The Truth Behind Our Family Photo Shoot

The Truth Behind Our Family Photo Shoot

Photo by Michelle Amarante

As summer approaches it is time for me to start thinking about when to book the photographer for our annual family picture. If you look at the photo smiling out at you from our yearly holiday card, taken on an idyllic beach, you’ll see six happy faces of a family clutching each other with love. Every year I schedule a family photo shoot to get that picture. Every year we get one. I mean JUST ONE. Out of the hundreds of pictures the photographer snaps, there is usually only one photograph where we are all happy, and looking presentable enough to send out to everyone we know. The rest, the outtakes, tell a different story. They tell the truth behind all those happy smiling family photo cards you get in the mail each year. If you have a family of your own, with small children, and have been through this process, you know what I’m talking about. They are much more work than the ease conveyed in the final photo.

Outtakes from back when we only had two kids to wrangle!

Photo by Odessa Cozzolino

It begins at home hours before we leave. I run around and pull together complimentary outfits for everyone. Each year I come up against protests about the outfits from the girls as though I had asked them to be tarred and feathered. The boys have usually outgrown what I’ve laid out, since they wear their white button down dress shirts so infrequently, and they can’t stand having to change outfits. The kids complain and drag their feet, and it takes much shouting and cajoling to get everyone in the car. By this point I have usually given up on the complimentary outfits, and the neat hair. Around this time I may even be reduced to shouting something childish like “Fine! I don’t care what the rest of you look like in the picture as long as I look good!” As we drive to the beach, my husband is getting cranky due to all the bickering and back talk. He questions the need for the professional family photo, and usually chooses this moment to find out what it is costs. Now my husband and I are bickering too. I try to remind him that the outcome will be worth it. When we arrive at the beach, I am already apologizing to the photographer for our motley state. As we begin to try to pose, at least one child is freezing and miserable. We bribe, threaten and tickle to get the desired simultaneous smiles from all four kids. Last year we added our, as yet untrained dog to the chaos. He was kicked out of the family photo after about 5 minutes for stepping on one of the kids and making them cry. Once again, we ultimately got the shot. Just one (almost) perfect photo of our precious family, and the dog even made it in. Having that one picture that captures the moment in time is so worth all the trouble we go through to get it. We cherish the time line of our growing family that we now have, and we can laugh when we scan back over the years of our family pictures, knowing the chaos that went into capturing them. In turn we love getting our friends holiday cards with pictures of their kids each year, and look forward to seeing how our friends families have grown as well. Just for the record, the smiling faces don’t fool us, we know what may have gone into getting that happy family picture!


This post was revised from a version previously posted on


6 Responses

  1. We took our family photos last July. I know, I am nuts! It was hot, extremely humid and I had an almost 2 year old and a just turned 4 year old on my hands. We got that one picture too, but by the end everyone was in tears…including me!

  2. So funny Kameron!! It does make me feel better to know it’s not just our family that runs amok during these photo shoots!

  3. Dear Elizabeth,

    I love your short story, “the truth behind our family photo shoot.” Normally, if there is a chance of shooting one person “just right” is 90%, in a group portrait of family of six, the chance of getting everyone right at the same time would be (0.90)^(6), which equals 53%. But 90% for each is much too optimistic, if we make it 50% for each member, then the probability falls to 1.5% to get everyone right. That means you would have to shoot 64 photos. If you add a dog, the probability falls to less than 1%, or 0.78%, and you have to take 128 photos. Michael can make those calculations for you. That is why Photoshop may become necessary as we did with Leo two years ago.

    • Thanks for this comment, these are great statistics! it’s a wonder we ever get a good shot!

  4. Elizabeth – I LOVE this post. You have hit it on the head. I have been, at times, embarrassed at the degree of torture inflicted on myself and the rest of the family for that annual pic. In fact, last year I got the GREATEST photo of my three kids together that would have been adorable for the holiday card but I couldn’t – interruption had to wipe 3 yr-olds backside, back now: – bare to use it after knowing what had gone into it!! So instead we used a more boring but well-behaved pic. The GREAT photo had bright eyes in it but I had JUST wiped away their tears after both Greg and I had lost our temper. Again, thanks again for such a great post!

    • Thank you Margaret! The behind the scenes is never pretty for us, it’s bad when we have to threaten the kids they’d BETTER smile! I always imagine what the photographer thinks when they are through with our chaotic photo shoot!