Memory, All Alone In The Moonlight…
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.