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.
Like a lot of states around the country, Montana is now under a 'stay-at-home' order in hopes of combatting the spread of the Coronavirus. Thankfully, prior to that happening I was able to escape with the family to the in-laws in Northern Idaho for some extreme social distancing and some maternity photos in anticipation of another nephew!
Family photos can be tricky with a rambunctious two-year-old and a brother-in-law who sometimes acts like a two-year-old (joking!) but here's a little secret. Silly kiddos are infinitely more stressful on the family—and let's be honest, the mom primarily—than they are for the photographer. Oftentimes my favorite photos from family sessions are when the kid(s) are just goofing off and not following my direction or the pleas of their parents.
Anyway, I can't wait to meet the latest addition to our family, with the hope all of this COVID-19 stuff is largely behind us in a few months and life has returned to some semblance of "normal."
There are few things more satisfying to a photographer when their clients refer friends and family to you. One thing that comes awfully close though is when a fellow photographer refers their past clients to you in an emergency. The amount of trust involved in such an act is something I take extremely seriously, so when my friend Kiralee texted me after being stricken with the flu to see if I was available to handle some family portraits for Sam and her family when they weren't able to reschedule I was extremely humbled and glad I was able to help her out. On top of that, Sam and her family were a hoot, and it was such a pleasure working with them for some late fall photos.
This multi-generation family portrait session was a big helping of "it's a small world after all." If only because many of the individuals either grew up or still currently live in Austin, Texas, which is of course where I moved to Montana from. Odd that it would take a cross country move for me to meet people who live less than five miles away from my old address and other parts of Austin I frequented in my youth.
I'm fortunate that Northwest Montana isn't just a destination for weddings, but also family vacations and reunions. And one of the absolute best parts of being a photographer is it provides me the opportunity to meet such awesome people from all over the country.
The Flawn's were staying in Bigfork at Sentinel Pine, a beautiful rental with a neat history on Swan Lake and it was so fun to hang out with them for a couple of hours grabbing family portraits as well as candids as they enjoyed lake activities.