As Hurricane Ian moved toward the Florida coast, I saw a post in a photographer’s group asking if anyone with military base access was available to photograph a Navy homecoming the next day. As a military spouse who just welcomed her own husband home from deployment (and didn’t get good photos from it), I jumped at the chance to be there for this family! After chatting with the photographer, I learned that she was stuck in Florida because of the hurricane and couldn’t make it to the homecoming she had been booked for. Although I hadn’t photographed a Navy homecoming yet, she trusted me to fill in for her and I was ecstatic.

Military Homecomings are a tricky situation. Homecoming information tends to be highly guarded for a plethora of security reasons and you can’t just hire any person to come on base unless you want to be attached at the hip the whole day - kinda ruins the homecoming vibe. Planning for a photographer means both you and the photographer need to be flexible and okay with the unknown, have a way to get on base, and the patience of a saint when plans change a thousand times before you can even blink. Not to mention having to find a random person you’ve probably never met in a giant crowd of people.

Boy looks into distance at Norfolk Naval Station | Military Homecoming Photographer in Hampton Roads

This was only my 3rd official “professional” session and it was a homecoming to boot. I was so nervous, but when I got to their pier and found the Bish family, my fears subsided. Melanie and her kiddos were full of so much joy and excitement that it was impossible to feel anything else!

Her daughter was right next to the boat as it pulled in and she squealed with joy as the mooring lines were thrown to the pier. She couldn’t stop smiling, waving (even though she couldn’t see her dad quite yet), and blowing kisses toward the boat. She was a little ball of energy who instantly wanted to be my friend and gave me hugs throughout the whole session. Melanie’s son was glued to her and their playful interactions were incredibly heartwarming.

The USS Gonzalez was gone for 8 long months and the reunions were deeply emotional. When Melanie spotted her husband, Jonathan, on the boat, the happiness and hope she felt were evident on her face. They had to wait another 20 minutes before their reunion, but when that moment finally happened, it was truly magical. Audrey rushed to her dad, and he cried as he hugged her. The next 10 minutes were a constant stream of tears and hugs as the Bish family was whole once again.

Family smiles upon seeing servicemember at Norfolk Naval Station | Military Homecoming Photographer in Hampton Roads

Fresh off the heels of my own homecoming celebrations (my husband just returned in August), I could barely keep myself together. I definitely wiped tears off the back of my camera more than once! It was truly an honor to be part of this incredible moment for the Bish family and to see military homecomings from a different point of view. I get to photograph another homecoming sometime this spring and I cannot wait to be there for my client as she welcomes her husband home after a long time apart.