Today we are featuring artist, Colleen Adams, who has recently shifted into shooting more documentary work. She says the shift in her thinking came after being asked to photograph a baby blessing and finding herself truly enjoying the photojournalistic aspect of that session. As she explains she found herself “yearning to be a witness to what is real and document what I witness.” You can follow up with Colleen on her website or Facebook. Here’s what she had to say to our contributors:
Celina: You mention creating a connection with your clients, how do you go about? Do you send a questionnaire? Chat beforehand? Also, how do deal with a session when that connection isn’t made?
My first contact with many clients is email. I don’t have an official questionnaire, but I think that is a great idea! I usually ask questions about their family and what they are looking for in a photo session. Also, I offer to answer any questions. I am an empath and an extrovert and able to connect with all kinds of people very easily. I find most families are slightly frazzled and a bit worried about how their kids are behaving during a photo session. I respond with compassion. I offer lots of breaks. I assure parents that their children are amazing because I really believe all children are incredible works of art, even in their most challenging state. I come to a session with very little expectations. My only goal is to capture the personalities of the people I am photographing. I find the easiest way to do this is to have no agenda. I just meet people where they are at.
As far as technique for connecting with clients, I use conversation as an icebreaker. I make small talk, I joke, I ask questions. I try to surprise them to make them laugh. This work is sacred to me; people are allowing me to really see them. It is my honor to observe, wait and exercise patience. I hold a safe place for them to be themselves. In turn, I capture authentic images.
I have yet to have a session where a connection wasn’t made at all. I have had a few reluctant husbands, but even the most reluctant husband warms up when I tell them the session is almost over! Not every session is as natural as I would like, but I accept that. You cannot make everyone comfortable being themselves in one short photo session. It’s a life-long work for some.
Felicia: I see a few images where the children are camera aware and their personalities shine through. Can you share some tips on building trust with kids so you can capture their environmental portraits?
This is my favorite type of work. I have always loved the idea of portraits for children because you really get to document a clear image of of the child at different ages and stages. It preserves their history. I take this idea a little further by trying to capture a clear image that shows their personality as well. As previously mentioned, this is achieved by creating the connection, talking and observing. Also, I like to get really silly with kids. I sing to them, I talk about poop, I ask lots of questions. I pretend the camera is not there and I play with them. Sometimes I even put the camera down and swing them, dance with them and run around like a crazy person. Parents often want a few posed photos, but I find the best photos are taken during our breaks. I let the kids take breaks and I keep my camera handy while being watchful for magical childhood moments.
Carrie: What would you say is your primary objective when shooting a client family? What do you aim to convey in your images that is in the back of your mind when culling?
My primary objective in shooting anyone is to capture their authentic personality. While culling, I ask myself the following things: Is this image real? Do the faces show authentic expressions? Do the bodies look natural or is there any tension from feeling like the image is forced? Secondly, I check the technical aspects of a photo. I don’t often use flash, so I may encounter some images that are too grainy for my liking. In addition, I sometimes miss focus with fast moving, super engaged children. I’ve literally had a 3 year old tackle me to the ground while shooting because he was having so much fun playing with me. Of course the parents were mortified, but I took it in stride. Clearly, he felt comfortable with me and I take that as a compliment. In an high energy environment, it’s possible to miss the focal point at times.
Leslie: What a diverse beautiful set of images. You mentioned it took you a while to find your niche. Who is your ideal client and how do you market your work to them?
My ideal client is someone who wants to document their personal history with authentic images of people they love. I really enjoy family documentary photography and this is the type of client I am trying to attract. I use social media and instagram to showcase some of my latest work. In addition, I write blogs about my sessions. Most of my clients have come to me as referrals.
Jenny: You’ve shared a lot of black and white images, and I absolutely love them. Do you shoot with black and whites in mind? Do you predominantly edit in black and white over colour? If so, is there a reason why?
I absolutely love black and white images too!! I think this is because my roots have been established in film. I started shooting film with my first SLR in 6th grade. In high school and college, I spent most of my free time in the darkroom processing film and prints. Most of my personal work is in black and white because I love it so much. I do color for other people because I know they want it. For me, black and white brings the subject to the forefront and lets colorful distractions fade away. Black and white elicits more emotion for me.
Gemma: There is a wonderfully wild, carefree tone to all of your images with children. Is there something or someone in particular that has influenced this view of childhood in your photographic work?
Thank you for noticing how I capture children. I aim to capture children in their most natural state. I love the wonder, freedom, and wildness of childhood. The season of childhood is much too short in our current fast-paced culture. I grieve for children that are forced to grow up too fast. I have adopted a very connected attachment parenting style with my own children. In addition, I homeschool so we can maximize our time together. Our family embraces the true essence of childhood and we aim to prolong it. This is the filter to which I view children and childhood. I take these values with me when I photograph children. I aim more to bear witness to them than to control them. I want to know them, who they are and capture them and the raw beauty of their natural state. Children amaze me.
Jessica: In many of your images, the subject is central in the frame. When you are making a picture are you thinking most about the moment or the composition?
I am always thinking most about the moment, but composition, framing, and cropping are huge for me. I’ve always loved close-ups because I love faces and eye contact. In recent years I have challenged myself to pull back the camera and get the whole scene to tell a more complete story.
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