A letter from a photographer to all the dads in front of my camera (well, most of them)
Let me paint you a picture (I’m usually better at taking them with my camera, but let me try my words for a change), your wife lets you know that she has scheduled a photo session with a local photographer. She has done endless research, asked all her friends and consulted google, Instagram and all the Facebook groups and she found someone whose work she loves.
She marks the calendar with big red words “Family Photo Session” and now has moved on to finding the perfect outfits for everyone – which takes hours upon hours scouring all of the clothing websites and visiting stores keeping in mind what the kids will or will not wear, while minding the what to wear guide the photographer provided as well as the location for the session, because lets face it, leather pants at the beach is not a great combination….
At this point she has probably asked you to pick your clothes and has given you some guidelines (colors/season/etc.) - to which you most likely respond with “I’ve got it”, but lets be real, you are not even going to think about what to wear until the day of the session.
In the meantime, your wife is envisioning framed family pictures proudly displayed around the house, potential holiday gifts for family, how beautiful the annual holiday card is going to look this year, lets just say she is excited – really really excited. But she is also anxious about how the kids will behave and hopes the photographer has a magic spell to get everyone to cooperate so she can get that Pinterest worthy picture.
The day of your session has arrived. Your wife is excited, nervous, and anxious, she’s busy getting the kids (and herself) ready and is trying to get the kids excited about it as well. She may have even gone to the store and bought them a special treat for good cooperation or has something planned for after the session. You are dreading the whole thing, you would rather be doing anything but this and there is a really big (fill in the blank; deal happening at work, important conference call, game on tv, etc.) – and it shows, but you still get ready.
You all arrive at the location and the photographer sees you coming a mile away – we have a 6th sense for these things and we are totally sizing you up as you walk over. You really don’t want to be there, but your wife wants this so you are doing her a favor and you are there and dressed and the first thing you ask is how long is this going to take all while looking at your phone as your wife is wrangling the kids, getting them dressed, and doing last minute hair/face touch ups. She’s starting to get unhappy because she could use some help, but you want nothing to do with this so you let her handle all the things – until she gives you that look – you know which one I’m talking about. So you help, but you are not happy about it and you let it be known.
Everyone is finally ready and we are off to shoot. The session, well, doesn’t really go as planned. Everyone is there and cooperating (sort of) but its all really flat – everyone is just sort of going through the motions. The photographer is trying everything in her/his bag of tricks to elicit any emotional connection, some genuine laughs and just ONE shot of everyone looking at the camera and smiling to make grandma happy. The kids have now picked up on mom’s anxiety about the session and your lackluster attitude about being there and mom is now stressing because no one is into the session or following the photographer’s direction and what she has envisioned for so many months is just not happening. Its organized chaos and everyone just wants it to be over.
You all get in the car at the end and you ask your wife, “so how much did that cost us?”
Your wife is disappointed and completely deflated and swears that this is the last time she tries to get “nice family pictures”.
A few weeks later you get the proofs from your session, and you are amazed at what the photographer was able to capture from that hot mess of a session. Its similar to child labor – you have a very faint memory of how bad it really was, but the end result was worth it.
Several months pass and your wife is looking at the picture printed on the wall and realizes that the kids are growing too fast and that she should probably schedule a family session before everyone gets to be too big……. Let the whole cycle begin again.
Dads, if I could ask you for a favor on behalf of your wife. Please don’t just show up for your family photo session – be an active participant. We are only asking for an hour of your time and all we are actually asking is for you to love on your family for that hour – hug, snuggle, tickle, kiss, smile at the camera once in a while – and make some memories. Before you know it, the kids are going to be all grown up and move out of your house and all you will have to remember them as little kids are faded memories and the pictures that your wife made you take every year.
Don’t be the dad that just shows up and stand in the corner looking at his phone until he is “needed” for a shot – instead be there, be present, participate. Don’t be that dad that pretends to be happy to be there, actually BE happy to be there and spend time with your family. Your family will feed on your mood/behavior, so be mindful of that as well. Lets face it, dads are typically the “fun ones”, so if dad is not having fun, chances are the kids will not either.
Be the dad that show up, that loves on his kids, that loves on his wife, that makes the session fun and not dreadful. Participate, be in the moment and enjoy it. You could even ask the photographer if s/he needs help carrying the props – just saying… be the unicorn.
And lastly – you know what they say about a happy wife, happy life… This may not be important to you but it is to your wife! She has spent SO much time and energy leading up to this day because it means so much to her to have nice pictures of her family, and for her to actually be in them – but that’s a topic for another post. If not for anything else, do it for her, make her happy – one hour, once a year for a lifetime of memories, which you will cherish the most when you finally slow down.
Your Family Photographer
Disclaimer – this is meant to be funny, yet bring your attention to this issue. It is based on my personal observations and experience working with and photographing families for over 17 years. This is not based on one individual, but rather the collective. This is also not to say that ALL dads fit into this description, but some parts may sound familiar.
This is also not to discredit the unicorn dads who actually do show up and have fun at their session (you know who you are). Or the dads that initially did not want to be at the session, but over the years have begun to appreciate and value the results. The ones who give me hugs when they see me, the ones who thank me at the end of the session, the ones who bring margaritas to the session (I kid you not), the ones who insist on being in the picture and the ones who get the value of the one hour, once a year.