Nick Kelsh on Taking Better Photos and Preserving a Legacy

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Glen Meakem, Founder and CEO of Forever, had a chance to chat with Nick Kelsh a few weeks ago. They talk about the importance of photographing your children with their grandparents, simple tips for taking better photos, and how to save those memories permanently.

A transcript of their conversation is provided below.

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Nick Kelsh on Meakem on the Weekend

Glen Meakem: We’re back, it’s Glen Meakem, this is Glen Meakem on the Weekend. Great to be with you. I have now in the studio with me, or on the phone actually, a really interesting guest this evening. He’s been on I think once before, maybe twice. His name is Nick Kelsh. He’s a renowned photographer, and he’s become a friend of mine over the past year. He’s the author of nine books, including How to Photograph Your Baby, How to Photograph Your Family, and How to Photograph Your Life.

And when he’s been on in the past, it’s been really interesting. There are basic skills that all of us who take who photos of our families need to have and don’t have. I’ve learned amazing things just listening to Nick a few times. He’s been featured in numerous magazines including National Geographic, Forbes, and Business Week. He’s also appeared on national shows like Oprah a number of times. And he’s recently written a fantastic post called Capture a Legacy: Tips for Great Photos with Grandparents. Nick, thanks for being with us.

Nick Kelsh: Hey thanks for having me again.

G.M. Thank you. So tell us, why is it important for people to take photos of their grandparents?

N.K. You know, it sounds so obvious, but that is, I think, the most tangible way to preserve your family’s legacy. And I don’t want to get all morbid here, but nobody is getting any younger around here. You’re on deadline a little bit you know. It’s important to photograph those grandkids with their grandparents. And I wanna just give you a little personal experience here.

I’m a professional photographer, I write photo tips for family photographers, and sometimes it’s within my grasp to forget. You know when the grandkids are with the grandparents and my camera’s like out in the car, I think “ehhh, you know, I’ll shoot the picture later”. It’s easy to forget how important those photographs are. They are, I think, among the most important photographs you’ll ever take as a family photographer. And if you ever have the golden moment of grandparent photography, when you have one grandchild with all four of their grandparents in the room… if you don’t record those five faces together, well, you’re off my photo tip list for sure.

G.M. Well that’s interesting, because I know a lot of times in my family they’ll be big group photos. But you’re talking about one grandchild with all four of their grandparents. Talk about that.

N.K. I try, and have done, I’ve photographed each of my kids alone with each of their grandparents. Getting one child together with all their grandparents is a really significant thing. But also, my son Alexander, with my mother-in-law, Linda, I photographed just the two of them together. They have a special relationship. And when you are 40 years old and you can go back to that photograph, and say “here I am with my grandmother”, it’s not like you’re in the the group shot at the family reunion, it’s just the two of us. Or you with just the two grandparents. It’s different than being with your brothers.

I mean the same thing goes for parents, if you wanna know the truth. I mean many people don’t have… I mean seriously, I have 5 kids in my family, I don’t have a single photograph of me with my dad. That’s a really important thing to photograph.

G.M. You know, it’s funny. I’m not sure I have a single photograph of just me and my father either. My father passed away last year, I’m not sure I do.

N.K. Yeah, absolutely, many people don’t.

G.M. So what other advice and tips would you give people on photographing children with their grandparents.

N.K. Okay here’s the deal. People, as we get older, and I’m talking about everybody over the age of 23 basically, they become obsessed and insecure about the way they look. They look one way in the mirror but they don’t look that way in photographs. As you get older you become more sensitive, and when you’re photographing a grandchild with a grandparent, you want to control the lighting.

I have found the following solves the problem completely: I take people and pose them in a doorway. A doorway that leads to the outdoors. And I’m not putting them in direct sunlight. So I stand outside the house, and they're standing inside the doorway with light bouncing off the sidewalk and the sky. It’s all coming in, lighting their face, and that is a poor man’s version of what professional photographers call “beauty light”. Because it’s flattering, and everybody looks good in it. What it is, it’s a natural recreation of the light you would see in a makeup mirror, with all those lightbulbs around the mirror. Light is coming from all directions, and let’s just say the word out loud, you don’t see wrinkles as much.

G.M. Aaaahhh, when light’s coming from all directions you don’t see wrinkles.

N.K. Yep, this is how photographers eliminate wrinkles. And even reluctant grandparents who I can get in front of my camera in a doorway, later they look at the picture and they’re going “gee Nick, you really are a good photographer, wow!” It’s all about the lighting. Worst case scenario would be somebody, a grandparent, at high noon, with the sun directly over their head. That’s about as flattering as a lightbulb right over your head.

G.M. That’s been one of my big learnings, I tell you what, even with my iPhone. Because I’m not a big photographer, I’m certainly not a professional photographer, quite the opposite. But one nice advantage I have now in life is that, I used to not take any photos at all, I just used to not carry a camera with me. But now I have a camera with me in my pocket all the time, and it’s actually not terrible. And just, your advice last time you were on this show, saying “hey, turn off the flash”.

N.K. Yeah.

G.M. What incredible advice that’s been for me on my iPhone photos.

N.K. Yes yes yes. I mean if you can get yourself as an amateur photographer to the point where you’re considering the lighting every time you take a picture? I mean that’s what National Geographic photographers do every time they push the button. I mean they really do. It’s all about the lighting. I tell amateurs, look, it’s like cooking. When you get the good ingredients up front then you’re about 90% of the way home. And in photography, good light is certainly one of the most important ingredients. Obviously there’s subject matter too. But lighting is so important, and what I’m giving you is a recipe just like cooking, I just gave you a recipe for photographing grandparents. Put them in a front door, no direct sunlight on their faces, it’s that soft light coming from all directions, and it’s actually the same quality of light that you see on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine and other glamour magazines. Beauty light.

G.M. And once you take these photos, what should people do with them?

N.K. Well here’s the deal. I gotta tell you Glen, I bought a Forever account 6 months ago, and I think you guys… your listeners are aware of Forever right?

G.M. Maybe not all of them.

N.K. Well, okay. Glen has a company called Forever. This is how I met Glen, I bought a Forever account. I think you guys have solved what I consider to be the big giant-elephant-in-the-corner problem. You know, I tell everybody take pictures, take pictures, take pictures. They have mountains, mountains of photographs building up on computers, on hard drives, in photo albums.

Forever allows you to permanently upload your family photography to a site, and it’s permanent, and it’s safe, and there the legacy lives. And it’s permanent in the way an endowment scholarship at Harvard is permanent. How could it be forever? Well guess what? Harvard’s gonna be there in a 100 years. Or like an insurance company. When you buy a Forever account, a membership, a majority of the money you’re paying is going to establish an endowment for your photographs. So if you get hit by a bus, your photographs are gonna live. You know I’ve got photographs all over the place. My stuff is probably a bigger mess than most people’s because I have so many photographs. I’ve got hard drives and hard drives and hard drives and I know if I get hit by a bus and then my wife moves out with the kids or whatever, some of those hard drives are gonna end up in the landfill, I know they are.

G.M. Yes, it’s true. But not at forever.com. Well Nick, we’ve run out of time, but again I love having you on this show. I appreciate the words about Forever, but it's also these simple comments, I never would have thought about that. Put your mother and your child together in the doorway looking out, soft light, and have that incredible forever moment, take the photo and then preserve it forever, I think it’s just great advice. Thanks so much.

N.K. Absolutely, I have a series of photographs of my son Alexander with his grandmother taken in about 6 different doorways, and they all have that same beautiful quality of light. Six different ages.

G.M. Fabulous. How can people find out more about you Nick? Where can they go to hear from you? You have a great blog, great Facebook page, tell people about that.

N.K. Thank you, thank you. Go to our Facebook page right now, How to Photograph Your Baby. We are sponsoring a photo contest. Well actually we’re establishing the photo contest and I’ve twisted Glen’s arm. Forever is sponsoring this photo contest. We have $2500 in prizes that we’re giving away, including a Forever membership, Nick Kelsh photo courses, and it’s a grandparents photo contest. It’s going to run through the end of September. The winner is gonna win $1000 worth of fantastic stuff, and a Forever membership could very well change your complete relationship with photography. And by the way Glen, the new update on the design is fabulous. I was looking at it and the more I played with it the better it got.

G.M. Great, alright well Nick Kelsh, thanks so much for being with us. And listeners, thanks for being with me this week, I’ve really enjoyed it and I’ll be back again next week. Have a great week ahead.


Hurry, the contest ends soon! Submit your favorite photo honoring grandparents for a chance to win over $3,000 in prizes, and vote for your favorites daily.