I woke up this morning to a beautiful winter wonderland - snow was falling and winds blew snow drifts across my porch. Normally this would be a perfect thing to wake up to on a Sunday morning, but today I did not like it. No, not at all. Every year about this time, for the past 9 years, we have organized our "Family Photos in the Park" day. It is a charitable event where with the help of local photographers and volunteers, we provide holiday portraits to families in need. It is an amazingly rewarding experience to be able to provide professional portraits to families who would not typically be able to afford it. It's also a great chance for us local photographers to get together and hang out, while helping each other photograph. Today, of all days, we had the largest number of pre-registered families for portraits: nearly 450.
So it's a blizzard outside and I'm leaving my house at 8:30am to go setup at the park and the car is sliding all over the road going barely 20 mph. I feel terrible about having the families and volunteers driving in these conditions - but there is no way to contact the families now, and I just can't imagine having to cancel this event. We've done it before in rain, freezing conditions, even light snow. But nothing like this. I decided to head down to the park anyway just in case somebody does show up, but I had a feeling nobody would - not even the volunteers.
I pulled in to the park and there were already 5 volunteers waiting. They were ready to go, no matter what, and I knew that we had to setup and make it happen. If even just a handful of families showed up, we had to be ready to deliver on our promise. The eager faces of my awesome volunteers gave me all the incentive I needed to keep it going. Fortunately, a few last minute calls landed us some sun canopies, which we then setup around our single covered shelter in the middle of the park. Our plan was to put the families under the canopies and use the snowy background behind them. I decided to bounce a single Nikon SB900 in to the roof of the canopy, which would provide a nice, soft frontal/overhead light. I used an SU900 on my Nikon D3 as the master and was able to wirelessly trigger the SB900 with TTL precision without a single misfire. I used a long 70-200mm f2.8 lens to be able to get as far back as possible to soften the background, flatter the subjects, and avoid getting the sides of the canopy in the shots.
Just as we got everything setup, 10am rolled around and the families started to stream in! The near blizzard conditions didn't seem to deter them at all and we knew we had made the right decision to setup and be ready. By the end of the day, we had photographed about 150 families! I was completely blown away that they had shown up, and they were doubly grateful that we had setup and were there for them even in these conditions. It was a successful day - the most challenging to date, but possibly the most rewarding.
Of course, I owe all the success of this event to my awesome volunteer photographers and assistants. My wife, Clare, did all the event planning and coordinating (a job my sister, Kecia, had previously done in prior years). My mom (who just had her 70th B-day last night) energetically organized hot cider and snacks for the families, coffee and goodies for the photographers, and handled signing in and keeping track of each family as they arrived. Several big-hearted people from my staff braved the storm and came to give of themselves too: Wendi, Courtney and Pat, Annie (and husband Doug), Eryn, & Karen and her daughter, Miranda.
Local photographers Levi Lundy, Byron Roe, Karen Findley (and sister Nancy), Cindy Girroir, Keith Rutledge, Ryan Hirschberg, & Skye Astiana also came to help and made the day a success. We had several other volunteers who helped keep kids smiling, held lighting, and did traffic control. We are grateful to each one of them for taking time from their day to help their community.
This project has been adopted by other photographers, in other communities, as well and we have lots of information and experience to share if any of you photographers out there want to start a similar project in your town. Just shoot us an email.
I can't wait until next year...come rain or shine :-)
It's a winter wonderland! A single SB900 bounced in to the roof of the tent created a soft, balanced light.
Our base station and shooting tents.
Side by side shooting stations. Although one photographer seems to be aiming the wrong way :-)
Levi Lundy found a clear spot under a big tree to photograph. Although branches had been cracking off and falling all morning due to the weight of the snow!