I have been so very blessed lately to capture many homecomings for wonderful families who have welcomed their heroes home, but I also have unfortunately not been able to capture each family’s homecoming who contacted me about being there. It really does make me so sad when I have to say no that I cannot be there for a family. I always pray that they have a friend who can come with them and capture the moments for their family – whether they are a photographer or not because those moments are worth capturing!
I also just this past week came across a link to a wonderfully written post on MCPAction’s blog by another military wife and photographer, Melissa Gephardt (you can find her on Facebook here). She had some absolute spot on, perfect tips for capturing a homecoming – go read her tips here. This article is just so well written, and even if you are unfamiliar with military life would be a huge benefit to read up on before you head out to help capture these precious moments for your friend.
So, I can hear you saying, I’m not a professional and I’m not sure I can capture the moments well. STOP right there! Yes, seriously I’m talking to you, you can do this! Likely your friend has gone months without their significant other, they’ve been juggling so much and you’ve been there to help and support them. You absolutely CAN do this! And while you may feel a bit intimidated, I promise that your company while they wait & allowing them to be in the moment without worrying about a camera will be a huge help!
Here are a few tips to remember…
1. Be flexible and honest with your friend about possible hiccups in plans. Homecomings are nortorious for changing, there is so much to coordinate and so many opportunities for delays, that it is very much expected that there will be at least one or more delays. If you know you can only help if it happens on time, let them know that. They’re going to be a bundle of nerves and emotions, and having that information ahead of time will help calm frustrations to one more change in their plans if you’re not able to be there with them.
2. Know the plan (and then remember to be flexible!). Are you a photographer at heart who has your camera & will be much more comfortable using it than her’s? Or maybe she has a kick butt camera and you’d love to use her camera instead of your phone or a point and shoot (and people…I’m telling you either one of those is a much better option than no camera at all, no looking down on what you’ve got!). If you’re going to be using her gear, get together a bit before the big day and get to know it! Are there kids coming to the homecoming? Who’s reaction will she want captured first? It’s going to be a lot of hurry up and wait until the actual time of reunion and then it’s completely a blur, so talk about that ahead of time too and remember that when you’re positioning yourself for the big moment.
3. Have backups: Have backup batteries & memory cards for the camera of course, but it’s also a good idea to have a back up of some other essentials. Tuck a little pack of tissues in your bag. Depending on where the homecoming is taking place, it may also be a good idea to tuck your charger for your cell phone in your bag (bonus if you guys share a charger). If you know her kids, you can also tuck in a little snack or treat that you know his kids would enjoy (avoid sticky things if you can), a little things of wipes for little ones. Having something to sustain the two of you is also nice if there are additional delays that weren’t expected when you headed out for the homecoming. Don’t weigh your bag down & over think it, but a couple extra things may make a big difference in an extended wait time.4. Remember the details: There will be a lot of planning that goes into the day, from posters and welcome home signs to what each member of the family is wearing. Capture those moments for her as well. Are the kids sporting new shirts she ordered from Etsy or maybe they each created their own special shirt to celebrate mom coming home, snap a few pictures of those precious memories! My middle guy wanted to wear a tie the last time his daddy came home, because it was a special day and on special days you wear a tie in his 4 year old mind, I love that I have pictures of him proudly wearing that tie. You know your friend too, so remember to capture the small things about her as well. It might be a new dress and shoes, or the fact that as she is nervous she plays with her necklace. If you’re at the airport, take a picture of the gate number if you’ve gone to the gate to greet the hero or maybe it’s on base/post and there are signs everywhere celebrating an entire unit coming home – capture those!
5. Remember your friend: You have likely walked beside her (or him!) during this journey. You’ve been a supporter and a cheerleader for her throughout. Today she’s going to need you to be a supporter and a cheerleader and a pair of ears. The last hour before the big moment can seem to just drag on forever and time will probably seem like it is moving at snail pace for her & kids too. Chit chat about things, plans for the evening or the rest of the week, funny stories, whatever comes to mind it doesn’t have to be about the homecoming. Silence isn’t always a bad thing either, try to find the balance that fits for your friend and what she needs.
6. Remember your patience: Patience can fade quickly for little ones who are so filled with excitement and emotion – having a little extra patience for them is always helpful as your friend is likely filled with just as much or more emotion and anticipation. It’s okay if there is a melt down, it’s okay if there is a fit of tears by a child or maybe they are suddenly shy. Remember that this has been an emotional trying period for them and sometimes those emotions are hard for us to express as adults, even more so for the little heroes in our lives.
Above all enjoy being there for your friend and their family, enjoy the privilege of witnessing a wonderful and emotional moment in their life. It truly is an honor to be asked to be part of something so special for a family!