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06-07-2013, 02:13 PM   #1
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Suggestions for "death bed" photography

How do you photograph old wrinkly people? Any way to minimize the wrinkles, or just embrace the wrinkles?

Here's the situation. My 92 year old grandmother-in-law is pretty much on death's doorstep. She's deteriorating rapidly and can't really leave her room anymore. There's a family reunion in one week that we suspect she's "holding on" for, and we don't think she'll hold on much longer after that. Attached is a picture of her in 2009 and she's probably thinner and as a result, more wrinkly.

This is probably the family's last chance to get good pictures of her. The shooting location will almost certainly be in her room, on her easy chair or unfortunately possibly even in her bed. Among all my lenses, I'm covered from 28-200mm. I have flashes and umbrellas. I'm guessing I won't be able to go out very long because of the size of the room.

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06-07-2013, 02:33 PM   #2
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shoot wide open, ideal f1.4
06-07-2013, 02:39 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by i83N Quote
shoot wide open, ideal f1.4
In her situation it's probably not a good idea to use flash.
Is that what you mean?
06-07-2013, 02:55 PM   #4
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i mean less wrinkles at that aperture

06-07-2013, 03:01 PM   #5
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Remember you can also "help" any final image you choose in PP, with smooth and softening techniques.

Last edited by Kerrowdown; 06-08-2013 at 01:32 AM.
06-07-2013, 03:05 PM   #6
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Use largest light source posible. I would use light stand, 2 flash guns and 2 umbrelas. Keep flash as far away from umbrela as you can. And bring umbrela as close as you can to grany.That way you'll get softer light and there fore less contrast. Use lower power seting 1/8 or 1/16 and raise ISO. That way you'll kill some detail. And last soften it up in post procesing. Trust me she's gonna look like a teen.)
06-07-2013, 03:18 PM   #7
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Personally, I doubt I'd be taking photos in that situation. Someone who is sick, not feeling well, and knows that they aren't looking that great probably isn't in the mood for a portrait session. If you do take photos, I would be very discreet.

If you have some good photos already like the ones above, I know that's the way I'd want to be remembered. Not by some photos of me in a bed while I was deteriorating, gaunt, tired and frail. Now if you're documenting some things, maybe that's different. But if I were ill, I doubt I'd have the patience to "smile" by request. And I sure as hell wouldn't want umbrellas and flashes being set up around me...

But if you are going to take photos anyway, I'd use a fast lens wide open and in lightroom turn down the clarity slider - that seems to soften things up like wrinkles and gives people a glow to them.

Good luck and best wishes to your loved ones.
06-07-2013, 03:42 PM   #8
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I think I'd agree with using the broadest lighting possible, to minimize shadows/wrinkles, like in this post:
Strobist: The Simple Light: How to Take a Great Passport Photo
(Not saying to use this pose, just to borrow the lighting idea. I'd probably use an umbrella, directly behind me, right at her face, and work it from there.)

I've taken some shots like the one of your grandmother, and even though you are using bounce flash, it comes down from above your subject, and produces too much of a shadow under the nose and chin. And accentuates wrinkles.

Also, maybe you can experiment in advance with using a soft filter on the lens, to smooth the skin tones a bit. An idea from the film era. If you don't have one, maybe a cheap filter with a smear of vaseline. That might help reduce/eliminate PP work.

She's got a good head of hair, maybe a little backlight would add some depth without accentuating the wrinkles. Since her hair is so light, you probably wouldn't want to overdo it, just a little rim light.

06-07-2013, 04:00 PM   #9
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My dad passed away fairly suddenly...just after New Years almost 25 years ago. I, and my family can't bear to look at those X-Mas photos because you see the rapid downward succession, the gauntness. We thought he went suddenly but those photos when we processed them after all the funeral stuff was over, tell a different tale.

I don't care to remember him that way, so I don't think I'd be inclined to chronicle your grandmother-in-law in detail at this time.

If you must, I'd be inclined to have group shots, of family coming together, not ones just of her. Tell the story of the unity of people visiting her. You're further away and she will look better at a distance, and your camera might be a good distraction from the heaviness of the moment.

Does she have any favourite flowers? Maybe photograph flowers and leave grandma slightly out of focus. Or maybe just photograph her in silhouette...I think you will want to photograph in "tribute" not "chronicle" her last days like a photojournalist.
06-07-2013, 04:13 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Reliant K1000 Quote
.I think you will want to photograph in "tribute" not "chronicle" her last days like a photojournalist.

This line sums up my thoughts on the matter as well.

It really depends on your grandmother's (and your family's) current mindset.

If she's still mentally happy and wanting photos taken, then you can likely get some wonderful images of her.
If she is not in a good place mentally (which, in her current position I imagine is the case) then it may not be worth it.

It really depends on what she, and the family, want.
I would prefer to see a family member happy, smiling, and above all, natural (I hate portraits that look posed, I refer candid shots, they're more honest and flattering to me)

My uncle passed away about 3 years ago, the photos that we tend to have around the house are the ones from when he was still healthy and happy.
We don't really look at the photos from when he was getting noticeably sick.
06-07-2013, 06:53 PM   #11

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Here is some inspiration :
Phillip Toledano - Days with My Father

I'd suggest you just go simple.
Natural window light and/or strobist bounced off the walls if they are white.

Don't worry about the wrinkles, they are there and they mean so much.
You'd love her whatever way she looks anyway.
Good luck
06-07-2013, 07:32 PM   #12

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+1 to making sure she wants to be photographed. Ask her privately so she doesn't feel pressured to say yes.
06-08-2013, 02:31 AM - 2 Likes   #13
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The more natural light you can use, the more reflected light the more lit up her face will be and the less you will notice the wrinkles, but hey, you know she's OLD, and that can be very beautiful too. I really like faces that look like the people that own them have lived long and well. She is who she is now, the sum of the days of her life to date. That's not something to wipe away just because you can. She is beautiful, every single wrinkle is beautiful and properly lit all people will see is the love in her face. Seriously. She looks like a lovely older woman. She's got lovely hair and a warm smile. That's the epitome of "beautiful" to me.
06-08-2013, 03:39 AM   #14
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I'm in more or less the same situation with my father who is 87 and very frail, and might go any moment. I visit almost every weekend, taking my camera along, but just can't get myself to take a picture of him, being almost on his deathbed so to speak. We've got nice pics of when he was feeling and looking a little better, and I can't help but feel that it would be inappropriate to take pics of him at this stage of his life...
You and the family may differ, but then I would suggest using a fast lens with available light, and avoid flash and elaborate setups completely.
06-08-2013, 03:57 AM   #15
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Thanks for the input, everyone. I didn't plan on transforming the atmosphere into a "photo shoot" type, although I can definitely see how setting up umbrellas and all that could be seen by grandma that way. From what I remember, her room is pretty dark, and small. Just having one hotshoe flash on-camera might turn the whole room into a light box.

I'll try to get the inside scoop on whether she would mind me taking pictures. If she's looking a LOT worse I might either refrain completely, do black and white, or silhouette.

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