Picture Perfect

Yesterday we went and had a family portrait done.  What a fiasco.  Getting family portraits is difficult to do on any given day and it seemed as if the stars were aligned against us yesterday as we tried.  It’s not as if I’m inexperienced in getting this done, we actually do family portraits every year around Mother’s Day.  And every year it’s a huge hassle, you want to rip your hair out, and somewhere along the way someone swears that we will never do this ever ever again, and then the very next year we’re lining up to get the portrait done again.

We also go to the same place every year, Sears.  When Brendan was first born I received a whole bunch of portrait studio coupons, and tried out a lot of different places.  We went to Sears for his 9 month photos, and were hooked.  The pictures turned out beautifully, the service we got from the staff was amazing, and best of all the price was right.  We’ve been going there ever since.  It’s gotten to the point where the bulk of the staff knows me and my family by name.  They know what types of things I like and don’t like in my pictures and so I avoid a lot of unnecessary questions.  They also know my kids well and know some great techniques for getting them to cooperate and smile.  Ultimately what it boils down to is that we love our portrait studio and they’re generally not the issue when it comes to our family portraits.

My kids are.

The first star to align against us was the appointment itself.  The best we could do was 4:30 in the afternoon.  My kids are not very good about taking pictures in the afternoon.  Since I generally know when the kids are due to have pictures taken, I can plan well in advance and schedule the appointment at least a month out from when we’re going to do it.  That ensures I can get the first appointment of the day, which with my brood is always the best option.  Unfortunately this photo was for Matt’s mom since her birthday was last week, and we didn’t have as much time to schedule the appointment.

But no harm in giving it a try.  The kids are older now than they were the last time we did a family portrait.  And as they age I keep hoping that we can get through a photo session without having to coax one child or another into cooperating with us for “just one more” picture.  I knew getting Kaylee up from her nap and taking her to get photos done would be a crap shoot.  You never know when she gets up if you’ll get the sweet loving princess, or the bad news bear.

The person I did not expect to be a problem was Brendan.  He has good days and bad days like any other kid, and Saturday was one of his better days.  At least until we started getting dressed for the pictures.  I had all of the kids clothes laid out on the couch, and the kids needed their nails cut as well.  So Matt and I set up an assembly line where I would be cutting the nails of one kid while Matt dressed another.  It worked well, he started dressing Kaylee and assisted Brendan where necessary (since the 9 year old is pretty self sufficient with dressing, he just needed help fastening his pants and tucking in his shirt) while I cut Cam’s nails.  Then we switched, and he continued dressing Kaylee (she was squirming quite a bit, and he had to wrestle her into tights) and monitored Cameron while I cut Brendan’s nails.

As soon as Brendan came over to me he began to whine about not wanting to get his picture done.  He was visibly upset by this and almost in tears as he told me it was “too hard” and “unfair” that we had to do pictures that day.  I try to be sympathetic with him where I can, but I really wanted to look at him and shout, “Seriously????  It’s a freaking picture!”  Instead I tried to get him to explain to me what was so bad about getting his picture taken.  He finally explained that he’d just had his picture taken at school on Friday, and having to do it two days in a row was just too much for him.  I reminded him that the picture was for his grandma and how much she would love having a picture of him for her wall.  That perked him up a little, and a promise of a treat for all kids who behaved and cooperated during the photo session sealed the deal.

One crisis averted.  Once the kids were dressed, Matt went to pack the diaper bag while I collected socks and shoes for all the kids.  That was when the second (and much more predicable) crisis hit.  I was in our laundry room trying (unsuccessfully) to find matches for the kids socks.  Pretty soon Cameron and Brendan come tearing through the house screwing around and screaming like banshees.  Now we’d just finished telling the kids that since they were wearing dress clothes that they couldn’t mess around, and they needed to keep their shirts tucked in until after the pictures were done.

I told them to knock it off and of course Cameron (being the stubborn soul that he is) began to throw a fit about being told not to mess around.  I stood firm, and in retalliation he looked me square in the eye and purposely pulled his shirt out of his pants.  I about lost my cool at this point, but thankfully Matt swooped in and finished getting the kids ready so we could get out the door.

We arrived at the photo studio 15 minutes early with all three kids in overall decent moods.  Kaylee had enough time to wake up from her nap that she was in a mostly happy mood (unfotunately she is getting over a cold (yes, another illness) which has been making her rather snippy even when she’s happy), Cameron had gotten over his tantrum and changed his attitude, and Brendan seemed much calmer about his part in this whole endeavor.

We were greeted at the entrance to the studio by one of our regular photographers and she chatted with us for a few minutes while the equipment was being set up for our session.  Then, she dropped a rather large bombshell on us.  She would not be handling our photo session, there was a new gentleman working there who would be doing the photos instead.  I tried to keep an open mind, we’ve survived new photographers before, but with the day I was having I wasn’t holding out much hope.

And it turned out I was right to doubt.  I’m sure given different circumstances this guy would be a fantastic photographer, but it was quickly apparent that he wasn’t comfortable working with children.  He wasn’t good at getting or keeping their attention as we set up the photos, a lot of the poses he tried were very stiff and didn’t translate very well when captured on film.  As you can imagine, Kaylee is the most difficult in photo sessions.  At two there’s only so long she can stand still and so many commands she can understand.  Each photo took entirely too long to set up, and so by the time he was ready to shoot she was ready to get moving and would invariably step out of position just as he went to snap the picture.

Cameron and Brendan are pretty equal in their efforts to frustrate both me and the photographer in a photo session.  Brendan struggles to smile naturally, and we have to let new photographers know never to tell Brendan to smile.  When you tell him to smile you get this really horrible strained look where his eyes bug out and his smile is very unnatural.  Your better bet is to make him laugh right before you snap a picture and you end up with some really adorable smiles.  He also takes really good pictures not smiling at all.  The looks he can give the camera are just priceless.

The problem with getting Brendan to laugh is Cameron.  He will generally laugh at whatever it is Brendan is laughing at, and when he laughs he puts his whole body into it which means he’s now out of position and generally no longer looking at the camera.  This is obviously problematic as we then have to put him back into position, and try to get everyone looking and smiling naturally at the same time again.  But on the plus side we’ve gotten some amazing pictures with him being crazy.  When he was three we took him to do his pictures in a red cowboy hat and boots.  At one point the photographer tried to get him to laugh and he laughed so hard he bent over and put his hands onto his knees.  Most photographers would have stopped and reset his position.  The girl taking his photo that day shot a whole bunch of pictures while he was cracking up and they were the best ones we bought that day.

So with Kaylee moving, Cameron cracking up, and Brendan making his eyes bug out we had to do each pose about a dozen times.  By the end of the session I was ready to rip my hair out and had seen so many messed up pictures that I truly feared we didn’t have a single good one in the bunch.  Thankfully the photographer was able to weed out the truly horrible ones and we were able to find some really good ones to purchase.

Taking family portraits is something I’m quite passionate about and will continute to do it year after year despite my frustrations with the entire process.  I’m just eagerly awaiting the day when all of my kids are old enough to not get through a photo session without the number of problems that we went through yesterday.

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