Merissa Wakefield has perfected the art of lifestyle photography.
She had to… her daughter is 2 years old. If you have a toddler now, ever had a toddler, or even spent 3 seconds with any toddler… you’ll already know they’re not exactly conducive to posed portraiture!
Our entire Click Love Grow graduates community are in love with Merissa’s style (including me!), so I asked her to share a couple of tips on how to capture kids in this candid way. She delivered above and beyond when she shared an incredibly practical how to guide!
Get ready to be inspired and learn something truly valuable in your photography today…
“I’d always loved photography, but when I had my daughter I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to capture the photos of her that I could see in my head (or on Pinterest!).
So my husband bought me a DSLR for Mother’s Day, but then I became even more frustrated because you can’t just aim it and hope for the best! I felt like I was wasting my DSLR, using it on auto.
I was so happy to come across Click Love Grow… I delved into the free course first, then followed up with the Enthusiast Photography Course in late 2016 and the Advanced Photography Course in early 2017.
I’ve progressed from pointing and shooting and hoping for the best, to knowing how to use my camera correctly. This is essential if you want to make the most of beautiful light, because the alternative is allowing the camera to expose. Unfortunately, a camera is designed to expose ‘correctly’, not ‘artfully’.
I also learned how to compose intentionally and meaningfully… I am now able to set up a shot and nail composition without even having to think too much about it, as it’s become second nature!
Before the course I didn’t know about choosing light to make it work for me, let alone how to recognise and use the more advanced lighting techniques we covered in the advanced course, such as backlighting, to create beautiful portraits.
I had never even considered light before and would pay no attention to it when snapping a photo… cue shadows across faces, squinting eyes, people half in shade half in sun!
When I first learned about soft versus hard light I became determined to always shoot in soft light, looking for shade or overcast days, but this was pretty limiting! Now I‘ve learned to embrace hard light and lots of different conditions (golden light, full sun, indoors etc) and to use it creatively to add another dimension to my photos. I now love the challenge of shooting in full sun!
My goal when I set out was to capture my daughter in a way that would tell the story of her childhood – all the little details of her every day life and her adventures. I love taking natural, unposed lifestyle photos, and am really drawn to family documentary photographers and the candid photos they capture. As my daughter grew into her toddler phase, I became driven partly by necessity to capture her in this manner because, toddler!
A smiling happy face looking at the camera is one thing, but a photo of a child lost in thought as they try to master a new task or running barefoot, crazy-haired across the beach is extra special for me!
I love that I am able to do that, but it was a learning process to figure out how to shoot in this style and avoid the snapshot look.
Quality – Soft light is great, but my favourite light is side/directional light and backlight. To achieve side light position your subject with the light source on their left or right. The shadows will highlight their features and make for a flattering portrait. Just make sure they’re angled slightly toward the light (45 degrees is a good rule of thumb) to get those beautiful catch lights.
Golden Hour – The golden hour is the hour after sunrise and before sunset. Use it as backlight by ensuring it is behind your subject. It’s perfect for documentary shots and will frame your subject in stunning glowy golden light.
Indoors – Turn the lights off and open your curtains wide. For soft, well lit portraits position your subject facing the light source (typically a window or an open external door) and move around them, paying attention to how the light falls on their face. Position yourself with the light source behind your back – just be careful not to block the light on them.
Also look for light falling in pretty patterns or creating small pockets of light at the very beginning or end of the day when the sun is low in the sky.
Outdoors – Get to know the light at different times of the day and aim to shoot when the lighting conditions are good. Head for a shady spot…
…or shoot during the golden hour to get flattering light without harsh shadows.
Lifestyle photography falls somewhere between documentary style photography and portrait photography.
Position your subject where you want them according to the light. You might set up an activity for children, or set a rug down for a family to sit on under a tree. Then have them interact with their activity or each other, and capture the genuine emotions and moments that unfold.
Sometimes you might need to give a few directions, such as “can you look at your book”. If you’ve got a family, you could ask the child to play with mum’s hair. Direct them to do just about anything that will get a reaction… but avoid saying “look at me and smile”!
Essentially lifestyle photography is about storytelling, so you need to ensure you capture details and wide shots that will thread it all together and give context.
Once you have the pretty light and the scene is set up, get creative with how you frame it and try to vary your compositions.
When shooting groups or families:
When shooting indoors, try these tips for variety:
I have a 2.5 year old, I know how hard it is to take photos with uncooperative or unwilling subjects. I never place too much pressure on my daughter to ‘perform’. Instead I try to capture her unawares, when she is playing contently, or sitting reading a book or having a snack.
Often I will put her toys or a game out in a spot where I know there is pretty light, or in a room I have just cleaned!
We will bake in the afternoon as the kitchen gets the best sunlight then, and we have a snack on the doorstep in the evening where we have gorgeous golden light. If she’s not interested, or she’s cranky, we stop and try again later.
Try to clear the clutter from your background (a blank wall as a back drop works perfectly for this). If your home is particularly cluttered or small, get in close and fill the frame with your subject, or shoot at a wide aperture to blur the background clutter (hopefully!) into insignificance.
A wide angle lens is perfect for this style of photography as it enables you to fit more in the frame which is essential for giving context to the image. I absolutely love my 35mm Sigma Art prime lens for this reason”.
We love a before and after shot and Merissa’s are amazing, especially when you consider she started learning photography little more than a year ago…
“They were so much fun. Louise and Pam create a really supportive learning environment, and of course we are all learning and at similar stages, so everyone drives and inspires each other to improve their photography.
I didn’t love University, I just went through the motions, but with this course I really invested time, enjoyed all the materials and participated fully in the conversations and learnings because it was so enjoyable.
I’m also inspired by the ladies in the graduates group, who take incredible photos and inspire me with their posts every day!”.
A HUGE thank you to Merissa for such generous advice (which she shared during that precious time when her daughter was having her one and only day nap!). We love your work and we’re so happy you’re a part of our Click Love Grow community.