I say this all the time. Most frequently when I am describing the services I provide for others. I am not a child photographer.
Yet, ironically, every single day I find myself taking photographs of children. Granted, they are my children, but it does not make the task any less difficult. In fact, in my experience photographing families, my son proudly holds the Impossible Child To Photograph title above all others.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. Cool, but not cold, and with just a hint of sun peeking through the clouds to warm our cheeks as we went about running our errands and making our requisite weekly zoo trip. I was determined to finally take my son's 4th birthday portraits. I had a vision of an adorable Toy Story set to match the theme of his February birthday party. Before the kids stirred in the morning, I boxed up my son's toys and loaded my equipment into the car. After the zoo, we headed to the Municipal Rose Garden, where my flawless artistic vision would spring to life.
Things did not go quite as planned. I anticipated some difficulty. Perhaps some light wrangling. Instead I found myself shooting erratically, running at full speed after a lighting fast, squealing preschooler who wanted nothing to do with his favorite toys when there was so much Outside to soak in. After four (maybe five) failed attempts to seat him in the designated area, I threw in the towel.
We went home. Immediately, he wanted to play in the backyard. I lugged my toddler and the camera outside. Buzz and Woody went to their place on the table, and he started lining up little green Army men just so before he turned on the sprinkler to get mud started for their daily dunking. I could see my attention-getting window shrinking. Calling on my old bag of tricks, I started singing a goofy song.
Wouldn't you know it? He looked. He smiled. And my heart melted.
It was at that moment that I realized that I didn't need a set to make his portraits special. Every rare moment that I can catch on camera of him smiling or laughing is so very dear to my heart. I want him to see photographs as reminders of wonderful times, not the preservation of stern commands or resentful feelings.
He is four. He likes to run down paths and through fields for the sheer joy of it. He makes mud pies to feel the different textures of the mud and rocks and sand. He dumps paints together in the sink to create colorful swirls. He watches in mute awe as airplanes and helicopters pass overhead. He cannot speak his mind, but he can show me just what he is thinking, feeling, or wants. So I know when he tugs my hand while a fast song is playing, he wants me to dance with him. When he laughs, I know he is happy. And when he lays his head on my chest when the song is over, I know that he loves me. Life is simple, chaotic, and beautiful when you are 4. I'm in no hurry to enforce the "Sit still and say cheese!" method.
So, no, I am not a child photographer. I am a mother capturing flawed, fleeting moments that I will treasure eternally. In that regard, our "sessions" will always be a success.