There Will be Drama- just generally not this much
I know it's not easy getting your family dressed for a family shoot. Heck, let's back up. I know it's not easy picking out clothes for a family shoot. You agonize and over analyze. You spend way too much time shopping online or in the stores, only to feel defeated and still unsure. Sadly, that portion of your journey to family photos is only the tip of the iceberg. Once these dreamy outfits (which inevitably every member of your family will gripe about) are chosen, you still face the dreaded task of getting everyone bathed and into these outfits- with hair done to boot! Yikes, that's a lot!
I know this struggle exists. I face this myself when we have our own photos taken. However, when I'm the one taking the photos I sometimes forget the magnitude of work that goes into preparing for the shoot. Moms arrive frazzled, dads inevitably grumpy and kids on the verge of a meltdown. I'm eager and excited to make beautiful images and prompt you to play and love on each other, but everyone else is plain pissed off! It's my job to recognize the effort invested by mom, understand the cranky moods and find a way to work around it all. In general, I'm pretty good at this but my skills were put to the test this time around!
My family spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Texas with my cousin and her family. My cousin (who is also a photographer) decided we should exchange family shoots- she'd shoot us and I'd do theirs. Sounds fun, right? Well it should be cause we all love each other very much and have a lot of fun together, and the shoot itself was fun. What was not fun was watching the preparation for the shoot- the part I never have to see. The trials and tribulations that I know take place, but merely bear witness to the aftermath and help clean up the debris. The magnitude of this shit show was unlike anything I could have ever imagined it to be. In fact, if this is what every family goes through then no one should take family pictures. EVERYONE JUST QUIT! Thankfully, she didn't quit. She pushed through the tears and the madness and made these photos happen and what came of it was pure magic. But here's how it all went down...
I’ll start by saying the kids are 9, 6 and 2- the kind of two they talk about, you know the really hard kind. Plus, she’s been a sick two year old so add that to the equation and you can only imagine the levels of crankiness. This two year old spent the majority of the day at a holistic doctor, desperately trying to find relief from the unending string of illnesses. More importantly, mom drove her an hour each way to get to this appointment, plus entertained her for four hours while there- simultaneously trying to retain the mountains of information being thrown her way. Stressful! A full day in and of itself. I'm exhausted just thinking about it, now add the thought of going home to get everyone ready for pictures- no thanks! But she never said she wanted to change the plans, despite being exhausted. Instead, she got home, had an hour or so to get her bearings, then started the miserable journey to making everyone clean and cute.
First things first, nine year old off to the bath- check. Pretty painless until mom realized nine year old attempted to wash her own hair- fail. Put this problem on the back burner. Next we ask dad to pull out the brown pants he said he bought at Target- which pants? The ones he said he bought at Target!! When did he say that? He has no brown pants! To which mom replies "You had one freaking job. To get the freaking brown pants and you told me you did." So off dad marches to Target in search of those brown pants. Bear in mind they don't live close to much of anything. Probably 30 minutes each way to Target (maybe 20, who knows). In any case, it's not close and now she's left to fend for herself getting these kids ready while daylight is speedily ticking away. While dad's leisurely shopping (ha!) mom moves on to bathing the two year old. Sounds easy, right? On, hell to the no! That was probably the most painful part. Little miss feisty gets in the bath and decides she needs her Propel (say that with a southern twang, pro-pale) and she doesn't ask for it, she screams "I want my pro-pale!". Quick, nine year old sister, grab the Propel! Sister brings the Propel to the bath, all should be good for now. Nope, fat chance! Two year old wants this Propel in her freaking Paw Patrol cup, but mom is starting to lose her patience and refuses to switch out the cup. Cue the meltdown to end all meltdowns. She screamed her head off the whole way through that bath. Mom soaped up that hair, yelled for her to close her eyes or she was just gonna pour that water straight into her eyeballs. My cousin was starting to lose her shit and I can not blame her. It sounded like someone was murdering that child- no doubt the cows across the street thought they were next on the chopping block. I poked my head in every now and again asking what I could do to help- answer was always nothing. So I waited cause I knew it wouldn't be long before she told me we were calling the whole thing off.
By the grace of God himself, the two year old gets clean and out of the bath. I'm sure she got her Paw Patrol cup and plopped down in front of a Paw Patrol show and forgot she was ever mad in the first place. Mom somehow sneaks in her own shower then attempts to blow-dry nine year old'd hair. Brakes! It's not gonna happen. There's not a Wet Brush in the world that can make it through this poorly washed hair- back to the bath for you and this time mom is washing your hair! At this point, I'm baffled. When in the hell is my cousin going to get herself dressed- hair and makeup done no less? This doesn't seem possible. There's still a brother to bathe and dress (he's oblivious to the chaos and happily watching TV with my kids) and dad still doesn't have pants! WTH!
Wait, dad is back. Praise be, we have brown pants! NOPE! No brown pants to be had- this time cue mom's meltdown!
Mom- "no brown pants? What color did you get then??"
Mom- "so you're just gonna match your sweater and be in all one boring color?"
Mom- "that's lame"
Bear in mind that this is not their conversation verbatim. I am paraphrasing and leaving out the profanity. It's better for everyone that way. In any case, his sweater will just have to match the pants, mom is pissed and there's nothing we can do about it- NOTHING. Now, because I'm an idiot, I stick my head in their room- "Ashley, what can I do to help?" Of course, the answer is nothing but I'm there to witness dad pulling a sweater out of the closet that he wore to their photo shoot two years ago. Funny enough, it looks almost exactly like the sweater for this year and still has the tags attached. Guess he's not really much of a sweater guy normally. I do a complete 180 at this point and go to hide in the laundry room. A minute later, dad has also made a narrow escape, and while also attempting to hide in the laundry room he grumbles that the new sweater is an extra large- basically a dress on him. He's 5'6" on a good day- surely never worn an XL in his life but who the hell cares at this point?? There ain't no time to mosey on back to Target!
It doesn't end there. Well, mostly it ends there. Dad wears his sweater dress and matching pants, someone gets the boy ready and the second washing of sister's hair does the trick. Two year old winds up in her outfit and, without too much of a fuss, is torn away from Paw Patrol. Mom just needs some makeup, we can do this. I slide outside to the front porch where my mom is sitting. "I'm nervous" I say. My mom asks why, as if the answer wasn't obvious enough, but I explain that the screaming carnival that just ripped through that house can, in no way, lead to a successful photo shoot. If baby was that pissed over a Paw Patrol cup, what will she do when we throw her in a field and shove a camera in her face? This will not end well! The photos will suck and it will be my fault! Stop Mel, I tell myself- time to get over it cause Ashley has her makeup on and it's time to rock!
We race out the door, around the corner to the field. I tell the kids the only rule is no crazy faces at the camera and off we go! Much to everyone's shock, the two year old brought the charm and the sweetness and was very cooperative. All the kids were, and mom started to forget the misery she lived through in order to get there and dad ignored the snide remarks about his sweater dress that continued long into the field (and later that evening while drinking wine, playing games and laughing at the circus we had experienced). What happened next was an hour of pure magic. We played and laughed, fell down and got back up again. They snuggled and I pressed my shutter and together we made beautiful art. To Ashley and Jeremy I say thank you for persevering cause it was all worth it in the end! To all the other families who have hired me in the past or will in the future, I hope your journey to get there was nowhere near this difficult, but if it was, I hope you also feel that the end result made it all worth it.