Belle Bébés asks… Stephanie Callaghan Smith

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…

The interview

Hello, I’m Stephanie and specialise in capturing families and children using traditional film cameras. I love being able to create wonderful visual memories of childhood for families throughout London and Surrey in a very authentic way.


When and how did you fall in love with photography?
In my early 20s I spent six months travelling around South America and absolutely loved the whole experience. It was a time to experiment with so many different genres of photography (travel, portrait, documentary) and in hindsight it proved to be a great training ground. At the time I remember protecting my rolls of film more than my passport, because they were so important to me!

In my early 30s I was looking for a career change after working as an environmental lawyer for ten years and I knew that I wanted to do something away from the corporate world. I ended up retraining as a garden designer but eventually realised that I liked taking photographs of people working on their gardens more than designing them. So I went on various photography courses at Central St. Martins and that confirmed to me that photography was what I wanted to do full time.

Have you had any formal training?
Apart from the courses at Central St. Martins I’ve also attended various other courses including one with Jonathan Canlas, who is an amazing film photographer, and with the Aspire company in the Lake District.

Stephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait PhotographerStephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait PhotographerStephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait Photographer

How would you describe your photography style?
I love capturing authentic emotional connections between family members and quiet moments when children are simply being themselves and not performing for the camera. Sometimes children can have the most intense look when they are lost in their own world. One where you can see a glimpse of who they might be in the future as they grow up. That can be quite magical.

Currently about 80% of my work is captured on true black-and-white film and 20% colour film. I’m moving further and further towards doing all my commissions on black-and-white film. I’m hoping to be able to start producing traditional darkroom handprints for clients, which will all be from black-and-white negatives. Each print that way will be totally unique, which will be very special.

What inspires your work?
I try not to look at other lifestyle or child photographers that much. I’m more interested in documentary or more editorial type portraiture and so do admire the work of Daniel Milnor, Vincent Peters and Rodney Smith. All are quite different in terms of style but interestingly they all shoot with film cameras so it’s clearly an aesthetic that I’m drawn to.

I also enjoy looking outside the world of photography and love renaissance painters as they had such an amazing understanding of light and composition. And for something completely different I’ve recently finished a project that was entirely inspired by song lyrics, which has been a really interesting experience.

When did you first start out in portraiture photography?
My sister (“Callaghan”)is a singer-songwriter based in Nashville, USA but when she still lived in London I used to take portraits of her for her album artwork and at gigs. That’s what started me shooting portraits and from there it was a fairly natural progression into family portraiture.

Stephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait PhotographerStephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait PhotographerStephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait Photographer

Where in the UK are you based and how far would you travel for a shoot?
I’m based in Kingston Upon Thames but shoot all over the UK, although the majority of my commissions obviously end up being in the London/Surrey area.

How many portrait sessions do you shoot per year?
It varies year on year but typically between 30-40. As I shoot film, my workflow is slightly different and somewhat more time consuming compared to that of digital photographers. I love the experience of shooting with film and the time developing the film and getting it scanned is so worth it in my opinion for the unique look it offers. It just means that I have to be quite careful about not over scheduling shoots.

Could you please share some details of a shoot you particularly enjoyed capturing?
I did a shoot last year for a family with a 5 month old baby. He was able to sit up unaided for only a few seconds at a time so I took lots of photographs in the house of him supported with cushions or with someone close at hand to catch him if he started to fall over. However, I always like shooting outdoors as well if the weather permits. As the family were keen riders we then headed down to the stables where they kept their horses. He might have been a bit young to ride properly but we did manage to get him on top of his mother’s horse, with his mother holding onto him out of sight. They say you should never work with children or animals but I actually quite like it when they are both involved as it is offers a bit of a different challenge.

Stephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait Photographer

What would be your idea of a dream portraiture shoot?
I’m a keen surfer (although still not very good!) and so would love to photograph a surfing family on one of Cornwall or Devon’s beautiful beaches at sunrise. Watching parents teach their children new skills is wonderful to watch and something so precious to capture.

What is your favourite age to photograph and why?
I love photographing babies and the under 5s as they are so unaware of themselves, which means you can capture some wonderfully natural expressions. But I also love working with older children as getting them to relax in front of the camera can be incredibly rewarding and working with children over 5 also offers the scope to be a bit more adventurous.

What difficulties, if any, have you come across with portrait photography and how do you cope with them?
There is always an element of the unknown when photographing children. Sometimes you encounter tantrums or upsets, especially with younger children when they get tired. My rule during the session is that anything goes. I don’t mind what happens, what gets broken or how much mud I end up falling over into. My main priority is always to keep the children engaged and if it’s at my expense then I don’t mind. It’s all part of the job. Having lots of little snacks on hand often helps too! There is always a bag of chocolate buttons lurking in my camera bag somewhere for emergencies.

What advice would you give to parents that want you to photograph their little ones?
Forget about any preconceived notions about having your photograph taken as an outdoor portrait shoot with me is all about having a wonderful adventure with your children. It’s not about forced or cheesy smiles. It’s really good to invest some time before your session thinking about where you would like to display your portraits in your home as that can influence the choice of outdoor locations and clothing choices and mean that you end up with photographs that are really tailored to your home décor and style.

Stephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait PhotographerStephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait PhotographerStephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait Photographer

What camera(s) do you use for your portraiture work?
My main camera is the Contax 645, which is a medium format camera and gives a very unique look. I’ve also started using the Mamiya RZ67 for personal work, which is another medium format camera and I’m currently thinking about how to use this as well on commissioned shoots. The weight is really the issue with the Mamiya as it’s very heavy.

And your favourite lenses?
I just use one lens on the Contax. The 80mm f/2. It’s roughly equivalent to a 50mm on a 35mm or digital camera.

Do you use any lighting equipment?
I sometimes use a video light if I’m shooting indoors, as a supplemental light source, but I tend to use natural light as much as possible.

What advice would you give to wannabe portrait photographers?
Shoot, shoot, shoot! Seriously, there is no substitute for time spent behind the camera. Also, set yourself personal projects so that you aren’t only shooting when you get commissions to keep your work fresh and to give yourself the room to experiment. Finally, running a successful portrait business is about 90% business skills and 10% photography so read as many business books as you can get your hands on!

What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
Having my book, “Artists of Richmond”, published after photographing 12 young children working on various art projects over the course of a year. It was a personal project and I was so pleased by both the press response and also hearing from the children what it meant to take part in the project. I hope it inspires children to keep pursuing artistic interests. Art played such a huge part in my childhood and so it is great to help others stay inspired and see the value in artistic pursuits.

Out of all the photographs you have ever taken (professionally or otherwise), which is your favourite and why?
I love photographing in woodlands and with tree cover and there are so many lovely places, even in London, that offer beautiful greenery. This image was one of those in-between moments that I love capturing. I was actually asking this child to do star-jumps but not photographing them. I was photographing the moments in-between where he was waiting for me to ‘get ready’, which I think makes for a far more powerful and interesting image.

Stephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait Photographer

If you could capture anybody or anything on camera what would it be?
Recently I’ve become interested in going back to the style of portrait photography that really got me into photography. A more directed, controlled style. One where a lot of thought goes into the styling and location before you even get the camera out. I’d also love to photograph more women in beautiful landscapes and in the studio. I’m in the process of working out how to build a home studio so that I can work with a make-up artist and hair stylist to really pamper women and then create some beautiful photographs of them. So that’s my goal for 2013!

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?

  1. Snowboarding
  2. Our campervan
  3. Blue skies
  4. Cornish beaches
  5. Really good coffee

And 5 things you dislike?

  1. London traffic
  2. Flaky people
  3. Admin
  4. Bad service
  5. Erratic sat navs

Stephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait PhotographerStephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait PhotographerStephanie Callaghan Smith Portrait Photographer

What are your aspirations for the future, in photography or otherwise?
To see where this amazing journey leads me, to try out large format photography and have lots more adventures as a family in our campervan.

 Heart Debs

Photographer Details:
Stephanie Callaghan Smith website
Contact Stephanie
Phone: 07979 664018

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