Photographing Friends
February 20th, 2019 by David LaBelle

My friend Rick died not long after we made the cheesy selfie above. I am thankful we did those. Right, Rick with the albacore he caught.
Photos by David LaBelle

The last time I saw Rick, he was in his chilled, dark bedroom. He couldn’t take heat or light after his second brain tumor operation, when his thyroid gland was removed.

I crawled in his king-sized bed fully clothed and pulled the covers up to my neck. I lay beside him and we talked in the darkness for hours. I told him I loved him and thanked him for being such a great friend. I think each of us knew this was the last time we would see each other. He died a few months later while I was teaching in Kentucky.

Sometimes, we most miss the things we take for granted when they are no longer with us. Like good friends.

I often have heard someone say after a dear friend passes, “I wish I would have taken a picture of us together.”

I have been blessed with many friends, but a handful of true friends: someone who listens to me, prays for me and watches out for me; who knows my dreams, weaknesses and faults and loves me anyway; who forgives me when I disappoint; who tells me the truth even when I don’t want to hear it; who makes me a better person.

True friends laugh with us when we are happy or at us when we do dumb things. They cry with us when we hurt, encourage us in times of self-doubt and share in our moments of glory without jealously or pretense.

Rick Hester was that friend.

Opposites in many ways, Rick was clean shaven, stout, barrel-chested with pipe-fitter arms, like a fire hydrant with legs. A year younger, I was tall and lanky with a face full of tangled whiskers. A hard-working laborer and ex-football lineman, almost a red-necked conservative, he viewed me as a liberal dreamer and carefree hippie, which I was not. We loved football, fishing and staying up too late playing ice hockey in his garage and trying to serve Christ.

We viewed the world differently, but in time came to realize our differences strengthened our friendship.

I still remember the first time I visited him after he moved from California to his beloved Oregon.

My eyes fill when I remember how Rick played and sang the John Denver song, “Friends With You,” which includes this stanza: Friends, I will remember you. Think of you. Pray for you. And when another day is through, I’ll still be friends with you.

Sometimes, circumstance brings and binds us together.

Hardship can be the catalyst for deep and enduring friendships. Recently, I met two men in their late 70s who had lost their wives and were fighting cancer. Neighbors, they love fishing and have become nearly inseparable.

Most of us have friends early in life and in later years. Some are blessed to have a best friend throughout their entire life. Others, it seems, are given friends when they need them the most.

You may have 5,000 Facebook friends, but only one or two true friends. Cherish them. Make pictures of and with them.

One of the best things still photographs do is preserve and gift-wrap moments in time to be remembered and enjoyed forever.

Make pictures of your friends, maybe even record their voices while they are still near. In the years to come, you will be thankful you did.

After all, when we count all our possessions, is there anything greater or more beautiful than a true friendship?

Tips You Can Use

  • Explain to your friends why you want to make pictures of them.
  • Let them get comfortable with the camera by making posed pictures before trying to capture storytelling candids. After a while, most people lose interest in the camera and quit posing.
  • Hand them the camera and let them photograph you. This ice-breaking technique almost always produces interesting pictures.
  • Dress up. A hat or prop loosens up inhibited friends. People in costume do fun, crazy things, which makes memorable pictures.
  • Ask what is important to them and where they would like to have their picture taken.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the U.S. and taught at three universities. For more information, visit