We Are Family
When Renato Cillero’s late grandmother first showed him her precious family photographs from the turn of the century, the young boy discovered a fascination for family portraiture that was ultimately to become his career.
The photographs were kept in a “black box surrounded in tissue paper” remembers Renato. “She would bring them out to showme with such care and admiration. Each photograph had a story about them, good or bad. I loved the stories that they told of a life long ago. The clothes, the poses, the expressions in their eyes. I still have them today and cherish these snapshots of a life long ago that are part of my family’s history.
There was something very special about the moments that they captured and even about the history of photography.” These days, Cillero helps create treasured memories for other families. As one of the nation’s most awarded family portraitists, he spends his days crafting shoots that capture cherished moments of family life. Cillero caught the photographic bug at an early age – as a teen he was taking photos of family and friends and by 16 had his first “paid job” as a photographer, shooting his brother’s best friend’s wedding. “I saved up all my pocket money to buy a zoom lens and a couple of Cokin filters. I would dread to see what those photos looked like today,” laughs Renato “but the couple was happy enough. And I was dirt cheap, just the cost of ten rolls of 35mm film and that was my first paid job.”
More offers to shoot friends’ weddings and birthday parties rolled in and soon Cillero became the go-to guy amongst his social group for taking photos. “I decided photography was for me. I began working for various photography studios including shooting school photos, Santa photos, and a wedding studio”. In 1997 Cillero opened his own business “from a room in my father’s house – offering mostly wedding photography”. “It wasn’t until the couples that I photographed weddings for started having babies that my portrait business really began,” he says. “I have always loved photographing families and children possibly because of the introduction to family portraits my grandmother gave me. It just seemed like a natural progression from weddings to portraiture. I still photograph some weddings today, but my specialty is mostly baby and family portraiture.”
Cillero is a firm believer that to take a good portrait you need to let the subject’s personality shine through. “My studio’s motto is ‘Your personality lives in every image we take’. My photography is strongly based around this and I believe it’s the best way to achieving great shots. This is something I always strive for. So before any shoot, I always try to find out as much as possible about my subject. What their interests are, their hobbies, their passion in life, what makes them click as a family. And from this I try to capture their personality in the shots, more so than just their face. So if they are whacky and wild, the shoot is whacky and wild.”
In order to achieve the best result, Cillero strives to create a fun atmosphere for the shoot and establish a rapport with his subjects. “At a family portrait, I always start with the kids first. I try to get their trust and connection before I even touch the camera. As long as it takes, even if I have to sit with them playing toy cars and making ‘vroom vroom’ noises, I must get the youngest ones to connect with me first. Once I have won them over, the adults are easy, and the shoot will be a breeze.”
According to Cillero a portrait is much more than “just a photo”. “It must portray the subject’s personality within that tells a story about that person and the moment it was taken in.” A number of elements must come into play in order to get the best shot. Cillero stresses the importance of light when it comes to creating a good shot. “The word photography is derived from the Greek, meaning of drawing with light. I always start with getting the light right. The light must give dimension and shape to the image and be used to help you portray that personality and mood you’re trying to achieve.
Great light will equal a great portrait,” says Cillero. “I try to just use natural light whenever possible. But when there just isn’t enough natural light, I look for the ambient light in a room and try to minimise the use of my flash. On camera flash can make an image look flat and dull. Bounce your flash or use it off camera with a wireless trigger if you must use it at all.” Of course technicalities must also come into play. Perspective and composition are important. “Try shooting from different a angles and move around the subject. It’s amazing how many portraits you can get from just changing your own position. Choose your foreground, background and remove distractions from the frame. Don’t be afraid to crop right in on the subject. Use compositional techniques such as the rule of the thirds.” Renato’s best tip for the novice shooter is to let the subject be themselves…”Never try to pose a subject, but prompt and direct what you would like them to do. Posed shots always look unnatural and stiff. Having been a professional photographer for many years, Cillero has seen a number of changes within the industry, the greatest of which was the arrival of digital photography. “It turned the photography world upside down,” he recalls “and basically meant learning a whole new skill. Gone were the days of just shooting it on film and letting your lab tweak and correct your images.”
His favourite camera gear to date – his beloved Canon EOS 1D Mk IV – for its “massive ISO range, speed and image quality in low light” which he describes as “remarkable”. “Canon is pretty much all I have ever used. They are high quality, reliable, robust cameras and have a huge range of fantastic high quality lenses. Of which my favourite lens and piece of equipment I really can’t do without, is my Canon EF70- 200mm IS f/2.8 L series lens. Probably 80% of my images and most likely about 95% of my portraits are taken with this one lens. It is absolutely fantastic for portraiture.”