Winky Lewis, one of the nations best children photographers, shares her secrets
We asked one of the country’s best professional child photographers how she captures the innocence, warmth, sweetness, and silliness of childhood. Her answer? She never fakes it.
Your images of children have a wonderful natural and unposed quality. How do you achieve that?
I mainly look for actual, candid moments. They say the most because they capture something real. I keep my camera within easy reach, and it’s normal for me to take photos of everyday happenings; not just birthdays, first days of school, or holidays, but all the time. Of course, it helps that most of my photos are of my own kids, and they’re pretty comfortable with me taking pictures of them.
Do you ever pose your subjects?
For the most part, my kids don’t love taking direction. I pretty much follow their lead, because they’ve taken me to some great places. For natural poses, it’s a matter of waiting for the moment that seems right. Recently, my younger son (a middle child, who is 9), acted as stylist for his younger sister. He set up the shoot at a pond in Maine, where we live, and I was just along for the ride. He was amazing, and I just clicked the shutter. It was so fun! The lesson: Involve kids in the photographic process.
How long does a typical session last, and how do you keep kids interested?
The shoots are short and sweet. When I’m hired to photograph kids—I get a lot of private commissions—it always goes quickly. A little over an hour is average for a session. To keep them involved, I keep things moving.
What do you seek in locations and backgrounds?
The most important aspect of a location is the light. I use mostly natural light, so finding good light is the first step. I love fog! I live in Maine, so I’m lucky that way. I don’t know what it is about the light here, but it’s special. Especially in fall. Of course, I try to avoid harsh midday light; I don’t even try to take pictures then. Early morning, late afternoon, and on cloudy days are my best times for photos.
As for backgrounds, I gravitate towards simplicity, so that the pictures are more about the person than what’s behind them. Often, the easiest way to simplify is to use a fast lens and shoot close to wide open at apertures such as f/2.8 or f/4 in order to defocus the background.
You need some space between the subject and the background for this to work, though. Of course, I often have to shoot at these apertures, because of dim light.
I also like simple foregrounds. As you can see in most of the pictures here, I usually like to keep whatever is in the foreground sharp. If something in the foreground is blurred, I feel like it’s a complication or an obstruction that keeps the viewer from easily accessing or appreciating the subject.
I ask parents to dress their kids in clothes that the kids will be comfortable in. I prefer children wear their favorite clothes that are worn and loved rather than fancy, new, photo-session outfits that can look stiff.
Picking out clothing is also a good way to get kids invested in a photo session. I have two boys and a girl, and my daughter has a pretty cool fashion sense. She can put together some wonderful outfits. Anything she styles—even if it’s a dress made out of cardboard!—is pretty great. But I admit, I do stock her wardrobe with items I prefer.