5 Lessons I Learned From Having My Own Family Photographed

This past fall, I decided do something I had been meaning to do for the past half year: get family photos taken of our new family of three. Sure, I’m a professional photographer, but you’ve heard the one about the shoemaker’s kids, right? I have a million pictures of my son, my husband, and things I’ve eaten recently. I, like pretty much every mom I know, am never in the pictures. 

I don’t like to have my picture taken. But...I desperately wanted to be in the pictures.

Since becoming a mom, I’ve witnessed how babies change in a blink, and how overnight they seem to wake up and leave little pieces of their babyhood behind. And if I didn’t step in front of the camera with him to capture a few of those moments, right then and there, they’d be gone and I would regret it forever. 

Just because I’m a photographer doesn’t mean I planned and executed the perfect, stress-free portrait session, however. On the contrary: putting myself in front of the lens was a vulnerable and eye-opening experience.

The brilliant Melissa Lucci and I swapped family sessions this past fall, and while she is beyond wonderful and talented, putting myself on the “wrong” side of the camera made me worry about some unexpected things. Hopefully, the personal lessons I learned can help others prepare, know what to expect, and feel more confident being in front of the camera!

So here are 5 things that happened when I had my own family photographed, and the lessons I learned from them:

1. I felt an immense amount of pressure to look my “best.”

We put the date on the calendar and then….panic struck. I felt an enormous amount of self-imposed pressure: to have lost the baby weight, to make sure my hair didn’t look like it was falling out (postpartum hair loss CHAMP), to show up looking fashionable and on-trend, to have flawless skin (was I supposed to have slept before this...?), to make this shoot as “Instagrammable" as possible. Was it the photographer in me? Was it because I’m a new mom? Was it because as a society we put a ridiculous amount of pressure on women?

I don’t know exactly what it was, but two things happened: 

  1. During the shoot, Melissa made me feel like a QUEEN, and I found myself actually feeling confident in front of the camera thanks to her encouragement and direction.  And...

  2. When I got my images back, they radiated love. I forgot everything else.

It’s our knee-jerk reaction—especially as women— to look at an image of ourselves and pick it apart. But what a crappy example that sets for our children, and for each other! 

Instead, think about this: Do you have any cherished old photographs of yourself as a young child with your mom? Picture your favorite one right now—I almost guarantee it’s not even a professional photo. Did you feel that? The way your heart just got all tingly and warm? That’s because you’re not thinking about whether she needed to lose 10 pounds or had crows feet. You’re seeing her for how she really was, in the context that really matters: loving you, loving her family, having fun and being happy. 

Lesson Learned: When we love someone, we extend them a grace we don’t often offer ourselves. It allows us to filter out the glaring insecurities and see them through the lens of what matters most. I wish I had tried giving myself a little more grace before the photo shoot—it would have saved a lot of mental agony. Working with someone who made me feel comfortable and confident helped immensely! And now that I have images of that time of our lives, I will cherish them forever. I know my son will too, some day! When he looks back on them he’ll see a mom and dad who aren’t perfect, but who love each other and love him more than anything in the entire world. 

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2. I suddenly had NOTHING to wear.

It’s a first world problem, but in a closet full of clothes, I was suffering from full-on, “moooOoOOoooom i have nothing to weeearrrrrrr” syndrome.

I will be the first to admit that when I started photographing (and even now, to some extent) I didn’t care what my clients were wearing. I have never been caught up in trendy styles or name-brand anythings. My personal style can best be described as “lazy college co-ed.” That being said...WOW did the tables turn when I was on the opposite side of the camera. 

Suddenly it felt like my family’s wardrobe choices were going to make or break our portraits. 

As a photographer, I know that this feeling is blatantly untrue. After all, a good photographer can make you look good in a potato sack, and it’s the people in the photos who matter, not what they’re wearing.

But it IS true that if you wear something you feel comfortable and confident in, it’s going to translate in your pictures. It took me getting in front of the camera to realize that, in order to feel more confident, I needed to move beyond my existing wardrobe of jeans and flannel shirts. And I had no idea where to start. Luckily, you guessed it: Melissa helped with that, too!

Do you *need* to buy new clothes for your portrait session? Heck no! I guarantee that you already have something in your closet that will look great in pictures. But...if you are like me, you don’t get in front of the camera all that often, and to mark the special occasion it’s nice to have something new to add that extra spark of “confidence” to your style. I get it!

Lesson Learned:  You’d look great in a potato sack. But you probably don’t want to wear one. Your photographer will often have advice for styling your session— ask them!  General tips like avoiding clashing patterns, focusing on coordinating colors instead of matching, and picking colors that stand out against a background instead of blend in are good to heed! I also tell my clients when in doubt—accessorize! Scarves, earrings, bracelets, vests, hats—these are easy to put on, take off, and instantly add variety to your gallery without much effort. Oh, and texture, like lace, is always in. As an added bonus, I’m super excited to now offer a personalized styling tool to all of my clients that takes even more of the guesswork out of wardrobe planning, because I know from personal experience how helpful that is!

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3. I worried that my baby wouldn't behave.

I work with kids and babies *a lot.* They are unique human beings with unique personalities— just tinier, with more drool and less impulse control. You always know where you stand with kids. And it’s a good reminder that a photo session is a lot of pressure not only for moms and dads, but kiddos too. 

“Oh, you want me to wear this uncomfortable outfit and stare at this stranger with a big scary contraption in front of her face and smile? For like an hour? And not even kick my brother ONCE? Are you nuts?"

As a mom, I can get so wrapped up in how my baby is behaving, as if it were a direct reflection on me as a mother. He’s a serious and studious baby, wary of new people, and takes awhile to warm up in new situations. So while he’s silly and happy when he’s relaxed at home with his dad and I, out in public he doesn’t always smile when we ask him to. 

And when we got in front of the camera, I suddenly felt so anxious about it. This was our shot— our one chance to have a NICE family picture in which I wasn’t wearing something smeared with yogurt. Can’t he smile once, PLEASE?? I spent at least the first 20 minutes actively trying to get him to smile and loosen up, when in reality he probably sensed how tense I was—and I should have been the one who loosened up. 

And guess what? Melissa reminded me of that. When you have someone you trust behind the lens, give them *all* your trust. You don’t have to worry that your kids are acting up, because a good photographer will react with patience, redirect them, and put them in situations that are fun. Babies sometimes just need time to settle into a new environment— older kids will need to be given fun things to do: Tickle dad! Give mom a giant bear hug! Play peek-a-boo with your little sister! Make the silliest face you can think of!

Lesson Learned: As someone recently had to remind me, “they’re babies, not puppets!” We can’t always get our kids to perform on command for us—and this is a good lesson for both professional photography and every day life. Putting your family in front of the camera for an hour long shoot admittedly can feel stiff and inorganic at first. And that’s OK! The first 10-15 minutes are warm-up for everyone, giving you time to get to know your photographer, and your photographer a chance to observe and react to the unique personalities in the group. My recommendation? Work with someone who takes an uncomfortable thing like professional photos and makes it a fun experience instead of a chore. Your photos will a treasured memory of a genuinely fun time you had as a family, instead of a snapshot of a moment you were threatening them under your breath to smile or they won’t get ice cream. And now the pictures we have of us trying to make him smile remind me of the time in his babyhood when he was adorably serious and made us work for it. It makes the big cheesy grins that came later all that much sweeter!

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4. I instantly forgot every pose I ever knew besides “slouchy caveman.” 

It’s my job to capture other people in their most flattering poses and angles, but apparently that information all goes out the window when I have to apply it to myself. Hands? What are they for anyway? WHAT DO I DO WITH THEM? 

I had to check myself: I was trying to do the photographer’s job for her. In a regular point-and-shoot situation, it’s every man for himself. When the waiter at the restaurant of our one date night takes that dark and blurry iPhone pic, he’s not going to be posing me with my best angles in the best light— I have to do that for myself. 

But it’s not like that when you hire a professional photographer. Their job is literally to make you look your best, and to worry about the lighting and the angles so you don’t have to.

Lesson Learned: Hands actually are pretty weird, and they need to be doing or holding something for them to not look strange in pictures. This goes for professional pictures and iPhone pics alike! When you find yourself with your arms just swinging by your side, give them something to do, like holding your little one’s hand. In the beginning, unless you’re a natural in front of the camera, you’ll panic and revert back to your tried-and-true hand-on-hip selfie angle. That’s probably not a bad way to start! But there are a million ways to grow from there, and you’ll find that some of your favorite images will be when you’re doing something unexpected— getting a kiss from your little one, giving your spouse an adoring smile, laughing at something silly that happened. It’s the photographer’s job to put you in situations that make sure you look good. It’s your job to have fun. 

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5. I was late to the shoot.

Y'ALL. I was that person. I didn’t intend to be late, but I also have a baby. And I was incredibly worried about the aforementioned “what to wear" so I didn’t actually fully decide on an outfit until a half an hour before we were supposed to start shooting. And then I realized I hadn’t even put on half of my makeup (which I finished in the backseat of the car on the way there). Melissa is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet, so when I texted her in a panic apologizing that we were about 15 minutes late, she immediately told me not to worry or rush, and extended me the kind of grace that calmed down my frazzled mama nerves.

Lesson Learned: Photo sessions are important things that take a lot of preparation, anticipation, and often game time decisions. And when little people are involved, it makes everything exponentially harder. So if you have a photo shoot coming up, my best advice is to plan to be there 15-20 minutes early….so maybe you’ll end up being right on time 🙂 And if you’re late, so what? I’ve been there too! Take a few deep breaths, look around at the people you love, and remind yourself that all that matters right now in the whole world is being there together.

All photos in this post are courtesy of the wonderful Melissa Lucci Photography!