We first got professional photos of Blaise when he was 9 months old. (I found a friend from college who did mostly journalism stuff and discovered later we were one of his first clients.) We were skeptical. I mean, we had camera phones, so baby pics were ubiquitous. And it’s not like we planned to be in the pictures — we just wanted snapshots of him, being him. Nothing really posed. We’re not into posed, and there’s a limited ability to pose a 9-month old anyway.
But Forrest, the photog, charged us what turned out to be a criminally low price, he was an old friend whom I trusted, and we didn’t have much to lose. So we met him at a local park. He snapped pic after pic: Blaise balanced in a tree. Blaise getting his shirt changed. Blaise crawling. Blaise wearing Daddy’s sunglasses.
They were phenomenal, and I was sold.
This is why we make it a point to get professional photographs done every year or so. We’ve used three different photogs, all friends. And while one of them tends toward posed photography — which is why we don’t use her on a regular basis — the other two basically followed my kids around while they played and tried to remain as unobtrusive as possible. Those pictures are worth every cent we paid.
Those posed pictures are cute, really. I take them myself. I make the kids line up on Sundays against a decent background, and I snap a few pictures of them dressed up in their Prince George suits (the 3- and 5-year-olds) and his three-piece suit (the 7-year-old).
I’m always taking my camera (and by camera I mean iPhone) out of my purse and hollering “Stand still and look at Mama!” I end up with adorable pics of my boys standing with each other, posed next to the Lego table, holding toads out to the camera, and dripping water on the splash pad. These are posed. These are my “lookit the birdie!” pics. And while the kids always look cute, and you can always see their personalities, they aren’t the same as pictures of them actually playing. Pictures my photogs take.
For one of our photography sessions, my I’ve-known-you-since-middle-school-artsy-activist friend Sarah met us at my mom’s farm. My kids mostly decided to be shirtless. She snapped photos of Blaise in skull shorts and boots climbing through a gate toward the horses. Of August munching ripe blackberries. Of Blaise posing with a stick, that looks for all the world like a child Robin Hood. Of him crouching down in a cabbage patch. And she even took a few of me holding the baby, and she made me look pretty. She knows angles and light and all that jazz we normal weekend Instagramers don’t. That’s what you’re paying for, and it’s worth the money. You’ll know when you see those pictures.
Our last photo session happened recently. We met at a park with a creek, dressed the kids in button-downs with rolled-up sleeves, and handed them nets. Minnows were chased. Water was splashed. Swings were swung on, and tree branches climbed. I saw a preview and thought: This is how I want to remember my boys. Not lined up in a row, but running in the dappled sunlight after fish far faster and cleverer than they, all in the spring explosion of green leaf. Yes, this is my children.
I know cost can be a factor. But if you can afford it, make it happen. Find a photog and let them tail your kids in one of your fave locations.
Or ask around at a university for a photography or journalism student who wants to build their portfolio. You need someone that gets light and angles. If you’re lucky, you can help build a career — the prices we paid varied wildly between an unestablished photographer and an established one.
And if you’re brave enough, get in the damn picture. Twenty-years from now, looking back at these memories, your kids will not care that your stomach wasn’t perfect or you had a double chin or you weren’t wearing airbrushed makeup. They will care that they have a picture of their mama playing with them. I let Forrest snap pics of me pushing my kids on the swings, even though I cringe to see what I’ll look like — I hate the way I look in pictures, which is pretty much a universal phenomenon.
We have all these pictures on our walls. One of them made our Christmas card one year. Looking around, I see three pics from the more pose-y photog (before she went too pose-y) all blown-up and gorgeous. I see a huge montage of Sarah’s work in my hallway. Forrest’s work is everywhere. I’m grateful for these photos, for another pair of eyes seeing the beauty in my children. It gives me a chance to look at them in a new way, maybe with a new expression, maybe with details I’d never notice.
The pictures are worth all the money we spend on them. I know they seem like a luxury of both time and money. I know they may seem frivolous in the age of smartphones. But we are so grateful for these memories of their childhood. And we always will be.