Photographing Shoes for Family History

Do you have (or want) a shoe collection that takes up three wall-to-ceiling organizers? Did you save your baby’s first pair of shoes? Do you save a pair of shoes related to a sport you played in high school? Do you have a pair of Dutch wooden shoes that your ancestor used to wear?

The shoes we wear tell a lot about who we are or were. They also tell us a lot about our ancestors. If you have shoes that have a story, you and your camera have some work to do.

How to photograph shoes
Treasure Chest Thursday Challenge: Shoes

These shoes aren’t actually mine. They’re my husband’s. He was in ballet as a teenager, and his mother kept a pair of his slippers. By the looks of the slippers, he got a lot of use out of them. As he saw the improvement in my artifact photos, he suggested I do his artifacts as well. Thank you, dear! It was fun.

Shoes are fun to photograph, but they take a little bit of work. For the slippers, my DIY lightbox was the perfect shooting spot. The box was placed on top of another box which sat on the floor. This setup allowed light filtered through the cutout opening on the top of the box. This opening was covered with white tissues paper. This tissue paper filter softened the light.

How to photograph shoes
Shoes in a lightbox with black background
f/4.5, exp 1/5 sec, exp bias -0.3, ISO 100,
Center Weight Average metering mode, no flash
Initially, the ballet shoes looked terrible, no my eye, with both ‘top sides’ facing up. Before taking the first photo, I flipped one over and crossed it over the other. I thought the first photo of the camera was incredible. So I focused on trying to make the ballet slippers look their best.
Treasure Chest Thursday Challenge shoes
Shoes in a lightbox with black background
f/5, exp 1/4 sec, exp bias -0.3, ISO 100,
Center Weight Average metering mode, no flash

For the second photo, I shifted the orientation of the subject. Not bad. But something wasn’t right.

Photo Friday Challenge Shoes
Shoes in a lightbox with black background
f/5, exp 1/4 sec, exp bias -0.3, ISO 100,
Center Weight Average metering mode, no flash

I flipped the shoes so that the top sides were both facing up again. I didn’t think I would like this look. But after I snapped a photo, it looked better. So, the lesson I learned is to experiment a little.

How to photograph ballet slippers
Shoes in a lightbox with black background
f/5, exp 1/4 sec, exp bias -0.3, ISO 100,
Center Weight Average metering mode, no flash

I kept experimenting until I found something I liked. For some reason, this orientation grabs my attention. The advertising major in me wants to believe that this photo demonstrates movement. The shoes bring your eyes across the natural flow from the upper left to lower right. Then the ‘larger’ portion of the shoe, the toes, has greater emphasis. I suppose that’s fitting since one thinks of pointed toes when one thinks of ballet.

So, grab your camera, and grab your shoes and take some photographs. Also, try a natural light setting to see if that works well with your shoes. You might try putting your shoes in creative places to help tell the story through the background. It’s so important to have fun while photographing our shoes for family history purposes. The more fun you have, the more it shows in your photographs. And the more fun a photograph is, the better it helps to tell your or your ancestor’s story.
 
Go photograph your shoes and record their stories. Then leave a link in the comments section to your blog post or Flickr feed showcasing your photos so we can all celebrate your work.
Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee

Devon Noel Lee is passionate about capturing and preserving family stories so no one alive today has to be researched, or forgotten, tomorrow. She has authored 6 how-to books, a memoir, two published family history biographies, and over 60 family scrapbooks. She's an enthusiastic speaker who energizes, encourages, and educates at the same time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *