It’s Not Just a Photo

One of our projects was shooting portraits for church photo directory. This would be a fun and challenging project that would provide a much needed resource for our church. Our goal was to provide a very unique directory that allowed people’s personalities to shine through the photos. Too many church directories use standard head shots and we wanted to add some creativity. I thought this project would be about shooting and organizing portraits. I was very mistaken.

We allotted about 30 minutes per session and the other church members told us their stories and histories. I joked with them to get smiles and casual expressions. Most of the sessions were quite fun especially the ones with kids. I took normal shots, casual shots, and some fun and goofy shots. I think we all had fun in the process.

It struck me that most of our elderly members had not had a portrait since the last directory (6-7 years prior). I started to think much more seriously about this project. One family came into the studio with their elderly father whose health was getting worse. I took the family portraits and my son took individual portraits of “Pops.” The shots of Pops were low-key with a black background and dramatic lighting to emphasize his facial features. We had to take extra time because Pops got disoriented and we took many extra shots to capture some good facial expressions. My son took extra time in post-production and created a stunning black-and-white image.

Not long after our photo session Pops’ health deteriorated. He passed quietly with his family at his side after living a long and full life. Those portraits that we captured turned into far more than mere photos. I then realized the burden that we carry as photographers. We do not just capture images. In this case we took the last portraits of Pops. Those images that will probably be permanent features in family photo albums and will probably be viewed for generations.

I went to Pops’ memorial service. He was a WWII veteran and the color guard played taps and presented the colors (which is very moving). A small table in front of the chancel contained Pops’ ashes and a card featuring his portrait. We all miss Pops but I am really glad that we were able to get that final portrait. I printed an 8×10 of the black-and-white portrait and wallet-sized prints. When I showed his grandson the wallet prints he immediately took them and gave them to other family members. The portrait that we captured is so much more than a mere photo.

We must strive to not just capture an image but to capture a lasting memory. We don’t know what life holds. Our photos could become “everlasting” images. Some photographers get annoyed with elderly clients who take extra time or can’t decide on which images to choose. This project made me realize that we should always put in the extra effort to capture exceptional images. It is a delightful burden and privilege when you create a “forever” image that will be viewed for generations. Often the images we capture are far more than just a photo.

©2012, Tony Cataldo