When I chose to move beyond candid snapshots of my friends and family and actually asked them to sit down for formal portraits, my approach to everyday photography changed. Candid moments are wonderful, but practicing your craft with the people around you both helps hone your skills as a photographer and leads to precious moments with the people you love.
As photographers, we’re always documenting the things around us, whether with our full range of camera gear or simply with snapshots on our phones. Our eye is always gravitating towards one thing or another, examining the light, shadow, and texture of a scene. For some reason though, I find that I’m not always “on” as a photographer around my friends and family. Instead, I resort to using my phone to capture candid moments; silly faces, quickly-shot group photos, and selfies that become precious because of the people in them, but certainly won’t find their way into a portfolio. This past year, I began to question that approach. Why, if I consider myself a “Photographer” with a capital “P,” am I not bringing my skills to bear when it comes to photographing the people who I know and love? Why is that attention only reserved for when I’m in "serious photographer" mode? Reading Photographer Sally Mann’s memoir, I was inspired by her approach to shooting where everything seems to be art to her eyes. She made her best work by collaborating with the people closest to her: her own family. I also took inspiration from Photographer Tytia Habing, who never seems to put her camera down.
My first instinct is not to interrupt the flow of life around me; not to pose, direct, or pause the flurry of activity in my large family and boisterous friend group. That instinct changed when I began shooting medium and large-format film. Suddenly, everything to do with the photographic process slowed to a crawl. You can’t rapid-fire shoot with a 4x5 field camera hoping a few of the frames come out nicely. Even working quickly, a single shot takes me a good two or three minutes to properly set up. In the early stages of learning how to use larger format film, I needed to experiment and make sure my cameras, which had been in storage since the 90s, still worked properly. Photographing my friends and family was an easy decision — they were right there, and willing to sit for me for as long as it took me to figure out what I was doing.
Even though I still shoot digitally 90 percent of the time, this slower approach stuck. The experience of asking people so close to me to sit for portraits was an unexpectedly transformative one, and something that has changed my approach to photographing the people in my daily life. What emerged from those experiences wasn’t a series of snapshots, but pieces of art — a new way to see the people close to me.