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Photographing kids and families


Douglas Kirkland on Photography: Photographing Kids and Families

with Douglas Kirkland

Video: Photographing kids and families

Photography of kids is very important. I love always to document family, as I did my kids when they were growing up. You want a great image that lasts into the future and people remember. (video playing) Frequently, people say "when I think of Douglas Kirkland I think of Marilyn Monroe, Jack Nicholson, and Audrey Hepburn and others." Yes, that's a world I live in, and life has been good to me.
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Watch the Online Video Course Douglas Kirkland on Photography: Photographing Kids and Families
37m 10s Appropriate for all Sep 12, 2012

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When you photograph kids and families, "you're recording a piece of history," says renowned photographer Douglas Kirkland in Douglas Kirkland on Photography: Photographing Kids and Families. In this course, Douglas discusses the art of photographing kids ranging from toddlers to preteens, both alone and together with parents and siblings. As he photographs close friends and family members, Douglas discusses the use of ambient light as well as LED fill light, and demonstrates shooting techniques in both informal and studio settings.

Topics include:
  • Capturing memories: the importance of photographing kids and families
  • Working with toddlers by playing with them
  • Making lens and lighting decisions
  • Using props and toys to make kids comfortable
  • Posing families and kids together
Douglas Kirkland

Photographing kids and families

Photography of kids is very important. I love always to document family, as I did my kids when they were growing up. You want a great image that lasts into the future and people remember. (video playing) Frequently, people say "when I think of Douglas Kirkland I think of Marilyn Monroe, Jack Nicholson, and Audrey Hepburn and others." Yes, that's a world I live in, and life has been good to me.

So they say "why do you want to photograph kids?" You know why? It's all photography. (video playing) When you get great pictures of kids that you photograph, if you do it well, you are recording a very important piece of history. I have three kids of my own who are now grown and Mark was the first one. He was one of my favorite subjects, and he is now in his mid-50s, and of course now it's grandkids.

In Vermont a few years ago, we had a new grandchild, Anna Sophia, and Karen was picking her up in the air and she had a red hat on, a picture asking to be taken--the picture we wanted for our family--and that was really important. But I have a stock agency called Corbis. Corbis has been very good to me through the years, and they probably sold that picture of Anna Sophia more than any other picture almost in my collection. Now, I had a friend who came to me and he said he was involved with a charity called the Starlight Foundation, and it's for deprived children that have medical difficulties.

And they had had somebody come in with the flash on camera and pop pictures like a point-and-shoot, and they tried to put these into the pages of the annual report and it didn't fly very well. So what I wanted to do for the Starlight Foundation was make effective pictures, done carefully and professionally, and it was quite successful. Everybody has something to express and show, and that is more history.

(music playing) The pictures we took yesterday of families and friends were very important to me, and it's something that I've wanted to do with these people for some time. The first people to arrive were Joel and Ona, with their son James. He was the first person to be photographed. (video playing) Ona is a very special lady to me, because I've photographed her since she was 17, just after she had arrived here in the States from Nigeria.

And then I photographed her wedding with Joel. And then she was pregnant one day and then I wanted to photograph her in a studio. I used the spotlight in the background to get the shape of her stomach, and at one point I brought Joel in to listen to the baby. This was the beginning of photographing this family for me. And James has been great, and that boy just looks more incredible all the time. Look at that head of hair! When James arrived with his mom and dad, it was interesting, because at first, even though I'd see him a lot of times, he was a little timid.

You want to have a nice relationship; you want to have a warm relationship. They want to communicate in their own way, even if they're not talking very much. I like a zoom lens with kids, because you might have a wide shot one moment and you might get a close headshot a second later. You don't have to change your lens or anything else, because my concentration is me and my subject. (video playing) I wanted him to be comfortable with me with my camera.

That was my first job at that point. (video playing) Go to your most basic instincts and recollection of what you were like as a kid and allow yourself to become a kid a little. Generally, when I'm working with kids and families, I find it best to start with the available light. We went upstairs and we got a big bathtub up there, and there is a lot of light there. We have a lot of little toys around the edges.

My wife Francoise has them there for kids when they come. She was so right, because it became a playpen. (video playing) It's quite important to have things that kids can relate to. I mean, we have crayons around here and paper. I have one boy whom I photographed a number of years, Sean, he had one year that outer space was his passion, and the next year it was dinosaurs.

If you can relate to them on their terms, a child for example with a toy or something like that, or something that they can participate with, they have their communication running with you. (video playing) Here is Jack. He comes in and he was a little frightened at first too, but Christian put him into the tub with James, and he started to light up and smile.

(video playing) And this one point he got a little frightened, but that was taken away pretty quickly, because his dad came and held him for a minute. And then James came over and started talking to him. I was just working quickly. I shot a lot of pictures very fast.

Normally I don't shoot rapidly, but I did with these kids, because I kept seeing good pictures. I had a zoom lens at 24-105. There was quite a bit of light there. So I was on what's a fairly high ISO for that. I was at 1250, and my shutter speeds were running at 250th of a second, at 56. What I liked about that place is the light outside would be blown out a little bit-- that was intentional--and be overexposed probably two or three stops, at least. I wanted it to be a little more fairly like, more like a nursery.

(music playing) Very often, families, in the end, fall more in love with the picture you do in the studio than the one that's in many ways more significant to me, the available light one. Kids have maybe never seen anything like we have in our studio here.

We put a sweep a paper down, just to get a clear simple background. I got Joel and Ona to sit on the floor, because I wanted them to be able to have James stand beside them and their head levels would be more or less the same. When you have a family, a large number of people especially, it's quite different. I, for example, photographed an Italian family with something like seventeen people in one picture. What you do is you think of the oldest person, the most senior people. They probably go in the center, because they should get the most respect.

If it's just mom and dad and a couple of kids, you sit them down comfortably or stand them together and build around that. It's funny, you often have to tell people "move closer, closer. Please touch your heads together." You're probably going to want them looking right into your camera, and the parents may do it, kids may not. (video playing) People should leave feeling good, kids or adults.

Remember one thing, that you the photographer are not the only element in this. No matter what kind of a beautiful new camera lens you have, unquestionably, it's the people out in front and how you relate to them. That's ultimately what the process is. Susan and Jane, her daughter, arrived. Susan is a very beautiful woman and she has this wonderful child she adopted from Shanghai, and I thought to myself, I'd like to make a mother and daughter picture.

I keep trying to find new places in this home we live in. The more you can do in one place, in any photographic work, the better you are. I mean, I used to shoot fashion. We would find, if we'd go to one location and do a day's work, we'd be much better off than running in to twenty-nine places, because you get it done. (video playing) In an area like this, there were certain things I wanted. I knew I wanted an out-of-focus background.

I didn't have a large space, so by going to a longer lens, we get less of the background, and it's fuzzier because of the less depth of field. So I ended up shooting at 3200, and I shot wide open. I shot at f/4. And I was shooting at, I believe, a 90th of a second at that combination. I didn't have them just look at the camera. I wanted them looking at each other. You're making a beautiful painting or something. That's what you're doing with your camera. Have the white panel ready please. Thank you! Good! Do you have the 85 on it? Make it really weak.

I decided at one point, maybe I needed a tweak of what we call fill light. Ways you can do that are you can use a reflector, if there is something to reflect. Some people might use a flash. You can use a flash; it's very delicate and difficult. And there is an even better and simpler solution if you have this available. We call them Litepanels One by One, and it's an LED system, with a dial in the back, and it works beautifully for this delicate type of available light, because you just dial in a small amount.

I want to mention one word that's very important, femininity. That's what we have here: a child and a mother. It was a delicacy of the warm lighting and the tropical background. (video playing) Jane's best friend is Carolina, who is a niece of ours.

They love to giggle together and put their heads together. They're always together. I wanted to show that closeness, and so what I did is my vision was, if they could sit on the floor and face each other in profile, even if it's a profile, you want to be able to see that face, always the eyes if you can. When you have only so many places you can work, make the most out of all of them.

I'm asking myself questions as I go along. I don't know precisely where I have to go, but I know what works and what doesn't. Carolina has this beautiful red raincoat. She wore it when she arrived here, and it was almost too warm for it when she arrived, but she is so proud of it. So I felt it was very important, frankly, to make somewhat of almost a fashion statement. You need simplicity in the background. I'm going to fuzz it out. You're helped by the long lens wide open, but you also have to have as much simplicity as possible.

Oscar, our cat, happened to be sitting on the chair right beside them. (video playing) Respond to what is with you, what is in the air, what is in the location.

Now, another completely different situation was I had to figure out what to do with Lucas, my nephew. Lucas is seven. He has unlimited energy, he will be dancing at midnight if you don't ask him to please go to bed, Lukey. We call him Lukey, but it's really Lucas. I wanted to give him a specific prop, and so what I did is I just got a chair. That would give him a reference point, a place to be, and that's very, very important, as they know where home is.

At first I didn't have any light at all. I was just using the light from the skylight, but it looked a little flat, so we brought in, again, the Litepanel, because we could just get a little twinkle in the eye, which I love. And then I knew I had to find some way of bringing him to life. (video playing) I saw his brother Maxey was over at the side. Maxey is now 12.

I thought, you know what I need? I need the boys together. (video playing) Some teachers in some school say, have your specialty, do only one thing. Not for me, and it's been very good to me, doing all types of work.

That's why, as I get on in years, we still keep very busy, because it's all a joy. It's all a new challenge, and that's the excitement about photography, and kids and families are clearly a part of that.

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