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…
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.
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.
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.