Don’t Go into the Woods! / by Michael Ryan

How to take a fairytale photo of you child.

The Brothers Grimm have fascinated me since I was a child. Most of us were brought up on some version of their tales, Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel and of course Little Red Riding Hood.

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If you’re not too familiar with their own story they didn’t actually create any of the tales but travelled around Europe collecting ancient fairy tales and writing them down for posterity. In fact even in their day the tales varied from region to region. There is a wonderful imaginative movie, The Brothers Grimm, from Terry Gillliam that blends their biography with fantastic elements from the stories they collected. Their tales grip children’s imagination just as well today as then did back thanks to their blend of fantasy and darkness.

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My three year old’s favourite story is Little Red Riding Hood. She loves it so much and we’ve read it to her so many times that in synchronicity with the story my wife made her her own red riding hood to wear which she did, almost every day! Thank god for the hot summer.

 So naturally we had to do a shoot with her. It’s really no more difficult than taking the usual photo of your child, but requires everything to be planned in advance. We had the hood so we bought the little basket online and some dried flowers locally. Just in case the shoot was delayed.

After quite a search driving round in a taxi we found the perfect forrest spot – which turned out to be on the verge of a busy motorway and highway ramp. So while it may look quite the picturesque woods we actually had to shout at each other to be heard over the roaring traffic. Add to that a lot of trouble with mosquitos (again we came prepared) it is a testament to the fact that you cannot believe everything you see. It is in a way it’s own fairy tale.

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I did bring one Profoto light and some smoke cookies but in the end we didn’t employ either, so all we used photographically was one camera and one lens. The little model performed well. For the key scene of her picking the flowers I beat a track in the grass to the flowers to ensure she would go the way I wanted. For the rest of the shoot we just let her have fun and followed her around with the camera. My wife is often just out of frame. For a three year old some guidance is necessary but the key is to set up the scene for them and let them act naturally.

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I’m quite sure she believed for a time that she really was Little Red Riding Hood. She still talks about the shoot and her favourite photo, just like her favourite part of the tale, is the one featuring the Big Bad Wolf.