Boy, Did I Learn a Thing or Two...
My husband is the youngest of four siblings, and we are currently visiting all of them on the East Coast in a super fun huge family Thanksgiving trip. As a special surprise for his parents, who are also here, one of the siblings booked a family photo shoot on the beach (shout out to the illustrious Tree Marie Photography). I was stoked! How fun to experience it from the other side of the camera. I shared a few color palette options for everyone to coordinate their outfits, and planned to have a breezy time with my two kids (age 3 and 6).
I've seen first-hand how much of a difference it makes to approach the session as just a time to play and have fun together, instead of a high-pressure thing where all they remember is STAND HERE! and STAY STILL! and SMILE, GOSH DANGIT! So I was confidently breezy and excited for the opportunity.
I forgot to pack shoes to go with my daughter's outfit (and mine, ha) so thought, "Hey, it's the beach -- we'll just go barefoot!" And that would normally be a grand idea, except this was a New Jersey beach in November... So within about 10 minutes, my 6-year-old daughter had held it together as long as she could and was holding back tears at how cold her feet were and how much they hurt. She kept running off to try to get to the dry sand. She felt shy and sheepish for feeling bad, so was hiding her face from the photographer and keeping her hands in THE most awkward positions. I found myself getting more and more frustrated and started to get harsh with her and my 3-year-old son. "GUYS! Stay here! Stand there! Come on!" I was kind of feeling a bit of panic because I couldn't believe it was MY KIDS who were the issue (out of 18 of us that were there!) and just wanted to fix it as quickly as possible.
That, in turn, led my husband to his limit as he was not on board with forcing our kids to stand there and choke back tears for the sake of photos. He pulled them aside and took them back to the car for a break, which made me frustrated at him because he was supposed to help me out here! Once in a lifetime! Photos with the family! I tried to turn it around by connecting with my daughter, putting her shoes back on, and making a game of it, but at that point my son had decided his hands were too cold and he was utterly despairing of life. There was no salvaging it. We got a few photos at the beginning but missed out on a lot of them, and I was really taken down a notch by the whole experience.
The photographer was so wonderful and professional, reassuring us and pointing out that we did get a few, and it's all good, but man. It showed me (A) my own pride and overconfidence as well as (B) my tendency to get too focused on achieving a goal and the potential pitfalls of ignoring other things like feelings. ;) Ironically, I don't struggle with this at ALL when I'm the one doing the photographing! It's all fun and games, Because I don't feel the pressure to perform and make it all go well. I know that it will work out either way and I also trust in my ability to make it fun, follow the kids' pace, and focus on making it an enjoyable experience above and beyond just getting good photos.
I hate to admit it, but as usual, God used it for all kinds of good. It gave me a whole new level of empathy, insight, and understanding of the family side of things. It affirmed my excitement to provide not just photo shoots but family playdates where the focus is on having fun around a personalized experience that the family loves and can relax with. It totally gave me a new level of humility (always a good thing, haha!) and compassion for the parents who do feel pressure to make sure their kids are in line for the session.
As I've been refining and expanding the family photography part of my business, I've been developing a wider repertoire of ideas to make sessions as playful, relaxed, and enjoyable as possible. I've got a few tricks up my sleeve that I'm excited to bust out, and also appreciated the timely reminder of the importance of reassuring the parents, both at the session and in the preparation before it! I'm so grateful for the experience and might have a photo or two to share from it in a few weeks. Every time I see them, I'll be reminded of the joy of what I do, the potential stress on the parent side, and the myriad of ways to mitigate that to make it as smooth a process as possible for everyone involved!