Say Cheese, Dammit

The perfect photo for our annual Christmas card is my seasonal Holy Grail. And by “perfect” I lower the bar to mean a photo that’s in focus, perhaps one in which all subjects are looking at the camera and not picking their noses, and smiling (smiling is a bonus).

I recently took the girls to get their holiday pictures made by a professional photographer. The hubby’s office gave us a gift certificate for four portrait sessions when Amelia was born. Being the certified slacker parent that I am I have only taken advantage of this twice in 20 months. The photographer did a great job last year so I decided to once again schedule an outdoor portrait session. Just pinpointing a date when the weather was nice and when the baby didn’t have a runny nose or a scratch, scab, or other dinged up toddler gone wild mark on her face was a challenge. And we won’t talk about the ridiculous amount of energy I put into finding matching outfits for them. I know in a few years that matching red gingham outfits embroidered with their names and Santa’s head will be about as cool as me dropping them off at the mall and shouting “I love you girls! Chicken and rice casserole at 6!” within earshot of their friends.

Last year we hiked down to a creekbed near the photographer’s home because what better photo shoot location for a 7-month-old baby than a creekbed? Seriously, what was I thinking? Amelia was more interested in scraping mossy filth with her fingernails, shoving leaves in her mouth, and flinging herself into the creek then in demurely sitting and smiling. Literally one photo turned out to be Christmas card worthy and Caitlin is hanging on to Amelia to keep her from wiggling away. This year I decided to skip the creekbed nightmare and the photographer had a big pile of leaves on her back patio for the girls to plop down in. And besides, the photos are closeups and a pile of leaves is a pile of leaves.

Here are a few tricks deployed by myself and the photographer to entice the girls to look at the camera:

Poke your kids with a feather duster on a long pole (aka tickle stick that is first demonstrated on mommy), the kind you’d use to clean a ceiling fan, to get them to laugh or at least smile in bemusement over the neverending weirdness of adults.

Toss leaves joyfully in the air while maniacally screaming “Leaves! Pretty leaves! LOOK AT THE PRETTY LEAVES!”

Shrilly repeat your child’s name in a high-pitched voice that scares every dog within a five-mile radius, while wildly waving your hands above your head.

When all else fails, just plead “Say Cheese” while flashing the biggest, goofiest grin you can muster. And again, the wild waving of hands is recommended. And if “cheese” elicits a really goofy grin, you can try something original like, “show me the money!”

When the whole exhausting photo shoot is over, you’ll look at your watch and swear that at least five hours of your life have ticked away, not just one. Reward yourself with plenty of chocolate and perhaps a margarita or three.

p.s. I recently discovered Picture This, a great photography blog. Tracey has some wonderful ideas for posing your kids and they don’t involve bribing them with Happy Meals or shrieking like an idiot.


  1. Linda says:

    Too funny! We finally figured out JJ’s key, after 6 months of getting pictures of the side of his head or having him stare into the camera lens, looking like he was scared to death. All we do is sneeze, and he looks right at us and laughs. We tend to get some funny looks when we’re out in public, but no more deer in the headlights photos!

  2. malia says:

    I’m so with you on this! I scheduled us to get our pics taken this past Saturday for Christmas cards/gifts. Oh my! The actual photo shoot went fairly smoothly but it was the getting us ready to go and out the door and the smug comments and whining that ruined it all for me. Hopefully, ::keeps fingers crossed::, the pictures turned out well and we don’t have to do it all over again!

  3. mayberry says:

    My kids had their pictures done at day care last Monday… I can’t wait to see them! Last year I forgot it was picture day and they had on the most mismatched outfits you could possibly put together. Blindfolded.

    Hope you got that one good shot you need!

  4. mamatulip says:

    I don’t know if you were reading my blog this time last year, but I posted a picture of the Christmas card that I sent out with Julia and Oliver SCREAMING in front of a festive Christmas backdrop. I didn’t hold out much hope for this year’s shoot and was pleasantly surprised when the picture turned out…decent.

  5. Kristen says:

    Dear god. We spent yesterday doing this – in our home – by ourselves. It was awful. The shrieking, the running, the pulling out of hair. GAH. We didn’t get one decent shot! And John is a professional photographer! Our holiday card is going to be a collage of all the crappy pictures. Our family better appreciate it.

  6. Colleen says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only one with portrait issues!

    I love Tracey’s blog too. I’m a big fan of hers and recently bought a copy of her pregnancy journal for a friend of mine. It’s for sale at Borders.

  7. Anne says:

    hahahahha! breathe beathe bahahahah! Love the story! And unfortunately, can completely relate to it. Margarita or three indeed!

  8. Blonde Mom says:

    I think it would be hilarious, actually, to have pictures of the behind the scenes work of myself and the photographer acting like total idiots to get the girls’ attention!

    We did get one really fantastic one of Caitlin hugging Amelia. I admire the photographer for dealing with small children AND brides on a regular basis! 😉

  9. Kel says:

    I shudder to think about this years Christmas photo. I think I’m still in denial that I have to get said picture taken and cards sent out.

    Thanks so much for stopping by my blog!

  10. Blonde Mom says:


    It was pretty humorous, I’m sure. I’d love to have a picture of the behind the scenes stuff. I told the photographer I admire her for dealing with small children and brides on a regular basis. 😉

    This year was much easier, although still stressful. Hopefully it gets easier the older they get. Hopefully! Ha!

  11. kelli says:

    I always have to act like an idiot too! But I just went to that mom blog and she did have some great tips that I’m going to try. Just in time for our photo cards. Thanks :0)

  12. Bluegrass Mama says:

    Mine are 11 and 21 now and I take my own Christmas pics. It’s still an adventure every year.

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