I try very hard to get photos of my daughter with all of her extended family members, since we only see them a few times a year. We are a very baby-centric group, and people’s faces just light up when they finally get to hold her. Invariably, though, the first thing they do once they glimpse my camera is freeze, paste on a smile, and turn away from the baby to stare at the camera.
Is there a place for photos like these? Most definitely. Special occasions, group photos, weddings … but not situations like this. When we are visiting for a whirlwind weekend, all I really want to do is capture my daughter interacting with her family. As soon as I reassure my relatives and ask that they just play normally with Bella, everybody relaxes and I can start grabbing the moments I really want. Frozen grins become natural smiles, and Bella automatically beams as she starts enjoying herself.
Years from now, I don’t need a photo of my grandmother holding the same smile for five minutes as we frantically try to get Bella to even look in the direction of the camera. I want the photos of them staring into each other’s eyes. I want those photos to bring me right back into the kitchen on that day, the soft morning light falling over them as Bella gets to know her great-grandmother for the first time.
And think about which photos are more fun to look at in a book: “Everybody say cheese”? Or someone playing peekaboo with the baby while everyone else laughs? It’s not the photo of all three kids lined up in front of the zoo, wilting in the sun and anxious to get going as you try to snap the perfect shot. It’s the photos of their faces as they gaze up at a giraffe, or reach out to pet a goat. That’s the joy you’ll want to remember from that day.
Don’t manufacture the moments – observe and capture them as they happen. Everyone will be happier in the end.