Have you ever seen an image so powerful it affected you physically?

That special thing that draws us in and makes us wonder, anticipate, relive, laugh, cry, and gasp is authenticity.

I approach every photo session with the goal of crafting beautiful, authentic images. Yet I am a child and family photographer who poses, orchestrates, and directs, not a lifestyle photographer.

I do shoot candids, but my style is certainly not photojournalistic. How then do I achieve this goal?

Just be you.

The approach you’re comfortable with, the one that makes you feel natural and fluid, will bring out the same in your subjects. If you’re interacting with your clients in a way that feels true to you, your subjects will respond.

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Go into every session with a plan.

I want authenticity, but I stage it. At a typical session, my clients arrive beautifully dressed. At a day at the beach shoot, it’s more of a beautiful mess.

Either way, I’ll capture authenticity, because I’m looking for the family’s connections, the subtleties, the stolen glances, and the pure joy in a swinging walk. Those moments are artfully crafted. I instruct, observe, support, suggest, and shoot, typically in that order.

Don’t confuse authentic with unique.

Do a few of the same prompts and poses consistently; there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it helps organize a session in a way that feels purposeful and fluid.

Each family’s energy will take on the task/direction/suggestion in a way that is purposeful, meaningful and unique to them.

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Direct the action.

To get the images I need, I have to guide and support authentic moments. If I want younger brother to give his sister a kiss on the cheek, I ask him to, then shoot away.

If he does it without further suggestion, fabulous. It’s sentiment I want. Children need direction and structuring a family session in this way allows me to capture their essence.

Let go.

The most beautiful thing about authenticity is the ability to let go of the pursuit of perfection. It’s freeing, indeed, to be yourself and capture the truth in others.

Photographing authentically means embracing the perfectly imperfect. If you do, the most beautiful imagery will result.

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Words & photos by Tracy Sweeney

This article first appeared in the September/October 2017 print issue of Click Magazine. Order print or digital single issues from the Click & Company Store. Or better yet, get a 1-year subscription so you never miss an issue!

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