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Adele Enersen's Tips for Telling Your Baby's Story



Adele Enersen imagined what her daughter dreamt about and used her creative muscle to capture those scenes with her camera while the child slept. The resulting collection of inspiring photographs that show baby Mila as everything from Thumbelina to Rapunzel are bound in the new book, When My Baby Dreams in Fairy Tales. These are her words and images...

I know, it sounds obvious, but it's good to remember the basics! In a photograph you can capture ideas, emotions, mood and messages, even motion or narrative, and these all are elements of storytelling. When you’re building a photo—a “When My Baby Dreams” style picture or anything else in a similar spirit—you should give a thought to your photo's form, composition, color, and most of all, the idea—a.k.a. the story. 

1. Who is your audience? Even if you’re only making photos for your family and friends, you still have an Audience (with a capital A), don't forget that. It's good to put yourself in their shoes and think about what they might want to see in your photographs. Is there something special they can relate to? Is your subject universal or specific or both?  Often it's enough to give them something sleight to recognize—one or two tiny details—and then let their imagination take care of the rest. 


2. Find your story!  Invent your own, or borrow from the world’s best storytellers. I found inspiration in fairy tales, movies and even fine art. This photo is my version of Marc Chagall's The Promenade from 1918.


3. PUT TOGETHER A DRAFT FIRST! If it works in the size of a matchbox, it's a good photo idea. 

Of course, an idea might occur to you in the spur of the moment, but you can also create and draft your ideas with pen and paper before producing them. My tip is try to sketch your ideas on a tiny post-it- note—no bigger than size of a matchbox.  Then, you’ll see if the idea and composition are simple enough to be recognized. I'm sure I picked this up from some advertising book in school, but I can't remember whose advice it was.  Anyway, I've found that matchbox-size-sketching is very helpful in my day job, photographing, screenwriting, and also in picture books. It's easier to create story lines in storyboard style from post it-notes! 


4. Details catch your eye and keep your audience immersed in your picture. The story you’re telling can be more than meets the eye…it's in your imagination, and you just need to wake it up with few hints and details! Try to capture movement in your still pictures. I personally feel that some of my best baby photos are from moments when Mila yawned or stretched, instead of being totally still. Sometimes her movements didn’t really even show in the pictures—ultimately, she was still totally relaxed and sleeping—but it made them more vivid. It's like when a professional photographer asks a model to grin and open her mouth and eyes wide before the real posing begins. 



5. Don't forget aesthetics! The most common mistake people make with this style of baby photos is using props and backgrounds that clash together. In real life, the random colors we encounter on a daily basis aren’t always pleasant together, but in art, pictures and movies, we seem to relate better to stories when they’re told in a visually beautiful way. Try to have a nice color scheme. Google "wheel of color" and study it a bit. What color combinations are pleasing to your eye? Do you like opposites, bright basic colors, or harmonic colors close to each other?


Here’s an example from my Tinker Bell photo of Mila—there are a couple different light green colors as an analogous color scheme (colors that are next to each other on the color wheel look comfortable and natural together) but the background is purple, the opposite of light green in a color wheel. In Mila’s flying carpet picture, there's an analogous scheme from deep purple and blue colors and almost opposite, yellowish pale beige. But don't overanalyze the color wheel…it's just one tool to help you to choose your props, background and fabrics!