Interview: Discover “Small Steps Are Giant Leaps” with Photographer Aaron Sheldon

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Visit Aaron’s website to check out the rest of his portfolio.

Columbus Photographer, Aaron Sheldon and his new photography project has inspired anyone that has seen it. What started as a simple bus ride turned into a beautiful exploration of the special relationship that children have with the world. Aaron also realized that parents and adults play a major role in how our children discover and explore. I had the chance to ask Aaron a few questions about this amazing project, but first, here is an introduction to the series as an excerpt from the funded Kickstarter page introducing the project:

How Did It All Start? 

Aaron Sheldon: I had the idea for “Small Steps Are Giant Leaps” while I was riding the bus with my three-year old son.  What was a normal, everyday event to me had him completely transfixed.  Seeing that look of amazement on his face at something so commonplace really struck me. I realized that my son is an explorer, and the world I take for granted, to him, is an amazing place filled with new sites and experiences. I knew that I wanted to somehow document his journey of exploration but had no idea how I was going to do it. 

Later that same week, he got an ear infection and needed to go to the doctor’s office.  Unlike most three-year-olds, my son loves the doctor’s office – every part that is except for the exam table.  My son had two fears: hand dryers and exam tables, and I was continually trying to find ways to help him face and overcome his fears.

As we sat waiting for the doctor, I asked my son if he would sit on the exam table. Of course his answer was no.  So then I asked him what type of people were brave enough to sit on exam tables.  We discussed the usual cast of brave people: police officers, firefighters, etc.  He said “What about astronauts, Dad.  Are they brave enough?  I said “Sure they are. After all, they sit on top of rockets and get blasted into space and, before they do that, they have to go to the doctor’s office A LOT!”.  We pretended that he was an astronaut, and he sat on the exam table with no problem.   When his exam was over, I told my son how proud I was of him for being brave like an astronaut.  He said to me “Next time I get sick, I can wear my astronaut helmet here and you can take a picture of me, right dad?”.  

At that moment, the final piece of the project came into place, all thanks to my amazing little astronaut.

One spacesuit, two helmets, and more than 14 photo shoots later, I am so proud of my little astronaut. He really enjoyed working with me on the project, and we’ve used it to help him get over his fear of hand-dryers, exam tables, and hair clippers. We have shot everywhere from the museum to the city pool. We have had great local companies allow us access to movie theaters, old-school barber shops, $600 a night hotel rooms, and, back where it all began, the city bus.

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MPEX Experience: What were some of the most challenging aspects of capturing these images?

Aaron Sheldon: There are several challenges to each shoot.  The first is getting access.  Thankfully our little project has gotten some big attention lately and that has opened doors to places that we never thought we would get to shoot in.  The other major challenge is capturing each shot as I envision them with no budget, limited access/time and gear, and a four-year old who’s attention span can shift suddenly.  I found early on that the more I discuss each shoot with him beforehand, the more he wants to be involved and that translates to him being more engaged with the project.48206f_41f683a719ea4c3c8a72ebde2fbdb50f

48206f_93723474e0ae4ae69e5e79f4e313e573MPEX: Can you describe your editing process? What were you looking for in the final images?

A. Sheldon: Each shoot starts with an idea of an everyday place that kids may go.  I try to build a narrative of the shot, a checklist of elements and their placement in the frame.  I do this in words because I have ZERO drawing skills and I can’t do storyboards.  When I’m shooting I try to get as much correct in the frame as possible to limit the amount I need to do in post.  Working with a four-year old though there are times I just have to get the elements of the final shot over several frames and then complete the image as a composite in Photoshop.  Much like snow when you shoot in winter, my little astronaut’s white spacesuit and helmet tend to look a bit gray, so after doing my raw processing I have to dodge the suit back to a nice bright white.  This helps him stand out in the frame as well.

For each final image I am looking for three things: 1) A true sense of the character of the location. 2) A narrative element using the pose and gesture of my subject. Since there is no face captured, his gesture is extremely important to convey emotion to the viewer. 3) The image is consistent in tone, style and color to the rest of the project .

MPEX: What equipment did you use to shoot this project? Did you use any lighting equipment or assistants?

A. Sheldon: I started the project with a Fujifilm X-T1 with a Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R lens.  I’ve also been using the Fujinon XF35mm f/2 WRFujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS, and the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 R LM OIS.  When the Fujifilm X-Pro2 was released I started using it as my primary camera for the project and have been blown away by the image quality and high ISO performance.

Seeing as how 4 year olds are not known for being patient, all of our shoots are done with available light only.  That is where using the Fuji X-system has really made the difference.  The image files that the x-trans sensor produce allow for a lot of latitude when processing in Lightroom.   

As for assistants: Since I’m using a small camera system with no lights, reflectors or tripods, I have only used an assistant when we shot at a local Fire Station to help him get around on the ladder truck, at the local pool, and most recently at Upper Arlington High School to (safely) set a pile of methane gas bubbles on fire (thanks again Frank Tuttle!). 

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MPEX: What are your future plans for this project?

A. Sheldon: That’s a great question. We just finished shooting the cover for 614 Magazine’s July issue.  We are now finishing the last dozen or so shots that I had in mind for the original project and have begun layout for the book.  I am also selecting images for our gallery show at Wild Goose Creative which will open April 2017 with a big event for the entire family. 

We are also working on a children’s book based on all the questions my son asked me about Space while we were working on the project. We will be working with some pretty amazing people to make that happen in the near future.

I am looking at ways that we can spread the message of the project beyond the scope of the book to other families.  I’m not quite sure how we will move forward with that yet, but I would like to find a way that my son and I can use the project to help others through some type of volunteering or education.

I am now starting to plan my next book project that I will begin shooting once we send the “Small Steps Are Giant Leaps” book to press this Fall.  The next book will also be focused on family life and will be more in the documentary/reportage style and I can say, with 99.9% certainty, that it will NOT involve astronauts.48206f_c16fe7c48ae542d498117e98779bd7c6 48206f_07ed6b6cc930434b9f26fb1a2f8d1e16 48206f_8d6ebf6566984ab1a46c123ba3df7bb9

MPEX: How can  people support the project?

A. Sheldon: Anyone can follow the project on Instagram at: @smallstepsaregiantleaps, visit our website at: www.smallstepsaregiantleaps.com and they can pre-order the book or purchase prints at our online store at: http://squareup.com/store/sheldon-image-design.48206f_fc080c68ca7e446da0e15f3c5465acee

Don’t forget about the Midwest Photo Grand Opening Feature Fair On August 6th and 7th! Free talks by Gregory Heisler, David Hobby, Tim Neumann, Leonardo Carrizo, and more!!! Click here for more info!

TJ Hansen

Photographer at MPEX.com

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