For nearly 30 years, photographer Barbara Harbin has captured memories one shot at a time.
Photos by Jean Allsopp
Over time, Barbara Harbin’s Mountain Brook home has developed into more than just a dwelling. The historic abode really serves as more of a memory maker—the backdrop where Barbara preserves special moments on film for families too numerous to count. “I couldn’t even guess the number of shoots I’ve had here over the years,” says Barbara. “But there have certainly been many.”
Specializing in sepia, black-and-white, and hand-tinted portraits, Barbara has photographed babies, children, and families from all over the South. Essentially every aspect of her home—inside and out—has become a prop for each shoot. “I have one bench that practically every single toddler I’ve photographed has either stood or sat on,” Barbara says with a laugh. “Sometimes the children don’t want to have their picture made when they arrive, but after it’s over they say it was fun because I let them swing or climb a tree.”
It’s that personal interest Barbara takes in those she photographs that keeps clients coming back. “I have a lot of the same clients today that I started out with years ago,” Barbara says. “It’s such a wonderful experience getting to know each of them and seeing the families grow. It makes every shoot really special.”
Barbara’s interest in photography started when she was about the age of many of the children she photographs, but it wasn’t until her own children were practically grown that she realized the fun hobby could become a full-time business. “My friend kept telling me we needed to start a business,” she says. “She wanted to start an antiques business, but I thought it would be fun to take pictures. She said ok, and we just learned as we went.”
Today, Barbara’s photography business has come full circle. Many of the babies she once photographed in their christening gowns are now bringing in their own babies for a shoot. “The relationships I’ve built with the children are what has me still doing photography,” Barbara says. “One little girl I started photographing when she was six months old is now graduating from high school.”
Barbara and her husband, Robin, now are moving from the home that has long served as her studio, but with that change comes the chance
for a new beginning—a fresh canvas for future photo shoots. “This house has so many memories that it’s really hard to leave,” she says. “But I’m also excited about it. The new home will play a role in creating memories just as this house has.”
ABOVE The walls of Barbara’s home seem to tell many stories through her photographs of clients over three decades. “It’s so much fun to see the way each child matures over time,” Barbara says of her loyal clients.
GET SET TO SAY CHEESE
All parents want to capture their child’s timeless moments during a photo session. But getting there isn’t always an easy task. Photographer Barbara Harbin offers up her top tips to ensure a successful session.
Check and Re-Check
Double-checking that your child is neat and tidy before the session starts is critical. Take a few moments to comb hair again and wipe his or her face.
Children can tell when parents are anxious or excited. Be careful about building up the photo session too much. “If they know mom expects certain things of them, they might try too hard and not smile naturally,” says Barbara.
Don’t Pack Too Lightly
Have extra clothing on hand in case clothes get wet or dirty. And wait until you arrive at the shoot location to dress your child for the session.
Bring Comfort Items
Many children struggle to focus on one task for very long. To help them, bring a favorite toy to hold the child’s attention.
Allow Extra Time
If your child is shy, ask about allotting extra time at the beginning to let the child warm up and get used to the surroundings before the shoot.