A magic smile

There is this crucial thing in outdoor photography known as the magic hour. Essentially it’s this breathtaking pocket of daylight found at both dawn and dusk that provides “magic” light that brings photos to life.

It’s amazing and somewhat hard to come by for family portrait photographers. Our session hours revolve around the lives of the families we photograph.  We can’t really photograph a family at sunrise.  We must avoid naptime, and dusk usually occurs near dinnertime.  Families are busy and we understand that.

Often, my sessions must be scheduled midday, even though a 12 o’clock bright sun can be disastrous for a photo.

For Avery’s midday, sunshine-filled session I couldn’t rely on magic light.  But Avery gave me a gift that day — her magic smile.  Just look at her gorgeous expressions.  She worked the camera!  I love this sweet, 6-month-old baby girl.

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A different day, a different toddler

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Meeting a new family is always exhilarating and always keeps me on my toes. As a photographer, I go into each session confident with expectations on lighting, posing and the technicalities of my camera. But meeting new families creates an ever-changing environment in which to work.

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I get excited to learn – if the family has children – the kids’ names and ages. Before shooting the King family’s session, I discovered their daughter, Dolan, was almost exactly the same age as my daughter.

Oh, this should be a piece of cake, I thought. Relating to Dolan will be exactly the same as relating to my daughter. Dolan will offer smiles galore at the mention of puppies and chocolate, just like my daughter.

But, in the world of photography and families it doesn’t quite work that way. Each child is so very different, and each child performs differently in front of the camera. Some choose not to perform at all.

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Lucky for me, that wasn’t the case with sweet Dolan. She and I made friends quickly, though of course it was a different friendship than the one I have with my daughter.

Dolan led us all through the park, as if she knew the way, as if she had been there many times. Dolan’s favorite game was throwing sticks and rocks in the river to watch them make a big splash. Dolan loved finding structures to climb – rocks and steps and bridges. We held hands on the walk back to our cars.

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I treasured my time with this sweet two-year-old gal!

Summer perfect

I have a sister who lives on the West coast.  It feels like a lifetime away since we only see each other once every few years.

So I could appreciate when a client contacted me to request a photo session for a visit from her sister who lives on the West coast.  I said, yes! Let’s make it happen! Of course we need to capture the memories of that visit with your sister and her sweet children!

We selected the day, we prayed for rain to hold off, we fought mosquitoes. My client and her sister showed up at the session location – a downtown park – on time, impeccably dressed and with four precious kids on their best behavior. I was clearly impressed.

The children were so fun to work with and they truly made this session seamless. They posed as if they’d done this before. They smiled the perfect smiles. They were well behaved. The photos capture just how wonderful a family this is.

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A balancing act

Hope everyone is enjoying the first hot weeks of summer.  My husband and I kicked off the season by spending a relaxing long weekend away at Sunset Beach, NC with a couple of close friends.  The memories we made over those four blissful days are priceless.  We stayed at a gorgeous condo, awoke early for hot coffee and delicious breakfast, spent many hours poolside and at the beach, and kept evenings simple with card games, tunes from 10 years ago and a decent amount of cold beer.

When I travel and take time off, I am often torn between experiencing the moments and capturing the moments on film.

A few years ago I had a realization.  I spent a lot of money on some really great tickets for a concert by one of my favorite performers.  Instead of truly enjoying the show, I made the mistake of taking video and photo for the entire 3 hours.  So I ended up with great footage, but no real memory of the concert.  Sad indeed.

From that moment, I decided I would try to let “photographer Melanie” relax and just enjoy myself.  Believe me, I L.O.V.E. photographing all the time, but I needed to find a healthy balance.

This weekend at Sunset Beach I practiced that balance.  I snapped a lot of photos with the low-quality camera on my phone and with my pocket Canon, but I only pulled out my real camera once, at the beach, for this moment.

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My husband Jed tossing our 2-year-old daughter Natalie into the air at Sunset Beach, May 2014.

I discovered that when I focus on enjoying myself instead of documenting every second of every minute of every day, the real, precious, perfect moments that matter most appear right in front of me.  And luckily my lens was there.

 

Soothing techniques

Every newborn photo session is unique just like every baby is unique. Thus, my job meeting and photographing these little ones never gets boring. I have a new experience every time. I get to know families personally, as I am invited into their lives at such a precious, intimate time.

Being a newborn photographer means not only making sure a great photo comes to life. It means engaging in private moments with a family – sometimes brand new parents. Some of the finest compliments I have received during these moments are words like, “You are so good with my baby. You are so patient with my baby. Ohhh, so that’s how you soothe a baby.  I’m learning new techniques from you.”

This means so much to me. Knowing that I’ve comforted both baby and parent is a really critical part of the process. I thank every parent that trusts me with their sweet bundle and with capturing these priceless moments. It is a true honor.

Baby Kate was one of my latest sessions with brand new parents. At nine days old, she was alert enough to know what was going on, but still young enough to need many baby zzzz’s. The parents and I spent some time together calming her, rocking her and patting her to sleep.  She was such an angel and I loved that her parents got to be a part of the session in that way. I always try to capture some of the behind the scenes, candid moments. Those are the ones parents think they will remember forever (because those early days seem soooooo long); eventually it all becomes a faint memory.

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The moment before the photo

A significant portion of the photographer’s time during a photo session is spent watching and waiting for the photo to happen.  We get in place, we get our exposure perfect, we spend time getting to know the subject and family members.  Many times I find myself with my lens focused on the space that the subject is about to occupy – where the swing is about to enter the frame or where the baby is about to crawl. This photo is a perfect example of what I mean.

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I am squatting in front of a tree, my camera focused on a 2-year-old girl’s shoe, waiting for her to muster the confidence to step up into the tree where she’ll enter my frame. It is a funny part of photography how we really inspect the photo from outside and in.

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Of wonder and leaves

Madeleine has been such a joy to photograph since birth.  I have had the opportunity to capture her newborn photos, 6-month photos, and now her 1-year portraits.  She is such an amazing little lady who is a natural in front of the camera.

For her 1-year portraits, Madeleine’s parents had the idea to take photos at West Point on the Eno.  Many families and photographers frequent this outdoor venue, though it was a first for me.  I visit the Eno River a few times a year, but never had I been to West Point on the Eno, the entrance to which is off of Roxboro Road in North Durham.

The park is fabulous, perfect for hiking, adventure water sports, picnics, and those who love history.  Madeleine’s family and I got to visit on a cool fall day.  Spending time with my clients is always a joy, but spending time trekking through a gorgeous location with my family is even better, especially when the location is a place my client has selected.  Kudos to them for leading us to this ideal setting.

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Innocent afternoon

Early autumn afternoons outdoors make for great photography conditions.  The sun is low in the sky and hits subjects and surrounding elements at unique angles, making dramatic impact on a photo.  Not to mention that children just want to be outdoors, exploring and creating.  When kids can just be themselves it makes for a better photo.
This photo was taken in early October around 3 pm.  I wouldn’t typically suggest that time of day as ideal for shooting – it still can be a little harsh.  Four o’clock and later makes for even better lighting. I got lucky with this shot.  Her face was just beyond the boldest rays of the sun, but her hair and dress wasn’t.  Her hair and dress highlight the innocence of her age, so I appreciated that they were in such direct light.
The hazy air is another benefit to shooting early morning or late afternoon.
She was so focused on her game that I couldn’t have paid her to look at the camera…but I’m glad she didn’t.

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Just married

I left Chelcey and Brian’s wedding reception blissful, hopeful, and happy. That’s just the effect that these two have. I truly wasn’t ready to leave them even after having spent the entire afternoon and evening with this delightfully in-love couple.
Chelcey is a dream bride. She is genuine in voicing her opinions yet somehow oddly focused on pleasing those around her, even on her wedding day.  It was amazing to see her selflessness.  Her husband Brian is the same way.  Together, they make you feel welcome.
This was a photo idea that Chelcey came up with, and is one of my favorites from the day.  Isn’t she gorgeous?

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The miracle of birth

Being behind the lens as a photographer is something to be cherished; I take no photo session for granted and feel blessed at each and every opportunity to create memories for my beautiful subjects. These are special moments with individuals who deserve to have their stories told and preserved on film.
But this past month when I was asked to photograph the birth experience of baby #3 for my friends Bridget and Tim, I was truly humbled by the challenge. I was invited to witness a miracle – to share in the most intimate of moments. Of course I accepted the invitation!
Arriving at the hospital before dawn on induction day for baby Bradley’s birth, I approached the hospital room with a nervous excitement. Mommy Bridget was already settled in her hospital room, IVs hooked up, pitocin administered.  She was eager to get her epidural (amen sister!).

The monitors tracking each contraction during Bridget's labor experience.
The monitors tracking each contraction during Bridget’s labor experience.

Bridget’s mom and a close family friend (two ladies who in their birthing days never experienced epidurals) stood close watch over the monitors, charting each contraction in disbelief.  You mean you didn’t feel that one either?!

Contractions? What contractions? God bless the epidural.
Contractions? What contractions? God bless the epidural.

Her husband was a solid, calm force in the process. He, like all of us, expected the labor to move forward quickly. Bridget’s previous two labors had been fast, finished in nearly three hours. For baby Bradley’s birth, we spent more than 12 hours together. We waited…and waited…and waited.

Hubby Tim shares a moment with mommy Bridget.
Hubby Tim shares a moment with mommy Bridget.

Well, folks, baby Bradley was worth the wait. Finally, around 5:30 in the evening, Bridget was ready to push. And push she did. I have never witnessed someone work harder – even though she only pushed for 22 minutes. I have always felt that spouses/partners in the delivery room had the easy job as they witnessed the labor process. After this experience, my opinion is officially changed. It is difficult to watch someone exerting that much effort. I now realize just how much work it is to push a baby out (even though I’ve done it twice).

Baby Bradley is just seconds from arrival!
Baby Bradley is just seconds from arrival!

Bridget made me proud. She was so strong. Despite that strength, I did not photograph her pushing the baby out. There are some things to be kept private.

He's here! He's here! Baby Bradley was born at 6:17 pm.
He’s here! He’s here! Baby Bradley was born at 6:17 pm.

I saw the tension in the room the moments leading to his birth. I saw baby Bradley the moment he was born. I saw his first cries. I saw the baby scale dip with all 7 lbs 15 oz of his sweet weight. My camera allowed me to preserve those moments for Bridget’s family forever. Glorious, glorious and glorious!

Meet beautiful baby Bradley.
Meet beautiful baby Bradley.
What a proud mommy and daddy.
What a proud mommy and daddy.

I am blessed by this experience. Welcome to the world baby Bradley Harold Clark.