Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A Close Up Shot

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Empty Nesters

I plopped in my easy chair after lugging the last piece of equipment back to storage. It had been a grueling day -- another day of chasing a bride. That’s what we call it in the photography business. You play tag with the bride as she flits from the make-up table to hugs; from flowers to dresses; from the aisle to the cake; from reception to a limo.

All while you try to capture memorable photos.

It is demanding physically and emotionally. Months of detailed planning and preparation precede each wedding and everyone’s feelings float warily on the surface. For many, weddings mile-mark the beginning of an empty nest. Someone’s son and someone’s daughter are leaving home and parents behind in anticipation of forging a future and a home of their own. Because it’s the event of a lifetime, everything must be perfect. After all, there are no second chances for the photography -- it must be done right. And it must be done right the first time.

Everyone seems to know of a sad photographic experience at a wedding. That is why I triple check everything, have backup equipment, and force myself to keep a level head. My clients and even my wife compliment me on my ability to go with the flow and not get stressed during these highly stressful occasions.

Satisfied with the day’s results, I balked at the thought of the next bride, surprised to acknowledge that, after thirty years of honing my craft, I felt insecure.

This sitting would be tougher than most. It was a bridal portrait and the final image would be large and displayed on an easel at the wedding reception. Mothers-of-the-brides are infamous for their demanding reputations, distress over letting go of their daughters, and angst at the thought of the holes left in their lives. This particular MOB carried the added burden of being a relative.

Yes, a relative. They are always the most difficult. Relatives expect more. They expect perfect work. And they expect perfect work for free. Many photographers refuse to photograph family events. But I am a pro and pride myself on keeping all those tensions in check. Once I commit there’s no turning back.

Shouldering the responsibility, I load my car and drive to the site the bride chose. A glance upward confirms a cooperative sky as I hunch to inspect the gear packed into my trunk. I load film first -- sure don't want to make that simple mistake. Then I double-check the lighting systems, set up the tripod, and make test shots. All is well; all is calm. And I’m ready just as the bride arrives.

She looks so young. Too young to get married. “Are you sure you’re old enough to be legal?” I deadpan.

She looks startled, then grins. “Almost twenty-two,” she insists. “Legal and beyond!”

My brows shoot up and I shake my head doubtfully.

“Don’t you feel some guilt for leaving your parents?”

She shakes her head and giggles.

She’s giddy -- just like all the rest. She’s in wispy white -- just like all the rest. She’s accompanied by her faithful entourage -- just like all the rest. It’s her final picture as daughter, her first as a bride. And I can see by the expression on her face that she’s ready to grasp the kite-tail of her dreams and fly into her future.

I am fully prepared to make a beautiful portrait. I know the procedure so well -- place her feet just so, shift her weight, angle her shoulders, tilt her head, position her hand into graceful “Barbie doll fingers”… and then be ready for the perfect expression she and this picky MOB hope for.

Both of them have planned this image all their lives. They’re expecting that Cinderella look-and-feel they always envisioned. Well, this bride is drop-dead gorgeous. I nod in approval. It’s going to be a piece of cake.

I bend my head to look through the viewfinder. Something is dreadfully wrong with this picture. It’s out of focus. The bride looks odd, she looks too… young. I check the settings and try again. Now the bride is fuzzy.

“What’s going on?” I mutter.

Once more, I examine the camera. All is in order.

No, wait. The lens is fogged.

My heart flutters and I steady myself. Yet, no matter how hard I try to call on my years of professional training, I can’t seem to make this picture clear. A jagged breath catches in my throat and I suddenly understand the problem.

With a rueful sigh, I turn away and swipe roughly at the mist of tears blurring my optics. No pro worth his salt would let them be discovered.

I corral my emotions. “Turn a little. And, lean in,” I hear myself say in a surprisingly normal tone. “Now, a sweet smile, Sweetie,” I swallow hard. “A special smile just for your old… er… for your groom.” I force myself to separate my personal feelings from the image in the lens. “That’s it. That’s it. Yes… wow!"


Click, click, click.

I clear my throat and manage a broad beam in spite of myself. “What a beautiful, blushing bride.”

Another daughter leaving the nest to find her future. I shake my head ruefully. My daughter. This daddy’s little girl.

No comments: