Mission (Almost) Impossible- Trying to Take Family Photos with Young Children

For my first birthday after having Henry (our eldest) my husband bought me a “family photoshoot” as a gift. This was to involve us, as a family, going to a local studio, having a makeover, and having several family photographs taken in a variety of outfits alongside a selection of different backdrops. We managed to come out with a good set of pictures before Henry got bored and tired and made a scene. Below is our favourite from the day.

Our favourite photograph from our family photoshoot

Beguiled by the magnificence of this image, we hatched an ingenious plan- no longer would we be trawling the stores in the run up to Christmas searching desperately for gifts for our parents and in-laws; from now on we would set up our own family photoshoot and would gift them all a beautifully framed, home-taken photograph of our growing clan. We loved this idea because we felt it was very personal, but we also knew it meant we were going to be able to save a bit of much needed cash (yes, you become much more of a cheapskate once you have kids to feed and dress). It also seemed great because our newest addition, Edward, arrived in November and so this would be our first photo opportunity as a family of four. Little did we know how momentous the task of trying to get a “home-made” family photograph with all four of us looking remotely decent was going to prove to be. If you have looked at flawless family snaps on Instagram and are wondering how on Earth it is done, I have absolutely no idea, just for the record. This is by no means a tutorial, just so you have been warned in advance.

We set a date early in December for our “photoshoot”. This was scheduled to take place in the evening at the incredibly upmarket venue of “Nanny’s House.” Now, I know what you are thinking, and looking back, it seems obvious that the evening was probably not a great choice when it came to selecting the time of day for this activity. By this time some of you will know all too well that toddlers are starting to get peckish, tired and fractious. Such a fateful combination is generally a precursor to something commonly referred to as “a full on meltdown” from the kid. This clearly did not bode well for an idyllic family photo. Nevertheless, dressed in our finery (jeans, casual top, blazer and “naughty but nice” Christmas socks with no shoes in my case) we assembled in Nanny’s kitchen and declared that we were ready for our close-ups.

Initially, we opted for the simple but effective set-up of James and I standing side-by-side; James holding Henry and myself holding Edward. Smugly, I grinned thinking it was only a matter of time before we were rivalling those picture perfect families you see starring in festive television advertisements.

Since my stories tend to involve a variety of mishaps, you may have guessed (correctly) that we didn’t start to receive a barrage of phone calls begging us to clear our schedules so that we may be available to star in the next John Lewis advert after the first flash of the camera. Indeed, we had just started on what proved to be an arduous mission just to get everyone to look at the camera without some disastrous expression on one or more of our faces. Actually looking respectable in said photos was another matter entirely. It seemed John Lewis would have to wait.

To begin with, things didn’t seem quite so hopeless. In most of the early shots (seen below) Henry was merely looking in the wrong direction or was doing something mildly unfavourable with one or both of his hands (such as putting his fingers in his mouth or stretching his hands out). Nanny attempted to take a few pictures in quick succession and captured quite a few of these poses, whilst also managing to get a few pictures of James and I looking unprepared for the shot as we tried repeatedly to encourage Henry to look at the damn camera and try to appear remotely cute at the same time. This first run of snapshots failed to capture a single image in which all four of us were looking the right way or vaguely presentable for even a split second.

Looking at the camera, but with fingers in mouth
Henry looks the wrong way again whilst James appears startled
Looking the wrong way, whilst being told by Daddy to look the right way (resulting in Daddy also looking the wrong way). Mummy admires the beauty of the sleeping newborn (at the wrong time because this means she is not looking at the camera as instructed)
Is that the Queen? No it’s Henry (sort of) waving at the camera
Back to chewing his own fingers whilst looking the wrong way

Following these unsuccessful attempts, we noticed Henry was becoming increasingly agitated with the process. We sensed it was time to step things up a bit and so James attempted to tickle him subtly in order to make him laugh and capture it on camera thus passing his laughing off as a smile. Tickling usually invariably makes him giggle, but of course on this occasion it didn’t work- (awkward little sh*t) and he didn’t so much as even smirk in response.

Subtle tickling- doing absolutely NOTHING towards making him laugh or look the right way
Inspecting his own hands (whilst looking the wrong way) whilst Daddy tries to tell him to look the right way
Looking a bit like a boxer in this one. Watch out, Muhammad Ali.

Following on from the failed tickling attempts, the funny faces and abnormal postures started. This is the point at which Henry began to look like that one kid in school who always has to ruin the group picture by rebelling and making a moronic face because they think it is highly witty and amusing (when it is not and they will almost certainly look back on said photo later in life and curse themselves for having been so utterly retarded in their youth).

Shouting out like an obnoxious drunk in the pub
Slouching and looking stroppy like Kevin the Teenager
Another unfortunate face from Henry

After the silly faces, it wasn’t long before the tears started. This required us to enlist the help of what I like to refer to as “the big guns”-aka snacks and a pacifier. We agreed to accept that Henry may be in the picture with a dummy, and vowed to explain ourselves to the recipients of said picture when the time came. The explanation was to go something like “he was being a little sh*t and we were desperate. Thanks for understanding.”

Unfortunately, these tactics only made things worse. The snacks massively distracted Henry, and he went from merely looking the wrong way to trying wretchedly to make a great escape from James’s grip whilst continuing to cry with boredom intermittently.

The tears have started making the faces look even stupider
Bringing in the “big guns” one of which is the dummy
Didn’t work- more crying
The second of the “big guns”- the snack. Daddy looks sure he has cracked it and this will work hence the smug grin
As you can see- it did not have the desired effect. He is now eating, looking the wrong way, and trying to escape from Daddy
And once again- just hopeless
He attempts to escape from Daddy (again!)

Now most sensible people would probably have cut their losses and called it quits long before reaching the next stage. However, determined not to be quitters, we decided to persevere. Our next strategy was to swap children. I would have a turn with Henry and see if this made any difference whilst James would snuggle Edward. Unfortunately, this proved to be equally as futile as previous attempts and James rapidly started to grow increasingly exasperated by our lack of success.

We tried a swap of the children. This was equally as futile
James begins to get exasperated

Our next plan to tackle the problem was to relocate to the sofa (results seen below).

Even more exasperated
James has had enough and is trying so hard to keep smiling

You may have noticed from some of the pictures above that there is a clown ornament hanging in the background above the glass door. Sensing that things were escalating rapidly beyond reasonable parental control, Nanny decided it was time to intervene. Desperate, she grabbed the clown and thrust it into Henry’s hands in a bid to cheer him up. Now, I’m going to be totally honest here- clowns have never really bothered me that much. Overall, my earliest memories of them are pleasant. For instance, I remember watching them at the local circus as a kid, I dressed as a clown once at a clown-themed fancy dress party when I was about 6, and I had a duvet cover featuring several clowns when I was young (this duvet cover was a particular favourite of mine). I also laughed along with my classmates when we studied Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire in music class (something along the lines of a clown acting strangely in the moonlight or the moon is like a clown because it sends the protagonist mad or something to that effect, I don’t quite remember). It wasn’t until much later in life, when my perception of clowns as harmless, silly things was already fully formed, that I learned of the potential sinister nature of them. By the time I read about the “killer clown” (aka John Wayne Gacy- mass murderer from Illinois active mostly in the 1970s) in a book whilst on a beach holiday in my late 20s, I was able to recover from the horror quickly enough- although this did scare me briefly and left me feeling the need to survey the beach at night before daring to step outside for fear that he was hiding behind a palm tree for the remainder of the holiday. Similarly, when I saw Pennywise the clown bite a kid’s arm off from the depths of a kerbside drain in the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, I simply appreciated that this was unlikely to happen in real life. I avoid drains in general like most people do for obvious reasons, but this is not for fear that a flesh-eating, murderous clown may spring out at any second and attack. Even the experience of a clown jumping out at me from a large wheelie bin in the street during a town carnival on my home island several years ago and scaring the living daylights out of me at the time (I proceeded to berate him and told him he was f**king lucky I wasn’t suffering from coronary artery disease otherwise he could easily have seen me off there and then- I was a smarty pants med student at the time, yes) wasn’t enough to put me off clowns entirely.

Anyway, this clown ornament did not resemble one of those funny-looking clowns that I remember from my childhood. Indeed, this ornament sported malevolent dark eyes and a scarily pale complexion. The circumference of its eyes were also surrounded entirely by thick, smudgy black circles (much like my eyes are on the morning after a particularly heavy night out). It also perched creepily on a swing seat. It certainly looked like one of the more sinister forms of clown, and as a result, its appearance prompted a sharp intake of breath and a reflex tachycardia even from me. Notwithstanding, it was unsurprising that it did not do the trick when it came to trying to make Henry smile and laugh. His fractious state only escalated from then on, and before long, he was hysterical and James and I were entirely fed up. Edward, being in that great newborn state involving almost constant sleep, slept through the entire ordeal.

Relocated to the couch- note scary clown in background having been discarded on to the sofa after having caused widespread familial terror

Despite the utter palaver of trying to get a photograph, we didn’t come out completely empty-handed. Below were the two best images from the photoshoot. Yes, really, these were the two best. I’m also happy to report that the pictures were well received by the family. I absolutely can’t wait until the time comes to take this year’s picture, because there won’t be just one, but TWO toddlers to coerce into striking a half decent pose this time (lucky us- NOT!)

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