Picking up from my previous post, we were at our local Primary School looking for an alternative take on school photos and energized the whole thing by giving the kids control and asked them to bring in a prop to help tell their story - every great photograph tells a story to some extent.
Getting their interest
So when is a selfie not a selfie? And I have to say here that that word and all of its implied narcissism really makes me feel uncomfortable. What we didn’t do was give the kids a mobile phone and tell them to get on with it. Rather we gave them control of taking their own portraits so that they could choose how it should look rather than conform to any preconceived notion. Straight away that got their interest and with that they bought so much energy and fun to the shoot. So 'selfie' in this instance was just a hijacked word to get their attention. It worked.
The slightly technical bit
And when is a mirror not a mirror? In the old days we may well have stood our model in front of a large mirror and given them a remote on a long wire. I didn’t fancy carting a huge mirror around and wanted to get a bit more techy. Instead the kids had a full studio set-up with a pair of light boxes on studio flash and one more to light the background. A tablet attached right next to the lens gave them a live view that let them pose and a wireless remote finished it off. Sounds simple right? Ha! That took hours and hours to figure out and wasn’t either as robust or as simple as envisaged. The hardest part was getting round the loss of hot shoe control for the flash controller when Live View was enabled on the iPad. We're essentially using two remote systems here - one via the tablet to give a live view and one via the remote trigger to release the shutter. No surprise this pushes the systems integration to its limit and things get confused. This snap shows the rig in development in the lair with the remote release and flash controller on a separate stand. Strangely the camera seemed to need the speed-lite attached for things to work. But the point is it did work. Eventually. More than that, it was worth the effort.
Please, no more rigid poses
The whole school portrait idea is one I find a little difficult to understand. Maybe it’s about brand, or identity or something more worthy like creating memories. The fact is with so many cameras and images around there is less of a need for them. Even so every school does it, and here's the nub of it, the resulting images are rarely anything to write home about. Your son or daughter rigidly positioned centre screen for a Victorian throwback? No thanks.
Let it all go a bit mad
And finally to my point. Why are school portraits posed like a Daguerreotype? It’s not fashion. And surely it can’t be a lack of creativity. Of this one can be certain because when you’re in a room of kids their creativity and energy is boundless. You just need to hand over control. The point of this exercise was to give the kids the ability to express themselves rather than be treated like still life, and they did it in spades. That’s not to say that all of the images were great. Some were just plain out of focus ( I get that a lot) and others weren’t lit well enough. Some of the kids hid behind their props. Others felt a little awkward and a few didn’t get the idea of the remote, especially the very young ones. Some of the best shots came during reviewing the images on the tablet and capturing the reaction of the models as they saw their goofy out-takes. And all of that contributed to the zaniness of it all.
Reap the rewards
The learning point here is not about setting up a wireless live view photo-booth but more about giving the little dears (as a father of three I promise that is not entirely without sarcasm) the creative space to be wild or shy or quirky or whatever it is that they want to be. If you’re collecting images then they will be more truthful, dramatic, dynamic and really just better on every level.