Every year, my wife’s family heads to the lake house for the 4th of July. They have a house on Ten Mile Lake which is near North Bend, Oregon. It’s a fantastic place with beautiful scenery, a perfect lake for boating, incredible birds (herons, ospreys, bald eagles, ibises, etc.), plenty of places for kids to get dirty and wet, and lots of great food. Over the years, the lake house has become a strong family tradition and often stretches out for weeks every summer.

Every day at the lake house is fairly similar and generally includes going tubing, wake boarding, swimming, lounging, reading, sun bathing, eating, playing, and sometimes hiking.The 4th of July, however, is a little different. We do most of those same things, but we all do it while wearing flag shirts (typically the $5 variety found at Old Navy) and only after taking a family photo (so everyone still looks presentable). The day also includes extremely patriotic foods, ample decorations, and fireworks at the lake marina. The morning of the 4th, I had the sudden desire to do a whole series of black and white photos to capture the excitement and little moments of the day. I know it seems unusual to go monochromatic when the 4th of July is such a colorful holiday, but I actually prefer using black and white to show emotion. It’s less distracting and forces the viewer to look at details and facial expressions rather than the most colorful object in the photo.

I’ve also been really inspired lately by a photographer named Kate T. Parker renowned for her Strong is the New Pretty campaign featuring her daughters. All of her photos are amazing, but I’m especially drawn to her high contrast somewhat low-key black and white photos. I feel like there’s so much emotional power in that particular style, so I tried to recreate it with this photo essay.

Over the course of the day, I ended up taking more than 1,500 photos (137 of those were of a dumb bumble bee that wouldn’t do what I wanted). After cutting it down quite a bit, I decided the following 50 photos best captured what the 4th of July means in my wife’s family.