I was feeling proud and confident, so you know what happens next.
At work, we hosted a strategic meeting with big wigs from all of the country. My boss sent me a text, "Can you come take a picture?"
I did. A few candids while I waited for the meeting to adjourn. Then they all crowded around for a group photo. They smiled, I snapped away, and then disappeared to process them.
Every frame was blurry.
Every. Single. One.
I did my best to resurrect them in post, but it was useless. I finally e-mailed them to my boss, completely mortified. And relieved when the e-mail bounced and he never asked about them.
Then my sister called me. She paid a local photographer a few hundred bucks for family Christmas pictures, which she figured was the price of a plane ticket. So she was thinking of either me or our friend Laura (an immensely talented artist and photographer).
My confidence had been devastated and I told her about the disaster at work. I didn't want to screw up their Christmas portraits --especially if it was costing money. If it was between me and Laura, it was Laura, no contest.
But her request did get me thinking: why was there a style I couldn't shot. Not wouldn't shoot, but couldn't. I loved the street portraits, so why was I gun-shy about an actual portrait session?
I needed to step up. But I also needed volunteers. Whom did I know that would let me shoot then but would also not care if if the end-result sucked?
The answer was almost instant.
Thing 1 and Thing 2
Thing 1 and Thing 2 (they're minors, so I'm going with these earned pseudonyms) are the middle and youngest boys in a family of six. Their family had sort of adopted me and the two guys were used to me taking snaps.
Normally, in this sort of scenario, you call up the mom and say, "Hey, do you want pictures of your kids for free?" and she whips everybody into shape and makes it happen.
But, tragically, their mom...our mom, really, had a brain aneurysm three months prior and passed away.
As they settled into this new, darker normal, I'd intended to make sure we got some hang out time and this seemed like a good chance for all of us to get out of our houses and do something different.
We asked Dad, he gave his blessing, and we were off.
I had wondered about some cool locations, but decided to take the tried-and-true dating advise: go where you know and where you're comfortable. I went out out the afternoon before to test the light and scout some spots. That formed the plan: hit the locations at golden hour, eat dinner, then try some night shots.
We hit the park and none of it really worked.
What I didn't know is that the first fifteen minutes of any portrait shoot is time that people need to settle in. That worked out because the location wasn't doing what I wanted. So we loaded up and headed to the second location.
A little more relaxed, we tried cool shots and warm shots.
Some reflection shots
Some details and textures.
And then, of course, going back to my high contrast and street roots.
We cranked out 539 shots in under 3 hours. My favorite of which was this one:
The blue, burdened, straight-into-the-camera perfectly illustrated our moment. Life without Mom really sucked. It sucked for all of us. And this photo caught that mood.
But I asked him, "Which one was your favorite?" He was a little sheepish, but honest. "Probably the one with us at Chick-fil-a.
That's the magic of photography. The three of us hung out for a few hours. I saw sorrow and brave faces in two brothers who were hanging out, and tackling each other into laughing piles between shoots.
But he saw two brothers sitting like independent adults, laughing and having a good time--being the two friends they are. Or at least wished to be.
Overnight, I pushed through the edits and sent the set. They must have posted them to their socials shortly thereafter because their older brother called me.
"Mom would have loved those pictures."
As I looked through their smiles and their wrestling, loving each other exactly as brothers should--with punches and insults and smiles--stepping up to take care each other in her absence, I think she would have loved that.
And, sure, she would have loved the pictures, too.
Who Have I Become?
Reflecting on that shoot, I'd become what I least expected: somebody who loves portraits. Who sees stories in faces and isn't afraid to ask if I can record them. Well, okay, it's still not easy. But it's certainly easier.
What's amazed me most is how game everyone has been to participate. To this day, nobody has ever refused a portrait or street portrait. Probably because I haven't asked enough, but also because I've found people love a moment of connection. Even if there's a camera involved.
And that brings me to you, perfect stranger. I know it can be weird--especially in our camera-engorged world full of creepy people--to have some random guy ask for a photo. But you're now part of this story and I hope you think it's a good one.
Whatever moment of life you're in, I wish you all the best. And thank you so much for letting me frame a moment of it.