If you follow my work, you know I am passionate about bringing my kids’ imagination to life, and since most of us are getting to spend more time with our kids at home, I want to share some of my favorite tricks with you so you can create the most amazing memories with your family too!
My approach when it comes to working with kids is a little different from other photographers I know. When I work with kids, I step down and let the kids take the Creative Director role (with a little guidance of course). So how do I do that? EASY! The magic of storytelling!
It all starts with, “Once upon a time,” a pencil, and paper.
I’m sure by now, you have heard about the elements of storytelling—the setting, characters, plot, theme, symbolism, and emotion.
I use all of these as prompts when I do storytelling sessions with kids. You can ask questions such as: where does this story take place? Was it day or night? What were you doing? Who else is in the story? Etc.
Then make a little sketch about the story. The sketch will serve as a visual prompt when it is time to posing, and it will also serve as a reference if you are making a composite image.
So, Gilmar, why don’t you just take a picture and that’s it? Why complicating things?
Because I want these pictures to be a representation of these kids’ imagination and their sense of wonder, I want to validate their ideas and feel empowered by them. Lastly, I want to cultivate and nurture their creativity. All of that translates to the final images.
Once you have a story and a rough sketch, it is time for the photoshoot! Believe it or not, photoshoots are super fast if you used the techniques I mentioned above. There is no awkwardness because your little subject will know exactly what to do, and if he or she is a bit confused, you can show them the sketch. It always works like a charm!
Another great way to keep kids engaged in a photo shoot is by giving them props. I found this trick works great with adults too! In the images below, my daughter picked lots of sailing props and played around with them as I was taking her pictures.
Let them get into character. My daughter has been worried about getting older, to the point she said she didn’t want to grow up (she is only 5!) so to face her fears I dressed her up as an old lady, and let me tell you, she was the most adorable old lady I’ve ever seen!
You don’t need to have any props or to be Photoshop compositing wizard. Find a cardboard box, give it to a kid, and see all the creative uses and stories a kid will make out of that box. You can turn each one of them into photos you will treasure forever!
15 Years Of Retouching and My “Over Retouching” Story
When I started photography 15 years ago, what attracted me to it at first was the post-processing process. I remember seeing some super strong HDR photos that I was in complete admiration of, hoping that one day I would be able to pull that off.
So I started photography using Photomatix and doing lots of HDR. I felt like a kid that was given a toy. And like any kid, I played with the latest toys until I got bored with it
I loved doing this kind of photography. But there was just one thing that bothered me. The first reaction I was always got was, “Did you use Photoshop?” All because I used a post processing software. It sort of meant to me that I was not any more a legit photographer, but more like a graphic designer.
At first this did not bother me. But after years and years of getting this reaction, I started getting a little tired of it.
In 2010 I went to Photoshop World for the first time in Las Vegas and discovered the work of Peter Lik. I was absolutely in admiration of his photography and the size of the gallery in the Mandalay Bay Hotel. I did some research on him and discovered that he had several galleries on his own. Since then, I visited the one in Soho New York and Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles (which is now closed). I spent hour observing the reactions of the public in the gallery.
What surprised me the most is that the public usually reacted with, “Wow! What a beautiful beach, what a great city,” etc… there was no mention of Photoshop.
It was clear to me that there was some serious post processing done on his photos. But it was good processing. Processing that made the photos very dramatic but with a natural flair.
I then realized that there were several issues in my photos.
It started back in college when I was taking drafting and civil engineering classes in hopes of transferring to an architecture program somewhere. That’s not where I discovered I was horrible at math, but that’s where it really started to annoy me. So, I jumped to graphic design, where I excelled. The rest is history, well, not exactly.
While a creative director for a couple of ad agencies and companies over the years, I still loved buildings. It wasn’t until I got deeper into photography that I realized I could merge my love for buildings and my love for photography. So, I did.
I started small by going around photographing buildings to put together some sort of a portfolio. That allowed me to show an acquaintance, who was the new business coordinator for an architectural firm, some of the images I was taking. She hired me for one job, then two. Then she left for another firm. See where I’m going here?
Now I had two clients, then three. But my biggest break came when I did something out of the norm. This was the turning point for my career.
Pause for a moment, and try this thought experiment. Imagine your perfect vacation. It could be anywhere in the world, doing anything you choose, for one week. There is a catch, however. You will not be allowed to take any photographs or make any entries in a journal during your vacation, and at the end you will be given a potion that will erase all memories of the wonderful experiences you enjoyed. How much would you pay for such a vacation, in comparison to what you would pay for a vacation you could remember?
If you are like me, my wife, and our two adult daughters, nothing. To us, and to most people, the most wonderful experiences have little or no value if we cannot remember them. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman points out in his excellent book Thinking: Fast and Slow that we seem to have two selves, an experiencing self and a remembering self, whose needs and wants are not always congruent. As Kahneman puts it, “The experiencing self is the one that answers the question: ‘Does it hurt now?’ The remembering self is the one that answers the question: ‘How was it, on the whole?’ Memories are all we get to keep from our experience of living, and the only perspective that we can adopt as we think about our lives is therefore that of the remembering self.” He goes on to say, “The experiencing self does not have a voice. The remembering self is sometimes wrong, but it is the one that keeps score and governs what we learn from living, and it is the one that makes decisions. What we learn from the past is to maximize the qualities of our future memories, not necessarily of our future experience. This is the tyranny of the remembering self.”
Our remembering self tends to value an episode not by the duration of pleasurable and painful periods, but by the peak intensity of the good or bad feeling and by the feeling we experience at the end of the episode. Kahneman calls this “duration neglect” and the “peak-end rule.” We remember the peak moments of a vacation and its ending rather than an average of all the moments. Our average experience, even on a vacation we remember as great, may in fact be rather boring.
Does this help explain the almost universal fascination with photography? Kahneman writes, “The frenetic picture-taking of many tourists suggests that storing memories is often an important goal, which shapes both the plans for the vacation and the experience of it. The photographer does not view the scene as a moment to be savored but as a future memory to be designed. Pictures may be useful to the remembering self—though we rarely look at them for very long, or as often as we expected, or even at all—but picture taking is not necessarily the best way for the tourist’s experiencing self to enjoy a view.”
First, thanks to Scott for having me back on his blog and thanks to Brad Moore for putting this all together. Love you guys!
This post is a condensed version of the chapter Finding Your Superpowers and Inner Voice in my latest book, Photo Quest – Discovering Your Photographic and Artist Voice. A book, by the way, that does not include a single photograph – only words of motivation and inspiration. Some by me and some by the team of awesome All-Star Photo Mentors I put together for this project. You’ll recognize a few of these names from Photoshop World and KelbyOne.
Enjoy, and please post your super power in the comments here.
“Batman doesn’t have any superpowers. He has to use his brain and his courage. That’s what always appealed to me.”
Like Batman, you have a superpower (or superpowers), but you may not know what it is at this moment. That’s how I felt when I first started reading about superpowers.
I will share with you what I feel are my superpowers at the end of this chapter, but for now, let’s first explore superpowers, and then how they relate to you and your photography and art—and to finding your inner voice.
What piqued my interest in the topic of superpowers, which probably goes back to the time of Plato and Socrates (and maybe before that, although likely known by a different description), was a conversation I had with my son Marco.
Knowing more than a few successful and talented people, I was saying to Marco that people who are good at one thing are usually good at many things. Marco began talking about why people are successful and mentioned superpowers, a new term for me at the time. I was fascinated and started surfing the web for information on superpowers.
My search brought me to an article by Konstantin Mitgutsch on Medium.com. As Mr. Mitgutsch says in his article: “We have numerous hidden ‘Superpowers’ that are not just very human and personal, but really define who we are and could be on the deepest level. However, for a variety reasons, we’ve never understood this, let alone discovered these strengths and learned how to exploit them.”
On Forbes.com, Dede Henley argues that a superpower, “Isn’t a skill but a perspective, a mindset, a way of working that enhances everything you touch.”
To find our superpower, which defines our creative voice (among other things), we have to ask ourselves a few questions, taking photography out of the equation. The questions to ask are: What am I good at? What am I the best at? Why am I good at it? How did I get good at it? What do others think I am good at? Was I always good at it?
If all this talk about superpowers sounds far out (as we used to say in the 1960s), consider the following. After seeing a movie, you might say something like, “So and so is the best actor I’ve ever seen.” Sure, the actor may be a terrific actor, but he or she drew on their superpower to excel in their craft. That may be the power to influence others through their facial expression, the tone in their voice, and their ability to convey strong emotions and feelings that they drew on from their past for their performance in the film.
Another example is the guitar work of Carlos Santana. Sure, he’s a master guitar player, but his playing perhaps comes from his superpower, one of being very spiritual and mystical. You can read about his superpower on wsj.com in the article “The Mystical Journey of Carlos Santana.” In effect, Santana is playing the same notes as a million other guitar players. But his superpower makes him unique and gives him his creative voice.
Relating this concept to photography, Ansel Adams, for example, used the same aperture and shutter speed as other photographers, but he was unique because he drew on his superpower or superpowers, which may have been an affinity for getting in touch with nature, and his ability to see contrast and envision the end result, using what he called “creative visualization.”
In my quest to learn more about superpowers and our inner voice, I asked some of my well-known photographer friends about theirs. Take a look. Yes, these mentors are wonderful photographers, but their advice can be applied to many art forms.
The greatest growth I have experienced as a photographer was when I faced a challenge. I benefited from my willingness to feel the discomfort of taking on something new.
Since my early years, I loved photographing people, especially in public. It held an incredible fascination for me. The majority of such imagery took the shape of candid photographs while traveling or practicing street photography. I rarely approached people to make a portrait. I felt incredible anxiety at the thought of approaching someone.
However, my desire to make such photographs finally led me to approaching strangers and asking to make their image. The initial results were lackluster, but what was important was that I moved through my fear to make those photographs happen.
As I grew more comfortable with that approach, I found myself focused on a new desire. Next, I wanted to make portraits in a more formal situation. I wanted more than just capturing a few frames of a subject I encountered on the street. Instead, I wanted to spend an hour with them and work on creating a more substantive photograph.
I had never done something like this before and the thought terrified me. I felt confident concerning my picture-taking skills. However, I wasn’t sure how I would engage my subject for an extended period. Though my desire to create such images were strong, I frequently talked myself out of it by focusing on my perceived weaknesses and lack of experience.
Then came a day when my desire to make the photographs supplanted my fear and self-doubt. I asked six people who were in a writing fellowship with me if I could make their portraits. I felt significantly less fear about approaching them because I had worked so intimately with them over the year. However, I had to muster all of my courage to ask them. I was surprised by the enthusiasm with which they met my request.
For these portraits, I went to their respective homes and hung out with them while I made photographs. I had nothing more than a Nikon DSLR, a 50mm lens, and a reflector. I found a space where there was good light and a nice setting, and I would get to work. Because we knew each other, I was immediately able to build rapport and engage with them as I made their photographs. Whatever anxiety I felt quickly fell.
During our final group dinner, I displayed the 24×30 prints of each of them. They were happy and excited with the results. The husband of one of the writers was singularly impressed by the images and asked me if I would like to exhibit this work at a new gallery he was opening in the South Bay.
I explained that I only had these few prints and said that I would need to photograph more. I asked him when he would need them, and he told me the following month.
My initial impulse was to say no or delay the effort for later on in the year. But something told me that I shouldn’t put off this opportunity. So, I said yes.
For the next month, I took on the challenge of photographing a host of writers and poets in Southern California. Soliciting the help of the many writers, I had met through the fellowship, I started calling and e-mailing people to ask them to participate in this series. I was amazed how easily so many of them said yes. Some included well-known artist including Hubert Selby (Last Exit to Brooklyn), Janet Fitch (White Oleander), and Carolyn See (Golden Days).
Next was the challenge of making all of those images. I put together a list and a schedule that allowed me to photograph people during the weekends. Because of my limited window of time, I multiple sittings multiple each day. My busiest day included a total of 5 subjects.
All the subjects were new to me. So, I not only had to build rapport with them from the moment that I met them, but I also had to find locations in their homes where I could produce the best photographs possible.
It was an intense month of photography. I was so busy and so intent on pulling it off, that the fear, anxiety, and self-doubt that had held me back for years disappeared. I was singularly focused on succeeding and making this exhibit happen.
When I walked into the gallery on the official opening and saw my 24×30 prints on display on its walls, I was filled with so much pride. Despite the many obstacles that I had stood in my way, I had succeeded in doing something that a few years before I would have considered impossible.
It’s been one of my greatest lessons as a photographer, When I am tempted to succumb to feelings of insecurity and self-doubt, I remember that feeling of satisfaction that came from facing my fear. I remember that I can have such a feeling again if I just believe in myself, put in the work, and see it to the end.
Ibarionex Perello is a photographer, writer, and educator. He is also the host and producer of The Candid Frame photography podcast which he has been producing since 2006. The show features the world’s best established and emerging photographers and has featured conversations with Mary Ellen Mark, Dan Winters, Douglas Kirkland, Eli Reed, Maggie Steber, Elliot Erwitt, and hundreds of others.
He has also written hundreds of articles and has authored have a dozen books on the subject of photography. His latest is Making Photographs: Developing a Personal Visual Workflow.