I discovered with my own Dear Photograph experiment that taking “a picture of a picture from the past in the present” isn’t as easy as it looks. The best results come from selecting a certain kind of photo and holding the picture in a certain way.
Last week I proposed a Genealogy Photo Challenge for the upcoming World Photography Day. If you haven’t already snapped your “new old” photo, here are a few tips for taking a successful Dear Photograph style picture.
What is a Dear Photograph image? The Canadian 21-year-old who started the blog and fad by the same name, was looking through an old photo album with his family when he came across an old picture of the same kitchen he was sitting in. He held it up to compare it to present day room and snapped the first Dear Photograph.
Selecting the Photo
1. Take several photos with you to the location.
Expand your choices. Some photos work better than others We took a small wedding album and a packet of loose snapshots with us when we revisited the church where we were married. We soon found that we needed to frame the image in the same way but it was difficult because some photos had been cropped and enlarged.
2. Include context for the photo.
We tried some group photos held up in front of the church, but the flat, bright surface of the building made for a harsh background and when we pulled back to take in the facade, the people were miniscule. It helps to have some context for the picture, whether landscape, buildings, or other people. We liked the photo of us standing at the door of the church, framed by the outer courtyard doorframe, although we appear so small it is difficult to see who’s in the photo, it’s obviously a bride and (hopefully) groom.
This image “works” but it is pretty boring. It would be much better to
step back and see the entire facade of the church; however, the old
picture is then very small. Other photos were better.
3. An assistant and a tripod can help.
It’s just about impossible to snap the picture by yourself. You will need one hand to hold the camera, one hand to hold the photo, and one finger to snap the shutter. Unless you have really long arms you may need someone else to hold the picture while you look through the viewfinder to frame the shot and snap the shot. Hold the photo at a slant to avoid glare on the image itself. I wish I had thought to bring a tripod; it would have helped steady the camera.
4. Consider the time of day.
Although morning and afternoon light can make the best photos, if you really want to “retake” the picture you can try to be at the location about the same time of day or in the same lighting situation. We were married on a July afternoon, and our visit to the church 35 years later was almost the same time of day. It reminded me how blinding the Santa Barbara sun can be in an adobe courtyard.
5. Write a caption that tells the story.
Your job isn’t over when you snap the photo. Write a caption that reads like a postcard to the photo, saying something that conveys your attitude toward the subject, event, or memory. Read examples at Dear Photograph for ideas.
Remember to email me with a link to your blog, or leave a comment here with the link for the Photo Round-Up I will post on World Photography Day August 19.
Family history and old photos are a perfect match, but the Dear Photograph phenomenon is proof that you don’t have to be a genealogist to enjoy bringing the past into the present.