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  • Writer's pictureCara Hodge

Letting go of perfection. Emotive family portraits Dublin.

"Perfection is the enemy of progress". A quote by Churchill. But what does it mean, really?

Essentially, in terms of photography, it means that if all we are concerned with is the technique of capturing a "perfect" picture, we are in danger of losing the emotion that caught our eye in the first place.

With family & emotive family portraits, there is skill in learning the modes of a camera. Aperture, shutter & ISO all contribute to the exposure triangle which help us to create a good photo. In truth, it really does help to have a thorough understanding of working in manual mode. Having a good grasp of technique can really help us to make the pictures we want to make. Turn a vision or inspiration into reality.

And with that said...there is something else to consider...

Sometimes there isn't always time to think things through exactly (exposure, aperture, shutter, etc), but only react instinctively or intuitively to whatever it is happening in front of us when we take the picture.

With family photography that's often observing and reacting to whatever our children, babies or other family members are doing.

This is a post dedicated to the place imperfection has in taking good, emotive family portraits. Sometimes the most interesting or intriguing pictures have come about as the result of very quick decisions, or even, barely time for a decision at all. These are a few notes and by no means exhaustive.


Shoot quickly. Here my son was looking out of the window & I was working on portraits of reflections in the mirror. All of a sudden the cat leapt up and I tried to capture the movement of the cat. It was only later I noticed the mouse in the top left corner of the frame.

This was a picture that could not be planned for ahead of time. It is imperfect. There is more grain than I usually go for in my pictures. A result of intense speed which would have captured better in a faster shutter/ High SEO. However, sometimes the blur helps to emphasize the speed of the moment.

cat catching a mouse as mouse flies through the air and boy watches through a window. documentary family photography dublin by cara.

In this moment, I was capturing my son at the table outside. Here I love the fact his eyes and catch light are in sharp focus. I was capturing the mess of fake tattoos & plasters all over his body and how they had worn away. However, what I love most is the moment caught with his finger poised on the wine glass. This is an unplanned, unscripted moment. Again, this picture is not perfect as you can see the blown out highlights of the trees in the background. In this case, I feel like the highlights add to the fact this is midday sun in the height of summer and the jagged leaves reflect the messy plasters on his body.

boy eating at outside table with his family. boy covered in plasters that look like tattoos and lightly touching rim of wine glass with his finger. award winning family photographer dublin by cara.

For more authentic documentary, natural family photography Dublin, visit my Fly On The Wall page. That's moments that can't be planned. This sort of photography is great for small children & babies who are unruly & chaotic by nature! Great for at home baby & newborn photography Dublin. Fuss free & no frills...


For a long time, I was looking out for classic, simple portraits - "eye in the camera". I also still love & appreciate this type of photography. However as parents we all know that life at home with young children is far from perfect. I didn't have high hopes for this picture when I first took it. I just saw my son playing in a bath of LEGO, drinking hot chocolate (why ??) from a cup. I happened to capture the moment where the cat mirrors the cup of hot chocolate by drinking from my son's hand. I LOVE the way his hair is sticking up. The light was VERY flat in the bathroom, flat light with no drama in highlights/shadows. With careful editing I tried to make the most of texture in this black & white edit.

For more award winning, internationally published child portraits please go HERE.

boy in bath filled with LEGO holding cup of hot chocolate as cat drinks from his open palm. award winning family portraits dublin by cara


I don't know about you, but I clam up in front of the camera! Often by introducing games on my family photo shoots Dublin, I can get everyone to loosen up. I did some classic child communion portraits in Howth, Dublin. Once these were done we played some games on the dunes overlooking Howth beach. I asked this little girl in her white Communion dress to fall back on to her sister. This resulted in what appeared to be fun moments which were actually staged. Certainly these communion pictures don't look staged & perfect posing is definitely not here! My own journey in lifestyle & family photography started with my own children growing up and many first pictures came about through play, messy and unexpected. In The Beginning

two girls, one in communion dress, falling down sand dune overlooking sea. communion photography dublin by cara.

For more family photography & lifestyle photography please go HERE. I love timeless black & white child & family portraits with a cinematic feel as well as rich, natural color.


The best time for family portraits is usually 1-2 after the sun rises in the morning and 1-2 hours before the sun sets at night. Also known as Golden Hour Light. This light is very flattering for child & family portraits. It is when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky, resulting in soft shadows and highlights. This is flattering for most faces (...and particularly adult ones..!). Portraits at this time have a gentle golden tone.

And then there is. HARD. MIIDDAY. LIGHT. (Yikes!). That's the light many wedding & family photographers DREAD as it is typically the opposite of flattering. Hard, unforgiving light & shadows that can overexpose a face, drain it of color, create hard, unflattering shadows (eg under the eyes). Added to this, shooting under a tree can end up with shadows cast everywhere. Check out this girl's communion gown...

girl in communion dress standing in branch of tree in midday hard light casting leaf patterns on her dress. natural documentary communion photography dublin by cara

This communion family photo shoot Dublin was taken in Donadea forest park, Kildare, near Dublin. It was 2pm and I struggled to find shade in the park which has trees but not densely planted in this part of the park. There was little to no cloud cover. Although I did find some shade, the children wanted to climb their fave tree. In the end I increased my aperture and shutter in order to capture the hard shadows everywhere & make sure the highlights would not be blown out. This communion portrait is not perfect, but I personally love the shadows here and it tells me THE SUN IS MOST DEFINITELY OUT. I will have more to share with this communion family photo shoot soon.

And when we did get into the shade, this little girl in her communion dress and veil was gasping for Fanta! Here the shade by the trees gets rid of some of the hard light, but you can still see the harshness in the bright light spots above her head and across her face. Also colors in mid afternoon light will be VERY vibrant. Grass & leaves can look like the alien invasion (bright, lime green). However, this can add interest to a picture and again, we know it's a hot summer day by the quality of the light.

girl in communion dress and veil driking from bottle of Fanta in a wooded forest. documentary communion portraits dublin by cara

In this at home environmental child portrait of my own son, it would be a typical child portrait if it were not for the light over his eye. It took a few attempts to have the light patch that didn't blow out his eye too much. I wanted the eye in sharp focus.

a light patch cast over boys eye as he leans across chopping board of spinach on kitchen counter. child portrait by cara dublin


OK I'm not going to lie, I ADORE classic child portraits including eye right on the camera with bright catch lights. However, there are times when a no face portrait also speaks strongly about the personality of a child. Embrace these unknowns or hidden elements in a portrait. I love hands & they can be so expressive all by themselves.

small girls hands sticking out of an apple tree and her dress and bare feet visible. natural, candid family photography dublin by cara

In this personal family photo story, two weeks in a summer garden with my nieces, not only was it exceptionally hard midday summer light, but I was deliberately trying to capture all kinds of gesture & movement and not just typical portraits. Untamed Summer Story. Since I love hands, I often use them in my family photo shoots when I have finished with my portraits of faces.

In this communion photo shoot at a hotel in Howth Dublin, we did classic communion portraits on the stairs, but afterwards, I wanted to create something a little mysterious. I asked her to cover her face. This is environmental child photography where the surroundings create a mood that I want to help capture in this case through the faceless portrait.

girl in communion dress sitting on plush staircase covering her face and golden window light

And here is my gorgeous little boy lost in his own world with the lollipop. Not a faceless portrait, but not a perfect classic child portrait either. Allowing the child to be in his own world can create some interesting moments. I like the way his fanned fingers echo the lines on the table.

boy sucking lolipop outside in a garden with bourganvillea trees and he is fanning his hands across the table, lost in thought


Of course, as parents we will always appreciate a happy picture of our child or baby. We want to see our children happy, this is normal. They are often the pictures we want to treasure, frame and put on our wall. But it is great to embrace other, enigmatic expressions where possible. An interesting child or family portrait is often more than just capturing a happy, smiling or serene expression. Many say that laughter & smiles eclipse all other expressions and halt the element of mystery.

two sisters playing in garden, obe lying down rubbling her eyes and other playing with a pine cone. documentary family photography dublin by cara

The in-between completely unposed movements and expressions often come "in between" new ones. They can sometimes look awkward, not typically "pretty". They may even be completely ordinary. But as part of a photo story capturing your real, day to day family life, they can become your favorite and most meaningful memories!


This communion portrait was intentionally blurry. By focusing on the mobile phone, the children in the tree are blurry. I didn't set out to capture this picture, but since dad was in my way, I went with it. This is an example of an unplanned natural communion portrait that resulted from casual photo bombing. The blur helped bring out the story. More on this natural communion photo shoot Dublin soon HERE.

dad taking a picture on his mobile phone of his two children in a tree branch, his daughter in her communion gown and son in smart clothes.

And unwanted blur....My little niece here is pulling an expression I don't really recognize and the light is hard and the portrait quite blurry (check out her face...). However, there is something precious and fragile about her as she enthusiastically clutches her precious collection of old, battered dolls. I keep coming back to this picture although I don't know why. In between moments can hold mystery...(frayed, imperfect dolls hand in hand with frayed, imperfect picture?)

little girl carrying a collection of dolls in her arms as she walks through her garden at home in bright haze and sunlight


A series of my son washing his beloved cat Zara in the shower. The light was so flat and dark (it's a shower "room" just off my daughter's bedroom. I don't even know what the camera settings were as I was quick to grab the camera and shoot into the GLOOM. The pictures were dark as I wanted to avoid high ISO and too much noise or "grain". However, here the noise mostly comes through shooting through glass and condensation. I think the texture really makes these pictures fun. I also think the flat light makes the colors washed out and a bit like pencil crayon sketches...(or maybe that's me being fanciful). Either way, I like the noise here and it's usually something I want to avoid.

boy in shower cublicle looking up as he showers his cat and there is condensation on shower door and across his face. award winning child portrait photographer dublin by cara

boy showering his cat in the shower

This little list of ways to avoid the trap of perfection is far from exhaustive. Just things to consider. Emotion trumps technique, but with great technique, too, anything is possible.

I usually use the same tried and tested settings on my camera over and over. Another thing to consider is that now A.I is getting so great at making"perfect" portraits, the imperfect may really contain treasure. To be imperfect is to be human, after all. It can be used to tell a human story.

Cara Hodge Photography, emotive family portraits Dublin. I am a professional natural family photographer Dublin. Also doing babies and newborns - including At Home Newborn Photography Dublin. Also social occasions such as debs, graduation, birthdays and communion & baptism photography.

Check out my Prices and my Frequently Asked Questions here.

Finally contact me too your sessions. I look forward to chat and to tell your perfectly imperfect story together!

Have a lovely week, Cara x


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