21 Nov 2013

Happy (?) Holiday Photos: The truth behind every plastic smile from an expert with a camera around her neck.

Taking family photos makes me break out in hives. The photographer who makes it all bearable is Mallory. She has taken photos for us the last few years. And I invited her over today to share her perspective as everyone starts to gear up for those Christmas card pics! All photos and advice in this post are hers. Read and be encouraged!



“I’m so so sorry for my crazy family and for my kid’s poor behavior,” says a frazzled mom during her family’s photo session, as she crouches down to plead with her matching-outfitted kids to co-operate for just a few more shots. The promise of a cookie dough ice cream cone following the session is one of her last efforts to get the children to freeze for my camera’s frame.

While I remind her that this is all normal behavior, I reach into my ”magic carpet bag“ of antics to get the children looking on the bright side of life once again – I dive into chatter about the most recent Pixar film, blow the bubbles I stashed in my camera bag, dance to a song on my iphone, or some other magic trick of the photography trade.

What this mother doesn’t realize is that there is nothing new under the sun for this photographer.

Because during almost every family photo session, I encounter a mother’s apology for her kids “acting out.” It seems as if receiving cards every December donned with perfect grins and matching outfits has skewed everyone’s perception of what’s really going on behind the lens.



It often starts with a small breakdown…

Classic Fits & Glares

A handful of goldfish….



And a bit of dramatic flair from the adults…


In order to get the shots….





After taking a few snaps of Lisa-Jo and her family, she expressed how much anxiety the whole set-up-family-photo thing makes her feel.

As we were talking around her kitchen island, it dawned on me that she (and all of the other mothers) didn’t fully realize how common their anxiety really is.

Our conversation made me think of a bra fitting I had one time in Oxford, England. I was being helped by a petite, bubbly brunette with a measuring tape around her neck. She had me set up in a dressing room with a handful of bras. And in spite of my extrovert-free-spirited nature, an unfamiliar timidity always overtakes me when I am about to open the dressing room door to be examined by some stranger with a plastic retail smile. This time was no different. When I verbalized to this sweet woman my internal blushing, she brushed my feelings off with a simple, “I do this all of the time.”

It dawned on me in this moment that the feelings I was experiencing were not foreign to this woman. In fact, she probably encounters blushing and insecure customers everyday. When I asked her about this endless exposure, she confirmed that every woman thinks that the woman before her or after her has a better body than she does. As we got more familiar with each other and I laughed about her position, she proudly called herself (in her fabulous thick British accent), the ‘bra doctor.’

Well folks, I am the ‘bra doctor’ of photography. 

I’ve seen it all. Tantrums, arguments over trivial details, threats and bribes, even screams and a profanity or two. There are also the frequent attempts at knock-knock jokes and Katy Perry songs to drown it all out.

Just as the ‘bra doctor’ knows the normalcy of an extra curve here and a scar there, so I know the normalcy of an child “acting out.” One that a mother shouldn’t have to apologize for.

I see these “flaws” as an opportunity to comfort the parents, play with the kids, and attempt to capture through the camera the thing that we are all loving and hating and trying to celebrate all at the same time – childhood. It’s slipping through your motherly fingers as you comb through his little strands of hair. The jittery feet will soon be stilled by maturity and self-awareness. The squeals of excitement will soon be replaced by more subdued tones and passive comments.

I can promise you one thing – these bursts of energy, the inability to hold still and smile, won’t last forever.

The impermanence of it all is what should grip us. Not the temporary frustration.

We must stop hating our bodies. via lisajobaker.com


Children are bursting with joy and playfulness and curiosity. They sport a mean toothless grin and sticky fingers. They are learning at a rate faster than any other time in their life. They’re sponges for their environment, and the most mundane things can be magical for them. Through imagery, we can capture all of these little passing things and preserve them all to remember for years to come. Photos are the time capsules of memories, acne, fads, and even endearing faux pas.

They are the things you would miss in a fire, and the things you would regret not ‘getting around to.’

So, next time you ‘get around’ to booking a photo session of your children, keep all of this in mind and breathe a little deeper….as the photographer, I am not concerned about your kids’ behavior. And you shouldn’t either. Embrace your children’s fits, fears, and fussiness, knowing that you’re not the only family to experience this. And, more importantly, knowing that this season has an expiration date that will come sooner than you think.


Want to book a session with Mallory?

She is based in Seattle but she often travels for photo sessions and just might be in your city soon – she’s done shoots from Edinburgh to Zambia.  Head to her site to get on her email list, and to check out her snaps.

Her goal as a photographer is to make those breakdown times as infrequent as possible. If you would like some helpful tips, head over to her site and watch the short clips in the “Capturing Childhood” section for some help in planning your family Christmas portrait session.



{ Leave a Comment }
  1. 1

    This is great, and I hope every family reads this before their next photo session. The best shots are the candid ones anyways, right?

  2. 3

    Great perspective here – and gorgeous photos, too! I actually set up my own camera in our backyard this year. The tripod and timer got us a few decent shots – good enough for this year. But I am looking forward to some professional pics next year when we become a family of four. I’ll have to re-read this post to remind myself that the crazy and the un-posed is all part of the beauty!

  3. 5

    This is funny to me, because sometime last year, I cried over someone’s perfect pictures. Ours are so bad, I usually tell the photographer to just take them, I don’t care if he is hitting his sister. Yep, I like to memorialize my family as they are. LOL

  4. 7

    Great post!! As we are getting ready to do family photos, which are still a week out, I am already worrying about if my sweet girl will decide that day to only wear pajamas (which she insists on every day now) and not wear the pretty “matching” dress I bought her. I guess at the end of the day it is not the perfect family photo that I need, but to capture her personality at this time in our lives (even if that means she wears pjs in the family photo).

    • 8

      It’s not Gap Kids, but it’s YOUR kid. :) Best memories ever. The kind we see everyone posting for “Throwback Thursdays” on Facebook and other social media…. Best of luck, Jenny!

  5. 9

    SO jealous! We have an album full of shots by Mallory when we our families were doing life together She’s a treasure! I love her and miss her! And Lisa-Jo, your pictures are FABULOUS!

  6. 11

    Ahh the irony!! I JUST took my 2 year old daughter (Zoey, by the way) to have her photos taken yesterday morning. It was such a battle, and not an unexpected one (fourth kid – no surprises at photo sessions anymore). I knew in my heart I should be relaxed, but the heat rising up on my neck and shoulder, coupled with the untimely realization that I had forgotten the crucial step of applying deodorant earlier nearly did me in! When it was over, post nap (for Zoey) and post brownie/Coke zero combo (for mama) I was able to laugh at my daughter’s spunk and utter zest for life. I even posted the outtakes on facebook for friends to enjoy – including a handstand-looking-through-my-legs-shot that the photographer somehow managed to catch.
    Thank you for using your honest encouragement to remind so many moms to stay close to Jesus as we walk this journey of motherhood. :)

    • 12

      Oh sweet irony. I love that you embraced the outtakes enough to share. There needs to be more of those, to encourage others! Enjoy the holidays and your crazy photos of your little Zoey… – M

  7. 13

    Last year we ran out the door a few weeks before Christmas and conscripted a neighbor to come take a last minute picture of the six of us lined up on our couch. Every single one of us was wearing a different pattern and we sat in front of a huge painting of wild flowers. I love the pict. (that you can see here: http://afieldofwildflowers-kellys.blogspot.com/p/about.html) because it expresses exactly how crazy life with four kids can be. Who knows, now that we’ve moved, maybe we’ll need to get the mailman to take our pictures this year!

  8. 15

    What a sweet reminder for all of the frazzled mamas out there! I think one of the keys is finding a photographer who feels the same way you do. When my daughter was 2, I was told by the photographer that I was a bad mother, because my daughter couldn’t sit still. Crazy right?!! I have an 18 x 20 picture on my wall from that photo shoot- because I KNEW that I was dealing with someone who wasn’t a mom. I asked for a different photographer and now I have great pictures from that day. And it is a constant reminder to me that others will judge me, so it’s important that I know the truth and that I am willing to stand up for my not always perfect kids and their not always perfect mother!

  9. 16

    Exactly right, Becky. That’s wonderful that you sought out a photographer that was able to capture what you were going for and open to!! What a difference it makes. And keep standing up for your kids and their bubbly joy. :)

  10. 17

    Ha, just posted some of our favorite pics from a newborn shoot we attempted on our own. Funny thing is, those are some of our favorites now:)

  11. 18

    I read this a day late. Having the worst appointment for my kids (boy 2.5 & girl 3 months) I couldn’t wait to get their picture on my mantel. Didn’t even care to send out the typical Xmas card. My son went into baby mode and didn’t even get one picture in. My baby girl looked adorable and smiled a few shots. I had to leave. I cried more than my son that day. I was so upset I couldn’t let it go. I think it was more due to no sleep the night before. I regret my words toward him. I think it’s more about the family you created and that perfect picture of them to have forever. How cute the baby looked in her first dress. I have to get over this.

  12. 19

    Oh, goodness! I should have read this BEFORE our Thanksgiving family photo shoot. Sighh…. :)

  13. 20

    As a photographer, I needed exclusive ownership of my work. After some extensive research I found out about this firm called Levy, Levy & Sosa in Miami. I decided to set up a consultation to meet with their attorney and I’m sure glad I did. They assisted me with applying for copyright registration, the process was so simple and they guided me along the way, explaining in ways that were easy to understand. I encourage you to contact them on 1-800-464-5554 or visit their website http://www.trademarklaw101.com/practice-areas/copyright/ to secure your work!


  1. […] loved this post by a professional photographer on taking family photos. My husband does photography on the side and I know he would agree with this. It’s not the […]

  2. […] her fingers into her cheeks… I don’t know. She did it in every picture. Ha! I have had this blog post on my heart all week and think it’s a great reminder to embrace seasons like this when the […]

  3. […] If you need a little more inspiration, Mallory MacDonald wrote a great piece about being a family photographer on LisaJo Baker’s Blog last month: Tips for Taking Christmas Card Photos. […]

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