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PUTTING DAD BACK IN THE PICTURE
DeLaney, Dean, New York Institute of Photography
Here’s a really great
father-and-son photo. Maybe your Dad can’t ride a unicycle,
but NYI student Lynn Wildman took advantage of strong side lighting
and used the panning technique to record this exciting photograph.
Think about how much this photo will come to mean to this family
Over the years
I’ve watched a lot of families grow up. The one I grew up
in. The family I enjoy today. My sisters’ families. My Uncle
John’s family. My nephew Andrew’s new family. And,
like lots of dads, I’m the principal family photographer.
Since, as you might guess, there are a lot of cameras in my house,
everyone takes a photo now and then, but most of the time, I’m
the one with my finger on the shutter.
I just came back
from my niece’s wedding in Michigan. I had a wonderful time at
the wedding, took a few pictures, and got to meet a lot of interesting
people. There was a family dinner the night before the wedding, and
a very relaxed barbeque in a park in Ann Arbor the day after. I mention
this past weekend because it’s probably something like a weekend
or two you’ll enjoy this summer – a family event, perhaps
a wedding or a reunion, or just a big holiday weekend backyard cookout
or a party down the road.
niece got married in the garden of an old bed-and-breakfast inn.
I didn’t want to copy the work of the wedding photographer,
but I spotted this reflection of the happy couple in one of the
inn’s windows, and I liked the way the lace curtain softened
their reflection. I took this from my seat during the wedding.
something interesting watching who took photographs over the weekend.
About half the guests were friends and classmates of the happy
couple. My niece is finishing medical school, and her husband
just completed law school. Among their friends and classmates
who were young and single, the women were the ones with cameras.
But among the slightly older guests, including families of many
different types, it was the dad packing a camera, a video recorder,
Perhaps this reversal will
diminish over time, but it does make a certain amount of sense. No matter
how “hands-on” a Dad can be in this day and age, there are
lots of times in a young infant’s life when Mom gets the first
and most strident call -- provided she’s available. So Dad starts
out as the family photographer and is likely to continue the job over
the following years. In my opinion, it would be better if the picture
taking were shared more from the start, but that’s a topic for
With Father’s Day approaching,
the focus should be on Dads. Since he’s toting the camera, it’s
no surprise that too often Dad gets left out of the family album, and
especially out of the group photographs. Chances are, he’s behind
This Father’s Day,
or, if not exactly on June 20th then sometime this summer for sure,
why don’t you give yourself a self-assignment to take a picture
or two of Dad to put him back in the picture? And make sure he’s
in your family album.
If you’re reading this
article, you’re probably interested in photography. So the idea
of a self-assignment is a great one. It gives you a purpose. It gives
you reason to ask for the cooperation of others, maybe even take control
of the set and issue a few orders! -- “Don’t look at the
camera. Dad! Please sit down and put your hands in your lap. Now smile!
--It doesn’t get better than that.
- If you’ve
got a Dad, then your assignment is to photograph him.
- If you are
a Dad, then your assignment is to make a family portrait, and perhaps
a self-portrait or two.
- If you don’t
fall into either of the above categories, pick a hard-working Dad that
you know, and photograph him.
to describe four specific types of photographs and offer some tips about
how to capture each one best with your camera...
Picture One: A Portrait of Dad
going to take a serious portrait of your father, I suggest you take
some time to think about what would show him doing something that he
loves, perhaps something related to his work or his favorite hobby or
leisure time activity. Perhaps it’s fishing, or flying, or building
something in the garage. Maybe it’s playing video games, or practicing
medicine, or jumping out of airplanes.
Find a way to incorporate
that interest in your photo. That doesn’t mean you have to be
in the airplane or knee-deep in a trout stream. You might just sit Dad
by a nice patch of window light with his reel, or stethoscope, or game
controller in his hand. Or sitting along side him on a table we might
see some woodworking tools, or a book and his pipe. As with all portrait
subjects, it’s important to give him something to do with his
At the New York
Institute of Photography, we have Three Guidelines for Great Photographs.
They’re simple, and those guidelines are first thing we teach
students, and we return to them over and over again. I’m happy
to share them with you, for free:
Guideline One: What’s
the Subject of My Photograph?
Guideline Two: How Can I Focus Attention on the Subject?
Guideline Three: Is there any thing distracting in the photo, or any way to simplify
To make a portrait
of your father, try to show him as the person you’ve come to know.
That will make him more of a subject and not just a headshot. Or, another
approach would be to show your father as he would like to be seen. Don’t
just put him against a wall and pop the flash. Give the matter some
thought. What clothes should he wear? Where should you take the photo?
What is the best lighting and time of day?
If you photograph
your father while he’s sitting in a chair, consider getting the
camera lower down to his level, so you’re not pointing it down
on him. In fact, since we want to look up to our fathers, if you shoot
Dad from a low level you can increase his stature in the setting.
While you may want
to use your camera’s flash to light up your subject, the harsh
light of direct flash is not always flattering. Consider using available
light, window light, or open shade outdoors as an alternative.
one of the few pictures I have of me and my Dad. It was taken in
the backyard in the mid-1950s. Given the camera shake in the picture
I suspect one of my sisters took this. You can see my father knew
how to strike a pose, but the shade cast by the brim of his hat
obscures this face to a degree. I wish I could say the way I have
my head turned shows that I had an acute sense of photographic lighting
at a very young age, but I was probably just giving my sister a
hard time. This was taken with the trusty Kodak Brownie Hawkeye,
a very popular camera in its day. Note the square format and the
deckled edge of the print.
If your father likes to be
surrounded with family, you may get the best expressions when you have
other people around while you conduct your photo session. If, on the
other hand, your father is a more reserved and private person, you may
get the best results by setting a time and place where you can be alone
decided on how to set up and light your photograph, don’t forget
to consider those two other Guidelines when you’re looking into
your camera’s viewfinder. For most portraits, the best way to
focus attention is to make your subject large in the frame. Is there
anything you can take out of the photo to make it clearer? If you’ve
got Dad in his favorite reading chair in the living room, make sure
there’s not a box of tissues in the corner of the frame. If there
is, move it out of the picture. Like any good director, make sure the
“set” is tidy.
Picture Two: A Family Group Portrait
I don’t care if Dad’s
family is currently just Uncle Jack and the three-legged dog or a tribe
of a dozen or more. Get the family together, and try to build your composition
out of triangles. Remember that the camera tends to make people look
farther apart, so get them close together. They can stand, sit, or rest
on the ground or a corner of a building. Aim to show the relationship
between the subjects.
Relationship is best shown
in several ways. First, if the family is close, why don’t they
put their arms around each other? My friend Monte Zucker, the eminent
wedding and portrait photographer, often poses family groups as they
recline, and encourages them to lean on each other. He feels that members
of today’s families are often called to support one another, and
he wants to show that in his images.
Picture Three: A Family Group Portrait with you in it.
The second way to show relationship is to have everyone looking in the same
direction. That could be at the camera, or gazing off at a single
spot in the distance. When people are looking in different directions
we tend to get confused about the relationships. If you’re
photographing a big group everyone could look at Dad, or for a
more demonstrative photo, they could even point at him or put
an arm around his shoulder.
was taken in the fall obviously, but it’s a great candid
photo of father and son in the pumpkin patch. Don’t despair
if it takes you until the fall to complete this assignment.
This is a little
trickier and most likely requires that you use a camera that has a self-timer.
This usually means
that you’ll need to also find your manual and figure out how the
self-timer works. In a digital model, you’ll probably need to
find some menu. On various models you’ll find all kinds of different
buttons and switches, but on most cameras there is a self-timer of some
sort. You’ll also need a tripod to hold your camera steady while
you frame up the shot, pose everyone, and then trip the timer and hastily
make your way into the photo.
If you set up this
kind of photo, you’ll find it is harder to direct your subjects
since you’re no longer in front of the camera. I suggest that
you help them by counting down until the camera actually fires, and
direct them all to look into the camera’s lens.
to this type of picture is to enlist the help of a stranger, but that
may not be as much fun. Besides, who knows if stranger you enlist knows
how to take a picture? I suggest the do-it-yourself approach.
Picture Four: A Self-Portrait
the best for last. Self-portraits are fun, easy, and the subject is
always ready when you are, doesn’t get paid, and won’t talk
back to you. What could be better?
You might choose
an informal technique such as simply pointing the camera at yourself.
As with Photo Three: the family group portrait with you in it, you can use your camera’s
self-timer to place yourself in a setting and then, after a bit of rehearsing,
release the timer, get into the set and take your pose before the camera
fires. This technique can take a little practice, but it has lots of
If your camera accepts
it, you can obtain a cable release of some sort that will allow you
to fire the camera while you’re in front of it. In olden days
this could be done with an inexpensive air-bulb release that screwed
into the shutter release. Today’s electronic cameras don’t
offer such easy solutions. You’ll have to look at your instruction
manual and possibly the company’s Web site to determine if this
is an option for you. There may even be a wireless gizmo you can obtain
for the job. Whichever method you choose, you have no excuse for not
getting this picture taken this summer.
This is a grandfather and grandchild,
but it’s another great idea. Here, NYI Student Charles Larue
used a slow shutter speed (and probably a tripod) to blur the running
child as Granddad (or Dad) watches and wonders at the energy.
Enough, you get
the idea and you have your assignment. Now go to it, and to one and
all, Happy Father’s Day!