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Family Affair

How do you take your family photos to the next level? Award winning photographers Vicki Bell and Rocco Ancora explain the art of portraiture.

If you’ve ever spent any time watching early morning TV, chances are you’ve seen infomercials for glamour photographers or family photos. Whilst, you’re not likely to see Vicki Bell or Rocco Ancora hawking their wares on the tube – nonetheless the pair, who run successful Melbourne photographic studio Ancora and Bell have been capturing people’s precious moments for years. With a number of prestigious awards under their belts, including Gold Medals at the Aperture Awards and a Nikon Ambassdorship to name a few, these two photographers know how to capture the essence of their subjects. It’s an art that requires a good eye, a rapport with the client and oftentimes when dealing with young children – a lot of patience…

For Bell, the photographic bug bit at an early age. She has fond memories of “playing with a Polaroid camera” as a child and her first real hands on experience with cameras and darkrooms was in grade six when an accommodating teacher shared the joys of photography with her class. By the time Bell made it to uni, a Major in photography was on  the cards but it wasn’t until her first job as an assistant with Leanne Temme that her interest in portraiture developed. A career specialising in portraiture and family photos soon followed.

For many people a trip to the photographic studio is a once in a lifetime event. For a photographer this often means a relationship with the subject needs to be developed quite quickly. “I try to establish a rapport with clients from the first phone call and gather information that builds in my mind a picture of who they are,” says Vicki. “I guess my strength has been my ability to connect so readily with people of all types. I have had many moments of not knowing a subject at all in a wedding situation or on a corporate shoot and have achieved a great shot.”

For Bell, putting the client at ease is the key – it’s a notion we could all adopt for our own family photos. “I work with a smile and a genuine interest in who I meet and that allows the rapport to unfold easily”. “I guess once I have listened to my client on what inspires them and the images they enjoy and the feel they want to achieve, I can create. I get a sense of their energy and try to echo that. So working with babies I remain quiet, gentle and with toddlers a lot more animated (sometimes too much) and playful. So I tune-in. I aim for variety and shoot until I feel it’s a wrap. It could be 30 minutes to two hours…depends…”

Whilst Bell is in control when it comes to the set up for her images “I guess in the portrait genre we choose the right place and time” she says that spontaneity is at the centre of many great images. “I always get ready for those in between moments especially with young children and babies. Often it comes just as I remove the camera from my eye…you’ve got to be quick to  grab that moment!” With all the advances in technology capturing ‘that moment’ has gotten easier than ever, although Bell admits that sometimes the changes “do her head in”. “I must say I do miss the early darkroom days for the quiet moments.

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