The Art of Family – Caroline’s Family Photography

Caroline’s portrait shoot was the first time she had ever experienced professional family photography, after that she started using the childrens photography. Caroline explained on the phone that she wanted to preserve this moment in time with her family, and get some great images of her children as well as the whole family group.

After arranging a late start to work one Friday morning, Caroline and her husband Brian met me at the beach with their two boys for the portrait session.

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I was given a beautiful day to work with, and I was excited about what I could create at one of my favourite places in the world – Coogee Beach. What I didn’t know was that this shoot would change my attitude to family photography forever.

The portrait above is my favourite family moment from this session, as it perfectly captures a moving moment of the family in one of their favourite places. It has a clear location of Coogee Beach (the Baths memorial in the background is a local landmark, and instantly recognisable), and the splash of the wave makes you feel like you’re right there, feeling the water hit your feet and ankles. Combined with the completely natural body language and expressions on everyone, I find this image to have such power and beauty – instant classic.

 

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My approach is to bring very few pre-conceived ideas to my portrait shoots – I prefer instead to work creatively within the parameters of the day: weather, wind, crowd, location, personalities.

I believe my role is to capture the uniqueness of each family – their love and interactions, their fun, energy and chaos.

The thrill – and the challenge – of photographing families for me, is to combine all of these elements, in the moment, to create a meaningful image and tell a timeless story.

 

Brian said later of the below image: “Wow. This just melts my heart. That’s them. That’s exactly how they are.”

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What really changed my perception about family photography was how this shoot unfolded. I interacted with the kids and their parents, but I didn’t pose or arrange anything too much. As it was, the kids were so active and so full of ideas and imagination, I was flat out keeping up with them.

I realised afterwards, however, that this loose, let-it-happen approach resulted in moments that are so honest, so true, and so beautiful, that they far surpassed anything I could have posed or arranged.

I had stumbled on to a way of working that gave the images resonance and insight into the subjects above & beyond what even I expected.

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These two images sum up perfectly the experience of having a son – or in Caroline and Brian’s case, two sons. The second image – “Hey, let me try that too!” – shows what every mother feels when their son takes a running jump off some rocks…

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Something else from this session that made a massive impact on me, was how relaxed and intimate Caroline & Brian were. They interacted so warmly and with so much love, I actually made a comment about it on the shoot. I congratulated and thanked them for being so openly in love, and letting me document that with their family.

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The two individual portraits of the boys below were intentionally composed to be presented together. I really enjoy exploring both the similarities and differences between siblings in my portraits; I find it becomes particularly evident in black & white. At this point, I was using the light of the sun from behind to catch-light the boys’ hair and separate them from the background, while maintaining softer light on their faces. A long lens and shallow aperture helped separate them from the background with some depth of field blur, and voila! Striking individual portrait studies of each boy.

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And then some action and chaos again…

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This is one of my favourite images from the day. Compositionally it has a strong tension between the body language of Caroline and her boys. They are each moving in a different direction, each bringing a different emotion and energy to the shot. The subjects are framed by both Coogee’s Dolphin Point and Maroubra headland in the distance, giving a clear sense of place for the family’s history.

I also love the colours and texture in the water, as well as the environmental cues like the waves’ motion, the wind flicking Caroline’s hair, and the ubiquitous seagull wandering through the top of the frame.

The portrait feels perfectly like a day out at the beach, with the kids running cheekily into the water.

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The experience of creating these portraits and going through them with Caroline & Brian at our studio afterwards, re-educated me about the value of the real moments, the “found” images that capture tenderness and emotion within a family. I have since started intentionally shooting all my family portraits with this approach, to ensure my images are infused with the same spontaneous beauty as you find here, and to ensure each portrait conveys a deeper sense of who the family members are as individuals, and as a unit.

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