Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Photographer's Observations

When I was younger, I didn't really understand what was so stressful about a family photo shoot for my parents.  What's the big deal?  We just showed up, smiled, and the photographer got the pictures back to us, right?  

Oh, how naive I was!  There's a lot behind a successful family photo shoot--especially when little ones are involved.  First, there are the individual family members' outfits to consider.  Then, there is the question of scheduling.  Absolutely no scheduling a photo shoot too close to a meal or nap.  Scheduling newborn photo shoots was the most stressful because of my struggles with nursing and having perpetually hungry babies.  Hungry babies are not happy babies at a photo shoot!  Then, you have to make sure that everyone has had a recent haircut so that they're not looking too shaggy.  In the bag, you have to include waters for the little guys, snacks for the little ones that won't stain or leave crumbs all over the place, a brush, a lint roller, and emergency toys that will bring a smile to the little guys' faces.  

Despite all of the planning, something is bound to go wrong.  If a baby hasn't spit up or had a diaper blow out on their outfit, a toddler might refuse to smile, a button on your husband's oxford might be unbuttoned, or your hair might be doing something crazy.  The time and money invested into your one-hour photo shoot puts the pressure on all of you to get that perfect family photo of everyone.  There's something about the pressure cooker environment of a family photo shoot that makes the best of us lose our minds.

When we scheduled our last family photo shoot a few months ago, we went into it wiser having already survived a few shoots together.  To prepare for this shoot, Philip and I promised each other we would do two things:
  1. Do anything and everything we could to plan ahead and avoid stressful day-of problems 
    • This included things like making a list of what we need to bring, double checking the bag's contents before we left, and doing a quick head to toe check for each family member.
  2. Talk about how we are going to handle those inevitable problems ahead of time together  
    • Clearly and politely give suggestions if you see a problem.  
    • Don't be afraid to communicate problems in front of the photographer. 
    • No blaming.  Only problem-solving and helping.   
    • Divide and conquer.  With 2 kiddos, it was easy playing man-to-man defense in taking care of the kids.
    • Switch jobs and ask for help if you need to switch.  Throughout the shoot, we said we would switch roles of helping to position kids, getting them to smile, fetching toys/snacks/brushes, etc.   
    • Take a break if a kid (or adult!) needs it.
    • Remember that:
      • We're on the same team
      • The goal is to capture our family at this moment in time 
      • "At this moment in time" we have a 2 and a 1-year-old
      • Therefore, tears and meltdowns are likely, and we'll be ready for them  
So, the day for our shoot rolled around.  We arrived on time, we didn't forget anything at home, and the kids were in good moods.  Hooray!

Ten minutes into the shoot, as we were switching the backdrop, the photographer made a few observations that stuck with me.  She thanked me and Philip for "being so nice to each other."  She said that it can be really awkward as a photographer when the shoots get stressful and the family members lose their cool.  We had been to this photographer a few times, so her next remark was a big compliment.  "You've always been so sweet to each other.  I remember that.  It's refreshing, so thanks."  

For a woman who has only been around our family three times for a few hours during stressful family photo shoots to remember how we talk to each other and to feel the need to thank us for it meant a lot to us.  It was a good reminder that how we talk to one another, especially in stressful situations, affects our children and speaks volumes about our marriage to those around us.  If we treat each other well, even in the stressful times, it will encourage others to do the same.  

I recently told a friend that one of the many blessings of having children is that they force your communication skills with your spouse to be fine-tuned.  "There's no time to hold grudges!  You work through your problems faster than ever because you have to, and because your one-on-one time becomes so limited, you work more than you ever have on your communication skills." 

I suppose our photographer's assumption was that if we are patient, forgiving, encouraging, gentle, and helpful with one another in a stressful photo shoot, then we must treat each other equally well during the non-stressful times.  I wish I could say that that's always the case, but Philip and I still have our moments like any couple.  Throw in Philip's work schedule as a resident, my hormones, two children ages 2 and 1, and you have the potential for disaster.   The good news is that we're able to work through any problems faster than ever because our limited time together has forced us to really work on our communication skills.
When we got into the minivan after our photoshoot, we thanked the kids for being so good, and Philip gave me a big high five.  "Good job, team!"  Sure, Walt had a big meltdown toward the end and Janie forgot how to smile for most of the pictures, but Philip and I never lost our cool with each other, and we were actually laughing throughout most of the shoot.  It was a far cry from our first family photo shoot with two-week-old Janie and me breaking down in tears once we reached the car.  We talked about our photographer's kind words and what they meant to us.  We made a promise to one another as we pulled away to always do our best to treat one another in a way that makes others want to do the same for their spouses.  

After all, it's not just about us.  Our marriage is to set an example, especially for our children, on how to love one another.  It's not always easy to be gentle, loving, and forgiving.  That's where sacramental grace comes in!  Love is our "duty," as Blessed Pope John Paul II says, and we pray for the sacramental grace to be loving--especially when we don't feel like it.  When you know that your spouse genuinely wants what is best for you and your family, it's much easier to give the benefit of the doubt, forgive them for the things that upset you, ask for forgiveness when you've wronged them, and work through your problems together.   
"Love then is not a utopia: it is given to mankind as a task to be carried out with the help of divine grace. It is entrusted to man and woman, in the Sacrament of Matrimony, as the basic principle of their 'duty,' and it becomes the foundation of their mutual responsibility: first as spouses, then as father and mother. In the celebration of the Sacrament, the spouses give and receive each other, declaring their willingness to welcome children and to educate them. On this hinges human civilization, which cannot be defined as anything other than a 'civilization of love.'"  - Blessed Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, no. 15.  
 Here are some of the shots from our successful shoot.  


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