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Photo & Text by Bonnie Ellison


I often use boats and the waterways as the backdrop. I bought a little wooden boat and we have the raft to use for all our family sessions. Sitting and looking towards the camera is not something that is fun for anyone, so we love to get the kids moving and engaged. That’s when the magic happens – when they forget the photographer is there.

Often, we would make small origami paper sailboats that keep the kids occupied and engaged. The secret to getting them to cooperate is to make them think they are getting their own way. While they get to play in the water and have sailboat races against their parents, I am able to capture epic images. Of course, dealing with children we always need to be water-wise and keep an eye on them. Those toddlers are fast!

I used a Canon 5Dii with a 24-70mm lens to capture this image, taken at the Tallebudgera Creek waterway. I love this location for its diversity. On one side, you have the beautiful beach, and on the other, is a lush rainforest. It allows me to give my clients a wide range of images for their sessions without running around all over the place.

Tallebudgera Creek and the Gold Coast Spit are some of my favourite places to shoot families. Tides need to be considered; too high and we can’t walk under the pier at The Spit, and at super low tide, Tallebudgera Creek doesn’t have enough water for the photos.

This photo was taken in November. It was nice and warm in the late afternoon. My outdoor sessions are best an hour or so before sunset, as it ensures that golden glow and no harsh shadows and squinted eyes. The secret is lighting, good photos are all about the light. Shooting in the dusk or early morning will give you the best light, and shooting during the week minimises people in the background.

I love this photo – the way the boys are ‘catching fish’ using our handmade rods, and how the little man in the middle is so interested in his brother’s catch. It’s a sweet moment between them all. (Afterwards, we include the whole family in this photo session. Most of the time, convincing dad is our hardest job, but once you mention fishing and boats – well, let’s just say that’s all it takes.)

For the raft, we used hardwood for the base and brought two large tire inner tubes to add buoyancy. We went foraging for the perfect mast, and then a white sheet was used for the sail. The most difficult aspect of using such a prop is getting the heavy raft down to the water.

I find shooting on the water really relaxes my clients, and that leads to more authentic and meaningful interactions between them. Let’s face it, all kids love the water, and adding a boat just enhances that excitement. This type of family photography is all about creating a memorable experience in and around the waterways.




Published in print April-June 2022