3 Tips on How to Capture Real Family Moments this Thanksgiving

The snow falls softly on the window sills as the aroma of pie floats through the air. I can hear sports castors debating about a play during the football game as I slip my cold toes into my warm, fuzzy socks and shuffle around my parent's home with my dog, Porthos, trotting right behind me. I am at home for the Thanksgiving holiday and I am capturing this unique time in my life. I believe that it's the moments between the cheesy birthday cake smiles and the standard I graduated from college look at my piece of paper images that are truly most important. Capturing images of your family and what they are like and interested in today, right now is a precious thing that I know you will treasure long after the cake is gone and the diploma hung on the wall. I love seeing these kinds of images of my friends and family, and I am going to share 3 helpful tips on how to capture real life family moments this Thanksgiving - or it can even be if you want to capture what Sunday mornings look like or any ordinary, real day.

1. Anticipate Moments

As a wedding and lifestyle photographer a big part of my job is anticipating moments and having my camera ready. You need to be aware of the events of the day and where all the excitement and action may be taking place and then anticipate when to click the shutter. Be wary of over shooting as you may still miss an important moment if you are machine-guning shots, take your time and wait for a moment to happen. And have your camera ready - even by looking through the viewfinder as you watch the scene can help dramatically.

Much like I did as my dad carved up our bird and Porthos watched, entranced, as each piece of meat traveled off the bone and onto the serving dish .... and then one hit the floor and he was on it! This is so typical of how he always acts - hanging around the kitchen just waiting for one of us to drop something - ha!

2. Don't Forget About the Details

As your family goes about their day take some time to open your eyes to all the small things that make the day special. For Thanksgiving, food is obviously an important detail, but I also walked around our kitchen, living room, and dining room noticing the Christmas bells already hanging on the front door and on how much time was left on the kitchen timer as well as the fact that my parents live in the country with big trees and a barn - and did I mention the food?

Don't be afraid to get close to see even more details and explore new ways of looking at these seemingly ordinary objects. Having detail pictures of the day help tell a well rounded story and one that may look different every year as the kids get older or as you spend your first Thanksgiving with your new husband's family.

3. Show What's Unique About the Day

Every story has unique characters with interesting customs and while you probably already know that your family is it's own distinct tribe, be sure to highlight these special traits with your camera. Here in Michigan, it's not Thanksgiving without watching the Detroit Lions play football and convincing Dad to flip the channel to the Friends Thanksgiving episodes that air back to back all while good food cooks and puppy dogs cuddle with us.

Remember, even you have a unique perspective on these events! If other people are also taking photos be sure to jump right in and capture how you see your family and the events because it will look like no one else's.

It's natural that if some one is blowing out birthday candles you'd want to capture them, but a lot of the time it is seeing everyone else's reaction to this that is all the more interesting. Sometimes the real story can be seen when you turn your camera away from the spotlight. Another unique way to capture your family is to find a different perspective. Stand on a chair or squat down to capture an image from a different perspective and you will find out why I am always doing this during a family portrait session or at a wedding - I don't look so crazy now eh?

It's important to document these things when you are with the special people in your life, during events you cherish, but don't forget to put down the camera or your phone's camera and make memories. Dig in!

- Courtney Carolyn

How did it go? Were these tips helpful? Join the conversation below!

Fun Backyard Family Portraits Lansing, MI: The Beasley Family

I believe family is one of the most important things you can have in life - or more specifically, a really loving and supportive family. So whether you appoint friends as family or whether family is the one you were born into, having a group of people who are there is essential to the pursuit of happiness. To me family are there to share holidays with, to celebrate love with, to pick you up when life has run you over, and they are there to make you crazy, but help you grow. I had the extreme pleasure of spending the day with a family who are goofy, driven, fun, and gorgeous - did I mention I'm related? Most of my family sessions are spent getting to know new families and documenting their life and love, but for this family lifestyle session I drove to the home of my mother's sister, Cheri, her husband, Wayne, and my cousins, Heather and Victoria; a home which I've visited countless times in the past for graduation parties, christmas mornings, and sleepovers where we all wore footy pajamas.

The afternoon started out with some laughs and giggles with the family dog, Lincoln, who has a completely unique personality all his own, but he fits in perfectly with these goofs.

As we walked around their family yard, we stopped to capture some classic - and some not so classic - head shots of the whole family. And my Uncle Wayne felt compelled to show us his gun collection.

The whole family loves being outdoors in nature, with Victoria studying for her Master's in Marine Science, Heather a former member of the SVSU waterskiing team, to Wayne who collects all matters of creatures and to Cheri who enjoys going for walks everyday, nature needed to be a factor in this session. They took a few minutes to look for frogs and check out the ecosystem in Wayne's new lily pond.

I just love them to pieces and the fact that Lincoln was thoroughly enjoying this faux tug of war between the sisters.

The family walk continued into the back field and they took a minute for a collective group squeeze with Lincoln looking on in the distance.

As they walked and chatted about all the comings-and-goings of everyone, Wayne decided to open up one of his wooden bird houses. A bug infested surprise awaited their discussed faces.

Heather and Victoria you both are seriously so beautiful and Heather, you tooootally rocked the America's Next Top Model "smize."

As the session wrapped the group walked through Cheir and Wayne's veterinary clinc's memorial garden and admired all the beautiful change.

As we all hugged good bye I had to capture the family with their home as it is just as much a part of their life right now and has grown with them, creaking and sighing with the love protected behind it's walls.

What is it about your family, today, that you always want to remember? I'd love to hear in the comments!

Run for the Roses - A Soul Searching Trip in Charlestion

Life is about great adventures, whether they be big or small, good or bad. Life can also be compared to a race. You spend years practicing your skills and building yourself up all to what seems to culminate as one big race day where you either survive and are the first to cross the finish line or get lost in the crowd.

I just recently returned from a week long trip where I did some serious soul searching. Now, originally this was not my intention. The main reason I was going away was to continue to build myself and my photography skills up to rise above the level I was currently at. I'm a strong believer in learning new things and this trip, that was really a work trip, was no exception.

I first heard about Bob and Dawn Davis while searching for photography workshops a couple months back when I was planning a spontaneous trip to New York City. Bob is an awesome photographer and Dawn is his wife and photography business partner. They are a husband and wife team that combine their creative and technical photographic skill, personality, smart business savvy, and their kindness for others and education to create what they (and everyone else) call Bob and Dawn Davis Photography, which is based in the Chicagoland area.

I had the pleasure in New York, a couple months back, of taking Bob's "What the Flash" lighting workshop and he opened my mind's eye up to a lot of new possibilities with photography. I wanted to know more about Bob, so I visited his site. That's were I stumbled upon what could be considered my ticket to race day; a photography workshop hosted by Bob and Dawn in Charleston, SC. My adventure bell started ringing and I signed up, not knowing how I'd get there or if I'd be surrounded by a brunch of super-technical speaking photographers that I'd be intimidated by, not knowing anything, but feeling in my heart that it would be something amazing.

So this is where my recent "work trip" and soul search began.

I started pooling my resources and researching how I'd get myself down to the place where The Notebook was filmed, where Spanish Moss clings to the tree limbs, where people say "ya'll" with sweet tea, and where having a historic home was the norm. Enter my parents.

My mom and dad.

My mom and dad.

They agreed to help me on my quest by volunteering themselves as drivers - plus they had never been to that part of the country either and were intrigued by a road trip. It turned into one big family vacation with my older sister, Katie, included too. About 5 days before the workshop, we were all loaded up in my mom's red Saturn Vue (I was literally wedged between a cooler, my laptop, camera bag, and the door) and we began the first leg of our trip stopping first in Louisville, KY.

We visited Church Hill Downs, which is famous for the Kentucky Derby, and got a backside tour (yes, that's their word not mine) of the stables and where the trainers work and live.


There were horses a plenty getting bathed, brushed, or fed (paradise) and we even spotted the 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner, "Mine That Bird", who was slated with a 50 to 1 chance of winning the Derby. My family and I thought that was pretty neat in and of itself, but "Mine That Bird" had more interest in his hay bale and licking the wall then us during our visit.

(R) Mine That Bird, 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner - oblivious to us tourists.

(R) Mine That Bird, 2009 Kentucky Derby Winner - oblivious to us tourists.

Our car dotted across the country from Michigan to Kentucky and then to our next stop 9 hours later in Savannah, GA. There was no shortages of what one might normally expect on a trip where you're trapped in a car with you mother, father, and sister for 9 hours - someone yells angrily at a trivial problem because they're dying of hunger or legs and bodies start to cramp up in the crowded car and tensions rise because we can't escape each other - but the destination and adventure is always worth the trip! 

Savannah. Savannah. Savannah. You are my new favorite city. You are beautiful and quaint and not too busy body. You have a history and art scene that could keep me occupied for years. Savannah... I know Ray Charles was singing about the whole of Georgia hen he sang, "Georgia On My Mind," but it reminds me of you.

[PLAY Ray-Charles - "Georgia on My Mind"]

The Saturn skidded to a halt at our final destination of Charleston, South Carolina, the day following our visit to Savannah and we all burst forth from the car ready to stay in one place for three consecutive nights and I was so ready to begin learning all I could.

I still had a couple free days to explore Charleston with my family before the workshop and we started with some local southern cuisine at Jim n Nicks Bar-Bee-Que, the kind of cuisine that is full of ooy-gooy BBQ and washed down with a brew or two. We sat in a surrey "with a fringe on top" and were pulled through the French Quarter District learning a lot about the history of Charleston. We made an unplanned trip to the ER (because honestly that's our luck, but everyone is okay). Lastly, we visited Boone Hall Plantation, a relic straight out of Gone with the Wind where you'd expect to see Scarlett and Rhett traipsing across the property, and the day ended with us exploring the lush and humid Cypress Gardens together.

Cheers! We made it!

Cheers! We made it!

(L) Me! (R) My big sister, Katie - photo credit to my mom :)

(L) Me! (R) My big sister, Katie - photo credit to my mom :)

Cypress Gardens

Cypress Gardens

Boone Hall Plantation

Boone Hall Plantation

The rest of our time in Charleston was divided, my parents and sister out seeing the sights and I spent 3 days behind the camera lens and furiously writing down business strategies and better practices for my photography. I connected with so many great photographers from all over the country and can't wait to watch as everyone grows creatively and reshapes their businesses! I also walked away with a ton of real world photography experience and skills that I never learned in college!

Workshop photographers - We pack light (pun intended).

Workshop photographers - We pack light (pun intended).

Workshop photographers flexing their creative muscles.

Workshop photographers flexing their creative muscles.

Workshop photographers - We had fun and are excited about life! :)  Photo by Pam Bell Photography

Workshop photographers - We had fun and are excited about life! :) Photo by Pam Bell Photography

I believe everything about this trip will help to push me farther in my business and to race towards the direction of my dreams. As a very wise lady from our Church Hill Downs tour said, "not many horses get a chance to compete in the Kentucky Derby . . . and those that do, well, they only have one chance, one shot to win that run for the roses. . ."

Love Always,

Courtney Carolyn