learning curve

These are people I love. My two sons are included in this family picture.

One of the best things about being a photographer is being asked to make a few pictures of people I love. And yet it fills me with anxiety.

And this is not one of those times when my anxiety is unfounded. I don’t simply lack confidence. I’m not being too hard on myself. I am not overwhelmed by the need to be perfect.

No, I straight-up don’t have the skills to take group photographs successfully.

I have not mastered my craft, and I know it.

Here’s the scenario.

The family was gathered at my mother-in-law’s home for a dual celebration – congratulations to Jacob for his college graduation and bon voyage to our niece and her family as they head to Germany for her husband’s next military assignment.  My sister-in-law asked if I might take a few family photos of the group of cousins and family since it might the last time we’ll all be together for a good while.

The upside. I love this family. They love me. They are all happy and smiley. They want their picture taken.


The downside(s).

Low Light. It’s raining cats and dogs so we can’t easily set up for a photo outdoors. The day is gray and overcast, and the light is low. We opt to arrange our family on the screened-in patio. Even with my ISO turned up to 2000 or even 3200, I can’t get enough light. I set the aperture to f 5. 6, trying to make the depth of field great enough for the whole crew, but then the shutter speed is too slow, and I know the focus will not be sharp. I don’t know how to use my off camera flash (I don’t even typically carry it), but this seems like one of those situations that called for flash.

Posing. I generally take photographs in a natural, photojournalistic kind of style. I am not adept at directing more than a couple of people in how to arrange themselves.

Processing. Because I lack skill in taking group portrait shots, these pictures are not fun to process. I need to straighten and crop. I have to sharpen a bit and dodge and burn. I have to fuss over the images, because even though the subjects are beautiful, I haven’t done my part well. I see an odd color cast and the skin tones seem all over the place – too gray, too yellow, oops, that one looks a little green! Finally, I settle on a simple fix, a conversion to black and white. And just like that, the photos take on a timeless look and I am satisfied.

The pictures are not perfect. But they are good. And I am enough – for now. But I am not content to stay in this place,

Between now and July when we have our annual family reunion, I’m going to figure this out. I’ll ask for help and suggestions at my local photography club. I’ll do some research online and I’ll practice.

I can do this.

Even as I type this, I am figuring things out. I’ll learn to take these group pictures because my family likes them. And I’ll take the pictures I love, too. The moments, the laughter, the simple exchanges and conversations. The wisps of hair in the breeze, the hands that prepare the food, the bare toes in the grass, and the kisses. These are my pictures.