Best of 2011, Part 2: My Family

Last week I showed off some of my favorite client images from 2011. And now, as promised, here are some favorites from my personal photos. Let's just dive right in, shall we? Many of these I've shown before on this blog, but they're all ones I keep coming back to, so I'd like to add a little discussion of why I like them.

Sometimes when I'm scouting for new shoot locations, I like to bring Jason along so I can take some test shots and get a feel for the space and the light at different times of day. This one was the last snap I got from one of those test sessions, and, as you can tell, he's had enough. Compositionally, there's not much to this picture, but the light is nice, and above all, Jason's personality is as out in the open as his bellybutton is. Such a goofy kid; this picture always makes me chuckle a little.

Back in April we took our first real family vacation, forgoing a trip to see the grandparents and aunts and uncles for a week in Hawaii; this is one of the snaps I took while we were there. One of the things I really enjoy about personal work as opposed to commissioned shoots is that I have a lot of freedom to experiment with different formats and styles. The square format I chose for this shot isn't one that I can really use for client photos because it doesn't fit into a standard-sized frame when printed, but I just love the tension added by placing Juliette and Jason smack in the middle of a perfectly regular square. Then, too, I love how they really pop against the backdrop of the ocean, and I like the horizontal bands of color provided by the sky, the different parts of the water, and the foam at the bottom. I don't know, maybe I should try to print this one--perhaps on a rectangular sheet with a lot of whitespace around the image--because every time I see it I have to stop and look more closely.

A big part of my evening routine with Jason is giving him his bath before he goes to bed, and because the bathroom is a small-ish, completely white room, I also like to use it to practice different lighting techniques. Here I was shooting straight down at Jason with the flash turned 180° behind me, firing directly into the ceiling. Because of the white ceiling and white walls, the flash bounced all around the room, providing a very bright, even, diffuse light for the image. (Essentially, this is a way for me to get around the fact that I don't have a lot of fancy studio equipment.) And, of course, feeling good about myself for figuring out that little bit of technique is certainly a big part of why I like this picture, but all the technique in the world means nothing if you don't point the camera at something interesting. I love how smooth his skin looks, and how the water caught the flash in such a way that it almost looks like he's floating in light. I love the way the color and texture of his irises comes out. And I love the look of serenity on his face even with all the flotsam of his bath toys crowding in around him.

I shot this one the day before my sister-in-law's wedding, and when I went through to review my pictures from that weekend and came to this one, I told Juliette, "I think this might be the best picture I've ever taken." I love the soft, directional light on Jason's face, and the contrast between the smoothness of his skin and the craggy tree bark. I love the distinct layers of the image, with the grass sharp in the foreground, the trees and Jason just behind that, and the way the river separates him from the softly blurred, dark trees and brush in the background. I love the way the two trees carve up the frame, with the righthand one near the third of the frame and the lefthand one angling up into the corner. I love the way the bright colors of his sweatshirt and jeans stand out from the grays and greens around him. A measure of how much I love this photo: this is the first picture--mine or otherwise--that I've liked and wanted to look at enough that I used it for the wallpaper on my computer desktop.

After ten years of living in Southern California, having kids finally turned me into a beachgoer this summer. This one is from one of the many trips we took to Del Mar. I have a ton of beach pictures, but I particularly like this one. Jason is centered in the frame, but the horizon is a bit higher than center, meeting the line of his body just at shoulder height, which I feel gives the frame a pleasing balance. Because I was shooting nearly into the sun, Jason is partially silhouetted, but enough color comes through to make a nice contrast from the nearly washed-out background. I like the frozen action, the way the water splashes up and eddies around his legs, and the feel of excitement and play in his body language as he runs toward the surf. On one level it's just a quick snap from a day at the beach, but taken on its own it's also a picture of the exuberance of childhood. And because he's walking into the light, I also feel like it's a picture about hope and promise. (I hope that doesn't sound too pretentious.)

Due to some unfortunate cancellations for my summer mini-session event, I had some extra time on my hands in between the remaining sessions. Rather than let that go to waste, I decided to take the opportunity to continue practicing with Juliette and Jason as my subjects, and get some nice pictures of my own family in the process. In this one, as in some of the others I've already shown, I like the softness of the light, and because Jason is looking up toward the light, it provides both definition in his facial features as well as separation from the background. I like the textural contrast between his face and the rocks and his hair. His eye is placed near the third of the frame as well as near the golden triangle "cradle" point, providing a natural focal point for the image. Mostly, though, I just like to wonder what he's thinking about.

As you might imagine, I took a ton of pictures the day Eva was born. There are a lot that I love for one reason or another, but this is one that I thought would be nice to share. Here your eye is naturally drawn to Jason's eyes because of their position in the frame. Eva's head at the bottom of the frame provides a nice balance, and the triangular shape of her face between her blanket and hat helps bring your eyes back up to Jason. Interestingly, the only thing really in focus is his fingertips, but rather than being distracting, the softness of the rest of the image actually helps by helping establish the physical separation between brother and sister. And I just love the expression on his face, how curious and perhaps a little apprehensive he is at meeting his new baby sister. (He's been a really amazing brother ever since. I'm so proud of him.)

Jason has just about gotten to the point now where he's too big for toddler swings, which makes this one a little bittersweet for me, and all the more precious for having had the opportunity to save this memory. The obvious thing you'll notice about this picture is how the swing is in focus but Jason is not--this is something I like to play with to provide more depth to the image. The light is very directional, which comes from shooting late in the day, and I like the effect on his face and the swing. I also like the way the action is frozen in mid-swing, drawing you into this moment of play. And most of all, I love that even though his mouth is hidden, you can see from his eyes that he's smiling.

I just love shooting on overcast days. There's just nothing better for getting that wonderful soft light for a portrait. This one is from an impromptu family portrait session we had over Thanksgiving with Juliette's family, and, as you can see, Eva's uncle loves her. What works visually about this has a lot to do with how I positioned them relative to the light--her face is well lit while his is a little shaded, and there's just a hint of rim lighting around the back of his head to provide separation--and chose a background that would give a nice, soft, pleasant bokeh. Though I didn't pick out their clothes, the colors and patterns work well to provide contrast with their skin tones without being distracting. All of which is true and sounds fancy, but, come on, this is just an adorable, tender picture.

And, finally, there's this one. I know I just posted this one not two weeks ago, but I can't get over how sweet my little daughter's smile is. The background is a little busy, but the darkness of the brown sets off the lightness of her face and sweater and hat. I love the texture in her hat and sweater, and that I was able to capture the blueness of her eyes. If you look closely, I even caught myself. But it really all comes back to the smile. This is who Eva is--three months old and so happy, so ready to give anybody a smile. If this keeps up, I can't wait to see what her pictures look like by this time next year and the year after.

And that brings us to the end of this set, and the end of the year. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you a very happy New Year. Here's looking forward to a great year in 2012!