By Melissa Shaw
Massachusetts mom and award-winning photojournalist Paula Ferazzi Swift says parents can take great pictures of their kids, and her new book shows them exactly how to do it.
Storytelling Portrait Photography: How to Document the Lives of Children and Families is the Longmeadow native’s first book and shares her secrets for taking great pictures.
“I want to show people how I did it — nuts and bolts,” says Swift, a former Worcester Telegram & Gazette photographer who was part of the paper’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize finalist photojournalism team.
She worked at the newspaper from 1995 to 2005, leaving to start her own business, Paula Swift Photography (paulaswift.com), after the birth of her second of three sons.
“I had two little kids, my husband was traveling. I didn’t want to go back to news,” she says.
Inspired by photographing her own infant and toddler, Swift began taking on portrait clients in 2004, experimenting to see what she liked and what worked. Her journalism background and her own preferences helped Swift create a catch-the-moment style that’s prevalent today, more than a decade before it was ubiquitous and found on every mother’s Facebook wall.
Her style of portrait photography, she discovered, was not unlike the events she spent a decade capturing around Worcester County.
“It’s very similar. I’m capturing kids on the go, and I try not to interrupt,” she notes. “Most news and sports, you just shoot, shoot, shoot, and that’s what I try to do with my clients.”
In the mid-2000s, family photography was just beginning to move from traditional staid portrait studios and pull-down backdrops to today’s reactive settings of homes, outdoors, prop-filled studios, and more.
“I had to really teach people this is not in-studio,” she says. “That was the first thing when I first started because they were so used to studio settings, nothing was outdoors.”
Using examples of her work to illustrate her points, Swift’s book details expert advice on everything from props and pets to locations and lighting, showing how amateurs (and fellow pros) can set their shot up for success (including lens length, aperture, and shutter speed for each shot).
“I want readers to learn how to capture children and families on the go and document them having fun,” she says. “It’s almost like I’m a paparazzi. I want you to feel happy or some kind of emotions when you look at the work, and have a lasting memory; that’s what I want these families to have, too.”
Swift’s top tips for family photo shoot success:
• Let your children have fun.
• Don’t worry about them looking at the camera (or not looking).
• Give them something to do: throw leaves, eat watermelon outside, blow bubbles, etc.
• Let them be natural. What do they like to do?
• If you want a nice smile, don’t ask them to say, “Cheese!” “Spaghetti” or “zucchini” will provide a more natural smile.
• Avoid nap time, lunch time, and times of day when your children are not in their best moods.
• Get the family pet involved, which makes everyone behave more naturally.
• Bribery? “It’s OK,” Swift laughs.
• Don’t force your children to get their pictures taken. “As any parent knows, the more you try to get them to do something, the more they resist,” she notes. “If you have an idea in your head and it doesn’t work, move on.”