Belle Bébés asks… Anna Hardy

Whether you are a parent wanting beautiful pictures of your children, an amateur photographer looking to learn more about portrait photography or somebody who just likes to read an interesting interview accompanied by pretty pictures, these posts are for you…

Today I’m featuring one of my very favourite photographers. Anna’s a favourite not just because her photography skills are incredible but also because I’ve met her and she’s so much fun to be around. When I have children Anna is who I’ll be hiring to capture them on camera :)

The interview

Introduction:
Photography with Character.

Location:
Manchester.

When and how did you fall in love with photography?
When I was backpacking in Asia in my early twenties. I’d always really loved looking at other people’s photographs and since being a kid I’ve always kept and collected photos I liked, from things like postcards and magazines, but until I went travelling I’d hardly picked up a camera other than a basic point & shoot and had certainly never considered photography as something I could do as a career. I got a tax rebate when I was backpacking in Nepal and inspired by all the beauty out there I decided to use the money to buy a film SLR. From that moment I was totally hooked and it never left my side. I got them processed as I travelled and lugged around hundreds of prints in my rucksack. Very few of them were portraits, though, I was too nervous to approach strangers with my camera; they were mostly landscapes, details and patterns. When I got back and had my son Joe, like any other parent I found myself photographing him constantly and that was when I really discovered my love of portraiture.

Have you had any formal training?
No, I’m self-taught. I trained in English Literature and used to be a secondary school English teacher. I taught myself photography while I was travelling and afterwards when I returned home to England. When I first got back I went to a few beginners’ evening classes to make sure I’d not misunderstood any of the basics, but other than this it’s all been trial and error, constant practising, and reading loads about photography in books and on the internet.

Anna-Hardy

How would you describe your photography style?
I’m always drawn to energy, individuality and vitality and I guess that’s what characterises a lot of my portraits – they tend to be bolder, cheekier and louder portraits more than calm, serene ones. I’m also really drawn to simple, bold lines and patterns and I think that kind of graphic aesthetic often seems to end up in my pictures. More than anything I love trying to catch someone’s character and personality – I want people looking at the photo to get a strong impression of what that person is like, what they sound like, their mannerisms, how they feel – to me that’s much more important than a ‘beautiful’ portrait that looks pretty but you can’t really tell much about them as a person.

What inspires your work?
With portraiture, it’s the people themselves – their quirks, mannerisms, all the unique things that make that person different to the last and next person.

When did you first start out in portraiture photography?
Professionally, about three years ago.

Where in the UK are you based and how far would you travel for a shoot?
I’m based in Manchester but happily and frequently travel absolutely anywhere.

Anna-Hardy

How many portrait sessions do you shoot per year?
Perhaps about fifteen at the moment (not including engagement shoots) as I’ve been shooting a lot of weddings too, which take up a huge proportion of my time. My plan over the coming years is to shoot fewer weddings and more portraiture though, so I’m hoping and expecting that number to grow.

Could you please share some details of a shoot you particularly enjoyed capturing?
I loved this shoot of my friend Louise and her little girls Isabelle and Camilla. The light was beautiful that day, the location was really airy and spacious, the girls were a real dream to photograph, full of energy and fun, and it was great to see my friend so happy with her little ones.

What would be your idea of a dream portraiture shoot?
I guess just people with great energy, individuality and character, in a varied, vibrant, colourful location. I love photographing people who have a good sense of humour and who don’t take themselves too seriously.

What is your favourite age to photograph and why?
I absolutely love photographing children as I’m crazy about their energy, enthusiasm, lack of inhibition and sense of fun and adventure. Probably my favourite age photographically speaking is from the age they start to really rampage around until the age when they start to get more self-conscious, so probably anywhere between 2 and 12.

Anna-Hardy

What difficulties, if any, have you come across with portrait photography and how do you cope with them?
I’m not sure there are really any difficulties as such – it’s all great fun! Kids constantly move around and particularly younger kids will really not hold still for long at all, so it’s impossible to stay still hoping they will ‘hold’ a perfect shot – you really need to go rampaging around with them and be prepared for a lot of ‘misses’ where they move away at the key moment. So I would say patience and persistence is pretty key with younger children particularly. Another challenge can be parents wanting ‘perfect’ pictures where they get cross with their children if they get a little mucky, are being grumpy or are pulling a daft face – sometimes this can really inhibit the children and they start to close down and stiffen up a little, worrying that they are doing the wrong thing, and this can affect how natural the pictures look. Then it’s just a case of being patient again with them until they have relaxed. As far as I’m concerned silliness, loudness, moodiness, funny faces and mucky fingers are what kids are all about and come with the territory, and I value these every bit as much, if not more, than the cute dresses and angelic smiles.

What advice would you give to parents that want you to photograph their little ones?
Relax and spend a few hours just doing fun things that you usually like to do, whether that’s baking in the kitchen, playing in the park, digging on the beach, face painting, feeding the ducks, whatever. If you’re all doing things you’re comfortable with and enjoy, the pictures will be more natural and a true reflection of you and your family at that point in time. If you can, let the children choose their own outfit, at least for part of the shoot, as this can really help them to feel comfortable, particularly with older children. Don’t worry about their behaviour – almost all kids play up to a camera to start off with and it’s best to just let them get the showing off and funny faces out of their system at the start – it soon passes and if they see that you are relaxed then they will relax too. Being a mum myself I understand the need for them to be well rested and fed, so it’s no problem at all to take little nap stops or snack stops – better taking half an hour out than forcing the kids to carry on when they’re uncomfortable.

What camera(s) do you use for your portraiture work?
I use two Canon 5D Mark II bodies, one with a Canon 85mm 1.8 prime lens, and the other with a Canon 35mm 1.4 prime lens. I do have a number of other lenses that I use very occasionally but these two are my staple lenses and I rarely feel the need to use anything else.

And your favourite lenses?
Without a doubt the Canon 35mm 1.4 prime. I use it 80% of the time and it’s the one lens that I feel truly produces images that show what I’m seeing in my head.

Do you use any lighting equipment?
No I always use natural light, I much prefer it. I occasionally use bounced on-camera flash during evening receptions at weddings but rarely, if ever, use it for portraiture.

Anna-Hardy

What advice would you give to wannabe portrait photographers?
Everyone has loads of subjects around them all the time in the shape of their family and friends, so there is so much opportunity to practise and get stuck in. Just take photographs as often as you can so that you can find your style and discover what subjects really inspire you. Like with anything, the more you do it the better you will get at it, so there is no substitute for just taking as many photographs as you can. In technical terms, I find experimenting with depth of field is the best way to improve your portraits and make them pop, so invest in a fast lens – you can get fantastic 50mm prime lenses for under £100 and I promise you will never look back. Similarly follow war photographer Robert Capa’s advice: “If your photographs are not good enough, you’re not close enough.” Having the confidence to move much closer to your subjects gets much better results – it can feel a little odd at first being so close to strangers but you soon get used to it and so do they, particularly if you keep chatting to them while you’re doing it.

What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
On a personal level, whenever someone takes the time to email me to tell me they love my pictures I always feel so touched and chuffed. On a professional level, it was probably being asked by musician Mr Hudson to take some pictures for him – he has his pick of great photographers so I was really taken aback and proud that he wanted me to do them and continue working with him.

Out of all the photographs you have ever taken, which is your favourite and why?
That’s so hard! I’ll narrow it down to portraiture and it’s probably this photo of my little boy Joe leaping off the window sill onto the couch. From an aesthetic point of view I love the symmetry and impact, and from a personal point of view, I love how much fun he had doing it and that the picture was his own idea.

Anna-Hardy

If you could capture anybody or anything on camera what would it be?
The Pushkar Camel Fair in India.

Just so we can find out a bit more about the person behind the lens, could you tell me 5 things you like that are completely unrelated to photography?

  • My son Joe. He’s 6 years old now and is my best little buddy. He’s absolutely hilarious and makes me split my sides laughing all the time. Like all children he has his moments, but more often than not he is just the most loving, interesting, fun, bright little person – my ray of sunshine.
  • Food. I am ridiculously greedy and graze pretty constantly throughout the day. I spend most of my day thinking about when is the next time I can feasibly eat and what it will be.
  • Travel. If practical money, time and family constraints weren’t an issue I’d love more than anything to be a travel photographer. I get really itchy feet if I don’t travel often enough and I love few things more than exploring new places. I travelled pretty extensively before I had Joe and can’t wait until he’s a little older and can appreciate all the wonderful places I want to take him.
  • Pool. I used to be a bit of a pool shark and played for my local pub team. Since becoming a mum I don’t have even nearly enough time to practise playing so am really rusty nowadays. But I can still happily play it for hours on end and as soon as I have the room and money there will definitely be a pool table somewhere in my house.
  • Books. I read constantly, my house is full to the brim with books, reading is my favourite escape. At the moment I’m part of a book club on facebook with some friends and it’s been such a joy to share reading with my buddies. Joe has inherited my love of reading and one of my favourite things in the world is to curl up in bed to read a book with him.

And 5 things you dislike?

  • Rudeness and bad manners
  • Being patronised
  • Baby talk between adults
  • Being hungry
  • Negative or defeatist people

Anna-Hardy

What are your aspirations for the future, in photography or otherwise?
Travel more, do more portrait photography, do more personal photography projects, learn to crochet well, achieve a better work/life balance, make a patchwork quilt, put together a book of my photographs, do more writing, get a caravan by the sea, see Joe grow up happy.

 Heart Debs

Photographer Details:
Anna Hardy website/blog
Contact Anna
Phone: 07903 786540

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