SmugMug Films: Brent Gilmore — Just a dad with a camera

Brent Gilmore has worn many hats during his lifetime, but none so fulfilling as that of dad. He’s not only juggled his share of strollers, dirty diapers, and 1am wake-up calls, he’s also learned to balance his fatherly duties with those of the family historian. He photographs his family’s tender, wonderful moments and keeps them safe for his children and future generations. We chatted with Brent about how he’s mastered the busy roles of father and photographer and why he trusts SmugMug to keep those precious memories safe and secure. Watch our video with him and read his interview below.

What’s the most important lesson you learned from your mom about being the family historian?
There are no unimportant moments. Even the moments you think are unimportant can turn out to generate the most memories. Case in point, a picture I took of my daughter or my son may not be super special, but when they see them, they see a pair of shoes they were wearing. Or they see a toy they’re still very fond of. And that will elicit really amazing memories for them. For me, it’s not that great of a photo. But for her it’s almost magical. For him, it’s his truck. And the truck is definitely magical. I think the most important lesson is that there are no unimportant moments.

Cerie out on her scooter for the first time.

What one piece of advice would you give to someone wanting to become their family’s historian?
Shoot really wide. You can always crop. Sometimes when you’re photographing family, the primary subject can be things happening in the background.

We were looking through my old photos and talking about furniture that we grew up with, and there’s this random photo of me with this piece of furniture. This photo becomes relatively important because it’s got this piece of furniture in it, but to begin with, it wasn’t important—it’s very wide, and it’s not particularly interesting. But it now has a really interesting purpose. So shooting wide is really important.

And capture items that people will forget but they’ll want to remember. Whether hairstyles or Nike Airs from seventh grade. Or, “I remember that Trapper Keeper,” which is something I said just recently looking at photos my mom took on the first days of school. That’s one of the great things about documenting. It’s not just documenting an individual or an event, but the time and space that it took place in, which is really important for me and my kids. I get to relive that with them now, and I find myself setting up shots that have their shoes in it where otherwise I might have cropped above the knee. Things they’ll forget but they’ll want to remember.

Three Cousins

How do you balance being in the moment with capturing the moment?
You have to really be in the moment with the kids—with the camera. If they know you’re just trying to capture a photo, or if you’re in the moment and you stop to get the camera, they’ll stop what they’re doing, too. Kids are finicky that way. But if you can participate—run around the background, be on the floor, be at their level—then you can be part of the moment, and also capture that moment.

That takes practice, and also it takes the kids a little bit of practice, too. They might wonder why you always have that camera, then it becomes part of their environment, and they start to act normal with it. Otherwise, sometimes it looks artificial or feels artificial to the kids. As soon as something doesn’t seem right, they’ll stop doing what they’re doing. They don’t want to perform. The camera has to be out, it has to be accessible, it has to be a part of the environment.

Do you primarily shoot with a DSLR, or just whatever you have on hand?
You know the old quote, “The best camera is the one that you have with you.” The camera I shoot with primarily that’s not my iPhone is a DSLR. The kids are really accustomed to me having that all the time, and they’re accustomed to it being around the house.

My DSLR is gigantic, and the lens is gigantic, so it’s not always convenient to have it on a walk in the grocery store, or when going to go grab ice cream, especially with two. The iPhone plays a really huge part then. I have amazing memories captured on the iPhone that are irreplaceable.

Xavier The Explorer

Do you have any favorite go-to settings for your DSLR?
On the DSLR, I was a manual guy until I had kids. It took me about the first eight months of my daughter’s life to give up my hope of being a fully manual guy. Now I have it set on auto ISO, and the aperture wide open, so I just worry about shutter speed. That allows me to just pick up the camera, focus, and shoot in all the different types of lighting environments you’re going to have with kids.

The iPhone is amazingly great at capturing photos. I just tap on the screen to highlight the area where I want the light to be perfect. That’s typically a face, but iPhone does a really great job out of the box. I’ve been really happy with that. DSLR is the ideal and I try to have it with me as much as possible, but when I can’t, it’s the iPhone.

When it was just my daughter, we went to New York City for Mother’s Day and I took my DSLR. New York City is a smorgasbord of amazing things to take pictures of, and I used my DSLR the whole time. But with two kids, you can’t have them plus a double stroller in New York City and a huge DSLR. So the last two trips we took with the kids to New York City I just had my iPhone. Both times the photos were amazing.

Natasya, Cerie & Xavier

What’s the top tip you would give somebody who wants to start photographing their family but might be a bit intimidated by the hardware?
That’s one of the things my wife and I laugh the most about because, “Oh my god, such a beautiful photo. He must have a nice camera.” Right? If you have a really expensive camera and really fast computer for processing, that doesn’t automatically make you a great photographer.

Technology has made it much easier than it was in the past. Now with how ubiquitous cameras are, anybody can have access to a really simple camera. And if they really work at it, they can take great photos with anything they have around them.

On the other hand, there’s people who do want to step up to a DSLR. I think it can, at first, be very overwhelming. But just take it one step at a time: figure out your camera, then figure out how to develop, and then you’ll figure out how to present your photos.

You mention in your video that your mother documented everything carefully, and I noticed her handwritten notes on the back of your photos. How do you approach documenting everything you photograph?
Well, I won’t lie. It’s tedious. There’s no super easy way. I joke that our parents invented tagging. If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t know who a lot of these people are in these old black-and-white photos. But there’s no easy way that I found to directly transfer the tags that are on the back of the photos to the digital age.

Getting them scanned in, and then going into SmugMug and putting those tags in does take some time, but it is extremely worthwhile. It is time well spent and for a couple of reasons. The obvious main reason is organization. You are able to find any photo, any event, any year, almost instantly. We’ll be at a family function and somebody will mention this birthday, or this piece of clothing, or that birthday cake that mom made of Big Bird in 1978 or whatever. They’ll mention something completely random and I can go to SmugMug and search my tags for things as generic as birthday, and sort through the photos to find this particular one. Or I can search Brent’s birthday, or 1978. The better you tag it, the easier it is to search and find. Everybody’s completely blown away with that.

Backyard Summer

These photos are so precious and important, why did you entrust SmugMug to keep them safe for you?
Yeah, it’s literally thousands of photos. One of the things that’s lacking in a lot of software companies is updates, improvements, and listening to user feedback. SmugMug has continually impressed me with the fact that they are growing stronger every day. The way I know they’re growing stronger is they’re making improvements to the service every single day. They could be operational improvements, things that make my life easier, things that make processing and organizing easier, or it could be graphical changes that just make it more pleasant to work in SmugMug.

The reason I trust SmugMug is because I can tell they really care about their product, and about the people that use it. When you’re looking for a partner you want to know that they’re going to be there. So you’re looking for that longevity and solidness, and that was one of the things that tipped me off that these guys are serious and they’re going to be around because they keep getting better.

Could you walk me through your process of getting your photos from your camera on to SmugMug?
It’s not particularly sexy: I take my SD card and import everything to my laptop, then I use Lightroom to do my initial processing and tagging. The thing that I think is probably the most helpful, and to me this is very sexy, is SmugMug’s plug-in for Lightroom. It is absolutely amazing.

With other services, if you upload a photo and you want to change something later, you have to change it on the computer and upload a new version of that photo. A lot of times you’ve already shared that photo, so links are broken and people aren’t able to see it. The thing that is amazing about SmugMug and the plug-in for Lightroom is that any change I make on my computer with Lightroom is instantly synced with SmugMug. It doesn’t change the links, it doesn’t break any of the sharing.

That happens frequently with my tagging. I’ll upload everything, send it out on Google+, and everybody is looking and commenting. Then I realize, “Oh, well I didn’t tag it with these certain things, or I didn’t put the geo location.” Everybody’s looking at the photos at the same time I’m changing them in Lightroom and they never know that anything was changed. It’s absolutely brilliant. Genius.

Watching the Rain

What about photos on your phone? Do you keep those on your phone or do you end up uploading those as well?
I don’t upload every single one. I typically upload the ones that are worthy of sharing publicly. That doesn’t mean that they have to be perfect, or even that I’ve developed them, it just means that for me they have to be relevant to the people that I’m sharing them with. I’ve used my iPhone to upload directly to SmugMug, and I’ll do that with really important things as an immediate backup.

I mentioned traveling to New York before. On one trip, we’d been there for four days and captured some really great moments. After we pause to take a couple of photos in Central Park, I go to SmugMug while we’re getting everybody back in the stroller, and I’ll upload those five photos and boom, now they’re backed up to SmugMug. I lose my phone, my phone gets stolen, my daughter throws it into a fountain—everything’s already on SmugMug, and I don’t have to worry about it.

Are there any other tools or features on SmugMug that you use the most?
Prior to SmugMug I would share photos through email and people would want me to email a higher resolution. With Smugmug, I don’t ever have to send anyone a photo. I just direct them to the gallery on SmugMug and I’ve got it enabled to be downloaded. They can download the entire album, they can download individual photos. It’s an amazing time saver for me.

Or they want prints. Tangible photos. Before, I had a workflow where I would visit my local camera shop and get them printed, and then input everyone’s address to send copies. The time and effort was a nightmare. Now I just enable the ability for people to buy these photos on my SmugMug site, so when anybody wants one or all the photos, they can buy them directly from my site. They can pay for them themselves and have them shipped directly to them. In terms of the tools that are really an amazing life saver for my photographs, being able to download the photos and buy the photos on SmugMug is amazing.

Five Years & Still Laughing

Do you think having prints is important?
We’ve got a sofa table behind the sofa with thirty 4x6s and 5x7s on there. Our entire fireplace mantle is filled with picture frames. Anywhere there’s open space, it’s cluttered with picture frames. And it’s important for a couple of reasons. One, we really like to relive these moments and memories all the time. Having them online, I unfortunately don’t have my laptop or phone open to SmugMug all the time. But I’m in my office right now, and I’m looking up at the wall with an amazing photo of my daughter kissing my wife’s pregnant belly. It takes me back to summer 2012.

The second thing really lends itself to the very first question you asked about taking pictures of kids. When they see every day the outcome of daddy having the camera out, they’re more willing to be participants when they know it’s going to be printed. I find that they’re much more cooperative in the process when they know it’s going to be printed and framed.

And how do you prepare your photos to ensure you get great prints?
I think a year and a half ago I would have answered about different crop sizes, and color profiles, and a bunch of nonsense, but now I print everything through SmugMug. I upload an uncropped, full-resolution version of the photo, and if I want a 4×6, 5×7, an 8×10, SmugMug does almost all the work for me. I just have to approve where SmugMug wants to crop the photo, or adjust if I want it to be a little bit different, and know with a few keystrokes and a few button pushes I can have photos on the way to the house.

How do you protect the more private memories from anyone you don’t want to have access?
This is one of the top reasons I use SmugMug; it allows me very easy-to-understand control over what people will see. Whether it’s Facebook or Google Photos or Flickr, a lot of times I’m not really sure what other people can see. They don’t make the privacy controls very easy. But SmugMug makes it super simple. I know what is private, what’s completely locked down, password protected, and nobody can get to but me. I know what’s shared with only the family, and I know what’s public.

I do use Smugmug for some really private, really tender moments with my wife and my kids, and I know and have confidence that they’re private.

Xavier - Month 4

For example, someone in Pennsylvania happened to find my site and was randomly typing in passwords on a protected gallery. Really good guesses. Every time he typed in a password, I was getting an email instantly from SmugMug saying, “Someone applied the wrong password for this private gallery.” It alerted me to the fact that someone was trying to log in to this private gallery, and it did it every single time this individual put in a wrong password. Which let me know this wasn’t a random thing; someone really wanted those photos and was not going to give up. I was able to very quickly change the privacy settings to where all my password-protected galleries weren’t publicly discoverable, they were hidden.

When this guy in Pennsylvania goes back to that particular page, he can’t see it anymore. He can’t even attempt to type in a password. Not only did the security keep this person out, but SmugMug alerted me to the fact that there was an issue and made it easy to change the privacy settings on the fly. It’s really quite amazing that SmugMug had my back in such a gigantic way.

Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Your photos don’t have to be perfect to be memories. That’s the thing I think people need to get over—just capture what’s going on, and it’s going to be really, really special. You have to just start taking photos. They’re going to be amazing memories. If you ask anybody to look back at the photos their parents took, they’re not technically perfect, but they mean a lot to them. It’s going to be the same for their kids. Capturing memories is important, and Smugmug makes it really easy to share them.

 

SmugMug Films: Trey Ratcliff lights his own path

Trey Ratcliff left a career in technology to pursue photography and exploration. His new path has led him to far-flung places around the world, and we at SmugMug were lucky enough to follow him to Morocco and see the world through his eyes. Watch his approach to his unique vision in our latest SmugMug Film at the end of this interview.

In Trey’s pursuit to create images that portray the world with all the light and color he sees in it, he’s been met with praise and criticism across the Internet. And he’s learned to ignore it, choosing instead to create his art only for himself.

How would you describe what you do?

I try to make the real world look like it really does to me: a fantasy. When you start taking photos in a certain way or of a particular subject, you go into a fantasy spiral that allows you to see more “truth.” I look for that thin veil between fantasy and reality—that’s my favorite area. I explore the tension between what is real and what isn’t, because secretly, I feel like the world is a giant fictional projection.

Burning-Man-Day-1 (1006 of 1210) (1)

Tell us a bit about how you got started with photography.

I was born blind in one eye and with terrible vision in the other. I’m still blind in one eye, so I see the world in 2D. So I love to think about how to present a world that’s 3D in a 2D medium, like a photograph.

How does your partial blindness affect how you see the world?

One eye is more than good enough, and I call it The Gift! Every year we experience more of the world in 2D. Every month, in fact, we probably spend 1% more than the last staring at a phone or a laptop, which is 2D. We’re all learning to experience a 3D world in 2D—I’ve simply been doing that for 44 years. And that’s the challenge for all photographers, right? How do you successfully remove one dimension and still have a scene make sense?

I think the idea that you need to take a 2D photo of a 3D world really got me into HDR. It seems to me that “depth” is no more important to a scene than color or texture. Since you lose depth in a photo, I chose to make up for it with dramatic color and texture, which can do a lot to communicate the essence of a scene.

Lijiang at Night (1)

The philosophy of HDR is to use your camera to sweep through all the light available, dump the light into your computer, and then bend the light to your will. I love using technology to make beautiful things. It’s fun to break the rules—have fun with photos and find your own creativity through child-like exploration without rules.

My work became popular after I had the honor of having the first HDR photo ever to hang in the Smithsonian. That led to many more opportunities that I’m eternally grateful for.

182191565_11129fc8df_o

What were some of those opportunities?

One day Mark Zuckerberg sent me a note through Facebook Messenger. I thought it was a joke. He asked if I wanted to come into the Facebook offices and spend the day with him. We spent a day together and talked about photography and art. He was so curious. It was a nice conversation. That led to more things, including this fun new thing we’re doing now: a few live shows a week on Facebook as we travel across 6 continents in 6 months.

Another time I got an email from Sergey Brin asking if I wanted to come into Google X. He pulled up an old video I made in Japan; I’d had a crazy idea to shoot the world at 300 FPS (10x faster than normal) but play it back at 30FPS. The result was interesting, and I was trying to explain stuff I barely understood to Sergey and his Google X team! That got me involved with Google and many of their projects.

The key to receiving these opportunities seems to be having an open heart, being totally vulnerable, and never taking anything too seriously. Having an open heart has filled my life with amazing people.

What work is most meaningful to you?

One of my most meaningful projects to me is the HDR tutorial I put together on my site. I never thought it’d be so popular. But I’ve found that sharing stuff I figured out along the way has been a great way to inspire others.

I used to think of myself as a “photographer,” and I still am, but I think I accidentally became a “teacher” as well. I have no formal training in teaching, but I don’t have any formal training in photography either! I figured it out along the way organically, and this became my teaching style.

What’s been your most challenging shoot to date?

Antarctica was very difficult. Camping on the mainland in the Dry Valleys was physically challenging, but it was rewarding, too. I felt lucky to fly on a CL-130 and land with skis on the sea ice. It was so amazing! I felt like a proper explorer from the olden days.

Day 13 - Sunny Valley - The Mighty Glacier

What are your gear “must haves?”

Currently, I’m between worlds. I’m mostly shooting with the new Hasselblad, but I have my Sony gear nearby and ready too!  A full list of all my gear is available here.

Do you shoot everything manually?

I shoot manually for maybe 30% of my shots. Everything else is aperture priority. That computer in the camera is really smart. With quick-changing lighting conditions, I let that computer decide the same thing I would have anyway.

What do you look for in terms of light and framing for your shots?

I prefer light that’s a bit confusing or dazzles the mind. If I’m surprised or transfixed by the light, it becomes a fun challenge to capture that feeling.

Deep in the Guangxi Province of China

How you go about capturing that feeling?

I listen to a lot of strange ambient and electronic music. That helps my mind disconnect the visual from the audio. This makes everything dramatic, and it feels like I’m moving around a huge movie set to find the most interesting photo.

And what about for storing, selling, and sharing your images?

I like using SmugMug because of its beauty and flexibility. It’s almost scary how much you can change to make your website uniquely your own. I was able to make my site look exactly like I wanted without needing to do any code or scripting nonsense. It’s nice to know that when people come to my portfolio, they see things exactly the way I want them to see them.

SmugMug has also made organizing way easier for me. I have a lot of photos, and I’m constantly re-organizing them. The order is really important to me. It’s very fun and fast to re-order my albums and move files around folders. It’s also given me a chance to get in there and clean up all the clutter that’s happened over the years.

For sharing, I use SmugMug in the background for my main blog. My blog is hosted on my own server, and I embed my images directly from SmugMug so anyone clicking on a photo will be taken to my SmugMug site to view the large image. I looked at the stats, and we have over 160 million photo views on SmugMug for the year!  I also get asked a lot about my in-camera settings before processing, so I use SmugMug’s API to show the embedded EXIF information whenever someone rolls over a photo on my blog. Since SmugMug already stores that information, I can just use their API to pull the info and show it to my visitors. This way they know exactly what settings I used on my camera to capture a shot.

Any advice for those looking to pursue a similar path?

Yes! Stop worrying about what other photographers think. They’re not your audience. Every minute you worry about impressing other photographers is time wasted.

When I first started posting my photos on the Internet, I got a lot of hate and negative feedback. So my advice to you is if you get any kind of hate, fight back with awesome. You create yourself through your art. Take photos that are interesting to you that very few other people understand.

An artist creates for the sake of creation. Self-expression is one of the most natural things about all of us.

What about advice for capturing the image?

The key is to see 100 interesting things per day and take photos of all 100. Then, in your workflow, choose the best 1, 2, or 3. This process and workflow is an end in itself.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Before I got into photography, I once called an investor in a new company, Michael Heisley. He was a lovely man, and I‘m sad he’s passed. At one point in my late twenties, I offered to sell him additional stock because I really needed money and thought that would make me happy. He said, “Trey, money will not bring you happiness.” At the time, I didn’t see it, but it’s quite true. That was the first step to letting go of myself. I’ve gone on many struggling steps since then and I’m still going down whatever strange path there is in this universe. I’ll make a book suggestion, okay? “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer. Another great one is “A New Earth” by Eckhardt Tolle.

I get much more joy from pursuing my creativity in whatever direction it takes me. Find what you love and go after it. The right audience and support will find you as a result.

Strap Yourself in for Climbing Ice – The Iceland Trifecta

In January, we called up Tim Kemple, an acclaimed photographer and filmmaker with clients like The North Face and Land Rover. When we got him on the phone, we had one burning question on our minds:

“Do you have a project that you’ve always dreamed of doing?”

This question sparked a storm of ideas, and in a matter of weeks, we had hatched a plan: bring together Tim and two world-class climbers, Klemen Premrl of Slovenia and Rahel Schelb of Switzerland, as they attempted to climb the Iceland Trifecta—an iceberg, the ceiling of an ice cave, and a very deep iceberg crevasse.

All these ice climbs would be technically challenging—some would say even impossible and too dangerous to attempt—and, from a filming perspective, we had no idea what kind of adventure we’d find once we got to Iceland. Normally, it’s exactly this uncertainty that you try to control. But for the team here at SmugMug, and for Tim, Klemen, and Rahel, embracing that uncertainty is exactly the kind of “adventure” we wanted to pursue, regardless of outcome. “Adventure” means pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, embracing uncertainty, and using your technical expertise, physical stamina, and mental moxie to attack the photographic and climbing environment. And so we commenced the adventure of a lifetime.

On November 6, attendees of the 40th Banff Mountain Film Festival got a sneak peek of the film, which was selected as a Finalist, but today, this film makes its online premiere. We hope you enjoy the ride.

Read more of the behind-the-scenes.

Ready to go on your own adventure? These photo and and climbing tips articles will help you.

SmugMug’s Filmmaker Anton Lorimer at the Banff Film Festival
SmugMug’s Filmmaker Anton Lorimer at the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival

Show Us Your SmugMug Smile at Photoshop World 2015

Join SmugMug for three days of creative adventures at KelbyOne’s Photoshop World Conference and Expo, the world’s largest Photoshop, Lightroom, and Photography conference of the year, August 11–13, 2015, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Come out and be inspired by world-class educators, network with your fellow photographers, and show off your smile in the SmugMug booth for a special gift!

Take our class

Be sure to add SmugMug’s platform class, “Showcase, Share, and Backup: Why Your Photos Need a Website,” to your itinerary. Learn everything there is to know about building a beautiful photography website from award-winning landscape photographer Aaron Meyers.  Aaron is an expert at creating stunning photographs and, as a SmugMug Product Manager, beautiful websites to display them. He’s a former aerospace engineer but now limits his explorations to chasing light in remote locations on planet Earth. Join us August 12 at 9:30 a.m. in Tradewinds C/D. Don’t have your Photoshop World ticket yet? Grab a full conference pass here.

Visit our booth

You’ll find us at booth 217 in the expo hall.

Drop by for one of our SmugMug demonstrations or to talk with Nick (Beardly), Seth, Ann, and Aaron to find the answers to all your burning SmugMug questions.

Get cool stuff

We’ll have some special show swag for any visitor that shows us their “Smuggy.” Take a selfie with Smuggy, our logo, post it to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #SmuggyPSW, and then bring that selfie to our booth. We’ll reward you! If you’d like to visit the expo only, please do so on SmugMug. Just print this expo pass and present it at the door. Need more convincing? Watch our SmugMug Film on our friend Scott Kelby, the man behind KelbyOne and Photoshop World, to see why he’s an inspiration to photographers everywhere.

See you there!

How to Photograph Your Kids

This famous mom photographer shares her secrets.

Last year, Elena Shumilova took photos of her sons as they played in the Russian countryside. She uploaded the photos online, then they started getting shared, and shared again… until they became a viral sensation, with over 60 million views.

These photos hit something magical all across the Internet — a sense of nostalgia for a childhood past. She even started getting letters from people in their nineties, saying the photos moved them to tears.

As parents, we instinctively want to take photos of our kids. We’re trying to preserve this brief slice of time before they grow up. But when we take our kids to professional photo studios, the results can end up looking stilted and unnatural.

We want to remember our kids as they actually are — not with the forced smile a stranger coaxed out of them at the studio, but with the real smiles and giggles they share with us every day.

How can we capture natural photos of our kids, the kind Elena seemingly has a magic touch for?

Photo by Ivan Makarov

Elena has mostly been quiet since her photos have gone viral, undistracted by all the media attention. Instead, she focuses on raising her kids and continues to photograph them every day.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

Given how quiet Elena has been, we’re excited to share a behind-the-scenes look at her in action. She invited us onto her farm in Russia, where we asked her to share how she captures these beautifully nostalgic photos.

This is what she had to say.

5 Tips to Get Better Photographs of Your Kids

by Elena Shumilova

Watch a video of Elena demonstrating these tips.

1. How to get your kids to look natural, not “posed.”

So you catch your kids in the perfect moment — they’re outside playing and laughing, the lighting is just right, and you see this perfect picture you want to capture. You rush to get out your camera, but then…

They see the camera. They stiffen up. They start posing. The moment is lost.

What do you do?

When photographing children, the single most important thing is to photograph them often — every day.

You can’t just do it sporadically, or they’ll freeze up as soon as the camera comes out. Consistency is key. That way they’ll be comfortable around the camera.

It’s these everyday scenes that you want to capture — the ones you’ll remember best when they grow up.

 

To get the most genuine photos, I try to catch them in the moment — when they’re playing with each other and have completely forgotten about the camera.

Here they’re playing “airplanes,” a game we also play together at lunchtime when they’re feeling picky about their food.

Watch Elena explain how she captures her nostalgic photos:

2. The types of clothes that work the best.

I follow a pretty simple rule: clothes shouldn’t be distracting. They shouldn’t take attention away from what’s happening in the photo.

 

For such a simple rule, it’s harder to follow than you might think. Kids’ clothes today are designed to grab your attention—with bright colors, cartoon characters, and writing all over them. In photographs, all this takes attention away from your kids.

When I started pursuing photography seriously, I actually replaced all their outfits. This took quite a while to do, but now I know that anything I pull from their closet won’t interfere with the photo.

3. How to best capture kids of different ages.

Newborns
A lot of parents have asked me about this photo — how did you get your one-month-old to look so calm? Infants are notoriously difficult to photograph because they’re often crying or fidgeting.

Here you’ll have an advantage as a parent. I’m his mom. I’m around him 24 hours a day, and I know when he cries and when he doesn’t. Let your parenting instinct help you choose the right moment.

The Golden Age: Ages 2–4
Something I noticed while photographing many children, including my own, is that there seems to be a universal age when kids are the most photogenic.

That seems to happen between ages two and four.

Kids around this age behave very naturally. They don’t care that someone is looking at them, they don’t care what others think, and they don’t care that a camera is pointed at them.

They aren’t yet self aware. And so, they’re free.

Ages 5 and Older
It gets a bit more difficult when they’re older. As early as age five, they start to become more self-conscious when the camera comes out. They start to pose.

The key here is to be very patient. Let them play while you disappear into the background. My best photos always happen at the end of a photo shoot, when my kids have forgotten all about the camera.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

4. How to get good photos of your kids with pets.

Just like people, every animal is different. Some pets like to be photographed, and others don’t.

Because every pet is different, there isn’t a magic formula for this. I spend hours observing our farm animals, figuring out how they move and what angles work best for them — just like I would for people.

I’ve also tried bribing pets with food, but it doesn’t work. It’s almost impossible to get a good picture when they’re chewing or licking their paws. So I’ve learned the hard way not to feed our pets during photo shoots.

With animals, you have to rely on a bit of luck — and constant patience.

5. Don’t give up.

This is the most famous photo I’ve taken. It’s been viewed over 10 million times — but I almost didn’t bring my camera that day.

Before I took this photo, my confidence was at a pretty low point. I had tried for a photo of my son and dog 14 other times — not 14 other photos, but 14 full photo shoots, all failures.

I was convinced that my hands were too clumsy, or my dog was not the right dog for it, or my kid was not the right kid for it. I was just feeling desperate that day and didn’t even want to bring my camera.

But something told me to bring it. And on that fifteenth day, it all just came together.

This dog of ours is now famous — but he’s not all that photogenic from most angles. He’s actually a pretty difficult dog to work with. From the previous 14 photo shoots, I’d learned what angles and body compositions work for him and my son.

It‘s easy to get discouraged. It’s easy to think, “Oh, why bother, it won’t work anyway.” And it may not for the first 14 times. Those 14 photo shoots weren’t failures though, because I learned from them. And they’re what made the fifteenth one possible.

Don’t give up.

For when you get frustrated.

Photo by Ivan Makarov

When I was first starting out, I got frustrated easily. I used to create these elaborate setups — I’d bring my kids to a special place, in special clothes, at a special time with the lighting just right. I’d arrange it all. And naturally, I started to feel like they owed me a good photo.

But I started getting better photos when I realized: no one owes me anything.

If you get frustrated, your kids will sense it and won’t want to participate anymore. Which just creates a vicious cycle of more frustration. When I stopped feeling entitled to a good photo, I was more relaxed. It was more fun for me and for them.

Rather than creating high-pressure elaborate setups, observe your kids in everyday simple situations. Do it every day. Bring your camera along.

And then — when the right moment comes along — you’ll be ready.

See more of Elena’s photos on her SmugMug print site.

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Watch Elena demonstrate these tips.

Transforming Our Support Heroes: Behind the Scenes with Hellgirl

Last week, our latest collaboration with photographer Benjamin Von Wong took our SmugMug employees to new heights—literally. I was lucky enough to be one of those employees, though I am the unlikeliest of models. How did I end up on that rooftop with my superhero colleagues? Read on!


“Kerry, it’s your turn. Step up!” the photographer called to me, excitement in his voice.

Step up where? This ledge:

Which was followed by this drop:

And this is the safety harness that was certified to keep me — all 300 pounds of me — from plummeting to my death.

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All the other models on the photo shoot wore harnesses, too, and I saw with my own eyes how many safety precautions were taken to make us secure. Logically, I understood that nothing bad would happen to me.

But I just couldn’t shake the feeling: I’m 2 people in 1. I’m going to be too heavy to pull up.

All I could think was:

If I fall, I’m probably dead because I was too fat.

Somehow I managed to step up on the ledge, and the photographer snapped a few photos.

Check out the behind-the-scenes video of the photo shoot.
(Warning: Do not attempt on your own. The photographer is a trained stunt person. All models wore safety equipment.)

When we were done, all the other models were excited to see how the pictures turned out. After all, we were on a skyscraper dressed as superheroes, getting our pictures taken by world-famous photographer Benjamin Von Wong.

But I wasn’t looking forward to seeing my photo at all. I had this nagging feeling: I’m going to look like crap. I may be on a fancy photo shoot, but I’m still a fat girl.

Here’s how my photo turned out:

Hey, that isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it’d be.

Actually … I kind of look badass.

How the heck did this happen? How did I get to be a model on an awesome photo shoot? Models aren’t fat girls like me. But here I was, on top of the world.


Just one year ago, I was at the lowest point of my life.

Self-portrait. Photo by Kerry Ellis.

My struggle with weight began right after college when a surgery on both feet left me unable to walk long distances for exercise. I ballooned up from a size 12 to a size 22.

I gained some experience after graduating and managed to get a great job writing for NASA. I had been there for 8 years when the phone call came from my boss:

“Kerry, I’ve got some bad news. I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go. Actually, you were supposed to be laid off yesterday.”

Me working from home. Photo by Kerry Ellis.

This job was all I’d known for nearly a decade. What was I supposed to do now? How was I supposed to pay for my house?

I hung up the phone and burst into tears. Here I was, a 35-year-old grown woman, and I felt like a scared 14-year-old again. Completely lost.

Me with Britta. Photo by Kerry Ellis.

I’ve never liked asking people for things, but when you lose your job, that’s what you have to do — ask everyone for help. After sending out hundreds of emails and posting to Facebook and LinkedIn, I heard about an interesting opportunity. Not a full-time job or anything, just a short writing assignment for SmugMug.

As a photographer myself (and longtime customer), I loved SmugMug and had been trying to get a job there for ages. Actually, they’d already rejected me once when I interviewed there 5 years ago. But no matter. This was a chance to get my foot in the door at my dream company, and I took it.

I completed the writing assignment for them, and the article somehow got the attention of Chris MacAskill, President and Co-Founder of SmugMug. It turns out he was the one who had vetoed hiring me 5 years ago.

He told me he’d made a mistake. Oh, and would I like to join SmugMug full time?

The next day, I packed up everything and moved straight to California to start my new job.

Me in my new office at SmugMug. Photo by Schmootography.com.

Within my first few weeks on the job, Von Wong was in town and SmugMug asked him to do a fun photo shoot for the employees.

SmugMug employee — that’s me! That’s how I ended up as a model on this phenomenal photo shoot.

The SmugMug family on the skyscraper.

The whole thing feels like a fairy tale, like something that only happens in movies. I landed my dream job and moved across the country. I felt on top of the world. But looking in the mirror, my outside didn’t match how I felt inside.

That’s why this photo means so much to me. It makes my outside match my inside.

It’s a reminder that, even when I was at my heaviest, I can look amazing.

Since this photo was taken, I’ve dropped a dress size. I’m eating healthier and working out regularly. If I could look amazing then, then I can continue to look amazing.

I went from rock bottom to a superhero literally on top of the world. How is this even real? This is the stuff of movies.

But this is my life now, and it’s pretty freaking awesome.


Afterthoughts

As great as this photo makes me feel, I almost didn’t write about it. I wrote and deleted this article 3 times before hitting publish.

The Internet is cruel. I’m already bracing myself for the comments people will make:

“She’s still fat.”

Or my personal favorite that’s been popular lately — “Why is she promoting unhealthy habits?”

It’s not about celebrating being unhealthy. It’s about loving yourself so you can continue to work on yourself. If you start the journey from a point of hate, that’s where you’re going to end. You may lose the weight, but you’ll still hate yourself. The root problem is still there — that’s why so many diets fail.

Start from a place of accepting yourself, so you love yourself as you continue to make progress.


Credits
Photography by Benjamin Von Wong. Read how he pulled off this photo shoot on his blog.

Media Requests
You may quote or republish this article and its photos on your own publication—please credit and link back to the original.

Find more photos from the photo shoot on Benjamin Von Wong’s blog and the behind-the-scenes video.

Transforming Our Support Heroes… Into Actual Superheroes

My old boss, Steve Jobs, used to say, “One way to remember who you are is to remember who your heroes are.”

Kaydin Carlsen, SmugMug Support Hero

Kaydin Carlsen, SmugMug Support Hero

Our heroes are photographers, from moms who capture priceless moments with iPhones, to elite pros who shoot astonishing photos like the one you see above.  To help them, we built a team of 40 support people, mostly photographers.

Working in customer support is a hard job. In most companies, more than a third of customer support employees quit every year. Which means on a team of 40, on average you can expect to lose 12 people a year. So, few people believe they’ve heard us correctly when we say that in over a decade, only one of our Support Heroes has ever resigned.

Our customers sent so many emails to them saying, “You are my new hero,” we called them Support Heroes.

What’s our secret?  We don’t have scripts or thick training manuals. We simply ask our Support Heroes to be heroic.

Which gave photographer Benjamin Von Wong an idea:  take their photos where only real superheroes would dare go. He wanted to make them into superheroes without green screens or special effects.

What do you see when you imagine a superhero?  Standing strong on top of a building, overlooking a city, hair blowing in the wind?  That’s what we saw, so we did a photoshoot on the ledge of a skyscraper.

Here’s Von Wong’s amazing story.

SmugMug Films started with a simple idea:  to tell the story of our greatest heroes, the photographers who inspire us.  The films have taken flight on their own, and today we’re excited to introduce one about Von Wong’s inspiring rooftop shoot:

Who inspires you?  Do you have a story of a photographer worth sharing? Let us know, we might just pop over to film it!

All the best,

Chris MacAskill (aka Baldy)

Co-founder, photographer, regular guy, and on this day a terrified hero wannabe.

Chris MacAskill on skyscraper