Generations of Storytellers

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My great-grandfather

I’m not surprised at all that I fell in love with photography.  My great-grandfather took thousands of photos in his day, some of which I have displayed in my home.  He was a Design Engineer by trade paying close attention to detail, so it’s no wonder he took care to note on the back of photographs the place, people and date that each image was captured.  His greatest talent with the camera was demonstrated in the creative aspect of the photo; telling a story with artistic images (put aside the difficult processing and technical challenges of the cumbersome camera he carried!).  He was a master at capturing moments and composition.  I admire that skill, perspective and artistry.

Professional photographers generally follow specific rules to achieve a balanced form of composition.  Some elements include the use of symmetry, depth, viewpoint and leading lines.  What will your eyes be drawn to in a photograph?  How are your subjects framed in the image?  Whether my great-grandfather studied composition rules or not, his photographs went further than any rules by rewarding the viewer of the image with a story and memories filled with emotion.

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My father, great-grandfather and grandfather

Both of my grandfathers spent equal amounts of time with a camera or video camera in their hands (there are miles of video tape and boxes of slides of me and my brother to prove it), each interpreting the rules in composition differently but still grabbing your heartstrings.  When it came time, it was inevitable that my father’s years of camera “exposure” turned to a love of photography and storytelling.

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My father’s early camera days

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As an adult my father was the first in my family to use a camera professionally.  Advertising and marketing were my father’s thing and he was really, REALLY good at it.  And while he knew the importance of having the right copy for the ad, it was the image that he relied on to make the biggest impact.

My father is one of the greatest storytellers I know (ask anyone who’s heard one of his many stories).  What they may not know (unless they get his yearly New Years card) is that he’s also a fabulous photographic storyteller.  He’s a genius at using unique perspectives to give the story life; angling the camera this way, laying on the ground shooting upwards, hanging off a stone wall, or standing on top of a ladder for the best aerial shot.  Believe it or not, most of these techniques are just to get the PERFECT family Christmas photo!  We often joke and call him “Oliver Stone” for his directing.

When I turned to photography professionally, I unquestionably followed in my father’s, grandfathers’s and great-grandfather’s footsteps… by following (and even breaking!) the composition rules in photography, creating imagery that tells a story, and even laying on the ground for the shot (“It ain’t a photo shoot unless Tine’s laying on the ground.”).

Father’s Day is this coming Sunday.  I couldn’t think of a better way to thank my father for his guidance, mentorship, help with editing my copy (he tells me I use too many commas, haha), critiquing (never criticizing!) my work, his love and his support of my growing photographic journey.

Happy Father’s Day to my favorite storyteller, my Papa, and to all the awesome storytelling dads out there!

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Happy Father’s Day, Papa!
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In Their Honor

It was September 11th, 2016, a really nice day in Northern Virginia to go for a drive and take photographs.  I had a subject in mind — flags — the idea being to create a composite of flag images to post on social media as a remembrance of that fateful day in 2001.

I drove around for a while photographing various flags (including a slew of them that encircled the roof of a McDonald’s), and when I came into the town of Manassas I saw a flag on top of an old light post that had a unique look to it.  I pulled into the adjacent fire station’s parking lot and took the shot.  Heading back to my car I noticed a firefighter hosing down one of their trucks and asked if I could take his photo in front of the flag.  “Ok, sure”, he said.  “Let me go check with the Captain, I’ll be right back.”  I wasn’t prepared for what happened next…

 

The firefighter returned with his Captain followed by several others who were on duty.  The Captain introduced himself and said, “I hear you want to take some photos of a flag?”  I felt like I was totally interrupting everyone’s daily routine and didn’t want to take too much more of his time so I pointed to the flag outside.  The Captain suggested: “We have a better flag inside if you’d like to see.”  So I followed everyone in and over the workbench wall was this huge flag … made out of firehose!!  I could hardly believe it!  “So does this work for you?”, the Captain asked.  “Yes”, I managed to whisper.  “Do you want to take all of us in front of the flag?”  “Yes,” I whispered again.

DSC_2642I checked all my camera settings (shaking from excitement) while the men swiftly cleared all the stuff off the workbench.  I posed the group as best I could, the light from the bay door coming from the right cast amazing shadows on their faces.  I only took 5 shots.  And that was that … or so I thought.

The Captain then suggested I walk around the station and take any other images I found interesting.  I found a few more flags, took a few more shots, but I knew (hoped) that the group photo was going to be THE shot.

 

Thanking them all for their time and service, I let them know I’d be posting the images on Facebook that evening and wished them well.  I did all I could do to maintain the speed limit while anxiously driving home.

All DSLR cameras these days come with a little screen on the back to look at the images right after you’ve taken them.  In addition, there are “histograms” for each image that you can instantly review to determine adequate lighting.  Clients often see me making adjustments to my camera during a shoot, either changing the camera’s settings, zooming into an image just taken to see if everyone’s eyes are open, or ensuring the image is tack sharp.  But even with these helpful tools, all of my photography knowledge and the sophistication of the camera, the 2″ screen on the back of the camera doesn’t provide fine detail.  What if there’s a slight blur because someone moved?  What if the color isn’t right?  What if I didn’t frame the image correctly?  So many things to consider, so many things to worry about!

When I finally got home and downloaded the images I actually burst into tears.  Not just because I was relieved that the 2″ image I had seen was what I wanted it to be, but because of how moving the full-sized image actually was.  I saw their bravery, their toughness, their hearts, their kindness, and their devotion to duty.  And to have captured this moment on September 11th … priceless!

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The brave firefighters of the Manassas Volunteer Fire Company

Since that day, on every September 11th, Veterans Day and Memorial Day, I make it my mission to honor a first responder, veteran, and/or a military service member.  This Memorial Day a “Hometown Hero” was nominated in recognition of his service, his image below was taken at Dingmans Ferry Cemetery in Pennsylvania.  And, as is the case after (and sometimes even during) the shoot, the image I envisioned and ultimately captured, moved me to tears.

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Determined Moms

Mothers Day 2018
A Tine’s Captured Moments collage of amazing moms

If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone say “You’re such a good mom!” or “How’d you do it on your own?”, I’d have a nice-sized bank account.  But sometimes I don’t believe it.  It sure wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns when my son was growing up.  In fact, it was downright arduous.  There were a lot of challenges and it made for some very difficult times.  But he was my one and only child whom I loved unconditionally.  My baby boy.  As his mom, I was going to do anything and everything to ensure that he had a successful but more importantly joyful childhood.

In preschool my boy had some of the most loving and caring teachers, yet he still struggled with behaviors.  He couldn’t focus in class or stay on task, he was extremely hyper, and was very impulsive.  All combined, these made a nasty cocktail for a bad day and ultimately being labeled a “discipline problem”.

But he wasn’t like that at home… at least, that’s what I thought.  There was no “Google” back then so I asked the experts (doctors, specialists, schools, etc.) a LOT of questions and finally had him tested.  By the time he was ready for Kindergarten he’d been given an autism diagnosis.  FINALLY, I thought, he’ll get the support services he needs.

But the challenges continued.  Not every school year was bad, and neither was every teacher.  He had some amazing and truly supportive educators who wanted to see him succeed no matter how much time it took to explain a concept or task to him.  While I tried my hardest to be positive, it was my job as a mom to be ever-vigilant, issue constant oversight and be my son’s best advocate.  (And a little “Jersey” attitude didn’t hurt.)  Yes, there were a LOT of challenges and sleepless nights.  I worried all the time and argued with his caregivers too much.  I pushed him endlessly and sheltered him to a  fault.  But that’s what moms do.

My “baby boy” is now 22 years old and he’s an amazing, talented, kind and hilarious young man.  I have NO IDEA where the time went, honestly.  Before I could blink he’d graduated high school, gotten a job and was driving to the store to get his own groceries.

Recently I went through some photographs of us when he was a preschooler.  Those years were by far the most difficult for us both.  And yet, EVERY picture I have is of us smiling, having fun or going on an adventure, so the emotion those images evokes is simply JOY.  I’m so lucky to have those photographs… but some families aren’t as lucky.

Parents of children who are diagnosed with a disability or challenging behavior aren’t likely to book an appointment for their kids at Sears.  It’s so difficult for little ones to navigate the crowds at the mall or deal with the blinding flashes and saying “Cheese!”?!  I started my portrait photography business with the disability community in mind.  My specialty is photographing children and families of ALL abilities.  I have the know-how, the patience and the knack for capturing special moments.  And, like a mom I also have fierce determination.  I want families to have memorable photographs that they can look back on with joy.

Whenever I have a mom and her child alone in front of my camera, my heart fills with a special emotion.  I know first hand what that relationship is all about.  I know how hard that woman fights for her child, how much sleep she’s lost worrying and how much JOY her child brings her.  It’s all I can do to squeeze the shutter.

Here’s to you, moms–because EVERYTHING you do IS the best.

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Drew and his amazing mom, Debra

Stopping the Clock

DSC_7882Why do we love photographs, especially of a personal nature?  In a word — Emotion!  Visual images evoke a visceral response.  A good example of that would be anytime you open the Premium Panoramic Photo Book I personally crafted for you which holds photographs… for instance those precious memories of your then newborn baby, just 10 days old, so cute and cuddly… and in an instant those images transport you to a joyous and treasured moment in your life!

I feel so very fortunate when a client chooses me to photograph their family.  It’s an honor I take very seriously and hold in the highest regard.  My time spent on the project — collaborating, planning, scouting, shooting, capturing the family dynamic, editing, selecting and delivering the finished products — can be a bit overwhelming, but every minute spent is well worth those efforts.  And that’s just a small part of the awesome responsibility I have as a portrait photographer.

The image above, taken several years ago, is of a loving family who’s youngest child attended the preschool where I was Director.  It was a difficult session as two of the three children have an autism diagnosis, so looking towards the camera was optional to them.  It was grossly hot and humid outside and after a long day at school everyone was feeling hangry and tired.  Yet, I managed to capture the perfect moment.  Under such trying conditions, I made them laugh!  The result was a beautiful image and, in the end, a beautiful day.

A week later this family was in a horrific car accident!  Their mini van rolled several times ejecting the middle child from the vehicle.  All but the little one were bumped and bruised and suffered lacerations, some requiring stitches.  The oldest girl suffered the worst, a serious back injury requiring a brace and several months of painful physical therapy.

Today, I’m thrilled to report, they are all healthy and happy; but when I first heard the news of the accident I was in the process of editing their images.  It became one of the most difficult post-production jobs I’ve ever done, realizing that the outcome from the crash could’ve been far worse.  It was then that I truly understood the magnitude and obligation I have to my clients to clearly and accurately capture that glorious moment in time when they are expressing their distinct personalities in front of my camera.

A client of mine whose mother-in-law recently passed away, asked me for a portrait I had taken of her that could be displayed at the funeral service.  I gladly complied.  Attending the service, family and friends remarked that I had “captured her soul”, the essence of her personality in the photograph, a beautiful and emotional reminder of a happier time.

During every portrait session I shoot, looking through the lens and snapping the shutter, I consider the emotion that exact moment and consequent image will awaken in the viewer.  Will that particular image move my client?  Will that image tell a story?  Am I capturing my subject’s true spirit and “soul”?  I consider it my obligation to do so.

I explain to all of my clients that special moments in time are fleeting, but imagery has longevity.  With photographs I can stop the clock and freeze time by creating and documenting specific moments in their lives with portraits that will last forever.

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