Here is an old shot from the archives, but I really like this as a family portrait. It really shows us all as a family, each doing what we love, and all doing it together. What more could you want? And if you ask me, it beats anything that I could have paid for in a studio. Some of the shots in this post were taken with my iPhone, a big DSLR, various point-and-shoots, and various film cameras, and even my iPad. Some of that equipment I still have, and some I don’t; it’s irrelevant. The important thing is that I made the images, and I will have them forever.
One thing that I have been doing for a number of years is creating a printed book of photographs each year that documents the year in my son’s life. Honestly, I should have been doing this for all of us, but making photo books is both time consuming and expensive. I take a lot of photographs of us–of everything, really–and I am glad that I have found a way to get them off of my hard drive. Each time I take a trip, I create a book. I have a book for each year of my son’s life, too. Other significant events also get a book, and I find ways to give, or sell, them to others when I can.
When I am making a book about my son from the past year (I do it at the end of the calendar year, to give them out for Christmas presents to grandparents, great-grandparents, and other family) I choose photos that tell a story. I try to document the whole year: significant events or trips, certainly, but funky haircuts, lost teeth, school plays, and his interests are all documented. The one year that all he could think about was Pokemon? Yeah, I got that. When he obsessed about Thomas the Train? Got that too. The year that he had that silly faux-hawk all year? I wouldn’t miss it.
When I go on a trip, it’s important to document the trip, and tell the story of what happened. I am generally opposed to including words, so the burden of story-telling falls on the images themselves. Telling a story visually is not an easy skill, and is frequently overlooked among photographers, but it is the one thing that can set you apart as a photographer and artist. If you can tell a compelling story in a few images, and really move your audience, your artistry will be complete. Too often we as photographers–and I include myself in this discussion–focus on the technical issues: megapixels, equipment and the like put aside, we still obsess over other concepts like bokeh, depth of field, sharpness, chromatic aberration, vignetting, or corner sharpness. If you look at the masters of photography from the golden age of photojournalism (guys like Henri Cartier-Bresson, and others) you will notice that story-telling doesn’t need to be shot wide open, or need lots of megapixels to be successful. If a non-photographer looks at an image and likes the emotion you manage to convey, that’s all that matters.
My point is that although I try to choose my strongest images, sometimes some really great ones get left out. The most important thing is that I document the things that happen, that in a few short months or years will be consigned to faulty memories, or the dustbin of history. When I shoot digital images, this is even more important. Images relegated to the hard drive are forgotten, and will eventually be lost. With the volume of images one can take these days with a digital camera, it’s no wonder we forget some images that we have taken. There are simply too many. For example, the image above was taken almost 6 years ago with a cheap Kodak point-and-shoot I had at the time. Surely, with the experience and equipment that I have now, I could have crafted a finer technical image. But does the image of my grandfather singing a song to my son as he stares at him in wonder move the viewer? I think most people familiar with those involved would say yes. How about this image I took of my son and his great-grandmother with my iPad? The resolution is terrible…but who cares? Everyone in my family I showed it to wanted a copy. They love it–and that is all that matters. Here is another example below, with my iPhone, that I used in last year’s book on my son. The only camera I had in my hand, ready to go at that moment, was my iPhone. Even though I had another in my bag, I would have lost the shot I saw had I dug around for it. The camera that you have with you, ready to shoot, is the best camera you can have.
There are few things in life that can replace the photographs we have of the ones we love. My advice to you then is this: first, when you are making photographs of your family, use the best equipment that you can afford and are comfortable with (recently, a blogger I respect very much wrote about this, and you should read that as well). Use whatever you can get away with for other things that aren’t important, but the pictures of lost teeth, broken legs, and songs with grandparents are the ones that you will keep–and treasure–forever. All those artistic shots that you took with your big DSLR of the fence and the bokeh are really nice, but in 30 years I doubt anyone will want to look at them. But that other shot you took with your iPhone of your kids laughing and playing in the piles of leaves? In 30 years you will get misty-eyed looking at it. Guaranteed.
Secondly, print your photos. I don’t care if you shoot digital or film, or what kind of equipment you use. Create books, calendars, posters, or just some small prints, but print them. If you have a dark room, do it yourself. If you don’t, find a place to print your photographs for you–there are plenty. I used to take photos and do nothing with them, except maybe put them on flickr. Now I create photo books constantly. Much like the above point: would I rather have those shots I love on the Internet for strangers to browse, or put them in the hands of friends and family? Exactly.
Finally, take pictures. Take them all the time. Carry a camera with you everywhere. When people ask me what kind of camera they should get, they ask questions about sensor size, lens availability, ISO capability, megapixels, and the like. The question I always ask them is deceptively simple: “What camera are you willing to carry with you everywhere?” I then ask them what their budget is, and that’s it. If you can afford a big DSLR, then great. If you aren’t going to carry it absolutely everywhere with you, then leave it at the store. Quite frankly, if you aren’t carrying it with you, then it might as well still be on the shelf at the store. If the biggest thing you are willing to carry with you is your iPhone, then that’s the camera for you. For most people, there is a size limit, and with cameras being as small as they are these days (and still quite capable) there is a camera for everyone. Just look at the recent popularity of apps like Instagram for an example.
So, to review:
- Use the best equipment you can for the shots that matter.
- Print your photographs.
- Take your camera everywhere, and use it constantly.