An outstanding album that recently caught our eye was shot by family photographer Jess Morgan. Jess, who is based in Richmond upon Thames, specialises in baby and children’s lifestyle portraiture, and only shoots in natural light.
The album is a beautiful compilation of photographs Jess has taken of her daughter throughout her childhood. All of the pictures are taken in natural environments and capture her daughter in everyday, relaxed situations, such as kicking leaves in the woods, playing in the garden and looking for shells on the beach. The album itself is printed on Art White paper and presented in a colourful Wedgwood Eco Leather cover, which complements the playfulness of the images showcased in the album.
We had a chat with Jess about her experience of capturing these images and her work as a family photographer.
Where were the photographs in this album taken and over what period of time?
The album is a personal collection of photographs of my daughter – my little muse. Most of the photographs are from last year but I felt it was important to include at least one of her as a young baby. The image of her on the opening spread is one of my first portraits of her, from a time when I was not only refining my camera skills but also getting to grips with being a mother.
I work exclusively on location and the photographs featured in the album are typical of the types of places I enjoy shooting in: the comfort and sanctuary of home, out and about in nature and the great British seaside. These are the places of our childhoods, where happy memories are made. That idea really interests me and is central to my work.
What did you enjoy most about shooting these portraits?
The creative side of me really enjoys the craft and process of making a beautiful photograph. As a parent I get a lot of joy out of being able to capture special memories for my child. I’m very conscious that she isn’t going to remember the early years of her life and as her mum it’s my job to make them as happy and carefree as possible. I’m lucky that I’ve found a way to preserve these memories for her in a way that also allows me to express myself creatively.
How did you decide which photographs you would include in the album?
I wanted the album to be clean in its design so I had to be strict with myself – I am a strong believer in “less is more”. It was hard to cull them but I am happy with how it turned out. Each spread brings back a memory of a special time.
How was this album presented?
I chose a 10×10 fine art album with 15 spreads on Art White paper, bound in a Wedgwood Eco Leather cover with debossing.
Did you shoot with the album design in mind?
Not for this album, no, but on client shoots I always try to shoot with a narrative in mind. There is no better way to preserve a family’s story than in an heirloom quality album and Folio’s are by far the most beautiful I’ve seen.
How long have you been interested in photography?
I have always loved the idea of being able to freeze time with the click of the shutter and I am really interested in family history. I remember playing with an old Kodak Brownie when I was around the same age as my daughter is now. Unfortunately it didn’t work, but role play was good enough for me. As a teen I had a point and shoot that I loved, and in my early twenties I got my first film SLR. Before becoming a photographer, I worked in the travel industry and with my job I got to see quite a bit of the world. It was through travelling that I really became interested in photography from a creative point of view. I learnt about composition and storytelling by trial and error, but I didn’t dare use anything but the auto setting up until when my daughter was born four years ago.
You specialise in baby and children’s lifestyle portraiture. What inspired you to work in this area?
As is the case for most parents, when I had my daughter, I really wanted to capture her beauty and document her development, but I wanted to take it one step further and use photography as a creative outlet for me too. I shot what I knew and loved, and that’s what I still enjoy capturing – life, as it happens. I feel really lucky that I have found something I can put my heart and soul into, which earns me a living and also enables me to spend time with my little girl. I wouldn’t be doing this if it wasn’t for her.
What do you find most challenging about working with children?
There are a lot of challenges – a toddler with newly discovered legs who runs in the opposite direction, a shy pre-schooler or a new-born who just wants to be held. Before I even bring out my camera, I invest time in forming a bond with the child so they are comfortable with me. I also have a chat with the parents too and let them know that the kids don’t have to behave perfectly for the session, that I have a lot of patience, and that the children dictate the flow of the show. If the parents feel under pressure on the day, their children will pick up on this. The real art of portraiture is trying to capture a person’s true personality and you are only going to succeed in that if you connect with them and make them feel relaxed.
What influences your photography?
My main influences are light and life. I only use light from natural sources so every shot is determined by its direction and quality. I love back lighting, particularly for new-born and family shots. If I happen to see the low sun shining golden light through the trees, I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. I am also influenced by everyday things and the simple pleasures of childhood – memories of eating ice cream, jumping in puddles and bedtime stories. And of course there’s my little girl, who inspires me every day.
How would you describe your style?
Honest, fresh and playful. I want to document life as it happens and tell the story of childhood through my photography.
What is in your camera bag?
I use a Nikon d750 and d700, and travel quite light – I have to be agile chasing after the kids. The lenses that I use the most are my 35mm f.1.4 and 50mm f1.4. I also have a 24-70mm f2.8 if I want to go a bit wider, I use it a lot indoors to show the family in their home, surrounded by the things they love the most. Everything fits snugly into my Kelly Moore bag, which I love just as much now as the day I bought it. For my newborn work, I also bring along a 105mm f2.8 micro to capture the small details – squishy lips and tiny toes, for example, that are so often forgot in the hazy days of early parenthood. I always have spare memory cards, batteries, a lens pen and back-up cameras too: my d300s body and also the Fujifilm x100. I always have a pack of baby wipes to hand too!
Do you have any specific post-production techniques?
I have quite a standardised approach to how I edit my work. I want to remain true to the subject and the moment, so I try to do the bare minimum when it comes to processing. When I edit I’ll open up the image in ACR and make adjustments to the white balance if necessary, just to add some warmth. I’ll enhance the vibrancy and contrast of the image if I want the colour to pop – or de-saturate, if I’m looking for a softer, matt feel. I edit in either colour or black and white, hardly ever both. I tend to convert to black and white if I really want the emotion of a family’s connection to show through as I find it focuses the eye. I spend a lot of time on re-touching – cleaning dirty noses mainly! I also run some quick actions to brighten eyes and smooth the skin.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt through your work?
I guess that there is always a lesson to be learnt and that you will only improve your work by challenging yourself. Every shoot I do is different – from the lighting to location and the people – and so I am constantly evolving. How I approach a shoot now is very different to a few years back, and I know that it will continue to change. You learn with experience.
What has been your most memorable assignment?
Photographing the most amazing cakes for a boutique bakery – but I wasn’t able to eat them!
Is there anyone or anything you would love to photograph?
It would be wonderful to combine my love of travel with photographing children. Maybe one day I’ll have the chance to capture the childhoods of children from different cultures around the world.
If you could give one piece of advice to a budding photographer, what would it be?
Don’t underestimate what is involved. It’s one thing to be a great photographer and another to run a successful business. You have to be able to do both, especially if you are a one man band like me. Luckily, I used to work in a commercial business environment and this experience has really helped me in the running of my business – that and a lot of hard work!
Click play, turn on HD and go full screen to enjoy this awesome album
Many thanks to Jess for allowing me to interview her and for sharing her beautiful images. You can see more of her amazing work at Jess Morgan Photography