You see those beautiful emotional images of a solider reuniting with his wife and children; tears running down faces, arms wide open... And you think to yourself... "I wish I could photograph a homecoming!"
Photographing Military Homecomings are NOT for the faint-hearted. They require dedication, LOTS of flexibility, long hours, and most importantly, a quick trigger finger. When you book a homecoming you DO NOT know the date and time. You may get a month or two as an estimate. And sometimes, that will get extended three or four times like the USS Abraham Lincoln did this January. Sometimes, they end up overlapping with sessions already on the books and, from time to time, OTHER HOMECOMINGS. Sometimes, it even means dropping your kids off at the sitter for a late-night arrival or even calling the sitter and having to ask them to stay for another 4 hours because the homecoming has been delayed.
I'll be honest, I am never fully prepared to photograph a Homecoming. I check my camera bag about 20 separate times; extra memory cards, check; extra batteries, check; external light, check... Just before leaving the house. I still get nervous and shaky the moments before the Sailors or Marines are released. Even after 50+ Homecomings, I get the jitters. I tell myself over and over again the best lighting angles, ask my clients questions about if they're a "runner or jumper" so I can make sure I am ready to capture that; check my camera settings over and over. It's INTENSE and emotional. I can only imagine how my client is feeling at that exact moment.
You will need to become a backbone and shoulder to cry on for your client.
They are as nervous as ever. They made lots of plans to ensure the day would be perfect. Spent hours and days searching for the perfect outfit, children's outfits, hairstyles, nail color, and perfecting their homecoming sign. All to hope their Photographer would capture every second perfectly in photo form. And through all of this, they're also worried about YOU.
Will you flake out last minute, will you miss a moment? Will you ghost them and run off with their deposit? Did you double book on accident, or on purpose? What happens if you're not available because you have something "more important" to photograph like a wedding? The list and worries go on and on.
It is up to YOU to have a strong and reliable back up plan. Its also up to YOU to reassure your client of your ability, dedication, and desire to be there no matter the time of day or the weather and no matter your prior obligations. You will be THERE. With THEM. Through all of the emotions, tears, hugs, and kisses to document everything as it is for them to hold onto and remember for years to come.
So now I will ask, do YOU want to photograph Homecomings? Are you ready?
If you do decide to, here are a few other quick tips:
1. Be VERY flexible with dates and times.
2. Only book ONE family per unit/ship/squadron/platoon.
3. Know the security requirements for the base you're going to.
4. Be PRESENT but give space.
5. Give same day sneak peeks! If you don't, they'll just use a cell phone photo.
6. Lastly, enjoy it!
Best wishes on your Photography journey,
FC2 Morgan Liberatore USN
Wife, Mother, Sailor, Photographer