The Perfect Imperfection of Family Photos

Last weekend, I photographed a couple and their 3 1/2 month old baby who was absolutely adorable – as all babies are.  The trouble was that it wasn’t easy to get a good expression out of the little guy – not because he isn’t as cute as a button – because he wouldn’t smile.  The little baby was so serious!  The only thing that would get him to even crack a smile was having both parents sing “Old MacDonald” over and over at the top of their lungs.  It did work, but I don’t know if the neighbors loved it.

This type of situation makes a lot of parents very anxious.  Here they are with a photographer who they are paying by the hour to get excellent photos of their baby and the baby won’t cooperate by even flashing a smile!  How aggravating.  But I say to such anxious parents, “Don’t worry.”  I assure them that we will, in fact, get wonderful family photos that they will always treasure, whether the baby smiles or not.  (And this goes for uncompromising toddlers, too.)

The fact of the matter is that family photos are a document of your family in a moment in time.  Ideally, you are having family portraits taken by a professional every year or every two years and if not, I hope your snapping away with your own iPhone or point-and-shoot camera at all times!  Families grow and change in the blink of an eye.  And no family is perfect (not even yours – admit it.)  Babies cry and spit up a lot, toddlers throw tantrums, teenagers have braces and acne, parents get divorced and bring new partners into the mix.  But these imperfections are what you remember when you think about your family, when your kids were little, as your parents age.  When you try too hard to control a portrait shoot and make it absolutely perfect, you lose the unique memories that make you a family!

So what if Baby Myles didn’t smile very much on Sunday?  He has adorable little furrows between his eyebrows that lead me to think he’ll grow up to be a Supreme Court Judge.  He looks thoughtful, a little worried, and very smart.  And when his parents looks back at our photos in 1, 5, 10, or 20 years, they’ll fondly remember our photo shoot and what a serious little baby Myles was at 3 1/2 months old.

Every photo and every portrait session is a bundle of memories.  My advice to all of you who worry about whether or not you look good, whether or not the children are cooperating, and whether or not to retouch out Dad’s new girlfriend is to just relax and accept that this is what your family is like today.  Cherish it.  Tomorrow, or next year, or in 10 years you’ll wish you could go back to those wonderful days when you just sat on the front steps and sang “Old MacDonald” at the top of your lungs.

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