Even though I’m hardly new to photography, I’ve been somewhat, shall we say, relaxed about remembering to write up my blogs and share my shoots with you. Well, no more! Behold: my first ever, shiny-as-a-new-penny blog.
I’ll start with my most iconic shoot to date. The one that everyone “oohs” and “ahs” over, the one where I managed to take that photo of the beautiful (not biased at all) children on the vintage piano in the Californian surf. It’s one of my favourite images and it holds a very real place in my heart, though it was not easily executed. It’s a tale of family tensions, ancient disembowelled musical instruments and jet lag. Enjoy.
A Family Affair
Every year, my little squad (Elijah, Layla, my husband and me) make the mighty trek across the pond from Hampstead to California to visit my family. And every year, we try to cobble together a family photo. After all, I’m a photographer, everyone's in the same place, the weather is great, easy right? Wrong. Every year we try for a family photo and every year (without fail) it’s an unmitigated disaster. Arguments ensue, children start to cry and it’s generally an almighty mess that makes us all wish we hadn’t bothered. So this year, the stakes were high. We had all wordlessly agreed that this was our LAST shot at a family photo. One more chance to capture a piece of family history before we wrote off the idea completely.
"I was VERY excited about my idea. So excited, in fact,
The very first thing we decided was no grown-ups. My sister and I felt that perhaps this was where we’d been going wrong all these years. The kids are the photogenic ones, what with the rosy cherubic cheeks and the long, long eyelashes. The kids are what it’s all about, so the kids will be the focus. This, we decided with satisfaction, was the key to success. Secondly, we knew that they had to be sitting. Kids do better when they’re sitting: they focus better, they’re not wandering off, it’s just easier all round. So: kids, sitting. These two things were non-negotiable. What I hadn’t perhaps fully divulged to my sister and mother was that I had a very particular vision for this shoot. I had long ago decided that this was going to be an iconic picture. My Everest, my Treaty of Versailles, my masterpiece. If that sounds a little pretentious, forgive me. But I was VERY excited about my idea. So excited, in fact, that I had rather underestimated how much prep would have to be undertaken.
It had been a very trying week: the kids (my two and my sister’s two girls) were exhausted. The jet lag had well and truly kicked in and was being exacerbated by the intense 42-degree (107*) heat of a punishing Californian summer. So while everyone else was sluggish and sleepy and not particularly helpful, I was manically hunting for the eclectic props and quirky costumes that would bring my vision to life. I was a woman possessed. As I was scouring Craigslist (the American version of Gum Tree) for a suitably vintage prop for the kids to actually arrange themselves around – I was toying with a circus theme of some sort but wasn’t completely sure how to execute it – I found an awesome, rustic chair for around $45. I begged my dad to drive to the next town to collect it for me which he (reluctantly) did.
Then I saw it.
An enormous hunk of beautiful, early 20th century, carved mahogany that was going to make my dream shoot a reality. It was a Krakauer Bros. New York Cabinet Grand piano with gorgeous clean lines and elegantly carved accents. I was told that, even though its heyday was long past, it had once been played in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and was worth around $12,500 if it were to be restored. I was in love. I begged my dad (again) to help me collect it. He laughed at me and said, “No way” but – call it daughterly persistence – was eventually swayed when I pledged to cover the cost of the trailer hire and the extra man power and swore on my life that this was the end to the crazy prop purchasing.
"I swore on my life that this was the end
So we had the piano. I had decided early on in the process that I wanted to shoot at the beach: the light alone was reason enough to do so. Naturally, that piano was going in the water. Have you ever seen Jane Campion’s The Piano? The scene when Holly Hunter and Anna Paquin are on the New Zealand beach with her piano? Yeah, that. That was what I was going for.
But this thing was heavy. I had planned to make a “sled” of sorts to slide it across the sand but an unexpected set of steps was going to make that impossible. We had to drop some serious weight and fast. Classical music fans, look away now: my husband and my Dad got to work tearing apart the solid mahogany piano, removing the entire back and even the instrument itself. We were left with the shell, into which I screwed a 2x4 beam that would enable us to carry the beast (it also stopped the whole thing falling apart). If it soothes you, my uncle, who’s an artist, has claimed the innards of the old piano and is transforming them into an installation piece. Waste not want not.
During the trial run, the piano actually sank. I wish I were kidding. But a few planks beneath it seemed to do the trick and, come the morning of the shoot itself, we were ready to roll with a semi-buoyant, completely gutted vintage piano. Well, kind of ready. I nearly backed out and called the whole thing off just an hour beforehand. It was incredibly hot, the children were wilting in the heat already, the family were exhausted and irritable following our Grandmother’s funeral and an exhausting gauntlet of parties and reunions; suddenly it all just seemed too much to take on. My husband – my one dependable cheerleader – had flown home for work and I felt rather negative about the whole thing. But, having put in a few strategic calls to people who I knew would tell me to buck up and get on with it (my hired cheer squad, if you will), I decided it was all systems go and off to the beach I went, trailing family members in my wake.
The kids were fantastic. I have never been prouder of the four of them. I put my sister in charge of my two, and my mother in charge of Haley and Avery (my nieces who are a bit older). I always get the best out of kids on shoots when they have someone who’s not their parent to answer to. Aunts and grandmothers just carry that essential can-do authority that tired parents sometimes can’t muster.
The day was long, tiring but eventually very fruitful. All the hard work paid off and then some. Even though I was sure I wanted to shoot the piano actually submerged in the water, the shots where the tide is going out actually turned out to be the best ones and are the stills I use on my website. The whole thing came off better than I could have possibly hoped; seeing something that existed solely in your head actually come to life before your very eyes is what photographers live for. It’s why we do what we do and I am so very lucky that those four kids were patient enough to make it happen. I'm also a huge fan of bribes; whatever it takes to get the shot.
"I'm a huge fan of bribes, whatever it takes to get cooperation"
With that vision realised, I’m now thinking about the next one. I’ve casually suggested that my dad start looking for a nice vintage plane that we might use. He roared with laughter and said “no” immediately.
But then, that’s what he said about the piano...
The technical stuff
The piano session was shot on my Canon 6D with EF24-105mm f/4 L IS USM lens
The practice session with the chair was shot on my Canon 6D with EF28mm f/1.8 USM lens.
I used a Canon Speedlite 430EX flash with a Neewer hexagonal 24"/60cm folding soft box with handle grip for some of the shots.
Bringing you a first class service bursting with Californian charm by way of London, I’m a luxury Hampstead photographer specialising in beautiful children’s portraits. Not only do I take care of the family photography itself, I also make myself available to help select the perfect outfits, book the hair and makeup artists and organise every element of the shoot.
An artist to my bones, my style ranges from contemporary to quirky, with wild and wonderful props and creative backdrops. I don’t do saccharine posing or clichés (one of the many reasons I tend not to shoot weddings), instead, I work closely with you and your child’s personality to dream up something original, captivating and, above all, fun.