CATEGORY: Fashion photographyOctober 31, 2013
Stefano Azario is a French photographer based in New York. He graduated from London College of Printing in Bachelor of Arts in photography, film and TV in 1987 and started his career in the fashion and advertising industry. With years of experience in the kids and baby fashion photography he has worked for various well known clients such as Benetton, Gap and Vogue Bambini. Take a look of some of his works in this post.
Stefano Azario’s most personal project to date is photographing the life of his own family. Understanding his subject and knowing when to shoot has helped him create engaging images throughout his career. Here he offers advice and tips on how to photograph children. Sean Samuels finds out more.
Stefano Azario likes to start his shoots off with something simple, something he and his children are familiar with. He wants to make them feel comfortable and excited about what they are doing. He wants them to have fun. For him, the best images are made when children are really into the thing they are doing at the time, only then can he begin to make the image more theatrical.
“Using the moment, seeing what happens, making the most of mistakes or highlighting something. I want clean emotion and a clean moment. I am not a great storyteller, but I am a good editor, so I tend to pick a moment and just let a scene happen.”
When he does see something developing, he will encourage it rather than start off with a very strong idea of what he might want to do. His aim is to emphasise the strength children have which is “a natural quality to be themselves, the way adults don’t when being photographed”. Stefano believes one of the most important considerations is to be yourself.“Children can see when people are behaving in a fake way, so be you in a way that is truthful, fun and accessible to them.”
More often than not, Stefano shoots on film with a waist-level camera such as a Mamiya RZ or a Rolleiflex, which he finds helpful because it gives him a much lower view point and makes him closer to the subject’s eye level. He prefers not to be looking down at a child and doesn’t use a tripod so he has more freedom to try different things. “Looking up is even better as it makes the subject a little bit bigger, a little bit more heroic. It’s important the child sees your face throughout the whole process, that they see a human being rather than your face hidden by a black box with a round hole in the front. If I am photographing a baby, I sit on the floor and the camera is in my lap. I may not even look through the camera and look directly at the baby.”
Even if Stefano shoots with 35mm, he will try to sneak above the camera and not just look through the viewfinder. He also prefers the freedom of manual focus; knowing instinctively just how much his hand needs to turn to go from a tight portrait to a full-length shot. For Stefano, human contact is the biggest consideration. He learned this by photographing his own family. Over time, Stefano realised that, in the beginning, he concentrated on making a great picture, which distanced him from being a parent.
“The camera becomes this tool between you and the real world through which you select that bit of the world you want to see and understand. When I was taking more photographs of my children I would say I was a less attentive parent. Now I am older it is the other way around, and perhaps my images have suffered a little.” One thing that makes photographing your own family easier is having someone to help you keep the situation going so you can take a step back and assess and decide what to shoot or what to encourage.
“It’s not what partners were invented for, but it’s not a bad use for them.” The image of the girl in a red cape (on the opposite page) holding a model dinosaur is a case in point. The shot was taken for Vogue Bambini using a model but at Stefano’s home using only the available light. Since it was a fashion shoot, Stefano knew he had to photograph the blue dress. This was his starting point. The cape and the toy belonged to his children.
“I remember thinking of my son, who at the time was very much into superheroes. This is why I used the red cape and the pose.” To complete the photograph, Stefano’s wife was in the bottom left-hand corner of the image holding a hairdryer to blow air into the cape. She was removed from the final image.This was the first time in 20 years that Stefano had shot with 35mm digital. In turning the girl towards the light, he had this very soft light on her face despite the image having quite a moody atmosphere overall. It was a blue room on quite a cold wintry day, so the effect is what he saw with just a layer added in post production to warm up her skin a little. For this image of children playing on a yellow ball, Stefano purposefully kept the late afternoon sun behind his subjects.
If the children were facing the other way, it would have meant a bright blue sky, but the children would not have been comfortable. This way, they are able to open their eyes more and the shadow detail in the background is not pitch black as it would have been if photographed the other way around. Stefano tends to expose for the shadows and keep the subject in shadow so that everything else is a little bit lighter in the background. This allows Stefano to use standard lenses, which he finds give him the best relationship with the children. He can be right there and communicate with them easily. Putting his subject before the photograph is the secret to so many of Stefano’s images. Technical knowledge is useful, but photography of the moment cannot be recreated. Being true to yourself and understanding the needs of your subject will draw out the unique elements that come together to form a great image.
Show off your photographs
A recurring issue for photographers, both amateur and professional, is how to present images. When Stefano was growing up, his family first kept photographs in a shoebox, then they would be put into an album. “This album would sit somewhere and every once in a while someone would pick it up,” he says. Today, he finds the presentational aspects of photography let it down because of the accessibility across so many mediums, from mobile phones to digital cameras, video or film.
“Putting all this stuff together in one physical place, although useful, is tricky. The first step to take is to back it all up. The next step is to present it so you and other people can look at it and enjoy it. I think it’s important to make presentations of these things at the end of the year, or the end of a decade. Print them out — don’t just sit with them on a computer because the chances are you are going to lose them in some way.”
The amazing thing about photography is it helps you make memories and a family history. So I think an important thing is that the decades are marked by the kind of photography being done, whether it is your grandfather with a Rolleiflex in the sixties, then in the seventies with the Instamatics and the 110s. Even qualitatively, you can almost mark the time of family photography.”
Turn to page 80 for Darren Tossell’s pick of the best slideshow tools for sharing with friends and family. If you are considering making a website, editor Grant Scott shows you how to set one up in under 60 minutes in the April issue of Photography Monthly.