Photographing​ ​Military​ ​Homecomings

Photographing​ ​military​ ​homecomings​ ​is​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most​ ​rewarding​ ​and​ ​wonderful types​ ​of​ ​shoots​ ​there​ ​are.​ ​I​ ​consider​ ​it​ ​a​ ​huge​ ​perk​ ​of​ ​living​ ​in​ ​a​ ​military​ ​town​ ​that​ ​I get​ ​to​ ​shoot​ ​them​ ​on​ ​occasion.​ ​However,​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​I​ ​was​ ​asked​ ​to​ ​photograph one,​ ​I​ ​was​ ​clueless!​ ​There​ ​was​ ​only​ ​one​ ​blog​ ​that​ ​roughly​ ​outlined​ ​a​ ​”how​ ​to”​ ​so​ ​I turned​ ​to​ ​trial​ ​and​ ​error.​ ​I​ ​do​ ​understand​ ​why​ ​it's​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​make​ ​a​ ​guide​ ​for​ ​this because​ ​every​ ​homecoming​ ​is​ ​different​ ​so​ ​there's​ ​no​ ​one​ ​size​ ​fits​ ​all​ ​session. However,​ ​I​ ​will​ ​try​ ​to​ ​give​ ​aspiring​ ​photographers​ ​and​ ​friends​ ​who​ ​were​ ​”voluntold” to​ ​hold​ ​a​ ​camera,​ ​a​ ​basic​ ​rundown​ ​of​ ​how​ ​to​ ​get​ ​shareable​ ​photos. First​ ​of​ ​all,​ ​my​ ​disclaimer:​ ​I​ ​know​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​the​ ​authority​ ​on​ ​this​ ​subject​ ​and every​ ​homecoming​ ​is​ ​different​ ​so​ ​take​ ​my​ ​plan​ ​with​ ​a​ ​grain​ ​of​ ​salt!​ ​Homecomings are​ ​different​ ​between​ ​branches,​ ​bases,​ ​units,​ ​and​ ​deployments.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​sharing​ ​my experience​ ​with​ ​a​ ​Marine​ ​Corps​ ​air​ ​station​ ​where​ ​most​ ​of​ ​my​ ​experience​ ​has​ ​been with​ ​squadrons​ ​flying​ ​in.

Let​ ​me​ ​first​ ​define​ ​the​ ​type​ ​of​ ​shoot​ ​I​ ​am​ ​talking​ ​about.​ ​A​ ​military​ ​homecoming​ ​is when​ ​a​ ​service​ ​member​ ​comes​ ​home​ ​from​ ​a​ ​deployment​ ​and​ ​their​ ​spouse, significant​ ​other,​ ​family​ ​sees​ ​them​ ​for​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​in​ ​months.​ ​It's​ ​a​ ​very​ ​emotional day​ ​with​ ​tears,​ ​flag​ ​waving,​ ​and​ ​photographs​ ​to​ ​remember​ ​the​ ​day.​ ​Often​ ​the service​ ​member​ ​has​ ​missed​ ​holidays​ ​and​ ​important​ ​dates​ ​and​ ​even​ ​the​ ​birth​ ​of their​ ​child.

Before​ ​the​ ​day:

Be​ ​prepared​ ​for​ ​all​ ​plans​ ​to​ ​change​ ​at​ ​the​ ​drop​ ​of​ ​a​ ​hat.​ ​Homecomings​ ​are notoriously​ ​late/changed​ ​at​ ​the​ ​last​ ​minute/3​ ​weeks​ ​late.​ ​They​ ​also​ ​can​ ​come​ ​in​ ​at
all​ ​hours​ ​of​ ​the​ ​day.​ ​It​ ​can​ ​be​ ​similar​ ​to​ ​planning​ ​for​ ​birth​ ​photography​ ​in​ ​the​ ​block of​ ​time​ ​you​ ​must​ ​be​ ​willing​ ​to​ ​be​ ​available.​ ​Most​ ​people​ ​will​ ​be​ ​looking​ ​for​ ​a photographer​ ​once​ ​they​ ​have​ ​a​ ​general​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​when​ ​their​ ​service​ ​member​ ​is​ ​due home.​ ​Be​ ​sure​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​in​ ​contact​ ​with​ ​the​ ​client​ ​and​ ​stress​ ​it​ ​is​ ​important​ ​to​ ​keep you​ ​updated.​ ​Also,​ ​a​ ​note​ ​here:​ ​homecoming​ ​date,​ ​time,​ ​who,​ ​where,​ ​is​ ​all​ ​secret stuff.​ ​You​ ​can't​ ​be​ ​putting​ ​this​ ​information​ ​out​ ​anywhere! Have​ ​a​ ​plan​ ​of​ ​how​ ​you​ ​will​ ​get​ ​on​ ​base​ ​and​ ​to​ ​the​ ​area​ ​of​ ​the​ ​homecoming.​ ​If​ ​you do​ ​not​ ​have​ ​a​ ​military​ ​ID,​ ​the​ ​spouse​ ​will​ ​need​ ​to​ ​sponsor​ ​you​ ​on​ ​to​ ​base​ ​and​ ​this will​ ​need​ ​to​ ​be​ ​planned​ ​ahead​ ​of​ ​time.

I​ ​like​ ​to​ ​be​ ​there​ ​30​ ​minutes​ ​before​ ​the​ ​service​ ​member​ ​is​ ​supposed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​there. Rarely​ ​are​ ​they​ ​early,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​terribly​ ​nerve​ ​racking​ ​to​ ​think​ ​about​ ​missing​ ​it!

Any​ ​camera​ ​will​ ​work!​ ​It​ ​is​ ​not​ ​the​ ​gear​ ​that​ ​matters!​ ​Personally,​ ​I​ ​shoot​ ​with​ ​a​ ​full frame​ ​dslr.​ ​For​ ​portraits​ ​I​ ​am​ ​a​ ​prime​ ​lens​ ​user​ ​but​ ​for​ ​homecomings​ ​I​ ​get​ ​out​ ​my 24-70mm​ ​zoom​ ​and​ ​70-200mm​ ​zoom.​ ​The​ ​reunion​ ​happens​ ​so​ ​fast​ ​(and​ ​everyone runs!)​ ​that​ ​I​ ​find​ ​that​ ​when​ ​I​ ​have​ ​shot​ ​prime​ ​I​ ​didn't​ ​have​ ​enough​ ​time​ ​to​ ​”zoom with​ ​my​ ​feet”​ ​fast​ ​enough​ ​to​ ​catch​ ​the​ ​action.​ ​For​ ​evening​ ​time,​ ​I​ ​also​ ​bring​ ​a​ ​high speed​ ​sync​ ​flash​ ​that​ ​I​ ​put​ ​on​ ​my​ ​hot​ ​shoe​ ​with​ ​a​ ​circular​ ​flash​ ​diffuser.​ ​Shoes​ ​you can​ ​move​ ​quickly​ ​in​ ​are​ ​a​ ​must!​ ​An​ ​extra​ ​I​ ​always​ ​like​ ​to​ ​bring​ ​are​ ​little​ ​American flags.​ ​There's​ ​not​ ​much​ ​that's​ ​cuter​ ​than​ ​a​ ​little​ ​kid​ ​waving​ ​a​ ​flag​ ​waiting​ ​for​ ​their parent​ ​and​ ​it​ ​also​ ​makes​ ​back​ ​of​ ​the​ ​head​ ​hugging​ ​shots​ ​more​ ​useable​ ​with​ ​the addition​ ​of​ ​a​ ​flag​ ​in​ ​their​ ​hand.​ ​Also,​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​to​ ​check​ ​the​ ​weather! Homecomings​ ​happen​ ​rain​ ​or​ ​shine​ ​(as​ ​you​ ​can​ ​see​ ​from​ ​the​ ​example​ ​homecoming I​ ​used)​ ​so​ ​bring​ ​the​ ​appropriate​ ​rain​ ​gear.

The​ ​big​ ​day:
After​ ​weeks​ ​of​ ​coordinating​ ​and​ ​schedule​ ​changes,​ ​you're​ ​finally​ ​at​ ​the​ ​designated homecoming​ ​area​ ​and​ ​the​ ​service​ ​member​ ​is​ ​on​ ​their​ ​way​ ​home.​ ​Now​ ​what?​ ​First thing,​ ​get​ ​your​ ​gear​ ​ready.​ ​Like​ ​I​ ​said​ ​earlier,​ ​things​ ​change​ ​and​ ​change​ ​fast!​ ​Get your​ ​settings​ ​set​ ​ahead​ ​of​ ​time​ ​(taking​ ​into​ ​consideration​ ​changing​ ​light)​ ​and​ ​make sure​ ​you​ ​have​ ​a​ ​charged​ ​battery​ ​in.​ ​Second,​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​your​ ​client.​ ​The​ ​significant other​ ​will​ ​most​ ​likely​ ​be​ ​nervous.​ ​Doesn't​ ​matter​ ​if​ ​it's​ ​their​ ​first​ ​homecoming​ ​or forth,​ ​most​ ​everyone​ ​is​ ​nervous.​ ​They​ ​are​ ​worried​ ​about​ ​if​ ​they​ ​got​ ​everything​ ​on their​ ​cleaning​ ​checklist​ ​done,​ ​if​ ​they'll​ ​recognize​ ​them,​ ​if​ ​the​ ​kids​ ​will​ ​be​ ​scared​ ​of him,​ ​etc​ ​and​ ​on​ ​top​ ​of​ ​all​ ​that​ ​they​ ​realize​ ​how​ ​ridiculous​ ​it​ ​is​ ​that​ ​they​ ​are​ ​nervous to​ ​see​ ​their​ ​significant​ ​other.​ ​I​ ​like​ ​to​ ​talk​ ​them​ ​through​ ​exactly​ ​what​ ​will​ ​happen and​ ​what​ ​I​ ​want​ ​them​ ​to​ ​do​ ​so​ ​that​ ​they​ ​have​ ​something​ ​to​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​rather​ ​than worrying​ ​about​ ​how​ ​they​ ​look.​ ​If​ ​they​ ​have​ ​kids​ ​I​ ​try​ ​to​ ​play​ ​with​ ​the​ ​kids​ ​because​ ​a) it​ ​is​ ​hard​ ​to​ ​parent​ ​when​ ​you​ ​are​ ​so​ ​nervous​ ​yourself​ ​and​ ​b)​ ​if​ ​you​ ​bond​ ​with​ ​the kids,​ ​they​ ​are​ ​way​ ​more​ ​likely​ ​to​ ​point​ ​their​ ​happy​ ​smiles​ ​in​ ​your​ ​direction.

Capturing​ ​waiting​ ​pictures:
It​ ​can​ ​be​ ​easy​ ​to​ ​go​ ​overkill​ ​on​ ​the​ ​waiting​ ​pictures,​ ​especially​ ​if​ ​you're​ ​waiting​ ​for 30​ ​minutes​ ​plus.​ ​If​ ​there​ ​is​ ​kids,​ ​I​ ​keep​ ​most​ ​of​ ​my​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​the​ ​kids​ ​because​ ​that's what​ ​the​ ​clients​ ​care​ ​most​ ​about.​ ​I​ ​do​ ​make​ ​sure​ ​to​ ​get​ ​ones​ ​of​ ​the​ ​significant​ ​other because​ ​they​ ​can't​ ​get​ ​those​ ​images​ ​on​ ​their​ ​cell​ ​phone.​ ​A​ ​tip:​ ​the​ ​client​ ​standing just​ ​ ​inside​ ​of​ ​the​ ​hanger/building​ ​looking​ ​out​ ​at​ ​you​ ​as​ ​you​ ​stand​ ​outside​ ​the building​ ​makes​ ​for​ ​some​ ​gorgeous​ ​light!​ ​Shots​ ​that​ ​I​ ​always​ ​try​ ​to​ ​get:

● standing​ ​and​ ​watching​ ​the​ ​sky/distance​ ​where​ ​they're​ ​coming​ ​from
● Signs​ ​if​ ​they​ ​made/brought​ ​them
● Significant​ ​other's​ ​hands​ ​(many​ ​people​ ​nervously​ ​play​ ​with​ ​their​ ​ring​ ​or​ ​the flag​ ​you​ ​gave​ ​them​ ​earlier)
● Portraits​ ​of​ ​the​ ​kids
● Kids​ ​playing
● Pointing/waving​ ​to​ ​the​ ​plane/bus
● Aircraft​ ​flying​ ​over​ ​if​ ​they​ ​are​ ​coming​ ​in​ ​on​ ​one

The​ ​big​ ​moment:
As​ ​I​ ​am​ ​talking​ ​through​ ​expectations,​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​the​ ​client​ ​to​ ​move​ ​to​ ​the​ ​side​ ​of​ ​the crowd​ ​so​ ​that​ ​we​ ​have​ ​more​ ​space​ ​to​ ​work​ ​with.​ ​I​ ​explain​ ​it​ ​as​ ​I​ ​would​ ​hate​ ​to​ ​miss THE​ ​shot​ ​because​ ​someone​ ​stepped​ ​between​ ​me​ ​and​ ​the​ ​couple.​ ​However,​ ​I'm always​ ​prepared​ ​that​ ​they​ ​will​ ​forget​ ​all​ ​of​ ​that​ ​and​ ​just​ ​beeline​ ​when​ ​they​ ​see​ ​their service​ ​member.​ ​Usually​ ​I​ ​have​ ​on​ ​my​ ​24-70mm​ ​so​ ​that​ ​I​ ​can​ ​be​ ​pretty​ ​close​ ​to them.​ ​If​ ​it's​ ​only​ ​a​ ​few​ ​people​ ​I​ ​might​ ​put​ ​on​ ​my​ ​70-200​ ​so​ ​I​ ​can​ ​give​ ​them​ ​some space,​ ​but​ ​honestly,​ ​they​ ​will​ ​barely​ ​realize​ ​you're​ ​there​ ​even​ ​if​ ​you're​ ​only​ ​a​ ​foot away.​ ​I​ ​like​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​an​ ​aperture​ ​of​ ​f5​ ​or​ ​f5.6​ ​but​ ​going​ ​up​ ​to​ ​f8​ ​if​ ​there's​ ​a​ ​number of​ ​kids.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​just​ ​my​ ​shooting​ ​style​ ​because​ ​I​ ​like​ ​to​ ​isolate​ ​the​ ​client​ ​against​ ​all the​ ​other​ ​reunions.​ ​I​ ​see​ ​it​ ​as​ ​this​ ​is​ ​the​ ​reason​ ​that​ ​they​ ​hired​ ​a​ ​photographer instead​ ​of​ ​just​ ​handing​ ​their​ ​phone​ ​to​ ​someone​ ​standing​ ​around.​ ​Then​ ​I​ ​like​ ​to boost​ ​the​ ​shutter​ ​speed​ ​to​ ​keep​ ​up​ ​with​ ​the​ ​clients​ ​running​ ​and​ ​compensate​ ​for​ ​my fast​ ​movements​ ​as​ ​well.​ ​ISO​ ​I​ ​will​ ​often​ ​set​ ​to​ ​auto​ ​if​ ​there's​ ​a​ ​chance​ ​the​ ​client​ ​will move​ ​from​ ​sun​ ​to​ ​shade.​ ​Once​ ​we​ ​are​ ​given​ ​the​ ​go​ ​ahead​ ​to​ ​meet​ ​them,​ ​we​ ​start walking​ ​slowly​ ​and​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​that​ ​the​ ​client​ ​wait​ ​until​ ​they​ ​see​ ​their​ ​service​ ​member before​ ​they​ ​start​ ​running.​ ​I​ ​keep​ ​my​ ​camera's​ ​focus​ ​on​ ​their​ ​face​ ​so​ ​that​ ​I​ ​can capture​ ​that​ ​moment​ ​when​ ​they​ ​see​ ​their​ ​service​ ​member.​ ​A​ ​good​ ​thing​ ​to​ ​remind clients​ ​beforehand​ ​is​ ​to​ ​find​ ​out​ ​which​ ​aircraft/bus​ ​they​ ​will​ ​be​ ​arriving​ ​on.​ ​It​ ​saves a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​uncertainty​ ​that​ ​way.​ ​Then​ ​I​ ​start​ ​to​ ​book​ ​it​ ​towards​ ​the​ ​person​ ​they're smiling​ ​at.​ ​I​ ​like​ ​to​ ​be​ ​behind​ ​and​ ​to​ ​one​ ​side​ ​of​ ​the​ ​service​ ​member​ ​so​ ​that​ ​I​ ​can capture​ ​the​ ​expression​ ​of​ ​the​ ​kids/significant​ ​other​ ​as​ ​they​ ​run​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other​ ​(#1). Then​ ​I​ ​try​ ​to​ ​move​ ​in​ ​a​ ​semi​ ​circle​ ​around​ ​them​ ​(2-3)to​ ​get​ ​a​ ​side​ ​view​ ​for​ ​their​ ​kiss (4)​ ​and​ ​then​ ​his​ ​expression​ ​as​ ​they​ ​hug​ ​(5).​ ​Below​ ​is​ ​a​ ​crude​ ​drawing​ ​where​ ​I​ ​am yellow,​ ​service​ ​member​ ​is​ ​dark​ ​blue,​ ​significant​ ​other/family​ ​are​ ​light​ ​blue:



After​ ​that​ ​first​ ​embrace,​ ​I​ ​will​ ​continue​ ​shooting​ ​as​ ​they​ ​talk​ ​a​ ​bit.​ ​If​ ​it's​ ​not​ ​intrusive, I​ ​will​ ​introduce​ ​myself.​ ​Then​ ​after​ ​a​ ​few​ ​minutes​ ​I​ ​will​ ​try​ ​to​ ​take​ ​a​ ​family​ ​picture​ ​in front​ ​of​ ​the​ ​aircraft/unit​ ​insignia,​ ​making​ ​sure​ ​to​ ​also​ ​get​ ​one​ ​of​ ​service​ ​member and​ ​each​ ​kid​ ​if​ ​there​ ​are​ ​kids​ ​there.​ ​Other​ ​shots​ ​I​ ​like​ ​to​ ​include:
● Closeup​ ​of​ ​holding​ ​hands
● Service​ ​member​ ​playing​ ​with​ ​kids
● Shot​ ​of​ ​aircraft​ ​if​ ​they​ ​flew​ ​in​ ​on​ ​one
● Service​ ​member's​ ​bags
● Family​ ​walking​ ​away
● Unit​ ​insignia

Once​ ​I​ ​have​ ​those​ ​shots​ ​I​ ​will​ ​usually​ ​just​ ​wave​ ​to​ ​my​ ​client​ ​and​ ​leave.​ ​I​ ​don't​ ​want to​ ​intrude​ ​on​ ​their​ ​special​ ​time​ ​and​ ​the​ ​service​ ​member​ ​usually​ ​just​ ​wants​ ​to​ ​get out​ ​of​ ​there​ ​:)​ ​I​ ​will​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​the​ ​client​ ​beforehand​ ​as​ ​we're​ ​discussing​ ​priority​ ​shots​ ​to let​ ​them​ ​know​ ​that's​ ​what​ ​I​ ​will​ ​be​ ​doing. Another​ ​situation​ ​that​ ​occasionally​ ​happens​ ​is​ ​the​ ​service​ ​member​ ​will​ ​arrive​ ​home
on​ ​a​ ​commercial​ ​airplane.​ ​So​ ​meeting​ ​the​ ​service​ ​member​ ​will​ ​take​ ​place​ ​just outside​ ​of​ ​security​ ​at​ ​an​ ​airport.​ ​I​ ​recommend​ ​calling​ ​the​ ​airport​ ​security​ ​to​ ​ask​ ​if there's​ ​any​ ​restrictions.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​never​ ​had​ ​a​ ​problem​ ​but​ ​they​ ​certainly​ ​appreciated knowing​ ​I​ ​was​ ​coming​ ​with​ ​camera​ ​equipment.​ ​For​ ​this​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​homecoming​ ​I​ ​will usually​ ​bring​ ​my​ ​flash​ ​and​ ​bounce​ ​it​ ​as​ ​the​ ​airport​ ​near​ ​me​ ​has​ ​low​ ​ceilings​ ​and​ ​low lighting.

Hopefully​ ​this​ ​has​ ​given​ ​you​ ​the​ ​confidence​ ​to​ ​try​ ​your​ ​first​ ​military​ ​homecoming shoot!​ ​I​ ​tried​ ​to​ ​be​ ​as​ ​detailed​ ​as​ ​possible​ ​because​ ​I​ ​appreciate​ ​details!​ ​Please​ ​don't let​ ​this​ ​overwhelm​ ​you​ ​though!​ ​Most​ ​important​ ​is​ ​this:​ ​the​ ​client​ ​will​ ​not​ ​care​ ​about the​ ​quality​ ​if​ ​you​ ​capture​ ​generally​ ​what​ ​happened.​ ​They​ ​will​ ​not​ ​notice​ ​grain,​ ​or harsh​ ​shadows,​ ​or​ ​uneven​ ​lighting,​ ​or​ ​any​ ​other​ ​condition​ ​that​ ​makes photographers​ ​cringe.​ ​All​ ​they​ ​will​ ​notice​ ​is​ ​that​ ​you​ ​captured​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​most emotional​ ​and​ ​special​ ​days​ ​of​ ​their​ ​lives!​ ​If​ ​you​ ​take​ ​nothing​ ​away​ ​from​ ​this​ ​article but​ ​this,​ ​I​ ​have​ ​accomplished​ ​my​ ​goal!​ ​Good​ ​luck​ ​shooting!

Kim Habecker is a mom-tographer and military spouse currently living in North Carolina. She is a portrait photographer on the weekends and mom to two little girls the rest of the time. You can find her on Facebook (Kim Habecker Photography) or her website kimhphoto.com.

1 thought on “Photographing​ ​Military​ ​Homecomings”

  1. An important thing to note with the average Army homecoming ceremony, is that it will usually involve dozens if not over 100 soldiers arriving at the same time, and they will likely march into the waiting area in formation, giving the family members an opportunity to spot their SM before being allowed to physically reunite.

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