After shooting for years with a Nikon D100 (a now discontinued early DSLR), Cris Van Grol upgraded her gear when shooting photos went from a rare hobby to a more serious past time.
The birth of her son inspired Cris to begin looking at her home with a new kind of beauty: "My camera was collecting dust on my shelf until my son was born. I needed something to fill my days with and I found safety and comfort in documenting my life at home." For Cris, photography was a tool to work through postpartum depression and anxiety. Now, she photographs families professionally in addition to shooting personal, in-home photos of her husband and now two year old.
"Document your own life. It's so easy to get wrapped up in the perfect instead of what you see everyday," Cris urges. She adds, "Looking back on photos I've taken, I'm so happy I have proof of those memories."
Here are some words of wisdom on five photography principles from Cris Van Grol for documenting your family’s everyday.
Photo by Olivia Bauso
Choosing Your Camera
Mirrorless? DSLR? Film? Camera phone? When someone asks me what camera they need I always say “the best camera is the one that you have with you and know how to use.” Keep it simple. If you already have a camera, get your manual out and learn what all of the buttons and settings do. This process will have you asking a lot of questions and simultaneously learning photography fundamentals. Push your camera as far as it can go before you consider upgrading. I have one camera and lens that I photograph 99% of my photos with. Find what works for you and don't get overwhelmed by the fancy gear noise.
Finding the Light
I realized the most progress in my work when I switched from auto to manual mode. It forced me to master the exposure triangle and study light. Studying light doesn't need to be formal - you can even do it without a camera!
To do your own natural light study, start in a room your family frequents and turn off all of the artificial light sources. Observe the way shadows and light collide. Play with your window coverings. Check back at different times of the day to note where the sun is and if it's coming directly or indirectly into the room. Hold your hand up in different areas of the room and notice how the light falls on it. Repeat this throughout your home or wherever you plan to photograph your family. When you finally do pick up your camera, meter and play with different exposures, paying close attention to highlights and shadows, to see if you can photograph the light to match your vision.
Photo by Cris Van Grol // 35mm @ f3.5 / ISO 1000 / 1/250 sec
The Art of Observation
If you’re photographing kids, you know by now that they’re receptive. If every time the camera comes out means you disengage from them, or worse, start bossing them around, they will learn to loathe your camera.
Keep your camera in a central location, ready to go any moment - but don't feel like you have to document everything. Anticipate what your kids might do during a certain time of the day. If sticking to a documentary style, work on composing your images first and then stand back and wait to see if a moment unfolds in your frame. If you're feeling particularly inspired by light, and just can't wait, place a meaningful object where you want your child to go. Compose and wait to see if they engage. Sometimes it works, other times not. If they don't, try again another time. Once my son notices my camera, it goes away and my mom hat is put back on.
Processing your Photos
When you know you got "the shot" it can be exciting; so exciting that you want to run straight to your computer to edit and share it. Don't. Be present. Your photo is safe and will be there later. When you find time, cull through your images and pick the strongest moments from the bunch. You really only need one, or a few different perspectives and details from one scene.
First, focus on getting your highlights, shadows and white balance correct. Then look at your framing to straighten and crop to your liking. Once your foundation is set, move into creative edits if you want to play around with filters. Since I've learned the ins and outs of Lightroom, my editing threshold is about 30 seconds per image and if it takes longer than that I consider what I could have done better in camera and move on to a stronger image.
The final step to photo processing is printing. Let your photos live off of a screen. Print your favorites, tuck them into a box or album, and treasure them. There's nothing like holding a photograph you made in your hands, or better, seeing your child engage with them.
Photo by Cris Van Grol // 35mm @ f2.0 / ISO 200, 1/125 sec
Know Your Why
When I started photographing our son at home, I struggled to make the photos that I thought I should be creating. Once I accepted that a bright, curated, perfect world isn’t our reality, everything clicked. I beg of you, pick up your camera for you. Be your family's historian and document life as it is, not how you think it should look. It might be tidy and bright, messy and dark, or somewhere in between. Rest assured that if a photograph doesn't get any heart notifications, it still exists and matters. Be present in your memories and document your days. In fifty years your family will be thankful for it.
A Little Something Extra...
View Cris's personal, in-home work in our Gallery Room now through the end of May. For additional educational opportunities, check out our upcoming photography and videography classes at Rochester Brainery.