Photographing Kids; Stacy Bratton Shows You How Page 2

Naturally, many mothers want to help the photographer by making their child smile for a photograph, she says, but then the child is often distracted and isn't always looking at the camera. "You have to have only one person talking at a time, because a baby can't process more than that." For that reason, she directs the photo shoot. "I always have parents seated just outside of the camera range, and out of reach of the child so they can't reach out and grab the parent." The mother or father is always on hand, and Bratton avoids situations where the child could become anxious. Sometimes the child needs the mother in order to give a reaction. If the child needs a hug from the parent, she always encourages it.

Bratton also shoots a lot of parent/child portraits; about a 50-50 split between mother/child and father/child. She always asks parents not to coax their baby to smile, "Because then we have a photo of a parent talking and the child smiling." Instead, she prefers to have the parent look good, and snaps the shutter when the picture "falls together"--perhaps when the baby looks at the mother momentarily, or has an appealing expression on its face.

"One thing I never do is to ask children to do anything that they're developmentally not ready to do," she says. She only wants a baby to sit up, smile and play with toys when these movements are voluntary behavior. She would never prop up most six-month-olds, for example, because they're not ready to sit up on their own yet. Conversely, she adds, you shouldn't shoot a situation that the child is beyond in his/her development. Kids often like to show off what they've just learned, "and they're learning all day long." If they're making funny noises, she'll repeat these noises back to them and they feel validated. Every child has his/her particular personality, she points out, and says that her goal is to capture the child's unique expressions for their parents to remember.

Behind the Scenes
In terms of marketing, word of mouth is your best advertising, asserts Bratton. "90% of the quality clients I get are through referrals." As her customers know that she works successfully with children of all ages and always delivers a quality product, she's priced on the high side. She advises photographers to "always value what you do." She never gives her work away, not even to her family, who pay a discounted price.

Bratton says, "What I do best is black-and-white personality studies." She uses Kodak T-Max 100 black-and-white film in the studio, and T-Max 400 when working outside. This represents about 60% of her work. In color, she prefers Kodak Portra 160 in the studio, and Portra 800 outside. Her outdoor locations include parks and sometimes play equipment with open shade. Sometimes she shoots directly into the sun to get "angel light," which forms a halo around her subject's head. She often shoots wide open at f/2.8 or f/3.5 to isolate her subjects and blur the background. She shoots with a Mamiya RZ67 Pro, and uses Speedotron and Sunstar lighting with Chimera softboxes in the studio.

Bratton discusses digital output vs. fiber-based black-and-white prints. "It's very important that people know how to treat CDs and negatives. You may have film developed at a lab where they give you a photo CD and negatives along with your prints. Many people throw away the negatives and keep the CD, but you shouldn't discard the negatives. CDs are not archival when stored in the typical household, and can get corrupted."

Bratton provides her customers with archival-quality, black-and-white fiber-based prints. So far, she's not shooting digitally, but expects to make the switch when high-end digital cameras are more affordable, and are capable of the same quality as film cameras for producing large-scale prints. Fiber-based black-and-white prints have proven to be an excellent long-term investment for portraiture and fine art. She does output all of her color work digitally.

What the Future Holds
Most of her photography is done in the studio, but Bratton says that going forward, her goal is to shoot more age-appropriate environmental photos. She'd also like to shoot underwater with kids of all ages. Her upcoming book series, entitled Baby Life, is slated for publication in May, 2005. As she aptly puts it, "Children give me the passion to do what I do."

5 Tips for Baby & Child Portraits
Never force a pose. Children and babies must be photographed in comfortable surroundings. Never force them to pose or to be placed in awkward, unnatural positions.

Everyone, remain calm.
Newborns and children may become nervous and fretful if everyone else in the room is stressed out. Children are mirrors of their immediate environment.

Get closer. Get even closer than you might think you have to. Keep the background simple and uncluttered. The composition should direct the viewer to the subject.

Get down.
Shoot from the child's perspective, and experiment with other levels--high, low, or whatever. Film (or a memory card) is cheap and time is money. Shoot, shoot, shoot!

Find a good local lab.
A good lab can help you with technical information on how to improve your exposures for a better print output. Ideally, this lab has friendly, educated customer service personnel and updated equipment.

To see more of Stacy Bratton's work, visit

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