Rites of Passage

Life is a series of events that mark our passage through time. Some events are as unremarkable as a Grandfather teaching his grandson how to swim or parents looking on as their child takes its first step. Other occasions such as traditional religious events or advancement at school or a job require celebration. Images that catch these moments become iconic photos that celebrate family milestones, relationships or rites of passage. They evoke positive emotions that advertisers use to build familiarity and trust for brands.

© Nyul
© Mikdam
The images are aspirational showing the celebration or events in a positive light. With the exception of specific cultural or religious events, the feelings that are triggered by the images are universal or certainly specific to a target market.

Images that are meant to evoke strong emotions should be simple in concept and composition. They should say: success, achievement, love, support, or tradition.

Quinceañera, or the coming of age celebration, for many Latina girls is an example of a culturally specific event. Dreamstime has only ONE image with the keyword ‘Quinceañera,’ and no pictures of a young woman in a formal gown for the event.

Most cultures and religions have coming of age ceremonies or traditions. In Judaism it is the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah. Catholics and Church of England have Confirmation and first communion. Coming of age day in Japan is marked by streets filled with young women who are or will be twenty years old in the coming year.

They gather in small groups wearing traditional kimonos and struggling to walk in traditional wooden Geta shoes. Native American tribes have a variety of celebrations and serious traditions to initiate young men and women into adulthood. American girls are treated to sometime lavish ‘sweet sixteen’ parties and celebrations.

Images of culturally specific events are useful. To widen the possibility for downloads though take a look at the more universal rights of passage in human life. These are images that become metaphors for growth, achievement and success.

Life is a series of firsts that make great images. Famous ‘firsts’ include first steps, first birthday, first haircut and first day of school. Other milestones to photograph include graduation, marriage, retirement and birthday parties.

Some small businesses frame the first dollar that came in the door. These symbolic events happen all around you. Keep your eyes open for rites of passage. (If you are an invited guest or a participant it may be more important to leave the camera aside and simply enjoy the event.)

It takes skill to elevate emotional images from the sugary and sentimental to those that are simple yet evoke strong emotions. You’ll want to catch the spontaneous moments as well as the pensive ones. Some of the classics of photography have captured these important moments in life.

Magnum photographer, Elliott Erwitt, not only makes the mundane, profound, he has us laughing all the way. On Elliott's site, click on a flag to take you into the site. Under portfolios, my favorite is phototoons.

Vanessa Winshiphas won the first Sony World Photography Awards Photographer of the Year. Look at the ‘Greek Wedding’ section of her portfolio for a series of ‘Rites of Passage’

For an amazing photo that has nothing at all to do with Rites of Passage, check Chas Jarvis’s latest blog from Dubai here

Photo credits: Andres Rodriguez, David Mckee, Mary Katherine Wynn, Mikael Damkier, Monkey Business Images, Nyul, Photoclicks, Photoeuphoria.

Your article must be written in English

May 05, 2008


The article has aroused me some farther thinking about nomal live.
Photos are fit like a glove.

Thank you, Ellen.

May 04, 2008


Great images and article Ellen. thank you. :)

May 04, 2008


great article and photos. Will stick in my mind when I'm taking shots

May 02, 2008


Thanks, gives me something to think about........Paul

May 02, 2008


Great article. Gives me some food for thought!


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