I love this time of year.Montreal is blessed with four very distinct seasons, if not of equal length (think 3 months of summer, 6 months of winter, 2 months and three weeks of fall, 1 week of spring). The weather turns cool very quickly, and overnight fall has arrived bringing with it, strangely as it heralds the advent of winter, a bustling, busy sense of growth and renewal as people go back to work after the summer holidays, and students of all ages head back to school.
Even if your work life is not that different from summer to fall, there is still a strong feeling of change in the air that has an effect on your psychology.
In photography, the autumn is a busy time. It is when many professional services firms do their recruitment campaigns, grooming their selected graduates for roles as accountants or lawyers, and the start of many companies year end events. As well, given the high number of universities in Montreal and related services and companies, there are many networking events, product launches and mixers aimed at helping people make new connections and build their networks.
As the leaves soon begin to change, the fall foliage provides abundant and gorgeous backdrops for outdoor portrait sessions, whether you are getting engaged, starting a new job and looking for a modern non-conventional headshot, or gathering with your extended family for Thanksgiving.
Waking up before the sun rises is usually worth a photographer’s effort because of the special quality of morning light. If you’re not an early riser naturally (which I am not) it can also be painful, but I have Maud Urbas, founder of Wellness à la Maud, to thank for getting me to Mount Royal early one morning last week to help get her image library started for the new freelance business she is launching. Maud is a Kripalu Yoga Teacher (RYT) with a background in Psychology and Communications, passionate about health and wellness and her goal is “to empower people to reach their full potential through yoga, meditation, nutrition, and creative expression”. Sounds pretty worthwhile to me and we both agreed that a sunrise shoot on Mt. Royal would be a perfect way to showcase her style and provide us with some useful images to populate her website and social media channels (must haves for any freelancer launching any kind business today).
When we got there we were surprised to find the lookout was actually rather busy. I had expected us to have the place to ourselves but not only were there a few healthy looking couples and other photographers out there before us, eagerly awaiting the sun to burn off the early morning mists, but also a few groups of teenagers who looked like they’d spent the night there partying.
Happily, aside from a few photobombs, we found a space to shoot Maud demonstrating various poses with natural backdrops of Montreal and the sun slowly emerging through the early morning fog.
We then took a little walk around, up and down some stairs, encountering more people up for morning runs and another photographer, who smiled and told us that the light was really beautiful just a little further along the trail we were walking on. And he was right of course.
We were after natural looking settings to where Maud could demonstrate simple poses that communicate Maud’s belief that yoga is for everyone, regardless of age, experience, and mobility.
Here are a few more shots from our morning session. If you’re interested in trying out yoga with Maud, you can reach her on Instagram @wellnessalamaud, Facebook, or by email directly.
Yesterday I went out for an engagement shoot with a couple who’d bought the package I’d donated for a charity I support (Room to Read). Our loose plan was to work the late afternoon sun to capture images of the two of them in natural settings around Montreal where we could still find some abundant fall foliage.
Our first stop was a little park next to the St. Lawrence river where surfers love to go as there is a standing wave just off the shore they can play in. This was our warmup area. It’s hard to start shooting genuine, intimate photos of a couple – even one you know well – right off the bat. Everyone – including the photographer – needs some time to warm up, figure out the best angles and understand the dynamics of the subjects. For every really great shot it takes a lot of almost-there, not-quite-nailing-it shots to reach.
As you progress through the shoot, the winners tend to flow out in little streams, interspersed with lead-up shots that build up into the winning sequences.
On engagement shoots I really like to move around, and go different places with the couple. It helps keep the vibe fun and friendly, and provides a lot of opportunity both for some planned set-up shots where the background is selected by design, as well as impromptu quick sessions when the light is just perfect and we discover a spot together that can work.
While some shooters may like to plan these shoots down to every last detail, I’ve never liked working that way and have always found that leaving some things up to chance makes for better photos. Part of what makes photographing an engagement shoot different from other kinds of portrait photography is the chemistry between the two people in front of the lens. These few hours we spend together are emblematic of their future together as a couple. At least that is what I am trying to capture with the images I take, as if putting together in real time a kind of collage of memories that will continue to ripen into the future.
My goals for the shoot are to capture real moments of happiness, intimacy, and genuine feeling for each other – without making that obvious or creating artificial moments that tend to make the grooms feel really uncomfortable and awkward especially.
Like all photography involving regular people – there is a necessary element of creativity, collaboration and serendipity involved in getting the best shots.
Good lighting helps and having an idea of where you’ll go for the shoot of course saves time and is an efficient use of the time you spend together, but nothing you do in advance can really create the images that in the end will define the shoot. Together you create the conditions for the photos to happen, and then, with luck and some well-time laughter, you find the gems.
Their story is just beginning. The photos from their engagement shoot should reflect that, and feel like a warm introduction to a story still unfolding.
Taking family portraits in a park is such a fun and easy way to create a lasting memory of your family. Even without the photography, an afternoon in a park is a great way to spend time with your family. Put away the phones, turn off all notifications, and just spend time with each other. It’s a simple, yet often overlooked way to reconnect with each other and nature. Using a park as natural setting for a series of family portraits is also a fun thing to do on these summery afternoons. I was recently hired to create some memorable family photographs by a dad whose daughters were growing up and moving away for school. As a parent of a young daughter I was sympathetic to how he might have been feeling. I look at my little girl and can’t imagine her more than an arm’s reach away, but of course, they grow and spread their wings. Which is what we want them to do and what we spend our lives preparing them for, but still…it’s a little bit sad to say goodbye, even if it’s for all the right reasons. When taking on this contract I really wanted to do a good job for my client and give him photos he would be able to treasure of his beautiful daughters. I imagined myself being in his shoes one day and did for him what I would want someone to do for me in the same situation. The photos almost shot themselves. In Westmount Park (in Montreal), there is an abundance of settings and backdrops to choose from. We began in the greenhouse and just wandered down one of the paths leading to the small lake at the other end of the park, stopping along the way wherever my instincts told me to stop. I’m pretty proud of the results and my client was delighted with his photos, a sample of which are included here.
Last weekend I was called to photograph a family portrait at Chateau Veaudreuil, near Montreal. The family was gathered (from all over the world) on the occasion of a milestone birthday, and since all were well dressed and in a celebratory mood, it was an ideal time to get a quick family portrait done as well. My client was smart to realize the opportunity and I thought it worth sharing.
It is difficult with modern working families to get everyone together. But almost everyone I know would love to have an updated family portrait. Maybe a new child has come along, or a parent is recovering from a serious illness and suddenly you become aware of how important family is. I know it is for me and I am most proud of my work as a family portrait photographer when I see how much meaning and value a “simple” photograph of loved ones gives.
With agile field equipment, a practical and completely efficient photo studio can be set up just about anywhere. If you’ve got a big family get together planned, whatever the occasion, think about calling in a portrait photographer to take advantage of that rare occasion when everyone you love is together in one place. While we are all always in touch now with Instagram feeds, Facebook, Twitter, or simply email, there is nothing like being together in real time in the real world. I’m lucky to live close to my immediate and extended family. Even so, there is something special about seeing a photograph of the whole family together – not a collage of loose photos but the real deal.
If you get the chance to be a part of a big family gathering, get a portrait taken on the spot. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by, or one day you may find you are sorry that you did.