Free Spirits

We Need To Talk About Mabel

There are curious friends and clients who asked me how I managed to make my subjects, both old and young, to laugh so heartily at the camera at a photo-shoot. I have not thought about it because I did not set out to become a family photographer, but it came as a natural progression after having shot weddings for more than 10 years and seeing my wedding clients bring up their own kids.

After some thought, I believe it is all in the mind. As long as the photographer has a love of a subject and the love for the subjects, my camera disappears in the eyes of the children. What they are looking at is another child having fun, albeit an oversized one. Just like a young romanticized upstart who has beautiful notion of what romantic love and weddings should look like in pictures, old birds and parents like me learn how to tolerate the noise and mess created by kids and subsequently appreciate their innocence in front of the camera.

I talk to them, cajole them, "scare" them, joke with them, do silly things together with them, make a fool of myself in front of them.....all the while snapping their reactions and transformations before this stranger they meet for the first time. There are no secret recipes or formulae. It is a state of mind. It takes one to know another. KC is like a child. Be like KC.


Mabel was very suspicious of me when we first met on a warm Saturday morning. She eyed me from top to bottom, trying to suss out what this fat uncle is up to.


She, being an obedient girl, still managed to give me a patronising smile on the behest of her parents. You can tell the smile was very fake.


To break the ice, I would indulge the kids (with parents' blessings) in whatever they feel like doing. In this case, Mabel has this penchant for tasting the leaves of plants. It could be an extension of her masak-masak kitchen play at home, or a strong sense of curiosity. I asked her if she liked the taste, and at the same time shared with her the fact that some plants might be poisonous. At an instant, I "earned" her respect because I was so "knowledgeable".


Mabel's parents are very good with their kids. I can tell they have a really good rapport with the kids (you can be surprised some parents do not really how to interact and play with their own kids). That helped in making Mabel more relaxed.


By letting her tease me in a game of "now you see it, now you don't", Mabel had totally forgotten this was a photo shoot. To her, it was another fun time, with an additional playmate.


Mission accomplished. I hope she had as good memories as I had of this fun-filled outdoor photo session. Never do I need to instruct her "to smile" for the camera. Keeping it real, all the way.

Gentle Souls

When two gentle souls get together, they create little gentle souls of their mould. Victor and Theng Theng are yet another wedding clients of mine. The most vivid thing I remember about their wedding (eons ago) was the fact that Theng Theng's family is in Johore Bahru, where my parents were living then too. In order to steal the extra hour of sleep, I entered JB the night before and spent the night at my parents'. The other thing I remember is Theng Theng's wam family, which surrounded her with lots of love. 

I am really happy to see them again, this time with their two kids, Xenia and Isaac, in tow. Unlike the stereotypical warring siblings, these two love each other and really take after their parents. Even though the younger one can be a little boisterous and cheeky, the sister would be patient enough to accommodate, and when necessary, discipline him like how an elder sister would. And the boy would accept his place without much fuss. Any parents who would like to get in touch with them to consult them on parenting, feel free to email me. :)


Pretty Little Things

Ever since the camera was invented, we have used it to preserve images of our families. From wet plates to present-day digital images, we have come to expect family photos to look like this:

Or this:


One reason is because wet plates, larger format negatives are expensive to develop. The minimum we expect in a family photo is to see everyone's faces and eyes on the camera. Even today, the pricing models adopted by most family photography studios is one that emphasizes the sale of prints or individual digital image. If I am going to pay more for additional images/prints, it makes sense for me to choose those that look like the above.

Unfortunately by doing so, many other fun, crazy and candid images often do not get to see the light of day. Kids are not genetically programmed to sit still and look at the camera. They are free spirits housed in a growing shell of a body, and to jump and laugh and sulk and cry are what make them so special and different from adults. The real gem of a family photo is not to make them look and behave like adults, but to portray them as who they are. Then, adults are free to join them but in a juvenile form.

Rather than printing one large "prim and proper" family portrait to be hung on the wall, try printing several smaller ones of the less formal types. They will not only brighten up the walls, but give them life as well.