Some of the sweetest, purest, and least complicated relationships that exist between people are seen in the bond grandparents share with their grandchildren. Capturing that relationship is a privilege but also presents specific challenges. Here are some tips and tricks to assure your multi-generational photo-shoot is a success and the photos you create become family heirlooms cherished for years to come.
Think about doing lifestyle photography
Think back to your favorite memories of your grandparents. What do they entail? What memories are the happiest and most vivid moments you spent together? For me, when I think of my grandmother, I think of gardening. I think of sweet, spring days spend surrounded by the smell of fresh potting soil and pungent marigolds. I think of dirt under our fingernails and grass clinging to the rounded top of her large brimmed hat. If I could go back and have one day of my life photographed, it would have to be a gardening day when I was about six or seven.
Lifestyle photography embraces the idea of meaningful memory. Not just the memory of joining together to get photographs taken - which sometimes summons phantom scratchy collars and the recollection of ties pulled snug, and say cheese smiles. Instead, photograph a day on the lake fishing or baking a family recipe. Find out what’s important to the family you are photographing, whether it be your own or someone else’s, and photograph them actually doing that activity. You can always do some more formal posed photographs before or after but I guarantee the ones people will keep coming back to are the ones that depict them sharing an experience with their grandparents or grandchildren.
Use a telephoto lens; give the kids and their grandparents room to actually interact with each other. People, especially older people and children, are often uncomfortable around unfamiliar camera equipment. They can find it intimidating and in turn freeze up. Physically removing yourself may allow you to get more genuine candid shots.
Get individual shots:
Make sure to take individual shots with each grandchild. This allows each grandchild to have at least one photograph where their special bond with their grandparent is immortalized. Often the only times we take family pictures is when we are all together for large family gatherings. During those hectic meetings, it’s rare to get a chance to take a picture that doesn’t involve someone yelling “everyone get in”. Those are great and an important part of our family histories but they rarely capture the nuances of the relationships we share. Instead these photos will celebrate the quiet moments each child spends with their grandparents.
Let them pose themselves and then gently fix
When doing posed shots, let the family arrange themselves naturally and then fix any issues instead of placing them together . This will allow the come together in a fashion that feels natural. Then, you can step in to fine tune hand placement, make sure they are all standing close together and touching without any awkward, distracting gaps and check to make sure the three year old didn’t somehow end up behind his gangliest teen cousin.
Pay attention to your focus
Photo sessions with grandparents and their grandchildren often involve a lot of people together in a single frame, many of whom are fidgeting. If you are a photographer that frequently shoots with a high aperture to summon those iconic blurred backgrounds, make sure you are using a lower aperture to lengthen your depth of focus so that kids in the foreground or the background don’t go blurry.
Don’t miss the details
Look for opportunities to capture the details. Children reaching for glasses or even earrings make for endearing photos. A grandchild’s hand grasped lovingly in the huge spans of a grandfather’s work worn palm reminds us how hard our families have worked to give us the best possible life. Or a grandmother clasping her granddaughter's hand at her wedding, like in the image above.
Stick within Everyone’s Comfort Zones
Both children and elderly people tire easily and sometimes have issues with balance. Pay attention for any signs of fatigue. If you are noticing members of the family sitting during the time between shoots try a few siting poses to give everyone a little chance to relax. Be as succinct as possible so you don’t over tire anyone. Long photo sessions also spell disaster for children who get bored and have meltdowns. Go into the shoot with a plan and amend it at needed. Be willing to adjust to the situation at hand and keep everyone comfortable. If certain members of the family begin to lose interest it might be a good time to take a step back and bust out the telephoto lens or split up for individual shots.
Perhaps the most important tip for photographing grandparents with their grandchildren is to do it frequently. Make it a priority. Children change daily. They grow fast and rarely wake the same as they had been when they went to sleep the night before. Grandparents are never with us as long as we wish them to be. As people change, so does the dynamic between them. Catalog those changes as the relationships grow.
Remember to look for moments of genuine connection which can be abundant in a photo shoot between grandparents and their grandchildren. Step back and observe how each member of the family interacts differently and find ways to express those unique relationships. And go into photo shoots with both a plan and a demeanor that welcomes flexibility. This will allow you to take beautiful images that families will look at often and cherish for a lifetime.
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