I had such a great time photographing the Wagners in Columbia Falls this past month. They were celebrating their parents' 40th Anniversary and converged on the Flathead Valley from all over the country to spend time together and do some quality hiking. It was honestly one of those family sessions I didn't particularly want to end, they were all so friendly and sweet, and I probably could've chatted with them all day if they—and okay me too—didn't have other plans that day. It really is always a pleasure getting to meet these multi-generational groups spending time together on vacation, and one of my favorite things I get to do as a photographer.
Repeat customers are probably one of the most favorite things a family photographer can have, and that is especially true with this family. You may recognize them from a post late last summer, or possibly Nick from his video series "Small Business Every Saturday" promoting Flathead Valley small businesses that he invited me to be a part of this winter. Their daughter also happens to be one of my daughter's best friends! But unfortunately, they're having to move away from Northwest Montana but wanted to document their time here one last time prior to moving out of their house. It was such an honor to be the one documenting it, and I was sure not to actually say "goodbye," but leave them instead with a "see you around."
Debbie contacted me through my Instagram page in hopes of getting just a handful of photos of her family's spring visit to Whitefish. It was the first time they'd all been together in several years and was especially important to her parents. Multi-generational family sessions are always such a pleasure to do because there are always special moments whether it's between a dad and his daughters, some sibling tomfoolery, or grandparents and their grandchildren. Because of the toddlers and their diminutive attention spans to match their size, and the fact that Debbie is a pretty great photographer herself, I created a custom 'multi-generational family session' and we knocked these out in just 30 minutes.
I'd hate to speak for other photographers, but for this particular photographer, repeat business is one of the best feelings ever. I met the Ahmad family this past fall when they were paying a visit to Northwest Montana, and I was extremely stoked to get a text from them again this winter asking if I was available for some portraits this February as they were here for some powder turns at Whitefish Mountain Resort.
While it was certainly chilly we did manage to sneak in before an arctic system moved in and temperatures plunged below zero. We were also blessed with the most perfect light snowfall, something I've been wanting to have for a portrait session for the last three years but had never materialized until now!
My wife and I both come from a long line of teachers, with current and retired teachers on both sides of our respective families. As such we've got an immense amount of respect for those individuals that choose such a noble profession. So whenever I get an opportunity to work with one of my daughter's teachers it's always an honor. This winter I got to reconnect with her first grade teacher who had a profound impact on my daughter, and by extension us. She and her husband have three boys so it seemed appropriate to schedule the session in a location with an epic sledding hill to close out the photos.
This multi-generational family portrait session with the Nickels wasn't the first time I'd photographed people and their pets, but it was the first time I had someone bring their handsome feline outside for some photos. In true cat fashion "Duke" put up with the camera for exactly two photos before he made it clear he was done, but he was a consummate professional up to that point. I also got to meet Penny and her human, and the whole Nickels clan. We spent some time at their new residence and then headed over to Wayfarers State Park for the unrivaled views of Flathead Lake. It's always such a pleasure to explore new areas of the Flathead Valley I've not been to with vacationers and new residents alike.
I was fortunate to spend this chilly morning with the Ahmad family at Depot Park and Whitefish City Beach documenting their late-summer family getaway to Northwest Montana. Little A. wasn't super comfortable in front of the camera for a lot of the session, but once she saw the water at City Beach and got to take a little walk with her brother and grandmother she perked right up and started grinning from ear-to-ear. They mentioned that they are planning a potential permanent move to Montana, and I can't wait to welcome them if they're able to make that happen.
I do a lot of talking about how awesome it is to meet folks from all over the country who come to Montana for weddings, family reunions, or just your standard vacation. What I don't often talk about is hanging out and documenting the lives of the friends we've made here in Montana. But no more! Nick & Skotti's daughter was in my daughter's first- and second-grade classes and they've become good friends. So naturally when Skotti hit me up for some potential family photos I naturally jumped at the chance. Of course it was chillier than expected—it was in the mid-40s on this late August morning—which made it necessary to just power through, but we all managed!
I probably sound like a broken record, but one of the perks of being a photographer in an area that is such a destination for so many people is I get to meet and hang out with people from all over the country. The Brown family contacted me in hopes of getting some photos to document their trip that took them literally all over the western half of Montana, and culminated in a visit to the Flathead Valley. They made the trip from Mississippi, which was funny because it was the day after Shona & Bradley's wedding, and they live in Mississippi. It's as the song from the Disney ride says, "it's a small world after all."
As you may have heard, the world is currently in the middle of a pandemic due to the coronavirus. The thing about novel viruses that nobody seems to fully understand and can be transmitted even by asymptomatic people is that large gatherings are generally a big no-no. Cities, states, and even whole countries have implemented various levels of "lockdowns" and "shelter-in-place" directives in hopes of avoiding overwhelming our healthcare system.
Prior to all of this, my mother-in-law had long been planning a move to Northwest Montana from her long-time home in central Texas. My family, and my wife's sisters and their respective families all now live in this general vicinity, and by extension so do her grandkids. And as any grandparent can likely attest, the pull of being close to your grandchildren is a mighty one. So this spring was always earmarked as the time that made the most sense to put that move into motion for several reasons. Once the coronavirus became a big deal, it changed the math a little on how exactly we would all make this happen. But fortunately when the main things I do to earn a living—namely weddings and motorsport photography, but also family photography to a lesser extent—become banned for all intents and purposes, when your wife comes to you and asks if we can rent an RV to act as a self-contained quarantine mobile, drive four-thousand miles roundtrip, and help her mom pack, I've got nothing but time!
Under any other circumstances, it actually would be a ton of fun I think. Taking our time, stopping at roadside or near-roadside attractions to see things we might otherwise never get a chance to see, and putting together some of my somewhat unique knowledge of small towns in the Texas panhandle to good use (due to my spending almost five years working for the official travel magazine of Texas, Texas Highways.)
But of course, under these circumstances, it was in many ways what I have decided to dub 'a stress pancake.' Between my wife attempting to get work done to salvage what income we do still have during this crazy time, attempting to make progress with my daughter on her take-home work with schools being closed for the year, attempting to drive an RV during a record-breaking late winter storm and 45+ mph crosswinds for 70% of the trip, and packing up the house where my mother-in-law has lived for the past 20 years, and leaving the RV only to pump gas and hook up to power and water at our nightly KOA stops... it was a lot.
While I am not doing my normal work photographing people or events, I am always striving to work on my craft. Whether that is new techniques or forced limitations on my approach. With this trip I wanted to document, it will no doubt provide story fodder for many years to come, and perhaps one day my daughter will have the opportunity to regale her children and/or grandchildren with the story of the time she rode across a country in lockdown in a rented RV with her parents, her cat recently diagnosed with lymphoma, and her two guinea pigs to help her grandmother move. I limited myself to only using my iPhone for capturing and editing everything, and while I didn't take as many photos as I would've liked, and there are large chunks of the trip missed simply because I was driving, I think I did an okay job of capturing a sense of how it all went down.
But out wasn't all exhaustion, driving, stress and "my gosh why is central Texas so hot and humid in mid-April?!" There were moments of magic. Davis' Trading Post (the top image) and the wide open spaces of South Eastern Idaho, the bluebonnets covering the rural roadside's at golden hour in North Texas, talking about what serious art classes were like in college with my daughter and how critiques work. Hopefully those are the things she remembers, and takes away from this crazy endeavor.