This is my favorite family picture of all time. And it will remain my favorite because of the story behind it.
The photo was taken in summer 2012 by Lindsey Brown Photography at Side Cut Park in Toledo, Ohio…in July. Those of you not familiar with Ohio summers, let me further set the stage by sharing that the temperature was probably around 98 degrees with 99 percent humidity.
I think the sweat started dripping down my jean-capris-clad legs about the time I stepped out of the car’s AC. That’s also about the time my kinda-curly hair went from somewhat styled to “OMG 80s frizz.”
It was not the optimal place, time or temperature for a family picture.
But, we were in Ohio visiting my Grandma (now residing in Heaven) and the whole family thought it’d be great fun to have a generational photo shoot.
We began with large group photos. Then we broke into smaller family groups: Grandma and her children. Grandma and her children with spouses. Grandma with each of her children’s individual family units. Cousin shots. Great grandkids-only shots. And so on and so forth.
God BLESS this poor photographer!
By the time my family of four assembled for our individual shots, my kids were done. And I don’t blame them – I was done too! It was hot. We were all sweaty. I was fairly certain my make-up had finished melting off a half-hour ago and I was horribly aware of my big, frizzy hair.
Why were we doing this again?
I think I actually said, “You can skip us” – and was met with loads of encouragement to sit for the pics from my apparently hot-and-humid immune extended family.
We tried the shots that had worked well for others, including our little family sitting on a picnic blanket, at a picnic table, walking through the grass, etc. But when your kids are screaming and crying and you’re constantly trying to soothe them, it’s a little impossible for the photographer to get a shot.
As if it wasn’t already difficult enough…I’m not the best subject. I absolutely abhor pictures of myself and it shows. Something in my eyes or the tightness of my face looks like I’m bracing for the bad photo to follow instead of enjoying the moment.
I would seriously rather clean a bathroom than pose for family pictures.
I wanted to cry. My husband wanted to run away. But we kept slapping massive fake smiles on our faces and tried pretending to be a perfect family for 5 seconds at a time while the photographer furiously snapped away, trying to capture one decent shot.
Then, gloriously, I gave up.
I looked at my husband. I looked at my crying, whiney kids. Then I looked at the photographer.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it was something to the effect of needing to “hang it up” (a.k.a., quit) and I flipped my daughter upside down. We all laughed, even my daughter.
The photographer saw her moment and leapt into action, asking my extremely photogenic husband to hold our son in a similar fashion. She started snapping away, and we smiled real smiles through the heat, humidity and emotions of the day.
The picture she got…the one that is my profile picture and introduces me to the world…will always be my favorite.
The picture shows off more than my adorable kids – it shows my family’s ability to ditch the plan, turn things on their head and make the best of any situation.
It’s an ability each of us has, but an ability that’s often ignored. Instead, we try to fit into the box, practice that perfect smile – the one that doesn’t show the gap in our teeth – and sit pretty.
But if you love this picture as much as me – here’s how to get one of your own:
Research your photographer.
You want a photographer with a candid style, sometimes also referred to as journalistic. You want someone like Lindsey Brown, who can seize a moment and capture it for the rest of your life.
Simply put, if a photographer’s online gallery is all posed portraits – you will not end up with a picture like mine.
Plan a fun location.
I was adamantly against Side Cut Park because of the outdoor heat and humidity. But it turned out to be perfect because it gave us an environment to interact with vs. background to pose in front of. Studio shoots are great – but just know when you’re using props, you end up with a staged photo.
It’s sooooooo easy to get caught up on Pinterest looking at cool shots, outfits, hairdos, etc. But a family photo is supposed to represent who you are. When I tried all the poses that worked well for my extended family, they didn’t work for me. For my family, we had to “relax and embrace the crazy” to get the shot.
Your shot may not be of your kids hanging upside down…maybe it’ll be you chasing them…maybe it’ll be them climbing on you and your husband…maybe it’ll be you lying on a blanket looking at the clouds while the photographer snaps from above you…just roll with it and see what amazing things happen!
Let go of perfect.
On the day of our photoshoot, I had to give up before finally smiling a real smile. Our photographer was clearly talented, but I didn’t like one picture taken before this hanging upside down photo and it’s no secret why. I wasn’t really smiling – I was just pretending.
Trust me. The perfectionist in you will have the best day of her life planning your family photo shoot and practicing the perfect fake smile. Kick her to the curb.
This is important: Decide what is a MUST-HAVE vs. a NICE-TO-HAVE and get rid of anything that’s not a must-have. An example of a must-have is having your entire family in the photo whereas a nice-to-have is maybe everyone wearing a certain color or pattern.
The more you simplify your shoot, the less that can go wrong and the greater your chances of smiling for real.
Of course, there’s always the option of doing exactly what I did and planning your photo shoot for the middle of summer when it’s over-the-top hot and miserable…but I wouldn’t recommend it.
And that’s the story behind my picture worth a thousand words. Now go get one of your own.
Much Love, H
PS – The nerd in me has to share that this post is exactly 1,070 words long. 😉
(originally posted on LifesETC.com 4/6/17)