The candid how-to of family photography: Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks

Posted by | October 09, 2013 | Uncategorized | No Comments

For the next few weeks, we’re thrilled to bring you tips, tricks, and encouragement from some of our favourite photographers, for the same reason that we find it fascinating to learn what chefs cook at home for themselves, or what’s on the playlist when musicians host a kitchen party. Karen Walrond of Chookooloonks is first up, sharing with us her thoughts on storytelling, portraits of loved ones, and the merits of bringing your camera with you everywhere.

How can we approach photography as storytelling, given that we tend to get stuck in a rut of one-off snapshots? What do you think is the magic that separates a snapshot from a storytelling photo?

I think that all photographs tell a story, even the one-off snapshots—the trick, however, is to make the story as obvious as possible.  To get in the habit of actually approaching photography as a storyteller, I think two things are necessary:

a) Shoot every day—or at least frequently enough to create a frequent habit of shooting. Not only does this ensure that your photographs will improve, I think you’ll find that the more you shoot, the more the people around you begin to ignore the camera in your hands—they begin to think of the camera as a part of you. When people start to ignore the camera is when the magic happens.

b) Tap into your inner photojournalist. While certainly great storytelling shots can be posed or composed, learning to take photographs by becoming invisible and taking shots of what you see around you is the best way to begin really storytelling.

Do you extend your photographs into real-life (photobooks, albums, décor, prints, enlargements)? How do you feel about posterity in the digital age?

I don’t do it nearly enough—a fact I lamented about in a recent blog post. I’m sort of ambivalent about the digital age’s “posterity”—I think digital photos only hang around as long as the photographer has a stellar archival system, but also as long as the technology doesn’t change (when, for example, was the last time you accessed a file off of a floppy disk?). I recently made a resolution to go through and print my favourite images of the past 10 years or so, so that the permanent medium of an actual hard copy can live on after I’m long gone.

Aside from the technical aspects of shooting, what can parents do to make interesting photographs while staying true to the candid, spontaneous point of view necessary with kids?

I think the same rules for storytelling apply in this case:  shoot every day, and tap into your inner photojournalist. It’s very easy to only pull out the camera on special occasions, or when your kids are doing something cute—but developing a habit of photographing the everyday, the mundane parts of your kids’ daily routines can often tell riveting stories, especially as time passes.

What is your favourite setting for your own family shots or for others?

Home is very important to me, and I’ve learned the times of day and the rooms where I get the best light—I love shooting there. Also, we’re big travelers, so anytime we’re on a vacation, I love shooting—photojournalist-style—our days in places that are foreign to us: trying new foods, for example, or walking through the city streets. They’re much more fun than the standard shots-in-front-of-the-iconic-statue type images.

How did you develop that second nature (and shutter-response time!) when it came to capturing great candids and portraits?

I shoot really, really fast—often several shots in a second—and I’ve also gotten really good at talking while I shoot, so that the person is interested enough in what I’m saying that they forget the camera. And you know—practice, practice, practice.

How do you develop a rapport with your subjects? OR—how do you motivate your own family to cooperate with you as their photographer?

My family is so used to my having my camera with me, they don’t even notice (I often joke that for the first 6 months of my daughter’s life, she thought her mother was a Nikkon lens!). Because my camera is so much a part of me, I’m lucky—my family doesn’t think twice of being in front of my camera. They also know that even when I take candid shots, I don’t publish photos that don’t flatter them, so they’ve learned to trust me implicitly.

What do you wish you’d known about the journey of capturing your family stories? If you could go back in time to a few years ago, what would you tell yourself?

I would make myself print the photos religiously. I’m feeling a lot of guilt about the fact that some of the most beautiful shots I have of my daughter are sitting on the hard drive of some now-defunct laptop in the back of a closet somewhere.

Can you share with us your current love affair or creative inspiration? This could be a website, community, another person’s work, a nifty piece of gear, or an accessory.

I’m constantly looking for new photography inspirations, but there are two sites right now that have me riveted: The first is You Are My Wild—a collaborative photoblog, featuring portraits of the photographers’ children. The site is absolutely beautiful, and truly brilliant when it comes to taking candid, storytelling shots. The second is the work of the amazing Xanthe Berkeley—in particular, her beautiful time capsule videos, made up of still shots and video she captures of her family. They are just rich and lush and gorgeous. As far as gear, lately I’ve enjoyed playing with my film cameras—a Hasselblad 501c and a Nikon FE — it’s like learning photography all over again.

Karen Walrond is a speaker, author and photographer.  She’s also wildly convinced you’re uncommonly beautiful. Karen’s bestselling book, The Beauty of Different, is a chronicle of imagery and portraiture, combined with written essays and observations on the concept that what makes us different makes us beautiful — and may even be the source of our superpowers. It is available from Barnes & NobleAmazonBright Sky Press, and other booksellers around the world.