Helen Bartlett / Family Portraiture

Just One – creative black and white children’s portrait photography


I am so thrilled to share this ‘Just One’ preview image from Angelika’s recent family photo shoot. It’s one of those moments where everything comes together – a great idea, the perfect location, brilliant light – and then the personalities of the children bring that special element that transforms a picture from something good into something really wonderful.

We began our photo session with a walk in the woods near to Angelika’s beautiful home in Hertfordshire, as we wanted to take their amazing dog Mutley for a walk (who was possibly the most chilled out and definitely the biggest dog I have ever photographed). As regular readers of the blog will know, I love using woodland as a location for family photography as it provides all the fun and excitement of a really good playground but within a much more interesting environment. Woods are perfect spot for photographs, and always good fun too.

As we walked through the woods, I spotted some hay bales on the edge of a field. Being careful not to damage them in any way, the children climbed to the top where I took some lovely portraits of them all together. But it was something a bit more dramatic that I had in mind, particularly as Angelika had mentioned that she really liked some of my photographs where the children are smaller elements of the landscape – still a very important part of the picture but not the only elements; pictures with a story, pictures that are a bit more interesting that the standard portraiture on offer in studio environments. These are the type of picture I like best too, so I was only too happy to oblige and we were lucky enough to have a morning where everything came together perfectly.

As the children stood on top of the hay bale, I immediately thought that a silhouette would be the way to go – the recently ploughed field in the background wasn’t going to add anything to the picture and this made shooting up, not across, the obvious choice for a really interesting composition. We had a great sky for our photo shoot with really interesting clouds, which was a welcome change from the recent run of cloudless blue skies (not that I complain with a blue sky, I’d be delighted if we kept the good weather until Christmas!). But the clouds really help in this situation to create a very interesting backdrop, much more interesting than a clear sky would have been.

I also loved the tree; there is something about trees like this that remind me of the vulture scene in The Jungle Book, a favourite of my youth. To have the tree – so spiky and graphic – as a counterpoint to the three boys would work brilliantly in the picture.

And then we have the boys themselves, and this is where personality comes into it so much. I needed to have space between the children as for a silhouette – you can’t have everyone squished together looking at the camera as there will be no definition or personality, just a dark shape. For a successful silhouette, you need the shapes to really work – to tell you something, to provide an interesting graphic and in the case of a family portrait, to really tell you something about the children too.

In this shot, we have Noah and Josh looking up and out, their profiles creating a wonderful portrait of their closeness as Noah has his arm around his younger brother in such a lovely family moment. And then we have Zeb, the youngest, standing looking at the camera, arms folded, doing his own thing and showing his personality so brilliantly. It’s a study of family dynamics and also it’s a dramatic picture – a universal picture, a picture of childhood itself and of looking to the future and anchors to the past, to our place in the environment and our place in our families. As the youngest sibling myself, I recognise Zeb’s independence and that hint of rebellion, and I applaud it!

We spent a fantastic morning together and I look forward to sharing some more pictures on the blog soon. In the meantime, I’m so thrilled to share this ‘Just One’ preview image from our family photography session in Radlett, Hertfordshire – I do hope you enjoy it.

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