Memorial Day Weekend
Updated: Jun 6, 2019
If you have read my brief Bio on this site, then you know that I have a deep love of photography and the value it has in my life. I have been interested in photography for as long as I can remember and have been taking photos consistently for the last 20 years. It wasn’t until about 3 years ago that someone pushed me to turn my passion into a side business, which has been an interesting journey in its own right. One of the biggest hurdles that I’ve had to overcome with that process has been the weight of the responsibility for someone else’s memories and having other’s pay for my services. It was different when I was just causally taking photos to surprise my family and friends with beautiful images of moments from their milestone events. It was enough to see the tears, the smiles and the “wow Jess, you are talented.” But, putting myself out there as a professional was scary. That transition from “maybe I am” to “I am” was unnerving. In addition to the way this shook my confidence, the thought of putting my self out there in this way prompted me to try to fill all the knowledge gaps I thought I had between me now and the idea of what a professional photographer was. I signed up for workshops, I read books (even very basic photo books of things I learned in high school). I took the Justin and Mary lighting course, and bought some of their online packages (I highly recommend these by the way, they are amazing). My focus was so much on the technical details when I edited my photos after an event (along with all of the internal dialogue I was already battling, driven from my imposter syndrome) that I wasn’t enjoying the work in the same way that I had in the past. Instead of looking at a family photo for a client and thinking how beautiful it is, I found myself nit picking on the smallest details: composition is not quite right, should have paid more attention to the background, light might have been better from this or that angle, edge of face is slightly out of focus and so on and so forth. What I found was that every time I looked at my product for a client, I felt disappointed and that “I could have done this better.” That said, and much to my surprise when I finally delivered photo galleries to my clients, I was almost shocked by their responses, which were very much joy and gratitude for the beautiful images and, most importantly, the memories.
This past weekend was Memorial Day weekend. I LOVE Memorial Day weekend for so many reasons, not the least of those being that it’s also my birthday weekend. It’s the unofficial kick off of summer, and a time to step back and reflect on the sacrifices that other’s have made (It is not lost on me, the privilege I have to enjoy a long weekend because of the choice others made to serve and I honor that in my own way every year). It is also a weekend that I love to spend with my closest family and friends to just spend time together. As the weekend approached, I began to feel nostalgic for summers past and excited that my daughter (who is 2) is starting to have experiences that will someday be her childhood memories. As I was thinking about that and all of the fun things we had planned to do together, I had an idea for a small, but meaningful, photo project. I wanted to take photos without thinking about all of the technical details or how the images would compare to others and the standards I’ve created forself. I wanted to go back to the way I took photos BEFORE all of my worries kicked in, to just simply have fun and take photos.
So, I started in my own backyard on Friday (my birthday), watching my daughter play in the late afternoon sun with our dog (two of my favorite subjects by the way). I watched her run, chase the frisbee when I threw it (to the dog, but you know, she’s two), I even captured the moment where she actually put the frisbee in her mouth (a funny photo opportunity, but horrified me as a mom). That evening my family came over for dinner on the patio and I took photos randomly as we all sat together, laughed together, ate and drank together. Capturing the fun, but also the ridiculous (see "bunny ears dog photo" below). The next day we planned a BBQ at a friends house. There was a bounce house for the kids, a fire to roast marshmallows and make S’mores, yard games and tons of food, drinks, good friends (who are more like family) and family. And I just took photos. I captured kids falling out of the bounce house, ridiculous facial expressions during yard games and really had fun with it and didn’t think about it. I just took photos.
When I uploaded the photos on Sunday and began my editing process I had the idea to edit them to look more like they were taken on film - a bit grainy, a bit less crisp and clean then high quality digital images. It tied to the nostalgia theme for me, the reflection on childhood and the feeling of looking at old photographs (ones that you actually hold in your hand). As I reviewed the final set of photos, I felt such a deep appreciation for the ability to keep these moments of time together, of childhood and summer. They were not the most technically constructed photos, but that wasn’t what this project was about, it was about the memories, the unexpected joyful, crazy, silly moments that we’d otherwise miss or forget with time and it was about capturing the authentic feeling of the day. They are now some of my favorite photos that I have captured over the last few months.
Going back to basics isn’t a new concept, it’s not my idea, but it’s what I needed to refresh my perspective and bring me back to the personal values I have that align with my craft. It reminded me of why I do this and who I want to be as a photographer, which is someone who sees the beauty in what’s going on around her and capturing that for other’s to hold on to, to connect to and to go back to for years to come. It is capturing joy and simple beauty in an otherwise complex and many times negative world. To remind us that we have joy and happiness in these small unassuming ways consistently. And it was also about HAVING FUN, not over thinking it, being present and letting go of expectations.
I still value learning and getting better at the technical aspects of my craft, but my realization through this experience is to find the right balance between the technical skills and my natural affinity and love of photography. I will always study other photographer’s work, take classes, try difficult new techniques, try to memorize the right combinations of shutter speed, aperture and ISO to create beautiful images, but in harmony with my love of just taking photos, of seeing the world in my own way, of giving others the gift of holding on to their moments, their memories. This project opened me up in creative ways and I am excited to carry this experience forward into my work with my clients.
There is a quote that comes to mind, “do it because you can’t not do it. Whatever the “it” is that you do, do it because it is authentically you”