Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Baby Portraiture & More Thoughts on Fatherhood

My son has been the perfect guinea pig for honing my baby/child photography technique. Overall, photography-wise there is very little that is different from a standard shoot. You still look for light. You use it or manipulate it to your liking. Composition is composition. I've been trained to have my subjects wear solid colors, but this time, I just felt like breaking the rules a little bit.

The one main obvious and significant difference is that a baby doesn't take direction very well. Posing is not an option. However, you can set a kid up to eventually find his/her own pose. I like to call my approach DCP, which stands for "documentary child portraiture." I kid. I kid. However, for all the photos in this set, I did not pose my son, nor was he able to follow my instructions very well. I am sure any child photographer reading this would have known from the start that it is pretty much impossible to pose a child so young. Unless you are one of those people who can communicate with dolphins, I think this is pretty much a normal phenomenon.

I knew the light in this location was exactly what I was looking for, and I was relatively happy with the background. That really opened things up so that I could focus on getting my son to do what I wanted, namely what he wanted to do. There are only a few ways you can really set up a baby who cannot sit up on their own, most of which involve lying on their stomachs or propped up on pillows. I would not recommend laying a baby on their back, because that usually will result in less than flattering images.

Working off those base positions, I created an optimal environment for my son to break out into his own poses. Later on, I introduced some props. I was ready to capture moments as they happened, with some occasional encouragement. I used to laugh when photographers would say they knew their equipment well enough that they didn't have to look through the viewfinder, but I found myself doing just that at a few points during this shoot.

Traditionally, I haven't enjoyed child photography, but seeing my son's personality come through during the shoot and in these photos has definitely changed my mind. I have come to enjoy the unique challenge that baby photography presents.

Poor little guy has been through his share of sessions already, including a particularly lengthy HD video project. But my shoots don't last more than 10-15 minutes. I get what I want quickly and that is that. Minimal stress on the child and optimal use of my time. Win-win.

I look at my son and wonder what kind of world he will grow up in. There is no question that he will be a little more soft, since he will not be growing up in New Jersey but Northern Virginia. Since my parents were immigrants to the US, there were many things they didn't quite understand about my childhood or American society at large. Technology and access to information also probably helps me make more educated and thoughtful choices than my parents were able to. By no fault of their own, I had to do quite a bit of figuring things out on my own. And I would have it no other way.

How will the world change in the next 20 years? How will America change? Every Asian kid on a playground in America has experienced some degree of teasing about their heritage. For the most part, I think it was just ignorance and a touch of maliciousness, and I write it off as a rite of passage for any immigrant. When I was in grade school, people asked me constantly if I was Chinese. I guess they got a little smarter (or a little less dumb, but still dumb), because by the time I was in high school the average American knew enough to ask me which Korea I was from. And today? I guess for the most part, it's pretty benign like the occasional manager at work who thinks I should be adept at IT because I am Asian. And sometimes you can only laugh, as I had to the time an older gentleman I worked with gave me a small sack of rice because he knew that I "would appreciate it." I just pray that none of these old troubled Vietnam vets loses it and goes on a killing spree, because I am pretty sure they won't be able to tell the difference between me and the Viet Cong, or any other Asian ethnicities for that matter.

I find myself going back and forth between wanting to give my son every edge in life that I wish I had and letting him figure things out all by himself. And I don't necessarily mean material comforts, though there is no question that he will also enjoy more of those things. And quite frankly, I don't know what the right answer is or if there is even such a thing as the right answer. It's a lonely world out there. It's a cold world. I really want my son to be able to navigate the unknown and do it well. Because realistically, there is no amount of preparation that will help you foresee every situation or handle every hurdle that is thrown your way. My son smiles his charming little smile, but flirting isn't going to open all the doors. Sure he will fail. I even hope my son fails from time to time- but that he gets right back up and gets going where he wants to go, where he is meant to go.

I feel privileged to see this little man grow up every single day. Hopes? Expectations? I wonder if there is room for my own hopes and dreams to be embodied in this little guy. Is he big enough to also carry the weight of my dreams? I only wish that my son will be able to do all that his little heart desires. Whatever his dreams may be, I hope that he will be able to pursue them and perhaps one day reach them. Perhaps it is selfish, but that is my dream.

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