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All in the Family for Father's Day

Courtney Slazinik uses the new Tamron 16-300mm VC PZD Macro lens to capture authentic images of Dad.

By Jenn Gidman
Images by Courtney Slazinik

Fathers do so much for the ones they love: They provide for and protect, know how to get goofy when it's time to wind down and have some fun, and offer shoulders to cry on and hands to hold when things get tough. What better way to honor your own husband, dad, brother, or any other special father you know than to capture relaxed, natural-looking photos that tell a story of his unique personality, as well as his relationships and interactions with those closest to him. Courtney Slazinik offers her best photo tips for documenting all of those special moments.

Capture images of Dad from your child's perspective.
It's important for me to make sure my images tell the stories of my kids' childhoods. My husband and daughter always play catch together in the yard, for example, and while I have a bunch of photos with me off to the side, taking pictures as they throw the ball back and forth, I wanted to change the perspective a bit in this image. I decided to peek over my daughter's shoulder so I could see her dad exactly as she sees him when they're playing.

I did have to tell them to throw the ball very gently and to let me know if she wasn't going to be able to catch it, since I wasn't really paying attention to where the ball was going! The thing that helped me the most was using the 16-300 lens for this image: I was able to back up far enough, but still zoom in so I could get the shot I wanted without true damage to myself or my gear.

© Courtney Slazinik
Taken at F/4.5, 1/320th of a second, ISO 280.

Forget about the faces.
Dads can be as bad as kids at not wanting their pictures taken. That's why I'll often try to photograph them from a perspective that doesn't show their faces, so they don't have to sit there with a frozen, self-conscious smile on their face. That way, there's no eye-rolling or that constant "are we done yet?"

This photo of them is the perfect example of that. My husband and 4-year-old were just taking a walk with me following behind them. I whispered her name at one point so I could get her to turn around, because I wanted to show that character trait of her little lips, chocolate around them and all, like she's peeking back at me. I had thought about cleaning her face before we took the picture, but that's exactly how she was in that moment, so that's how I wanted to capture it. I also love how his big hand is holding tightly onto her tiny hand—it shows their relationship and how he's always there to protect her.

© Courtney Slazinik
Taken at F/4.8, 1/320th of a second, ISO 280.

Document Dad's interactions with the kids from an outsider's perspective—literally.
I'm often taking photos when I'm in the room with them, standing above them and next to them and having them do all kinds of poses, but I also love being able to capture those moments where they don't know I'm there, like when he's reading them a bedtime story—one of those daily routines that you may take for granted now but look back on later with nostalgia.

I'll take the photo from outside the room so I don't disturb that sweet moment, using the door to frame my shot and show what's going on as they're gathered around him. (For this photo, I did have to move the door back and forth until I had the shot framed exactly the way I wanted it.) It's another type of image where you really have to ask nothing of your subjects, so even if they spied me sneaking a photo, they probably wouldn't care. And it adds visual interest, because you feel like you're peeking into a secret, quiet time that no one else gets to witness.

Lighting can be challenging for this type of image. It was bedtime and dark outside when I took this photo, so I was dealing with overhead lighting instead of natural light (which I prefer to shoot in). I had to make sure my white balance was correct: If that's off, then your image will have a yellow cast to it instead of the natural white that your eye sees.

© Courtney Slazinik
Taken at F/3.5, 1/125th of a second, ISO 9000.

Set up your timer for an on-the-fly photo that's true to your family.
Living in the world we live in, with Pinterest and social media, we have this idea that in a family portrait, everyone has to be in coordinating clothes with hair nicely brushed and smiling perfectly for the camera. Those photos are needed in the family album, especially for a holiday like Father's Day where you want to have at least one photo with everyone together, but it's just as important for me to capture our family in our everyday moments.

The way I'll do this is by setting my timer and gathering us all for a quick pic—and I don't worry what the neighbors are thinking as we're laughing and pulling ourselves together to get the photo. No one needs to be wearing matching outfits, and you don't have to seek out the "ideal" location. The best family photos also don't have to be technically perfect—instead, they should simply capture the essence of your family and everyone's different personalities.

For this photo, I couldn't find my tripod, so I put my camera on a kitchen stool in front of the outside step and set the timer. No one had to "get ready": I just said, "Come on, we're doing a family photo!" It wasn't stressful, and it took just five minutes. I'm sure someone has something on their face, and there may be holes showing in someone's clothes, but that's our family the way we are during the day-to-day. Surprisingly, everyone here actually is looking at the camera, which I usually don't have high hopes for!

© Courtney Slazinik
Taken at F/5.0, 1/125th of a second, ISO 400.

Grab a photo of Dad coming home.
When their father walks through the door at the end of the day, most kids go running to smother him with hugs. Get ready to photograph this everyday ritual, so special because it captures the relationship between your kids and their dad, as well as the emotion and excitement in that moment.

Study your kids' routines and how they interact with Dad on a regular basis so you can predict how they're going to approach him. I know, for example, that my 4-year-old starts running as soon as the door begins to open and she knows it's him. (Maybe have Dad give you a heads-up when he pulls into the driveway so you can be positioned in place with your camera and still get an authentic image.)

It can definitely be tricky for a shot like this, because the light inside is often very different from the light outside. That's why I was completely fine with blowing out the background outside because I wanted the light inside to be properly exposed. All I had to do was make sure my shutter speed was fast enough to freeze my daughter's motion—young kids like this (even babies and toddlers!) move so fast.

© Courtney Slazinik
Taken at F/3.5, 1/200th of a second, ISO 1100.

Give Dad a break by photographing the details that make him…him.
This is a technique I often use to document my kids' stuff: I'll photograph a toy or a book, or even a lone shoe lying on the floor. We don't think of doing that as often with adults because it doesn't seem as "cute." But by photographing an item that shows who Dad was or what he liked doing when the kids were growing up—maybe a pair of work boots or a baseball card collection, for example—it's something that the kids will look back on one day and say, "Hey, I remember Dad doing that!" or "Remember how much he loved the Cardinals?"

It's also an easy photo to capture when Dad's not around or you don't want to bother him for yet another picture. You can take your time to find what you want to photograph (either something already lying perfectly in position or an item you place yourself), as well as the right light, without getting anyone else involved. For this particular photo, I decided to keep it clean and simple so the viewer would be drawn to the work boots; I was able to zoom in and out with the 16-300 until I found just the right composition. Like I said for the last image, I have no problem blowing out backgrounds to keep my subject properly exposed, which I did again here. My house is covered in white curtains, which works out great when I'm taking pictures by the windows. There's no color cast, which makes my life much easier.

© Courtney Slazinik
Taken at F/3.5, 1/200th of a second, ISO 3200.

To see more of Courtney Slazinik's work, go to http://clickitupanotch.com.