Why You Should Avoid the 'Family Photographer' Moniker

By Roger (28 June 2015)

Back in March, I extolled on the joys of family photography and how to simple it can be to make family shots (link). As I said then, family members are my favorite photo subjects. Family photography documents the passage of time and can create priceless heirlooms for the entire family. You should practice it at every opportunity.

One of my favorites

One of my favorites

Then, there is the other side of the job. There are always, at least, two sides.

What could be wrong with being labeled the official family photographer? You might be surprised. Here are some things you need to be prepared to endure if they stick that moniker on you.

People expect you to bring a camera for every event. You're the photographer, after all. So, during the parties and get-togethers, you get to schlep your camera gear around, taking their photos. They will explain that, since you are the photographer, they don't need to bother with their cameras anymore. And they won't carry your gear, either. In Germany, we used to do 10 and 20 kilometer volksmarches, with my daughter on my back, and two cameras, lenses, and rolls of film around my neck. But, my wife wouldn't carry my gear.

On the volksmarching trail, in Germany

On the volksmarching trail, in Germany

You don't get to play with them. You quickly realize that your new role is to photograph them having fun. You will discover a distinct lack of you in your photo database. If you were to join them, you couldn't make the photos they all want. Besides, who would watch your gear?

Pony rides are for kids

Pony rides are for kids

Looks like a fun slide

Looks like a fun slide

They don't cooperate during photo sessions they requested. Everybody wants to have group photos made for their desks and walls, but nobody wants to help make it happen. You have to think things out ahead of the session and be quick, or you'll lose your chance. This is especially true when the subjects are the “adults.”

You two better behave!

You two better behave!

Their mother might make them behave, so you can complete the photo, but you will know the suffering it took to get the photo. They only cooperated because she threatened to put sticks and leaves in their stockings.

Finally, cooperation

Finally, cooperation

They, even, taught the youngest family member to make goofy faces when I point the camera in his direction. It's a conspiracy, I tell you.

The youngest scofflaw of the family

The youngest scofflaw of the family

They will tell you what and how to shoot. You might think you've got this photography thing figured out. I mean you've been doing it for decades now. If you're a serious portrait photographer, you'll find that your ideas are wrong. That 1970's retro-look is back in for school photos. (I talked about making this daylight flash photo, here.)

Retro school photo

Retro school photo

Your back may be going from decades of heavy camera bags, but you need to get on your belly to capture that shot of the baby playing in the leaves. (Everybody knows babies and leaves are a killer photo combination.)

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Finally, they have no patience when you take too long to post-process. “Aren't those photos ready, yet? We need to give them away to everyone we know.” You will toil away at Lightroom and Photoshop to make the photos the best they can be. If you're doing well, they won't see any obvious traces of the work you've done. Therefore, it must be easy. They don't understand why it takes you so long to erase the aunt holding the kid on the dog or erase the vulgar graffiti on the background wall. “Didn't you pay attention at Photoshop World? Are you just hiding in your office, when we should all be out here together? Come on out here. Oh, and bring your camera!”

Walking the dog

Walking the dog

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Ready to sign up for this job as family photographer? There is no money in the budget, but you can use the photos in your portfolio. Except that all your photography buddies will tell you family photos have no place in a serious portfolio.

Seriously, the bold points are true, and you should re-consider applying for this job if they would bother you. The rest of the blog is over the top because I don't believe the bold points matter a bit when I'm making photos of my family and friends. Nothing gives me more pleasure than my family, and I will make photos of them until they bury me. No doubt, with my camera gear – I'm telling you, none of them will carry my bags for me. ;-)

Go out and make some family photos. For extra fun, make sure to keep all the goofy shots, just to get back at them.

Egg-cited

Egg-cited

The Gift of Photography

All the credit for this blog goes to Sarah.  She won the annual prize for finding and giving the best gifts this year.   My Dad and sister joined us for the holiday when their original travel plans changed.  We were really thrilled to have them join us, but had to figure out what to get my sister besides gift cards and wine.  She is one of those people who always says “but, I don’t need anything”.   

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Holly (Sarah’s lovely daughter) was also going to be here.  Sorry Ben and John, but us guys were pretty much bicycle fish for the holidays.  “Ah ha! I’ve got it!” exclaimed my wife, “digital picture frames”.

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I was a bit surprised as the frame I had bought for her several years ago had started to do weird and funky things.   I gave thumbs up from my side of the couch as she immediately ordered them from Amazon, foolishly thinking that I had escaped having to do any actual work.  Then she revealed the brilliance of her plan.  Rather than give an empty electronic device, we were going to fill the frame with pictures which she knew would mean something to each of them. 

For Holly, she contacted scads of friends as well as Holly’s facebook connections asking for them to send decent quality (i.e. not facebook thumbnails) copies of the images which they had posted.  She combed through her own archives (not in Lightroom…yet, but that is another story) and collected them together.  

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For my sister, we were able to go through my digital files and pretty much instantly gather those together.  Unfortunately, I still have a lot of my father’s slides from when we were kids which are waiting to be scanned.  

I don't think I want to try this now

I don't think I want to try this now

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We dragged out my old slide sorting light box and my detailed inventory of potential candidates and looked through a few hundred images.  We found some great ones, and some not so great ones.   We then had the slides scanned by McClanahans—our local camera shop.  For both sets of images I did some clean up in Lightroom and Photoshop and handed them over to Sarah.

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Sarah loaded up the images onto “cute” animal head USB drives, but we discovered they would not fit into the port on the back.  So, we took a plain old USB and loaded up each of the frames.   I have to say that when Donna opened her box, it was “uh, nice…thanks.”   When we made her plug it in and turn it on and the images started to show up, we could not get her attention to open any other gifts for a while.  Holly noticed that she had the exact same shape box and you should have seen the wrapping paper fly.   Both of them were moved by the images.    I was once again amazed at just how brilliant Sarah is.  Well, she did marry me after all… (Editor’s note-Gag) 

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All too often the images which mean the most to us aren’t the best photographs in the world, but they capture the best memories.   The selection of the images says a lot about how much the recipients mean to us.  I highly recommend this as a gift for those you care about.