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…
My name is Sophie Hewitt and I adore my job! Every day I have the privilege of spending time with tiny newborn babies, beautiful children, excited expectant mums and fun families, capturing treasured moments in their lives, forever. From photographing newborns in the comfort of their own homes to capturing the fun had by families out on a welly walk, I specialise in photographing real family moments.
When and how did you fall in love with photography?
My dad gave me one of his old cameras when I was around 14 years old. It had no instruction manual and I had no idea how to use it, so I experimented, taking photos of my friends. I was bitten by the bug and, through much trial and error, I progressively grew to understand the different settings on the camera and the basic principles of photography. From that moment on I have been hooked.
Have you had any formal training?
Yes, I studied photography at college when I first left school. Back then it was all about mastering the art of the dark room and photographing on film – skills that seem light years away from today’s photography, but which were a brilliant grounding in the art. I went on to study for three years at London College of Fashion where I would pour over the work of many of the great photographers of our time. Whilst holding down a career in PR and marketing I completed an Open University photography course in 2008, which brought my editing and workflow skills up to date. I attend training seminars at least a couple of times each year to hear new ideas and pick up new skills. Whilst having the eye for a picture is a natural ability, the technology surrounding photography is forever evolving and it’s important to stay on top of it.
How would you describe your photography style?
Timeless, natural and truthful. Timeless, because I shoot exclusively in black and white, capturing images that I believe will look as relevant in twenty years time as they do today. Natural, because I stand back and observe with my camera, which usually means children forget I’m there. Truthful, because by spending an entire morning with my clients in their own surroundings I can capture portrait shots that portray real personalities and which show real family life.
What inspires your work?
I love family photos from decades gone by, because they are so much more natural and truthful than today’s over airbrushed, over stylized portraits. When my clients’ children reach their adult years I want them to be able to recognise themselves in my photography and to remember the real family scene that’s captured in the frame. I like to think of my portraits as being an aide memoire to special childhood moments and in that respect the inspiration also comes directly from the children and families I photograph.
When did you first start out in portraiture photography?
Ever since I picked up my first camera I wanted to photograph people. When I first studied photography we would be given weekly assignments to shoot landscapes, architecture, still life and so on. Week upon week I would figure out ways to include people in my shots – and week upon week I would be berated by my tutor! To me a photograph just isn’t a photograph unless it includes the human form.
Where in the UK are you based and how far would you travel for a shoot?
I’m based in Stratford-Upon-Avon, but I travel to my clients to do family and children’s portrait shoots in locations throughout Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and the West Midlands. I also travel further afield by arrangement.
How many portrait sessions do you shoot per year?
At the moment I’m shooting on average one to two on location portrait sessions per week. There are peaks and troughs throughout the year, with summer and the run up to Christmas being my busiest periods.
Could you please share some details of a shoot you particularly enjoyed capturing?
I did a shoot late last summer with two little sisters at an amazing stately home in Warwickshire. The light that morning was magical so we started the shoot in a wooded area where the sun was dappling beautifully against the leaves. The girls turned up adorned in fairy wings and wands, and as they twirled their way through the woods, tiny pieces of dust got thrown into the air, catching the light from the sun’s rays. “Flower fairies!!!” the sisters squealed!! We spent the entire morning hunting for fairies in the flower beds and secret gardens of the stately home, which took me right back to being a five-year-old with my own lovely sister. It was a truly magical shoot that I shall remember for a long, long time.
What would be your idea of a dream portraiture shoot?
I often hanker after doing an on location children’s portrait session on a beach. I grew up in Kent and spent much of my childhood at the beach, so now I live in the Midlands I feel very landlocked! An early summer morning beach shoot with young children paddling and running in and out of the waves would be simply magical.
What is your favourite age to photograph and why?
Oh, that’s impossible to answer! Every age has its own unique qualities – newborns are incredible to photograph, toddlers are immense fun and older children are both entertaining and intriguing. I really can’t single out one particular age or stage.
What difficulties, if any, have you come across with portrait photography and how do you cope with them?
There aren’t really any difficulties, just sometimes challenges…shy children, super-excited children…but as a family photographer that is all par for the course and it’s what makes the job so varied. I have plenty of fairy / elf / boy band / super-hero stories up my sleeves to get the children engaged and once they are focussed I then stand back, camera at the ready, and let them be the directors of the day.
What advice would you give to parents that want you to photograph their little ones?
Get your children involved in something they love doing – tree climbing, a teddy bears’ tea party, painting, bouncing on the bed – anything so that they forget you’re there with a camera. The shots you’ll get will say so much more about who your kids really are than if you ask them to stand still and smile for the camera.
What camera(s) do you use for your portraiture work?
The Canon 5D MK II – a great piece of kit.
And your favourite lenses?
The 50mm prime 1.2 is my favourite, but I also love using the 70-200mm 2.8 when I’m shooting outdoors.
Do you use any lighting equipment?
No, I’m a natural light photographer so I simply use the sun and clouds and all the beautiful combinations of light that they produce. I carry reflectors with me and wear light coloured clothing, but that’s about the extent of my lighting equipment!
What advice would you give to wannabe portrait photographers?
Take a photo (or several) every single day. Analyse your images, work on them, improve the next time you shoot and from there develop your own style. Not only will this give you the practice you need, but it will also result in a visual record that will show you just how much you and your skills have progressed over time, and that’s always rewarding and motivating to see.
What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
Every time I do a viewing and a parent sheds a tear (or ten!), I get a huge sense of pride and achievement. The first time it happened I burst into tears myself! Also, I recently met a well known photographer whose work I have admired greatly for many years. When she saw my image of the boy running by the wall she said she wished it was one of hers. I came away from that meeting feeling immensely proud and motivated.
Out of all the photographs you have ever taken (professionally or otherwise), which is your favourite and why?
The portrait shot of the little boy running by the wall. It’s the photograph that everyone comments about and I’m often asked by clients to recreate that shot for them. It’s made me somewhat of a wall spotter – if I spot a fab wall when I’m out and about I’ll make a note of it in case I get an on-location portrait shoot booking in the vicinity!
If you could capture anybody or anything on camera what would it be?
Me with my boys! No, I’m not vain, it’s just that I have a house full of lovely pictures of my two sons and my husband, but I don’t feature in any of them because I’m always behind the camera! I would love to be able to photograph myself with the boys – believe me I’ve tried, but it’s just not the same!
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?
• Kissing my boys’ warm faces when they wake first thing in the morning
• Family picnics in the Cotswolds
• Holidaying in South of France
• An 8pm glass of vino when my sons are in bed – the golden hour!
• The cold side of the pillow in the middle of the night
And 5 things you dislike?
• Doing the school run in the rain
• The never ending quest to find my sons’/husband’s many odd socks!
• Junk mail
• Living so far away from my parents (they’re in Cyprus) and my sister (she’s in Australia)
What are your aspirations for the future, in photography or otherwise?
I always want to continue to develop and grow as a photographer (I don’t think you ever stop), and to become known for my signature style. I’m planning to put in for some awards this year too – fingers, legs and toes crossed!