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 Agata Szymanowicz and my company is called simply Agata Photography. I am a professional photographer specialising in family, portrait and wedding photography. I also have a psychology background – something I have found very helpful in photographing people and capturing not only their looks but also personalities. Which, in my view, is what photography is really about.
When and how did you fall in love with photography?
I got my first camera when I was 18. That age for me coincided with a turbulent period of soul searching and exploring the human condition. Well, at least that’s what I thought it was. I loved photographing miserable-looking subjects in decrepit locations and thought I was being artistic (a perception strengthened by winning a couple of photographic competitions). And then, thank God, I grew out of it.
Have you had any formal training?
Yes. I have done a significant number of photographic courses, both in the UK and abroad. Many of them were organised by London University of Arts and the Royal Photographic Society. I have also had one-to-one training with a couple of the most well known lifestyle photographers in the UK. And I graduated from the Bespoke programme – a one year course for professional photographers organised by Aspire Training, very highly regarded in the photographic industry.
How would you describe your photography style?
Lifestyle portraiture. I want to capture people as they are, interacting with their loved ones in familiar contexts that say something about them. I want my images to be beautiful but also funny, quirky and, first of all, real.
What inspires your work?
Documentary photography. I also look at other photographers’ work a lot. I want to know what my colleagues are doing and then… try to offer my clients something a bit different.
When did you first start out in portraiture photography?
I’ve been a professional photographer for over three years now. Before that there was a long period of training on my family, friends, their friends – basically anybody who was willing to model for me.
Where in the UK are you based and how far would you travel for a shoot?
I am based in London but am happy to travel further out if the client is ready to cover my expenses.
How many portrait sessions do you shoot per year?
I limit myself to no more than four shoots per month. This enables me to spend more time in post production and designing beautiful, bespoke albums for my clients. Summers are always more busy (I photograph weddings as well) but in winters family photography slows down. That is when I like to concentrate more on maternity and boudoir photography.
Could you please share some details of a shoot you particularly enjoyed capturing?
It was a first birthday shoot for a cute girl named Charlotte. I had photographed her before, when she was only 12 days old, and it was great to meet her again and see how she had grown. The shoot took place in early October in Richmond Park in London. (I love photographing in autumn – there is something magical about the light and colours then.) We had a cake smash under the trees and then took lots of photographs of Charlotte and her parents interacting and enjoying themselves. When the little one was having her nap I took some photos of her parents. Usually people don’t often get a chance to be photographed together by a professional after their wedding day and I love filling that gap in their family albums.
What would be your idea of a dream portraiture shoot?
An autumn shoot in the mountains, with all their drama, space, colour and light. Or a forest shoot on an early, misty morning.
What is your favourite age to photograph and why?
I really like photographing babies when they are about 9-12 months. They can usually sit on their own by then and are so expressive and curious. I also love pregnancy shoots – there is something really special capturing a relationship between people waiting for their baby to arrive.
What difficulties, if any, have you come across with portrait photography and how do you cope with them?
Photographing toddlers can be tricky sometimes – they don’t really take direction too well and if they don’t enjoy themselves that’s it. I often end up making a complete fool of myself to make them laugh and secure their cooperation. I also get the parents involved – they know their children better than anybody else and can most often get the best out of them. Another one is the weather – you are never guaranteed a sunny day in England. If it is a bit rainy on the day I ask parents to bring wellies, colourful jackets, scarves and umbrellas to the shoot to introduce some colour and fun. And children always love jumping in the puddles!
What advice would you give to parents that want you to photograph their little ones?
Give your children space during the shoot. Don’t ask them to look at the camera, smile or, the worst, ‘say cheese’. This results in… well, cheesy, fake smiles and children very soon get fed up with the whole thing. Interact with them in a normal way or just let them be and trust me to capture beautiful images for you.
What camera(s) do you use for your portraiture work?
I use Canon 5D MKIII and 5d MKII as a back-up. 5DMKIII has a dual card slot which is great as I don’t risk losing any clients’ images if the card fails.
And your favourite lenses?
70-200mm f/2.8 – great for outdoor shoots and throwing background out of focus.
Do you use any lighting equipment?
I have a speedlight and a whole studio lighting set but when shooting outdoors I almost exclusively rely on natural light. It makes the session more relaxed and more fun for both children and grown-ups. We can just play and move freely without being restricted by any lighting set-ups. I do sometimes use flash for my maternity and boudoir sessions though.
What advice would you give to wannabe portrait photographers?
Get yourself decent equipment, learn to use it and then forget about it. It is you, not your camera, who creates the photographs.
What has been your proudest moment as a photographer?
It comes every time when I walk into a client’s house and see my images displayed on the walls. I have also been very proud about the awards from the Guild of Photographers (a professional photographers’ body I’m a member of) recognising the professional standard and quality of my photographs.
Out of all the photographs you have ever taken (professionally or otherwise), which is your favourite and why?
It is the photograph from my friends’ pregnancy session. They had to wait a long time for their baby and being able to capture the tenderness between them, their happiness and anticipation was truly magical. Every time I look at this image I feel fuzzy and warm inside. Especially now, when I myself am pregnant and know what a special time this is.
If you could capture anybody or anything on camera what would it be?
I would love to be invited to photograph childbirth. Being able to document all the emotions, struggle and happiness of that special day, and to capture baby’s first seconds of life would be really amazing.
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?
- Gloomy Eastern European and Scandinavian cinema
- Long nights filled with conversations with friends
- Breakfasts in my garden
- Feeling my unborn baby kick
And 5 things you dislike?
- Getting up early
- Unsolicited advice
- Clothes shopping
- Feeling my unborn baby kick at 3am
What are your aspirations for the future, in photography or otherwise?
Alongside my family and wedding photography I would like to develop a strong boudoir and women portraiture business. There is a lot of pressure on women to conform to certain standards of beauty these days. As a result of that, most of us are not happy with how we look. I would like to give women more confidence through my images and show them how beautiful, sexy and interesting they are, just being themselves.