***TRIGGER WARNING*** Please be advised, the content below is of a VERY sensitive nature and can be hard to view or talk about.
When you are in school learning photography, or even if you are just taking online classes to better your craft, you'll learn how to use your camera, to edit, to pose, to light a subject, but there are just some things that are never taught. Things that have to come from you.
Now, some of things in this business you will find silly, some awkward, some you will question your career choice, and others will break your heart into a million pieces. The silly and awkward are the items you never thought about when you started out in photography. Usually, the body parts you might have to zoom in on to "touch up". I still shake my head each time I have to take out a baby's diaper rash, fix a clients pant zipper, or hide a pesky nipple that is being a bit distracting. These things make you giggle, shake your head, and wonder if your clients only knew what you do to give them the perfect portraits.
It's part of the job! And while these moments might be a little awkward... you get through them with a smile.
But there are other moments. The moments that make you question everything. The moments that break your heart.
In my career I have been asked to photograph everything under the sun...Birth, Maternity, Weddings, Newborns, Birthdays, Product shots, Boudoir, Head shots....You name it and I have been asked to photograph it. All are part of the typical photography career realm. They are what you think of when you think "Photographer", right?!
But every once in awhile, you will get asked to photograph death, sorrow, and grief. Every once in awhile, your typical happy session will not end on a happy note. Every once in a while...you get a call from a friend at 6:30am asking you to hurry to their side, camera in hand, to photograph the last moments of some one close to them.
Whether it be a friend or loved ones funeral, a person with a terminal illness, or the loss of a child, these moments - these final moments - should be captured beautifully, tastefully, and professionally. You have the skills, but what isn't taught is how these moments will impact your life and define who you are.
Be gracious. Be kind. Be professional. But most of all...be there in the moment with them. When you get the call, put yourself in their shoes for just a moment before you decide what you will do. Ask yourself, what do YOU want for them, and what do they need from this session.
You may choose never to take on sessions like this, and that is fine! These types of sessions are hard. They are emotionally draining. They can leave you questioning life. There is no manual on how to react, how to feel, how to try and push through with photos when you really just want to sit down and bawl your eyes out. It all must come from inside you.
If you feel you will not be able to create the appropriate images a family desires from this sad situation...then say NO. It is OK to say no! In fact, it is very professional to take a step back and do what is best for the client. It is a wonderful thing to know your limits, and will gain you much respect from most any client and colleague in this industry. It is a great thing to tell a family that you want what is best for them and their situation, and that you aren't sure you are it...but that you are willing to find them someone that can help. Always try to help.
If you feel you CAN take on these types of sessions, never be afraid to cry. Never be afraid to let down your guard. Never be afraid to hold a hand or give a hug. Never. Be. Afraid.
Have empathy, have compassion, show respect. Listen and remain open...knowing your life will be changed forever for giving this amazing gift to these families. You can do this.
I have been blessed to photograph loss a few times in my career. And I know what you are thinking...blessed? But yes...BLESSED! While these aren't "typical" sessions, each time I have accepted the challenge...allowing this person...these people to change me. Always for the better. Their stories, their lives, the love their families have for them...it is an honor to be there and photograph their final moments. My heart is forever touched, and I am grateful to have known them.
Always be grateful for the lessons life brings. Always!