Every so often I’m lucky enough to be a part of something very special.
The wedding of Alena and Lawry at Yestergrange, at Wentworth Falls in the upper Blue Mountains is just such an occasion.
Not only was the weather perfect, the location was stunning, but the couple were a joy to work with as they laughed and joked with each other, enjoyed their family and friends and seemed to really soak up their big day.
I was enjoying myself so much it didn’t feel like work!
All of this contributed to producing some great shots.
Here is a tip for looking your best in your family portrait photograph. Your mum will love it!
Did you know that a direct gaze and a smile are considered most attractive to the viewer? I read in a psychology journal from the Psychology School of Aberdeen that an averted gaze without a smile is perceived as more attractive than an averted gaze with a smile. In addition to this the study found that a direct gaze without a smile was less attractive than a direct gaze with a smile.
This all sounds fairly obvious I know, but it is surprising how powerful this information is when you are shooting a portrait of somebody.
When my clients view their family portrait images they inevitably have ‘favourites’ and they are more often than not those images that have them or their family smiling and looking at the camera. This information allows me to concentrate on capturing these types of images on the portrait shoot and not spending time on averted gazes (even if I like them).
The only time I would bend this rule is when shooting groups or couples looking at each other such as with a wedding couple or family. The interaction between people can be attractive in itself and make for beautiful candid images.
Look at the examples below and draw your own conclusions.
Direct gaze and smile give this image an attractive feel.
The Happy Couple looking at each other makes for an intimate feeling to the image.
Direct gaze without a smile can give a particular feel to the image.
A mix of direct and in-direct gaze helps draw the viewers eye through the image toward the baby with the ‘most’ attractive gaze.
Spring time in Sydney is ideal for getting married, and with the warm days and long afternoons its no wonder.
This is by far the most popular time for shooting weddings and the busiest time of the year for me. Over the last 6 weeks I have photographed some lovely and memorable weddings in Leura, Emu Plains and the beautiful Yarramundi House on the grounds of UWS Hawkesbury.
Each of these weddings was unique of course and I’d like to share some of my favourite images from each.
The first wedding was at Leura and the location was Leuralla open-air amphitheatre. This location is brilliant because of the stunning valley backdrop.
Leura amphitheatre makes a brilliant backdrop.
The happy couple arriving together.
Another shot of that valley just for the sake of it!
The reception venue was walking distance from the ceremony and shared the same valley view.
The second wedding was at the quaint little Uniting Church at Emu Plains. The service was very much a family affair with the grooms siblings performing the music, a friend delivering the vows and both parents joining the couple for a prayer at the end.
Here comes the bride. I love this shot!
The newlyweds leaving the church.
Don’t they look happy together!
Talk about upstaging the bride!
Speeches and toasting the couple.
Finally to the wedding of an old school friend of mine on his 40th birthday at the beautiful Yarramundi House at UWS Hawkesbury.
Congratulations Jason and Christina!
The girls preparing to walk down the red carpet.
A happy couple is easy to photograph.
Their daughters were flower girls and they did a great job.
The great location meant we were spoilt for choice when it came to backdrops.
While we may have a friend with a camera, or good old Uncle Harry or Aunty Betty with their you-beaut camera and lens package to help record our special day, there is a lot to be said for having a professional there to ensure the job is does well.
I recall seeing an advertisement for Kodak film many years ago which had a line that read something like “a great family portrait isn’t expensive, its priceless!”.
Another advertisement Kodak used had words to the effect, “capture the moment now, and enjoy it over and over.”
Photographing a wedding recently I was struck by how many of the guests had their cameras and phones out snapping away at the happy couple as the event unfolded.
I wondered how many of those images would be “up on Facebook” before the end of the reception, shared with friends across the country or across the world.
These days we all have a digital camera of some description, whether it be a digital SLR or a compact camera or even our phone. One way or another we are able to take a photograph and record a moment for posterity.
Many of these images are snapshots or happy-snaps designed to make a quick record of an event and share it with friends or family via Facebook or Flickr, while others are often more considered moments destined for an album or frame.
I recently received this feedback from a client who had commissioned a portrait with her family to give as a gift to their mother for her 60th birthday.
“Just wanted to pass on a huge THANK YOU! The photos were beautiful. My mum cried when she saw them.”
I love being a portrait photographer, sometimes it doesn’t feel like work, especially when the result has such an effect on people.
Getting back to the Kodak advertisement – what makes us cry tears of joy when we see a beautiful family portrait? Moreover what makes a beautiful family portrait, and how do you choose a photographer to create it?
The photographers I’m most influenced by have a gift for seeing a moment before it happens, they have wonderful anticipation for what is about to happen and incredible skill to capture that moment.
These are skills which take years to develop, through experience, knowledge and practice.
Having patience and anticipation helps to capture beautiful moments
I model my own work practice on these principles. I have been photographing people for 20 years and feel I have a keen sense of how people respond to being photographed.
The most difficult part of a good family portrait shoot is creating the right environment for something to happen. I like an outdoor location as I feel it helps this process by providing an open space not enclosed by walls. Out in the elements my clients feel the environment around them, they can explore and be themselves, if its cold they can cuddle into each other, its a physical event.
What follows is anticipation and patience – being ready for that moment goes a long way to producing unique and beautiful images to enjoy over and over.
What is the best camera or lens is like trying to answer the “how long is a piece of string?” question.
I’m often asked to recommend a camera or lens for somebody starting out in photography – I find it difficult to give a definitive answer most of the time as the choices are so numerous.
Nikon or Canon – Ford or Holden?
What camera is best is a bit like the Ford and Holden debate. You’re either a Nikon user or a Canon user. While there are other brands, when it comes to DSLR these are the two big brands.
I use Nikon, not because I don’t like Canon or because I drive a Holden, just because it was the camera I was given to use when I started my career and I’ve continued to use them for nearly 20 years.
I have driven both Holden and Ford in the past but now have a love of French cars, which is beside the point…
I have photographer friends who swear by Canon and won’t consider using anything else. Each to their own I reckon as long as you get the shot – right?
Starting out in photography can be an expensive exercise and the initial outlay can be huge if you haven’t done your homework.
The great thing is you can always add to your kit over time as you improve and develop your skills.
Most manufacturers these days have cameras at many different price-points, with 1 or 2 zoom lenses which cover focal lengths anywhere from 18mm up to 200 or 300mm. This sort of focal range should cover most people for most photographic subjects and situations.
The “disadvantage” for want of a better word with these zoom lenses is they are not particularly “fast” and don’t always have the best optics or elements. For most of us that won’t matter and won’t be noticeable, but for the serious amateur wanting to go to the next level you might consider investing in some “nice glass” and getting either a few fixed focal length lenses or a zoom with a consistent F-stop of 2.8 for serious speed and shallow depth of field.
Fixed focal length or zoom?
Again there are two schools of thought about fixed focal length and zoom lenses. Fixed focal length means your lens is 28mm or 35mm or 50mm or whatever focal length and thats it. There is no zooming from 28 up to 50mm or vice-versa. Some say fixed focal length is old-school and the technology in zoom lenses these days means there is very little blur, quality loss or vignetting like there use to be with some zoom lenses.
I like fixed focal length lenses because I like to be involved in the shoot. By that I mean if i’m too far from the subject I physically need to move, I can’t zoom-in as this changes the focal length and therefore the effect I want. I will often change lenses 5 or 6 times during a shoot as I strive to create the image I want. I could use zoom lenses and not have to change them so often but I choose not to.
Zoom lenses are great for particular applications – wedding photography and press photography both spring to mind. Both of these disciplines often involve capturing moments very quickly as they happen and zoom lenses are ideal for this sort of thing. One doesn’t have time to fiddle around changing a lens during a wedding or a press event as the moment can pass and you’ve missed it!
You need to move fast at a wedding to not miss the moment
What do I use?
I use Nikon gear. I have worked as a press photographer and used zoom lenses, typically 18-55mm and 70-200mm both f2.8 and both perfect for that sort of work.
Now I use fixed focal length lens for most of what I do – for family portraits and commercial portraits I most often shoot with my 85mm or my 135mm depending on the outdoor location. I might also use a 24mm or 50mm to include the background into the shot.
The correct focal length can help you achieve the result you want
What should you choose?
Obviously we’re all driven by our budget so far be it for me to suggest anybody go out and spend thousands on a kit you might not benefit from.
Try to invest most of your budget in your lenses as these can last a lifetime if cared for well. Camera bodies generally don’t last forever with most DSLR’s having a finite number of shutter-releases before they need replacing. (I’ve heard it can range from 100,000 up to 200,000 depending on the brand and model)
Your lens choice will depend on what you want to photograph most. For portrait photography choose a lens with a focal length from 80mm up, to help you isolate your subject from the background, landscape photography will require wide angles, for sport you’ll want telephoto from 200mm or 300mm.
Wide angle lens for landscape photography - Bermagui Point
Then there are specific purpose lenses like macro photography and tilt/shift lenses for architecture.
Once you have your camera and lenses you can start to think about lights – speedlights and strobes. But thats for another post…
The most important thing in my opinion is to gain an understanding of what effect you can achieve by using different focal lengths. Zooming your lens shouldn’t just be about getting closer or further back from the subject, it should be about creating an image with particular subject matter and compositional elements linked to your choice of focal length.
Try to choose the correct lens for the subject and regardless of your choice of camera learn to use it, read the manual or take a course, the reward for effort can be ten-fold and your next lens or camera purchase will be an informed one.
I’ve photographed a lot of weddings and I still get nervous about it. I call it game—day nerves, the sort of nerves players in a Grand Final might get before they run out on the field.
I’ve gotten used to it now and kind of think it helps get me prepared to do the best job I can — its positive energy I guess.
I travelled down to Wollongong in August to photograph the wedding of Rebecca and Daniel. I had met both of them a year ago when I had the good fortune of photographing them along with Daniel’s family at Martin’s Lookout, Springwood. I was very proud to be asked to photograph their wedding.
Quite often I meet some truly beautiful people and occasionally have the opportunity to help them celebrate important times in their lives.
The wedding was outdoors by the beach, Rebecca’s father gave her away and Daniel’s father delivered the service. Their mothers witnessed the certificate and their brothers and sisters were included in the wedding party. Daniel’s Pop delivered a memorable speech encouraging them to never go to bed angry at each other.
There wasn’t a dry eye to be found when they kissed and danced their way back down the aisle with rose petals raining down on them.
Off to the beach for our photo—shoot, the light was perfect, late in the day and the shoot was a dream with Daniel and Rebecca really enjoying themselves which shows in the shots.
Off to the reception and I was aware of my nerves having left me, replaced with a strong sense of achievement — I knew we had captured some beautiful moments!
I’ve just had my website made over by somebody truly brilliant!
The difference between my old website (which I proudly claim to have created myself) and the new site, is like before and after shots for a protein powder supplement.
You know those shots you see of some poor overweight fellow before he takes the powder and then again after with the six-pack and massive arms hanging from his chiseled torso?
That chiseled torso and six-pack is my new website and its all thanks to the brilliance of graphic designer Hugh Todd of www.constructedmeaning.com
Hugh is truly one of the most humble and gifted people I have ever met… not to mention being a mind reader!
I gave Hugh a fairly ambitious and somewhat vague brief for how I wanted the site to look and he took my ideas and concepts and created something amazing beyond what I could even imagine.
I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist and consequently reluctant to hand over my work to somebody else in the belief that only I can do it the way I want it. I’m happy to admit I was wrong about this.
The site shows off my work, its easy to navigate and the user experience is a pleasant one… at least thats what I think.