By Lea Hartman on | No Comments
As I sit typing this, drops of rain are spattering against my windows. The sky is thick with gray clouds. The air feels heavy. It’s a reminder that life can’t always be full of sunshine and rainbows.
It’s easy to pour over images of golden backlighting and bright smiles. We want to share them with the world and proclaim, “Hey, look at this amazing session I shot!” And there’s nothing wrong with being proud of your work. I highly encourage it. But there’s another side to photography. A less glamorous side. It’s gritty and raw and the images that spring from it can be difficult to digest and hard to look at.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. The work that I am most proud of is often never seen. It’s the images I shot of a woman who was battling breast cancer - both before and after her double mastectomy. She fought a good fight for as long as she could.
It’s the images of a young family in the prime of life - the last family pictures they had taken before a young husband and father lost his battle with cancer, leaving behind a wife and two small boys.
It’s the images that show the hardships and the ugliness of life; the ones full of heartbreak that bring tears to your eyes as you edit. For me, it’s just a few short hours of effort. But for the people I photograph, it may be only a small reprieve in a season that is brimming with unbearable sorrow.
It isn’t about creating something shareable on social media. It isn’t about receiving pats on the back. It’s about creating something lasting and memorable for other people. Something that documents the real with an infusion of hope.
Though their life is probably somewhat topsy-turvy, there are bits of normalcy thrown in. Be sure to include those. No one wants to look at their images and see only their illness.
They likely get enough of that from their doctors. Their illness is something they’re going through. It's not WHO they are.
Do they love to sew? Toss around a football? Play with their dog? Paint? Bake? Work on cars? Knowing that these may be some of the last images taken of them before they depart this world, make sure to document those things that make them who they are.
Depending on the illness, they may not have much mobility. Even standing can be difficult for some. Don’t ask them to go outside their comfort zone and indeed, it doesn’t hurt to research their illness a bit in advance so you can manage your expectations.
If your client isn’t mobile, you have to be. It may be necessary for them to stay in the same chair. Or, they may need to stay indoors due to temperature or weather sensitivities. Either way, you may have to get creative with your angles, poses and be prepared for any lighting situation that you encounter.
Take your time and don't rush. It may be very taxing and strenuous for them and the treatments they may be going through could make them physically ill. Be prepared to take as many breaks as they need for them to stay comfortable and engaged.
If they need a break every 15 minutes, be prepared to talk. Discuss hobbies and interests, places they’ve traveled, their profession, etc. Let them know that you’re interested in them as a person.
I have had only one terminally ill client who was okay with signing a model release. (The family pictured in this post). Generally speaking, these images are highly personal and private and your client will likely not want them to be publicly viewed. You have to be willing to respect their privacy.
It’s incredibly difficult to photograph sessions for terminally ill people. But it’s oh, so important. Sometimes, their desire for pictures is about them coming to terms with their diagnosis. Sometimes, it’s about offering a sense of closure and comfort for the loved ones they’ll leave behind. But you can be certain it’s never about you.
Do you have any questions or comments about Terminally Ill Photography? Leave us a comment below - we would love to hear from you! And PLEASE SHARE our tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!
Lea is a self taught natural light photographer currently based out of North Carolina. Happily married for 14 years, she and her lover boy are raising three crazy kids wherever the army sends them. She's addicted to coffee, jamberry and her dog, Huxley.