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Homecoming Ceremony Checklist – Hire a Photographer

Liz Herrin, 28, sat on the breezy pier in Norfolk, Va., waiting.

She had her 19-month-old son, Robbie, outfitted in his submarine shirt, waiting.

She held a professionally printed sign. Her hair and make-up were done. Her eyes eagerly scanned the crowd. 

She was waiting.  Just like she had been waiting for seven and a half months.

Except in that moment, Brittany Rains was waiting with her.

Rains was there for support, sort of. But like a lot of military wives, Herrin had hired Rains to capture the next few moments on film. To make sure she caught Herrin’s first kiss with her husband Nick, a machinist’s mate on the USS Albany, returning home from deployment in March 2013. To freeze for forever the moment Robbie fell into his father’s arm, as Nick swooped him up into the air. To make sure they had pictures to memorialize the Herrins’ first homecoming.

“It's such a precious moment to catch, especially since we have kids, and they change so much over seven and a half months,” Herrin said.

Herrin is one of many military spouses who puts a military homecoming on equal footing with a wedding, a pregnancy, or a birth. And more and more spouses like her are hiring photographers to get the before, during and after moments of that special homecoming day.

“As a Navy wife myself, and having had a military homecoming photographer for our first homecoming, I knew how important it was to the family to capture that moment when they see each other for the first time,” said Rains, who has been photographing military homecomings for just over a year.

Social media and the instant publicity a military homecoming garners have, in part, helped drive the interest in military homecoming photography, Rains said.

“Families want to share their excitement with friends and family that cannot be there, as many of them are not near,” Rains said. “Having someone there to capture the quick moment of heightened excitement and full emotion of coming together is priceless.”

But it’s not just the popularity of social media driving this interest.

“I think the increase in popularity of hiring a homecoming photographer is related to the increase in popularity of photography in general,” Rains said. “Our generation loves seeing and sharing photos with their family and friends, and homecomings are big moments for those involved.

Lauren Nygard, a homecoming photographer and Marine wife in San Diego said that even though the preparation for a homecoming is far less than that of a wedding, the sentiment and build up are the same.

“I guarantee that the anticipation she feels is just as much as, or maybe even more than, what she felt before her wedding,” Nygard said.

So why bother to hire a professional when you can drag your neighbor and hand her your camera-equipped phone?

Nygard said you are hiring the special ability a photographer has to foresee a moment before it happens.

“Homecomings and wedding are actually very similar in that they’re both extremely special occasions for which do-overs aren’t possible,” she said.

And, like most services, you do get what you pay for.

Cristin Emrick, a photographer in Norfolk, donates time to Operation: Love ReUnited, an organization that helps military couples find free photographers for their homecomings.

Currently, she does one homecoming a month for free for the organization. Individuals can hire her for $250, which includes four hours of photography. She said the photos done pro bono are beautiful but hiring someone guarantees the family more time, flexibility and special attention.

“The demand has gone up, but the expectation for free coverage has gone up, too,” she said. It’s not that you’ll get better quality, but you might get better attention if you pay a photographer.

And, homecoming photographers book up quick. Emrick said months before an aircraft carrier ever lifts its anchor she is often already booked and has to turn down as many as 100 requests.

Many of the families are not simply hiring a photographer for every deployment. They reserve the special treatment for returns when a father meets his baby for the first time or the last return before deployment. The photos are meant to tell a story.

“Homecoming photography is 95 percent photojournalistic,” she said.

Emrick said one of her favorite images was of a pilot’s wife who gripped her husband’s hair as she kissed him, her knuckles turned white from the intensity and excitement.

“I wear sunglasses to every single homecoming because I don’t want them to see me cry,” she said.

Empathy is often what drives Emrick and other homecoming photographers to strive to capture the best images possible. They are military spouses too.

“We know what those deployments are like,” she said. 

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