Winky Lewis, one of the nations best children photographers, shares her secrets
How do you handle kids who might not want to be photographed?
One advantage of digital photography is that you can share an image with your subjects, and if they like it, you’ve got their interest. Making faces or photographing a favorite stuffed animal in a shy child’s hands can help get things going, too.
What equipment do you use and why?
I’m all digital now, and it’s sad in a way, but it does have its benefits. My favorite camera used to be a Hasselblad 500c that I’d had for 20 years or so. Then Kodak discontinued the 120 version of the TMax chromogenic b&w film 400CN, and I was heartbroken. So I took the plunge and got an 22MP Hasselblad H3D. It paid for itself pretty quickly, with no film costs or shipping costs to my old lab in New York City. It’s an amazing machine. I also use a Nikon D3 and D3s, plus an Epson Stylus Pro 4800 printer. I almost exclusively use two lenses: Hasselblad’s 80mm f/2.8 HC and the Nikon 24–70mm f/2.8G.
How did you get started photographing children?
My father took beautiful photographs of our family when I was young, and I’ve always treasured those pictures. Most photographers of my generation say it was the Kodak Instamatic that got them started, and for me that was the case, too. My older brother and father also gave me an enlarger when I was about 13, and I was hooked. For the last 11 years, I've been so lucky to photograph my own three children.
Got advice for those who want to enter the field?
I think you break into the field because it works for you. A lot of moms get into it because they take photos of their kids and then are asked to photograph other peoples’ kids. Eventually, it snowballs into something. I started taking pictures of kids when I was young. My mother got very sick when I was 8 years old and, in the years that followed, I took lots of pictures of my little brother. I think I was focusing on him instead of the scary situation with her. Children have always been easy subjects for me.
What inspires you?
My kids, and our daily life, which is so full and runs the gamut of activities and emotions. Beautiful light, too, and of course, other photographers. There’s so much great work out there that is accessible on the Web. Aside from my father’s family photos, my first inspiration was Emmet Gowin, whom I was fortunate enough to study under in college.
You have a very child-friendly first name. Has it helped in your work?
Ha! When I think about it, my name is so embarrassing. It’s not my real name, of course, but a nickname my older brother bestowed upon me when I was a baby, and somehow it stuck.
Most of your portraits are taken at the child’s eye level. Do you wear kneepads 24/7?
Great idea! It’s true. Lots of my photos are taken at a child’s eye level. For the most part, I don’t do that consciously, but there are times when I catch myself looking down on kids and thinking, ‘No I don’t want to do this. I don’t like this view.’
Winky Lewis specializes in child and family portraiture. She is based in Portland, ME, where she lives with her husband and three children. To see more of her work, visit winkylewisphoto.com or her Instagram feed: @winkylewis.