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Stylewatch: Creative trend in family portraits is something to smile about

Published 08/16/2012 12:00 AM

Say 'cheese!'

If you're thinking about having some family photographs taken, the world is your tasteful oyster in terms of style and setting.

Gone are the painted backgrounds of the 1970s — the wincingly orange sunsets, the country motif and that inexplicable wagon wheel. Dare we mention the neon zig-zag lightning backdrops of the 1980s, when every fourth-grader looked like they were starring in their own underfunded music video? (Only in the 80s would someone say: "Real lightning isn't dramatic enough. Let's make it hot pink!")

Grace caught up with a few local photographers recently to get some insight into the latest trends in family and wedding portraiture. Although individual pictures are as diverse as the people in them, there is a craving out there for both creativity and documentary-style work, professionals say; for photos that don't just "look good," but tell a personal story in a beautiful way.

Family ties

Stonington-based photographer Anna Sawin notes that the proliferation and accessibility of technology has informed the trend toward candid, or journalistic-type photos.

"There's so much beauty in the ordinary," she said. "We all have our camera and phone and we can snap a picture of anything. And we do, because people feel that those ordinary moments are just as important as that formal portrait on the wall."

Looking good, but also natural is important to people, said Laura Schaefer, a wedding and portrait photographer based in the northeast corner.

"Creativity is huge and reality is huge," she said. "For me, when I'm taking a portrait, I don't want posed perfection. When you look back. ... you want to see who you were at that time, you want to remember your kids as they truly were."

One of Sawin's most memorable clients was the mom of toddler triplets who asked her to photograph the happy chaos in their kitchen at mealtime.

"You as a parent, you can't take that picture because you're part of the experience," she said. "Those kids are older now and their mom doesn't have to have 16 arms anymore, but that's a moment that's gone," Sawin said.

Of course, you have to be comfortable with someone to invite them over when your little ones are catapulting strained peaches at the wall. But both women stressed that the best photos of kids are of happy, physically comfortable kids. So don't be afraid to let their little personalities shine.

If your son has a cape he wears every day? Find a photographer who thinks that is awesome, and let your kid wear the cape, Sawin said.

"If you have the right rapport with [a photographer], you can invite them into your home for bedtime routine, for Saturday morning," she added, for the daily rituals that define your life as a family.

And since those moments can't be rushed, "find someone who is willing to take time with you," Schaefer added.

If you do decide to opt for a more posed portrait, plan for success. Pick a time when your child will be rested and fed, and try to take a relaxed approach.

"There are times when a child doesn't want to sit or smile, and I see the parents getting anxious," Schaefer said. "They start apologizing and my response is that, 'your child is just being a child and that's totally OK. You should see what I do to get my own two-year-old to smile."

The look of love

Engagment and "Save the Date" card photographs have also taken an increasingly personal flair. While scenic settings like the shoreline remain very popular, "there's also a clear understanding now that it's OK to have something that illustrates yourselves as a couple," Sawin said, "like the so-called 'mixed marriage' shots when a Red Sox fan marries a Yankees fan." (See photo, top right.)

Some businesses have been able to use their work in one area of photography to attract clients in another. Wedding, commercial and fashion photographer David Apuzzo of Hamden started his career shooting rock concerts. So when a couple hires him, he might find himself shooting a Halloween-themed nighttime wedding or engagement photos in a mixed-martial arts gym.

"My clients get me and my style. We share a creative outlook," he said, adding that he aims for pictures which stand as art but also mean something to people who know the couple on a personal level.

"We want the pictures to tell a story about the couple — and their friends will recognize it. A location is what it is, but the style that they bring out in themselves is what tells the story. ... The more elaborate it gets, the more comfortable they are with me, and the more comfortable they will be the day of the wedding." Apuzzo said.

Speaking of weddings, one superstition seems to be dying a slow death at the hands of modern photography. The dusty tradition that the bride and groom should not see each other prior to the ceremony has given way to "first look" — a private moment the couple shares right before the ceremony — and an opportunity, photographers say, to capture a truly touching photo.

"First looks are becoming really popular," Putnam-based photographer Karen Leaf said, "especially if people are living together, the first look is terrific. ... and the bride can put on a veil afterwards, so that [her walking down the aisle] is not quite the same. Guys like it too because they're a little nervous. So it's a nice moment for the couple."

Leaf echoed Apuzzo's sentiment that engagement sessions are a great opportunity for the couple to have some fun and gain a comfort level with their photographer in advance of the formal ceremony, adding that dedicated professionals want to collaborate closely with their clients.

"Having an open dialogue is key to getting what you want," said Virginia Roberts of Marsal Studios photography and videography in Groton. "You and the photographer need to plan the shoot as you would an event, not just a 'meet me here and smile.'"

To ensure a good experience, make sure you understand what you are purchasing, and what is included in the cost of your session. For example, are you getting the digital images or committing to a certain number of prints at the outset?

"Share your budget ideas with the photographer up front; this saves time and money for both of you," Roberts added.

And remember to think in terms of aesthetics as well as price. For example, will an 8X10 photograph look great over the couch, or should you invest in a larger size?

Different businesses also offer different "accessories" — online hosting of your wedding album, personalized items, a slideshow, etc. Leaf hit upon a popular addition to her event work a few years ago — an open-air photo booth. She brings props like Viking helmets, wigs, silly glasses, pirate gear or seasonal items and lets guests get silly.

"Everyone loves it. Kids love it, grandfathers love it. It's a lot fun," she said.



Anna Sawin Photography

Laura Schaefer Photography

David Apuzzo

Karen Leaf

Marsal Studios