It started exactly a week before the photo shoot with an email from Brooke. I wasn’t sure what to think when I read it at first so I read it again. And then again. Really? Does that really say that? She would be traveling to Houston to meet her birth family after finding each other only months before. And she was wondering if I would take the photos.
Being a relatively new business (but not photographer) I’ve gotten requests that are more in line with what you would normally expect to see. Someone needs a graduation photo – cap, gown, location, sure. I’ve done a few of those. Someone needs a shoot done for a birthday – of course, colors, happy, let’s bring confetti. Fun 8 year old’s shoot. This was nothing like I had been asked to do before but like I told Brooke, firsts are good.
At home or on holidays with family, I like to sit with my camera and see what happens. I have an active 5 year old and a hilarious family so there is rarely a shortage of good moments. When I’m doing lifestyle shoots, it doesn’t work the same way. I give more direction, I set it up, I offer props. I like to keep them as close to natural as possible but they’re nowhere like a documentary shoot for me. Up to this point, I hadn’t done any outside of the house but had really wanted to. I worked behind the scenes on how to incorporate the shoots from home into my work but for the most part, nothing was all that public. And then there was that email. It was to be a first documentary shoot outside of the house for me. So, yes firsts are good. They really are but my nerves immediately went through the roof. I asked her if she’d be up to chatting and luckily she was.
After a nice conversation, my nerves were firmly intact but then excitement hit and my brain went straight into planning mode. I immediately grab on to my camera and it stays near me until days after the shoot. I write down every thought towards the shoot, reread every email for information, search online. I go into overdrive basically. The main difference with documentary shoots is that you really can’t anticipate what you’ll get. Some of my best moments with my son are just from being there. I wanted that to be the case so bad when it came to Brooke’s shoot because it truly was a once in a lifetime thing. You don’t get to meet for the first time twice. Life just doesn’t work that way. So this had to be it and I had to be ready in less than a week.
With no props needed, we set the timing and location and when that Friday rolled around, I made the drive to the airport baggage claim area. Brooke had arrived just as I was pulling in to park and her family was very close by. I ended up not getting lost (yay me!) and found the area where I needed to be rather easily. I had a nice photography chat with an airport worker and attempted to calm my nerves while I waited to start.
So many people were there that I worried about getting randoms in the shoot. The lighting was bright enough but not my usual natural light so I worried about that as well. I worried about whether her family would like me as their photographer, whether everything would work out as planned even though, well, you can’t plan it all. I worried about everything. You know how they say to take a deep breath and let it all out when you’re feeling nervous? Yeah, I didn’t do any of that. Didn’t even think about it. I remained a nervous ball of energy even on the drive home. And then at home. And then the next day when I scanned the photos for what was probably the fifth time. There was no shortage of nerves.
Back at the airport, I was greeted by these smiling, nervous faces, flowers and a sweet sign.
Mom and I spoke on the phone briefly when I called to check on their location but seeing them in person actually calmed me. They were so nice from the very start that it relaxed me enough to get proper sentences out.
We moved to a well-lit sitting area and I remembered to move around and get photos from different angles so as not to miss anything. Mom told me a little bit of their history as Brooke had. They had kept in very regular contact since the end of July. It had been months leading up to this day.
Within a short time, we were ready to get the reunion started.
The original plan was that I would work with her family first, go up to her and then get in place for the moment when they saw each other. What actually happened, is what should have happened. A total surprise to us all.
There she was.
One sister spotted her and I thought, “wait…oh that is her!” She was in baggage claim and suddenly it was a go! I picked up my camera and snapped away. I look at mom and then it all slows down for a second. Tears.
This is real.
This is happening.
This really is a first for them happening right at this moment. It was that moment looking at Brooke’s mom that it hit me. How special it was. And then of course (I’m soft) I start trying to hold it together. Don’t cry! I was so sure that I had missed all the good moments due to my emotions. Everything would be blurry. I had failed to catch what I needed. Oh the disappointment to come. I was so sure of it but no. It was all there. Brooke’s face, mom’s face, first sister hug. All there.
I wanted a few photos of the family together and looking at the photos now, it looks like they could have been posed but they weren’t.
I didn’t have them sit close, compare their matching bracelets, tell them when to smile or to look like they truly adored the other. I didn’t tell them to do anything and yet they did. They all looked…together. Like a family. Like they had known each other for quite some time.
As they prepared to leave, I got a few last shots in and thought about what I had seen and done that night. Aside from prematurely feeling like I had missed some, I felt like I was able to see something very special.
It’s not often that you hear of these reunions and even less likely that you get to play a role in it. My role is always very important to me. Stories should be told and being able to help tell them even in a small way is why I love what I do. This family and their reunion is one story that I’m sure I won’t soon forget.
Thank you Brooke and family for including me in your moment. I wish you all the best in your future together.