One of my earliest memories of being outdoors is as a young kid playing outside during recess. The school my sisters and I went to in Goa, India was a fairly small building but the grounds outside of it were vast. There was no school boundary or wall we had to stay inside yet we knew not to venture too far. There were trees, rocks, little puddles to stare into during the monsoon, a hill we creatively call "the hill" and local fruit trees for us to pick berries from right before summer. In the map of my mind, every little pocket of this outside world was made especially wild for an imagination that had no end. I thought of how it would feel to be cut off from responsibilities and not have to go back to class when the bell rang, even though I was only 6 or 7. Exploring these worlds with my friends unlocked a feeling I haven't been able to stop chasing. It was clear to me that being outside wasn't just a little time block to schedule during a busy day. It is where we are meant to be.
When I first started photographing families, I thought I wasn't cut out to be doing this. I didn't have kids (still don't) and I didn't really see myself telling people how to pose. I thought I needed to spend hours upon hours people-watching to get that perfect shot of connection. I thought I needed to be a parent. As I eventually learnt, these were stories that had no basis in reality (Story-telling also happens to be one of my favorite things to do in a day). I knew how to play and had a creative practice that I have never stopped tapping into. Just like the brain of a young Edlyn, there were no limits to how I saw the world. I simply needed to be present to what was right in front of me.
What does all of this have to do with a photograph?
Before I even meet the families I photograph, I have to think of the most important things: The weather, the location and the light. It will consume me until we say hello and goodbye to each other on the day of our photo session. I figure that if I can work with and understand these three things, I am more than likely to be able to handle anything. Why? Because the rest of my job is simply to notice. I will see the way you hold your mother's hand or how out of habit, she will brush your hair out of your eyes, like she's done a million times before. I will see a child hide in a willow tree because it feels like a forest house and one that every other grown-up just walks by every single day. How wonderful it is to have all these moments to look back on in a picture.
There aren't too many photographs of us playing as kids. The ones that do exist are transformative when I look at them as an adult. I feel more confident when I remember how loved I was and that someone bigger than me was nearby wanting me to remember all of this. In every photo session I go to, I try to distil this same feeling, and pass it on to the next generation of families.
There is a formula to it too
My approach might not be that different from other lifestyle photographers you might have worked with (or you might be!) but it is unique to my experience. Play is at the center of every photo session because I believe that it is the best way to bring connection. You have 5 different personalities at every family photo session but if you introduce play, immediately you can almost get every single one on the same page.
Everything stops in a photograph
Your beautiful face, a crying child, a downpour we get caught in - all of it exists forever once we click the button. Yet, we can never have those exact same feelings again. I delight in this. To bring it back to my storytelling, I often tell myself that I'm not really 30-something. It's just that my body grew, expectations of me changed, and I kind of understand my feelings a little bit better. So to still be able to be that little girl again, I just need to find a photograph and there I am. It's my time machine and when I create something as a photographer, I try to make the whole experience something you can travel back to as well. So if your baby doesn't want to smile, I will encourage you to use your magic to connect with them. Maybe they still won't smile but you're showing them grace in a moment that would ordinarily frustrate you and that feels so good in retrospect. It looks even better in a photograph.
It still feels scary to do this sometimes
I have so much more confidence now than when I did when I first started in 2018. I know my strengths and LOVE improvising when faced with challenges. Still, every time I pick up my camera to do this, I meet with doubt. This is not just a human experience but it's also a very common experience for a creative. We are far from perfect and this is what makes every single photo session so beautifully unique. I know as long as I start from a place of "not knowing", I will make something for my families, that I am proud of.