A Father's Day Reminder: Shoot Your Kids

Long-time viewers of this site will likely be familiar with San Francisco-based reader Jason Lee's long-term project photographing his two daughters, Kristin and Kayla.

If you're not, you are in for a treat. Hit the jump for some of his work, links to more and some thoughts on his project.

One of the best things about running this site is seeing all of the wonderfully creative family photos that come upstream. But I'd be hard pressed to find an example better than Jason's. He is embracing the concept of fatherhood with his camera, and I admire him for it.

He has spent the last few years documenting his kids with photos that are beautiful, funny, whimsical and poignant. Dinnertime, sick days, water fights, Christmas -- anything is fair game for one of Jason's photos. Or a little after-the-fact fun with Photoshop to whip up an illustration.

He shoots them, throws them up onto Flickr, and frequently adds a pithy title. (At left: "Kay-Wi").

Having a long-term project is the best possible engine for an endless series of ideas and opportunities to make photos and grow as a photographer. And what better project than your kids?

Forgetting for a moment that they are always around and are supposed to do whatever you order them to do, how valuable would a shoe box full of these kinds of photos be to you in twenty years?

And a few years later, how cool for their kids to curl up on the couch and look at photos of mom we she was little?

But the benefits don't stop there. As a shooter, the experience you gain from shooting regularly just makes you that much better. Little secret: Much of what separates the pro photos from those of amateurs is simply the built-in advantage we have from getting to shoot nearly every day.

Not only does Jason get to play with his cameras and lights all the time, but he doesn't even catch (too much) flack from mom for it. How could she, with a family album like this?

Jason shoots for other people, too. The photos on his portfolio site are beautiful. But he also points people to his two blogs -- one devoted to his work and the other to photographs of his daughters.

My guess is, the personal blog gets him as many wedding gigs as the wedding shots do. I'd sure hire him.

I caught up with Jason via an email Q and A this week and he was good enough to share some thoughts on his photo project.


Have you always been a small-flash lighting photographer, or is this something you have moved into more recently?

I guess I've always been a small flash photographer. It started with seeing the amazing work coming from Dave Black and what he was able to achieve with his SB's. I picked up my first speedlite (Canon 550EX) and an off camera shoe cord in 2003 and I've never looked at flash the same way again. My bank account never looked the same again as well.

I've experimented with mono-lights in the past but I always found myself coming back to small and portable speedlites. I haven't had the requirement for the big lights yet, so I'm still sticking with the speedlites for now. OK, who am I kidding.........my wife won't let me spend money on profoto equipment and my kids need to eat so the big lights have been put on the back burner. 

When did you get the idea to make your daughters an ongoing, themed project, and what is your goal with the photos?

I started the project of documenting my children for a very special person in my life, my mother. She was diagnosed with non Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2006 and I wanted her to be able to 'see' the kids without the risk of the little germ buckets getting her sick. If I can get her to smile or laugh at one of my images, I've reached my goal. If I can get a smile or laugh from some random viewer, that's just icing on the cake. This project has also made me re-evaluate my photography goals, and I'm hoping in the near future I can bring a smile or some laughter to other peoples lives through photos of their children. 

How do they react to being photographed in such a sophisticated way?

Well, it really depends on the shoot. I try to set up everything beforehand so the actual shooting only takes a few minutes. At their ages, that's all you can really hold their attention for. Also, I try to incorporate something that they find fun or interesting, so they are always involved in the shoot. Cheerios and Goldfish crackers help too. 

You shoot weddings -- and very well, I might add. Has the experience of shooting your daughters on an ongoing basis changed the way you shoot your other assignments?

Most definitely. This project has really taught me to look at light, both natural and artificial in a whole new 'light'. Although my current wedding work is not exactly flash intensive, I am starting to incorporate more and more off camera lighting.

Also, seeing folks like Ed Pingol and Matt Adcock rocking the small lights at weddings has really changed my perspective.

How does their mom feel about the photos? What do their friends' parents think? Do you get requests to do those kinds of photos for other people?

My wife looks at some of my images and shakes her head and says, "Did you really do that? I hope that was Photoshop!" In all seriousness, she has been really supportive of my project and even helps out sometimes, but Cheerios and Goldfish don't work as well with her. So far, I've received very positive feedback on my work and I believe there is a definite market out there for this niche. 

I've had requests for these types of stylized shots in the past but turned them down for various reasons. In the recent months, more requests have been coming through and I've been revisiting this as something I'd like to offer, so we'll see. 

What advice would you offer photographers who want to start long-term projects of their kids?

Start shooting them as young as possible. Get them involved in the whole photography process. Make it fun for them as well as for you. Stay fresh, and have an open mind for ideas.

Oh, and stock up on Cheerios and Goldfish. 


Related Links:

:: Jason's Website ::
:: Jason's Flick Stream ::
:: Photo Set: Kristin ::
:: Photo Set: Kayla ::
:: Photo Set: Sisters ::
:: Dave Black: Workshop at The Ranch ::


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Anonymous Robert said...

Beautiful Photos! Have a nice Father's Day.


June 15, 2008 12:12 AM  
Blogger Brad Herman said...

My Fathers Day photo of my Son

June 14th (West Coast Time)

It's the day before my first Fathers Day. We had plans for the weekend but they started to fall apart. It was just not going to be the Fathers Day I wanted. I scraped all of our plans and decided to try and get two pictures in two days. Not just any two pictures, two that I have been saying I was going to take for a long time. What you see here is the first one. It's inspired by a photo I saw as a child in a local pizza place 20 years ago. It left a strong impression and I always wanted to try it out. Since my son was born 8 months ago I have planned to take this picture.
With a very understanding wife at my side we shopped all morning for props. In order to get long enough spaghetti we went to Surface a local gourmet store. This stuff was 36" long and required some effort to cook. I rigged my lights and waited for the sun to drop enough. With the boy in place I started snapping away furiously as my wife draped pasta over my son and tried to keep the bowl on his head. We got the shot, all took baths and cleaned up the patio. All for the first of two pictures this Father Day.
A very happy Fathers Day to you out there.

June 15, 2008 12:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post, great images. How many of us with grown-up kids wish we had a record like this?

June 15, 2008 2:15 AM  
Blogger lurker said...

sure did put a smile on my face looking thru the photos

June 15, 2008 7:22 AM  
Anonymous Richard Cave said...

Nice article and what a lovely family, working for money you sometimes forget what effect your images can have on someones life. Today I had to work, had to do a really simple photoshoot of several soldiers, to me it was a normal run of the mill job. Afterwards when reviewing the images on the laptop one of them came over and said his mum would love to have that photo.

I realised then that as a photographer you have a responsibilty when it comes to taking a photo. You are recording a moment in life, happy, or sad.

The only photo of me as a kid was me with a weak bladder moment when I was four sat on santas knee.

The photos here are so poignant and funny, love the funny tellytubby one and the portrait in the fur coat.

Happy Fathers day to everyone out there, especially my mates who cannot be with their children whilst serving overseas,

Cheers Dave

June 15, 2008 11:09 AM  
Anonymous Walt Ribeiro said...

They were all very cool. Photos were nicely done!

June 15, 2008 11:49 AM  
Blogger alex said...

Great post on a very, very good photograph. I wish I could get my kinds to so so engaging in front of a camera.

June 15, 2008 11:26 PM  
Blogger Tina M. Harris said...

Wow, I love your photos. The one of your girls "swinging from the ceiling fan" was one of my favorites (although I found myself laughing out loud at many of your other photos as well). I'm so glad you were featured on Strobist!

June 16, 2008 1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading the Blog Twip I see it:


June 16, 2008 8:07 AM  
Anonymous Chris Bergman said...

Best article title ever. Also, Jason's work is astounding. This makes me want to have kids right now. If the wife sees this, we're in trouble. Great post!

June 16, 2008 9:02 AM  
Blogger Danie said...

Killer post
Killer family pics

June 16, 2008 9:03 AM  
Blogger A.C. said...

(*)(*) is my favorite!!

June 16, 2008 10:48 AM  
Blogger S_T_R_O_B_E_R said...

Red Sox Boy

Here is my father's day photo of my son. Even though he looks quite serious, he actually enjoys playing baseball.

- Mark

June 16, 2008 12:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WOW.. All I can say is WOW... I have a daughter also, and you really inspire me. I would love for you to take pictures on my daughter one day. You really have found your "niche". Again - awesome work!

June 16, 2008 12:56 PM  
Anonymous Luiz C said...

And my father's day photo:

The Best bath I ever had!

The Best bath I ever had


June 16, 2008 1:36 PM  
Anonymous JVL said...

I'm absolutely floored by his photos - it puts anything I've taken of my kids to shame and has completely inspired me to do more [read: better]. Must take child to umbrella!

June 16, 2008 2:13 PM  
Anonymous Tuffer said...

Perfect choice for a fathers day post. I've been a fan of Jasons for a long time.

But no questions on how he combines photoshop with lighting?!? He's the perfect example of how to make photoshop and lighting work together. I have about a thousand questions for him!

Seeing that he can't justify the price of profoto lights is the sort of comment that (a) makes me glad I discovered strobist and (b) makes me realize I can't just turn pro. If someone of his caliber is not raking in the dough with ad agencies knocking down his door, I certainly don't have a chance!

June 17, 2008 3:22 PM  
Blogger :[KK OnG] said...

That's definitely a sweet father's day.. nice pix bro.. keep it up!

June 21, 2008 8:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You got me to both smile and laugh! These photos are really creative and amazing.

January 25, 2009 3:45 AM  
Blogger Gayle said...

You have a beautiful family and you are blessed with a creative gift. Thank you for sharing your family and your gift of photography. I especially like the fur coat pic and the tellytubby one among others made me tickled.
Big Smiles!
Blessings to you and yours,

January 25, 2009 1:50 PM  
Blogger waisze said...

These photos are amazing! You have beautiful daughters. Thanks for sharing your talent!

January 26, 2009 7:27 PM  
Blogger paige said...


January 27, 2009 5:35 PM  
Blogger FranklinSS said...

Wonderful pictures that I discovered with Stumble Upon. Love Them. Your kids are too cute.

I think you would enjoy using Zoomorama to show your photos. I did not enjoy scrolling through 33 pictures.

Here are my kids pictures in Zoomorama(no stob yet :) ): http://wla.zoomorama.com/741d6c245a097461a75254e2a572f1ce

January 28, 2009 9:18 PM  
Blogger Louise said...

I hope you have a Happy Fathers Day for 2009 its nearly here. I was looking (googled) Fathers Day, as I have started a new website www.sendmycard.co.uk, and I came across your website as it mentions Fathers Day. I thought your photos are really nice and happy.
Best wishes to you and your family from Louise.
p.s. you are giving your kids a great way of remembering everything that is good.

May 20, 2009 3:52 PM  

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