Ana Pratas discusses her approach to family photography
From tantrums to bedtime stories, Ana Pratas shoots it all. Meet the family photographer who uses documentary style techniques to capture truly authentic moments.
How long have you been a photographer and how did you get into it?
I started taking photos as a hobby a long time ago. In 2011 my photography started to evolve into something bigger, so when my job came to an end I began taking photos full time.
However, photography’s always been a big part of my life. My mother took a lot of photos of me as a child, ones that I really cherish now. She printed them and put them into photo albums to preserve for herself, for me and for our friends and family. I’m really glad she did that.
Have you always photographed families?
No, when I first picked up a camera I was shooting without a goal. Then, one day, something clicked and I discovered family photography. I realised that I really enjoyed it and I was at it good too. I started to learn everything about the craft and absorbed all the information I could; I practiced a lot. I started shooting families that I knew and shot my first client in 2011.
My love for family photography has everything to do with my childhood. I had a very happy childhood. Family and photography just makes sense to me.
Do you think it’s important to capture, print and preserve the early lives of children for them, or their parents?
I think it’s important for both, but personally, I photograph for children more than parents. In the future, let’s say twenty to thirty years from now, the kids will cherish these pictures in the same way that I cherish the ones from my childhood. It’s things they don’t usually remember, the routines and pets or how their parents looked. Spaces are important too like remembering their first home, the garden where they learnt to ride a bike or the bedroom they shared with a sibling.
So, the children are the main focus.
We love the authenticity of your photography, like the images of children having tantrums; do you feel a responsibility to be as real as possible?
I try to, yes. During shoots I spend whole days with these families. I don’t direct or ask them to pose, I just act like a friend. I want to see everything, naturally. I don’t want to interfere, it’s important for them to be very true and authentic. If I start directing or interfering I lose the essence of their daily lives.
What equipment do you use to shoot families?
I use the Canon 6D 1 and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM. I like to be light with my equipment because I’m moving around a lot and I find the Canon 6D DSLR is really light.
I love the depth that I achieve from the 100mm; it’s always very good, especially for outdoor documentary style shoots. The quality of the images for the price is the best on the market that I’ve found.
How do you capture candid stories without intruding?
Interacting. I play with the children, I eat lunch and dinner with the family; I go wherever they go. After a few hours they get used to me so things happen naturally. My presence will always interfere a bit - it’s hard not too. But there’s a difference between being there and being with them, that’s why I try to interact rather than be ‘a fly on the wall’ because it helps encourage natural moments.
You must work with proud parents regularly who are eager to share stories of their children, do you have any advice for them regarding printing and framing pictures?
I always encourage families to print and preserve their photographs. We have images now that are over 100 years old, so with today’s technology they’ll last even longer. In this way it’s not just about having them but also backing them up.
It’s important to buy a photo album too - it’s a beautiful way to display images. An album means they’ll see them more and can show the stories easily to family and friends, and then eventually the children themselves.
Do you feel that following family life brings them closer together?
I like to believe that it does. I’ve found that families who hire me to capture their lives are usually already close-knit. I try to capture moments that we don’t notice, like a spontaneous, tender gesture between siblings or a detail that emphasises the kid’s personality. I think seeing these moments definitely make people realise what they have together.
What’s your favourite family photo and why?
I have two. The first was during a posed photo shoot and I was trying to get the family together but it ended in chaos. One child was running away, the mother was trying to stop him and the father was in tow with a baby clutched between his arms - this is a real family picture. It’s not perfect, no one is smiling at the camera, but it’s fun and it’s realistic.
The other is of a mother putting her son to bed. The image is really dark and the ISO is very high so it’s a very noisy image. It’s not my best photo technically, but it’s an intimate moment – it feels precious.
Do you have any tips for photographing children?
There’s a game that I play with children to help them feel comfortable, it’s called “the serious game”. Basically, you tell the children that they have to be very serious and can’t smile or laugh. Most can’t hold and it doesn’t take long before they burst out laughing.
I always try and set my shoots in fun environments such as parks or beaches, or somewhere where they feel comfortable like their home. I think, however, if you like children it’ll come naturally.
Other than that - practise, practise, practise!
Ana’s Kit Bag
Answers edited for clarity and pacing.
*Canon EOS 6D Mark I is no longer available; search Canon EOS 6D Mark II for more information on the upgraded model.
Written by Sasha Newbury