Holiday Photos and the Quest for Eerie Perfection.

Picture-portraits have been a key part of our holidays for the past few years.  Specifically, I take holiday portraits for families as a fundraiser for our beloved preschool.  There is always a little craziness around it — what is the best way to give families the most options of photographs, what to charge that makes enough money for the school to be worthwhile without being out of reach, how to minimize the amount of one-on-one coordination and money collecting, and so on.  This year, I think we struck gold in the set-up: weekend portraits scheduled in back-to-back 15-20 minute time slots over a few hours.  Families come, sit, have pictures made, and leave.  For a set fee, I send out one favorite JPG with all the bells and whistles of color enhancing, teeth whitening and booger removal.  The money goes right to the school, and each family gets a photo for their holiday cards.

Sounds simple, right?

Right, except that *I* am involved… and nothing I do is ever simple.  Part of the problem is me, myself.  I live to please and I love to photograph… a dangerous combination.

And then there is the insecurity around my inability to guarrantee THAT photograph.

You know what I’m talking about.  THAT photograph is the one every family wants.  It’s the one that you want.  It’s the one that I want.  The one where you and all your kin sit around looking lovely.  Everyone is looking into the camera.  Everyone is smiling their nicest, brightest smile.  It’s PERFECT, THAT photograph.  Eerily… perfect.

It’s not that it is always impossible.  THAT picture is much more likely once all kids are older and sort of get that it is in their best interest to look their bright and shiny best for photographs.

But when they are little?

It is even a realistic expectation?  And further, should it be?

Yeah, I can get that adorable little child to smile for a fraction of a second and be ready to capture it with my shutter… but I’ll promise you dollars to donuts that Mom or Dad or Sister Sue is talking, waving a hand, or closing their eyes at exactly the same time.  And we can fire photograph after photograph all day, but the bottom line is that kids can’t handle more than 10, maybe 15 minutes of posed portraits before they explode.  Literally, explode, right their in their parents laps.

The bottom line is that every moment of being a parent of a small child means, well, parenting that small child.  And the camera captures reality.  Not some eerily perfect moment with everyone doing exactly the same thing and looking in exactly the same direction and smiling their exactly the same perfect smiles in their perfectly beautiful matching outfits.  It sure looks pretty.  But our eyes know what families look like.  They are crazy and wonderful — arranging, calling, clapping, laughing, encouraging — all to make one moment of stillness and calm.   If it works and we see THAT picture, we know that there is something a little… surprising about it.  We wonder, How did they do that? How did they get that picture?  It looks pretty, but… what story does it tell?  And is the story it tells an authentic one?

I’m not sure it is.  Authentic.  How can it be when it comes from my shouting, LALALALALALALALA look heeeerrrrrrrrreeee babbbeeeeeee!  — MOM, EYES UP, DAD, DON’T TALK — LALALALALALA baaaaaabbbbbbeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!  And if I’m really lucky, this is combined with Paul in the background jumping up shouting PEAK A BOO from behind me.

All this, to get THAT photo.  It’s no wonder it looks eerie.

But still.  I work and work and work for THAT picture and beat myself up when it doesn’t happen.  I mean I really feel guilty.  I feel like it should be something I can do at will — that it should just HAPPEN.  I have the stuff… the toys in the bag, the comb and tissue and wet ones.  I have an eye to see when things are off and can fix them.  But still… I manage to capture reality.  I can’t seem to create that fleeting moment of eerie wonder that everyone wants.

And then?  I feel like I’ve let someone down.

Even with photographs of my own family.  Just look.

But.  Maybe.  Just Maybe…

… this is better?  Cheesy, yes, but gives a bit more personality…?


I mean, compared to this?

Don’t my children look miserable?  I mean, honestly, how can we expect them to SIT for FIVE SECONDS?  It’s no use bribing.

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That look below is suppose to be Will’s nice smile.  I will find a way to make him pay for this during his teenage years.  And where is Kate?  Also, might I consider getting a hair cut and touching up highlights more often than every 8 months?

Can you tell I’m running back and forth setting the timer on the camera?  (A remote trigger would be a nice touch, Santa.  Ahem.)

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So, maybe, instead, we should stick to this?

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It’s messier than the posed family shot, sure.  Personality over perfection.  Maybe I’ll feel better if I lead with my strengths?


With that, if I were to photograph you and your family — what would you want?  What do you look for in a photographer?  What kinds of photographs do you want after a sitting?  What do you expect to pay and what kind of flexibility do you want?  Is there such a thing as a good holiday photo that isn’t “perfect”?