Especially now, as the mother of two tiresome toddlers, it's hard for me to carve out time to sit at my desk, much less find the brainspace to seek inspiration and be creative. I could write 100 blog posts about motherhood and working, specifically about fueling your own creative needs when literally 100% of your body and brain are devoted to other little beings. I swear, half of my brainpower was literally sucked out with my breastmilk the last couple of years - is that possible?! But wherever the inhibition stems from, creatives all have the excuses that stop us.
On a trip to a museum with my dad when I was a kid, I remember being baffled by some of the modern art (if I remember correctly, it was specifically Black Square, by Kasimir Malevich, that really annoyed me, in that ignorant-yet-cocky way that only kids can get annoyed) and muttering under my breath something like, "seriously?! even I could make that." My dad heard me, of course (parents always hear those mutterings, don't they?) and said, "yes, but you didn't." I think about that conversation a lot. It's so simple, really, but creative things have to be created! I do NOT fancy myself an artist by any means, but I'm a maker, by hobby and trade, and I've found myself in need of this reminder lately: MAKERS GOTTA MAKE. I could make a lot of things...but when do I show up and actually get making?
I'm pushing myself lately to create something every day - the project can be large or small, photography or not, for work or personal. A simple step I've made is to put myself in the habit of leaving my cameras out and about, rather than packing them away in camera bags in the closet. I have one out on a dresser or counter top in a few different rooms of my apartment (it seems stupidly simple, I know, but with curious toddler fingers constantly on the prowl, it's actually super baddass). It's one little thing that has removed a step between me feeling inspired and picking up my tool.
I just bought the book Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert, and just a few pages in, I'm really into it. How do you push yourself to keep creating?