Everyone photographs differently, which is why you have so many styles of imagery out there, and why you have different people connect to different subject matter, formats, and styles. Sometimes a photographer becomes known for a style of shooting, or a perspective.

I’m sure I have a style too, though I’ve never wanted to face putting together words that can describe it. That kind of thing is just so hard, writing about something that describes all your work. But this image I’m going to talk about now is definitely an outlier of my “normal.” I almost didn’t even want to show it to the client, because … well … we’ll get to that in a minute. But this is one of the images the client absolutely loved. I couldn’t understand it, mom loved it! To me it was a total disconnect.

Do you see what’s going on here? Let me set the stage. Mother and son were having their photo taken. We took a few shots of  him in her lap, on the bench, etc. In this picture, the boy (yes, he has beautiful long hair!) became over excited, and suddenly leapt forward, and bit mom on the nose! I managed to push the shutter just as this happened. It took a second for mom to regain composure, after being shocked that her son just bit her; and the child was, shall we say, spoken to. After a little while, things calmed down again, and we went back to shooting. But I thought this was simply a detour, and the frame that I caught was going to be a casualty of war. Nobody would want that image, it’s destined for the trash bin.

Taken years ago, and I still keep it in my portfolio. Let me explain why. The image was captured during a family photography session I was hired to shoot, on location, at the client’s home. At the time, I went through my usual process of meeting with the client and discussing the kinds of images that should result from it. And long story short, I was told that they’d appreciate if the session was a mix of some formal portraiture, with journalistic type of images.

Back then, formal portraiture was fine by me, as it continues to be; it’s really what I like to do, and it was different than what others were doing at the time, just following families around. These days, journalistic imagery is still a staple for many photographers, and has grown as a stylistic genre that many people request specifically. Journalistic images though, didn’t have much of a presence in my portfolio. I was not sure what to expect, or if I’d be able to fulfill that part of the client’s request successfully. But I did, for the most part, and this image became one of mom’s favorites.

When I showed the family all the images that I’d picked out for their reveal, I had kept this one in though I don’t know why exactly. It was nicely lit, it was well focused, but that’s all. There was no thought that mom might want a print of this.

So you can see how I was knocked over with a feather when I she stopped dead on this image, and stared at it for a long while, and then said, “Oh I want one of  this one.”

I asked her why, since at the session it was such an event that the child got scolded for being too enthusiastic. The answer was simply, “I just love it.”

Eventually I figured out why. This image has many elements to it. First off, as I said it is technically good, but even that isn’t the only ruler we measure a good photograph by.  Secondly, there’s that beautiful play of  sunlight across their hair, which highlights them in a pleasant glow. What you can’t see is the off-camera flash that I had to camera left, which helps fill  in all the dark shadows that would have probably made this image less successful, so the lighting was well balanced, and made it easier to connect to the image. You see this in the shine on the boy’s ponytail, and in mom’s cheek. Lastly, those who don’t know what’s going on here, will simply assume that this was mom getting a loving kiss from  her son.

But at its most basic, is the story I just told you. And along with that story is the recorded moment of an emotion, a feeling, that mom will remember for the rest of her life. And when she brings out the prints that I did for her, and shows people this image, she’s going to tell them the story of what happened. And she’s going to remember and replay the scene.  And she’s going to get that look in her eyes that she got when I first showed her the image as a print. And that will set off  the cycle of reminiscing that is the reason people want photographs in the first place. In psychology, this is a kind of “anchoring.”

Photographs connect people to the past, and to emotions. In some cases, that connection changes meaning from its original capture, but that original reason becomes part of the story of the image itself. In the end, the photograph tells two stories. One of the family. And one of itself.