Apprehensive parents schedule their photos with me and often feel the need to warn me about their children and their behavior. They apologize ahead of time. They tell me to expect the worst, or say things like “I don’t have high hopes for our session”.
As a mom - I can relate only to the idea of wanting to give my photographer a heads up about my family. [Truth be told, I have a super giggly and calm one-year-old, but my three-year-old came out of the womb wild, free, and with his OWN idea of just about everything.] If this sounds familiar, warning your photographer is good, but only as a way to help with their expectations; to let them know they shouldn’t feel pressure to capture any ONE type of photo, to not expect a big happy family “cheese” photo, and to hopefully be on board with just enjoying your family in a more candid way. This is our approach to family and portrait sessions with children.
Because your child is a miracle. Once a year I get the most incredible reminder of this when I photograph the beautiful miracle that is Brynn Catherine Guidry; with all her pure joy, light and love. Her personality is so big and I tear up at the thought of how the world almost didn’t get the chance to get to know it.
Just shy of two years old, Brynn got sick. It started like most colds do, only this illness was relentless. On October 12, 2018, after a trip to the doctor, she was sent home.
All seemed well: just a typical cold virus. The next day, Brynn’s temp spiked and she was having labored breathing. In the early morning hours of the 15th, Brynn was in the ER because she was then really struggling to breathe. Something was wrong.
Her first X-ray was clear and at this time Brynn responded well to breathing treatments. She was discharged home with albuterol treatments every four hours. Unfortunately though, this became less effective and so she was having to be given them more frequently. It had gotten so bad by the afternoon they resorted to trying an oral steroid. That didn’t help either. She was re-admitted to the hospital and within that 24 hours, her X-ray was now showing pleural effusion: A buildup of fluid between the tissues that line the lungs and the chest..
Things were not improving, and it was clear Brynn needed more specialized facilities, so she was was transferred to Women’s & Children’s Hospital. Five days from the start of her story, they discovered Brynn had strep, a pleural effusion, pneumonia, and sepsis. Her chest cavity was filled with fluid putting pressure on her heart and trachea as well as causing her lung to collapse. This is which what was making it difficult for her to breath. She was rushed into surgery to drain her chest. She was placed on a vent and then sent to the PICU to wait.
To illustrate just how grave things were for baby Brynn, at least for those who are religious, she received her last sacrament twice during a hospital stay that stretched 22 long and tiring days. Her story included many twists, turns, prayers, tears, and mysteries, but ultimately, a full recovery. According to the experts, one out of every two children, will not survive what Brynn experienced. She was blessed to be in the 50% that live on to tell this story. She wasn’t even two-years-old when it happened.
I know Brynn’s story - so I know the beautiful children we are blessed with are miracles. Their time with us is NOT guaranteed. I am a mom (and human). In my experience, these little ones challenge us, frustrate us, test us, and try our patience. Even still, when you’re given the chance to have an hour to make some memories with your babies - take it!
Getting the perfect pose will not matter as much as making perfect genuine memories with real laughter - especially (God forbid) if one day that’s all you have left of your child. Each year, Brynn’s birthday session reminds me to take this approach with my own children in life. It reminds me to enjoy their personality and soak up every moment I have with them; the good, the bad, and the ugly - because, if tomorrow doesn’t come, I’d wish I had.
TIME FOR BRUTAL HONESTY
Each child is a miracle, but they are also an individual still learning the world. Some days they will behave.. but some days they are learning, discovering, and testing boundaries and THAT my friends is a fact of life. As a photographer, I enjoy playing with kids even if I have to chase them around a little. I don’t mind patiently waiting for them to laugh with me organically to photograph their REAL smile. I don’t mind finding fun ways to interact and unlock what makes them truly giggle. I don’t mind if it turns into an all out dance party. I don’t mind if we get silly. I don’t mind if we even have a melt down or end up going over time by 5 minutes to give the little one the space to take a breath, calm down and feel safe taking photos with me.
Children shouldn’t fit in boxes - stand here, smile now, or (lord help me), say “CHEESE”. I’m calling Webster to have that word revoked from the dictionary. Just kidding, but typically there is a 50/50 chance it results in that goofy, forced smile, that kids know they are expected to give to their parents and the camera. Children are meant to play and discover the world, as the should. THAT is what makes a great photograph. Those are the reason’s to even have the photographs. Gone are the days when camera’s were bulky and gear wasn’t mobile… more than ever, we have the technology that makes it easy to follow the action. Why not utilize it! When I look through my camera roll, my favorite photos of my kids, Roän and Ezra, are certainly not ones of them sitting up tall, saying cheese (aka - poop face), and looking awkwardly at the camera.
My favorites are of him rolling over in laughter. I love when his eyes sparkle when he sees or hears something new for the first time. I love when he runs and plays, and I adore when he dances or makes silly faces. Those memories remind me of who my child was at each milestone. I don’t know about you but cheese just doesn’t do it for me!
So - I ask you as a parent, stop having adult modeling expectations on your children. Show up as you are and let’s have some fun. My job is to capture your family as it is. Relax. Focus on enjoying it - even if they aren’t listening - at least for the moment. Saying YES if the want a silly picture instead of “stop that, just smile.” Resist the urge to demand perfection - and accept the crazy for a minute. Be open to running with them and chasing them instead of sitting still for the camera. It might surprise you what ends up on your canvas with this approach.
Now, you can - if it suits you - fuss at your kids to behave and get them to gather around and submit for that ONE, perfect, posed, Christmas card photo if you want. I too still feel that pressure from time to time. Statistically though, the chances of you accomplishing your goal with that approach (rather than the above mentioned relaxed, natural, and authentic approach) is way, way, lower than Brynn’s odds where.
Happy Birthday Brynn - thanks for teaching us so much!
Love Aunt Donna!