Katrina Parry is a mother captivated by the whimsy of a child’s wonder and relationship with nature. From her farm in countryside Wales, Parry creates visual stories depicting the world before her interwoven with a little magic—often based on a children’s tale or imagination. Parry shares her process of discovery and storytelling in this guest tutorial on capturing the magic children see.
Words and Photos by Katrina Parry
Children see magic. I don’t mean the dragons and fairies and pixies kind of magic, but the magic that is found in the subtleties of our every day. The magic of light rays, of flying dust and misty breath. The innocence with which children view the world gives them access to a wonderment that we seem to lose as we age. Rainbows are no longer bridges of coloured light in the sky to an adult, but simply light reflecting off of water particles. It is the wonder seen through the eyes of a child that I strive to capture in my work. I want to tell stories, and at their core, the essence of the story of childhood.
When I first started approaching photography as an artistic interest, it drew me to all things magical. I wanted to use as much glitter as I could get my hands on in my images, big puffy dresses, massive helium balloons… the list went on. As I refined my work and my vision, I realized that there was a difference between the overt magic and the subtlety whimsical, and it was the latter that I really wanted to focus on for myself. The obviously magical absolutely has a very valid and very wonderful place in photography, but it was the more mysteriously whimsical that I found the most visually engaging and compelling.
For me personally, there is no more inherently whimsical setting than a forest. The colours, the shifting shadows and dynamic lighting, the textures of dirt and leaves and branches are not only visually pleasing, but they also offer near-limitless potential to allow your subject to interact with and engage within their environment—looking up at a beam of light, playing with dust light particles, trying to reach a tree branch. Subject engagement is very much at the core of my storytelling images, for it is what draws the viewer in and allows them to connect to the image and the subject.
The forest feels like home for me, but it is critical that a photographer shoot wherever feels like home to them—the beach, the city, wherever—so that they can emotionally connect to their work. I shoot with emotion and I edit with emotion—for if I cannot connect emotionally with my work, then how can I expect my view to have that connection?
Whilst shooting, I spend a fair amount of time quietly observing my subject, waiting for them to find that moment of wonderment within their setting. I give very little instruction at first, beyond where to sit and some general posing. Frankly, I don’t want to get in the child’s way. They will find the magic—they always do when given the time and the freedom to feel comfortable. I shoot with a very long lens (200mm 2.0L), which aids in giving my subjects a feeling of space, and I wait and I watch. This process doesn’t always work (sometimes I have to make suggestions to encourage engagement—‘is there a plane up in the sky?’ or ‘what is crawling on the grass over there?’ etc), but especially with younger children waiting and watching is my preferred method.
It is critical to remember that your camera only captures a tiny part of a scene. All you need is one little pocket of magic, and you can make it work to your advantage. Look for lighting, texture, an overhanging arch, compression possibilities or interesting lines to make your locations thought provoking to your viewer.
Admittedly, it can sometimes be hard to find inspiration in the world. When in a creative rut, I reach for some of the well-loved children’s classics—Winnie the Pooh, for example—and I try to find inspiration within the pages of the stories that so perfectly embodied a child’s imagination. Attempting to open up my mind and bury the analytical part of my brain, to see the world as my children might see it, helps me see my surroundings with a more intuitive and emotive lens.
This is what the High Aldwin said to a group of apprentice hopefuls in one of my all-time favourite films, “Willow”.
“Magic is the bloodstream of the universe. Forget all you know, or think you know. All that you require is your intuition.”
I think nothing could sum up more perfectly how to shoot to find whimsy and magic. Shoot intuitively, emotively, and with the honesty that children posses. Don’t completely forget all that you know, but rank your intuition at least as high as your technical know-how, and see the world with the enchanted eyes of a child.