It has obviously been a bit quiet around these parts for a while. Things have been lagging generally since last summer if I’m honest, as I gradually got out of the habit of photographing and, more importantly, writing, leaving sizeable gaps between posts. This is pretty disappointing considering I was, for a decent run, doing very well at getting posts out weekly up until 2016.
In the last year, however, a few things have happened which have begun to give me a bit of a kick into getting my hobby, and with it this site, back into gear.
In October I attended the inaugural RTX London, a fantastic experience at which I got some of my favourite photographs of the year (spoiler: this year I will be returning to RTX London as a Guardian; I’m not sure what photographic opportunities it will present from that angle but I’m hoping for some interesting stuff).
The second thing, which is the one related to this actual post, is on the complete opposite end of the happiness spectrum. Just before Christmas, my father-in-law passed away unexpectedly. This obviously threw everything into disarray, but the thing that helped give me focus was the task that ultimately befell me, which was sorting through all of his photographs and mine looking for suitable ones for his memorial. As it turns out, one of my photographs, posted to this very blog over five years ago, became adopted as the picture of him, adorning the front of the order of service and now having a pride of place in my mother-in-law’s living room.
Going through all of the photographs spanning many years I realised I have been getting out of the habit of taking photographs at family gatherings.
If you’re a photographer of any level, whether professional or hobbyist or even just someone with a half-decent smartphone camera, take some advice from me: don’t forget to photograph the moments closest to you. Make sure you grab shots of those little moments at home when one of your loved ones doesn’t know you’re looking. Photograph the family gatherings when people are together who usually aren’t. Always have a camera with you and people won’t be so distracted when you randomly take their photo when you see those little slices of time you want to capture. Because, as morbid as the thought may be, in time those photographs may be all you have of them.
This post is a marking of this life lesson, featuring an assortment of the photographs I’ve taken of my family over the last few years but haven’t posted here before, because aside from getting out of the habit of posting here generally, I’ve not done many posts of family members lately at all.
Despite this, there are still a few reliable opportunities in the year at which I end up taking photographs, and it is at these that I still usually grab a few snaps of family members, ideally in the sort of unguarded moments that make for the better, truer photographs, even if I don’t ultimately publish them.
Early in the year is a get-together in memory of my late uncle, in which a lot of us get together for a curry in London. This is usually a spot where I’ll grab a few shots of the family members I’m sitting with, such as my aunt…
Or my cousin…
Or my mum.
Summer is also a good time for photographing family. There is inevitably a barbecue or get-together of some sort of both mine and Holly’s side of the family, where luckily I’m expected to take a few photos.
One of the things that has given me pause as of late when it comes to sharing photographs of people is worrying about the issue of permissions. Usually – especially when children are involved – I’ve made sure to get permission before posting them. In these days of the General Data Protection Regulation it’s arguably worse because photographs of people technically constitute personal data, making this sort of thing a total pain in the arse. Even when not posting them I would still share photographs of kid with their parents, of course – I don’t want them to miss shots they may not otherwise see of their children growing up. Still, some are worth sharing.
Sometimes, of course, even the semi-posed photographs come out alright.
But on the whole, I prefer the ones that people don’t realise are being taken.
Like I said at the start, some of the best moments to get are people interacting, especially ones that only see each other a few times a year. Here are my mum and aunt.
Usually at these things it’s not just me taking pictures, which does sometimes create some cross-shots of photographers photographing photographers.
As you may have noticed, a lot of the images I take of family are shot on my 50mm prime lens. This is mainly because it helps bring subjects out against cluttered and often close-by backgrounds with a shallow depth of field, although it does have the added bonus of maximising the light available whenever I’m shooting inside.
Christmas is another good time to get photographs of family. Because Christmas begets so many memories it’s good to capture anything, even if you’re just having a quiet one with your immediate family. It creates its own challenges, of course, because unlike the summer where families tend to gather outside in the bright sun, at Christmas everyone tends to congregate inside, and the light is never quite as bright and doesn’t stick around for long, so it’s more challenging in general to photograph. Still, golden hour occurs at a more agreeable time and so sometimes, struggle that it is, the light is on your side.
Large or small gathering, there should be opportunities for capturing moments, like this archive shot of my father-in-law.
If you’re lucky whilst inside during Christmas, you’ll get people sitting near windows, getting good strong light diffused though net curtains, golden hour occurs at a more agreeable time and so sometimes, struggle that it is, the light is on your side. For several Christmases now my family have all gathered at my cousin’s house for a get-together (we didn’t make it last year for obvious reasons), and their living room has a nice big window for lighting people near it effectively, resulting in some of my favourite photographs I’ve taken of my mum, especially the year she met my cousin’s new puppy.
Of course, other members of my family were also nicely lit, like my dad…
…and my cousin…
…and the aforementioned puppy, now a little more grown up (but not that much, it is after all one of those breeds that doesn’t grow bigger than a cat).
A few months ago around Mother’s Day a lot of my wife’s immediate family met up to mark what would have been my in-laws’ ruby wedding anniversary. I made sure I took this opportunity to put my new life lesson into practise.
With my wife, her mother, two sisters and their husbands, and a total of four niblings, there were plenty of family to photograph.
The table we were at had a lovely window behind it, giving me more of the soft side light that I love.
Not long after this many of us were together again for another meal after beginning the task of clearing out my father-in-law’s sheds, with another opportunity to photograph nieces and nephews.
And a rarely seen ‘selfie’ shot.
Hopefully there’ll continue to be plenty of family gatherings for me to be a photographic nuisance at, as I continue to aim to be the my official family photographer.
In the meantime, I’ve been building up a small backlog of images to edit and post, so hopefully sometime soon we’ll be returning to your regularly scheduled website.
1 thought on “Family”
A lovely post, Rob, and I couldn’t agree with you more about taking the opportunity to capture moments with loved ones on film/card. I’ve found myself in a similar position this year, having lost my mum in January after a prolonged illness.
I have wanted over the last couple of years to get as many photos of her as possible – partly to document the advance of her Parkinson’s and partly to have memories of her – but didn’t want to broach the subject of doing do with my dad. So I made use of the camera on my phone and each time I visited got one or two candid/surreptitious shots, which I will keep.
For my part, your post is well timed, as well, as you have said you took photos as a family gathering to remember your father-in-law. Dad and I will be having a similar family gathering this weekend, and it’s fired my up to get photos of those coming along – both formal and candid. I guess the thing to avoid is to spend the whole event behind a camera lens, but to get enough of an opportunity to photograph as much as possible.
Thanks again for a great post! 🙂