That Almost Didn't Happen...

If anyone recognizes the importance of family photos, it’s me—but not because I’m a photographer. Long before I was a photographer, when I was pregnant with our first child (who was also the first grandchild on my side), we moved halfway across the country—away from our families—from Pennsylvania to Kansas. FaceTime was in beta, so we connected the old-fashioned ways: telephone calls and emails. But photos were treasured by the grandparents above all else.

That’s when I started taking pictures—so I could share them with grandparents. I also started taking the kids to JCPenny Portraits to have them professionally photographed. Over time, I slowly I came to realize what a treasure the photos were: I’d look back realize how quickly the kids had changed. The efforts and trials of getting to the studio, and the pains of working through the session were long forgotten (child #2 always cried). The smile looking back from the photo was all that remained.

After becoming a professional photographer, I struggled to photograph my own family. People would often ask “Who takes your family’s photos?” Great question. Wishing I could be two places at once, I’d tried several times to set up a camera on a tripod and hide a remote trigger in my hand. That worked. Sorta. But those images lacked the composition and expressions I captured for my own clients.

I also considered asking a photographer friend to swap family sessions, but that required planning ahead. And that was where it fell apart: with a husband who worked in another state, a child away at college, and a high school senior involved in sports and social events, it was looking like it would be MONTHS before our schedules would align for a family portrait. And by then it would be the middle of the fall—the busy season for family photographers.

*Sigh* I put the family portrait idea on the back burner.

It was a quiet summer morning. I was pro-actively cleaning our well-used kitchen stove and the kids had left for work. With nothing on my schedule for the morning, I’d pulled apart my gas stove, hoping to soak and clean all the pieces. (Why do teenagers not know how to wipe out the stove??)

I was surprised to hear the front door open—maybe one of the kids had forgotten something? To my delight, in walked my husband with a big grin on his face! He wasn’t supposed to be home—at least not for several days. Surprise! He was home for my birthday, which was the following day. (Greatest birthday gift ever!)

After the shock wore off, and I reoriented my mind and plans. I realized that all 5 of us were going to be home together for the weekend—which wouldn’t happen again for almost 10 weeks! But now I was really scrambling. All my photographer friends were out of town or booked. How was I going to pull off a family portrait? And even if I could find someone to do it, what the heck were we going to wear?

Desperation sparks ingenuity. What if I set up the shot, maybe a (former) student could take the picture?? I started thinking about which student I could ask, made a few inquiries, and found one willing and available! The ball was rolling.

I didn't just want a few shots of us together as a family, I had a  vision: I wanted to hang a large canvas of us in the foyer—own where we're all wearing colors that complemented our first floor decor: teals, grays, beiges, and whites. I raided everyone’s closet and picked clothes that might work and then I went shopping to fill in the holes. It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad either.

The last challenge was the weather. My birthday is mid-August: “stinkin’ hot” as my mother says (and she would know). This year was no exception. The heat was oppressive. The kids begged me to make it a short session and I agreed: it was 97° at 6:00 PM! Brutal.

I’m happy to report we survived and I have a renewed appreciation for the effort my clients make to have their families photographed. It’s a lot of work! We got some pretty great shots… and made a memory in the process.

Oh, and I included my parents in the session. My mom always complains she doesn’t have any good pictures of her and my dad… despite her daughter being a photographer. Hopefully, she’ll stop saying that now J.

Here’s few shots from our session— Enjoy!