Being the family photographer is both a blessing and a curse – you’re afforded the rare opportunity to constantly preserve memories while also trying to balance that with experiencing them first-hand.
Ivan Makarov understands this well. As a father of four, Makarov has been documenting his children’s lives since the moments they were born: “I shoot them wherever they are, doing whatever they’d like to do. My end goal is to document their childhood, as it starts and as they turn into teenagers and then adults.”
In celebration of Father’s Day, we’re sharing some of our favorite family images from Makarov’s collection and providing 5 of his dad photographer tips that fellow shooters of all backgrounds can appreciate.
Makarov’s 5 Tips:
Tip #1: In a rut? Try switching to a new camera system.
These days I shoot with Leica M and mostly with 35mm and 50mm lenses. I was a Nikon guy ever since I started in photography almost 10 years ago but I made the transition to rangefinder photography a couple of years ago when I was feeling stuck and uninspired with the process and with what I was producing.
Leica gave me a new method of shooting because it’s quite different to shoot with the rangefinder and it also reignited my creativity to a point where I now can’t stop shooting! It’s been this way ever since I got the Leica. The original idea was to get a smaller camera that I can carry with me alongside my kids. It had a very surprising and positive effect on my creativity. I don’t think it matters all too much what we’re shooting with as long as we’re having fun and those tools help us achieve our vision. But sometimes certain tools spark creativity better than the others.
Tip #2: Look for opportunity even in bad circumstances.
We went for a vacation trip to Russia a few weeks ago. It was raining every day, all day long for the first week of our trip! This was not something we’re used to living in drought-stricken California.
But the kids loved going outside, getting soaking wet, running through puddles, and just smelling the rain – a simple thing but something they were not familiar with. I was scared to bring my camera into those conditions (I’m not used to rain either!) but in the end, I ended up capturing some of my favorite images in that weather.
Tip #3: Trust your instincts with camera settings.
I try to shoot in full manual mode as much as I can. Kids move a lot, they hardly ever cooperate, and I don’t trust my camera to be smarter than them. So I compensate for this by setting the exposure to be somewhere where I know the RAW file will be good enough to work with.
Lately I’ve been shooting in Auto-ISO mode, which gives me one less thing to worry about. But if the conditions are changing too much, I go ahead and switch that off as well. I also simplify things by almost always shooting with a wide open aperture.
Tip #4: Earn the trust of your subject – even when they are family.
I’ve always shot my kids from the day they were born so they’re used to having a camera in their face just about every day of their lives. The interesting part here is that they’re still shy around other photographers when we hire them to take our pictures, which surprises me every time.
You have to earn their trust and the earlier you do it the better. I also try to make it as easy as possible for them and instead of putting them into my environment and my comfort places, I get myself into their environment. In other words, I shoot them wherever they are, doing whatever they’d like to do.
My end goal is to document their childhood, as it starts and as they turn into teenagers and then adults. So the more candid these shots are the more interesting they are to me. And I always show them the shots on my LCD screen. Often that gets them even more excited and they keep on letting me shoot.
Tip #5: Develop camera/life balance (hint: it’s hard)!
Enjoying the moment versus documenting it is still hard for me, especially when I know I didn’t get any “keepers” yet when shooting a particular event. If I’m shooting somewhere beautiful and the light is great and I think I can create something that’s both documentary in nature and beautiful, I keep shooting until I think I have something that I’ll be happy to keep. After that, I put the camera away and join in on the fun.
I always have mixed emotions when I know I didn’t get the shot yet and they ask me to play with them instead of shooting. Honestly, sometimes I say no! I’m glad, though, of a few times recently when I couldn’t say no and I did put the camera away.
Ivan Makarov is a husband, father of four, and a SmugMug employee by day. By night (and just about every other available opportunity), Makarov is a photographer with a passion for candid family portraits. He also has experience in wedding photography. A native of Russia, Makarov now calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. For more of Makarov’s work, follow him on Instagram where he shares beautiful and simple visual snippets of family life.
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