First Class Photography: Family Tree Project

Fun old pictures of your family can be the start of your family tree project.

I was sitting around the other day, thumbing through some old photographs of family members, and came up with an idea. It has to do with using your camera to make a family tree of your family members. Your finished product would make a wonderful school project or something nice that your family would enjoy seeing and owning.

Your Family Tree Poster

This project can grow as a tree grows. You may begin with something like a twig by involving only your current family, or you can allow your project to grow into a tree by using old photos of bygone family members as well as new photos of those around you now. In fact, you might become so involved in filling in the branches of your tree that your project will become a life-long hobby and end up looking more like a forest. To do a good job, you may need to interview your parents and other relatives, so you can learn a great deal about your family…including the funny stories about crazy, old Uncle John.

My Mom and Dad

First, you should decide how far into your family you want to go. I would suggest a modest beginning by starting with your immediate family–for example, Mom, Dad, brothers and sisters. Then, you may wish to branch out to include your grandparents and, perhaps, your aunts and uncles. Once you make a list of all the people you want to have on your tree, then you need to create a poster with a drawing of a tree on it. (Now, if you want to really get into the photography part, you could photograph a beautiful, large tree that doesn’t have many leaves–so you can see the individual pictures better. Your finished photograph should be at least poster-size. However, a drawn tree will work just as well and probably be much cheaper.) If you’ve decided to concentrate on your immediate family, then you should devote one side of the tree to your mom’s side of the family and the other side to your dad’s side of the family. Your grandparents would be at the top of the tree and your mom and dad just below them. Pencil their names in lightly where you would like their pictures to be on the family tree. Then continue on to do the same for yourself and your brothers and sisters.

Now comes the fun part. See if you can get your brothers and sisters to pose in some peculiar positions–such as with both arms raised above their heads. Don’t tell them what the picture is for–except that it’s for a project you’re working on. When the finished photos are developed, you can clip around the outside of each person’s shape and hang the pictures like monkeys from some of the tree limbs. Get innovative in having your models pose for you. Perhaps you’ll want some of your subjects to be seated while you take their photos from the side, so their shapes can be positioned as though they were sitting on a tree limb. Or, perhaps you can even get one or two of your family members to peek out from behind a tree. That way, they can be looking out from behind your family tree when you finish cutting around their shapes.

My Grandparents

If your grandparents live far away or are no longer living, perhaps you can borrow some old photos of them from other family members. Don’t cut up these photos without permission, because old photos are very treasured family history. You can have copies made for your purposes. The photos of the older members of the family will probably be more distinguished (unless you have some real clowns for grandparents and aunts or uncles), so leave the funny shapes for your current members.

You may want to doctor up the ground level of your poster by placing a photograph of the family car or your pet at the base of the tree. (The picture of the shiny, new family car might one day cause you to look back and say, “Look what we used to drive when I was a kid!” Remember; photography is a time machine.) One nice shot would be to photograph the family dog (or horse, etc.) from the side looking up. When you paste him onto your poster, he’ll appear to be looking at all the people on the tree. Your cat could be placed on a limb. Use your imagination when you’re putting this tree together. You may want to get some photos of flowers in the garden to place at the base of your tree. Don’t rush to get done. Make your poster into a year-long project. Create something your family will want to show over and over again through the years.

This is Your Life Poster

Me and My Wife

Another variation of the Poster Tree is one in which you make a poster that follows your own life (The Life Poster) or the lives of you and your brothers and/or sisters. In the top corner, you can place a photo or drawing of the place where you were born and a photo of you as a baby. From that spot, draw a winding road that leads to other places where you’ve lived or to your elementary school, middle school, high school and even college, if you go there. Each stop should include a photo of you or your siblings taken at that time of your life. You and your family will eventually be able to see the progress you’ve made in your life–all in one poster.

 The “Life Poster” can start now and continue as you progress. You’ll need to set times in the future when you want to take photos you’ll need, plus you’ll need to collect photos from your past. Black-and-white or color are both effective. Your camera doesn’t have to be expensive, but remember to get close enough to your subject so you can tell who it is when you get your picture back from the processor. Keep in mind what you’re planning to do with each person’s photograph, so you’ll know if you need to photograph that subject as a full figure or only from the waist up.

Our Daughter

Remember; this is a fun project that will have historical significance for your family and for you in future years. We don’t live forever but your photos can be your time machine to the past–even when you become old and gray, as I am now. My old photos never fail to bring a smile to my face when I think back about the people who’re in them.

If you become interested in learning more about your family history after finishing this project or even during the project, I would suggest that you grab the nearest online computer and plug in this url: can open many doors for you in your search for your family history.

By Willis T. Bird

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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