Fly On The Wall: Holiday Shooting With Family

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There are times where we find ourselves more interested in recording memories than creating art.  That’s okay, because we are human too, and we want to have those memories.  The holiday season is fast upon us.  For Americans, it all starts next Thursday with Thanksgiving, and it’s all downhill from there.  As the photographer of the (extended) family, I personally struggle between getting creative and capturing the moments that everyone wants.  Somewhere in the middle, the truth lies.  Over the years, I have discovered that I am happiest with myself when I can do a mix of both.  As the holiday season is fast approaching, I would like to share what things I have learned over the years.

    • Candid shots over staged – Staged and posed shots are, lets face it, the practice of your mother.  They’re also loved only by your mother.  You know the drill:  “Okay everone, squeeze together and say cheese…oh Tommy, you blinked, lets try another one…”  ad nauseum.  These shots do nothing more than documenting the fact that three of your sisters were present and well yes, they did cook a few things.  You’ll surely be asked to take these shots, and I’m sorry about that.  But when you’re done taking attendance with your camera, take candid shots instead.  Candid shots really capture the moment and the feeling of the day.
    • You need to be a fly on the wall –  I balance my day between participating and watching from the sidelines.  In the periphery, I am able to get better photographs that capture the moments I want.  But I don’t want to deprive myself from being part of what’s happening.  Fortunately, I find myself humbled and satisfied in both roles – but I would not be happy doing just one or the other.  But when you aren’t part of the action, make sure you go unnoticed so that you are an impartial observer.  The best photos happen when no one knows you’re there.
    • Focus on the children – If you really want to catch the feeling of the day, focus on the children.  Their innocence comes through the lens better than the emotions of any adult.  Kids also like to be on film and sometimes they ham it up for you resulting in fun photos.
    • Wait for eye contact – There is nothing better than the connection between your subject and the camera.  If you can capture that split-second eye contact, you will have the attention of your audience.  It’s worth it to wait for it – hold that camera to your eye and wait.  This is what will separate your photos from your impatient and click-happy Aunt Betty.
    • Know when to put the camera down – As the inverse to the behavior expected of the children, many adults are annoyed by cameras, even in a family setting.  Uncle Bobby hasn’t liked your camera since you captured a shot of him chugging Eggnog from a bottle three years ago.  You still want Uncle Bobby accounted for, but make sure you’re shooting at appropriate times, if only to keep Uncle Bobby’s complaints at bay.  Oh, a hint:  No one ever looks good eating.  So dinner time is a good time to give the camera a rest.
    • Embrace your role – You’ll earn the reputation as the kooky relative who always has that camera around.  Your cousins and brothers-in-law will tease, your Aunt will ask you bizarre photography questions for the sake of making conversation and the kids will, as I said, ham it up for the camera.  It’s family, and so regardless of what they say, they will accept you for being you.  You just happen to be a person with a camera most of the time, so embrace it.  It will only help you to be happier throughout the course of the day.
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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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