A few months ago Rachael wrote me an email that said:
Would you be interested in writing a post for regular folks on how to take more memorable photos that capture the heart of their special moments when they don’t have a professional photographer at their side?
And I agreed excitedly. To be completely honest I was pretty intimidated by the task. I am a photographer, not a writer, but I blog and I have opinions so I figured I should at least try it. I was mostly unsure if I could keep my shit together enough to spell check and cut my run on sentences down to academic standards.
I thought about the prompt for days. I don’t know what sort of advice to offer non-professional that wouldn’t bore them stiff over f/stops and ISO information. So I spent some time looking through my own memories and photographs to try and get inspired…
One day, a friend of mine, Dan, was at our house. This is a common occurrence and our house has been nicknamed the Barger for those who have lived in it. At one point, my boyfriend and I lived with two of our artist friends, one of them being Dan. We shared a living room that held a house journal we took turns writing inside of, in this shabby and not even a little bit chic 3 bedroom house. We nearly all killed each other that year but we became like family through it. The night Dan visited, we sat around the kitchen table going through my box of photos from the time that we all lived together. My Father is a woodwork and a real life Ron Swanson, and made me a box to hold all of my favorite memories for my 18th birthday. That was the birthday I started taking polaroid snapshots.
This particular night I was drinking tea and pulling out snapshots when I came across a photo from 1991. I was five years old with a mullet, sitting with my mother who had a perm and plastic glasses. We were placed in front of a homemade backdrop that read “love you miss you” but most of the miss you was hidden behind us, something the photographer should have noticed.
We looked shabby and not even a little bit chic.
Dan and Phil made a joke about my euro-trash mullet and then quickly felt like douchebags when my eyes welled up with tears. Through snot nosed sniffles I recounted how my mom was a single mother while my dad was in Saudi Arabia during desert storm. It was only six months of my life but I remember how hard those six months when I look at this photo. I didn’t remember the day or even taking the photograph at all but seeing it made me remember the Christmas my dad was gone. And the time I yelled at my mom “if dad were here he would take me the doctors” when I was throwing up in the middle of the night. The memories were tied to seeing my mom in the photograph. My current perspective gave me a whole new respect for the young woman who moved across the country and loved an Army-man that had to leave her alone for 6 months to raise a mischievous 5 year old with a mullet.
In the Barger that night, after making Dan and Phill listen to my snot nosed memories, the idea of leaving no foot print came up. In environmental conservation terms I think the idea is wonderful. In life terms I want to leave so many footprints people won’t be able to forget me. Most of our lives feel so ordinary that sometimes it’s hard to realize the footprints we leave.
I think it’s really important to have photographs made of you. They become a legacy of your life.
As a professional photographer who documents specific times in people’s lives, it’s my aim to do that in a way that is artistic and timeless. I hope you have had the pleasure of someone giving you a photograph they made of you. It’s an experience that reveals a truth about yourself in the image that you couldn’t see from your own perspective. If you are one those people who would save their photos if the house was burning down than you know how life affirming a photograph can be.
But this photograph of my mom and I was none of those things. It wasn’t life affirming, it wasn’t technically good, and our fashion sense is embarrassing. It was by most standards a bad photograph, but it didn’t matter to me. I was just happy to be able to see my mom at exactly my age staring back at me.
My advice on how to take memorable photographs is to be present in the moment and…take a photo! Make documenting your life a priority.
It’s great to learn about F/stops and ISO, but my most priceless possessions were taken with a Polaroid camera that didn’t allow control over any of its setting. Taking those photos makes me shut off the desire to control how it looks and just remember how it feels. And I am thankful I have a wooden box my father made full of memories I never want to forget.
My best advice comes with a guarantee; make a photo every time you think “I want to remember this”, with whatever sort of camera you have available and stay with the moment until you have felt like you have it recorded.
Print the photos or make yearly albums and watch your memories grow.
I think about how the sunset has probably been the subject of photography since its existence and yet we don’t say “well here is this one photograph of a sunset, we need not make any more photographs of sunsets, this covers it”. There is a reason we photograph sunsets and make selfies. We realize deep down that tomorrow, everything is going to change again from the way it is in this moment. Photographs are a way to hold on to those memories visually. Make photographs of the people you love and the things and places you love and let others make photographs of you The photo itself will be a treasure to those who love you, and it will be a road map to the many places you will go and people you will be in your lifetime. The more you do it I promise the more you will be amazed at how much your world view changes.