Marc-Louis’ christening at George Antiochian Orthodox Church, Redfern.
The christening was late in the afternoon and when I arrived at the church it didn’t look promising. A 4pm start on a cloudy day in winter meant dull light. The church was less than beautiful – red brick and concrete, no soft sandstone as a background. Not even a carpark with a green hedge. No nearby leafy park, instead many housing commission flats, some vandelised with boarded up windows, surrounded the church.
The church is locked, no guests have arrived, I wait and think hard about what backgrounds I can use. Two guests arrive, I chat them up to work out who they are and to put them at ease – it turns out they are the mother’s parents so I make a mental note to place particular importance on them and make sure I have photos of them with their grandchild. I photograph them individually and together using a telephoto lens to knock out the background.
More people arrive but still the church is locked so they wait outside – I photograph the waiting as it sets the scene knowing I will then process the image in black and white later to conceal the less than salubrious background.
The church doors open and a young woman walks past to go in. I ask if I can photograph her not knowing her role – she agrees and I decide to photograph her with the church interior lighting as a backdrop, a decision made in the space of 30 seconds.
Again, I use the telephoto lens to knock out the background – this means I can’t use a flash but fortunately the sun has briefly come out. It turns out the young woman is Sarah, the godmother, so an important person.
Then the family arrives. The eldest son is less than happy, I enrol his uncle to cheer him up but the son is really unhappy, maybe jealous at the attention his younger brother is receiving, so instead I focus on Marc-Louis and his parents.
I also want a family photo of Marc-Louis’ mum with her children and their grandmother so I open up both church doors to make more room…. but it wasn’t the right time for the eldest son.
So when I got back to my studio, I photoshopped the image.
More guests arrived and I was reluctant to give up the beautiful backdrop – the church interior was very dark and whilst I could have used flash, I think it is more flattering to use natural light wherever possible. So I quickly photographed guests with key family members.
The service began and I focussed on photographing Marc-Louis with his godparents choosing the congregation as a background.
Then the action shots, the christening, the haircutting and more – this happens very quickly in a confined and dark space – I exposed the shot to make sure the background wasn’t black and used a flash with a special attachment to soften the light.
Finally, some posed shots with the altar as a backdrop – the priest had turned off the lights so I asked him to turn them back on so the background would ‘sing’. To organise the shots I had previously identified a friendly family member who knew who was important and was able to engage Marc-Louis’ attention.
Then to the function at Zahli’s Restaurant – the interior was very dark and the lighting a challenge. Where to photograph the guests? With permission from the restaurant, I photographed from behind the bar.
But you can’t persuade everyone to sit at the bar so I engaged groups to put them at ease before photographing them.
Table shots are tricky, dirty plates are not a good look nor are people eating so again it’s important to time the shot between courses whilst avoiding dirty plates an engaging the people.
Not all shots are posed.
Cousins will party, the trick is to notice when they do and photograph from their level unobtrusively.
And finally, the older brother, he wasn’t too happy at the church but unlike grownups, children’s moods are fleeting.
Compared to a christening, weddings are a doddle to photograph. Generally you are only dealing with adults so no fleeting moods, you can have a formal posed photography session in an environment selected beforehand, you have met the couple so you already have a relationship with them and there are lots of attractive accessories, like vintage wedding cars, wedding veils, etc.
I like christenings because of this challenge and because people are far more relaxed at them. It was interesting to hear about the wedding photographer used by this couple. He was very expensive, he didn’t seem to enjoy photographing and it felt like he dominated the wedding. Maybe he needed to photograph more christenings to understand how easy his job was? Shadi, the dad, collected all 224 images today (three days after the christening). After more than four years, he is still waiting to receive all images from his wedding photographer.