Last week was a fun one. This week has been a long one, but also a fun one, but we’ll talk about that…in a few days, lol. Yup, once again I’m struggling to get this post up before the week’s end. Alas, I had something I wanted to talk about so here it goes! On Instagram I’ve been getting a lot of feed back from fellow Instagramers about how much my 365 project has inspired them (which is the coolest thing to hear, mind you) and a lot of shock that I’m able to get a picture of each of my kids every single day. So, I thought I’d talk a little bit about my weekly process with regards to my portraits. Some days are planned much more than others, but most days only really take about ten minutes to complete and so this is something that is totally attainable and has been so rewarding that I highly encourage everyone to give it a shot. I certainly seems daunting, I’ll give you that, but maybe this post will help you see that it is something you could do!
Monday: Art Museum Portraits
On Monday we had plans to take the kids and one of their friends to The Ringling. For those of you unaware, The Ringling is short for The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, the state art museum of Florida and home to a gorgeously manicured garden grounds as well as a circus museum and quite extensive art museum. On Mondays, the grounds and the art museum are open to the public, and so we took the kids to wander and take it all in. I knew where I wanted to take their portraits already, since I’ve been to the museum a few times before (and have even done a photo shoot with the girls and their besties here). In the center of the art museum there is a beautiful open room covered in ivy vines and benches and it just has this incredibly cool and relaxed vibe. I love ivy, and so I wanted to get the kids in front of and around it. When I do the kids portraits, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, I try and keep the theme central but to shoot them from different angles or enhance different aspects of their features so as to add variety to the same ‘series’, so here I decided to shoot my eldest through some vines, adding texture to her portrait and enhancing her more mature and moody spirit, and my youngest daughter I shot looking down the wall at her, adding more of a wanderlust look to her portrait. I wanted to play on her curiosity, her innocence, and I felt like this particular DOF (depth of field) added that, especially with the soft blur of the ivy out in front.
I’ll be up front and just say that with my son, not much planning can go into his portraits. He is a ham, and he does what he wants, and he’s very easily bored with his daily portraits. He’s a good sport, in that he allows me to take his picture, but as soon as he hears the shutter click, he says, “I’m done,” and walks away. So, I just have to cross my fingers and hope the first click was enough. So, with my son I either resort to bribery, or I just go with a ‘hammy’ theme and let him make faces at the camera. Sometimes they work out marvelously. This portrait I happen to adore and think that it is a great representation of his personality.
Tuesday: Didn’t We Go to Disney?
On Tuesday we went to Disney with some friends, and while I have taken my camera with me to Disney, I absolutely HATE doing that. I like to enjoy my Disney days with the family, and I’m super cautious with my camera (because, well, it cost me a small fortune) and so being anxious about it getting ruined and overthinking where I’m going to take their pictures (which only frustrates them while we are supposed to be having fun) has made me hesitant to bring my camera. It was also threatening to rain all day Tuesday and so I didn’t want to chance it.
Mom was not able to come with us, and so I decided to take their portraits that night while they laid in bed telling their mom about their day. When I do portraits like this, where they aren’t doing anything planned or interesting (this isn’t to say that their little conversations aren’t interesting, but they don’t always make for the most interesting portraits), I try and use crops and editing to create something more visually compelling. This is a nice way to take a portrait that could feel redundant and give it a new personality. So, with these portraits I decided to put them in a high key black and white and then play with crops. When I edit my pictures (in Lightroom), I manually edit them if they are in color (I do not use presets) but if I am going to give my pictures a matte finish or put them in black and white, I do start with a preset and then tweak it from there. So, for these I used a high key preset and then heightened the clarity and blew out the remaining whites so that it felt more open, despite being cropped in so tight. I also LOVE playing with negative space as well as interesting crops (I love cutting faces in half) and so I had fun pulling these pictures in as tight as I could.
It’s important when doing something like this to remember that you really need to shoot in RAW format and at the highest possible image size so that you can crop your pictures in tight and not lose any detail. By shooting the picture fuller, you have more liberties with how you crop the image. For instance, with my eldest daughter, the original image shows her entire face. This gave me room to resize and crop and straighten my image without losing something I wanted to keep.
Wednesday: I Just Kept Going and Then This Happened
Inspired by our trip to the museum on Monday, I knew that I wanted to create something artsy with the kid’s portraits. I have done watercolor portraits of them before, and so I had some experience with Photoshop and using tools to create a painting effect with their pictures. I initially wanted to create something that resembled an oil painting, but as I worked on them I found that it wasn’t giving me what I wanted it to. That’s when I decided to start layering things on them to see what I could come up with. Sometimes it’s fun to spend some extra time just trying something new. Trial and error can ultimately result in something really interesting.
Their actual portraits for this day were kind of terrible. It was the end of the day, the light in the house was fading, and they were tired and so I stuck them in the window and took a rather close (too close, actually) shot of their eyes. When I put their pictures in Lightroom I realized that their eyes were completely out of focus, while their faces were clear and sharp. I couldn’t retake their pictures, because they were not having it, and so altering them in Photoshop was necessary. Thankfully their eyelashes were pretty sharp, because they add such depth to these pictures. After giving their pictures a quick edit in Lightroom to smooth out their skin and brighten their eyes, I threw the image in Photoshop for the rest.
Like I said, I applied an edit to create a painting effect, but that wasn’t enough. I then decided to add a canvas layer and then bleed it into their portrait. I had downloaded these free templates the other day which had cool color splotch canvases and so I threw three different colored layers on their portraits, but that still wasn’t enough. That’s when I decided to find stock images of rain, stars and smoke and then using those I created another layer and after adding a few blur effects, I wound up with something that resembled the modernist art we saw hanging at The Ringling. While this isn’t something I normally do, I was super happy with the result.
Thursday: My Trusty Living Room Lamp
I’ve mentioned this to a few friends on Instagram, but when my day runs long and I run out of time to plan their portraits, I rely on my trusty living room lamp to provide me with the inspiration I need. I love moody, low light portraits. What can I say, I’m drawn to the drama of an image. I also started this project with the intention of learning to work in low light better, and so when I can I do try and shoot natural light indoors to push what I think I know I can do with my camera. So, for these images I had them sit on the floor in front of the glass door leading out into our lanai. I took the lamp and shone it directly into their faces, coming in from the side as I sat on the other side of the glass and shot through into the house to capture their profiles. I loved the way that this caused a lot of shadowing to fall, while the front of their faces was highlighted in a mere sliver of light. When editing I upped the blacks and tried to nearly black out the whole image, leaving that sliver the obvious focal draw.
I’ve done a few low light, dramatic images with my lamp this year, but with each one I try and either shoot the image from a different angle or use the editing process to create something that feel different from the last. Editing can be a HUGE tool in helping give your images the added umph they need to take them from average to special. Don’t forsake the good a little time and tweaking can do to improve your image.
Friday: When All Else Fails, Pinterest
I use Pinterest a lot. I have a full board dedicated to portrait ideas just for this project, so when I say, “When all else fails,” I really mean, “Check Pinterest first, and then go from there.” I happened to stumble across an image of someone holding a cell phone like the above images (his portrait was a straight silhouette with only the cell phone image in color) and I loved it. It was also nothing like anything I’d done with them yet and so it was perfect. I took them to three separate locations to add some texture to their pictures. My youngest daughter was in front of our dining room window, which notoriously gets the best light (and is the spot I take their pictures often), and so her portrait has, in my eyes, the best effect. I love how the light from the window bleaches her out. My eldest sat in our living room with my trusty lamp shining down on her. My son was in the lanai next to the door leading into the backyard. That is also a prime light spot for me and so I like to take their portraits there as well.
Here is a side note, but it is really important to know where your best light sources are. I know that my dining room windows are great places to go when I need light, as well as my lanai and, in the evenings my son’s bedroom window is the best one to use if I want to shoot natural light and utilize light from the moon. Knowing this will help making quick decisions as to where to move them in order to keep their portraits moving quickly.
Saturday: Saturdays Are for Sunsets
I love the sunsets here, but I sadly find that unless we are at the beach, I don’t think to use them in the kid’s portraits. So, Saturday I decided to get a different kind of portrait. Initially, my goal was to shoot at blue hour and do a starry composite (more on that in a minute), but when I walked outside with the kids and saw the way that the sky was literally on fire, I made a split decision to change the course of their portraits. Sometimes I just tell my kids to emote for me. Yes, I know that this will not work with all kids. Mine are conditioned rather well to work with me. Seriously, I can look at my seven year old and say, “I want you to give me wonder,” and she’s on it. So, I literally said, “Think cool,” and this is what I got. I have no idea what my son is doing under that zipped up hoodie, but I don’t care; the hands in the pockets and shrug of the shoulders screams, “COOL!” so as far as I’m concerned, he nailed it.
When editing this, it was all about pulling all the color I could out of the sky, and I am so happy with the result. While I’ve definitely focused a lot on their faces as opposed to the scenery of my shots with this project, sometimes it’s nice to give a little extra attention to what’s going on around the subject. The more pop you can add to the actual entirety of the photo, the more interest you’ll stir.
And speaking of cool…
Sunday: Did I Happen to Mention, We Saw Solo…
So, the reason that I wanted blue hour portraits on Saturday was because I had taken the kids to see Solo earlier in the week, and I do like to use things like that as inspiration for their portraits. I’ve done that with movies like The Greatest Showman and Paddington, and so having a starry night composite (because, I don’t have the equipment to take a really sharp night photo yet) sounded awesome. The problem was that we had plans Sunday evening and they ran later into the evening and by the time we got home, blue hour had come and gone.
Then I had a better idea (at least to me it was better). As I mentioned, editing is your friend, and if you have an idea, run with it because ideas are great ways to save something potentially forgettable. I love moody black and whites, and so I took close portraits of the kids (sitting in the corner of the living room, my trusty lamp in their faces) and then edited them using heavy clarity and milking those blacks the best I could. Honestly, I thought the images were near perfect on their own, but I had more in store for them. I found a stock photo of the Milky Way, and decided to have the stars transposed onto their sunglasses.
For this image I did use my secret weapon, Jon, who is far more skilled in the use of Photoshop than I am (although I am getting better, lol), and so I had him not only place the stars into their glasses, but he played with the transparency so that you could still see their eyes/hair/skin through the glasses, which added a very subtle but impactful touch. I absolutely loved the result. It is things like this that add such variety to their portraits, and you need that when you are literally taking their pictures every single day.
So, that’s a little info on what goes into my week of portrait taking with the kids. It is a big undertaking, don’t get me wrong, but with a little patience and some planning (and the understanding that some days will not go as planned but that doesn’t mean you need to give up), it’s super attainable and it has been such a rewarding experience for me, and I think for my kids. It allows them to be a part of my passion, and while they do complain, I know they secretly love it. I can’t even begin to express how much this has helped me from a creative, technical and even emotional aspect. I have pushed myself, tried new things and proven to myself that I can and should be doing this.
Until next week, here’s a few songs I listened to on repeat while I was editing this past week.
Song of the Week: Lost My Mind
This was a good week. Not a great week, but a good one. The biggest takeaway with that Lily Allen is back. As I type this (which is a few days later than initially intended), her album has been released and I have listened to it and I don’t love it like I wanted to, but Lost My Mind (which was released last week as a single) is great and such a fresh, touching song. I just wish the rest of the album had this shimmery spark.
Meg Meyers comes back at us with Take Me To the Disco and it’s even better than Numb (and so different in tone and energy), and Lauv dropped their album (is it, though…I mean it’s called a playlist so…someone help me out there), and it’s pretty great, with Enemies and Paranoid being clear standouts. I also loved the 80’s pop energy James Arthur brings to his latest single, You Deserve Better, and while I don’t believe in releasing deluxe editions of albums a few months after you’ve released the original, I love Luke Combs latest, Houston We Have a Problem and think that it’s better than anything off the original album.