Artist Profile: Mitzi Mapa

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Carl and I have always prided ourselves at being pretty decent photographers. That was until we had Fin and quickly realized that when it came to shooting children, we had a lot to learn.

Many precious moments have been turned into blurs because our settings were too slow, our equipment too simple, or our son too curious to stay put. We came to accept that photographing children was an entirely new animal and we needed to discover how to make it our friend.

You can imagine my envy when I came across Mitzi Mapa‘s photographs through my friend Chinie’s FB page.

Mitzi and her dog _______

Mitzi and her friend Marita

Mitzi has recently launched Beach Crab Photography, a children’s lifestyle photography studio. From your first look at her website, you’re offered a delicious serving of photos that are warm, full of texture, and absolutely lovely.

I invited Mitzi to share her talents with my readers and she was generous enough to offer some really helpful tips on how to best capture those once-in-a-lifetime memories with kids. I loved all her answers and adorable pictures. Please leave a heart at the end of this post if you liked them too!

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Cat JL: When did your love for photography start?

Mitzi Mapa: My first real love affair with the camera started when I was 12.  I received a pink and purple film camera given to me by my parents on Christmas Day. I think I was more fascinated  by the stylish gadget than the actual act of taking photos. Since then, I was never without a camera. I took photos of family celebrations, out of town trips with friends, even markets, vendors, tribes, folk art and anything that caught my eye during numerous travels. However, my real love for photography started when I moved to Baguio.  I was exposed to some of our very own talented local artists and photographers and I was inspired by the way they made use of unique perspectives and composition when taking photographs. I wanted to learn to see the world through my own creative lens.

Eventually I got into travel photography, explored many countries through my camera lens and I haven’t looked back since.

When did you start focusing on children as your subjects?

As an elementary teacher in an international school, one of my responsibilities was to create the annual school yearbook. I liked putting the book together year after year. But one day I discovered that, I actually enjoyed taking photos of the students more than I did creating my lesson plans and writing school reports! That’s when I realized that I could explore the option of combining my 2 loves – photography and working with children.

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Your photos have a very distinct feel. How did you discover the kind of look you wanted for your children’s portraits?

Discovering the ‘Beach Crab’ look was quite accidental. On the practical side, I didn’t have the capital to own a or rent a studio so from the onset, I knew that I would be shooting outdoors or in a an environment that a child felt most comfortable in (which in most cases was in the comforts of their own home).  And then I realized that when you put a child in the great outdoors (eg a garden, the  playground or a beach) or within their home, there was absolutely no way I could get them to sit in front of a camera and smile for me. I guess it was from there that I got the ‘distinct’ look that many of my clients talk about – a style that is natural, candid and spontaneous.

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What equipment do you use?

The only thing I bring to a shoot is my Canon 7D or 5D with a 50mm 1.4 lens. I have learned that children respond differently when you pull out heavy gear with extra long lenses so the less camera equipment I have with me, the better. I also love playing with alternative sources of light so instead of bringing along an external flash, I make use of available light sources (eg light from a refrigerator, a kid’s ipad or sunlight peeping in from windows!)

Where are you based these days? What countries can parents find you?

I am now based in Manila but I am happy to travel to different provinces within the country. I also have several clients within the South East Asia Region (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand etc) and I am available for travel to other countries upon request.

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I usually love moments on the job like playing, goofing off, running around and having fun with the children during the photo shoots. However, because I also need to focus on making sure that I have the right camera settings to capture quality images, I’d have to say that my best moments are really AFTER the photo shoot. It’s when I start to pack up my camera and I hear kids say ‘Why are you leaving already?’ or ‘Can you stay a little bit more to play?’, that I remember why I love doing what I do.

Aside from photography, what keeps you busy?

I have taken a break from teaching in the classroom and I am currently doing consultancy work with Teach for the Philippines. I am also busy planning and preparing for my wedding. As any girl will know, that alone can definitely take up most of your time. 😉

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What is it about shooting children that fascinates you the most?

The ability to capture and preserve such a wonderful time in a person’s life – one’s childhood. I don’t have children of my own but I can only just imagine how much parents want to remember and hold on to memories of their children at a given point in time. I love the fact that I am able to capture memories of a little boy building his lego creations, a little girl’s fascination with her mother’s shoes or some rare moments of sibling love! These are great memories to go back to. I really enjoy looking back at my own childhood photos, as they say so much about who I am today. I would love to be able to do the same for other families, to help them cherish key moments of childhood. Children grow up way too quickly.

Can you talk us through your process? How do you get children to smile for you?

On most shoots, I do have to spend the first half hour really getting to know the child. Sometimes, parents don’t understand this (as they are paying for the entire hour!) but it’s essential to establish trust and a really good rapport with each child. I do this by talking and playing with them. I also have a few Mitzi-tricks up my sleeve to get them comfortable with me. When they start grabbing my hand and showing me their favorite books and toys… then I know I’ve got them! Eventually, I start taking photographs of them in action.  I like talking to the children while I take photographs, so they don’t feel awkward. This may come as a surprise, but I rarely ask a child to look up and smile for me. I crack jokes in our conversations, tease them a little bit, or ask them to tell me about things that make them laugh – and that’s when they start to smile. I like doing it this way – it’s a  lot more genuine, more real. It also helps a lot when I have the support of the parents, siblings or yayas, who really know what to say to get that smile coming.

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What does a children’s photographer need to succeed in the industry?

When I was just starting out, I wanted to find out what I needed to be successful in this industry and so I did a little bit of research. Every single book, website and article that I read gave the same advice…you need to stock up on PATIENCE. This couldn’t be more true. The patience to get to know each child, the patience to run around with them and the patience to crawl on your belly, climb on things and sneak up behind tables and chairs to get different shots of the children.

As every child is also distinctly different from the other, I would encourage other child photographers to spend time getting to know each child and find creative ways to capture their unique personalities. There is no one set formula. Each photo session should be as different and original as each child.

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Any tips that you can offer parents for taking photos of their kids? 

1 Always have a camera on standby – in your bag or on a shelf easily accessible by you (not your child!). You wouldn’t want to miss anything!

2 You don’t always need to ask them to smile. Sometimes, the most meaningful and memorable photos are those that really capture your child in their element

3 Practice photographing from multiple perspectives by having a different focus each time. You can take pictures of their favorite book, their muddy feet, the knots in their hair, their sticky fingers and untied shoelaces. These make for great photographs!

4 If you have a lot of time on your hands, take photos of your child doing the most ordinary, mundane things throughout the day. Document bath time, outdoor play, dinner, story telling time. These photographs will bring back lots of special childhood experiences.

5 Don’t let your images linger in your camera. Download immediately and back-up your files. There’s nothing worse than losing unsaved files of rare, once-in-a-lifetime childhood memories!

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In celebration of having reached 1,000 likes on their  Facebook page, Beach Crab Photography is offering additional digital negatives, prints, and a special gift for your little one if you book Mitzi’s services between now till August 15.

You can email Mitzi at beachcrabphotography@gmail.com for details.

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