Mama (with a camera) Monday: Part II | huntsville children’s photographer

Hello again to all you camera-loving mamas (and daddies)! If you’re just joining us, you’ve stumbled upon the second installment in my ongoing series aimed at helping my clients and readers take better photographs of their own children. You can find the first installment here. If you’re already familiar with lesson one I ask that you take a minute to recalibrate and remember my whole spiel about assessing 1) the story you want to tell and 2) your audience.

Are you there? Have you done it?

Good. Let’s carry on.


Remember last week when I harped and prodded and strongly encouraged you to move up, get closer, and fill the frame? Well today I’m not asking you to forget all about that lesson but I am asking you to push it aside for a moment and make room for a different take. Today’s lesson is Show the Scene.

As often as there will be times when you want to fill the frame with your subjects and really get a good up-in-your-face view of the action there will be equal number of times when you want to hang back, consider the bigger picture and Show the Scene. All of those peripheral details CAN help to relay the story you wish to tell…if you make them work for you. How often have you looked back through your childhood photo album (I hope you have one…if you do, thank the person who made it for you!) and noticed the details in the background? Oh, I remember when I got that Mr. Potato Head! Look at that crazy wallpaper…do you remember that?! Gosh, I loved that set of green dishes Grama always served ice cream in! The stories of our lives are told in the details. Make them work for you.

So, how do you do it?

First, only Show the Scene if the scene adds to your story. The story told in this next photograph is certainly enhanced by the addition of the Little Gym logo, the large bouncing mats, the fearless five year old, the four year old patiently waiting for a turn, and the toddler struggling to regain his footing. This same scene taken 15 feet closer would have lost those details that so firmly anchor this image in my mind to my daughter’s fourth birthday party. Celebrated, of course, at The Little Gym.

Other scenes that add to the story are those that are unmistakable and universally identified. Like this one. Let’s play a game. Where was my two year old when this image was taken (with my iphone no less!)?

If you said “the emergency room” then I successfully used the scene to add to the impact of my story. The other waiting child, the instantly recognizable curtains and fluorescent lights, the hospital bracelet and my two year old child who sports what can only be described as a curiously smug expression all add to the story at hand. And, if you’d like to know what the story at hand actually was you can read it here. Let me just say this, it won’t soon “B” forgotten. 😉

Using the scale of your subjects to add interest to your story is another beautiful way to Show the Scene. I purposefully placed my husband and daughter to the side of the image and moved far, far back so that they felt much more like part of a very large scene as opposed to the main attraction. The large quantity of pumpkins waiting to be chosen helped add to the idea behind this particular story — that my husband and daughter were high-fiving because they had found the perfect one. Of all those pumpkins in the field, they were celebrating their pick. Thank you lonely, unchosen, disgruntled pumpkins, for helping me tell my story.

Next up, photographs that wouldn’t be magical unless you let the surrounding nature do it’s part. Showing the scene in this photograph meant capturing the dusting of fickle Huntsville flurries and the wide-eyed delight of the four year old who pronounced (proudly and adamantly) “It’s a snowstorm!” In this instance, a close-up wouldn’t cut it.

And as much as I touted last week that moving closer and filling the frame is a powerful way to capture relationships on your camera, when done correctly showing the scene can do the same. This next photograph would probably make it into my Top 100 Family Album (you know, when VH1 finally calls and asks me to put one together for a Saturday marathon of family photographers). I don’t think I need to add a single word to this image. It tells it’s own story, doesn’t it? Oh heck, in the interest of a “teachable moment” let me go ahead and spell it out: In my mind what I captured here is the essence of Christmas a Papa’s house. All the grandchildren gathered around on the evening before the big celebration to listen to Papa read the Christmas story. The baby who can’t quite sit up on his own yet but is lovingly aided by his Daddy. The Auntie who proudly captures the moving picture through her video camera. And the tree twinkling in the background to remind the viewer what the scene was all about. As if we could forget. The history and the relationships in this image are powerful for me. Because those are my people. Together.

Showing the Scene can also be an amazing way to capture emotion in context. When this next photograph was taken my son was about to turn two and to celebrate we planned a day trip that we thought would be right up his alley – a train ride. What we didn’t consider were the repercussions of riding on an enclosed vehicle for any period of time with an unrestrained toddler. The maniacal, restless behavior was a hallmark of the day. And of this shot. If I could attach a warning label to the image (and the day) I would. And it would read: “Two year old contents may explode upon departure.”

So, let’s recap. Showing the Scene when used intentionally can help to create a world in which the details of the story point the viewer to the heart and subject of the story. Use the universal, unmistakable elements that will anchor the photograph in your mind to a particular time or event. Play with scale to give your audience a sense for the size of your subject and the scope of the landscape. Capture emotion as the focus of your photograph interacts with the people or things in the scene. Pay attention to the details and remember that the moments of your life are contained in them. Then grab your camera, and shoot.

You’ll be glad you did.

alicia smith Thanks Erin! I love getting ideas for taking better pictures of the kids. I sure do love looking forward to Mondays when there is something I have to look forward too!!

Stacey Reese Thank you for this great post! I tend to take mostly up-close shots and forget about involving the scene in the shot! Thanks for this reminder of how much it helps tell the story when you take a step back and “zoom out”!

Amanda Wonderful post! I needed that reminder. Often I get in close and lose most of the scene.

Jenny What lens are you using, these are so sharp especially the little gym picture WoW!!!!

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