Interview with family photographer Susheel Schroeder

Ella
14th November 2019

Susheel Schroeder is a London based photographer specialising in portrait, family and lifestyle photography with a fine art approach. Her longer-term documentary photography projects focus on issues surrounding maternal health and identity.

We had the pleasure of talking to Susheel about her creative process, her message and what she's learned along the way.

Hi Susheel, can you talk a little bit about your background and how you got into family and lifestyle photography?

Although I’ve always loved taking photographs, it actually took a little while for me to start working as a photographer. I did a law degree and worked in finance before realising I needed to do something much more creative. After a short spell working in film production I went back to do a Masters in Documentary Photography. Along the way I started taking portraits, which later became family portraits and lifestyle content for brands. I feel so fortunate to work professionally doing something I love; especially as it also gives me the opportunity to work on some personal documentary projects.

What is your creative process like, what camera do you use? 

I use natural light for family portraits to help me create intimacy in images, so the first thing I do in a space is look for that and how to use it. I try to get to know people a little before I photograph them as it makes them feel more comfortable and I can capture more authentic moments. I tend to give a bit of direction but I don’t come to them with a pre-defined list of poses or planned shots. I’m always happy to try out any ideas they might have, but I find that the best photographs naturally come from people just being themselves in their own environment. 

I use the Canon 5D Mark IV and my favourite lenses are the Canon 50mm F/1.2 and the Sigma Art 35mm F/1.4; they give a combination of intimacy and perspective in images that works especially well for lifestyle and portrait photography. I use an old Canon A-1 film camera for personal photos.


Would you say your style has emerged or was it always very distinct, how has your work changed over the years?

I’ve always had quite a loose, reportage style of shooting and preferred to photograph the details. The ‘look’ of my images has definitely evolved and I think my images have become more emotive over time but I’ve always been most interested in photographing people.

Can you tell us the story of a photograph of yours that stands out? 

It is a personal photograph that I took of my grandmother in the last days of her life, meeting my son for the first time. She was very unwell but I wanted a record of their brief time together. Every time I look at it I remember her so vividly, the happy smell of her home, the sound of her voice, how loving she was and how I felt about her in that moment. It made me really appreciate just how evocative and powerful photographs can be. 

Where do you draw inspiration from? What do you think your message is? What drew you into portrait and family photography in particular?

I love photography that challenges our perceptions, like the work by British documentary photographers Abbie Trayler-Smith and Daniel Castro-Garcia. I also listen to a photography podcast by Ben Smith called A Small Voice - I always feel inspired after listening to one of his interviews.

When I take family portraits, I try to capture relationships by focusing on unguarded moments rather than posed ones, where people are least aware of themselves and how they interact with each other. When I see that kind of photo of myself, I can remember exactly how I felt when it was taken, and I want the people I photograph to feel the same way when they look at these images in 10 or 20 years. 

Since I began to photograph families and especially since I became a mother myself, I’ve been passionate about documenting motherhood in all of it’s different forms. There are so many narratives of motherhood that don’t fit the mould. I also want to get mothers into photographs with their children; we’re all too often the ones taking the pictures and later we’ll look back at them and feel left out of the story of our own lives. I don’t think having pictures taken professionally should be reserved for special occasions; it’s the everyday in-between that makes up the fabric of our lives and we’ll want to remember how it looked. 

What did you want to do as a child?

Everything! I think I had a different ambition every day when I was a child; vet, actress, lawyer, waitress, dog breeder…you name it. That’s why I find portraiture fascinating, I get to know a lot of different people and learn about all of the interesting things they do. 

What would you say to an aspiring photographer? What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt? 

I’d say to try everything and don’t pigeonhole yourself; just because you take certain kinds of photographs, it doesn’t mean you can’t make other types of work. Now, perhaps more than ever, photographers need to think about working in different ways to be able to keep making the kind of work that is important to them. 

Get to know your equipment really well - when you stop thinking about your settings you can focus on the story you’re trying to tell.

Can you tell us how people can find out more about your work? Anything particularly exciting coming up this year or next?

I keep my website updated with recent work and I’ve recently had some portraits published in GQ & Whitewall magazine. I’m also working on a long-term documentary project about maternal healthcare that will address issues around birth trauma, informed consent during birth and postnatal care in the UK. It will be part of the postgraduate exhibition at the London College of Communication next November. 

Find out more at www.susheelschroeder.com or follow Susheel on www.instagram.com/susheelschroeder

All images © Susheel Schroeder