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Celebrating Life with Día de los Muertos Portraiture

Editor’s note: As much of the country celebrates Halloween on October 31, the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) begins at midnight, traditionally allowing for the spirits of departed people to rejoin their families for a brief time of remembrance and honor. Over the years, the traditions of Día de los Muertos have become more widespread throughout the US, and further fused into American popular culture. But while the bright colors and fun costumes give the occasion a festive sheen, it’s important to remember why this holiday is so revered in Mexican culture, and how those who have lost loved ones embrace it as part of their own life journey. Below, photographer Tosha Gaines explores this through portrait sessions that help clients to process their own grief while remembering those they have lost.

Reflections on Día de los Muertos

In March 2014, my dad passed away unexpectedly from a fall. I am still grieving, and I think I will for the rest of my life. However, there is something that helps to ease my grief: Día de los Muertos. On this day, I will get a visit from my dad. Even though it translates to “Day of the Dead,” Día de los Muertos is not a morbid holiday. Neither is it necessarily a day for bereavement. Rather, it is a celebration of life and a time to honor our loved ones who have passed away. I once read somewhere that it’s a family reunion, only the spirits of our deceased loved ones are the guests of honor.

There are many ways to celebrate through community events that provide everyone opportunities to learn about the holiday, as well as participate in its traditions. Day of the Dead is a holiday that anyone can celebrate, regardless of cultural heritage. I’ve celebrated Día de los Muertos in my community events throughout the years, but recently, I have started providing Día de los Muertos Remembrance Portrait Sessions.

Photographing portraits for Dia de los Muertos holds a profound healing for me and others. It becomes a poignant act of remembrance, celebrating the lives of those who have passed. In capturing these portraits, individuals engage in an emotional journey, honoring the memories of their loved ones. The process itself is a form of art therapy, a visual expression of grief, love, and respect.

Through my SIGMA lenses, I was able to highlight stories and emotions, finding solace in the preservation of a legacy, a cultural tradition that not only memorializes the departed but also provides a sense of connection to the past. This portrait session further strengthened the collective remembrance and community support, fostering healing and understanding as it intertwines personal grief with cultural reverence, creating a space where both the living and the departed coexist in a beautiful tapestry of memory and celebration.

Choosing Lenses for Día de los Muertos Portraits

The SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Art has always been my primary portrait lens, while the SIGMA 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Sports is my secondary lens. Throughout this session highlighted here, I used mostly the 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Art. This lens is hands-down the most versatile lens I’ve ever used, especially in low-light situations. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it complemented my shooting style. I loved being able to go from a full scene to a smaller area within the same scene with a simple twist of the lens. This means I get to capture more storytelling images in a shorter period of time.

For this session, the lens worked like a charm to help me create gorgeous, crisp images with stunning color and beautifully rendered light. The main thing I wanted to highlight during these sessions is the details and colors of the beautiful work of art on the subject’s face. The quick focusing ability of my Canon mirrorless camera paired with the incredible performance of the SIGMA 24-70mm has always provided me the sharpest images with wonderful details. I’m telling you, the SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM | Art will always be my go-to for my portraiture work.

for Canon EF / Nikon F DSLR cameras or Canon R / Nikon Z mirrorless cameras (with manufacturer’s mount adapter)

for Sony E-mount / L-Mount mirrorless cameras (Panasonic Lumix, Leica, SIGMA fp / fp L)

Día de los Muertos Photography – A Beautiful Experience

Día de los Muertos is a special time for us to reflect on the love we have for our departed and to celebrate their life. I know my dad will be here with me, especially while I am photographing the wonderful festival in my hometown. I am looking forward to photographing the festival at night using the SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 and capturing the beauty of this holiday.

Lenses available for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Leica, and SIGMA cameras

Comments (6)
  1. Steph says:

    Such beautiful images that tell an amazing story about honoring your loved ones. Being raised in Texas this is very common to see, but I wouldn’t have seen it as a way for me to celebrate my love ones. Great work Tosha! 💗

  2. Terri says:

    These are gorgeous! Love the colors.

  3. Farah says:

    These are so beautiful! I love how you are honoring your dad and helping others find ways to connect with their loved ones. Amazing concept and even more amazing photographer! Go Tosha!

  4. This is everything!!! Love that you do this and celebrate Dia de Los Muertos!!!

  5. Regina says:

    Beautiful work, Tosha. What a lovely way to honor your dad. I’ve been on the fence about which lens to buy to accompany my Sigma 85mm, so this was very helpful.

  6. This is so amazing. I was just in Cancun, Mexico and saw a area dedicated to Day of the Dead. I think Tosha capture these images so beautifully. I love this article and how it explains the Day of the Dead is for every culture. Great job.

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