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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 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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