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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Photographing Airport Arrivals – New Adoptive Families

Toronto Ontario Adoption Photography China
I began photographing my friends at the airport arriving home with their newly adopted children about a year and a half ago.  Now as a fledgling business these micro sessions hold a valuable place in my business plan for two main reasons.  Firstly this is where my two passions collide, adoption and photography, and I just feel so lucky to be able to have them mesh.  The raw emotion of stepping off that plane with your child on your home soil for the first time is just brimming with emotion.  I am an adoptive mom myself and each time I stand as a witness to this event I am moved to tears of joy for the parents and family.   I have photographed grandparents, siblings and even one father meeting this long awaited for child in the flesh for the first time.  It is truly a gift and honour for me to be able to point my camera at these events.

I do this service completely voluntarily, only asking for the $12 to cover my airport parking (darn that parking is expensive!).  Even though I don’t gain any financial compensation from these shoots I do gain amazing referrals. The main reason I get so many referrals is because almost 99% of the moms first words to me when they see me is “I wish you had not come, we are a mess!”, even though they asked me to be there.  At this point I let them know that everyone tells me that, don’t worry, I won’t let that show.  I keep my promise and when they match up their memory of how they felt with the image they are so impressed.  Honestly they feel a thousand times worse than they really look, they are actually radiating joy that no makeup or edits could ever hope to duplicate.

To be fair this is not your typical photo shoot.  There is no coordinating outfits, makeup, or even brushed teeth.  At the point I meet these parents they have survived two weeks isolated in a foreign country with a child who is old enough to know they are being removed from everything they have ever known, and then they flew 12-15 hours only to find me on the other side of the gate with my camera out.  That flight will bring even the most experienced parent to their knees, there are diaper blow outs, nonstop screaming, sleep deprivation, drool and a host of other unmentionables that are just part of the journey for these brand spanking new parents. 

Toronto Ontario Adoption Photography China


If this type of photography interests you here are few tips to keep in mind:

  •  A typical airport arrival shoot lasts about 5-20 minutes of shooting time.  Give yourself about an hour to make sure you are there for the gate exit and check the flight status often though out the day, one family was about 2 hours early and I almost missed them.
  • Try to find the waiting family ahead of time, they will probably have signs or balloons, or ask for their photos ahead of time to help you spot them in the crowd.  I introduce myself to everyone waiting with a balloon or teddy bear.  Even if they are not the family I came for I introduce myself, give them my card and snap a few for them after I am done with the primary family who requested me.

  • Be a fly on the wall.  You will likely not get one single posed shot, this is life style shooting to the extreme.  It moves fast, the lighting sucks and you don’t get a redo.

  • Use a zoom lens.  You need to be a witness to this event not an orchestrator.

  • Don’t use a flash.  Many of these children have never left the one room orphanage in their entire life.  This airport experience is already traumatic to the extreme so don’t add to that with a flash in their eyes.  Also you don’t want to give the family a feeling that they are being documented, it will interfere with the real emotions that are playing out.  A flash popping can remind them they are on film.

  • Try to keep your interaction with the child to the minimum.  They are still learning who mom and dad are and using typical toddler photography tricks like bribes, treats, or trying to get eye contact with them is inappropriate.  I suggest bringing them a flag, this always gets them looking where I want them to look.  I wave it above my head while I get a nice close up, then I give it to them to play with.  Very patriotic too.  I get them in bulk at the dollar store and send each child home with one as a welcome gift.  Mom or dad can also stand behind you to bring baby’s attention to your direction, if they want, just leave that up to them.  Another trick I use is I speak Mandarin to them.  I only know about 10 words but they seem to get a kick out of it.

  •  If you would like to photograph a new family contact adoption agencies in you area to volunteer or ask an adoptive family to spread the word for you.  You will love the challenge and the experience!

Toronto Ontario Adoption Photography China

Toronto Ontario Adoption Photography China

Toronto Ontario Adoption Photography China
Just a little reminder to all, if you are going to be passing through Toronto International Airport or it is your final destination, please contact me, I would love to be there for your arrival!

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6 comments:

  1. I love homecoming photos! Laughed about your comment re: the lack of coordinating outfits and brushed teeth - that is so true!

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  2. You are so fortunate to have found this niche -- such a happy occasion to share with these families. :)

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  3. Hmmmmm... wheels spinning, wheels spinning...
    thx!

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  4. Nancy one additional bonus is it seems to be my "cure" for baby fever. Well a temporary elixir any ways :)

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  5. Love these photos! I love that you are able to capture such great photos in an environment where the lighting is horrible! To bad you don't live in Atlanta because I could use great photos like this when we come home!

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  6. Even though we looked worse for wear when we returned from or trip, I still regret we didn't have someone take pictures for us! Such a wonderful gift you are giving these families.

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