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5 Tips to Successfully Photograph Military Homecomings

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How to Photograph Military Homecomings

As a military wife myself, I’ve experienced deployments and so I love photographing the homecomings for other military members. It’s the culmination of a long, often difficult process and the emotion is so raw at them.  I often have new photographers (or new to photographing this type of event) ask for tips on capturing homecomings and below are a few that I have learned through photographing them.

1. Be educated.

Our military members travel in a variety of ways now-some travel in huge groups, some travel individually, some come back in small groups. I am usually working one on one with a client and get this information well ahead of time. I find out how they are traveling, how many will arrive, and where they will arrive. I’ve photographed lots of scenarios–hundreds coming off a plane at once and into a hangar, a dozen arriving on the flight line of the base in the fighter jets, and individuals flying back on a commercial jet and arriving at a civilian airport. Know where they will arrive and secure any necessary paperwork well before the arrival time. Your client will know who you need to contact in the military member’s line of command to make sure you have the paperwork required. You may need access to enter a base, access to take photographs on the flight line, or a pass to enter part of the airport with the military spouse. If you are photographing members arriving on a military base, they will have people directing you as to where you can or cannot stand or what lines you need to stay behind as you photograph.

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2. Be safe. 

There is an acronym called OPSEC that you may hear often. It stands for “Operations Security” and reminds us that we need to keep our military members safe. This means that you shouldn’t tweet things like “I’m headed to the Boise airport to photograph a military homecoming” until OPSEC has been lifted. Mentioning who is arriving, where they are arriving, etc is a security manner and can put the military members at danger. Your client will be notified when OPSEC is lifted and can pass that information on to you, usually occurring just before the military members land. I remember that when my husband was arriving home after his 7 months in Afghanistan, I wanted to scream to the world that he was on his way! I instead had to remember security and wait until he was safe at home to post the news on Facebook.

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3. Be prepared.

Depending on your situation and where you are shooting, be prepared with the proper gear. If I photograph a homecoming in an airport, I make sure I have a lens with a lower f-stop to let in lots of light. In outdoor homecomings, I love to use my 24-70L or 70-200L so I can get both wide and close up shots. In large homecomings, there can be quite a crowd of people, well into the hundreds. It’s easy to get pushed out of the way but using a nice zoom lens ensures that I get some beautiful closeups of my clients reuniting. You’ll be amazed at how many shots you want to take! Make sure you have plenty of memory cards and extra batteries on hand.
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4. Be a storyteller. 

Homecomings are beautiful and I never get bored with them. Every family has a different story and it’s an opportunity for you to tell that story. Before that day, I’ve already gotten acquainted with my client and know a little of their story and their family. I’ve photographed several homecomings where dad is meeting his baby for the first time so I know that is a key moment to photograph. I keep a little of a distance so I am not intruding on their experience and follow my client around while we wait. They are often asked to get there an hour or two early so everyone is in place before the military members arrive. I capture photos of their faces as they await their spouse, photos of the homemade signs, wide shots of the hangar or location, and nervous laughter as they wait with friends. The most important shot most of them want is that moment when they reunite and are in one another’s arms! It’s an emotional thing to watch and makes it all worthwhile. You’ll be amazed at how you wait and anticipate the actual homecoming and then it flies by in seconds! Be ready and focused on your client so you don’t miss those little moments! I often set my camera to take quick bursts of photos because it happens SO quickly! Don’t forget to capture shots of them finding their bags, a nice posed shot together, walking away, and other final shots of the day.

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5. Be flexible.

This is a major part of photographing homecomings, especially when the military member is part of a large group arriving back home. When my own husband was deployed, the return date was changed 4 or 5 different times. Be flexible and know that your client will keep you notified of the most recent arrival date and time but that it may change several times after that!

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Homecomings are an amazing event to photograph and are one of my favorites. After you photograph military homecomings, you’ll leave feeling so proud, patriotic, and blessed to have the talent to give back to others through the gift of photography.

Melissa Gephardt is a military wife and mom of 3 who specializes in children’s portraiture. Currently residing in Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, she looks forward to their next adventure in life as they move to another military base this summer! Her work can be found at www.melissagphotography.com or on Facebook at Melissa Gephardt Photography .

9 Comments

  1. 1
    Amy Shertzer says:

    Great tips, Melissa! I’m part of an organization that connects military families with photographers who provide this service. It’s a great resource for families and a wonderful cause to be a part of (from the photographer aspect). It’s called “Welcome Them Home” http://welcomethemhome.org

  2. 2
    Jen says:

    This is great! I husband is also military and will come home at the end of the year. It will be my 5th homecoming but first time I will have a photographer.

  3. 3
    Darrel says:

    The URL’s for Melissa’s pages are broken. In your code you have – target=”_blank” href=”http:/www.melissagphotography.com”. You have left out a forward slash after the http:

  4. 4
    Dana Vastano says:

    These are beautiful tips! I was tearing up looking at the pictures remembering our first homecoming- I only wish I had hired a photographer to capture our first moments together after 7 long months. I was able to get photographs of all the signs and decorations and had someone take a picture of us afterward, but I don’t have any “moment of” shots.
    I’m definitely pinning this as I’m getting married next month and will be moving on base- I’m sure ill be photographing many homecomings in the months and years ahead!

  5. 5
    Emily says:

    I’m glad you posted this! And that you posted about OPSEC. Kinda important. Anyways, great tips. I’m an AF wife and just a “mommy with a camera,” but I hopeto become good enough to ddo this for people on base.
    Have you hear of http://www.oplove.org? I don’t want to go into detail since this your site, but they are a great organization of photographers helping families who have a member deployed. I didn’t know about it during our second deployment and forgot all about it til after the third. But thankfully I had a friend who agreed to tag along with me and take some pictures at the jairport. Anyways, I just wanted to mention it since you posted about military homecomings. Maybe some of your readers would like to check it out.

  6. 6
    Patricia Knight says:

    Great article. I’m not military but I volunteer for Welcome Them Home, which provides complimentary homecoming sessions to the military, since I live near the Marine base in 29 Palms, CA. I did not know about the security issue so that was a very helpful piece of info.

  7. 7
    Kris says:

    This warms my heart. Thank you for your whole family’s service.

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