Photographing Military Homecomings, with Dyan Witt, of Dyan Witt Photography
There is truly nothing more exhilarating than capturing a military family embrace for the first time after a long deployment. The months apart come to an end with a palpable nervous tension filled with hope and love. As a military spouse, I personally identify with each waiting loved one and fully understand the gravity of the responsibility a professional photographer has in those fleeting moments. I have photographed births, newborns, baptisms, birthdays and weddings, but the most rewarding and challenging is a military homecoming.
I attended my first Navy homecoming in 2007, waiting for my fiancé to return home from the Middle East and have been photographing other military homecomings since. Each time, I still have butterflies in my stomach before, during and after the shoot. For a photographer, a military homecoming is unlike any other event because there are so many challenges associated with the session. A photographer at this event has no control over so many factors to include: the time and place, the weather, the lighting and the crowds of people … Therefore, I need to be prepared for it all.
To be ready for anything, I must prepare for the unexpected. Before leaving my studio, I assure that my camera bag includes an extra battery, a backup camera, different lenses, external flash, rain jacket and all the typical photography equipment. More importantly, though, I also pack candy to keep the kids happy during the long wait, and tissues to wipe the tears of joy that fall during that first embrace. I plan to arrive on location early to gauge the atmosphere and to also photograph the anxious spouses, children and family members as they wait in anticipation for the ship to dock or the aircraft to land.
I have stood pier-side with families in freezing temperatures, pouring rain and sweltering heat for hours as the Navy ships are steadily pulled into the harbor, towed into the dock and slowly unload thousands of service members. The shoots are filled with hope while everyone waits to catch the first glimpse of their loved one. With their increasing energy, my stress increases and I pray I can race to the perfect spot to capture the first embrace. To do this means also assuring another reuniting family doesn’t walk through the shot. In these moments, I am not only the photographer, but also a traffic cop, often crossing over rope barriers meant to keep people back.
On the technical side, I shoot in manual mode so I have maximum control of my camera. Shooting at a low aperture allows me to focus only on the family that hired me. This family, newly reunited, is highlighted in the frame where everything else around them is a blur. I also use a high shutter speed to assure that I capture all the fine details of the family’s movements. Details like a young daughter’s hair flowing through the wind as she races to her mommy’s arms, a Vietnam veteran father saluting his returning son, or a father’s first glimpse of his newborn baby. As the wife kisses her husband for the first time and a sigh of relief overcomes her entire body, her reality shifts knowing he is now finally safe in her arms. As the chosen photographer, those moments are the most important and the most difficult. As I struggle to hold back my own tears I know that I am trusted to capture the exact moment time stands still and pray that I do … every single time.
From the bottom of our hearts, thank you, Dyan, for sharing a glimpse of the military family’s story — a story that you and your family are a part of in every way.
napcp contributor meet Dyan Witt
About the Contributor: My name is Dyan Witt and I am a portrait photographer. I have two young children ages 5 and 2 and I love to watch them grow. I am amazed at how fast they are growing and that makes my passion for photography thrive even more! Second passion cooking!
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