Simple Steps To Elegant Portraiture
Monte Zucker
• Posted Jun 1, 2001

At a recent class in Cleveland my sweet and gracious bride model, Avril, told me that she wouldn't be able to come in the next day because she had no one to take care of her children. I told her to bring them in. I'd photograph them. The next day I realized why I had basically given up photographing children. They're just so unpredictable.

Avril promptly told me not to worry. Her kids were wonderful, "They love to have their pictures taken!" I thought, "Sure!" Just my luck

And that's how it all began. There we were the next day--me, Avril, her two children, Sydni and Isaiah, together with a studio full of photographers just waiting for me to fall flat on my face! "It's not going to happen," I thought. "I'm gonna pull this off if it's the last thing I do." It almost was.

As you can see by the pictures, it wasn't easy. Sydni was skeptical, right from the start. The younger one couldn't have cared less. But I went to work.

Dress And Light
Avril had dressed them appropriately--dark turtlenecks and jeans. That was no problem. Lighting wasn't a problem either. I was exploring the possibilities of working with daylight in a way that I had just begun to use. I laid a Westcott 6x8' translucent panel against a window full of bright, direct sunshine. The panel cut the light down to what is commonly referred to as a "Northlight" window. It's a beautiful and soft light source.

My subjects would be backlit against a plain white background. Their hair would have a natural hairlight by the light that was passing over the top of the panel. All I needed was a main light. No problem. My Westcott Monte Illuminator (silver reflector) provided that. It was all going to be by natural light.

Kodak's Portra 800 film gave me the shutter speed I needed to work effectively with children. I used my Hasselblad, of course, on a Benbo tripod.

No Picnic
I could see right away that this was not going to be a picnic. Neither of the kids were anxious to cooperate. This was nothing new. Thinking back quickly to my "kidnapping" days (photographing children door to door) I decided to start with the older sister. I would have to keep her mother close--maybe even in the picture--in order to get any cooperation at all from Sydni. She would be sitting on the raised platform of the window while her mother would be kneeling on the floor beside her. That would put their heads conveniently at a close level to one another.

You can see in #1 (see photos below) that there was a "slight" air of discomfort in Sydni's face. By #2, however, I felt that I had captured a sweeter look. Of course, her mother was going to be in all the pictures, but that didn't matter to me. Her clothing blended with that of both of the children, so it was all going to work out.

I didn't want Avril to complain about how she looked, so I never had her looking into the camera. I kept telling her to look at her daughter and to keep her face right next to her. I didn't want any distracting space between them.

I didn't spend too much time with the older child, because I had a feeling about what was coming. Then, without trying for more pictures, I popped Isaiah into the scene. He was curious, but not comfortable. No problem (see #3). Wait a minute. I think I see a smile coming on (see #4) Yes! Everyone in the class was trying to get Isaiah to smile (see #5). If anything, there was too much help.

etting Them Together
Better try the two of them together€before there's no turning back. "Okay, let's bring the two of them together! Oops!" (See #6.) "Hey! I think we did it!" (See #7.) "Keep looking at the kids, Avril. Don't look at the camera! Guess that's it for the two of them together!" (See #8.)

"Okay, maybe, some more of Isaiah? Let's try some without his top. Oh, my. He won't stay still? Avril, lie down. Let him get on top of you!" (See #9.) "No! No! Look here! Oh, well, at least he isn't crying!" (See #10). "Yes! Yes! That's it! He's waving at me! Wow! I got it! Just look at that smile! Yes!" (See #11.) "I quit! It just doesn't get any better than that!"

And so, another hurdle was crossed. Another foe vanquished. Two more kids "photographed." And I'm still alive to tell about it!

Why me? I guess that it's just that I'm lucky. Who else would/could get pictures that capture the spirit of the two children like this, much less, do it in front of a roomful of professional photographers? It wasn't easy, but it was exciting, fun, and very rewarding. Such is the life of a "retired" portrait photographer/teacher.