It began with two cousins in a basket on the side of the road. Four Octobers later, the tradition continues. Every year, my mom makes no bones about it - she expects cotton pictures.
As the holiday season approaches and it's time to prepare for seasonal cards and document the various occasions, something else is always in the back of my mind. Don't misinterpret what I'm about to explore, because it's not that I'm opposed to cotton pictures, or any other pre-planned shoot, I think they're gorgeous. I just find that I drag my feet a little any time I'm SUPPOSED to shoot something. (Just ask my mom, she swears I have a conspiracy to withhold holiday pictures.) Something about my personality gets just a little heartburn when it comes to manufacturing reality in a photograph.
If we lived on a farm or if we'd just spent the weekend going cotton picking ourselves, I'd be snapping away. But pull over to the side of the road, stick the kids in the cotton field and start clicking, and somehow I feel a little less than honest. What's with that? There's no harm in pretty pictures, right?
I think I'm close to figuring out what's eating me. A couple of things actually...
First it has to do with "posing". There's a lot of talk amongst photographers about "unposing" or avoiding the staged, Olan Mills look in modern portraits. In real life, my children never sit together in unison with perfect posture, turn to me with a tilt and smile. And if I chased them around daily asking them to do so, when they're old enough to figure out how to exact revenge, I'd be likely to find a Nikon with playdough shoved in all of it's moving parts.
The second has to do with why I take pictures to begin with. It's because I love everything about my children, every detail of their existence. I take pictures because I want to remember and relive every moment - so why would I make up moments to remember?
Standing there in that cotton field, not long after standing on the side of the road stuffing two kids into matching outfits, I found myself exploring that topic in earnest.
When I show the three-year-old where to stand and smile, will I catch the same glimmer in her eye as when I set her free to run?
When I'm just "old familiar mom" behind the camera, is it even possible to get two kids to look at me and smile in unison? Or is it better to set the scene and let them do their own thing?
What tells the story of what I see with my heart when I look at my children? Is it pressed perfection, or stolen glimpses of love and magic?
As the holiday season begins, these are all questions I'm asking myself as a momtographer - especially when I "set up" a shoot. I think the conclusion I'm reaching is that there's nothing wrong with creating opportunities to take unforgettable pictures as long as we impart unforgettable memories with our children as well. As long as magnifying the reality of what lives in my heart always trumps manufacturing reality - grandma's gonna get her cotton pictures.
What are your thoughts? How do you approach special shoots with your most precious subjects?