Capturing love, with zebra spit

One common thread to the family stories I photograph is “love” but how do you document intangible things like love?

It’s surprisingly difficult to do, unless you employ some storytelling techniques.  One of the techniques I use most often involves a bit of magic…  that magic that comes with transforming a shy child into a a rolling, squealing ball of giggles.

During a portrait session I might be meeting your children for the tenth time or the first time. Chances are they’re not going to be 100% comfortable, giggly and *themselves* during the first few minutes we spend together.  And that’s ok!  I reassure parents all the time that I’m not worried about little ones who are shy, or scared, or clingy, or slow to come out of their shell because I’m confident that, given time, I’ll find something that will help them relax.

I much of my childhood, teen years and early adult years working in our family’s day care center.  Military families have very unique childcare needs, including overnight and long term care, so it wasn’t unusual for us to end up becoming very close – like family – with many of the day care’s children.  To say I learned how to approach and interact with children from an early age would certainly be an understatement.

During our phone consultation I’ll likely ask questions about your family’s style and personality.  (Like individuals each family has a personality!) I’ll ask about your little one’s likes and dislikes, their favorite cartoon characters or their best friend’s name.  By the time we conclude our portrait session, it’s not unusual to find us reading a story together on the studio floor, or building a block tower.  That’s how it is when working with children.  They have their own ideas about what we should be doing, and usually it doesn’t include looking at mommy and smiling.

I typically offer parents the wifi password, a good magazine, and a fresh cup of coffee before picking up my camera.  The offers are for hospitality and for your comfort, of course, but I also have other motivations too!  If mom and dad are relaxed and comfortable, chances are that the children will be too and the results will be a more pleasing, natural photograph.  When parents hover near the set,  or prompt Emily to sit up straight, or Carson to look straight ahead,  it can break the magic spell that I’m gradually weaving. It takes the child away from the connection I’m building with your child so that I can capture those giggles and smiles that make dads melt and grandmothers say “that’s your grand dad’s smile!”

See, I haven’t spent weeks and months and years with your family as you have.  I’m a fresh set of eyes, interpreting the personality of your family and children in camera.  I don’t know all the little tickle spots, or inside jokes, but that’s exactly the kind of thing that would let me capture emotion, relationships, love and laughter.

Sometimes this process of getting to know a child takes some surprising twists and turns, like this weekend.  While discussing fairy dust and magic potions, the topic of zebras came up.  Somehow zebra spit was named as a key ingredient to love potions….  and this was the result:


family stories I photograph is "love"


Not your conventional formal portrait, be a genuinely fun one anyway.  One that I could not have captured if mom was beside me worried about sitting up straight and smiling.

  • Trish Corriveau
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