Helen Bartlett / Family Portraiture

Using the environment for creative child portraiture


A celebration of achievement and new skills in a creative child portrait

The best thing about my job as a family photographer here in London is getting to know families well and producing wonderful examples of creative child portraiture. Over the years we become friends and the children become incredibly important to me, especially the children of my most regular clients. I love to watch them grow up, to see new talents emerging and new skill being learnt. I love nothing more than hearing about their lives and watching their faces light up as they tell me about the clubs they go to or the musical instruments they like to play.

Different skills come easily to different children – they might sing pitch perfectly or have a natural flair with a football. Other skills are harder to learn, might pose challenges and these hard-won achievements are those I love to celebrate the most. When I see a child has overcome a fear between one photo shoot and the next, something that was hard for them has become a joy and, instead of encouraging an activity that might pose a challenge we, as adults, at the end of a long photo shoot have to cajole the children back to the car when it’s time to go home as they just want to do it more, these are moments I treasure.

Climbing has been a hard-won skill which is something I can relate to. I’ve never been the most confident up a tree (I used to try to copy my brothers and so fell out of my fair share as a child). So, it was an absolute delight to see Stella swinging herself up through the branches on our recent photo shoot. Since last year she’s so much more confident, exploring new heights and enjoying the fun of outreaching her brother.

This shot, from the climbing frame at the park we visited seems to sum it all up to me. I love the look of absolute determination on her face, lip bitten slightly as she pays attention to hand and foot-holds in this rope tunnel. Her eyes on the path ahead, looking where she’s going not where she’s been.

I shot this from below to emphasise the height she had scaled – it was high – and also to make a feature of the backlighting – a large expanse of sky up above meant the light was catching on the ropes providing a wonderful graphic image, full of exciting shapes and textures that encase the image, both below and above Stella. It’s a beautiful example of creative child portraiture.

Arms outstretched, Stella is filling the frame while the detail on her jumper mirrors the undulating patterns, emphasised by the backlighting on the rope.  Black and white gives us such great opportunities to emphasise the graphics and textures within an image. In colour we’d have a mess of conflicting tones, with green foliage, blue sky, clothes, and the structure of the climbing frame itself distracting our attention from the subject of the picture.

Images like this take a certain confidence to do well – certainly when I started my career I would have been nervous of producing an image where the subject is partly obscured in this way and where such graphic elements could dominate an image, also where the lighting was so complicated – using manual modes was essential for correct exposure here. Now when I’m confronted by a situation like this I’m in my element looking for different ways to work an image, different angles and opportunities to provide the best images for my clients.  Of course, I climbed inside the rope tunnel myself and photographed the children climbing up and down from inside, but this is the image I return to, this unusual picture, this well thought out picture, and this picture that sums up Stella at the moment, having conquered her fear of climbing and enjoying all the wonder and adventures that her new found skills will bring.

I hope you like this example of creative child portraiture as much as I do.  If you would like to read more about my family photography then do take a look at the website.  If you would like to see how my work is used in print and publications, then do take a look at the new ‘in the press’ page where I will be sharing more of my work as it’s displayed in publications both here in the UK and internationally.