What's missing when YOU take the family photos




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If you’re in charge of small people, the words “SPRING BREAK” make you break out into a cold sweat – a whole week with the children, no school, spouse MIA with a Platinum badge to SXSW (thanks a lot, work hookup) and all your friends are out of town. Holy. Crap. How do you survive?

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Personally, I made the questionable choice to “take opportunity by the reigns” and plan “a week full of adventures.” Many, many meltdowns and a few very cool experiences later, I’m here to tell you all about it.

Not really.

I’m actually here to tell you about a major revelation I had during this week of solo parenting all over Central Texas.

As a professional documentary photographer, I lugged my 600-pound pro Nikon along with me everywhere we went, determined to make great photos that reflect the realities of our “week full of adventures.”


When you are your own family’s photographer, there’s something important missing. YOU.

Now, stick with me – this point is actually a bit less obvious than it sounds.

Yes, your actual presence is missing in the photos. And anybody who has spent more than 15 seconds on my website knows that I do A LOT of preaching about the importance of getting in the frame as a mama. So honestly, this point is worth mentioning. How complete is a record of your adventure / your vacation / your day / your LIFE without you in it, mama? Not very. As I’ve mentioned many times, YOU make the world go ‘round, and you deserve to go down in history.

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But there’s a bigger point, too. Have you ever felt the frustration of trying to take a damn photo of that adorable thing your kid is doing, only to be foiled by – well – life? Inevitably, your kid starts whining for you to hold his hand, running at you full force, grabbing your leg? Or maybe it’s more subtle than that, and she slowly spins out of control because of your lack of full attention (operating a camera with skill is a concentration sport, people!)

Either way, the photos don’t reflect the reality, because your active presence in the moment is, often, INTEGRAL to the moment itself. When you scramble for your camera and step back to compose an image, you’re leaving the scene, and something changes. The flow of the day is disrupted, and it can be hard to get it back. What you’re left with is a lot of images of your unhinged kids, wishing you hadn’t walked away and a feeling of frustration about how hard it is to be present AND take photos.


Nevermind the fact that your favorite photographer has probably spent countless hours and a small fortune learning everything in her arsenal and another small fortune amassing the perfect collection of professional gear. She is well-versed in both technical and artistic aspects of the craft, and knows how to anticipate action and see beauty where the bare eye cannot.

What I’m talking about is simpler than that, and applies even to us pros and our own families. Leaving the family photos to a pro – whether it be photos of a birthday party, a vacation, an average Saturday at the market, or evening beers & bathtime – gives YOU permission to stay fully engaged with the action, and allows for photos that much more closely reflect the reality that you wish to remember. It turns out that parenting and photographing are not always entirely compatible, and when you try to juggle, you may be disappointed with your performance at both.

Your photographer is a pro, yes, but she’s also able to focus on the sole task of watching the scene unfold and capturing it in the most interesting and beautiful way possible. She’s not making sacrifices for the sake of keeping the children safe and happy, keeping an eye on the oven, or worrying about her hands getting too sticky to take the picture. Her entire brain is able to focus on the task at hand – something us mamas can NEVER achieve when photographing our own children.

The images throughout this post are ones I took over Spring Break. I love them, I do. But when I look at them, I’m reminded of the frustrations mentioned above – really wanting to get a great photo of my son with the baby goats, but being unable to compose it well because I had to simultaneously keep the over-friendly sheep at bay so it didn’t nibble on his golden locks. Picturing a great image of the kids chasing bubbles, but worrying about leaving our giant pile of crap on the opposite side of the field unsupervised. Wishing I’d been in the photo when we were all three simultaneously sucking down the last of our frozen lemonade on the unexpectedly-83-degree day.

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That’s life, right? We certainly can’t have it all. So with photos – like everything else – we make do the best we can, and – occasionally – we treat ourselves to something special, and we’re so glad we did.

Have you treated yourself to professional photos lately?