My family has always made Christmas Eve the big celebration, and Doug’s family has always saved the festivities for Christmas Day. This works out well for us, with the only snafu being that my family is full of slow movers who start their days late and don’t pay attention to time (my family’s typical response to the question what time should we show up is whenever) and Doug’s family consists of early risers who are sticklers for promptness. Not to mention that both sets of families live an hour away from us. This means we never get home from Christmas Eve supper before 11:00 PM and are expected to be halfway across town for Doug’s family the next morning before the break of dawn. So, by the end of Christmas Day we’re both pretty tired, in spite of our general lack of responsibilities on both days – not having children means we are automatically never expected to cook or host any gatherings (in fact, this year we simply took Doug’s dad to Luby’s, and everyone was happy).
I decided to contribute this year in one way however, and actually brought my Canon EOS 7D in spite of all the reservations I generally have about doing such a thing. One of my sisters-in-law (sister-in-laws? I can’t remember) actually commented on this when she saw me break it out; she said she’d been wondering why if I take pictures so often I would always leave the camera at home when we got together. I explained my reasons to her (she wasn’t asking in an antagonistic way by the way, she was just genuinely curious) – I am only good in studio situations with special lighting and a fixed subject, my equipment isn’t very good for “walkabout” shots, I feel a lot of pressure to take quality shots when other people are involved which makes me nervous, etc.
Certainly my photos suffered from some of these things, but overall, it went much better than I expected. And, I didn’t find the presence of the camera nearly as distracting as I thought it would be to myself or to others, although I did hear the occasional comment on how bright the flash was (I had my Speedlite attached to the hotshoe and usually bounced it off the ceiling). I got it out a few times throughout the evening, then when I felt I’d gotten some good shots of people, put it away and enjoyed the company. I did get a few more of the annoying let-me-grab-someone-and-stick-our-heads-together-and-smile-for-the-camera poses than I would have liked, but no one forced me to take a massive family-in-front-of-the-fireplace shot (which I was dreading and purposely left my tripod at home to avoid), I also got some great candids, and I even managed to edit some of the posed stuff to my own satisfaction.
Some of the shots I’ve processed were done simply to satisfy the family, which was fine, but I certainly see in those shots some of the pitfalls a less experienced candid photographer encounters. Poor framing and messy backgrounds reduced the quality of several shots, but I tried to keep in mind that the people who will ultimately benefit from those pictures won’t care or notice, and forged ahead with them anyway. And all of these look better at their original high-quality size, but I always reduce the photos before uploading them here, which seriously reduces clarity. It bugs me, but I don’t want to upload full-sized shots on my blog for various reasons, so I have to accept it (if you click on any of the photos, by the way, they will always pull up a much higher-quality version, so please click away).
My sister Pam and her husband. I thought she looked so pretty in this shot, but their stance in the doorway with all that clutter behind them bugs the crap out of me. And for the record, Pam is two years older than me, and when we were kids people often thought we were twins.
I also chose to use Photoshop to smooth skin and soften wrinkles on the middle-aged among us in the family; I think in a few cases I used this more than I normally would as I am a stickler for clarity in my photos (which isn’t always the greatest thing for portraits), but keeping in mind who the photos were for, I figured people would like to see themselves smoothed and gussied up for the final print, and went with it anyway. In a few early shots I think I overdid it a bit, and made sure as I edited later pics not to polish the wrinkles too much, but once again, I don’t think anyone in the family will notice.
My oldest sister, Kim (in the blue glasses), and my sister-in-law Veronica. I think I oversoftened them here, and this was clearly one of those posed shots I don’t really like, but they were happy with it, and in certain situations I need to relax a bit and let that be enough – and again, if you click on it you’ll see a better representation.
The end result of all this is that I’m now considering buying a better lens for walkabout or candid situations like this, so I can venture out more with my ‘real’ camera. My 17-40mm is a fantastic lens for small spaces (which definitely applied here) but doesn’t have any decent zoom at all – something that even in the small spaces of the house I still felt was a considerable lack, as close portraits are what interest me most in these situations and to get those I was having to walk way up on people and get in their face with the camera. Although I have a few prime lenses with a close focal length, they aren’t L-series quality (which I’ve come to love after using the 17-40 as my primary lens over the last year and half), and I do feel there’s a need for variable focal length when taking shots in candid situations like this. There’s a few lenses I’m considering, and I need to really do my research as whatever I decide to buy is going to be well over $1,000 – my most expensive lens purchase to date (my 17-40 ran me around $800). I’ve often considered getting a walkabout lens but wasn’t convinced I really needed to spend the money until now (“need” being a relative term here).
I’m not sharing all the photos in this post as there’s just too many and I still have some to process. And in a few cases I made big changes to get a result that made me happy, and plan to do separate “evolution of a photograph” posts about those. But this experience could open up a whole new world for me as far as photography goes. I will always love taking my studio self-portraits, but the truth is it’s become very time-consuming and requires an entire day to pull off. It would be nice on occasion to decide to take photos and be able to start shooting 10 minutes later, rather than 3 hours later. And, it’s also nice to simply be the photographer sometimes and not also the model. Although, I still managed to worm my way into one shot (my husband took the photo, and was honestly befuddled by using my camera – I forget how intimidating that thing is to non-photographers):