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On Being The Family Photographer During the Holidays


TwinIon
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With Thanksgiving just past us, Christmas coming up, and a few family and friend birthdays scattered in between, it's high season for family to take advantage of anyone who can competently work a camera. For myself, it's a task that I've accepted, but that I've never grown very comfortable with.

 

I tend to enjoy nature photography, birds in particular. As a hobby, it's something that is both skill testing and relaxing, as well as being a good excuse to go outside and move around. I usually try and get worthwhile photos when on vacation, with the goal being to get something worth printing and putting up on a wall. I'll happily share what I've got with family or friends who ask, but I don't have an instragam and I don't post on facebook, it's almost entirely something that I do for my own pleasure.

 

During the Holidays, that changes. My in-laws will specifically request that I show up with my gear and my family just expects me to. At some point in the evening, I'll get a few minutes to setup my lights, organize the family, pose everyone, and take this years christmas card photo. I know my way around a camera well enough, but this all stresses me the hell out. On average the photos are technically fine; everyone's in focus, the lighting is good (but not great), and I usually get a couple shots with everyone looking the right direction, but I'm pretty much never happy with the results. I try and go in with a plan, but family events always tend towards chaos. By the time I'm looking through the viewfinder I'm usually in a mild panic.

 

I'm particularly terrible at posing people. In the moment I'm so concerned about getting the exposure right and so flustered at having to organize everyone that I fail to notice the often awkward positions people get into. The next day when I sit down and look at everything in lightroom, it takes me all of two seconds to realize how I could dramatically improve a photo. Cousin Will is leaning at a 45 degree angle, Uncle John's tie is hanging over the person in front of him, one of the kids put sunglasses on. I look at the picture on my computer and it's just so obvious that I should have moved the camera a bit to the left, that my flash is reflecting off something in the back of the frame, that moving the furniture a bit closer together could have made a huge difference.

 

 I try and remind myself that I'm not a pro, and that the results I get far exceed Mom's iPhone or whatever Aunt Jill would have gotten on her point and shoot. Still, I can't help but feel like I'm not doing nearly as well as I'd like, and I dread the expectations of family awaiting their pics. I know how to get a great photo, but it all gets lost in the moment.

 

I think that I'm going to try shooting tethered, or at least set up automatic wifi transfer to my iPad so I can better review images. I'm hoping that looking at something larger than the 3.2" screen on my DSLR will help me spot my issues, and maybe slow everything down a bit and allow me to take a breath. Slowing down never really feels like an option though; once the wine is flowing, patience from anyone during the holidays is a lot to ask, and probably not reasonable to expect.

 

I'm not sure if this is the right place to put this, and I don't know if this is a familiar situation to any of you all. I'm not really expecting much of a discussion here, I mostly just needed to vent. My Dad's birthday is this weekend, and I know it's going to be the same thing again.

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2 hours ago, TwinIon said:

I try and go in with a plan, but family events always tend towards chaos.

 

2 hours ago, TwinIon said:

Cousin Will is leaning at a 45 degree angle, Uncle John's tie is hanging over the person in front of him, one of the kids put sunglasses on. I look at the picture on my computer and it's just so obvious that I should have moved the camera a bit to the left, that my flash is reflecting off something in the back of the frame, that moving the furniture a bit closer together could have made a huge difference.

Sounds like your photo's do a damn fine job of capturing your family essence. Embrace it and enjoy.

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You could always say no if it stresses you out so much. You don't have to take this responsibility on if you don't want to.

 

If anyone is so inclined, they can hire a professional photographer. Or you can all be responsible for your own amateur cell phone pics like millions of families do and no one dies from that. 

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Sounds stressful, sorry man. My whole family is pretty relaxed, for the most part, so I'm afraid I can't really relate too much or offer any tried and true suggestions, but the iPad idea sounds like a great one. 

 

Has anyone actually complained about the state of the photos, or is it more that it's something that bothers you personally? If it's the latter I would just offer the totally useless and cliched advice of: relax! :p Like SimpleG said, it sounds like you're capturing the chaos of your family, which can also be beautiful, I think.

 

Is it just your family putting pressure on you, or are you also putting pressure on yourself? From the outside, at least to me it sounds like you have some pretty high standards for your pictures, which is probably a good thing in a professional setting but it doesn't seem like it's serving you all that well with your family at the moment, especially when they're not really helping you reach your goal of nice pictures. :p 

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4 minutes ago, Nokra said:

Sounds stressful, sorry man. My whole family is pretty relaxed, for the most part, so I'm afraid I can't really relate too much or offer any tried and true suggestions, but the iPad idea sounds like a great one. 

 

Has anyone actually complained about the state of the photos, or is it more that it's something that bothers you personally? If it's the latter I would just offer the totally useless and cliched advice of: relax! :p Like SimpleG said, it sounds like you're capturing the chaos of your family, which can also be beautiful, I think.

 

Is it just your family putting pressure on you, or are you also putting pressure on yourself? From the outside, at least to me it sounds like you have some pretty high standards for your pictures, which is probably a good thing in a professional setting but it doesn't seem like it's serving you all that well with your family at the moment, especially when they're not really helping you reach your goal of nice pictures. :p 

It's 100% me putting the pressure on myself. I've never heard complaints; much to the contrary, everyone is always very grateful to have "real" photos taken. I could easily say no, or just not bring all my gear with me, but I want to be good at this. I'm in a position to provide something nice, and they're alway very appreciative. I enjoy seeing my photos framed in people's homes or sent out on holiday cards.

 

Still, it's outside my comfort zone, but to an extent that's kinda the point. I'm my own toughest critic, and family gatherings are an ideal place to improve and work through my own issues. Unfortunately something being worthwhile and being stressful are hardly mutually exclusive.

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Sounds like everyone else gets to have fun and enjoy the family celebration except for you. You could lower your standards at these events, or practice in other situations that are more just about this skill you want to build and not taking away from fsmily time too. But that's your choice, you do you. Happy birthday to your dad. 

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