Outlook – a story of bowel cancer and survival.
More and more, with every client I meet, I seem to be presented with remarkable stories that need to be told. I no longer seem to have “average” connections with my clients, and I just adore this. Lisa and Alan are a perfect example. Lisa contacted me saying that they were going to drive all the way from Roma just for a family portrait session with me. A 5 and a half hour drive just for me?! Needless to say, I thought I’d better bring my A-game with this one and create something wonderful for them!
Like many of my concepts, this one had been in my head for a long time. Well over a year in fact. I thought about it regularly, and knew that I was just waiting for the right family to bring it to life.
Aside from our direct communications, probably the most crucial part of developing a shoot for my clients, is my questionnaire. I have formulated a very specific, and sometimes confronting set of questions that I have each client answer for me, in a bid to get to know their family at an intimate level. In the images that I create, the stories are real and develop through a very organic process as I learn about my clients.
Every completed questionnaire that I receive is unique, not just in the answers themselves but even in the way the answers are written. It really helps me to “see” my clients, their family dynamic and more. There is always one thing in every questionnaire that jumps out at me – like a lightbulb moment where I read it and think “oh, I know exactly what to do for these guys”. Lisa and Alan were no different and when the moment hit, I knew that they were the family I had been waiting for to bring this concept to life.
There was this:
“We are so proud of Allan and so lucky to have him. He is a bowel cancer survivor (we spent last year doing the cancer thing) and apart from that he is the sunshine in my life. Al says it makes him smile to see me (Lisa) enjoying life.”
“Christian is just SO CUTE and cuddly and chatty that you can’t help but smile. He was a very unexpected miracle- we found out about him the same day we got Al’s cancer diagnosis and were lucky to hang on to him. We had many trips to fetal medicine specialists for him, and there were all sorts of dire fears for him, so now we look at him- huge, happy and healthy- and feel pretty dang blessed.”
“We are ‘that family’ that watch the sun set every chance we get, and the sun rise when we are crazy enough.”
As the time for our session drew near, I telephoned Lisa for some more details and clarity. I was just totally swept up in our conversation and the love that burst forth from every word she said to me. This lady ADORES her husband. This is a family that just oozes love from every pore of their being. I had to show this in their images – that was my top priority. I learned too, that whilst the bowel cancer struggle they had endured this past 18 months had taken it’s toll on them, this family was stoic and embraced life with both hands and humor and joy.
Some additional facts that will explain our concept to you further:
Lisa – Mum – a teacher with a passion for teaching children to read.
Alan – Dad – an engineer who loves sport.
Alexander – 5 yo – serious and introverted. Loves to read and tell stories.
Gracie – 3yo – lots of fun with an exuberant and affectionate personality. Completely cheeky and loves to give her big brother cuddles.
Christian – 8 months – a BIG boy at 13kg and with the nickname “Fat Baby” – adores his mummy and is the cuddliest little man you will ever meet. Lisa and Alan discovered that they were expecting Christian on the very same day that they received Alan’s bowel cancer diagnosis. A lot to take in for one family.
So, my concept was simple – a family dressed in newspaper, in a newspaper boat to show the link to Lisa’s passion for reading – plus it would help to appease my need to be creative. The parents would be watching on as the kids paddled their boat out to see off to find adventure. Alexander would be looking out through a spy glass, quietly taking in the scene before them, and Grace would be excited and giggling at what lay ahead.
One evening, I was excitedly chatting to Hemi, from PXMX Productions about my concept. I am like a kid at Christmas when I am developing these shoots – my friend Sara says I am like a nutty professor as the chaos in my head spills over. I bounce around like a puppy with nervous energy and anticipation. Apparently, my excitement is contagious.
Hemi decided that he wanted to be involved and so together, we developed the concept even further. We decided that the family needed to be looking out toward a brighter future, with a dark stormy sky behind them. Rays of light would be reaching down to them to signify their Christian beliefs that have helped them through such a difficult time. Baby Christian needed to be with Mummy and Daddy – as he has managed to beat the odds too. There would be a message in a bottle in the foreground – their message of hope. Gracie would be “driving” with her positivity and cheekiness creating an uplifting feel to the final image. Introvert Alexander would be looking ahead through a spy glass, in his own quiet, observant way.
Hemi also went a step further, and offered for the team at PXMX Productions to create an amazing video to document the family’s story and their experience during our time together. This really got the creative juices flowing for me and increased my usual excitement even more. I have wanted for so long to collaborate with other creatives and just knew the result would be amazing. And it was!
My original vision was to have a boat that looked exactly as though it had been folded from newspaper in origami style. It soon became apparent that it wouldn’t work though, and I had to let it evolve into something a bit different. So just how do you make a newspaper boat anyways? It took a bit of working out, but after some brainstorming with Hemi, many hours, 35 newspapers and 7 rolls of sticky tape, and clear contact, I managed to pull it together…
By 4am on shoot day, I had finally finished covering everything in newspaper…
I had hoped for an overcast day to help me achieve the atmospheric feel that I wanted for the session. Mother nature kindly obliged. 🙂 We even had storm clouds, alleviating the need for me to composite them in. Here, you see my big girl Molly-Rose helping me with initial lighting tests…
Despite the perfect lighting conditions, we did have to work with a bit of wind and rain, which wasn’t ideal, and made for some wardrobe adjustments along the way…
We decided it would be fun to warn passers by just what was going on on this very public beach in Caloundra. Thanks so much to Molly-Rose for snapping these for us. That’s me on the left, working with the family, and the PXMX Production team on the right looking on.
It was great to work with Hemi and Laszlo, and to see the story come to life…
We are so excited to share the final two images that I created for Lisa and Alan.
Firstly, we have the entire family, just as I saw the image in my own imagination many months ago…
And finally, we have Gracie and Alexander, as they head towards a bright future and many adventures to come…
And for Part II, which showcases the beautiful video that PXMX Productions have created as well as the candid family portraits we captured during our time together, head over to the second post that is right here.
We hope that what we have created will be enjoyed by Lisa and Alan and family for many generations to come, and wish them a beautiful vibrant future together.
A tale of three Teddies.
I was very blessed recently to be present to capture the entrance of a beautiful little man into the world. He was named Theodore, aka “Theo” or “Teddy” for short. 🙂
His mummy and daddy share an absolutely amazing bond, as can be seen through these images. I felt truly privileged to be in the room to capture these special moments for them. As a birth photographer, I truly am blessed to witness this miracle again and again in my work.
Little Theo joined us weighing in at a hefty 4.15kgs at birth and was the most chilled little man you will ever meet!
Well, 11 days after he was born, their family joined me at my studio for a wonderful newborn portrait session. Following on from his entrance into the world, Theo was still the most chilled little man I have ever met! Barely a peep was heard from him as we powered through our session enabling us to try lots of different set ups.
But on their arrival, Theo’s mummy and daddy had a challenge for me. With him being affectionately known as “Teddy”, they had decided to bring along the teddies that they themselves cuddled as babies. Of course, he also needed his very own teddy too, and why not a little set of teddybear ears to complete our fun?
And here is the result:
On Theo’s left, with a rather erm, questionable (read: MUCH loved) red “bow” is the teddy that his Dad once cuddled to sleep at night. On Theo’s right, also a bit worse for wear is his Mummy’s precious little friend. He looks right at home don’t you think? Definitely, a “tale of three teddies”.
Following on with our theme, we of course, had to photograph Theo with his very own teddy as well. Perhaps, in years to come, Theo’s first child will be able to be photographed with this very same teddy too…
Behind The Scenes – Russian Nesting Dolls – I had an idea a while back, to create a newborn portrait with a lineup of Russian nesting dolls on a toy shelf. Like many of my ideas, this one has been in my head for ages, and I’ve been dying to get it completed!
My first hurdle was trying to work out to make a “costume” that would look believable/somewhat realistic, but also be comfortable to place a newborn into, and of course safe too. Then I had an epiphany, and I got to work creating the perfect little “costume” using felting techniques that I had been teaching myself for making curly/felted layers for my “normal” newborn setups.
As with all of my crazy ideas, the possibility of this going pear-shaped was a very big reality. You see, I have learned that with me, these things tend to go one of two ways – either a dismal fail, or a freaking awesome result! I crossed my fingers that this one would be the latter, and got out my fleece!
I took some pics on my phone to show the wet-felting process – excuse the quality, it isn’t my finest work. ?
The process is begun by laying out the wool fleece/roving into the general shape that I need. I used what felters refer to as a “resist”, which is basically just a piece of flexible plastic to go in the middle to wrap the wool around. The resist is later removed to create a cavity in the middle (aka the spot where the bubba would eventually go).
The process to take it from soft fluffy fleece/roving to really strong felted fabric, involves hot soapy water, bubble wrap, a huge mess in my kitchen and a really good workout for my biceps/triceps over a course of about 2-3 hours. Here is how it “evolved”, in a nutshell:
The back of the “pod” after some initial felting and wetting down:
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Then we flip it over and the fun part of laying out the front design begins. I already had the nesting dolls so I just referred to the biggest one to try and make it look as similar as possible.:
The “flowers” and “lace” – I used a combination of merino wool roving, silk roving, leicester curls to make these. I later added more using needle felting techniques. You can see here how fluffy and soft it all is to begin with.
One of the main steps in the felting process is to cover it with bubble wrap (after wetting it down with soapy water), and then rub all over it repeatedly to create agitation/friction which makes the fibres bond together.
After it is felted, the process of fulling occurs which involves more agitation and moulding to give the final shape. Here, the pod is finished and stuffed with bubble wrap to help it to keep its shape as it dries.
Photoshoot time! Woot!
I set up the canvas backdrop, and the actual russian nesting dolls with the same lighting that I would use for photographing the actual little babushka. And I captured these:
And then today, I welcomed wide-eyed little Annie into the studio, and just knew she would be the finishing touch for the shot. She is 8 days old today, and opened her eyes just long enough for us to complete this set up! Thanks so much for obliging Annie!
On a side note, I did attempt the shot with gorgeous baby Charlotte a couple of months ago, and she was a perfect little cherub. However, I felt that the results didn’t do the concept justice as I failed to notice that the dolls all had their eyes wide opened! I photographed Charlotte sleeping, and whilst the final shot is super cute, it wasn’t until after putting it all together, that I realised that I needed to have her eyes open. Doh!
Here is the original shot with darling little Charlotte:
And that’s where Annie came in! With the magic of photoshop, and her beautifully curious wide eyes, today, I was finally able to complete the shot!
For obvious safety reasons, we could not actually photograph the babies upright in the pod, so each time, they were actually photographed being held at a slight angle by their mummies who were supporting them the entire time. Here are some shots of Annie, from today:
With Annie needing to be awake for this shot, she was also a wee bit squirmy, so in the end to make the final image, I actually combined two shots to create her final pose. The shot above is where I got her gorgeous little doll-like pout and her hands from, and from the shot below, I used her eyes and the top of her head.
And the trick to achieving the perfect babushka doll pout? Well, it’s a dummy (aka “pacifier” for the US folks)! Leave it in till the last minute, and have mummy slide it out just before clicking the shutter and there you have it! A perfect little dolly pout!
To give her a reaaaally “doll-like” appearance, after putting all pieces of the shot together I did a little bit of tweaking and retouching – slightly enlarging her eyes and enhancing her little pink cheeks to match the actual dolls. And the final result, after almost 6 months in the making, was this…
Thank you so much to both Annie and Charlotte’s families for humoring me in my ambitous pursuit of creative perfection. lol! I am so blessed to have the most patient clients who trust me to try so many crazy things in an effort to create unique results for them.
Post-script – in the end, I chose to use a simple background instead of placing the dolls on a toy shelf as I had originally planned, as I wanted their faces to be distinctly clear and all of the details visible. BUT, don’t be surprised if I revisit this in months to come and do a new edit on the toy shelf as originally planned. Watch this space. ?
Newborn Photography, Before and After. In a bid to get my poor neglected blog cranking again, I thought I’d begin a series of posts showing images in a before and after scenario. It is often much discussed, just how much post-production (aka “Photoshop”) is acceptable in our industry, and I thought I would look at that for a minute.
In particular, with newborn photography, it is often hard to establish when to draw the line. Some argue that newborns are Mother Nature’s perfection and that there should be no retouching of newborn portraiture. Others prefer things like skin discoloration caused by the birth process, flaking skin, milk pimples etc be removed, in much the same way as adults prefer their portraits to be retouched. Some go waaaaay overboard and to the extreme where the end result is a baby who seems to have no texture to their skin at all.
Personally, I like to sit somewhere in the middle. A photographer colleague of mine, Matt Palmer (go check out his awesome work over at Record Makers Photography), applies a rule that “if it won’t be there in a week remove it (such as pimples, scratches etc), but if it is a permanent fixture (moles, freckles, scars), then leave it. I like this approach too.
Additionally, for me, the amount of retouch depends a lot on other factors such as the final feel I’d like the image to have, and things like how well posed the baby was and how the light was at the time of the capture. If I am using natural light, as I usually do in a newborn photography session then this can sometimes be a major contributing factor.
So, to kick things off, here is little Lucinda Grace, on her 11th day. This image was lit with a Paul C Buff Einstein E640 Flash Unit bounced into a Soft Silver Paul C Buff 64 inch PLM Umbrella set at about a 45 degree angle and approximately 4ft off the ground, to the left of the camera. Captured with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and EF240-105mm f4 L Series lens at 28mm. Manual exposure, ISO 200, 1/125 sec at f4, with me standing overhead on a step-ladder.
As you can see in the first image, there was obvious lens distortion due to me capturing the image with the wide 28mm focal length, so this was the first thing the I corrected in post production. I also felt that the initial image lacked warmth – both in the respect of colour/tone, and in general feel. I think that as parents, we all intrinsically want our babies to look safe and nurtured. So, I chose to warm up the image, mask in additional warmth and tone to the petals of the flower, and add depth to it, as well as a slight amount of retouching of the skin. Finally, using dodge and burn techniques, I created additional shading and contrast to specific areas to give a warm, chocolatey feel to show little Lucinda in a beautiful safe embrace.
I chose to alter the colour of the petals to give them a warmer feel that was more cohesive with the final image. Although the original colour that David from Island Vine Designs selected when he built the prop was very cool, I decided that it was a little too vibrant in this instance for this particular image.
The lovely cosy nesting that you see little Lucinda wrapped in can be purchased from one of my favourite prop vendors Divine Miss Ruby Designs.
I’m pretty happy with the end result, what do you guys think?
Meet Dave and Bel. I knew Dave from when we were kids and I moved to the little country town where he had lived his whole life. We went to the same school from Grade 6 through to Grade 12 and then spent a year at the same University too. We were never close friends, we knew each other pretty well, but didn’t really stay in contact after Uni.
Fast forward 22 years (ugh that makes me sound old!!), and I received a message from Dave, telling me that he and his lovely wife were expecting their first baby and would I be able to photograph their new little family. Well, duh! Of course! I was so excited for them and couldn’t wait to create something amazing. We exchanged a few emails, booked in their newborn session and I sent them off my standard questionnaire so that I could get to know their little family a little better to be able to personalise their shoot.
The questionnaire responses were pretty basic and I went ahead planning what one would call a “normal” newborn session. I knew that they loved black and white imagery, and warm, earthy tones, and wanted to avoid gender stereotyping too much. But then, an email arrived out of the blue, and put an entirely different spin on things! I do love how, when my clients feel comfortable with me, they truly open up and how what can seem like a run-of-the-mill newborn portrait session can suddenly take on new meaning. I have learned over the years that *everybody* has a story, and that every session I do should capture this in some way. Of course, Dave and Bel were no different…
It turns out that like so many other couples, Dave and Bel did not have an easy journey to parenthood. Theirs involved a lengthy period of infertility, devastating miscarriages, failed IUI and IVF attempts and of course all of the horrendous wave of emotions to accompany this. Personally, I have been so lucky not to have experienced such difficulties in my own quest to grow my family, but I do have many close friends who have, and continue to have difficulties in the pursuit of achieving their dreams of one day becoming parents, and the pain I see them endure is just awful.
In an effort to prevent further losses, Dave and Bel resolved to have DNA testing done on the embryos that they had stored. They wanted to ensure that their next attempt would give them the best possible chance of becoming a mummy and daddy. They had 10 embryos tested, and it was embryo 7 that they decided to go with for their next round of IVF. Embryo “Seven” had been their best hope, and it was little “Seven” who they were about to meet any day now!
I immediately knew that her journey to conception was something that “Seven” would hold dear for her entire life (at this stage Dave and Bel didn’t know her gender but I will refer to her as “her” because well, it sounds nicer!). I immediately knew that I had to create *something* that would be a beautiful tribute to “Seven” and the personal journey that led Dave and Bel to parenthood.
I sat for a while thinking about what would be the perfect way to do this. I knew that they liked neutral, natural, earthy tones. I knew that they wanted a nice big canvas to display on their wall. I knew that it had to be gender neutral as her gender was not yet known and they weren’t “into” traditional gender stereotypes anyways. All of a sudden, I had the vision of “Seven” in her little petrie dish, surrounded by her “siblings”, all 9 of them, as seen under an electron microscope. This is the kind of image I had in my head:
Now I am well aware that at no time were all 10 embryos actually in the same petrie dish, but you know, this is just how my mind works and is part of the creative process. So, I resolved, that I somehow needed to make a “petrie dish”, and think of a way to create “embryos”, and at the same time make an image that was warm, earthy and not sterile/cold as your typical petrie dish would be. lol.
And this is what I came up with:
I found a roll of garden edging that I had in my garage, this stuff here ($26.98 from Bunnings) :
I cut a length that I thought would suit, and gaffa taped the ends together to form a circle. I had a few rolls of meshy yarn that I’d found on sale at Spotlight a couple of years ago and wrapped it tightly around the garden edging. The mesh is thick so when overlapped, it created the perfect soft cover for the garden edging. This is the exact stuff that I used here (the top colour):
The “embryos” are pure wool fleece, sent to me by the amazing Ali from Divine Miss Ruby Designs, when I phoned her in a mad panic with my idea just two days before the session. She gathered up all of the white fleece balls that she had, bagged them up and sent them to me over night. Amazing service and I really don’t know what I’d do without such great vendors when I come up with these crazy ideas at the 11th hour!
Ali was able to send me 4 balls of fleece, and I had one here already, however, I needed 9, plus enough to make a nest for baby to rest in. So, I grabbed a couple of cushions off my lounge and tore them apart. (My kids no longer even raise an eyebrow when they see me doing this stuff, they just know that it is “for a shoot”). I created 9 balls from the polyester cushion stuffing and then wrapped each one in the beautiful organic fleece, in random directions and placed them into the “dish” (aka ring of covered garden edging) that I had made. I had hoped to create a random grouping of the balls within the circle but this proved difficult with the pressure that each pushed against the other, and I needed to keep a “spot” to place the “embryo” that would contain little “Seven” and this obviously needed to be a bit bigger so the end result was with her dead centre. I wasn’t totally loving this though as I was worried that the end result would look like a daisy/flower.
Anyways, I went with it, and the finishing touch was a layer of white silk tops that I hand felted to create texture and a “burst” as though “Seven’s” embryo was the one that had “burst” with her growth. I placed the silk underneath the final fleece piece and wrapped the fleece in a circle that would become a nest for the baby when placed there. I also placed some more of the soft polyester cushion stuffing under the fleece to ensure a beautiful soft bed for her to be placed in. Here is a (crappy iphone) pic of the finished silk felted layer:
The background that I used is artists canvas that I hand-painted myself, and which is fast becoming my go-to backdrop for almost every shoot! I just love the warm, neutral tones and soft texture that it has. It is just so versatile and I will do a blog post on painting your own backdrops very soon as I get so many people asking about them.
So, after all of that, I was pretty happy with the final result, and couldn’t wait to get little “Seven” into her “petrie dish”. However, something wasn’t quite “perfect” with the concept for me, and I’ll write more on that later…
I was so excited when I received an email from Dave, simply entitled “She’s here!” and we booked our session in. It turns out that little “Seven” was in fact a beautiful baby girl, who Dave and Bel named “Grace Lucinda” or “Gracie-Lu” as she was soon come to be known.
The day of our session arrived, and I had everything in place. We started with the beanbag poses, and I kept in mind Dave and Bel’s preference for natural/earthy/gender neutral (which had since been updated to “not too girly”) styling.
With the best baby whisperer I know by my side to assist me (my good friend Sara from Sassi Photography), I got to work, and here is some of what we created together:
Then, we got to the “Seven” shot. Before we started our session, I had taken Dave and Bel into my studio and shown them each of the setups that I had planned for the day. I could barely contain my excitement when I showed them my “Petrie Dish” and upon explaining the concept to them, they returned to my lounge area and Bel whispered to Dave “Omg, I can’t believe she made a f%*!ing embryo basket!”. When I walked out to join them and found her in tears and the both of them giggling over Bel’s comment, I knew I was onto a winner! Such a perfect reaction (f-bomb and all!) and I instantly knew that the effort I had gone to was worth every second!
And so, we went about photographing our “embryo basket” shot. Here, you can see Sara easing little Gracie-Lu into position as I am standing above in readiness with my camera. That’s my purple socked toe you see peeking in there. 🙂
And now, for the final image…
Isn’t she beautiful?
Now, as I was shooting the image, it occurred to me that anyone looking in wouldn’t really understand how this shot depicts Gracie-Lu’s story. It doesn’t really look anything like a petrie dish, and the number of “embryos” isn’t really obvious. It doesn’t really “show” that she was the magic number “Seven”. And I was still somewhat bothered by the similarities to a flower/daisy that the setup had. Whilst I adore the final image, in its own right, as a storytelling image it just didn’t go far enough for me.
Soooo, I decided to try a twist to the original concept. I lined the 10 balls of fleece up and placed the nest that Grace was in, into the 7th position. I spread the silk layer in such a way to draw attention to her so that it looks as though her egg has “burst open” to reveal her inside. As soon as I captured it, I *knew* that *this* was the shot! It was a perfect celebration of a unique family with a difficult road behind them. It was natural, and earthy, and beautiful, just as their family is. And here it is, the final image, which I have of course, entitled “Seven”:
And here it is, hanging pride of place. That is a huge 1m canvas that you see here, dwarfed by Dave and Bel’s gorgeous contemporary home, but looking like the perfect complimentary art piece to their decor just as it was intended:
I was so blessed to be able to create this for Dave, Bel and little Gracie-Lu, and I just know that they will cherish it as a celebration of their journey for many years to come. Congratulations Dave and Bel, and welcome to the world to a very special little girl, Grace Lucinda aka “Seven”.