Family Photographer Elena Kloppenburg in Milan
How did you become a photographer?
I grew up in an artistic family (my grandfather and father are artists) and so I have always had an interest in photography since taking a course in school when I was about 15. However, only when my daughter was born 10 years ago did my passion for photography really take off! I loved documenting how she was growing, all the little moments that are so precious to look at now that she is growing up so fast! After a while friends would ask me to photograph their kids and then friend of friends and so after a while I left my day job in marketing to follow my passion for photography full-time! I still cant believe that my work has to do with the two things I most love: photography and children. I feel very lucky every day, even if I am probably working double the hours then I did before!
What made you specialize in portraits of children, newborns and pregnant women?
I have always been drawn to portraits, they just interest me more than landscapes or photos without people in them 🙂 What I love about the portraits I do is that I get to capture special moments in the life of a family which will will be so precious to someone for a long time. I often have Mums tell me that they cried when they saw their photos for the first time and that for me is the biggest compliment! Creating photos that perfectly capture the love within a family or a relationship and to know that they will become family heirlooms is such an honor for me!
Do you do studio portraits or do you go to the client’s home?
I don’t shoot in a studio. I just believe that it is very hard to create the kind of real and natural portraits I personally like, in a studio setting. I also love to shoot families and kids outside in a park or garden, since I think nature is the best backdrop for a family shoot! For newborn shoots I come to the family’s home. I believe that photos taken in your own home will have so much more relevance and emotional value in the future! And parents also love not to have to leave for a studio with stroller, car seat and about 10 bags of baby equipment 😉
Do you prefer to take photos indoors or outside?
Outside! I love shooting outside, especially with toddlers and boys who seem to be less inclined to stay in one place for photos 😉 Being outside not only allows for much more beautiful light, but the kids usually are also less distracted and more cooperative because we can change settings and activities more often.
Many expectant mums feel big and uncomfortable particularly in the last few months of pregnancy. What do you do to make them feel comfortable with their growing bump in order to get a great and relaxed photo?
I always schedule enough time so that there is no rush. I think the fact that I am also a women and mother often helps to tranquilize my clients and we always start a session by chatting a bit and exchanging tips and experiences. I never push clients to do poses they dont feel comfortable with and reassure them that there is always photoshop to clear up minor imperfections 😉
How do you get children to relax in front of the camera?
I love children and being silly with them and I think kids really feel if someone is being “real”. Being a Mum obviously helps, because you have to get the right balance of being silly and firm and of convincing them to get one last shot when they are not really up for it anymore 🙂 Often it helps to get children a little away from their parents to get natural expressions, because we parents can be a little overbearing (I am no exception) in giving constant instructions: “smile, honey”, “look at the camera”, “don’t do that…!” etc.
Do you ask children to pose for the camera or do you prefer more candid shots?
I like to do a combination of both. I am naturally drawn to photos that are “real moments”, and often prefer a candid look. However, getting candid moments often involves some posing and direction. I try to create situations which are posed in a way but allow for natural expression and emotions, such as snuggling in bed together with mum and dad, catching bubbles, being thrown in the air etc..
Are the results better when the child is in familiar surroundings?
I personally think so, yes! There are certainly more extrovert children who would be fine in a studio, but I was a very shy child and would have hated to have everyones attention on me as it would certainly happen in a studio setting. Being in your own home or outside is much more relaxing for a child, also because I try to make my photo sessions fun so its definitely NOT: “sit down, dont move and CHEESE!”
Obviously lighting is important when taking photographs. Which is the best part of the day if you are having an outside photo shoot?
The best part of the day for a shoot is the so called golden hour which is about 2 hours before sunset. I dont take pictures at noon – ever – unless we are going to be inside, when this is actually a pretty good time because lots of light will come into the house.
So for an outdoor session usually the best time would be about 15.00 in winter, 16.30/17.00 in spring and 18/19.00 in summer.
I know that many families have lots of after-school activities and work, but it is really important to choose the right time for a shoot and not squeeze it when it fits your schedule. Missing swimming lesson or piano for one time or taking off 3 hours from work can be done and will soon be forgotten, but the photographs from a perfect session will last a lifetime!
I imagine you need a lot of patience to photograph newborns and children. Do you have any tricks to calm down fussy newborns? What do you do with uncooperative children?
I always say that in a newborn shoot about 80% is patience, rocking and singing to babies and only about 20% is shooting time 🙂 If you want the beautiful snuggly baby poses, the right age is very important and babies should be between 8-14 days old for the shoot so that they are more sleepy and have no rashes (which often pop up at 2 weeks after birth). It is also very important to feed the baby immediately before the session. I always schedule plenty of time for nursing and changing the baby, so that there is no rush and both the parents and the baby can feel relaxed.
Children are usually a little easier, since they can be bribed 😉 I advise parents to talk in positive terms about the photo shoot with their kids before the session ( “we will have sooo much fun”, “Grandma will be so pleased when she sees these photos, we will surprise her, ok?”) and to promise a little reward if theyve been good.
The most difficult situation to handle are usually kids who have recently had a new brother or sister. I try to have a lot of patience with them and give the lots of extra attention… Also I avoid photographing children when they are not well. I know that in the winter months it is pretty impossible to find a date when nobody is ill, but I would prefer to reschedule a session for spring time or summer if kids are not feeling well, since they very understandingly are much less cooperative when they are ill!
What advice can you give about the right choice of clothes? Are there any particular colors, prints or types of clothes to be avoided?
Clothing is very important because it set the tone for the session. This does not mean that the whole family has to turn up in designer clothes and perfectly coordinated! On the contrary, I believe that kids have to wear what they feel comfortable with (but please no sweat pants and dirty t-shirts!). Just tone up a bit what they would wear and try to ask them for their opinion too and let them help pick out an outfit.
For family sessions it would be great to chose 2 colours as main focus (jeans and beige, for example) add in a colour pop (yellow, green, pink) and mix and match. I am always available to plan and discuss clothing choices with my clients before a session 🙂
To be avoided are bold patterns, narrow stripes and t-shirts with big slogans on them (unless they are part of a session theme). In short, people should be the focus of the session, not clothes!
How should you choose a photographer for your family/newborn photos?
The first thing you should do is to look at the photographers portfolio and if you like her/his style. There is no point going to a photographer who does only studio portraits and request an outdoor session, or come to a photographer with a candid style and ask for posed studio shots! Furthermore, look at the experience the photographer has in working with children. You can be a really brilliant photographer, but if you dont understand the psychology of kids you will not get good portraits!
For newborn photos, please be sure that the photographer respects newborn safety! A few baby poses are possible only with Mums help and removing safety elements such as Mums hand in photoshop afterwards. Defy of photographers who position babies on high surfaces and furniture without a parent nearby!
A final note about prices. Good photography is not cheap, because a good photographer has invested years in training, in professional equipment and in finding the right suppliers and therefore values his or her own work accordingly. You can probably get photographers who dont cost a lot and will give you lots of files cheaply, but I just want to point out that most of the time quality beats quantity. Every moment that passes can never be captured again, and therefore choosing a professional photographer who might cost more but who will “get it right” will assure you years of happy memories 🙂
What has been your most challenging assignment to date?
When photographing kids I usually lie down on the floor, climb on chairs and even trees and if I dont need a shower and wash my clothes afterwards I always think that I didnt work hard enough 😉 So I am pretty used to challenging assignments, but I guess photographing twins is always pretty challenging, as is photographing families with more than 3 kids!
What’s the best part about your job?
The best part of my job is when I capture a moment that I know says something real about the child or family I am photographing. Knowing that when this moment is long gone someone will be able to look back and remember a person and how beautiful life was is a wonderful gift to be able to give!