“Cobblers kids have no shoes”.
When people find out that I am a photographer with children, they often remark that I must have a million pictures of my kids. To that I usually respond with a slight shrug and a sinking feeling of guilt realizing that actually I don’t and the ones I do have are sitting in an obscure and unorganized file on a hard drive somewhere. Until the amazing Chuckie Arlund met us for an impromptu photo shoot last month it had been four years since our last real family portrait. 4 YEARS! (says the woman who preaches the importance of regularly documenting your family).
If you search online for the phrase “Cobblers children have no shoes” a slew of psychological articles pop up explaining the phenomenon that “professionals” often care for the ones closest to them the very last. Plumbers who’s pipes leak. Accountants filing their taxes late. And on and on. Some say it’s due a sense of inadequacy or inferiority. Others tout that at the end of the day they have nothing left to offer. I say that although I love photography with all of my heart, it is my job. My work, and at the end of the day sometimes I don’t want to work. I want to sit on my couch and watch 1980’s cartoons and snuggle (even as I write this I am being counted down to leave my computer to go and play cars).
My personal goal (running for the last couple of years) has been to capture more of my life and my children. My work is to constantly improve my photography skills. Sometimes the two goals converge.
With Christmas only a few days away, I wanted to capture some the twinkly light photos of my boys. I’m not a huge fan of the typical Santa photos, so this was my nod to some festivity, while still maintaining a look that I would be happy to hang on the walls until I get the guts to try another portrait session with my kids. Let’s just say that taking photos of your own children is like pulling teeth…from a tiger. I eventually gave up trying to get them to cooperate and waited until my friend Katie could come over and lend an extra hand.
The set-up for the lights was a simple backdrop stand (although any contraption to hold the lights and sheet would work fine), a white flat sheet, and a few strands of white icicle lights. The challenge was that my house is quite tiny and in order to get the big pretty twinkles in the background you need a lot of distance between your subject and the background, and between you and the subject. My house is a long rectangle so I had about 30 feet to work with. I put the backdrop at one end, the kids right in the middle, and then I sat up against the wall (hence why I needed the extra set of hands–I had to be pretty far from the kids so that I could zoom in).
I am bummed I didn’t think to take a wide angle shot of the set-up but after fighting with my kids to sit on the Mater sticker and give me some resemblance of a smile, I was pooped and swore that I would never try this set-up ever again. To give you an idea of the set-up, I used one Alien Bee 800 strobe in a strip box to camera right with a Nikon speed light sitting on the floor directly behind the kids to give them a hairlight. If I do decide to set something like this up again, I would probably adjust the height of that speed light (it was too low for Haven) and turn the power down just a bit and I would totally nix the lights on the floor. The kids needed something to play with at first, but looking at it now the lights are just clutter.
Sonic the Hedgehog needed to be a part of our lighting test. The difference of having the subject closer the the background and farther from the background.
The shot on the left is f/4.o, 1/100, at 170mm with subject 5 feet from background.
The shot on the right is f/4.o, 1/100, at 110mm with subject 15 feet from background.
After our first breakdown, I figured maybe it would be easier to shoot with just the modeling light and not bother flashing. This one is f/1.4, 1/160 at 50 mm. The lights are super big and soft, but I don’t like how little depth of field I have, and while Kale is bright, the lighting isn’t good. It’s too flat.
Once I got both boys in position, I literally only got fours shots in before the breakdown (see below). This one is not as sharp as I prefer, but it is a nice moment of both of my kids. My backdrop was a little smaller than I would have liked for the conditions I was working in, so I cloned in the edges using photoshop. You can really see the speedlight in the back spilling out onto the floor. Raising it up a bit and making sure that it was completely blocked by my kids would have prevented this. It’s not the end of the world, but it does pull your eye from the angelic little faces.
It’s amazing how fast they can switch from mad to happy (and trust me, that is Kale’s happy face)
Since Katie came to help me with my kids we had to snap some of her adorable little girl Sadie. Luckily Sadie was much better behaved than my kids, so we were able to get a lot more pictures and I was able to tweak a few things in the process.