Portraits & Trust

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We are indeed our own worst critics. I know I am guilty of it as well. Compound that with a few incidents of people speaking ugliness into your life and you start to believe those lies about yourself. It makes me so sad when friends and clients tell me they are not photogenic. My response is always the same: let me try.

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Ok, I know not everyone is a super model, but hear me on this. If you tell yourself the photo will be awful before it’s even snapped then your inner thoughts will be all over your face. Half of the equation for a good portrait, selfie or otherwise, is being hopeful that your inner super model will shine.

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The other half is the photographer. Let’s face it, there are bad portrait photographers. Not every professional photographer should work in portraiture. We all have our strengths. I for one, am not a landscape photographer – I want to put people in that field! So, what makes a good portrait photographer? Skills, obviously, but beyond that it is the ability to capture that inner beauty we all have. Seriously, no matter what you have been told or think of yourself, you are beautiful, or handsome as the case maybe.

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It is our job as photographers to make our subjects feel comfortable and trust us. It is on us to ask questions and listen to the answers as we get to know them, and then hone in on what makes them light up.

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Lindy-Ann and I are blessed with the ability to be self-depreciating and goofy for the sake of our clients. There is no silly song, word, face, or conversation we won’t try to engage our subject from behind the lens. I’m talking about our grown up subjects too, not just children!

There is a triangular relationship between the subject, the photographer, and the camera. It is normal for my boys to talk to me through the camera, but that is not everyone’s reality. Therefore photographers have to help their subjects see and hear them between snaps, poses, and faces, and build that trust.

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Here are a couple of our tips for capturing a portrait that says more than just a face.

  1. Pre-Session chat – We recommend meeting, emailing, and/or calling your clients beforehand if you don’t know them. {This is even easier if you have an existing relationship, yay for coffee dates!} Ask them questions that will help you to get a sense of who they are and what they are about.
  2. Night before prep – Go back over those prep notes and communications. A person’s name is important to them, so if you are like me and are horrible with names, then the night before is the best to double check that list of the family member’s names. It also gives you a chance to make sure you pack any props or other items you discussed with them. This will go along way for them to trust you have their best interest at heart.
  3. Names – We are going to hammer this in: USE THEIR NAMES! Saying,  “You, with the blue shirt, move over to the right” will cause them to withdraw from you. Engage them by using their names and those things you learned about them. Now, we must have a little grace with ourselves, because in the midst of shooting even I still get a little confused and call people the wrong names, but I make up for by saying, “I’m so sorry I know your name (INSERT CORRECT NAME HERE).” Again, they will trust you are focused (literally and figuratively) on them.
  4. One-on-One – at some point each session you will be focusing on one member of the group and it is those moments you have to up your trust game. Remember the things they like and ask how they are doing. Talk and help them relax.
  5. Art Direction – This maybe one of the toughest and most intuitive parts of photography. Art direction is taking in scene and eliminating and adding to the scene as well as directing the subjects poses and body placement, all to make the photograph. Thanks to mirrors and selfies, most people have practiced their  “best looks” so allow them to be a part of the art direction. To be clear, a part of the art direction, not the director. You must remain in charge, which also lends to the client trusting you know what you are doing.
  6. Pause – There are a few stages in a session that we recommend you pause. When you start out, instead of ducking behind the camera right away (Guilty!), pause and engage them in conversation. Another moment to take pause is just before snapping, to see them, really see them, through your view finder. Pause on their face and appreciate, as an artist, their unique characteristics. SEE THEM. I’m reminded of that scene in Hook when the littlest lost boy smushes Robin Williams face around and then says, “Oh, there you are Peter.” He saw him.
  7. Be goofy – Be ridiculous, laugh, make fun of the awkwardness – all of this will help them let you in and let down their defenses. Instead of the stiff fake smiles you will capture the genuine joy and laughter.

Next time someone you care about says they are not photogenic, we challenge you to try and capture what you see in them. We guarantee that if you are thoughtful about it, the photo you take will make them smile.

Keep snappin’-

kdg

The Maraska Family in Jaffa

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A few months after I first met Keturah at a Diplomatic Spouses of Israel event I taught her photography, and we have been creative buddies ever since. Funnily enough, her younger son was taking photography class at school, so they were sharing one camera, and he almost took it to school that day! Side note: He has done some amazing work this year – it is really inspiring to see how our high schoolers capture the world around them!

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Keturah has been a great boy mom mentor to me as well as my creative adventurer friend. We have shared a few walkabouts and my favorite time was when she accompanied me on a recce to Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv, Israel before a client session. A recce is a term I learned from Lindy-Ann, as it is mostly used in the places where they speak the Queen’s English to describe a fact finding mission coming from the term reconnaissance.

 

We had so much fun finding the most picturesque nooks, crannies, graffiti, and doors in the old city and chatting over coffee. Jaffa is definitely one of my favorite locations to shoot and one of their family’s go to spots, so it was the perfect location choice when she decided to trust me with her family’s first photography session ever!

Location: Old City Jaffa Port, Tel Aviv, Israel

Date and time: May 9:00am

Weather: Bright & Sunny – cool in the shade of the buildings

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As this was their first professional family session, we talked about what she wanted from the session a bit beforehand and I was challenged by a comment she had made about not looking good in photos. It was my mission to prove her wrong!

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We had such a great time and we joked and laughed our way from graffiti wall to colored door. It was really fun for me to shoot “big boys” and get a glimpse of my future – a tall and skinny big brother and a cheeky little brother. When I say cheeky, I mean he was hiding his signature thumbs-up pose behind his parents backs in every photo! It was hilarious.

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The lesson learned for this session would be that a ladder would have been helpful to capture those tall boys and some overhead shots that I visualized – I couldn’t climb high enough. Short girl problems, right? As I mentioned earlier, there is such huge benefits to doing recces of new locations prior to the session. It can make all the difference to know where you want to lead your subjects and planning ahead will never fail to make you more confident.

 

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This session is special to me of course because of our friendship, but more than that, it was about trust. As a photographer, it is an honor when someone trusts you to let you into their lives, to capture their family, and to truly see them. We must never take that for granted, because trust is not freely given.

Here’s to trusting and to bringing out the best others!

Cheers,
kdg

PS –  Look for Keturah’s upcoming guest post on It’s a Colo{u}rful World, sharing her trip to Ein Hod Artist Village. She really is a fantastic and inspiring explorer, mom, wife, and friend!

Strength and Beauty

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I have this friend, Vienna. She is strong. I mean physical strength combined with an inner fortitude that makes her a true force to be reckoned with. She personifies strength to me.

In the year that I have known her, she has shared her strength with me and come to my rescue more than a few times, whether it’s babysitting my boys, letting me cry it out in her van, or editing blog posts.  I can lean on her and know that my load will not break her.  She is strong enough to take it.

In the past two weekends I have watched, cheered, and photographed her as she displayed her physical prowess at the Israeli Ready For Action (RFA) CrossFit competition and participating in the Memorial Day Murph Challenge. This girl is amazing and definitely inspiring.

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We joke that she is not my first CrossFit friend {Love you, Drennans!}, but this was my first CrossFit competition and I left the stadium in awe of her dedication and her never-quit attitude. Five weeks prior to the RFA Vienna participated in the CrossFit open. Only 2 weeks into the open she contracted an insane eye infection that made light intolerable, and yet she persevered and finished 2nd in the Masters Woman division, over all of Israel, qualifying her for the RAF.

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She killed the first event of the RAF and finished first in her division and 2nd over all the woman. To be clear, she beat out women half her age! Seriously, incredible! Friday’s events proved to be a bit tougher for V, as she struggled to scale the rope with a 20lb vest, which cut into the time she had finish the other elements of the event, particularly the things she is better at; lifting heavy things. The suspense of that rope climb was so intense and she shared afterward that, when she finally hit the top, she felt the stadium shake with our cheers! Even though Friday was not as successful as Thursday had been, she was in great spirits, showing everyone that inner strength to keep moving forward.

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Saturday was full of life lessons and impactful moments as well, especially because her kids were in the crowd with us. As a mom watching a daughter cheer for her mom, I was struck with what V was teaching her children; moms are strong, do your best, and if you fail it’s going to be ok, failures are opportunities to get better, never give up, sportsmanship, and, of course, keep smiling! At four, seven, and nine, they may not see of that right now, but I have a feeling those were ideals imprinted on their little hearts.

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She ended up qualifying for the finals and obliterating the event! It was a fantastic way to end the RFA!

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Those of us that had the pleasure of cheering on our friend from the stands were in awe.

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A week later, she put herself to the test again to join thousands of other athletes around the world in honoring our fallen on Memorial Day with a CrossFit Hero WOD ‘MURPH’. Named for fallen seal, LT. Michael P. Murphy. The challenge consisted of 1 mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups 300 squats, followed by another mile run; all done in a weighted vest. Her personal goal was to stay under 50 minutes and she finished with a 48:54. Another life lesson: set goals and reach for them with all your heart!

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t inspired to work out after all this, I may not be jumping on the CrossFit train, but I’m ready for {a little more} action. We can call it the RFalmA for short.

More than that, I proud of my friend, for pursing her passion for fitness, for facing her fears of failing, and for preserving. Thank you Vienna for your strength in my life, in all its beauty.

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On a photography note: I was thrilled with how the images of the indoor stadium came out even with a high ISO. My only regret is not having had a telephoto lens since I did not have press access at the stadium and for when the runners were far off during the Murph. This was the first time since my yearbook days in college to shoot a sporting event. It was fun to step outside my portraiture comfort zone and challenge myself. I really liked it!

What inspires you to stay strong and work out? Share your secrets in the comments below!

In addition, to being a great friend, Vienna is also a personal trainer, so if you are in the Herzliya/Tel Aviv area and interested in getting fit with this superstar, email her at Rucksack Fitness.

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Thank you Adi Edri for capturing me getting my cheer on!

I’ll be here cheering you on too!

kdg

Dive deeper:

Rucksack Fitness

CrossFit

 The MURPH Challenge

Adi Edri Photographer

Celebrating seven years

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On May 14th, 2010, I became a mom. Our oldest son came into this world as the first (great) grandson on both sides of our family and the first of the next generation in our friends group. There is no doubt he is abundantly loved. In his short life he has lived in 3 countries and traveled to 7 others. He is clever, compassionate, kind, extroverted, and he has a great sense of humor.

Inspired by Lindy-Ann’s post about capturing kids parties, I thought it would be fun to feature his SEVEN birthday parties.

Every year, we (him included) choose a theme for his birthday and we go for it, I mean all in. This year we are treading on new territory with our first drop-off party (eek) and his theme of choice: disco water party, ha!

First, Second, & Third birthdays – Virginia, USA

For the first three years we were stateside and I was blessed to be able to throw these fantastic parties with the help of my girls. My friend Joy is an amazing cake artist and a my girl Melissa really knows how to execute a plan! Each year the theme was consistent throughout the party: invite, cake, and activities. It made the parties delicious, colorful, and fun!

Conditions – Outdoor at a park with a pavilion – both shade and full sun

Prep – These early parties taught me to pack camera, extra batteries, and SD cards the night before all events and shoots.

Lesson learned – Each year something would go wrong, but I learned (still learning) that, if I roll with it, it might turn out better than I planned. Also, high Shutter Speeds are crucial when capturing kids!

The Hungry Caterpillar

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Cars (the movie)

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Pirates

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Fourth & Fifth birthday – Kuwait

Our Kuwait village really stepped up to make these two parties really special, including baking cakes and cupcakes, as I am not a baker.

Conditions – May in Kuwait is hot! Both parties were indoors at our flat. In addition to natural light from the windows and artificial lights, an angled flash was needed at times.

Prep – Opened all the curtains and had extra batteries on hand. The backdrop was positioned out of the way of the flow of the party and opposite a window to get as much natural light as possible.

Lesson learned – Work with your space and conditions as best you can with a flash and high ISO and then adjust lighting in post production as needed.

Planes (the movie)

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The Lego Movie

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Sixth birthday – Virginia, USA

It was such a treat to celebrate stateside again! Our venue changed from our favorite park to Joy’s house in hopes of pool party. Those were dashed when we woke up to temperatures in the low 60s. We made the most of it though and had a fantastic time with the space for the pinata, scavenger hunt, and Jedi training!

Conditions – Outdoors, windy, and sunny

Prep – Back up batteries and SD card.

Lesson learned – Duct tape doesn’t always work, especially with fabric backdrops, try hot glue guns or staple guns and clamps for fabric backdrops. Again, be ready for anything, especially the weather.

Star Wars

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Seventh birthday – Tel Aviv, Israel

Our first drop-off party was a success! We may have been exhausted afterward, but the birthday boy said it was an “awesome party” and the decorations were “lovely.” Worth it!

Conditions – Outdoors in harsh midday lighting

Prep – formatted SD card

Lesson learned – Pulling the images together I realized that my biggest lesson learned is that with only the two of us we weren’t able to get a family shot this time. A tripod at the ready would have been helpful or of course a selfie would work too, ha!

Disco Water –

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In the end, it is fun to see how much we both have grown over the years. My precious baby really is a big kid now and I’m happy to say my skills have evolved. I can’t wait to see what EIGHT looks like for us!

We’d love to hear from you, please share your most memorable birthday party themes in the comments!

Cheers,

kdg

PS – I had to share my favorite shots of Lindy-Ann from the Lego party. Everything is indeed AWESOME! 

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Capturing the Cunhas

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When I reflect on my experience photographing Lindy-Ann and her monkeys, I feel privileged to be their photographer and a part of their family. I was a bit intimidated going into our first session, but Lindy-Ann’s confidence in my skills calmed and encouraged me. To be honest, I still call her for a dose of encouragement and truth weekly! I am so thankful to have her in my life.

We had two very different photography sessions together before I left Kuwait and it is so fun to see how much can change in a year, especially with kids.

{Cunha Family Session 1}

Location: Al-Corniche Club, Kuwait City

Date and time: November, 2014. 8:30am

Weather: Bright & Sunny

Although this was one of my earlier sessions, I am still very proud of these images. Capturing the love in their interactions was a thrill. One of my most favorite shots of the whole session is when her three little monkeys are laughing at their dad behind me, they couldn’t help but glow with pure joy.

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Since I had the gift a knowledgeable client, I took advantage of it and debriefed with Lindy-Ann after our session. We shared our thoughts from the experience on both sides of the camera and it has helped me be a better photographer. It takes a lot to trust and be vulnerable with someone, but if you find the right client I suggest getting their feedback, it will help you grow.

One of the main things we both learned was that to capture bubbles you need a good deal of contrast in background. A bright beach morning with kids in white made our bubbles hard to see. The next time you are hoping to photograph a delightful little bubble scene, be sure there is enough contrast or color on location and your shutter speed is high enough to balance stopping motion and allowing in the right amount of light in.

{Cunha Family Session 1}

Location: Scientific Center Boardwalk, Kuwait City

Date and time: November, 2015. 8:30am

Weather: Sunny & Windy

For our second session we had a rocky start, because our location of choice, Al Shaheed Park in downtown Kuwait, was sadly closed on Friday mornings and we hadn’t checked before we met there. Standing outside the gate we came up with a Plan B and moved our shoot to the Marina Crescent. This threw ALL of us a off a bit. I was unable to use my plan for the shoot and a chunk of our time was lost. All that said, we had a fantastic time and it was a completely different feel from our first session.

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The lesson here was to always double check your location’s opening hours as well as restrictions, as some parks and monuments have photography restrictions, including Al Shaheed. Another important note is you should always do a recce, or reconnaissance, tour before meeting your client there, so you know what you are working with.

Each session brings it’s own unique circumstances and situations no matter how many times you have used a location, prop, or pose. The important thing to remember is to approach each one with an open heart, because you never know when a client will become a lifelong friend, or in our case partner.

Cheers,

kdg