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Debate Club: Are Professional Photos Worth the Fuss (and Expense)?


We Don’t Do Professional Photos

by Laura Richards

It started when my husband and I got engaged. Back in 1998, everyone did a couple’s photo for their local newspaper engagement announcement page. We figured we should do it, too, so we went to a local photographer’s home studio.

One of the reasons I married my husband was our similar sense of humor. We frankly thought professional couple’s photos, no matter how tastefully done, felt cheesy. Our session was no different.

We felt cheesy immediately.

The guy had us sit back to back with our heads together, and then face the same way with heads together – ways we would never sit in real life. We both felt like running for the door, but we carried on with what would be deemed worthy of the now popular Awkward Family Photos site. We got the photos, chose one, and submitted it to the paper.

Fast forward a few years to the birth of our first children, identical twin boys who were born prematurely, one with some serious birth defects. A woman entered my hospital room asking if we wanted professional photos of the babies.

They were in the NICU attached to tubes and ventilators, and the doctors thought one son was blind. So I declined, not because of the boys’ situation necessarily, but because I’ve seen those newborn photos and 1) most babies look the same, 2) they make me think of hostage photos, and 3) the baby is often fussy or annoyed. I passed on that and opted to take our own photos of the boys in the NICU.

Our next “professional” photo experience was for our church’s pictorial directory – my husband and I with our toddler twins in matching corduroy overalls. My husband was sporting a forced grin while pinning our most active son’s arms firmly to his sides as the photographer implored that we keep him still. The discontent was palpable. This was not our thing.

Before we knew it, preschool started and, with it, the school photo frenzy. Some required purchasing a photo package without seeing a proof. One of my sons does not enjoy having his photo taken. He looks pained, looks the wrong way, keeps eyes closed, or sports such a forced smile that it looks like a bad celebrity mug shot from TMZ.

I decided that unless I could see proofs, I wouldn’t pay money for school photos. We purchased a few and displayed them in frames on a table, but they eventually landed in a desk drawer. Another time, one of our sons looked great in his class photo until we realized his hand was down the front of his pants. Yup!

Don’t get me wrong, we love our kids dearly, and we love photos of our kids. But we want to take them and, to us, candids are the best kind. We post lots of photos of the kids on Facebook, and I have hundreds, if not thousands, that we’ve taken casually. It’s the professional photos that make us cringe, especially those that involve holding (gulp) props.

We now have four boys ranging in age from four to 15. When I’ve said, “You know, we’ve never done a professional family photo. Should we try it sometime?” they all say in unison, “No! Lame!”

I’ve seen families pulling each other in little red wagons, on sleighs, holding life-sized candy canes. I’ve seen families holding life-sized inflatable numbers that together read 2017. And I concur. That it is, um, lame. Awkward Family Photos territory.

My husband has always secretly wanted to have the professional family beach photo done, with everyone in crisp white shirts and khaki shorts, the soft beauty light of sunset behind them shimmering off the ocean water. We’ve seen them over fireplaces in friends’ homes, but we know our family. We would probably start laughing, or a seagull would poop on someone’s head.

Instead, we’ll enjoy all the photos of your families holding hands, running across fields, sitting on pumpkins and huge Easter eggs. Know that we love you dearly, but we won’t be joining in on the posed photo fun.

A New Family Photo for Every Season

by Shannon Miller

Right around Halloween, when the array of costumes on the racks gives way to Christmas-oriented gear, I start searching for the perfect set of pajamas for my two boys.

After all, they have to look great for their professional Christmas pajama-themed photo shoot.

Our family loves the holidays. My husband and I go all out decorating the house with knick-knacks and doo-dads representing every celebratory day from Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving. We even find ways to recognize not-quite-holidays, like March Madness and Super Bowl Sunday with basketball and football motifs.

These days have been even more fun since we’ve had kids. And what better way to mark the season than dress them for the occasion and take photos for posterity?

We’ve done Fourth of July photos with flags and a lemonade stand, Mother’s Day photos that doubled as a maternity shoot, pumpkin patch pictures with the boys holding gourds and, of course, Christmas pictures with everyone in festive red and green. I join in the fun most times, and my camera-shy husband makes an occasional appearance, but it’s really all about the boys.

There’s a reason we go ga-ga for seasonal and holiday-themed photos. They capture fun times and our family’s growth and change through the seasons. They complete our tradition of celebrating special occasions by capturing an image to mark the moment. And, of course, our extended family loves them.

With no relatives in our state and the closest living about 200 miles away, frequent photos are the best way to keep Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Linda and Aunt Christy feeling like a part of the boys’ lives…with Easter bunnies in spring or frolicking in a sunflower field in mid-fall?

The plethora of professional photographers in our area make this easy to do. Our local grocery store offers free photos in front of its pumpkin and corn husk display to anyone who shows up. Count us in. We mark the date on the calendar, dress the boys in matching outfits, and drive over for their close ups. Voila! Annual fall photo.

Many childhood and family photographers in Southwest Ohio are also mothers themselves, who support their families with their photography businesses. They’re my go-to professionals around the holidays as most offer a day of “mini-sessions” at a local park or in their homes with themed backdrops and props. They book families back-to-back for 20-minute sessions, and get 10 to 15 images to you in a week. It’s a win-win.

I admit logistics can be difficult. Four-year-old and one-year-old little boys don’t exactly cooperate with photographer’s cues, and getting them both bathed, dressed, groomed, and out the door to make their appointments could be an Olympic event. But somehow – thanks to my determination and the photographers’ skill and patience – we end up with at least one photo of the bunch that looks great. And that’s all we need for Aunt Linda’s mantel.

Are they hokey? Sure, sometimes. Do the kids really need to be posing in front of a backdrop filled with hearts while dressed in Valentine’s Day red? Probably not. But the kitschyness of it all is part of the appeal.

Seasonal photos bring variety to the staid studio or school shots with plain backgrounds that look the same from Maine to California. When they’re adults, the boys can look back and laugh at themselves in their matching shirts, holding pumpkins and basketballs, and post those photos on some 2040s version of Facebook for laughs.

Eventually, we know the photos will stop. No self-respecting tween wants to hold a bunny and dress in the same shirt as his little brother. But for now, we’ll continue to indulge. There’s a new studio at the mall I want to check out that offers monthly shoots for 30 dollars a mini-session, and we haven’t yet explored winter wonderland or Halloween costume themes.

Believe it or not, I was too late scheduling the Christmas shoot in time for this year’s cards. Never fear. We’ll be ready next year – pajamas and all. 

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Sometimes it's easy to overlook this amazing work we are doing, my love. On the surface, our lives couldn't be less extraordinary. We work our jobs, we care for our children—we embody a simple life. (Though, don't get me wrong, we love every second of it!)

But especially when I think about the work you do for our family, work that largely goes unsung, I'm reminded that, really, it's my job to make sure you know how much it's appreciated.

We both came into this marriage so young, so untested, and so blissfully unaware of the hardships that would come our way through the years. As we grew up together, we weathered our own storms before finally realizing we were ready to expand from a party of two to a party of three.

You were more nervous than I was, but you stayed strong for me, making me feel stronger and shouldering my own moments of uncertainty like the hero I needed.

When our daughter was born, pink and sweet and impossibly small, I never felt safer than when I saw her in your arms. From her first breath, you were there, ready to give her the world if she asked. Your dedication to her, to me, and to this family we continue to build never wavered from that moment forward. From the first moments, you were an incredible parent.

But life has a way of distracting us—blinding us to the everyday heroism even when it's right under our noses. As Edna Mode sagely reminded us in The Incredibles 2, "Done properly, parenting is a heroic act", and I see your heroism.

So thank you, my love…you are incredible to me.

Thank you for stretching to pick up my slack, even when you’re just as tired as I am.

Somedays you walk through the door from work, and you were slammed all day and your commute took an hour longer than it should have, and you're immediately bombarded by a needy toddler and an (almost) equally needy wife. But when I watch you shake off the day in an instant and throw your arms around us both, ready to help, I don't think words can truly express how grateful I am.

Thank you for being strong in my moments of weakness, even if no one else ever knows about them.

I play it so strong all the time, but you know the truth. You know the moments I'm about to break or the days when I truly can't take on another thing. And how do you respond? You make it okay. You let me crumble, you let me whine, you let me cry when I need to. You make it a safe space where I don't have to be #supermom, if even just for a moment. You are my safe space, and I love you for that.

Thank you for the thousands of practical, “little” things you do every week.

From taking out the garbage to changing the lightbulbs to actually remembering to replace the toilet paper roll (something even I forget to do!), those little things don't go unnoticed—even if I often forget to thank you in the moment.

While I may take on the bulk of housework as the stay-at-home parent, you do your part in little ways I never forget. Those little things? To me, they are incredible feats, trust me.

Thank you for being the incredible father I always knew you would be.

I wouldn't have married you if I didn't think "Dad" was a mantle you could take on successfully, but it still makes my heart burst every time I see you excelling at this difficult role. You make our daughter feel supported, safe, and loved every single day, and I'm so, so happy that you are the person I chose to do this life with. Your instincts and commitment to our children amaze me every day.

So for all the million things you do—and for all the millions of times I forget to say it—I thank you. For all the million things you have yet to do for us—I thank you.

You're our hero, and you're pretty incredible.

This article is sponsored by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles 2 on Digital October 23 and Blu-ray Nov 6. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

As I sit here and write this, I kind of feel like I'm just waking up from a newborn fog myself—like I had been living in a dream and a nightmare all at once. With all the highs and lows of newborn parenthood—I'm realizing that literally nothing could have prepared me mentally or emotionally for it. How could it have?

It's like—how do you prepare the sweet baby you're growing inside you for the warmth of the sunlight they'll feel on their cheeks or the sound of the birds chirping in the spring? Nothing you could ever say could prepare them for that kind of simple wonder.

And nothing I can tell you will prepare you for the simple wonder of being present in the first moments of your baby's precious and irreplaceable life.

Take a mental snapshot of your home as you leave for the hospital. It will never be the same again. Try to remember the way the light poured in through the windows, the way the air felt on your face. I'm thankful I was able to remember to do this myself. Months from that day when the light pours in and the air brushes against your face in a similar way you'll be filled to the brim with heartwarming nostalgia of the day your sweet baby was born.

There is nothing I can say to you that can prepare your body for the excitement, the nerves, the exhaustion, or the hard work that is giving birth. The inexplicable awestruck wonder of your baby's first breath, their first blink, their first cry. The first time you meet them—the only person in the world that knows your heart from the inside. You will be the most beautiful sight they have ever seen, as they will be yours.

There are no words for those moments. But there are actions.

Take a picture in the hospital holding that sweet soul—a picture that includes you. The postpartum you with no makeup on, your hair disheveled, your hospital gown draped over your tired body. Don't wait to be "ready."

Take the picture. I wish I had.

There aren't any words to describe your first night home and the first weeks to follow. They'll be some of the most emotional days of your entire life—highs and lows of epic proportions—waves of pride, frustration, invincibility and defeat. Take them all in and let them shape your experience.

Trust the process. I wish I had been more trusting.

Breastfeed if you want to. Formula feed if you want to. That is your choice. Make it for the right reasons. Don't do either because someone else wants you to.

Make the choice that makes you and your sweet baby happy, healthy and able to be present. I wish I had.

Don't let anyone pressure you into decisions. Don't let anyone make you feel less than for the first choices you'll make as a mother. There is no one on the earth that knows your son better than you. Yes, the diaper is on right. No, the swaddle isn't too tight.

Be confident in your abilities and instincts. I wish I had been more confident.

With that said, be open to support from those around you—particularly from the women in your life. Accept and embrace your vulnerability and surrender, at least for a little while, to the hands of your village.

My mother-in-law told me on the way home from the hospital that she was never more grateful for the presence of her mother than in the days and weeks after my husband was born. She said I would feel the same. And she was right.

Let your mom or mother-in-law or a mother figure of sorts come to your rescue. Let her put cream on your back after the shower and stroke your hair as you take a nap. Be her baby. Now you'll understand the depth of her love for you.

Try to enjoy the moments right from the start. Rock your baby to sleep. Smell their precious newborn scent. Snuggle them endlessly. Let them fall asleep on your chest and keep your skin touching theirs as much as you can. All of this will be pretty difficult as you run on likely very little sleep, so don't be hard on yourself when you feel overwhelmed (we all feel that way at times!).

But as you can— try to be there in those moments. I wish I had been more present.

Know that the first weeks and first months come with a lot more exhaustion than you could ever really imagine—but then they will end. They. Will. End. The sleepless nights eventually become more restful and your days a little more routine.

For many weeks, your nights and days will be mixed up and your schedule shot. Try your best to roll with it. Don't try to force a routine or a schedule—it will re-establish itself in time.

Have faith in those chaotic moments that things will settle. I wish I had had more faith.

Things started to get really fun for me and my son at three months and things seemed to feel like my "new normal," my body included, around five months.

In time, your sweet baby will let you put them down. They will eventually get the hang of eating. There will come a moment where your baby takes a nap in the crib. Life on this side of the womb takes a little practice. Your baby will get the hang of it, mama.

Don't worry about it. I wish I had worried a little less.

Cry with your partner when you have to. Laugh together when you can. Take too many pictures. Have patience with each other. Try to hug every single day—sneak quiet moments together when you can. Try to step back from it all and observe it quietly.

You'll be amazed at yourself, at your partner, at your new family. I wish I had stepped back more often.

…And then one morning you'll wake up from a good night's sleep. You'll wake up from that sleep and you'll sit down to HOT coffee again and you'll realize the fog has cleared a bit.

You'll see that your life is forever changed. You'll realize now that when you gave birth to your baby, you also gave birth to a mother and a father, too. You'll realize now the magnitude of what you've done.

When the fog clears and you realize the enormity of this accomplishment, I hope you reflect back on your experience and marvel at the gift you have been given and also at the gift you have given to the ones you love.

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A new mother looked at me recently during a conversation we were having about sleep deprivation during the beginning of baby's life.

As a postpartum advisor and doula, I talk to a lot of new mamas.

But I hear all the time from women in the midst of transition to motherhood who are struggling to get their little ones to sleep and to respond to the demands of infant life.

This mama looked at me in desperation and asked, “So do you just not get anything done then??"

Mamas, I want to tell you the truth. Here it is:

You will not get anything done when you are home with a baby.

And anyone who told you otherwise is not being very forthcoming (or perhaps they just have a lousy memory).

You might get yourself fed.

You might get yourself dressed (then again, you might not).

You might take a walk (it makes baby happy).

You might have a short phone conversation or start a load of laundry, neither of which you will finish.

This is your new-mom normal.

So what are you doing all day?

Not much that can be measured, really.

You're simply responding appropriately and with patience (through fatigue) to smiles, to tears, to hunger cues and to drowsiness, teaching your baby how to navigate this complex and (to a baby) highly emotional and raw world.

You are keeping your baby clean, which on some days involves more costume changes (for both of you) than any non-mother can begin to fathom.

You are teaching a tiny, helpless person all about the world—at least the important parts, like how we treat each other and what it means to be connected to a family.

You are creating a foundation of love and trust between you and your baby, one that will help you set your parenting compass, inform your future interactions, and provide a basis for the way your child relates to the larger world.

You may be breastfeeding your baby—another time-consuming task (though once established, it takes less time than bottle feeding) that reaches forward through time to heal and protect your child, and simultaneously reduces your risk of disease.

Oh, and you're becoming a mother.

It started the day your baby was conceived, and it continues beyond birth.

Your baby is stretching and growing into this new body, and you are too.

But that's about it, really. That's your day.

Our culture doesn't have a good way to measure what you are accomplishing.

Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check.

To the untrained eye, most of this work, at the end of the day, will look like nothing.

But we know better.

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There is no greater task than the "nothing" you did yesterday, the "nothing" you are doing today and the "nothing" you will do tomorrow.

Caring for a baby is all about the immediate experience, yet the first two years are all about investment.

It's give, give, give and give some more.

These are hard-fought, rough-and-tumble years that can cut us down to our core and take us soaring high above the clouds, all in the space of five minutes.

And yes, as you do the hardest work of your life, it will seem like you're not getting anything done at all. Crazy, huh?

But here's where it gets interesting...

As much as you need and want a break now (and you should take one whenever you can), no mother has ever looked back on this time and thought, I wish I had held my baby less.

You will not remember the dishes that didn't get done, the vacuuming that you just couldn't make happen or the dirty clothes you wore more often than you'd like to admit.

You will remember the first smile, the first belly laugh, the first words, the first steps.

You will remember the way you looked at your baby and the way your baby looked at you.

So the next time you find yourself wondering how another day is gone and nothing is done, stop.

Hold your baby—feel the way that tiny body strains to contain this giant soul—complete and full of potential all at the same time.

Take a deep, slow breath.

Close your eyes and measure your day not as tasks, but as feelings, as sounds, as colors.

Exhaustion is part of it.

And it's true, you will get "nothing" done.

But the hard parts will fade.

The intense, burning love is what remains, and it is yours to keep forever.

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