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If you are lucky, one day your parents will ask you to photograph them together. You’ll to jump at the chance, because it’s going to make you feel all the good feelings, and it will be worth all of the time and money you’ve put into becoming a photographer. This is one of the reasons you become a photographer in the first place; to preserve memories, especially of the people and things that you love dearly.
Recently, I had this opportunity when my parents asked me to do a session for them. Not only do I love spending time with them and my camera, but there was the perfect Christmas gift for them, just dropped into my lap. I jumped in the car and drove the three hours for our session.
I want to let you in on some of the things you might expect if you get to photograph your own parents, based on my experience. Hopefully, you’ll have as wonderful of an experience as I did.
Our session started out more formally and we thought a suit and dress downtown would work great! We tried for a while, but it just wasn’t working out the way that we thought it would. We got a couple of nice shots, but overall, we couldn’t stop laughing at how awkward it was.
When I’m with clients I don’t know, I work through awkwardness, and make a session work, no matter what the circumstances. Since it was my parents, we could just outright laugh at my dad’s awkward smile, or my mom placing her hands awkwardly. When it finally reached the point of my mom pretending to model next to the pillars and my dad trying so hard not to laugh at her, I knew it was time to do what we all knew would be more comfortable. We ran home, they changed clothes, and we drove up into the mountains.
A few times I caught the most unguarded, spontaneous moments. I didn’t pose my parents every step of the way because I really wanted to capture their personalities and their real relationship. The surprise bonus was that I saw through my lens more than I had ever noticed before.
I know my parents love each other, but I saw the way they looked at each other with trust. The way my dad cherished my mom and didn’t want to let her go. The comfort my mom feels when her hand is in my dad’s hand. As children, we can be very self-centered sometimes, and we are more focused on how our parents feel about us, or how we feel about them, and we don’t notice how they feel about each other. It was a treasure to experience.
I had more than one long conversation with my mom after the photos were done, edited, and delivered. She loved them, but that made it even harder to decide which ones to print. She would call me one day and give me a list of images and sizes she wanted, and then call the next day and change them all again.
When it’s your mom, she knows that she can do that as many times as she wants, and you won’t quit talking to her. Honestly, I didn’t mind at all, because it made me happy that she was so excited about the photos. Realistically, though, most experiences photographing family will have a few eye rolls, so you have to be prepared for that.
Many times family may not appreciate your expertise, or realize how much you know about photography. To them, you’re the family member with a nice camera, and it shouldn’t be a problem for you to snap a few whenever they want. I’ve been lucky in that regard; I have many many family members that value and appreciate my work, and who have been constantly supportive of me. I do realize that not every photographer is as lucky, though, so you might want to be prepared for a few sighs.
I shed many tears when I was editing all the photos of my parents. Often when you’re in the middle of shooting a session, you don’t realize all of the gems that you’ve captured. That happens to me all the time. I always know of some of the favorite photos that I’m excited about during the session, but I discover so many more gems when I have time to sit down and really look at them.
There were so many genuine smiles, so much love, and some really beautiful scenery that I noticed too. I realized that I had captured exactly what I see and love in my parents, but I had also captured more. I’ve been known to cry with love and joy from other sessions too, but this one had even more emotional attachment, so a few (or more) tears were inevitable.
My heart was full of gratitude as I photographed these two people I love so much. Photography is something that I deeply love, and it connects me to relationships, feelings, expressions, and my creativity more than most anything. It was amazing to be able to use the talent I have worked so hard for to give back to my parents, who have sacrificed and supported me every step of the way through my life.
My mom is a gifted artist, and she spent countless hours with pastels and colored pencils, teaching me about colors and light and how they work together. My dad sacrificed his early mornings and late nights with extra jobs to pay for my violin lessons. Together they taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do, and they always believed in me. This was such a small way to give back, but I was grateful for the chance.
Every family is different, and every parent/child relationship is different. Your experience photographing your parents could go very differently from mine, or maybe you no longer have living parents to photograph. I hope you get the chance to photograph someone you love and cherish, and that it will bring you closer together.
Have you had any experiences photographing your dad and mom, or another loved one? I’d love to see your photos and hear about it in the comments below.