Walter Arnold, the photographer who made the lovely image of his wife and stepdaughter in our recent advertisement for the Sigma 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM 13.8X zoom lens featured in Parenting and Popular Photography magazines spent a few minutes talking with us about his experiences with this versatile all-in-one zoom lens. He also shares great advice for making your own amazing family memories.
Walter, can you tell us a little about your experience of shooting this advertisement campaign with the Sigma 18-250mm with your new wife and stepdaughter?
It was a fantastic experience, it was tons of fun and we made it a big family adventure as we tried different locations–the local parks, a nearby waterfall, and other favorite spots. It was a great challenge and also offered a lot of freedom that the photo assignment was much more based on a concept–family moments and tenderness–than simply having to bring to life an art director’s previsualized illustration. My mission was to really help show off the sort of family memories this versatile lens helps make magical and memorable.
What advice do you have for photographers who want to capture their own family memories with this lens?
My biggest challenge on this assignment, and I think the challenge a lot of family photographers face is to make meaningful images that don’t feel stiff, or forced, and unnatural. One of the biggest things I’ve taken away from this experience is that the magic moments can, and do, come very frequently when you least expect it! Having your camera set and at the ready to catch a nuanced expression or moment between your subjects can mean the difference between making and missing the strongest potential shot of the session. That’s one of the real strengths of the Sigma 18-250mm lens–it is so versatile and can quickly zoom in or out–it’s always ready for whatever type of scene or feel you’re trying to create.
The range of this lens is excellent as you let your subjects explore a place–you can zoom in to go tight for a expression as someone is smiling as they swing, and then zoom back out to get the whole park and playground for a completely different feel. The Optical Stabilizer is great when the light is a bit lower late in the day and in the early morning. These are great times for beautiful, warm, directional lighting, and the OS allows you to slow the shutter speed without a tripod and still nail sharp shots.
It’s great to have that versatility and spontaneity without having to reach into the bag to change lenses and still be ready for anything.
Let’s change gears here a little bit and talk about the real power of family photography–how did your wife and stepdaughter feel when they first saw your selects, and then when you all finally saw the ad in print in Parenting magazine?
They had a blast on the shoots, they really did, and I just spent a lot of time following them around trying to stay “invisible” and let them do their thing while waiting for the special moments to happen. And it was a lot of fun to go home and review the photos as a family to laugh at some of the ones that really didn’t work, and to decide together which ones we all loved. And when we narrowed it down, this shot from the waterfall was one of our favorites.
But I don’t think any of us really knew how cool and amazing it was going to be to actually seeing it, and feeling it, and holding it in these magazines! There’s a huge difference between seeing something on a computer screen and holding it in your hands, there really is. When we were able to get our hands on Parenting magazine and turned to page 69 to see the shot, my girls were just through-the-roof excited about it. My stepdaughter Brianna has brought the magazine into school for show and tell, and has some bragging rights amongst her classmates.
And my wife, Amanda, before we were married, was raising Brianna on her own for many years, and she’d read Parenting magazine every month when she was younger. So, for her, it was a real honor as a hard-working mom to see herself in these pages.
And, Walter, how did you feel?
Oh, I can’t even tell you how excited I was to see my shot, of my family, in both Parenting and Popular Photography! Everybody knows about these magazines–and now, we’ve got an official copy of Parenting magazine at the bank where I work with a big sticker on the cover saying “official bank copy–turn to p. 69 to see Walter’s photo.” So we’re just having a great time sharing our excitement and feeling such support from friends and family. And also, I’ve been shooting with Sigma lenses for a long time, and it’s great to have a real connection with this company’s history now, too.
And I’ve got to add that being one of the first photographers in the world to be shooting with the Sigma SD1 was such an exciting experience for me. I was blown away by the images that I was able to produce on it–the clarity and crispness. as well as the magnificent way it captured minute details. I remember shooting a scene with my wife and daughter where we had hundreds of bubbles being pumped into the frame and seeing the way the camera captured the light as it bent around through the colorful sides of the bubbles was stunning. It was an honor for me that Sigma would send its flagship camera to me to produce the image for the ad, but also a little scary when I was climbing down into the ravine and shooting on the edge with rushing water just below me. I kept thinking, “Do…not…slip….This camera isn’t yours!” I must say, after shooting with it for over a month it was REALLY hard for me to part ways with it and send it back to Sigma!
Walter, you talk about the emotional feel of the finished product, in this case, the print ad, but you’ve also used your cameras to make video projects for a huge emotional impact for your family, haven’t you?
Yes, I actually spent close to two years recording tons of time lapse and HDSLR footage of my wife and I, but I never told her what I was really planning to do with it–it was just “experimenting” whenever she asked. But the song “All of My Days” by Alexi Murdoch was in the back of my mind the whole time. This song tells the story of two people finding each other. And in the days leading up to our wedding last September, I strung all my “experimental” footage together and surprised her during the reception with a “world premiere” of this time lapse video dedicated to her. At the end of the video, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
The real point is that these are our images and our own stories to tell, and it’s a lot of fun to take something as simple and magical as our own photos of our loved ones to tell our own stories in new and exciting ways as opposed to just attaching them to an email or posting to a Facebook wall.
For me, holding the issue of Parenting magazine and having that tangible relationship with the image was so very powerful. So my advice to all parents is to go beyond just posting a snapshot to some social sites. Make your own Photobooks, scrapbooks, or photo albums and put some time into creating these things that actually have more of a sense of permanence–like we all did in the old days–and that’s really just up until just a few years ago!
Can you give us three quick tips for making exciting and memorable family photos?
1: Patience! You can’t force a good picture. No matter how much you plan and set up, the best photos come when the subject is “unguarded” and that takes some time to actually happen. You can power a DSLR on and off quickly enough, but the subjects and the moment need time to develop.
2: Get creative! Don’t just stand in the same place all the time and fire away. Get down on the ground or climb a flight of stairs for a new perspective. Use a foreground object to shoot through–a swingset, a tree branch, or something. For example, in the waterfall shot in the ad, they’re sitting on the bridge on the hiking path, and I’m down at the water level to get a feel for total immersion in the scene.
3: Lighting is pretty much everything! The golden hour–that time right before and and after the sun goes down is magical for photography. When we were shooting this ad, we chased the golden hour light every chance we got. Try it yourself–make the same shot in the same location when the sun is bright and overhead and again either early in the morning or late in the day and you’ll notice a big difference in the feel of the images. Whenever you’ve got the option to choose the time of the shoot, you’re almost always better off going golden!