by Helen Bartlett Published 01/04/2009
Children's portraits and the English weather
"What happens if it rains?' is probably the question I am asked most by my clients, and my answer is always the same, 'we go ahead and shoot anyway."
For portrait photographers, the months before Christmas are likely to be the busiest of the year. Demand for portraits increases as our clients organise shoots for Christmas cards and family gifts. But it is also the season when days get shorter, darker and wetter. With full diaries we often can't reschedule for a sunny day - there may not even be a sunny day for weeks - so what do we do?
In this article I will explain how I shoot on location whatever the weather, indoors and outdoors, allowing me to continue trading regardless of rain, sleet, snow or sun.
'I'm not going out in that!'
Managing your clients' expectations is vitally important at all times, but becomes increasingly so on a rainy day. Clients can have very set ideas of how the session will go, and it is often not raining in the 'dream shoot scenario'. Be up front with your clients. I explain before the session that if it rains we will go ahead with the shoot and that the rain opens up all sorts of opportunities for shots we might not normally have a chance to take. The light is often beautiful and rain can be a lot of fun. My website showcases wet weather shoots and the blog is full of examples if my clients want to get some ideas of how things might go.
A rainy day doesn't mean we need to stay indoors. There is nothing better than going for a walk in the woods on a rainy day, and children tend to enjoy being out and about whatever the weather. There are lots of activities that really need a damp day. Den building really comes into its own when building a roof of leaves actually keeps out the rain, while splashing in puddles is a never ending source of amusement and great shots. It is important to keep children warm and dry - there is nothing more likely to bring a photo shoot to a premature end than a cold, wet child - but waterproof jackets and wellingtons not only keep the rain off, but look great in pictures.
Of course the other alternative is to shoot indoors. This can be a fairly daunting task, particularly for photographers who arejust starting out and for those of us who shoot with available light only. When I first started I would be filled with horror at the idea of photographing groups of children indoors using nothing but window light; now I relish the challenge. So, how do I approach the indoor shoot?
The first thing that needs to be ascertained when you arrive at your clients' home is the light - how is there and where is it? Often I find that the best light is not in the room that my clients had in mind and it only takes a quick tour of the house and a dose of confidence to announce that the photographs will be taken in the bedroom, kitchen or loft rather than in the beautifully decorated, but incredibly dark, drawing room.
I first look for the natural light at the windows. I look to see where the windows are, what height they are (as this will effect the positioning of the catch lights in the children's eyes) and what kind of play area we have close by. We might have perfect light behind a sofa but only half a foot of space, which can make an area unusable. I need space for the children to play and also for me to stand or sit without resorting to a super-wideangle lens for all the shots. I find a couple of metres are the absolute minimum to fit both me and the children.
I will then look to the additional lights in the house - are there any that I wish to switch on? Personally I don't like to have lights in the background of my shots although I know many photographers like to use these to add depth - the choice is yours. If there are lights on the walls or up-lighters I sometimes use these to add an additional kick, but at all costs avoid those spotlights in the ceiling, which give everybody racoon eyes!
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