Homecoming Photos: Must Have or Must Skip?


I used to be obsessed with my camera. Every remotely cool place my family went, my camera tagged along, slung over my shoulder like an extra appendage. Every petting zoo, every trip to the park, every birthday party held the potential for moments that had to be captured. It didn’t matter if I had to snap 50 photographs to get the one perfect shot. I wanted that perfect shot, the photograph that, by day’s end, would find itself in a frame on my mantle, positioned in the annual family calendar or, at the very least, as my Facebook profile picture.

Then a couple years ago, the unthinkable happened. I took my kids to a museum, and oh the humanity, I forgot my camera. After the initial panic subsided, I realized I was experiencing the museum with my children from a different perspective: through my own eyes instead of through the lens of the camera. I was living in the moment instead of documenting it.

I thought about that day at the museum last week as my friend Cassie over at the Military OneSource Blog Brigade pondered the question of homecoming photography.

We all love those poignant photos of tears, kisses and first embraces on homecoming day. They look perfect, don’t they? The raw emotion as husband and wife reunite after too much time apart. Every time I see one of those photos, my first thought is, “how beautifully romantic.” My second thought is, “I wish I had a homecoming picture like that.” And my third thought is, “that would never happen.”

Homecoming photography isn’t for everyone. As Cassie says, you have to ask yourself if the camera will “distract anyone in your family from enjoying this memorable moment.” I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I could ignore the fact that a photographer is standing at the ready with camera in hand, waiting to click away at one the most emotional charged days of my life.  I know I’d focus more attention on trying to stage the perfect photo of me jumping into my husband’s arms and less on enjoying the jump.

Are we standing at the right angle? Is my hair in the way? Are there other people in the background? Should I kiss him a little longer just to make sure the photographer got it? I’ve artificially engineered enough photographic moments to know I wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to attempt a little staging. I also know that the end result, no matter how beautiful those pictures turn out, will never measure up to the perfect shot I imagined in my head.

So what does that get me? Nothing but disappointing photos and a special moment I allowed to pass me by.

If I learned anything from that day at the museum with my children, it’s that there are times when we should capture a moment with a camera so that we can look back and relive it every time we look at it. But there are other times when we have to live in the moment and trust that our memories will capture it so much more vividly than a camera ever could.

As much as I’d love to have one of those homecoming pictures that is so amazing it goes viral on Facebook and makes millions of people grab for a box of tissues, I probably wouldn’t hire a photographer to try and create one. I might hand my friend a camera, tell her to take what she can get and hope for the best. But I think if I ever have a homecoming day, I’d rather live in the moment and take my own mental snapshots.

Have you ever hired a photographer to take pictures on homecoming day? If yes, were you able to ignore the camera and enjoy the moment? If no, would you?

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at Military.com, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.
  • Mel

    I haven’t hired one before, but I’m thinking about doing it this time around … since this is his very last deployment in a 30-year career. Hey StarlaRose! Are you available next July! :)

    • StarlaRose

      Perhaps! If you’re around Colorado or the surrounding states!

      • Mel

        Too bad! I’m on the east coast! Bummer! Thank you for what you do!

  • Sar

    We had a friend take the first time, hired one the second time, will hire again if his family comes this time. I haven’t found it to be distracting at all. I just trust myself to enjoy the long-awaited moment and if the pictures turn out, they turn out. During deployment, I embrace the madness that is just not having the energy to put on pants some days or spilling nacho cheese on my hoodie and scraping it off with a chip. I’d rather have real pictures than a picture-perfect moment & we’ve captured that each time so far.

  • Ruth

    There are also organizations like Operation: Love Reunited and Welcome Them Home that have lists of photographers who will photograph your homecoming for free. If you decide that you want photos but don’t want to pay for it, these organizations are perfect!