Memory, All Alone In The Moonlight…

I wanted to capture for each grandchild a special moment between just them and their grandpa.

I recently visited my grandmother and eventually the night turned to reminiscing over old family photo albums.  Tucked in the pages were a few old Polaroids of me as a child with my grandfather who is no longer with us.  It was heartwarming to see these photos that I had never seen before.  The quality of those old Polaroids wasn’t the best, but I’m grateful that a record exists of that moment.  I’ve had a desire for some time now to do something worthwhile and good with my love of photography.  A few months ago I decided to give the gift of photography to my father-in-law and his grandchildren.  My father-in-law’s health has been declining over the past few years and my nieces and nephews are all very young.  I wanted them to each have a keepsake for when they are older of their grandfather and how much he loved them.  They are the apple of his eye and the biggest bright spot in his life.

I tried to create and capture some more intimate moments.

I decided to undertake a photography project and photograph each grandchild individually with their grandfather.  When I started I had a vision of what I wanted and it helped guide me through the process.  I really wanted to capture a personal moment and show a real connection between loved ones.  In the end I didn’t quite capture the exact images I had in my mind, but I got the results I was looking for.  This was the first time I had ever really tried portraits and I ran into some challenges and learned quite a bit.

The simple black background helps remove any distractions and creates a more intimate setting.

For the set up I turned the corner of the living room into my photography studio.  My vision was to have an isolated moment in time that focused only on the relationship between grandfather and grandchild.  I decided to go with a plain black background to remove any and all distractions and leave just my two subjects as the clear focus of the photo.  I didn’t want any colors taking away from my models and the black evokes a sense of the subjects existing in a vacuum where they are the only two people there.  In my opinion it gives the scene a real sense of intimacy that only heightens the bond that comes through in the portrait.  To make the background I went down to the local fabric store and got a budget friendly piece of black fleece 12 feet long that was on sale.  I simply hung the fabric on a bookcase and it instantly turned into an elegant backdrop for the portraits.  It did turn out a little gray in the photos I took as some light hit the fabric so I just used the burn tool in Photoshop to make it completely black.

This was all done with just a simple flash set up on camera left with a shoot through umbrella.

For the lighting I decided to use something simple and straight forward.  I’m still kind of new to off camera flash photography and wanted to do something safe to make sure I got the shots.  I used a single flash with a shoot through umbrella just to the right of and above the subjects.  I got the umbrella as close as I could without it being in the shots so I would get nice, soft light and avoid harsh shadows.  I had my wife as a gracious assistant hold a white foam core poster board on the other side to bounce some light to fill in the shadows.  This setup gave some nice dramatic lighting that I felt enhanced the emotion of the photo.  Having the umbrella so close also creates a nice round catch light in the eyes that gives them a sparkle.  I would have liked to have tried a few other lighting setups, but I had to keep it simple.  Photographing small children can be a challenge and I wanted lighting that was versatile and easy to do no matter how much they moved around.  I learned quite a bit about flash photography doing this and hopefully in future projects I’ll be able to experiment with more complex and layered lighting.

I had to work with what I could get. She would only do her own poses so I tried my best to make it work.

The setup was the easy part of the process though.  Actually getting the photos taken was something entirely different.  I’ve always tried to do more candid portraits of my nieces and nephews and stuggling to get them to sit still and cooperate was quite the endeavor.  When I first got the idea for this project I had all these different poses I wanted to capture.  In my mind I envisioned all sorts of different angles and cute situations, but as I started shooting I realized it just wasn’t feasible.  My father-in-law’s strength isn’t what it used to be and the kids had a mind of their own.  A simple grandfather sitting in a chair with his grandkid on his lap was what I had to resort to.  It was a lot of work for some of the kids just to pose for even one photo.  I finally lowered myself to bribery and found that the promise of stickers worked well.  In the end I was just grateful if I could get a shot where everyone was smiling and not crying.  After a bit of trying to force my creative vision I found out in this situation I had to just work with what I was given and make the best of it.  I did manage to capture some hugs and kisses and tender moments though and I’m grateful for that.

After some coaxing I was able to get a kiss out of him.

A nice hug for grandpa.

This was by far the most worthwhile photographic project I’ve ever done.  I’m so happy with the results and I’m pretty jealous of the kids and the photos they now have.  For some of the youngest ones these photos might be the best memory they have of their grandfather and I felt such a sense of purpose in taking these portraits.  The years will fade, but these children will always have these photos to connect themselves to a great man who loves them so much.  In the future I hope to be able to to create more portraits of loved ones that will stand as monuments of family love.  My counsel is that each of you takes the chance to record those special loved ones in your life through photos.  Someday those photos will mean more to you than any other possession you have.

Hopefully these portraits will be something they cherish when they are older.


~ by Rick The Stick on July 27, 2010.

7 Responses to “Memory, All Alone In The Moonlight…”

  1. Wow! What beautiful pics! You can see the love in Grandpa’s eyes, the life long experiences that have taught him just how precious this photo session was. And in twenty years the kids will look back at these pics and not only remember how special he is, but how thoughtful the photographer is, to preseerve this moment in time for them. That is awesome!

  2. Rick, what a beautiful project! I recently lost my grandfather and would have loved to have had some special portraits with him. I am going to steal this idea and photograph each of my nieces and nephews with their grandparents. I love that you were able to capture the joy and love in the photos. What a priceless gift you have given your family.

  3. You have such an incredible talent. Most photographers can take great looking photos of people or objects, but you have the rare talent of truly capturing moments in time. You have the gift of being able to capturing real emotion. I think MANY professional photographers envy the talent you possess. I think it is a rare few that actually have it. These are absolutely gorgeous! I nearly started crying while going through your post.

    God Bless!

  4. these pictures are amazing, and what you did with the pictures is so perfect. it really touched a cord with me, i recently lost my grandpa and they brought tears to my eyes. i love him very much and i would have given anything to have a picture like that of me and my grandpa. wow, just… wow.

  5. Hey, wonderful blog you got here! Keep up the excellent work

  6. Rick, you are an amazing photographer!! I love this!

  7. It´s a really great idea and even more beautiful photos! You captured so many emotions in the frames and I almost can see love between them.

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