Perfectly Imperfect: Why You’re the Best Family Photographer You Know
Like it or loathe it, we can all agree on one thing: Valentine’s Day is about love – all kinds. This mid-February holiday with its naked, angelic mascot is perfect for celebrating our wonderfully-varied, love-filled hearts: the romantic love we feel for our partners, the nurturing love we feel for our children, and the complex love we feel for our parents.
“A few hours before my father died, someone snapped a photo of him with his brothers and their father on the golf course,” shares Jane Ammon. “It was truly the last photo of him. That photo means the world to me.” Jane, a Fleetwood, Pennsylvania, photographer, lost her father tragically before she had even turned 2.
“Soon after I learned the story behind that photo,” she recalls. “I decided to document the moments that make my heart pound.”
Jane became convinced: no one is better equipped than we are to intimately document the lives of those we love.
“My best friend and I bribed Maddie with Pokemon cards to wear this dress and pose for us. She was so mad! I love this photo because her expression is REAL.”
“Your Angry Face Doesn’t Scare Me”
Our kids’ tantrums don’t scare us. Our partners’ moods don’t sway us. We know better than anyone how to push through the rough patches and back into their good graces – even if it requires a bit of bribery and our last stick of gum.
Clients expect magic; but when we make photographs for ourselves, we can relax and experiment with odd shadows, strange textures, and moody expressions.
Rent a lens you’ve never used before – it’s a tax write-off! Shoot in light you’ve never braved before – who says you can’t make beautiful portraits at high noon? Let your imagination run wild – what new techniques did you learn at your last workshop or trade show?
Or, like Jane, highlight your daughter’s remarkable, stoic face. It’s okay if today is not a smiling day.
Any results that don’t quite live up to your expectations contribute to your growth. And when you do strike gold? It will be with the loves of your life – as in Jane’s own photographs of her daughter Maddie, son Connor, and husband Erik.
“The first morning of Christmas break. The light was so perfect in that moment. As I sat across from Connor I said, ‘Buddy, I need to take your photo.’ He smiled and simply said, ‘Okay, Mama.’ It rekindled my love for photographing my family. I took 1 photo a day of them over that 10 day break.”
Document the Everyday, In Any Way You Can
The simple moments – unmade beds and unkempt hair – belong in your family photo album, because they are your truest stories. When the light tugs at your soul, pick up your camera – whichever one is nearest – and make a photograph of your life in that instant.
Jane photographs her family with a Sony a7 II – and her trusty iPhone. After all, sometimes it is more important to make the darn photograph than it is to abandon the moment in search of the “right” gear.
“When I photograph my family, I never care about the perfect image, the right composition, or the sharpness.” Jane explains. “When I photograph my family, I work from a place of deep, unconditional love, only.”
“All of my laugh lines on my beautiful face are from him.”
Don’t Let Yourself Get Lost
“Erik is the funniest guy I’ve ever met,” Jane states. “It’s the reason I married him. No one makes me laugh like he does.”
You know it’s true when you see Jane’s own laughing face photographed beside her husband’s. In their twilight selfie, the deep connection between Jane and Erik is undeniable.
It’s this connection that will likely mean the most to Jane’s children as they grow up and begin relationships of their own. Individual portraits of their mother and father will certainly be special, but the casual self-portraits of Jane and Erik together may mean more than any professional portraits ever could.
Don’t exclude yourself from your family photographs. You’re family, too. And one day your loved ones will want to see you in the pictures of their histories.
“Every year when we go to the beach Connor and I cross our fingers for a good thunderstorm.”
Goofy is Golden
Kids make ridiculous faces. They can’t help it. The educational toys, the organic fruits and veggies: all equip your child with the select ability to cross his eyes and stick out his tongue the moment he senses a camera nearby.
This may not be your preferred pose for the family holiday card, but it is a real expression – and we’re betting it will make you laugh yourself breathless when that kiddo has left for college and you’re pretending you don’t miss his sweaty tennis shoes by the door.
Don’t be afraid of silly faces. They’re what differentiate your honest, messy, wonderful family photos from the stock picture that came in the store-bought frame. They’re what make you human.
“Soon after I started seeing my therapist, I began a series of self portraits as a way to heal. One night as I was working on one, Maddie came into the room to ask what I was doing. When I told her, she asked to be in one.”
A Family of One
Before there was Maddie… before Connor… before Erik… there was just Jane.
What are the rules when you’re living the childfree, partner-free life of an artsy adventurer – and you wouldn’t have it any other way?
Your carefree lifestyle doesn’t change the truth: you still have family. Maybe they’re blood family: parents and siblings and nieces and nephews. Or maybe they’re that extra-special kind of family – the kind you choose, the way Jane and Erik chose Maddie as their daughter.
If “chosen” better-describes the people closest to you, photograph them still. Photograph your family, no matter how unrelated. Photograph your loves, no matter how unromantic. Photograph the humans who make you you – all your oddities and edges, all your soft parts and shiny ideas. Photograph what moves you. Follow Jane’s lead, and photograph the moments that make your heart pound.
“This was a request of Connor’s. ‘Mama, make a photo of me and the thing I’m the best at!’”
Let Gratitude Guide You
With every challenge and heartache life throws our way, gratitude for every good thing increases.
As creatives, we’re gifted with a heightened awareness of life’s value – the beauty of laugh lines, the joy of goofy faces, the necessity of family – those chosen, and those related by blood. This sensitivity empowers us to photograph and appreciate our families as they are.
“Photographing my husband, son, and daughter from my perspective is an act of love,” says Jane. “It’s my way of showing them I hear their hearts, see their souls, and know their voices.”
Tell their story. It’s your story, too.
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