Have you ever heard of Porch Portraits? For the uninitiated, they are a portrait of a family taken on the front porch of their home or entrance of their building. They have also been known by other names like The Front Porch Project and “Porchraits,” the latter of which I wish I was witty enough to come up with myself.
I never heard of them before the pandemic hit, so I started to wonder if it was something done before. I assume it was likely done before, but I’m sure it has a new meaning with our current environment.
Where were you during the pandemic?
A friend asked me a couple of weeks ago if I was doing porch portraits yet. At that point, I never considered it. As a landscape photographer, doing something urban and architectural seems foreign to me. Almost unnerving. I’m used to sweeping vistas, vibrant natural colors, and particular lighting. A photo session that dismisses a lot of what I’ve trained for seemed like too much of a challenge.
But was it really?
After thinking about it for a while, I felt that it was a challenge I could face and overcome with a bit of research and planning. Photography deals a lot with framing, so instead of framing a shot between trees or mountains, it would instead be door frames and porch pillars. Instead of posing on rock outcrops, there will be posing on steps. Lighting challenges could also be overcome with a bit of planning – knowing which direction a house faces, what kind of light obstructions might be present (trees, porch covers, etc), and timing the sessions to make the best of the limitations with where the sun is in the sky.
In all reality, I found there is more similarity between my normal outdoor photo shoots and these porch portrait sessions. There is a subject, you compensate for framing and lighting, and you make a moment feel natural. However, there was one main thing that really stood out and sold me on the idea of doing porch portraits:
I’m capturing a moment in time.
The essence of what I do as a photographer is capturing a moment in time that can be remembered forever. With my niche being dog photography, I’m ensuring the short lifespan of a dog is never forgotten because I get to capture their essence with a portrait. What the porch portrait session does is the same.
Since we’re living in unprecedented times, discussions many years in the future will be “where were you during the pandemic?” Porch portraits capture that story in a single image. There is, of course, a place and time that is captured, but it’s also capturing a frame of mind and how people and their families are handling the situation. What you capture is never just a picture. It’s a story. A moment. When people ask you “where were you during the pandemic,” you can share your exact feeling at that time.
The angle I’m approaching porch portrait sessions is based on the feelings of the families. How are they feeling and what do they want to convey in their portraits? Do they want to convey a sense of “still having their shit together” amid the organized chaos? Perhaps they want to show a goofy side because a lack of “social norm-ing” has brought them out of their shells? Or maybe they want to keep it as a strict recollection of the time and don face masks? My goal is to tell the story of the family in a pandemic and document what they are thinking and feeling at the time.
Are porch portrait sessions a cause for concern?
Because of the nature of the pandemic, there is an obvious curiosity at play – are these sessions safe? Is it really a good idea to be out and about when you would be safer at home?
After deciding if porch portraits were a good idea for my skill set, my next consideration was the safety aspect.
After being in quarantine for over a month with continuous reading about safety precautions, I felt like I had a good idea of what I was up against. As a person of science and reasoning, as well as following the progression of safety standards from the health experts, I was comfortable with creating a structure for the photo session to make sure everyone involved remains safe.
But is it really that easy? Was my itch to get back to photography blinding my judgment?
While photographers like myself have the best intentions to help support the community, there is always the potential for mistakes to be made and have people get sick. I did a lot of research on how others were approaching their sessions and learned some dos and don’ts. What I was mostly looking for are the potential problems that could arise during a shoot, and things I can do to mitigate all of those problems.
Some of the problems cited are things like photographers knocking on the door or ringing doorbells, having close exposure to people walking past on sidewalks or streets, dogs running up to you for pets, and, something I have seen on countless newscasts, photographers going up to people to fix hair or poses. There have also been instances of photographers bringing props with them, and families inviting their extended family to be part of the portraits (introducing potentially susceptible older parents and/or creating additional exposure risks).
Because of these potential problems, I have been setting guidelines for how the photoshoot will be conducted to ensure safety responsible physical distancing. This includes everything from set session times with a simple text letting them know I’m there, strict mask-wearing for me, and ensuring maximum distance between myself and a family. As much as I’d love to smile, shake hands, and pass out stickers, these are social norms that will have to be bypassed to ensure safety.
Even though I am doing all I can to practice safe social distancing and minimizing any sort of risk involved, I do realize that “low risk” is not the same as “zero risk.” I am part of a community like everyone else that needs to take the same social responsibilities. And because of that, I must remain hyper-attentive to my actions at all times to mitigate any risk.
Why am I doing it?
So with all of the risks involved, why am I doing it? In a nutshell, I feel like it’s a good way to help support the community. I also feel like it’s a safer time to do so with most parts of the state opening back up to “safer-at-home” recommendations and a lot more safety experience and information under our belts.
Because there aren’t many opportunities to volunteer, and I have a limited budget to simply donate, I want to give what I do have available and lend my professional skill set to the community. It’s a weird time, and one way to assist and help keep spirits up is being able to provide families with a portrait for them to remember what it took to get through the pandemic.
Overall, all I really want is to give the community something to look forward to when all we can really do is stay at home.