She looked at the print—a heap of apples fallen in the grasses of an orchard—and said this is good, you know and for the first time, a calling sort of energy radiated from my 20-year-old Pentax K-1000.
With that offhand encouragement, Angela Lang, a friend and photographer, lit my spark. I had no idea why it was a good shot, or what I’d done to capture it—but now, I wanted to know. Since that visit more than a decade ago, Angela has become a sought-after wedding and family photographer in the San Fransisco Bay area.
Here, Angela shares with us her experience of working with an author on a creative project—her first book, Vintage Knits for Modern Babies by Hadley Fierlinger, which she photographed—and gives us tips for cultivating both a unique eye and unconventional photographic opportunities.
Tell us how it felt to unpack your camera bag on day one of your book shoot.
On day one of the photo shoot I felt ready! I had prepared for this project for months and was organized. I had white-boarded which knitted outfits went on which model and set up a complete timeline. One lesson I’ve learned from wedding photography is that the more organized you are beforehand with checklists, the more smoothly the actual day will run.
When you started out as a professional photographer, what were your goals? Was book collaboration ever on your creative radar, or was this an unexpected opportunity?
I started out with portraits of children, then weddings and maternity. I had always thought of doing a book, but it wasn’t until Hadley Fierlinger approached me about it that the right opportunity presented itself. I first photographed Hadley’s family 10 years ago, and then after she moved to New Zealand and started her knitting business, she asked me to photograph the knits for her website and blog. Hadley was really happy with how the images turned out, and when she got her book deal, she contacted me to be the photographer. I was thrilled of course, and jumped at the chance to work with her again. And who wouldn’t love photographing children wearing beautiful vintage knits?
What would you say are the top three things a photographer can do to cultivate opportunities like this, or to get the attention of publishers/authors?
1) Have a distinctive style of photography. I’ve always thought that a photographer who specializes in a few types of photography has a better chance of getting noticed than a jack-of-all-trades shooter.
2) Be a connector. The more people you know, and the more you maintain those friendships, the better your chances for being the one people think of when projects come up.
3) Play to your strengths. If you have a great voice, get on the phone and call people. If you have a great knowledge of the technical part of cameras, get online and start sharing some of that expertise. Do what you love and the work will come.
Photography is such an important element in helping an author to bring a vision to life. Tell us about the experience of collaborating on such a visual, artistic project. How did you and the author work together?
Hadley and I did most of the planning via email because she lives in another country. There were specific concepts she had envisioned for the book, and they were a great starting point. For example, it was her idea to have a white ball of yarn to mimic a snowball for the mitten-wearing model. She suggested that it be shot as a close-up along with the mittens, and I added a fine-arty spin by shooting it with a shallow depth of field and having the model hold it out and cover her face with it.
Please share with us the details of this project from an assignment point of view. How many images were needed, and how many days of shooting did it require? Was it studio work, or in natural light? How was it all organized, and how much of the aesthetics and shooting conditions were up to you? How is a contract such as this structured and negotiated?
I photographed for seven days straight. The editors let me choose whether to shoot consecutively or to spread it out. I chose a consecutive approach to keep the creative juices flowing, and because I wanted to keep my studio set up. I also was eight months pregnant at the time and knew that the sooner we did the photo shoots, the better! I have a natural light studio and an outdoor shooting area as well, and those spaces are where all of the shooting took place. I think natural light looks so much better on children than studio light.
On any given day, there were 1 or 2 editors at the shoot which was a great help and made everything move along smoothly. The editors arranged the knits and props, made sure the models were wearing the right outfits, kept track of the checklist, and switched out the heavy backdrops. I had full creative license with the photography. I was shooting with a tethered system, meaning that my camera was hooked up to the computer by a cord. After each frame, the image just taken could be viewed by the editors, which allowed them to continuously see the direction I was taking the shoot.
Ten Speed Press had a standard contract for this project. The fee I was paid covered the photography and all the pre-shoot planning, including conducting a model search, and corresponding with Hadley, Ten Speed Press, and the parents of the models. The contract also covered expenses, such as a vintage baby carriage, and buying extra reflectors and sandbags to hold the backdrops in place. I organized my models by age and size and then made my recommendations to Hadley, who helped to choose which models would fit the look she needed. One child was so perfect for the project that Hadley knitted a special outfit for her just so she could be in the book!
What’s your photographic dream? This can be a retreat, an adventure, a class, a mentor, a piece of gear… anything.
I love sharing information and inspiring people, so I would also like to teach photography some day. I also love to travel, so my goal is to shoot destination weddings, and my dream is to eventually retire to Provence and shoot travel photography.
Tell us three of your must-have tools/tactics for photographing children and families—not including camera gear.
1) Make the photo shoot fun for the child—have bubbles, Cheerios, and some classic children’s books on hand.
2) Keep shooting! That special moment when it all comes together is instantaneous and you’ll miss it if you blink.
3) Go with the flow. Children have short attention spans and may be happy one minute, sad the next, and then laughing again. Roll with the emotions and keep trying different things, and you’re sure to find the right approach that helps the child light up and have fun.
What have you learned from your book project? Will you do it again?
I would absolutely do another book! It was a lot of work but so much fun.
As a professional who has photographed more than 150 weddings and more than 600 families, Angela Lang began with a B.A. in Photojournalism and a career as a professional photojournalist. Her work has appeared in various newspapers, The Associated Press, Here Comes the Guide, The Knot, and the Pottery Barn Kids catalog. Her first book collaboration, Vintage Knits for Modern Babies, has just hit bookstore shelves.