For a moment, imagine yourself in the last years of your life. It’s a cold winter morning and you are drinking your favorite hot beverage with a fire roaring in the fireplace. You are feeling nostalgic and want to re-visit memories from your life. You pull out a box that contains images from your past. I mean you can pull out your computer too, but its more fun to touch prints and albums, right?
Think for a moment. What do you think your most favorite images will look like?
The photographs I hold most dearly for my life largely make up candid moments. Three little girls under the age of 6 standing in the kitchen with food on their face and unkempt hair making the most silly faces. Myself as a little girl wearing footed pajamas in roller skates outside in the backyard. My grandmother and grandfather sitting in “their chairs” looking at each other just like they did when I would visit them. The last memories with my grandfather and aunt before their passing.
The more I have grown as a photographer, the more I have valued authenticity in photographs. I live to shoot moments with very little posing, and are as real as I can make them. Moments that most exemplify my subjects personality and current phase in life. There is nothing wrong with images where everyone is perfectly dressed and all happily turned towards the camera. A few “perfect” images will be something you want in your collection of photographs down the road. If you are reading this I know you value authenticity and I want to help you achieve that. You have a life worth documenting.
How Do You Get Authenticity?
The first step, and probably the most important, is realizing you need to be vulnerable to capture authentic moments. Realizing imperfections are what make you who you are, and letting go of the cultural and societal norms of what you think you should look like in a photograph will help create authenticity. You don’t have to have a perfectly tidy home, a super fit body, or the trendiest clothing. Ignoring the camera in front of you and allowing yourself to make connections with the space, people, and photographer in front of you will aid in creating valuable footage you’ll cherish forever.
What makes birth photography so powerful is the event gets people out of their heads and into the moments. It is almost impossible to document a birth without great authentic shots. Being vulnerable is most hard during other types of portrait sessions, but it is possible. My four years in documenting births showed me how much I valued authenticity and raw emotion that I pushed to attain it in all my sessions.
Children often provide the best examples of how to exemplify vulnerability with the camera. It is important to come up with distractions, silly games, and age appropriate expectations during a photo shoot. An experienced photographer will have patience and tricks to change up problem situations, and the photographer and parents should work together to achieve this. Giving space to the photographer with your child(ren) can also be extremely helpful (enough that you can see them and come quickly if needed, of course). Creating guilt, shame, and fear of punishment when having a child’s portrait made can make things go downhill for the rest of the session, and I highly advise against it. Using negative tools to make your child preform can also make children dread, even fear, having their portraits made in the long run.
The second most important tool to obtaining authentic portraits is preparation. You can use the method I placed in the beginning of this post to visualize what you want from your next session. Visualize yourself at an old age and think about what things you want to see from the current phase of your life. Is it how much your spouse makes you laugh on a daily basis? The free spirited and independent attitude that your toddler is demonstrating? Quiet and cuddly moments you have as a family? A family tradition? A date night? Fun at the park? The beautiful chaos of a messy home raising well loved and playful children bring? Make of list of all the things that you want to remember and this can help you figure out a lot of things in your sessions from location to what to wear. Of course multiple things may be hard but an overall idea will help give you and your photographer a better idea than “say cheese”.
Choosing the photographer you work with is important in preparation. Look at photographers websites thoroughly. What do they have to say about their approach to how they work? Does their portfolio exemplify authentic moments you want to have? Does their work inspire? Who are they? Are the people in their photographs stiff or appear to contain fake expressions? Communicating to the photographer about what you would like to capture is crucial. Settle with one who you feel can make your goal happen and tell them what it is. Your photographer can help you make some decisions when you share what you are most wanting to document and whats going on in this phase of life. It will help spur ideas to create the expressions and feelings you want shown.
Photographers: One of the best tools I have found in helping create authentic moments is using and joining the UNPOSED FIELD GUIDE and community. The cards are simply genius. I was already shooting using cues to create emotion and natural expressions before finding the cards, but it gave me a huge arsenal of new ideas and methods. Happy shooting!