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As a sign of appreciation for having chosen me as your photographer I wanted to give you a special giveaway.
Refer a friend today and get 50% off your next booking. Your booking can be in the future. The offer is valid one month, so you have sometime to decide about when you actually want to book another session. It could be for your family in the autumn with beautiful autumnal colours, or in the spring or it could be a Christmas themed shoot.
If you refer a friend they get 30% off their first booking with me. The offer is valid one month and they can book their session in the future too. It could be a maternity session in the studio or a professional portrait outdoors.
The offer applies to all my photography products, see here for details and pricing.
It has been a pleasure to work together and I look forward to working with you and your friends in the future.
I have absolutely loved working with this beautiful lady who was expecting her first baby in June this year.
We had the most amazing maternity shoot in one of the parks in our area, in Clapham Common and the weather was great. We had sunshine but also some clouds, just enough to make the skies interesting.
Her husband also joined us later in the session which was great as we had enough time to just focus on the bump and mama and then incorporate the partner.
They make a great couple together and they look fab!
To my delight they also chose me to do their newborn photos and they went for the full “bump and baby” package where the maternity session is free and included are three sessions for the baby, at birth, at 6 months and then at one year. Timings are flexible though for other parents that want these baby sessions at different times.
Their little baby boy is gorgeous and so cute, with all the newborn features, cute fingers and toes, the baby smell, trying to suck his thumb.
Here is a selection of some of the photos from the two sessions, maternity and the first newborn. I did another sneaky sessions with the baby as I wanted to get some different ‘super cute’ newborn photos (after watching numerous tutorials online!!). I will post those in a separate blog post.
This is the start of a series that I would love to continue as an ongoing project.
Through this project, I want to document “who is today part of the capital of Albania, Tirana, what are their dreams and aspirations and how things have changed in the past fifteen years”.
When I first thought about starting this project, I wanted to focus on those that are being more entrepreneurial and wanting to “drive their own destiny” and are taking things in their own hands rather than waiting from others or the government.
I have here various examples for e.g. “Nji Mar Nji Mrapsht” a shop that promotes ‘artistic creations’, ‘handmade or artisanal’ products. Two brothers that have opened one of the most active and growing bars and social clubs in Tirana, “Hemingway Bar”. A woman entrepreneur that has opened her own early years nursery in a local community, “Kopshti Tulipanet”. Or another creative mama entrepreneur that makes her own organic creams and skin products and has opened her own skincare shop “Soap Arcadia”.
However as the series is about the city of Tirana, it cannot ignore aspects of the built environment that is a significant factor in recent changes and developments of the city.
From an outsiders perspective the city might not seem very asymmetrical but from an insider’s perspective it has significantly outgrown its former boundaries from its communist past on many fronts: size and density, use of cars which was almost non-existent for 40 years before 1992, use of concrete massively that replaces every green space or local playground to give rise to grey concrete towers.
Another aspect of the city that cannot be forgotten is its retired population that is present in public spaces, boulevards and public benches spending time, in a similar way as before in communism (a welcomed sign of familiarity with the past).
Tirana is my hometown, where I was born and grew-up. The city was very different during my first 13 years of life as it was a communist country until 1992.
Since then it has been all change and the lifestyle of those that inhabit Tirana today, is all very different. This is a chronicle of the present, not the past, there are other accounts of the past available which make for interesting reading, especially when put next to each other.
This series tells the stories of those captured through the camera and what they told me on the day I took their photos.
Nji Mar, Nji Mrapsht shop
This young girl was a student of engineering, originally from Vlora but living in Tirana and also working part time in a shop that sells handmade and recycled items – Nji Mar, nji Mrapsht which is known by many locals in the area of Rruga e Durresit and Rruga e Kavajes.
Hemingway Bar and Social Club Tirana
Hemingway Bar and social club in Tirana (Albania), a place of fine taste in interior decor and selection of drinks, with some very old bottles of rum as pointed out by the girl working at the bar there. It is also a place of live music and cultural excursion into the world of a great writer.
Education and early years childcare
A lovely lady, the manager of the nursery “Tulips” in Tirana (near Rruga e Durresit), a woman entrepreneur who opened this nursery with a passion for children and their early years. My son spent three weeks there as a way to reinforce his Albanian and he was very warmly welcomed by her and her staff.
Handmade organic skin products and care
Mama and entrepreneur!!! She makes beautiful handmade organic creams, knows tons about skin care, and has a beautiful personality. Her shop is Soap Arcadia and she is a very active member of Tirana’s green, creative and entrepreneur community.
Retired life and football fan
It is a common thing in Albania for “pensioners” to go to the “centre” of town and spend time there with their friends. I spoke to this man who told me a little bit about his story in the centre of Tirana (opposite is the National History Museum and its large scale socialist realist mosaic).
“I have spent 10 years in retirement, my wife died of cancer and went very quickly, bless her soul. I live with my son, he has a family and they look after me really well, I love my grandchildren and I come here every morning to spend some time outside. My wife and I used to love football and we would go to watch matches together, I miss her. For me now what matters is peace of mind as I don’t work, I don’t have any urgency in my day, it is a quiet life and I enjoy what i can”. Although a bit sad I love his dressing style and his strong personality.
Reading together, a reading project for vulnerable Roma children
Part of the series “Locals of Tirana” is this set of photos I took during a reading project in Shkoze, to children from the Roma community. Shkoze is an area on the outskirts of Tirana and away from the fashionable centre of the city but these children are part of the cityscape as you can spot them sometimes begging in city centre, they are also part of Tirana, albeit often the “invisible ones”!
As all other children they also enjoy reading and had a great session with these volunteers who make time to read to them every week. “Reading Together: Shkoze” is the name of the project, they have a facebook page and are open to volunteers or donations. The lady who introduced me to this project is an English woman who lives and works between Tirana and Pristina that I knew through her book “The Rubbish Picker’s Wife”, an excellent book and a great introduction into her world of helping marginal communities of Roma and Ashkali on the outskirts of Prishtina, through education, Elizabeth Gowing. She has written four other books and is also a very active member of the charities, cultural and writing community of Tirana.
Urbanism and citizens, “Superwoman” watching over the city
So much to say about this photo, where to start. My friend in the photo is looking like a real model. The building behind is seen as an ‘eyesore’ to Tirana’s low rise landscape from those living in Tirana but not from those that have some sort of interest in the building, politically or other.
From an outsider’s perspective isn’t this building visually ‘captivating’? I think the two put together give a quick accurate glimpse of the contradictions of a ‘modern city’ growing beyond its ‘means’.
I have shared this image with many friends and connections online and with some mainstream media outlets and the tone of the commentary is so different between what people say and what the ‘independent media’ said.”We need to approach such subjects with caution not to upset the authorities” is the general gist of the later whereas what people clearly say is that it is an abusive building from a public space perspective but also visually, historically and the list goes on. As well as the debate and uncertainty about the actual use and utility of a building that remains empty for the foreseeable future.
I have published all these photos on my facebook photography page Laura Shimili Mears Photography a page that is public and where you can comment about any of the aspects of this project.
If you would like to take part let me know, I would be delighted to have a chat and take your photographs or if you have people you would like to recommend pease do put them forward.
I first met Charlie five years ago, when he very kindly agreed to meet me and a few other mums to talk and practice photography and learn along the way. A number of us found his advice very useful and it ranged from camera settings, to suggestions about camera and lenses and how to understand and work with natural light.
Charlie operates from his Clapham base and has build his practice working with local couples and families doing weddings and family photography. More recently he has been doing more commercial work but also producing videos.
I took the opportunity to have a chat with him and learn more about what he’s up to these days and where he has come from in terms of his photographic journey.
Where do you come from Charlie and how did you get started in photography?
I was born and raised in New Zealand, so, like many Kiwis I’m a keen traveller. After living and travelling in Asia, the Americas and Europe I now live in Clapham, London.
I began shooting travel and landscape photography while living in Japan many years ago, progressed to selling some of that along with writing travel journalism. Then when I went professional about 10 years ago, I was shooting mainly weddings and family portraiture.
Now I’ve transitioned into shooting commercial lifestyle & portraiture of various types for advertising and PR, a fair amount of architecture/interiors, plus shooting/producing video for commercials, corporate events, food industry, music and various others.
What are you doing at this moment?
I’ve been shooting a lot of video and photography for Battersea Power Station – arts & corporate events in the new Village Hall at Circus West and lifestyle videos of their weekend street-food/family entertainment events.
Other recent work has been shooting street fêtes, lifestyle advertising images for a health charity, corporate portraits, a family portrait commission, and some interior architecture.
What are you plans for the business for this year?
Plans this year are to develop the video aspect even more – possibly some documentaries coming up to shoot/produce, more commercials, plus a short film/dance video project.
What would you like to do more of and less off?
Hope to shoot more music/dance videos (more for the fun than the money) plus creative, narrative commercials.
What motivates you?
Satisfaction of producing great images!
1 fact about your self?
I graduated with two degrees (BPhEd & BA) from university in NZ, neither related to photography!
What advice would you give to any budding photographers, wanting to turn their passion into a business?
Have an alternative source of income as you build your business, ideally something flexible. Eg. I did part-time supply (relief) teaching. You could even choose to only do profitable jobs in the weekends/evenings, if you have a Monday to Friday, 9-5 job. Meanwhile, of course you are doing personal projects for free to build your skills.
I want to say a huge thank you to Charlie and wish him well in his new undertakings. Certainly the Battersea Power Station project is likely to keep him busy for a while during construction phase and beyond completion.
Here is a video Charlie made for Battersea Power Station project about their June events and activities.
I love Battersea park and I love visiting it in the summer. It’s green and lush and has shaded areas where you can also cool down away from the heat.
We set to do a maternity shoot with this lovely lady, at Battersea Park looking for the beautiful surroundings as a natural background.
Although quite close to the term, this energetic ‘mum-to-be’ was happy to try a few places and walk around wandering in the park.
Here are some of the photos. She was on the way to a wedding and was wearing a beautiful dress that looks stunning but was also comfortable.
Pregnancy is such an amazing time, there is all the excitement about the baby but also all the changes to the body and also to the person, who is starting on a journey to becoming the most special person in the world, to a new being, ‘a mother’.
The precious months of pregnancy go fast, planning a maternity session at a convenient time and at reasonable prices can create those lasting memories that can be cherished forever.
I am a big advocate of positive birth experiences and that includes anything that is positive for the woman in the way she has given birth and in the way she has felt about it.
Our experiences are what we make of them. Like anything in life you get what you put in and I am also a big advocate of actually ‘working’ on making your own birth a positive experience. It is not only a medical experience, it is your body and your mind that are involved and are in charge as well as the rest of everyone else involved from your birth partners to midwives, consultants, etc.
So as far as ‘working’ on making your birth experience positive there are many things you can do.
For my first child I did some of it but not enough, as it transpired afterwards. I did a hypnobirthing course and read the book and did the ‘visualisations’ but they were not enough. On the day and labour was long, didn’t progress well and ended with interventions. However through hypnobirthing I learnt to accept the way labour actually went and consider that experience to be positive after all i.e I was not bitter.
Second time around I wanted it to be better and first and foremost I wanted to understand how it actually worked and what were the phases of labour and who actually did the work of birthing the baby.
Understanding the physiology of birth
I learned that it was the contractions and the womb that functions as a muscle and through the contractions makes so that the baby is born (midwifes and doulas out there feel free to correct me if not exactly rightly worded).
The way I learnt about this was through a birthing doula which is an amazing person to have by your side when you go through labour.
As it happened the doula was actually not present during the birth of my second baby (as the baby arrived very quickly) but the conversations with her and the way she explained the birthing process to me were amazing and enough to make me feel confident that i can do it.
The thing I couldn’t get my head around was how could I go through labour something similar to an operation i.e as painful as that without any pain relief or anaesthetic.
And this is what I learned, I learned that my body and mind have an amazing mechanism of coping with pain, as long as I was not scared or panicking (read producing adrenaline) but relaxed and ‘in the zone’ (producing oxytocine, the love hormone and also the hormone that facilitates chidbirth). This completely changed my perception and made me believe that ‘I can do it”, ‘my body can do it” and as a result ‘took away the fear’ from me.
The altered perception of pain
From the notes my doula gave me there was a section about the physiology of birth and somewhere and the ‘altered perception of pain’ which is something that happens in the brain.
So during labour there are two types of messages that reach the brain, one is the pain from the contractions and the other is the ‘I can cope with this’ signal transmitted after going through a contraction. Apparently this second message reaches the brain faster than the first causing what is known as the ‘altered perception of pain’, or in simpler terms less pain. Dimmed lights, music, massage can help getting into that state and once there, it is easier to continue labour, feeling encouraged and euphoric.
So for me, reading and understanding that is what did it, what turned me from someone scared to give birth to someone that can understand the process and thinks ‘I can do it’, ‘it is possible to do it’. What I needed was to be in that state of confidence and belief for as much as possible. It also made me realise that giving birth is not like an operation because it is part of the body’s function and the body is built around that, and giving birth is not an external thing but completely internal.
The excitement of seeing the baby and the knowledge that the baby is what I am going to have at the end of this, made the journey acceptable and even exciting.
Other things you can do to get ready for birth
A healthy diet
Having a daily rest
Lots of relaxing baths
Sleeping on the left side
Especially after week 32 it is thought to encourage the baby to position itself in an optimal position for birth which is OA (occiput anterior which means baby’s back against your tummy)
I did for bothmy children as they were both late.
I swear by colophylum for a quick and efficient labour. I took it for a week, after my due date with baby nr 2 and I believe it made my labour faster.
Perineal massage with almond oil
I swear by this as well, for reducing the risk of tearing, I had no tears the second time round.
Listening to Yoga Nidra relaxation tracks
The Yoga Nidra Network has a number of them online and free.
Maggie Howell natal hypnotherapy CD
You can download them from itunes and I did that just before going into labour and listened to the track as I got into bed. It did something magical to me, it send me to sleep for 2 hours and by the time I woke up I was in active labour and only 2 hours 45 minutes after the baby was born.
Having a great birthing partner
For me it was my husband and he did an amazing job, massaging my back and thighs, holding me during contractions and being in charge at home, on his own. The plan was for us to meet the doula in the hospital but we had no time, by the time I woke up. So we stayed at home, paramedics arrived in the last 20 minutes to catch the baby and it was ‘unbelievable’.
So what about you, what has your birth experience been? Do you feel that having a positive birth experience matters? And how have you made it so. I would love to hear about it.
I am linking this blog to the fabulous Aby’s Linkylink!
A little photo is up on the blog dedicated to my ‘Albanian culture and traditions’. These girls are wearing Albanian traditional costumes which are very pretty and with vivid colours.
The Albanian community in London is very organised and there are many groups that organise events regularly, networking events, community days, fundraisers etc. The main groups are Shpresa Programme, Ardhmeria, Nene Tereza, UK Albanian Professionals (this list is not exhaustive).
There are also Albanian classes for children to learn it as a second language in ‘after school’ or at ‘weekend’ programmes.
Unfortunately we don’t have one such class in our area of South London which is one of the reasons I keep looking for a teacher willing to run a class.
There is interest and I know a number of parents who want to do it but we haven’t yet found a teacher willing to do it. The search continues 🙂
The photos and the event above are from 2013. The event was organised by Ardhmeria and also saw the launch of a book “Flying with kites” by Alan Reynolds.
Let me put it out there, I am no definite expert but I have learnt a few things from being around and meeting with professional photographers. Here are some quick tips on how to make the most of natural light in a ‘home’ or ‘outdoors’ environment when taking photos of your children or other people.
I started taking photographs nearly 15 years ago, initially of my friends and people on the street, and then of my children and family friends. Since the beginning of this year I am taking more photographs of other people as a professional photographer and these tips still apply. When I turn up at someone’s house I have to do a quick assessment of the place, where the light source is i.e. windows and where can we ‘set-up’ for the shoot, in terms of light and background.
I am not going to talk here about camera settings as that is another topic that deserves a whole lot of attention in itself and there are countless guides out there about that. I know I have created a few quick ‘go-to’ settings I use on my camera in manual mode – f4 for shallow depth of field and ISO 200 or 400; f5.6 for having more of the subject in focus and ISO 200 or 400 or more for indoor lighting; f11 for anything that is landscapes and where I need the whole scene to be in focus. These set-ups seem to work for me but I do also get it wrong and have to take a few more shots just in case.
In order of importance as others more expert than me say, the psychology of the shoot is the first thing to care about, then you need to define your positioning and lighting and have a few ‘set-up’ scenarios that you can use during the shoot.
1. The psychology of the shoot
Being good at ‘people management’ is the first rule of thumb. Building a good rapport is important as that will allow people to feel at ease and be natural. During this shoot with my friend and her family we spent about one hour together and this photos was taken about half-way through, meaning that by this point everyone was feeling more relaxed and ‘playing the game’.
There are countless permutations about positioning and where you could be as you can be anywhere, ready to photograph your subject.
Be ready to capture the natural
With children however being quick to take the shot is key and capturing them in their natural element is the best.
With my son on this shoot I took a few photos from above, while he was lying on the floor and I paused for a bit which is when he put his hands on each side of his face and I ‘caught’ the pose quickly enough before he moved. Priceless!
Move around and try different positions
If one position doesn’t seem to work just move around and try a new one. Incorporating the elements from the scene your children are busy playing with also gives more interest to the photo.
Use the ‘bird’s eye’ perspective
A good one with children as they are little and it is possible but also because they have lovely expressions when capturing them from above.
Make use of beautiful backgrounds
As simple as that, making the most of flower beds, or trees or any other cute background.
These are important as they do not distract away from the focus of the photo. If you can, try and move things that are in the way, toys, tables, chairs etc. Or place your subject in front of a clean wall or a use a backdrop if you have, that’s even better.
3. Lighting or what makes beautiful photographs
Again there are beautiful works of art out there from professional photographers that master the art of lighting in studio or outdoors and use appropriate equipment for that. I love photos from Damien Lovegrove and Julia Boggio.
However lighting is something anyone can use and be aware of no matter what your level of photography is.
In simplistic terms there are a number of elements that you need to care about the most about lighting and that will help you produce better photos.
The quality of light with “soft” light generally being more flattering than “hard” light
However hard light can be used to create dramatic effects.
Lighting on the subject is “soft” when the source of light is near the subject and diffuse in its distribution. For example the light coming from a window. Lighting on the subject is “hard” when the source of light is removed/far from the subject or is a strong “not-covered” single source of light. Think about the sun or a single lighting source above your subject’s head.
The direction of light
This is the direction from which the light falls on to the subject with lighting from the side usually being more flattering for portraits.
Lighting from above is less so, for .e.g. midday sun is not very flattering and can be harsh.
However if there isn’t a clear ‘direction of light’, the most important is for the subject to be well lit.
Defined as the difference in lighting between the “well lit areas” of the subject and the “not so well lit” ones. The smoother the difference in lighting between these areas, the less contrast will be in the photograph.
A reflector can help reduce contrast or using more than one source of light (which I didn’t have here in this photo and therefore it is a contrasted light).
4. Your ‘go-to scenarios’ you can use during the shoot
Indoors or a home environment
Use the window as your light source and place your subject next to it.
Shoot in the doorway, that is another great location, as light is interesting.
Increase the ISO settings on your camera to 800 or more and use a wider aperture (f4 for mine or f1.8, f2 for other lenses).
Look at where the light is coming from and try and place your subjects where the light falling into them, is most flattering.
Use sunlight to light the subjects hair from behind, giving the photo a magical hazy effect.
Use natural elements to add interest
Trees or flowers, or long grass anything that makes the place look magical and unique.
Make use of accessories for your ‘models’
During a maternity shoot we made use of hats to add elements of interest to the photos.
Conclusion – ‘make your photo’ rather than ‘take your photo’
A lot of effort goes into beautiful images, the location, lighting, posing, clothes, emotions so the more of these you use the better your photos will be. But as with anything you don’t need to wait to be perfect before you start you can start from where you are and get better overtime.
As mentioned at the start, these are some quick tips i have learnt along the way, through courses I have attended, a mums photo club I run for a while in Clapham and being a member of the Photographer Academy and the SWWP.
You can start using these tips today to take better photos, using natural light.
Have you found this useful? Do you have any other tips you find useful? I would love to hear from you.
Having done it with just my husband (when there was just us two) and having previously lived in Paris for seven years in my student years, doing it with a toddler in tow and pregnant was a (totally crazy) different experience.
Only joking, it was still wonderful, and not more stressful because, hold tight, we didn’t cram in too much during our 3 days there.
Packing too many things during the stay can make it stressful, so we wanted to have a relatively free and spontaneous programme, while also having a list of things to do/see. Having one key attraction per day was the perfect amount we found.
So on to what worked well for us?
Stay close to the departure/arrival station
Well, first staying somewhere close to ‘the point of entry’ i.e. for us the Eurostar arrival station, Gare du Nord. We booked an AirBnb apartment about 10 minutes walk from Gare du Nord and that was brilliant. It meant that we could ‘check-in’ first and drop our bags and have a quick refreshment/put my feet up. Also for our toddler it was exciting to discover a new place and enjoy some quiet time before we set off for an outing again.
Beautiful Canal St Martin area
The second good thing about the location of our apartment was that we were quite close to the beautiful canal St Martin, with its many coffee shops, bars and brasseries. So after a quick rest we headed out again and stopped for a late lunch in one of the canal facing, brasseries. Along the canal there is a playground, an additional attraction for our toddler who still had some remaining energies after all.
Being in a different country is interesting when you observe your own child trying to interact with other local children. And before you ask, no I wasn’t providing any kind of translation, to questions, such as “can i have a go at the swing”, that doesn’t need any translating, does it?
Balloon adventure at Parc Andre Citroen
The definite highlight of our trip was the “balloon” adventure. During my years of studying in Paris and working intermittently as an ‘au pair’ I had gained a good ‘children related’ knowledge of playgrounds and adventure parks.
One I was very familiar with was Parc Andre Citroen, in the 15th arrondissement. It is a little bit out of the way and not a main tourist attraction but for kids it is magical.
The park has a number of gardens and a great fountain court with water jets that can be such great fun, in hot weather. You can sit on the grass and enjoy a picnic while you look at the balloon, which is not a “hot air” but a “tethered” balloon that goes up to 150 metres. The views of the Seine and the Tour Eiffel are splendid and it is not as crowded as the Tour Eiffel or Sacre Coeur Cathedral.
‘Toujours dans mon coeur’ Quartier Latin
Another favourite area I always love to visit when in Paris, is the Quartier Latin or 5th arrondissement, perhaps because I love to go back to the ‘student streets’ of la Sorbonne where I spent many splendid youthful years.
Jardin du Luxembourg cannot be sidelined and hidden in there, is another great adventure playground for kids, “Les Poussins Verts”. This one was way too busy than the quiet and relaxing Parc Andre Citroen but it is centrally located and you also have to pay a small fee.
One thing we had not noticed on our previous trips, was the lack of escalators or lifts in the “Metro”. If you can manage not to have a buggy or can take with you a collapsible one, underground journeys will be less tiring.
By the end of the third day in Paris, while also quite pregnant, 7th months precisely, I was starting to feel the heat of the streets and the underground and it was soon time to leave.
Eurostar here we come!
Heading towards Gare du Nord and the exciting Eurostar journey, was extremely pleasant and another adventure for our toddler, the train and the tunnel under the sea!
Some photos from the trip, unseen before, enjoy!
I would love to hear if you have been to any of these places in Paris or have any others to share.