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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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