Learn how four artists plan to create inspirational photos of summer celebrations by capturing enduring images close to home.
With Independence Day and Canada Day firework celebrations canceled in cities across North America, it’s clear we’ll be celebrating the July holidays differently this year. In the United States alone, half of adults say it won’t be safe to hold gatherings of ten or more people until midsummer, with a quarter saying it won’t be safe until 2021 or later, according to a poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland.
For photographers, the coronavirus restrictions pose a creative challenge. Without access to the usual holiday scenes — crowded firework displays, large parties, and parades — they’re finding new ways to capture the spirit of celebration this summer.
“We’re likely to have smaller celebrations than we may have attended in the past, but smaller doesn’t have to mean less important photographs,” Michigan-based photographer Mickie DeVries tells us. “This is a perfect opportunity to document this time in history by focusing on what makes this different — and thinking about the stories we can tell from this moment.”
We asked four artists to tell us about how they plan to create photos during this time of year. Even without crowds or high attendance, they’re making the most of the situation by capturing intimate, timeless photos close to home. Read on for their tips for doing the same.
If the festivities in your area aren’t canceled, make sure you’re following the guidelines and doing everything you can to protect yourself and those around you. “Every Canada Day, we wake our little boys up and carry them in their pajamas down to the car to drive and watch the fireworks,” British Columbia-based photographer Laura Froese tells us.
“We will be doing a number of things this year to make sure we are practicing safe social distancing. First, we will be bringing a wagon to keep the kids contained and isolated so they do not run and bump into people. We will also be bringing a large blanket and setting it up at least six feet from other families and explaining to the kids they need to stay on it at all times.”
Attend Smaller, Local Events
Even if you’re used to photographing large gatherings, now is not the time to do it. “We will be going to our local, small-town fireworks, instead of the ones in the city to avoid larger crowds,” Froese continues. “We will also be leaving with enough time to not have to rush and be able to take our time choosing a spot far enough away from others. I will be bringing a wide lens, probably my 24mm or 35mm, so that I can stay very close to my family and still get the fireworks in the frame.”
Go All out with Decorations and Food
“Images with a clear story and a clear reference to the holiday tend to perform well,” Edmonton-based photographer Kelly Marleau says. “Our celebrations will be smaller, mostly just our own family, but we will still have all the decorations and special food that we always enjoy around the holidays, so I’ll be sure to capture that.” Incorporate whatever foods and props you associate with the summer holidays. The events might look different, but some symbols are universal.
Host a “Parade” in the Backyard
Preparing signature dishes and decorations aren’t the only ways to capture the spirit of celebration. You can also organize a micro-party or event with family. “Of any year, this is probably the year our kids will remember, as it’ll be different than all the others,” Marleau admits.
“This is the year we’re going to have to make our own parades or enjoy a backyard BBQ with just our family, but that can actually make it even more special, not less. Togetherness might look a little different this year, but I think even though we’ll be sticking to our own family units, it’s still important to have a visual diary of these times.”
Change Your Perspective
“It’s really easy to get caught up in the scene, decorations, or activity, but to make a memorable photo that stands the test of time, it’s important to narrow down the focus and find the smaller story within the larger celebration,” Marleau admits. “Ask yourself: Is it about the parade itself or the people watching the parade? Is the story “Dad at the BBQ” or the people sitting on lawn chairs around the yard?”
Move around and look for unusual angles and perspectives. Even if you’re close to home, there’s something worth capturing. It just may not be immediately apparent.
Focus on the Details
Smaller events allow you to hone in on the details, without worrying about everything going on in the background. “When I’m capturing a holiday or celebration, I like to concentrate on the details of the moment that are universal to us all — the stories of people and our connections, photos of parents with children playing a game, a cuddle from a grandparent, sibling love and rivalry, cousins laughing together, etc.,” DeVries says.
“Our celebrations this year will be much smaller, so I plan on really documenting the details of the moment. From the food to the chipped nail polish holding a pool float, I want my images to reflect our lives at this very moment.”
Tell a Story
The holidays are all about emotions, no matter the size or circumstances. “I also love to capture moments that show all sides of the celebration,” DeVries continues. “The elation of a treat on a child’s face, or the sadness when the treat falls to the ground. The happy and sad, quiet and loud.’
“Photos that can show universal themes that all of us can relate to are my strongest selling images. Capturing those stories really helps a lifestyle photo sell. It’s not the picture-perfect image as much as the perfect relatable story.’
“This year, those stories will likely include the family bond along with some disappointment over traditions not kept this year. I don’t want to shy away from the disappointment, but rather embrace the new normal and show all sides to this abrupt change in our lives.”
Celebrate the Little Things
You can still capture the atmosphere of celebration without leaving home. Scout your house for natural daylight, and look for candid, real-life moments among your family members. “As a family of five, we are our own small gathering!” Texas-based photographer Mae Burke says.
“My approach will remain the same, even during this time. Whether I’ve been on the sidelines at a peaceful protest, at my eye doctor with my daughters, or playing with sparklers in our driveway, I’ll be looking for beautiful light to photograph my children and myself in.’
“The majority of my portfolio is my everyday moments with my family. They have come to lovingly understand that I process lots of my experiences through my lens and don’t mind me shooting when I’m inspired.’
“This daily shooting has made me sensitive to picturesque moments, and has given me the ability to quickly capture these kinds of celebratory images in any given scenario. Now that we are stripped down to our bare essentials, I hope we find new beauty in our restricted circumstances.”
Keep Your Gear Light
This year might not require you to pull out all the stops for a holiday photo shoot, especially if you’re working with smaller groups. Instead, stay mobile with lightweight, portable gear. “I have invested in a cute, lightweight camera bag that fits my camera body and a couple of lenses and makes it easy to keep everything on me,” Froese tells us.
“I also try to photograph my own family with physically smaller lenses, like my Canon 85mm 1.8, even though my Canon 70-200 2.8 is so much sharper. Keeping my gear portable means I am more likely to actually have it on hand to capture those moments.”
Create New Traditions … and Photograph Them
There’s no rule that says this year’s traditions have to look like every other year. Unique, one-of-a-kind images are always in-demand. “I did a special COVID project that touched on the theme of everyday celebration and togetherness,” Froese says.
“When our Province announced that it would be beginning Stage One of reopening, it suddenly occurred to me that I was living in a time for the history books and wanted to document it properly, before the next chapter of life started.’
“I made a list of all the family traditions that had emerged during this time — making cinnamon buns from scratch every weekend, going for long walks in the forest together, making bread, playing endless lego, etc.’
“Anything that felt iconic to me of this time, I made sure to take one good image. This allowed me to spend the time on each photo to make it special, and it took the pressure off needing to have a large amount documented. As a result, I have about twenty images that tell our family’s COVID story, and I will always treasure them. They will always remind me of what I need to be thankful for, even in hard times.”
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