03 Jun The importance of parent portraits
One of the things I love the most about my job is ironically one of the things that used to intimidate me so much when I first became a family photographer: photographing parents. It’s not easy! Unlike children, adults expect direction when being photographed and for someone that’s trying to capture an authentic moment, this proves to be very difficult. It’s impossible to direct a moment with parents that aren’t seasoned actors. When photographing parents with their children, the goal is to capture the very unique way that a parent loves their child and vice versa, and that’s not something that you can just ask your subjects to do for you.
And so through the years I’ve crafted ways to direct a pose while patiently waiting for that moment to happen. Sometimes it takes a few hints, and sometimes it’s just a waiting game because no matter how camera-conscious they are, parents will always eventually get distracted by the beauty and warmth of their child and give them a special look, a special squeeze, a special cuddle, a special tickle, even a special sniff… and click! That’s when I get it. I call them the soul shots.
I prize myself on this skill, as do many other photographers. Over the years, it’s created a body of work that is warm, spirited and loving. Along with my peers in the industry, I’ve joined a revolution to transform family photography from the standard, posed family portrait many of us store in our memory chests to a beautiful thing we call lifestyle portraiture. And I’ve poured my heart into this effort because I believe that we should treasure the portraits that have spirit and soul; the portraits that aren’t just a representation of what a family looks like, but a testimonial of their love and relationships.
Although clients commission us after being won over by our soul shots, it’s seldom these portraits that are chosen to hang over mantles and sofas in the end. Many parents have a penchant for the traditional, which explains the artsy-traditional portraits adorning the walls of thousands of homes today. You know what I’m talking about… those everyone-looking-into-the-camera and looking perfect and happy shots. And I do think sometimes these shots are great (or I wouldn’t produce them at all). But when the soul shots are forfeited in their place, it feels like a loss to me, as it does for many photographers out there as well.
It is a failure that out of the majority of enlargements produced for families today, a very small number include parent portraits. And it’s disappointing because what is happening is parents today don’t realize that the portraits they are choosing to hang on their walls are really only on loan. The true and most grateful owners of family portraits are the children. And what your children will want to see years from now when they look back on their childhood are the soul shots. Because the children will already know what they looked like when they were little from the loads of boxes (and hard drives) of snapshots you took of them. What they’ll truly want to see and feel years from now, what they will treasure and appreciate, is the memory of how deeply they were loved by their parents. They won’t see mom’s chin, or arms, or baby weight. They won’t see dad’s stomach or receding hairline. They will see love, love, love.
I know this because of my two favorite photos. I actually don’t have very many old family photos of my own family because of a house fire long, long ago. My mother was able to salvage a box of memories that we’ve all been sharing since, and there are two photos that I treasure the most. These two…
They’re just snapshots. The only professional photos our family had were formal and taken in small commercial studios, where our outfits matched and our hair was painstakingly fixed, and my sister and I had some sort of matching prop purchased for us minutes before the shoot. I feel nothing when I look at those photos; they are memories of a strange, artificial moment with my costumed family performing.
But those two snapshots? They grab my heart. Technically their value is relatively poor. And in the picture with me in it, I don’t look particularly happy. But these photos make me feel special, they make me feel wanted, they make me feel loved. And move after move, these little 4×6’s have withstood the test of time because I have treasured them and cared for them, and valued them the most.
So let’s start a new revolution today. Let’s get the soul shots. Let’s get them and blow them up. It’s not vain, it’s love and it belongs on your walls, warming your home.