Featured Photographer Kirstie McConnell Helps Families Create Lasting Memories

Australian photographer Kirstie McConnell moved to Italy in 2020 and shortly thereafter launched her professional photography enterprise, Classico Portraits. She now spends her time traveling throughout the country photographing families on their enchanting travel vacations. Here's her backstory.

Kirstie McConnell, owner of Classico Portraits. ©Kirstie McConnell | Classico Portraits

Shutterbug: When, how and why did you become interested in photography?
Kirstie McConnell: My grandfather was a professional photographer. I grew up with him candidly photographing us at every opportunity; birthday parties, family outings and little moments. Every roll of film was developed and printed as 4x6s for my grandma to put into an album.

A family enjoys the Carousel during their Florence photoshoot. ©Kirstie McConnell | Classico Portraits

As a child, I never thought anything of it. I didn't realize how lucky I was to have all these memories documented. I just assumed that was normal. But when I began learning photography at school, I immediately asked if he'd help me—which he did with pride. The school darkroom quickly became my favorite place and from there, there wasn't any looking back!

SB: Are there any specific photographers who inspired you?
KM: I love how Steve McCurry's portraits evoke emotion, the way Max Dupain plays with light and shadows, and the quirkiness of Elliot Erwitt's work which encourages me to see differently. But it's the framing and composition of Henri Cartier-Bresson's street photography that I admire above all.

The Vespa at this agriturismo [farmhouse] in Puglia made the perfect Italian feature to their family photoshoot. ©Kirstie McConnell | Classico Portraits

SB: In your world, how important is camera brand?
KM: Honestly, I believe in the old cliché that the best camera is the one in your hand. I started out with Nikon but switched to Sony for professional work a few years ago. I also own an Olympus and two Hasselblad systems for personal use. So as you can see, I'm not exactly loyal to any brand.

SB: What are your goals when you capture an image?
KM: As a family vacation photographer, my goal is always to capture the true personality of each subject and the relationship between each family member, while also showcasing the beauty of Italy as the background.

A family portrait photoshoot in Tuscany at their villa. ©Kirstie McConnell | Classico Portraits

When my clients come home after a hard day, I want them to walk past these photographs hanging on their walls and smile. I want these images to transport them back to this happy moment in time. To recall a small detail about their trip to make them feel good. To laugh at the phase that their then six-year-old was in. To feel the love they have for each other.

According to Professor Geoff Beattie, Head of School and Dean of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester, "We cannot underestimate the power of photographs to keep us feeling linked to others and belonging… By displaying photographs of our children at different stages of their lives, we are making a very public statement that we are proud of them."

Two boys proudly show what they found during their truffle hunt in Alba—the chosen activity for their family photoshoot. ©Kirstie McConnell | Classico Portraits

Since learning that, I have begun asking one parent during each session to privately tell each of their children one thing that they're really proud of them for. The reaction of the child, no matter the age, is always heartwarming. Capturing, printing, framing and displaying that moment enables the children to always remember that feeling.

SB: If you could do it all over, what would you do differently?
KM: Perhaps the biggest impact on my business was making industry friends. I went it alone for quite a few years and that was tough. Having a community of like-minded people to encourage you is really powerful. Reaching out sooner to other photographers, either local or in my niche, would have been really helpful.

Multi-generational vacations are becoming more popular in Italy and they're the perfect opportunity for a photoshoot. ©Kirstie McConnell | Classico Portraits

SB: What advice can you provide for Shutterbug readers?
KM: If you want to run a business, get your [creative] work to a decent level but then focus on learning business, particularly systems, marketing and pricing.

So what is a decent level? I often see photographers doubting if their work is good enough to charge for it. If you can consistently produce the same quality images for every shoot, then your work is good enough!

Sailing was the perfect activity to photograph these water-loving sisters in Puglia. ©Kirstie McConnell | Classico Portraits

SB: What else would you like to say to Shutterbug readers?
KM: Embrace the mistakes! We all make them and they're the best way to learn!

SB: Are you 100% digital or do you occasionally shoot film?
KM: My client work is 100% digital. I wish I could say that I take out my analog cameras more for personal work. But the truth is, digital is so much faster, lighter, easier and cheaper that I use it almost exclusively.

Classico Portraits is located in Florence and serves all of Italy. You can contact Kirstie McConnell via her website or Instagram.

Big shoutout to Zoe Hiljemark, Zoe Hiljemark PR, who helped make this story possible.

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