Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Family Pictures

My wife announced the other day that we were all leaving in 20 minutes to go get family pictures taken professionally. I immediately protested. “We just did that!” I guess she was prepared for that argument, because she brought me Son Number Three and stood him next to the wall where our last family portraits are displayed.

OK, you have a point. He’s almost five years old now, and he looks to be about one in these pictures.

I tried a different resistant approach. “Why are you springing this on me 20 minutes before we have to go?” I guess she was prepared for that one too. “This has been on your calendar for the last two months, and I have reminded you about it at least six times. Would you like to see the list of dates and times that you were reminded? I wrote them all down for you.”

No, thanks. I guess I’ll just go get ready. She was definitely prepared for that. “Don’t you dare try to dress yourself! Here, put these on,” she said as she handed us all shirts we’d never seen before.

Now, I have to give her credit, in that, if it wasn’t for her, we would have a total of seven cell phone pictures of our kids, because the only time I take pictures of them is when they are wearing something on their heads, or have something stuck to their faces, that I find funny. My main problem with organized family photos is that they are all the same. And they are unrealistic. And kind of annoying.

They have always been this way. In the days before digital cameras, all family portraits were very rigid, in-studio affairs, with the whole family standing around mom seated in the middle. Muted purple-black background, frost the edges to give it the “this picture is magically hanging in a cloud” look, and you’re in business. Now that everyone has digital cameras, we’ve left the studio in favor of the field.

Everyone’s family photos today take place in a field. There are also the auxiliary action shots of the family walking to the field, either down an old dirt road, or down an old set of railroad tracks, and the intermediate stops at the old wooden structure, or the old brick wall, or both. But, we always end up in the field.

There we all are, wearing jeans and solid-color Oxford shirts, un-tucked, with bare feet, hanging out in a field. There are occasions when we’re on vacation or happen to live near the water, and the beach is substituted for the field. In many of those cases, the jeans are substituted for a pair of khakis, rolled up to the calf as we stand carefree in the ankle-deep sparkling water. Magical.

Here’s my issue with the whole thing. The only time my family has ever sat under an oak tree in a grassy meadow was for this picture. We had never even been to this field until we met the photographer here, because it’s one of her favorite shoot locations. (Oh, yeah, I think I remember this meadow from the Smith’s family pictures.) Come to think of it, we really don’t even have good access to a field of our own, even if we did want to hang out in one.

We have never walked down any type of dirt road while holding hands, five-abreast, taking up the entire road, and we sure as hell never do that on train tracks. Normally when we come across a rustic, wood-planked building from the 1800’s my wife is yelling at the kids to stay away from it, for fear it will fall on them, or they will get punctured by a nail. But on picture day, we’re all over that thing. If I tried to walk with my kids on railroad tracks on any other day, I would never hear the end of my irresponsibility and poor example setting, but on picture day, we’re like five happy-go-lucky drunk hobos.

And un-tucked Oxford shirts with jeans and bare feet? I have never in my entire life dressed like that. When I do go to a field, I wear boots. When I go to the beach, I wear shorts.

Then there’s the photographer. In the days of the studio, I think there was a little more quality control involved with the person behind the camera, due to some company training, and the facts that they were using expensive film and the studio lighting never changed. Now that everyone has digital cameras, it’s like the photography wild west out there. Seemingly half of the photographers out there today have not been trained in anything. They bought an expensive camera that came with a removable lens, took a couple thousand pictures of their dog/cat/child/fruit bowl, and answered the call when one of their friends said, “These pictures are great, you should do this for a living.”

That is not to say that there aren’t some talented self-trained folks out there, but for many, simply owning the expensive camera seems to give them the idea they are a pro. You may be holding the Nikon XP48 there, with the 9-inch parabolic f-stop, but if you don’t have the patience to wait for all three of my kids to be looking at you, I have to question your qualifications. And no, I’m not interested in coming to your computer and searching through 5000 pictures with you to find the one where all five of us happen to be looking at the camera at the same time, and you finally got all the shadows to cooperate. I thought that was your job.

Then there’s the fact that professional pictures cost money, and they seem to be the only ones my wife is willing to hang on the wall. Before we left I offered to take some less costly, more realistic photos for her, but she wasn’t interested. I guess pictures of the boys fighting, or pictures of her behind the wheel driving them somewhere, or pictures of them drooling in front of the TV, or pictures of us drooling in front of the TV after they’ve finally gone to sleep just don’t do it for her.

I guess moms get enough realism during the regular days, and want the pictures on the wall to be a fantasy land.

Oh, well. Off we go to the field.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. This is brilliant! But please tell me the photo at the top of this page is not an example of your photographer's work.

  2. Ha! No, fortunately for the photography profession as a whole, that photo was purely amateur, taken by my wife.