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    Monumental Portraits

    June 7, 2007 by Brandy Vencel

    I think I have mentioned before that we no longer patronize professional photographers. This decision was a combination of financial considerations {the place we liked raised their rates, plus the rise in gas meant it cost more to get there}, pragmatism {it is way easier to do it on our schedule rather than trying to pretend the children are happy when really the appointment was during Nap Time}, and ability {once we owned our own digital camera, there was nothing holding us back}.

    This morning, I finished off editing E.’s five-year portraits and Q.’s 4-month portraits {which I had saved so that I could print them all in one order and save on postage}, and I thought that I’d share a bit about our photo-taking process. Here is a list of hints and helps, in no particular order because I tend to not be too particular about order:

  • Take lots of photos. Make the sure the camera is on portrait setting, and also macro focus if possible, and then shoot away. It took me two days and over fifty attempts when I last photographed A. Keep trying.
  • Put the child in their natural environment. This is where they are happiest, and how their childhood will be remembered. A.’s last photos were taken in the backyard at sunset. Q.’s four-month photos are very simple, Baby smiling away while leaning on a Boppy pillow. For babies, get in close and use a simple blanket as a background.
  • E.’s most recent picture were the first I’ve ever staged. I really wanted to take pictures of him with a pile of all the books we read aloud this year because that is what I will remember about the year that he was four. His ability to listen to a long story blossomed, and we had such fun spending hours and hours reading together.

    Staging photos is much easier than I thought. I chose a solid navy sheet set for our backdrop. I draped the fitted sheet over a desk we have. The matching flat sheet went over the carpet to give the illusion of one large piece of fabric. We opened all the windows to bring in natural light, plus we took the shade off of a lamp to add some extra brilliance.

    For a photo with a child and books, we used a child-sized white chair and piled the books on the chair. E. sat next to the chair with an additional book in his lap. The Toddler Monster danced around near the camera to bring about a genuine smile. Click, and it was perfect the first time. We also tried just E. and his chair, a stack of two books with the boy leaning on them, just E. sitting Indian style on the ground, etc. Many photos later, we had a whole collection of possibilities.

  • Choose photos that really look like the child. This is just my personal preference, but I’ll put it out here. I have taken photos of my children that were breathtakingly beautiful, but never handed them out to relatives because it didn’t really look like that child looks. I’m not saying it’s necessary to choose an unattractive photo, but I am saying that one should consider the purpose of the photo. I do portraits for two reasons: {1} I send them to relatives from whom we are geographically separated so that they can “see” the children, and {2} I want to remember what they looked like. A gorgeous photo that doesn’t really look like my child will make it to the scrapbook, but for portraits I want to choose something that really captures the essence of the child.
  • Use Winkflash. There really isn’t a cheaper way to go that I am aware of. Most professional photos are printed using a matte finish, so take the opportunity to edit them before printing. Winkflash’s default setting is on glossy finish.
  • If I couldn’t afford to print the photos, I would take them anyhow. Some companies {maybe Yahoo photo?} enable a person to upload the photos and then others can view the album and select prints that they pay for themself. It is a wonderful courtesy to be able to print and ship photos to relatives, but if I couldn’t swing the budget, I think my relatives would appreciate that option rather than not having photos at all.

    Also, save the digital negatives somewhere safe. Someday, it might be possible to print and frame them.

  • Save the funny ones. Keep the tongues-sticking-out, the off-centers, the blurred-by-dancing, the pouty-faced. One never knows when one will get a certain flash of brilliance that will turn all the mistakes into a very classy art project…or as finishing touches on a blog post.
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