My wife and I make many compromises in life…I’ve been told that’s a key to a happy and healthy marriage. One of those compromises deal with taking pictures – specifically family portraits. You see, I love taking pictures (and I’m pretty decent at it, if I do say so myself ;)), so I have a hard time grasping why I would ask someone else to do something that I love doing myself. The wife, on the other hand, wants to avoid the headache and stress of me setting up cameras and remotes/timers…and get more images of me involved. Our compromise was that every other year I will get another photographer to take our family portraits, and I can do everything else myself. And so this MY time.
In recent years, this hasn’t been as much of an issue for me. My daughter was a happy-go-lucky, always listening, loved-posing-for-pictures type of girl. Then she turned 2 and her brother entered the picture, and things have been…not as easy. Even still, my confidence was high. It didn’t bother me that our son had colic and was rarely in a good mood. Nor did it matter that he hates being in a car. I packed up the family and we made a day trip to the city. The plan was simple: we were going to grab lunch, take some pictures, have a blast, and be the happiest family on earth.
At the very least, that’s what people might think after seeing our pictures, right?
As expected, the drive to the city was an endless screamfest for the son, with the daughter joining in occasionally as his crying started to grate on her, as well. After finally reaching the city and parking the car, we walked a few blocks to grab some food, which again is never a picture-perfect event. But we ultimately made it through lunch (thanks to Daniel Tiger keeping one child occupied). We bundled ourselves back up and began the walk to a nice location for portraits. This is where I work my magic.
When I come upon a location, I look for the light – where is the good light, where is it coming from? How will it hit the faces? I start balancing the scene – remove these distracting elements from view, offset the placement of the family with another object in the distance, bring in some leading lines. This is so much fun!
The big problem is that with this family of four, 3 of the members don’t have the patience to let me make a masterpiece. No worries – I work well under pressure, too. I’ll just set up my camera and then use my amazing people skills get my daughter to focus. So with my wife holding our (whining) son, I start setting up the camera and tripod. As I start balancing the legs of the tripod, I hear my wife call after my daughter ‘Eden!’, and her glance is off behind me. Knowing the wife can’t do much with a 10lb baby strapped to her, I quickly swing my head around to find where my daughter has run off to. And as I turn, I realize that the tripod was not yet stable, and it begins to fall.
At this point I had a choice: Grab my camera from falling or find my daughter.
I scanned for my daughter while blindly reaching out to try to grab my falling camera. It wasn’t that crowded where we were, so it was easy to spot my daughter who went maybe 20 feet away just off in her own world. My catlike reflexes seemed to have slowed over the years, though, and the next thing I heard was the thud of my camera hitting the ground. Luckily none of the glass elements broke, but the lens was dented and will need to be repaired.
I took a deep breath, told my wife how that sucks, and switched lenses. The daughter returned, unaware of the damage, and we tried again. I finally got everything set up, and then the next step was getting everyone in agreement. The son was continuing to complain, the daughter and wife were battling over fashion choices, and I kept calculating repair costs for my favorite portrait lens. And so…this is what happened-
You know what I told my wife when we started this process? We only need one picture. That is the goal. I could take 1000 bad pictures, but if I got one good enough for our family and we were able to have a pretty good time doing it, it was a success. And as I focused on getting my daughter to buy in, we finally got it.
A common thing I hear is ‘your kids are probably so good at posing because they are used to taking pictures all the time.’ Truth is, they are still kids, and will choose to do things on their own time. The way to get a good image is to be patient and have fun with it.
My son won’t have any recollection of that day. My daughter might remember going to the city, taking pictures and laughing. And I’m happy about that. I don’t want my kids to associate trivial things like taking an annual family photo as a high stress event full of frustration, pain and anger. I want them to have fun with it. My kids were not intentionally trying to annoy us (at this time)…they were being kids. So we will continue to parent them (ie. remind her not to wander off and explain why) knowing full well that they will mess up and give us more opportunities to parent. And I never want to complain about having opportunities to parent.