So. It’s time for family photos. It’s usually mom pushing the photos and, if that’s the case in your family, Go YOU, mom, because aren’t moms usually the ones behind the camera and barely in front of it??? I think that’s one of the saddest trends and, as a photographer, it’s one of the ones I’m constantly trying to banish. That and the one where mom chooses to never be in the pic because she doesn’t have make-up on or her hair is a mess. When your kiddos are 50 and you’re not here anymore, they’re going to wish you had been in more shots, make-up no, frizzy hair or not – our kids don’t care about that stuff! They love your face, not the make-up you put on it. So, the sub-message of this blog post is one encouraging mommas to get in the frame!! I will champion that cause over and over and over because, as the mom in My Big Fat Greek Wedding proclaimed, “Your father may be the head of the household but I am the NECK!” Truer words were never spoken, my friend.
Alright, so you’ve made the decision to hire a photographer and get this done. While you may think choosing the perfect location or getting the coordinating outfits together are the most important part of this transaction, I need to tell you that those things are secondary to something else that is SO IMPORTANT that I need to bold it. Moms, dads, please…QUIT BEGGING YOUR KIDS TO SMILE!!!!
😳 “What?? The photographer is telling me not to have my kids smile???” you’re thinking. “Who is this shyster??” Let me explain. Do you remember when you were a kid and your mom dragged you to the fire station for their fundraiser or to Olan Mills (I’m dating myself)? It was the worst – I remember it. It was usually a Saturday, a day when I wanted to be free to hang with my friends and just, in general, not worry about obligations. Now mom is telling me to get dressed and force a smile to be in these pictures that I care nothing about and the whole situation is just a debacle. Remember that? No one left happy, the images were a joke and it was just a bad family memory, right??
Well, that is not my goal and begging kids to smile simply puts the ball in their court and ensures that mom and dad’s desperate pleas and promises end up in sugar highs that beat post-Halloween indulgence. I’ve done it, you’ve done it, we’ve all done it – and the kids are STILL crabby through it all, am I right?? “Sweetie. If you just smile this one time, I promise we’ll stop at McDonald’s on the way home and get hot fudge sundaes.” Therein follows 900 or a thousand such promises and by the time the session is over, that kid is flying high with the knowledge that she’s scored all the hot fudge sundaes she wants plus free time on YouTube, a shopping spree, endless bags of m&ms and a unicorn (okay, I get that I’m mixing ages here but you see my point). Let’s quit with the cajoling and giving all the power to the young ones and instead let’s make it a session that they will remember with a smile. My goal at family sessions is to have the kids so amped on mom and dad’s positive attention that they forget a photographer is snapping photos and instead just bask in the glory of the parentals’ 100% focus. A recent session proved this to me all over again. When mom and dad pleaded with the little to cooperate or to do something specific that mom wanted but the kid didn’t…what do you think the end result was? Grumpy face on kid and open mouths on pleading parents. But when mom and dad ignored kid and made no attempts to get kid to comply, kid was ALL IN and those were the sweetest images from the session! The kid doesn’t want to cooperate when he’s being begged to but he does want to when he’s being ignored! Isn’t it beautiful??? Put another way, when a child is being coerced to smile and cooperate, you know what you’re going to get, right? That forced toothy smile that kind of looks like the kids needs to poop…right?? But the natural expressions that come out, the ones you love and see all the time – outside of planned family photos – are the ones that are the goal here.
So. My plea to parents everywhere is to take back control over family photos. The first hint of weakness they see will be the beginning of the slide into unrealistic promises so let’s not even take that road. In fact, let’s eliminate forced photos altogether! My goal going forward is to create a family adventure for my clients so that everyone is having fun and family photos become something that everyone looks forward to! My brain is still working on all the options but here are a few that come to mind immediately:
1. Family Apple Picking Day
2. Family Picnic
3. Family Beach Day
4. DC Adventure Day
5. Mommy and Me Library adventure
6. ?? – what could you come up with?
And because no blog post is complete without some photos, here are some images that we did last year with my wonderful photographer friend Melissa of Photography by Melissa Green (https://www.facebook.com/photographybyMelissaGreen) which perfectly illustrate this point. Rather than forcing our kids to smile stiffly at the camera with dead eyes, we instead engaged them and gave them positive attention…and they SOAKED IT UP. It was the best set of family photos we’ve had done in years (…and also the only set of family photos we’ve had done in years…because we were traumatized by their KID-ness the last time) and all because we set no rules and had no expectations. Moms. Dads. TRY IT.
Liz Viernes Photography is based near Fulton, Maryland, and specializes in maternity, fresh 48, posed and lifestyle newborns and first year milestone portraits.