Interview with Jamie Davis Smith – Family Photographer

written by:
Jamie Davis Smith


Interview with Jamie Davis Smith – Family Photographer

1- How did you get into photography? Was there a special reason or moment in your life that sparked your passion?

I started becoming interested in photography in high school and back then loved watching images develop in the dark room.  I also loved experimenting with light and dramatic black and whites and saved up for my first SLR through after-school jobs. I continued photography for a little while then spent years away from pursuing photography in a serious way until after I had children. Like many mothers, wanting to capture my children, how quickly they grow, and the details of our lives together really renewed my passion for photography.

2- In what respect did your photographic style change after the birth of your children?

After I had children I quickly moved away from wanting to focus on portraits to more of a documentary style that resulted in images that were much more meaningful to me.  In order to capture all of those little moments that make up childhood I had to learn to let go of photographing subjects in a controlled environment and instead had to learn how to make the most of whatever situation I found myself in whenever a moment worth capturing occurred.  This meant learning how to use all kinds of light to tell the story I am after, gaining a deeper understanding of composition to help me compose interesting shots even in the most boring, messiest, or ugliest location, and being able to identify the “decisive moment.”  I also realized quickly that I wanted to steer clear of editing trends because I want my photographs to be as timeless as possible.

3 – In your opinion, what are the most important elements when approaching family/children portraiture?

When it comes to family portraiture I believe the most important elements are capturing true connections and emotions.  When it comes to photographing my own family, I often wait for a situation I would like to photograph to naturally unfold and shoot through any moments that I think will capture the essence of my family.  When shooting family and child sessions, I often don’t have the luxury of waiting for moments showing true connection and emotion to unfold on their own so I do my best to draw these out of my families by engaging them in activities and asking them questions designed to draw out a range of emotions, ranging from expressions of love for one another to happiness to pride in each other’s accomplishments.  Even for individual portraits with clients and my own children, I am constantly talking to my subjects to draw out real expressions and personality.  Although it is important to know the technical aspects of photography inside-and-out to make consistently good family and child images, I believe that an image portraying a meaningful moment or showing someone’s true personality is even better than one with perfect exposure.

4 – What is your must-have gear when taking pictures of your children?

I believe that simplicity is key!  My main camera is a Nikon D750, which I love because of it’s low-light capabilities, ability to grab focus quickly, and titling screen that allows me to photograph from some interesting angles.  When photographing my own children I most often use a 35mm f/2 lens because it is very light and allows me to capture a lot of the scene, although I recently had the opportunity to try the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 and loved it so much I will probably upgrade soon.

When I photograph families, I love using the 24-70mm f/2.8 for its versatility.  I also never go to a session with young children without my 70-200 f/2.8.  Although this lens is too heavy for everyday use with my own children, I find that the compression it provides when zoomed in is perfect for photographing children who are loath to sit still and may wander without regard for background.  I also like that this lens allows me to photograph children who are shy from a distance.  For individual portraits, which I do occasionally make of my own children and clients, I love using my 85mm f/1.8.  I also love the Lensbaby Velvet 56 for the dreamy look it produces, but since its a manual focus lens I find I use it most often when my children are relatively still, such as reading or even sleeping!

Depending on location, I may occasionally bring a reflector but find that I much prefer using natural reflectors wherever I can find them since it’s usually not practical to use a reflector when chasing after children or waiting for a moment to unfold.  I also love my Manfrotto Befree tripod for times I want to get in the picture with my children, which includes not just family portraits but everyday moments like playing and baking as well.

5 – Besides family portraiture, is there any another photographic style that you feel close to?

My passion is capturing families and children, but I love just about everything about the art of photography!  At times I have really enjoyed food photography and I find macro photography very relaxing when I can find the time for it.  I also occasionally photograph events and products.

6 – What are your words of wisdom for amateur photographers trying to approach family portraiture?

For photographers just starting out in family photography, I recommend that you start by getting to know the gear you have very well.  You will improve much faster by learning to master the equipment you already have rather than buying anything new.  I also recommend finding your voice early on by figuring out what draws you to family portraiture, whether it’s truly documentary photos in the photojournalist style or fully styled themed portraits.  Invest in education wherever you need improvement, whether it’s mastering shooting in manual or perfecting your shooting and editing style.  Additionally, be prepared to never know it all and continually learn new things.  Above all you should practice, practice, practice!  Undertake a 365 project to motivate you to shoot everyday and you will be astounded at the progress you make in make in a year.

Jamie Davis Smith

Jamie Davis Smith is a photographer (www.jamiedavissmith.com) and writer in Washington, DC. She is a mother of four who usually has her camera in-hand.

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