Archive for September 4th, 2009

Photographing Your Family History

by Sherry Stocking Kline
Wichita Eagle’s June 2001 “Active Life”

When Tammy Pontious’s great-grandchildren look at her family history scrapbook many years from now, Pontious doesn’t want them to see stiff, posed photos of people in their Sunday best clothes. She wants them to be able to see what they were like when they were working and playing.

“The key is to carry your camera with you,” said Pontious, who keeps her camera handy and often carries it along when she drives her daily school-bus route. “You’ll have missed opportunities if you don’t.”

Bob McCreary, who co-owns Scrapbook Garden, www.scrapbookgarden.com, with his wife Kathy, agreed. Many people keep one of the “point-and-shoot” or disposable cameras that take remarkably good photographs handy, said McCreary, adding that for a clearer photo with a point and shoot camera, you must aim the focal point of the camera at someone in the group and not at the background.

Because photographing people in front of a simple background is often better, Pontious looks at the background before snapping and decides if it will help tell the story or just clutter up the photograph, though with today’s digital software, it’s fairly simple to crop out, blur, or even replace an unwanted background.

Close-up’s are great for people photos and eliminating distracting backgrounds, but check your camera’s manual before taking one, advises Kodak.com, as some cameras cannot focus closer than four feet from the subject.  When using a flash, you need to check your flashes’ useful range as well. For many cameras, anything past 10 to 12 feet is a dark blur, as any concert goer can attest to after snapping photo after photo only to get home with photos of a shiny bald head about eight feet in front of them.

Pontious, who calls herself “a picture fanatic,” said you need to take lots of photographs.

“You just can’t be stingy with the film,” Pontious said, “for $8.00, you’ll probably come up with two or three photos that you’re in love with.”

For sharp, clear photographs, hold the camera steady, and try Pontious’ technique of visualizing the photo before gently pressing the shutter button. Pontious said she also tries a variety of different and unique angles, works to capture candid facial expressions, and likes to catch her family’s silhouettes in profile shots.

Pontious also ‘stalks’ the wildlife on their river farm, catches her dogs in silly poses, snaps her mom relaxing on the porch swing, and her husband and son while they work, hunt, and fish.

“That’s our lives,” Pontious said. Our descendants may say, “look what great-grandpa did back in those days.”

“You know the old saying about 1000 words? There is a lot of information that finds its way into a photo almost by accident, and sometimes it becomes significant to us later.” McCreary said.

“It’s candid shots of people doing things that tell the story of our lives,” McCreary said, “if Uncle Ralph was a farmer – take a photo of him on his combine. If someone hunts or fishes a lot get a photo of the big catch.”

To avoid that squinty-eyed look outdoors, photograph people on overcast days or in the shade using fill-in flash to highlight faces and chase away the shadows. Pontious said her favorite time of the day to take outdoor photographs is in the early morning or late afternoon, and said that she also likes to photograph subjects using the warm, natural lighting near a window.

“I just don’t like what I end up with at high noon,” Pontious said, “the photos all end up looking washed out.”

Pontious said that she looks for little situations and happenings, but she also works to create photographic events.

How does she do that? She sets up fun events for people to enjoy. One event that yielded some favorite photographs was a tea party she held for several laughing and giggling young cousins while she sat the corner of the porch “click, click, clicking away.”

McCreary said that while you are capturing your family in photographs, don’t forget to photograph your home(s), inside and out, and your yard, farm, barns, and outbuildings that are a part of your life today, and may be only a memory someday.

Pontious treasures the family resemblances she sees in the photographs of grandparents that died before she was born. She said that many of their photographs have been passed down from one person to another, from one generation to another, from trunks to attics, and came on covered wagons from there to here. She feels she is handing down a family history treasure to her son Dallas.

“A photo can tell you everything in the world,” Pontious said, “emotions, social status, whether they were rich or poor, lifestyle, facial features, looks and personality. What I would hope,” Pontious said, “is that it will tell them my values, hopes, dreams and what I accomplished.”

Someday she hopes that her descendants will look at her family history book and read the anecdotes, stories, and poems that are woven throughout, and will choose to preserve it, and hand it down again.

“Who knows where they’ll go in my son’s journey,” Pontious said.

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