We think moms are pretty amazing. Who else do you know that will still take care of you when you’re sick, whip up your favorite made-from-scratch lemon bars at the drop of a hat, shamelessly show your embarrassing teenage photos to anyone that will look, and unconditionally love you just like they did the day you were born?
Moms. They really are the best.
To celebrate this Mother's Day, we’re highlighting a great photographer and mother—Allison Tyler Jones. As a renowned portrait photographer and author of the fantastic photography book 100% Kid, Allison took the time out of her busy life as a mother and talented photographer to tell us how she balances career and family. Read on to learn more about this amazing mom/portrait extraordinaire and don’t forget to check out her upcoming Profoto lighting workshop at Pictureline this June!
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started with photography.
I was born with a camera in my hands—ha, just kidding. I fell in love with photography when I was in high school. I was the photo editor of the yearbook and, for training, we got to spend part of a summer at NAU’s Photojournalism school taught by crusty old photography professors who harshly critiqued our work and beat us down. Which was actually great because it taught me to be hard on myself and critical of my work early on.
You’re a portrait photographer. Why did you choose portrait photography, especially kids and families?
I have a difficult time photographing a subject that doesn’t respond to me. So product photography, landscape, still life….ummmm…no bueno for me. The relationship between my subject and me is my favorite part of what I do. Even if I only have them in front of me for a few minutes, they become part of me, in a way. Spending that time trying to figure out what will make them relax and show me who they REALLY are (sometimes against their will)—that’s magic to me.
What is the most important thing to remember when shooting portrait?
A comfortable person is a photogenic person, period. Honestly, the least attractive among us can look great in a portrait if they can relax and be themselves. That’s as much a part of my job as the photographer as knowing lighting or how to use my camera. Setting people at ease is vital and every photographer can do this in their own way. Learn your gear well so you can spend time talking with your subjects instead of fiddling with your camera.
What gear, especially when it comes to lighting, do you use for your amazing portraits?
I love a big, diffused light source so I’m a huge fan of the Profoto Octabanks. I pull them in close to my subject and feather the light just in front of their face—gorgeous light every time.
The main reason I use Profoto is because I am photographing kids in motion so I need lights that can hang with the speed at which I shoot. Fast recycle times and fast flash duration allow me to capture images that I would miss using other, less consistent, lighting equipment.
What is the biggest challenge with portrait photography, especially when photographing children?
Parents and their iPhones. Parents tend to want to micromanage their kids and direct them during the shoot and if they’re not telling them to "Smile!", then they are trying to get a shot for Instagram with their phone. Then the kids don’t know who to look at, me or mom. This is why we require a pre-shoot consult—where I go over these and other pertinent items with my clients in detail—and let them know how I work and what I need from them during the shoot. They know what to expect and I don’t leave a shoot feeling like I want to kill anyone.
Why do you love photographing kids? How do you get such candid shots?
How can you not love photographing kids?! They are innocent, open, honest and unadulterated. I must love kids because I have seven of them (no, that’s not a typo). Actually, I think I have developed a sub-specialty of children’s photography, in that I tend to photograph my fair share of misbehaved kids (e.g. naughty). I LOVE it when a mom starts with, "Ummm…my three-year-old can be a bit challenging….." Oh ya, it’s on! When, instead, they begin by telling me how well behaved their kids are, I start thinking, "snooze fest." Bring me your rotten brat kids, they are my favorites to photograph!
See above paragraph on naughty kids:) But really, I consider that directing the shoot is as much a part of my job as photographing my subjects. I shoot in studio for the most part, so the set, the lighting, everything is set up and manufactured. The only "real" thing going on is the interaction between me and the kids, which elicits their expressions (or not). I encourage new photographers to not be afraid to take charge of their set and direct their shoots. The parents want you to do it. It releases them from having to run the show and, if you have kids, you know that they will almost always perform better for a stranger than they will for you. I pretty much do whatever it takes to get an expression. I don’t care if I look stupid, if it gives me the results I want. I’ll snort like a pig, ask a two-year-old if they’re married, tell the 12-year-old boy to pick his brother’s nose. Whatever. It. Takes.
Your new book 100% Kid is fantastic! We love the lighting diagrams and explanations. What are you most proud of in the fourth Allison Tyler Jones book?
Thank you for the kind words about the book—I’m SO glad you like it!!
This was my fourth photography book and I swore after the third, that I’d never do another one, so I’m most proud that I actually finished it! I wanted to write the book that I wished I had had when I was first learning to use flash in my work with kids. There are so many great lighting books out there but they are populated with gorgeous adult models who will sit still and take direction, unlike the kids I was photographing every day in my work.
Photographing kids presents its own set of unique challenges for lighting, which is why many photographers won’t even work with kids. Also, many photographers who specialize in children’s portraiture are natural light shooters who are afraid to try flash because they are worried their work will look old school.
I hope the book will demystify lighting and inspire other photographers to incorporate flash into their work on their own terms, incorporating the techniques into their own, unique style while working with KIDS.
Do you shoot anything else besides portrait? We know you do commercial as well, correct?
Yes, I do commercial work—mostly corporate and advertising work.
We understand you’ve got seven children of your own, how do you balance career and family? What do you think is most important to remember when it comes to family and career?
Photography is my full-time career. It’s not a sideline or a hobby for me—this is how I support my family. My husband joined me in the business in 2013 so all the eggs are now truly in one basket! Setting up an efficient workflow and systems for the business has been crucial to its success and in allowing us to have a life as well as a thriving business. When I’m at work, I’m all in. I love what I do and love being at the studio. When I’m at home, I love being at home and being with my kids and doing family things. Wherever you are, be fully THERE. There’s really no such thing as balance. Just do the best you can wherever you’re at and enjoy the ride.
Sidenote: I also married very well and have an extremely supportive husband who does dishes AND laundry (for real).
When can we expect from you at the Pictureline/Profoto Portrait workshop in June?
I have to confess that I have had a Pictureline crush for many years now. I’m from AZ but get to SLC fairly often and always make it a point to stop by and get a t-shirt and something camera or Apple related. I tell everyone that your store looks like Apple and Canon had a baby in a cool brick building! So, when Profoto contacted me about teaching a workshop at your store I had to put the phone down and do a little dance of happiness.
My goal for the workshop is to break down lighting into easy to understand and apply techniques. I want to share the Aha! Moments I’ve had through the years; techniques that I use every single day in my work with my clients. I love hands-on workshops, it’s how I learn best and most quickly. There’s just no substitute for actually being in a room and seeing the light and how it works (and doesn’t work). I can’t wait!
Any words of advice for aspiring photographers?
Pay attention to what grabs your eye and go after it.
Don’t worry that you can’t do it now, you WILL be able to do it, and sooner than you think, if you just go after it.
Learn everything you can and don’t be afraid to take chances.
Don’t chase trends, chase what you really and truly love even if everyone else thinks it’s stupid.
No one can ever tell you you’re doing it wrong.