My social circles know I love photography. I bring a camera to all events where a camera is an appropriate accessory. My family enjoys the perks. Some capture the single moments they want on their phones, most wait until I post the event photos on Facebook. I enjoy the process for a few reasons.

Unless your family members are duck-faced-selfie obsessed there isn’t pressure for perfect photos. They want to remember the event and who was there. They appreciate someone is documenting the event and it is not them. The lighting is often terrible to even worse.  The backgrounds are typically cluttered and the subjects often self conscious to the point of aversion. So I proclaim, “Challenge accepted!”

The challenge, capture at least one photo for yourself. The technical difficulties associated with photographing family events are the same challenges in street photography. You cannot plan the decisive moment. Practice the technical aspects of your chosen weapon of construction. Know your tool.  Practice with flash, without flash. I recently changed from spot focus to continuous focus on my Ricoh GR with an Optical View Finder (OVF). I found with spot focus I missed focus on many shots, but I really love shooing through a viewfinder, and I really love the Ricoh GR. I don’t know if this will work out or not but I am safe to experiment.  The environment is filled with people who my family wants to see photographed. If I miss the focus on my intended subject and focus on someone in the background, the client will not care.  They wanted a photograph of them also. Experiment safely.

With lighting and background challenges inherent in family events, spend time focusing on composition. Statistically speaking, if you spend more than 15 minutes at a family event, there will be at least one composition that will materialize.  The trick is to see that moment and capture it. John Free told me, “Working on assignment will teach you how to be a photographer.” I agree with him. I define a professional as is someone who can make an outcome from anything. This is universal. Payment for service is not required to learn the skill of delivering on demand. The ability to deliver on demand is required to be a professional.

Most importantly I like to teach my family to model. Not Project Runway modeling, but how to make themselves look good for photographs. While camera purchases have declined, every cell phone a camera. Most cell phones made in the past five years have really good cameras. I give everyone the same advice.

Do not hide from the camera. When you see my camera pointing at you, Smile. Everyone is self conscious of their photo being taken. If you smile, you will look great.

smile it is always perfect chris wessells street photography
Smiles, they are always perfect

The alternative is to look away, run away, or make sudden movements. In any of the alternatives other subjects in the photograph who smiled will look great. There will be some blur or half profile with a drunken, slurring look on your face as you try to avoid the camera.  Everyone will know it is you and I’m going to post the photograph anyway.

So most importantly teach those you love to embrace themselves and smile. I don’t care how many teeth you have or what color they are, if you smile you present the best you available. To parents, think of the photos of your kids. Remember the one that is diaper sagging, messy face, messy hair little bundle of mischief grinning that you love so much? While slightly biased, you love the photo right? Do you first comment on the smeared dinner, or half dressed, or hair sticking up in all directions? No, you comment on the smile, the giant beautiful grin.

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