What is your story?
When I think of telling a story with a camera, the first step in that process is listening. Who is the story about and what is important to them? As I am listening, I am observing…learning about what bed is each dog’s favorite. The story about how Freeway got his name and ended up living with Manina and Cathy. Why Chester can’t stop eating his toys (and shoes and rugs).
Telling a family’s story means that I get invited into their life for a while. With my camera, and a Jane Goodall like zeal, I float around (might not be accurate description based on my current level of fitness), listening, observing, and capturing images. My goal is not just cute portraits (although those are certainly hard to resist, let’s face it) but rather details, overviews, interactions, emotions…that together give a feel of what that family’s life is like on a day-to-day basis.
Why not shoot beautiful, controlled studio portraits? I have certainly thought about it. I see some that are simply divine. Gorgeous lighting, tinted backdrops, dreamy subtle tones that match Fido’s eyes. On the other hand, I am at the mercy of the sun that particular day, the lightness or darkness of someone’s living room, and the neatness or clutter that greets me when I arrive. Not nearly the controlled environment that makes for consistently lovely photos, that’s for sure. But I am drawn to the story. I want to know the details, history, feelings…and I want to share it with the family. Because sometimes I think we are so caught up in our own lives, that we don’t see what’s happening in the everyday. So to give people a glimpse into their own loving, funny, sweet life? Now THAT’S what I talking about!
The little details that some see as mess, I see as part of the story. Take for example my sweet Maggie Mae. Her favorite toy, hands down, is her yellow squeaky duck. It’s her favorite to the point that I have now purchased approximately 8 of them, and always have a backup in case one is in need of repair or cleaning. I made a photo of Maggie running with Duckie, and my initial reaction was eh, don’t love it. Why? Well, from a recovering perfectionist photographer’s perspective, I saw the garbage cans, the rusty railing, the filthy dirty ragged toy, and was the lighting perfect? Not really. But when I stepped back from the critical part of me (I’ve named her Penelope - I got that technique from a book, I’ll let you know if it works), and got feedback from LOTS of folks that they loved the photo, then I saw what was really happening. My sweet love, running wild with her favorite toy, and having the best time ever. NOW it’s my favorite photo of her, and we have it hanging on our wall. What I see now is her little floppy ear flying up in the air, her foot outstretched as she reaches for the next step, the crazy look in her eyes, and her beloved toy dangling from her mouth. Pure joy. That’s what I see.
I’m not saying documentary style is right for everyone - photographer or client. It’s one of those things that you have to figure out based on your personality - what’s important to you. What story do you want to tell? How gorgeous your little precious can look when clean and proper and situated in front of a backdrop? Or how naughty Comet is when he chews on mommy’s legs - every time she walks by. Or how completely content Oscar looks after playing in the river, including the slobber that usually hangs out on his jowl. Personally I love the funny, sweet, tear-jerking photos that storytelling creates. I’ve settled into this place in my photography that makes me incredibly happy. THAT is the most important factor. Figure out what brings you joy. And the stories that you help create will bring joy to all that see them. At least that is what I’m aiming for! Come on, how can you look at that big sweet drooling face and NOT feel joy?? See it works.