Today we’re chatting to super talented photographer, Emma Lawson. Based in Aberdeen but capturing memories across the UK, Emma’s photography is creative, natural and beautiful. You won’t find any awkward posing, instead her images document genuine life moments. Naturally, we had to find out her secrets so we’ve grilled her on everything from taking great family photos, to the steps she took to make her passion her career!
The featured photos are from Emma’s personal photography series, ‘One Picture a Week For 52 Weeks’. Through this Emma’s been documenting typical everyday life with her two-year-old son, Myles. It’s a stunning series and a great example of how Emma works by always having her good camera to hand and not pushing to make perfect photos happen – Rather, wait for them to unfold and be ready when they do!
Hi Emma, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your family?
Hello, well firstly I am mummy to Myles, who has just turned two and is the happiest person I know and I’m also wife to Glenn, without whom I can’t imagine being where I am today. When I’m not doing that I run my own Photography business. I specialise in natural documentary photography, posed or staged photography makes me cringe and I have built my business around that ethos. Luckily for me lots of people feel the same and my business has grown quickly and I get to spend my weekends out photographing relaxed and non-traditional weddings.
I also specialise in newborn photography but not the very posed style that is most often seen. My newborns are photographed in a very minimalistic style which is totally baby-led and focuses on all the tiny little details.
Glenn works away in Oil & Gas, so for periods of 3 weeks he’s at home and then for 2 weeks he vanishes and it’s just MJ and I. We recently relocated to Aberdeen from Glasgow because as Myles and my business grow we really needed close family nearby to lend a hand. I’d love to add some really interesting things about us here but we’re actually totally boring, give us a good boxset and we’re happy.
Glenn and I are both massive foodies and we love planning where and what we are going to eat. I think like everyone we don’t get to travel as much as we’d like anymore. Between weddings, Glenn’s schedule and incorporating a toddler into that mix holidays are getting harder and harder to fit in. We have friends in Arizona and Melbourne so hopefully we’ll get to one of those places in the not too distant future.
How did you get involved with photography?
I’ve taken pictures for as long as I can remember. I was always the girl at every party with a camera, at school, university and even when I started working. I just always wanted to document whatever fun was happening, it never felt like a chore and it made me happy to see everyone’s faces when I would show them my pictures.
When did you decide to make the leap to become a full-time professional photographer?
I didn’t really, it just kind of happened. I always spoke about being a photographer and I knew some photographers and that really helped and inspired me. The problem was I was doing well in my career and was being paid a good salary, I just never thought it would be possible to walk away from that. Glenn was very much the driving force behind encouraging me to just start doing it and see where it would take me.
I started doing night classes to fill in my knowledge gaps and I asked photographers I knew if I could assist them on shoots. I learned most when working with other photographers and I’ve always been pretty confident so I quickly started doing my own shoots and building a portfolio. I started my business for real in 2012 and I’ve never looked back, people have responded well to my approach and I quickly went from part time to full time.
What’s the best and the trickiest part of being a photographer?
The best part of the job is getting to do something for a living that I truly get joy out of. When I’m at a wedding and I capture a beautiful candid moment it’s still the best feeling in the world.
Trickiest part is probably separating business from personal life, my time management is not the best and I tend to spend my evenings editing when I really should set time aside during the day so I can relax in the evenings. However, this is probably not specific to being a photographer, no matter what business I had I would probably end up doing all my admin at 1am.
What camera do you use?
Canon 5D mark III and a 6D. I think the lenses are more important though, I mainly favour 35mm as a focal length and only use prime lenses. As well as the 35mm, I use 24mm, 50mm, 100mm and 135mm lenses.
And for editing?
Lightroom for weddings, Lightroom and photoshop for newborns and Alien Skin Exposure for finishing touches.
Do you have any tips & tricks to share for photographing children?
Firstly, don’t force it. If you set things up and expect kids (especially your own kids) to perform you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and stress. You can absolutely have a plan in mind but just let kids do their thing and be ready with the camera, and really watch them. The things they do naturally will usually photograph much better than anything you could set-up.
Secondly, look for the light. The difference between professionals and amateurs is usually understanding of light. Your kid can be doing the cutest thing in the world but if it’s all happening in a dark corner it will never come out particularly well. That’s not to say every shot needs to be bathed in light, sometimes a tiny little bit of light on their face or backlighting them is all you need but when you start to think about light, pictures of your kids will come out much better.
Lastly, don’t give them a hard time; if you badger them to do a certain thing or tell them constantly to hug their sister or look at the camera or smile, or tell them they’re not doing their real smile, they’ll usually want to do absolutely anything else. I see parents telling children off because they won’t do what they want them too and all it does is make them hate having pictures taken. Resist the urge to direct them constantly; you’ll get much better results.
Lastly, what would your advice be to anyone interested in taking better photos?
Practice, dull but true. Photography is like playing a musical instrument, if you don’t practice you won’t get better. If I don’t pick up my camera for a couple of weeks, I notice a difference in how well I’m shooting, but in the summer when I am shooting 2 weddings a week and rarely have the camera out of my hand, I’m a much better photographer.
Keep your camera out all the time and take it out with you, it’s no use packing it away, you’ll miss the moment when you run to get it from wherever you’ve burrowed it away. Photographers are pretty hard on their cameras and cameras are genuinely very robust, mine look like they’ve been through a war zone. I know people will want to keep their cameras clean and safe in their cases, but if you keep it to hand you’ll get so much better. I’d rather have a scratch or two on my camera and have some amazing pictures to frame than a pristine camera that never gets used.
You’ll also massively benefit from getting your camera off automatic settings. I’m not saying automatic is always bad, but it is letting the camera make all the decisions without any input from you. Sometimes the camera will make the right call, but often it won’t and by understanding how to manually set your camera you’ll really start to see a difference.