The only way you can get better at something is practice. That goes for anything and anyone, especially for me. Everyone needs to take classes and practice. When I was a dancer for two seasons at Jacob’s Pillow, the great Judith Jamison told us, “If you think you are done taking classes or practicing stuff because you are that fierce…quit now.” I take that to heart when it comes to my photography.
Now that I am opening my business to photographing Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, I thought I could apply this philosophy with the young adults whose lives I am going to enter. I thought, “Hey…I do this for couples that feel uncomfortable in front of the lens before their weddings, so why not try this with the kids whose mitzvahs I’m going to shoot?” So, any time a family books me for their child’s mitzvah, I include a practice portrait session for the kid.
The first thing I do when I meet the child is to give them my cell number and Instagram link. Then they know that I am there for THEM! A Mitzvah can be stressful time for a tween, and now they know that they have the power to reach out to me whenever they want. (And they don’t take advantage of it at all!) They, and all their friends, follow me on Instagram and I can see what they are up to and what they like as well. It’s a win-win.
During the practice session, I tell the subject to invite their besties to come along. This way, when I show up for their actual Mitzvah day, not only is the child comfortable with me but so are their friends. I walk through the room, and everyone makes a little fuss and gets all hammy for me, which is great. They don’t think, “Oh man, who is that weird lady with the cameras?” But make no mistake: the practice session is about the child who is getting Bat or Bar Mitzvahed. Not the group. And I tell the kids, “Hey, you are just the backup dancers, and he or she is the star today.” All the kids are fine with it and take me seriously.
I try to get the pictures from these sessions to the family soon after we’re finished; so that they can use the images for whatever they want—slideshows, sign-in poster boards, or even the invitations.
Here are a few samples from a couple practice sessions I have done. These are Kendall, Zoe, and Ellie. I have already done Kendall’s Bat Mitzvah, and I just shot Zoe’s this past weekend. Ellie’s is next month in NYC, and I can’t wait. Each one of these girls has a very different life and personality, and doing these practice sessions helped me figure out how to approach them during their big day as well.
Don’t worry, I’m still doing weddings—but why not do all the things? Right?