Little Smilers – The Work of Alexandra Hayes

 

Who doesn’t love a baby picture (Anne Geddes excluded – she proved you really can see a baby in a flower too many times)?   But if we take the old rule of ‘never work with animals and children’ seriously; it would appear it takes a special kind of person, to leave a very successful career and spend their days cajoling out smiles, giggles and that special blend of pure beautiful that only babies and young children have. 

I was lucky enough to meet just that special kind of person, when I myself booked up a photography session, for my young son just a short while ago; and it was during that session, that I got chatting to Alexandra the owner and very talented photographer at Little Smilers Studios in Maldon, Essex.  My interest was instantly piqued as we chatted, and she managed to within minutes charm my son into a permanent smile and a ready giggle (not always an easy task – at 15 months old there is often a resolute determination to do the opposite of what is hoped of him).

Going back a couple of weeks later to view the pictures, we left after an hour of tears,  smiles and the joy of seeing our son looking perfect, having so much fun.  I also left with the promise of an interview – the chance to showcase some stunning photography and tell the success story of a determined woman seemed to good a chance to miss!

It was a set of circumstances which tipped the balance enough to push Alexandra into picking up the camera and making that leap from London banking to photography, and as is so often the case it was borne out of a “heck I can do this better” moment – after studying photography and graphic design at college, she has always loved to be behind the lens, but a successful career in London, and then family life and two sons meant that the camera was in the back of the cupboard far too much.  It was only in 2006 when an uncomfortable experience with a photography session for her then baby son; when not so much as a smile, let alone a giggle was garnered that she decided it really could be done better and that she was the woman for that job, so Little Smilers was born, Alexandra telling me that the starting point was wanting to..

make having professional photographs taken a great experience and affordable to everybody”.

What I think sets Alexandra apart is her talent at capturing babies and children with such lucidity – capturing their innocence, personality and beauty without the need to over complicate.  So I was very interested to know what she thinks it might be that really makes somebody able to photograph the youngest of us every day with such unabated enthusiasm and originality.

“Having children definitely helps! I have always loved kids and acting like a complete idiot in front of them is an absolute must in the studio. They say never work with ‘children or animals’ and I do both and I love it. Every day is completely different and letting them explore the studio whilst taking pictures captures their natural looks and expressions that make up their personality. We often have parents who phone up and are worried about their children ‘not sitting still’ or ‘always looking away from the camera’. If they are full of personality or inquisitive then that’s how you want them in their photos. Around 40% of our sales are of images where their children aren’t looking straight into the camera as it captures not only their innocence, but they are completely natural, which is how a good picture should look”.

And that change, after years spent working in the city, how hard was it to do – it must have taken a bucket load of determination?

"I have always been a determined person. When I set my mind to do something I focus on the task ahead and go for it. I am also lucky enough to be surrounded with family and friends who have always encouraged me and a husband who believes in me and supports me 100%. I loved my London life and when I resigned on my birthday in September 2010 I cried my eyes out, and my boss fully expected me to come in the next day and say that I had changed my mind. I had however been juggling a career in London during the week, running Little Smilers in the evenings and weekends and trying to be a mum to my two boys for four years so it was relief to have made the decision to leave London".

Alexandra is a qualified photographer and a Licentiate member of the Masters Photographers Association, so what should people look for when choosing the right person for those important pictures?

"A fundamental consideration is to choose somebody who is certified. Anybody can set up a studio, buy an expensive camera and call themselves a photographer but as with many professions we have a process to identify those with the qualifications to perform our job at a professional level. To qualifying as a Licentiate member you must prove your artistic and technical competence and submit a recent portfolio of images that meet specific lighting and posing requirements for evaluation. You can therefore be confident that you will receive a higher quality experience from a trained and knowledgeable individual.

Referrals and feedback from other people are also essential. We have a 100% customer satisfaction record, over 2400 following us on Facebook and we don’t spend money on advertising but this has taken years to build up and doesn’t happen overnight".

For many people having some professional pictures of their children has become commonplace, for me I see it as a starting place in creating my son’s place in our family history.  With the advent and proliferation of the digital camera age, everyone snaps constantly.  But still the market grows for very good professional photographers, I asked Alexandra why she thought that might be, what can be captured that your average mum or dad with a digital camera just won’t?

"There is more to being a professional in any industry than just having the right equipment. We customise your experience to make sure it’s tailored to you. Our sessions are relaxed, lots of fun and creative. We know the right poses, how to make the most out of your session through years of experience and are also professionals at digital editing. We can also advise on and offer solutions for displaying your treasured pictures in your home".

We love a bit of geekery here at Razberry Juice, so of course I had to ask about the equipment used and if we can all expect to be ‘touched up’ just a little!

"As well as all the usual lighting we love a beanbag, a basket and we have a huge selection of knits and adorable newborn outfits. We also love a coloured background and own pretty much every colour you can think of which the kids love. We aren’t overly keen on using white backgrounds so although you will have a selection of images against white you will also have greys and blacks that make your family stand out above the others. Digital editing is used in the studio to enhance your images and take them beyond what you see straight from camera. Our clients are asked if they would like things such as blemishes and dribble removed and let’s just say we don’t very often get them saying 'no thank you!' "

However much we love (or hate!) our jobs there are some days that just set themselves apart, I was therefore eager to ask Alexandra about some the priceless moments she had captured – does she feel privileged to be the cause of so many happy tears?  

"Half the time I’m the one who ends up in tears as well! I love my job but most of all I love sharing the feeling that my clients get when they see their images for the first time. Whether it’s a newborn, a family pet, a birthday, an anniversary or just getting Nanny and Granddad in the family portrait; everybody has their own personal reason for wanting to capture their memories forever. We receive so many thank you cards and our studio always has fresh flowers that clients have sent us. We truly do have the most rewarding job ever!"

To finish off I asked Alexandra about the photo-shoots themselves, having been through the experience myself, I was interested to know if when a family walks through the door on the day of their shoot, she is fairly quickly able to discern what is going to work, and how the very best will be grabbed out of the time in the studio? 

"When our clients arrive we sit down and ask them what they would like from the session.  We then discuss our ideas for bringing out their personalities to ensure that their images will be unique.  However some sessions just evolve and we get a few surprises. Even the most camera shy can become a star in front of the camera…and yes that includes the grown men too"!

 

And of course, no one gets away without a few fun questions……

If you could photograph anyone in the world – who would it be? "It would definitely be my grandparents when they were younger. I could spend hours going through old photographs, they all tell a different story".

What is your all-time favourite movie? "Lock Stock"

What has been your most perfect moment in time (so far)? "Seeing my two boys arrive safely into the world. Being in my job you hear of so many people who aren’t as fortunate and I thank my lucky stars every day".

Marmite – love it or hate it? "Love"!

 

Want to see more of Alexandra's work – or even book yourself in?  Follow the lovely links….

WEBSITE: www.littlesmilers.com

FACEBOOK: www.facebook.com/littlesmilers

THEMPA: http://www.thempa.com/

 

SPECIAL OFFER FOR RAZBERRY JUICE READERS

50% off sitting fee at the studio plus 10% off all our products and a DVD slideshow of images worth £185

for anybody quoting Razberry juice on booking. Early booking is advised.