Photographing My Father

In Creativity and Inspiration, Images, Influences, Life Is Short, The Craft, Vision Is Better by David25 Comments

This fall I took my girl and my camera to visit my father. We drank some wine, watched the leaves change colour, spent some time riding around the back roads in his 1949 Willys Jeep, Patches. And we went off for an hour to do a portrait project I’ve been wanting to do, more and more urgently as my father and I become closer. I took my Hasselblad and a couple rolls of film – Portra 400 for colour, Ilford Delta 400 for black and white – and photographed him with Patches. My father has always had something like a symbiotic relationship with automobiles; I couldn’t imagine photographing him any other way. My father, too, is a photographer. He doesn’t take the cameras out anymore, but once a photographer, always a photographer. He doesn’t like the idea of learning to shoot digital, so it seemed right to photograph him on film.

Photographs are more than images. They are connections, and memories. They are, some of them, powerful beyond words. These photographs will remain some of the most valuable things I own. If, then, photographs hold moments, then best we don’t let those moments pass us by. Photograph the ones you love: none of them, nor any us, lasts as long as we want.

The photographs above are straight out of my 1980-something Hasselblad C/M with a Zeiss 80/2.8 lens. No tweaks in Lightroom or Photoshop. No sharpening. Just low-res scans from the lab. As much as I love digital, there is something extraordinary about the look, feel, and tactility of film. You won’t get dynamic range like this from digital.  I’ve got a year-long portrait project coming up and I’m shooting it with my Hasselblad, a newer Mamiya 645, and a bucket of film. Can’t wait. The photographs below were shot by my girl, Cynthia Haynes.



  1. That’s awesome David, thanks for sharing the pictures of your Pop with us, he’s a hella good lookin guy! And wonderfully represented on film. By the way when are you going to formally introduce us to your nice lady? Have a good one and stay safe out there- Nate from Maine.

  2. My mom has been gone for eight years now and the photographs I have of her are so precious. I wish I’d taken more when she was here.

  3. Ironically, I just acquired a Hasselblad. My friends think I’m nuts, but I plan on learning to develop my own negs and get a scanner. Hope you’ll keep commenting and making suggestions/recommendations about film.

  4. Author

    Hey Adam. No, I don’t. If this project goes well I may just start again, get a scanner for the negs and slides. Won’t ever have a darkroom again, though.

  5. I know I’m coming late to the party but I have to ask. David, do you still develop your own film?

  6. I think all to often as photographers we are guilty of not giving our family images the same care and attention we give clients. Not to say that we don’t take pictures of them but perhaps we would rather escape our work when with them and become more snapshotish in our approach.

    I feel a need to document my family with great care and detail now.

    You say your Hasselblad is a 1980-something. You may know this already but there is an easy way to check the exact year.

    First write down the words VH PICTURES and then under each letter the numbers running 1234567890. Its not easy to align them in type but lets try.

    V H P I C T U R E S
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0

    If memory serves me correctly, your serial number on Hasselblad starts with to letters. If for example those two letters are RH the R=8 and H=2 so it would be a 1982 model. Same applies to the film backs.

    There you go, for those interested in some trivia. Thanks again for the inspiring posts and books.

  7. oops, I actually did the same earlier (quoting you), just took for granted it would not be an issue. Gave you credits (of course) and told people about your books, which is irrelevant since nobody reads it anyway, but you never know.

  8. Wonderful images of your dad. He is a handsome gentleman.

    I, too, seem to be the family biographer and really enjoy preserving ordinary and special moments for posterity.

    I’ve also become quite good at restoring old pictures, some of them quite beat up and or color shifted. The unseen benefit is that it hones your photoshop skills.

    Once again you give sage advice and you are so right about time moving so swiftly by. It’s wonderful to have images that bring back moments that might have been forgotten without them.

  9. Hi David,
    I´m more the sort of quiet guy from the anonymous comfort of Google Reader, but after reading this entry I just had to leave a comment to say thank you, I simply saw myself on your words.

    On a separate topic, good timing for releasing a discount for your bundle! Looking forward to the weekend to go through some of the books.


  10. Great series, David!. Meaningful and beautiful pictures.
    I started shooting film about a year ago and I love the sense of new photographic “freedom”, not having to look at the camera screen and fiddle with buttons.
    Apart from that, the great look of film and the selective way we press the shutter when we know there is developing and scanning costs afterwards help us all on our photographic journey.
    I don’t know if there is a real comeback to film these days, but certainly I see more and more people heading that way.

  11. one of the most wonderful pictures that exists of my mom and dad is one i took at their request — to send in for a class reunion shot. My Mom died less than a year later, and it was the last shot ever of them happy, relaxed, loving their retirement, and healthy. yup.
    Last summer i travelled with my new family and in-laws, shot hundreds of photos, made a book with copies for everyone on the trip. Life, and parents, and family, are precious.

  12. What a fantastic group of photographs! I can relate with wanting to take photographs of family, we got back from a trip around the world with our baby girl who got to meet her grandparents and great grandparents in both the US and Europe. I took photographs on film and digital, but the feel that the black and white film really has the right feel for shooting the older generation. I find myself looking at those photographs more even with all of their imperfections and wishing I had shot more film.

  13. Wonderful story… never took that opportunity with my mom or dad… and now too late… fortunately I have the memories captured by others I still cherish… an excellent video was created by Kodak to run as a commercial, but is 6:18 long… if you want to take a look, check out… Keep Me, Protect Me, Share Me….

  14. Author

    Rob – I’d love to connect. Chicago looks a long way away right now, especially given my border issues, but one day… 🙂

  15. Author

    Karolyn – I got my Hassie, one lens,120 back, for about $1200 in amazing, refurbished condition. Amazing how little they seem to be worth. Best bet would be to look on Craigslist or eBay and see what comparable kits are going for.

  16. David these are great…I’m glad someone like you speaks about the great dynamic range of film…while others compare pixels…:)

    And when you are in Chicago…

  17. “The photographs above are straight out of my 1980-something Hasselblad C/M with a Zeiss 80/2.8 lens.” I have this same setup,
    that you have , bought in 1980 something.
    I used it very little. It is in excellent condition. Do you have any idea what it would be worth?
    Enjoy your blog and your photography.
    Thank you for your estimate.

  18. When our childless uncle (the gadget lover, photographer of my youth) passed away a few months ago, my cousins and I met to pack up his house. One of the things we found in the closet was a large box with several shoeboxes of photographs, many of them duplicates.

    We split them up among us, one of my treasures is a shot of my parents holding me as a newborn (I’m now 62). We cousins laughed and cried as we sorted the photos. All in all, an unexpectedly wonderful day.

    I sorry to think that the generation growing up today won’t have those shoeboxes. We, collectively, shoot and publish, but don’t print.

  19. There has never been a shortage of photos in my family but I am now the family photographer. I took over the mantle from my Dad. I constantly have to remember to make sure I post them as fast as possible. Photos connect our family who are scattered all around Ontario and out west.

    These are amazing photos and will always be connected to a wonderful moment in time.


    PS. Dianne – my laptop & back-up drives would be what I grab first, no way I would leave them behind!

  20. Love this. The simple basic value of photography. Capturing moments. Relationships. Life.

    My kids know that if we had to evacuate our home for any reason, the photographs and scrapbooks are the most important after the people and the cat. Everything else is replaceable. The photos are not.

  21. Hey David,

    What can one say but NICE. Meaningful message, great shots and a plug for film.
    Doesn’t get any better than that.

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