Genealogy: Telling a story with your camera

Genealogy: Telling a story with your cameraBy Barry J. Ewell

For over 40 years I have used the camera to capture the lives of my family and friends.  The camera has been a very important tool in my professional career in public relations and advertising.  I first started with a film camera and spent hundreds of wonderful/fun hours in a dark room developing and printing my on prints.  Since the late 90’s I have used the digital camera extensively in to aid in my genealogical research.

I would like to share with you a few of the lessons I have learned when using the camera to tell a story through photography.

Take a sequence of pictures that conveys the main points of the project—tearing down a wall, digging a hole, shoeing a horse, taking a trip, or walking in the steps of ancestors. Include all the steps. Make a sequence by standing in the same spot and taking a series of pictures from the same vantage point at various stages of the project. Who knows, a magazine just might want to do a story on your project!

  1. Start with a “before” shot:
    1. Take a picture of your starting point before you begin any work.
    2. You’ll be amazed how plain the lawn looked before that garden was there.
  2. Include people:
    1. Don’t just show the project in its stages; include pictures of people at work.
    2. Projects that are accomplished by magic only happen in storybooks.
  3. Show details.
    1. Take close-ups of the final product—or along the way of hands putting in a screw, goldfish being released, or a paintbrush putting on the finishing touches.
  4. Shoot at different angles:
    1. Vary the level of your viewpoint.
    2. Kneel or crouch down, or stand on something sturdy, and see how a different angle can dramatically change the appearance of your subject.
  5. Fill the frame:
    1. Fill the frame for a close-up view of small objects or details.
    2. Shoot at your camera’s closest focusing distance.
    3. Some cameras have a close-up (or “macro”) setting or accept accessory close-up lenses. Check the camera manual.
    4. If the subject still isn’t big enough, you can crop and enlarge it in the editing software.
    5. With a digital camera shoot at the highest resolution and then crop the picture in the computer.