The official definition of the term heirloom is “a valuable object that has belonged to a family for several generations.” Where one may believe this applies to jewelry that has been passed down from generation to generation, or any other such object, photographs can also be heirlooms. Capturing these types of images constitute as heirloom photography, and it’s actually more common now than you may think! That is because it doesn’t matter if the object considered an heirloom is purely sentimental or if it is worth money. The point is that it carries memories and stories about a person or a particular time.
The purpose of an heirloom photograph is to forever immortalize a significant moment of one’s family history. It can be a photograph of great grandparents on their engagement night, a whole generational family photograph, and more. An important capture showcasing a different time to future generations!
What Are the Characteristics of Heirloom Photography?
When looking at what is seen as quintessential heirloom photographs, you may think that the common thread between them all is that the image is either black and white or sepia! While this is true for many of them, it is not true for all of them. This is because whether or not the photograph is in color or it is monotone, it doesn’t impact the image’s status as an heirloom.
Many heirloom photographs are black and white due to the time period in which they were shot, in which case, capturing modern heirloom photographs in color may be a better reflection of the times! The sepia images are due to either sepia film being used (another example of the time) or black and white images that had become to turn brown due to age and lack of care.
The characteristics that are truly reflected in all heirloom images is the subject matter- family. An heirloom photograph is intended to remind or reflect upon how one may have felt to be a certain age, at an important event, or with a special person. They don’t necessarily need to be technically profound as they do emotionally meaningful.
Another characteristic that is important for heirloom photography is the fact that the image becomes tangible. The photograph becomes a print! Although we are very used to the digital age, an heirloom is an object, not a file. Something you can touch and pass to future generations.
Heirloom photographs can be represented as a traditional print, put in an album or mounted in a frame. It can be a photograph in a locket, for something more creative. Whatever the choice, it must be something you can hold in your hand.
How To Photograph Modern-Day Heirloom Photographs
Not every image is important enough to be come an heirloom, but here is our list on how to capture a modern day heirloom image.
Step 1: Pick a Moment
This is arguably the most critical part of heirloom photography: the moment. The moment tells the story, the moment encompasses the emotion, the moment is everything. This is why it’s a good idea to have a camera on you at all times, maybe a big family gathering took place, maybe a surprise proposal, maybe something of substance that you would like future generations to know about.
Step 2: Capturing the Moment
If you choose to photograph in color, you can follow the traditional principles of photography. If you’re looking at preserving a moment in black and white, remember some important bullet points about black and white photography:
- Texture and Shape Take First Place
When you take color away from an image, the color itself is no longer the primary focus.
- Lighting is Everything
To accentuate the shape and form, your image needs to have good lighting.Be very attentive to your highlights, your shadows, and everything in between- you want to ensure what you are capturing is shown in the most definitive way.
Tone is the overall lightness or darkness of an image. Darkness tends to make images moody while lightness makes images more optimistic. How you use tone affects a viewer’s perception of an image.
Composition is the arrangement of elements in a shot.
Black and white photography requires an instigation of strong emotion. Something that will be prevalent in your heirloom photograph.
Step 3: Print the Photograph
Next you need to make the photograph tangible! It is suggested to use a professional print lab and not something cheap and fast- as this photograph needs to last a substantial amount of time.
Professional labs print on professional quality paper (as you can image) and as such, the paper is intended to endure many years of use. These papers tend to have UV coating to ensure that sunlight doesn’t burn the image out, are thicker to not bend, and have other types of coating to ensure vibrancy and quality.
Cheap prints are opposite of all of the above and tend to disintegrate over time. Professional print labs will tell you the life expectancy of their papers prior to printing, but make note that this option may be a bit more expensive (but well worth it in the long run).
If printing a square or rectangular print isn’t your style, you can look into otherways of converting your images into a tangible item. Maybe a locket with a photo? Etched into a piece of art? A book even?! So many ideas! Pick the one that suits your family the best.
Step 4: Create a Ritual Around the Image
What gives heirloom photography life is the ritual around the image. What it is meant by ritual is to create a pattern of sharing the story depicted in the photograph with family.
For example, seeing a beautiful photograph of your grandparents and your grandpa telling you the story from the image. You then take that story and tell it to your children, while also remembering the lovely memories of your grandfather sharing the story. So forth, and so on.
If you don’t have children, that’s alright. Share with siblings, other family members, even friends. Hang the photograph somewhere you will see it every day, or make a point to bring it out on certain occasions.
An heirloom only becomes such when it is tied to an experience such as this.
In conclusion, now you know what heirloom photography is and how to capture meaningful images of your own!