Tell us a bit about your approach to the work you do, your time in the business and a few personal facts about you.
Do you have a favorite photo? One that takes you back to an all-important moment in your life? The photo that takes me right back is a simple 4×6 framed a black & white photo that sits on our bureau. Twenty-three years ago, before the birth of our first daughter, my husband loaded our trusty little Pentax K1000 camera with black & white film and packed it in our hospital bag. The exhaustion that followed many hours of labor and the excitement of meeting our first-born meant that our faithful little camera did not receive much attention during those hours and days in the hospital. We were caught up with learning how to breastfeed, changing the diaper on a real-life screaming 6 pound 9-ounce baby (which was nothing like changing a diaper on the doll in our parenting classes), and trying to get some rest between the many nurse and doctor visits. As for photos, while we knew we wanted them, we were unable to set aside much time to click the shutter. When the fog of the first month with our baby girl had lifted, we finally sat down and went through our recently developed roll of film. We were surprised and overwhelmed with joy when we found one perfect photo, which a friend, who had stopped in to meet the baby while we were still in the hospital, had quickly snapped. In this one scene, my husband and I are cuddled in close on the hospital bed, holding our newborn daughter between us. I’m still wearing the hospital johnny, and my husband is in an old t-shirt, but what moves both of us to this day is the peaceful, natural smile on my face as I look down at the wonder of our beautiful first-born, while my husband’s thumb gently caressed her forehead. It is clear from this photo that we are both fully mesmerized by and completely in love with our daughter.
That first family portrait with our newborn daughter is one of my favorite photos, and it’s what drives me to use a documentary approach to create powerful, emotionally-evocative images for my newborn clients. I have been offering In-Home Newborn and Fresh 48 sessions for the past two years. My goal is to always present at least one image that encapsulates that beautiful, blissful fog that comes along with the life transformation made by the darling, little being curled up in the arms of their parents. Nothing makes me happier than when past clients tell me that their newborn images enable them to relive those euphoric first few hours and days all over again. These are moments to be treasured and preserved, and it is always an honor to be chosen by a couple to do just that.
What makes you the most nervous during a session?
Every session I do makes me nervous. To counteract my nerves I spend some time visualizing how I want the session to go. I will often talk to other photographers in search of ideas and inspiration. But no matter how nervous I am, I always settle into a flow with my work and a rapport with my clients, which makes my nervousness quickly dissolve.
What about this session was most memorable? Were there any hurdles?
This session with Sean and Spencer and their two beautiful newborn twin boys was my most memorable session to date. I was so humbled and honored to be asked by this incredible couple to document this momentous chapter in their lives. Their journey was long and arduous, but I know we can all agree, well worth it. Working with Sean and Spencer had many firsts for me. In addition to their Fresh 48 session, we also did a maternity session together. That session was my first maternity and it was also a surrogacy. It was an incredible experience to not only witness the love and excitement in Sean and Spencer’s eyes but to also meet their beautiful, strong, brave surrogate mama, Jamie.
For both their maternity session and their Fresh 48 I drove 6 hours round trip across the state of Massachusetts, making these my first travel sessions as well. It was a great privilege to work with Sean and Spencer as my first same-sex couple and my first couple with twin newborns. There was a lot for me to be both nervous and excited about. I wanted their images to perfectly capture the intense emotions of their journey as well as their commitment to each other and to their new family.
We spent 5 hours together in their small hospital room. The atmosphere was bursting with joy and love throughout, as two sets of grandparents, an uncle, a great aunt and an assortment of medical staff came and went. It was important for me to include as many aspects of those chaotic first moments as I could – intertwining quiet family time with joyful embraces from grandparents, as well as the busy, nerve-wracking moments of changing diapers, bottle feeding, and burping babies times two. I’m thrilled with the story we ultimately created together.
Your best photographer/session advice?
My best advice for taking a documentary approach to newborn sessions is to make a loose plan of images that you would like to capture, but stay flexible. Ultimately you want to create images that authentically tell your client’s story. Jotting down some ideas before you go can help clear your head and prepare you for the session. When you arrive, take a deep breath, talk to your clients a bit, but ultimately let them do their thing, and watch everything. Look for interesting and different ways to tell their story. Change your point of view – shooting straight on, from above, from down below, take in the whole scene, and come in close for details. Keep an eye open and an ear out for quiet emotional moments as well as loud, euphoric bursts of joy and laughter. You will want your images, when viewed by your client, to take them back to this special chapter in their unique story.
What is one goal for your business?
One goal for my business is to continue working with couples from all walks of life as they bring children into their lives. Sean and Spencer’s story inspired me and filled my heart. I want to be the photographer that shows the world that love is love.
What gear was used to achieve these? Any presets used or hand editing?
My Canon 6D and my Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens is my go-to gear combo for newborn sessions. I use SMAL 01 presets to edit my color images and Ana Rosenberg’s Black & White preset collection. Each image will be additionally hand-edited by me to give a cohesive look to my client’s gallery.
ABOUT THE ARTIST:
Melissa Bissell makes her home in the beautiful Berkshire hills of Western Massachusetts. She and her husband of 25 years have two adult daughters, one teen boy, and a crazy, lazy labradoodle. Passionate about documenting life from an unscripted perspective, Melissa creates honest storytelling images, rich with emotion and connection.