Helen Bartlett / Family Portraiture

Taking Inspiration from Sports Photography


The Joy of Creative Challenges and Where to Find Inspiration

I’m eternally fascinated by the creative challenge of family photography, it’s one of the few genres of photography where there’s a huge amount of creative freedom.  There aren’t set shots that need to be taken like you would have at a wedding, there is no ring exchange or first kiss. Instead it’s creating beauty from the everyday, working hard to be creative and take stunning, and sometimes unexpected, images in our homes, gardens and favourite parks.  I thrive on this challenge and am always on the lookout for a different approach, angle or idea.

As a self-confessed photo nerd I will happily spend an evening sat curled up on the sofa surrounded by a pile of photo books, looking through images both historical and contemporary and hoping to absorb some of the creative genius of photographers such as Cartier Bresson or W. Eugene Smith. As well as the classics of photojournalism I also spend a lot of time with sports photography books.  My friends and fellow Canon ambassadors Tom Jenkins and Marc Aspland both have books within easy reach of my favourite chair.  I find sports photography fascinating as it’s constantly evolving and a hugely creative genre of photography. I’m not interested in the sports themselves but the approaches – how were images taken, what gave the photographers the ideas – and how I can incorporate this into my own work.

It was looking at sports photography that gave me the idea for this picture, or one like it. Years ago, I’d seen some images taken from above a basketball hoop and I’d filed them away in my brain as a cool idea and something I’d love to explore in the future.  I don’t photograph much basketball but netball does feature fairly frequently. Over the years I’ve tried different approaches but never really had an opportunity to shoot from right above a net.  Emma’s fantastic garden gave me the opportunity I’ve been waiting for all this time.

Getting the girls to shoot some nets (is that the right terminology?) I took pictures from above, trying different angles and approaches. I had thought initially that I really wanted the ball in the hoop but then, as I took the pictures, I realised that having it on the other side of the frame, between the girls would balance the picture better. I love this, the ball and the hoop are almost exactly the same size and the concentration on the girls faces as they watch to see if it will go it (it did) is fantastic.

It’s so fun to have an idea that’s been in my head for years come to fruition, and even better than I could have imagined.  Now I’ll need to think of something new for next time, as evening with my photo books awaits.