Helen Bartlett / Family Portraiture

Creative use of light in family portraiture


Working with light to produce exquisite family portraits

Light and shadow, shadow and light, these are the building blocks of photography which means drawing with light.  When I’m taking my pictures, I’m always looking at the light and I love creative use of light in family portraiture.

When I started out, I’d always work with the light behind me, using windows as a large soft-box to illuminate my subjects faces.  I do still use light that way but I’m also keen now to experiment as I understand light so much better – the benefit of fifteen years’ experience and an exciting thought when I think about what the future might bring.  Now I’m just as likely to use the light to pick out highlights, to sculpt an image of graphic intensity.  I love images like this where I can use my skills to produce something beautiful and different from the norm.

When I first saw this room, I was immediately struck by the possibilities of the chairs in front of the window and that glorious side light coming in if I photographed my subjects in profile.  The chairs were quite formal, it was a beautiful room and so something that made a feature of this was there in my mind.

I have ideas and then I wait and see what happens. I fully admit I didn’t expect quite this picture and that’s what I love about family photography, each relationship is different and it’s the personality of pictures that makes them sing.

Archie adores his second cousin who was visiting the same day that I was.  It was such a pleasure to watch their relationship which is wonderfully close and so full of laughter.  When we entered this room and the boys sat down, I wondered how the image would develop. I saw the way the light was working and moved around to put myself in the best position.

And then, without prompting, Archie mimicked his cousin, perfectly, exactly, and with such a look of immense happiness I knew it was the moment to click the shutter.  I love it, the exact body language, the matching expressions of pride and joy.  Also, that beautiful light, even Archie’s little hand on the arm of the chair, light brushing over his thumb exactly mirroring his older cousin.

Interestingly I tried some different crops with some other pictures taken in this spot, but this is my favourite. I love the strength of composition that the lighter area of the wall and fireplace on the left, and the sofa on the bottom right give, they add structure, place and framing to the image.

I’m thrilled with it and I hope you like it as much as I do.  If you would like to find out more about my children’s photography, my family photography or my photography with older children and teenagers then do visit the website and have a look through the galleries.  I hope the images will inspire you and I hope that you might like to book me to photograph your own family this year.  I’m taking bookings for the rest of the year and I’d love to meet you.