Vibrant family photos on the beach – Birgit Döring reveals in the interview the right tips
Today, with Birgit Döring, we would like to introduce you to a photographer who has met Carolin regularly in Rostock for years. She photographed friends and neighbors again and again. When Birgit photographically accompanied the wedding of a good friend for a whole day, Carolin seized the opportunity to ask Birgit for an interview. Because Birgit does not only photograph weddings. She is also an enthusiastic family photographer. Birgit loves to live with her husband and two daughters on the Baltic Sea and also loves to use the beach as a photo location for their family shootings.
Hello Birgit. Thank you for taking the time for us. Can you tell us a little bit about you and your work? How did you get to photography??
Photography has been with me for a long time and over many years was “just” my hobby. This passion started with my first camera, a Lomo that accompanied me everywhere. During my studies, I bought the first SLR camera and dealt more seriously with the topic. Without internet (which was still in its infancy) and analogous to negative or slide film was tried a lot and tested, I have exchanged with like-minded people in all sorts of photo genres tried, read a lot and learned more and more.
The entry into the professionally practiced photography for me was not the wedding photography, because I had at first too much respect. With the birth of my children (I have two daughters) my photographic interests changed. I wanted to hold on to my private life with the children, to document their growing up and to remember beautiful pictures.
Families and weddings in reportage style are now my main focus in the freelance work as a photographer. For the simple reason: I love to capture moments that are unseen. Children tend to care less about the camera and a wedding is about the bridal couple and not about the photographer. Perfect…
As a family photographer, you make authentic, vibrant and real family photos. Do you give instructions to the families or do you work more documentary? Please describe your way of working a little closer!
My heart beats for the report, so I favor the documentary approach. But I am not restrictive or caught up in definitions, but rather react intuitively and individually to the families.
Ask yourself: What do I want to remember later? What is self-evident today and will be irrevocably passed tomorrow? What habits and rituals do we have and do we love together as a family? What makes our daughter, our son so special today?
We decide together where and when the best time for the photos is. It helps immensely when everyone is rested and comfortable in familiar or loved surroundings. That’s why I come to the families home or we meet at their favorite place outdoors. My goal is not to be perceived as a stranger, but also to become familiar with the children quickly. I do not give direct instructions, that’s not necessary either. Sometimes I lead into a situation and even clear something aside. But ultimately, I leave a lot of room and time for joint activities that I accompany with the camera without actively intervening.
Is there a family shooting that you have remembered especially? And why? Was it so funny, so absurd or even sad?
Oh, there are many that I very much like to remember. But one thing will always be something special for me: my first family shoot, which I photographed for the brave tots. Many dedicated photographers are organized in this association, who photograph families with a seriously ill child on a voluntary basis and allow them beautiful pictures as a reminder of a not so easy time.
My brave little boy was a little girl, whom I got to know together with her parents, the little sister and the grandfather in the garden on a summery warm day. A few months later, the mother wrote to me that these were the last pictures that will forever remind the family of their little angel. One of these pictures adorned the memorial service and now hangs on the wall in the living room. This is very close and even if the encounter was short, it will always remain in special memory. As sad as that is, it has impressively shown me how important it is to create lasting memories.
You like to photograph families on the beach. We love these natural pictures. But from our own experience, we also know that it is not so easy to take photos by the sea. There are mostly strong winds, bright sun and many other people – preferably everything together. Do you have some tips for us??
Get up early ;-). In fact, this is the best way to get these beautiful light pictures in summer. For one thing, the light is not that hard and the beach is pretty empty except for a few early risers. For families with small children, this is often unproblematic, since the mice are usually up early anyway.
Otherwise, I also like to meet in the evening for the pictures on the beach. Especially here again because of the light.
At lunchtime I try to avoid the beach on sunny days. The sun is so high that ugly drop shadows appear in the faces and many are simply blinded. The bright sand reflects strongly and automatically pinches the eyes, what rarely looks good. Not to mention that countless bathers populate the beach. Ultimately, that’s the reality and not a staged backdrop. On the weather we have no influence and that changes on the coast like fast.
I am fortunate enough to live very close to the beach and so it may happen that I coordinate the time very quickly with the families (if they are flexible during the day) on the basis of the current weather on site.
And the wind? That’s part of it! I love this dramatic mood when the wind refreshes, the clouds rupture and my hair is disheveled. When the children laugh and run against the wind, they hide behind Mama to catch their breath. When daddy takes his loved ones in their arms so they do not fly away. And the sea roars so loud that the surf does not make you understand a word. Everything is powerful and alive.
But even the quiet days are beautiful when only a light breeze blows and everything seems somehow floating and relaxed. If one allows it, the moods of the sea are transferred to one and especially children are very receptive to it. My job is then only to press the trigger at the right moment …
Many of us imagine that as a photographer, you have a well-stocked photo album of your own family. Birgit, to be honest – is that the case or are you tired after a photo-rich work week sometimes too photographed and then you prefer to leave the camera privately?
Jein – I definitely have a very well stocked digital photo archive with private pictures of my family. The real photo albums, however, are still on my to do list. Since 2004 I photograph digitally and my goal is to create yearbooks as a family chronicle. However, the timing of the implementation is still completely open … And otherwise the passion for photography is still very big, both professionally and personally. Tired? No, on the contrary, I often have to take myself back, so as not to annoy my surroundings. So the camera stays in your pocket.
But she is always there.
What inspires you to take the camera in your hand? Moments? Light? Location?
That’s easy to answer: definitely moments! The relaxed expression of listening to music with headphones when nothing and nobody can disturb you. The surprise when unpacking the birthday presents. The loving look, the gentle gesture, the soft touch. The cheering of the nephew after a strike while bowling. When the grandparents skype with their granddaughter in faraway New Zealand. Small and big moments, fleeting moments that I find important.
If a situation results in beautiful or interesting light – so much the better! Of course, I am looking for the light in the form that seems best to me for the result.
Photographing is painting with light, without I get no picture.
The right moment in the right light – perfect! The location gives the context, frames, explains or complements. All in all, of course, I try to consider all the factors, but for me the moment is initially inspiring.
You have two teenage daughters. Do the girls like to take pictures of you? What do you think about photography of older children??
No, the two are unfortunately no longer like to take pictures of me, at least not in between in the small moments of everyday life. Sometimes it annoys me, sometimes I think it’s a pity. But I respect it. This is basically important, no matter what age the children are.
For older children, you can also argue calmly and explain why we find it important to take pictures. For planned photoshoots, it helps to announce them in good time (preferably in the calendar!) And to consider the wishes of the children. Clarifies what is planned and with what goal. Let her perhaps develop ideas herself. Cut the frame off, but give them enough leeway. And do not force her into a role!
I do not have a panacea, but a tip that may help you survive the shorter-than-life time of the photophobic teenagers: Developing photo traditions is easier to capture. For birthdays and holidays such as Easter and Christmas, generally a lot of pictures are taken, as well as excursions and common holidays. Except for your own birthday, the child does not have to be at the center of the photo interest and then accepts one or the other photo of himself as a reminder of that day.
We have two solid photo opportunities a year as a tradition: a family photo with us all (camera on the tripod and photographed with the self-timer) for the Christmas card and Easter a photo of our daughters for the Easter greetings. And even if we normally do not feel like it, the time is too short and actually and anyway … It’s so nice to look at the old pictures from the past years again and again!
Are you then able to see yourself in the photos? Often it looks as if we photographing mothers did not take place in the childhood of our kids. Do you have a tip for us mothers, as we often create the picture?
Unfortunately, I’m rarely on the photos, which I think is a shame. But I can not turn back time and, from this experience, encourage only all the photographing parents to put themselves before the lens.
Explain the camera to your partner or set it yourself that only the trigger must be pressed. Uses a tripod and the self-release of the camera – on the Internet there are wonderful projects that can encourage and inspire. A fantastic example of such a project is “Self Portraits of Motherhood” – an association of women who regularly photograph themselves with their children. Or let yourself be accompanied by a photographer and take family pictures every year.
And above all: throw your perfectionism overboard! Your children are not interested in whether the hairline needs to be redecorated or a few pounds too much on the hip. It does not take staged “all smiling good in the camera” pictures to remember the wonderfully chaotic first time with the baby. But let’s take pictures of you, cuddle up with the little bundle, play with the whirlwind, help the schoolchild with your homework, or prepare your meal together. The photos of you with your children are treasures that become more and more valuable over time. Because catching up is not possible.
What’s the nicest thing about your job as a family photographer??
Every time I meet so incredibly lovely people and take so much joy and happiness for me personally.
Take a look at Birgit’s new website. There you will find a fantastic gallery with even more inspirational family photos by the sea. And follow her on facebook and instagram if you want to see Birgit’s latest work and projects.
Birgit Döring, June 2017
Interview: Carolin Bartel
Photos: Birgit Döring Photography
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