Family portraits can be memorable tradition, stressful obligation

The Johnson family. Photo by Crystal McWhirt, The Crystal Image.

Make the kids bathe, style their uncooperative hair, button and zip the clothes they hate — just the preparation for family picture day can be stressful.

Now let’s add some resentful groans, restless squeals, complaints of boredom and goofy smiles … well, you get the picture.

Kristie Hansen, her husband and their eight children have been taking family portraits every year for the past 13 years. Luckily for Hansen, her children have usually been cooperative. Even with the cooperation, Hansen said the process of taking family portraits can be trying.

One year, Hansen said the family was in such a rush to meet the photographer that one of her children forgot to wear shoes.

“We got out of the car and realized one of her shoes was missing, so we just decided to do some barefoot shots,” Hansen said.

Another year, the temperature was 30 degrees and windy when the family scheduled the portrait.

“We all had red noses and cheeks, but that’s just part of it,” Hansen said. “Part of the memory is the process and memory of actually taking the picture, not just having it on the wall.”

Crystal McWhirt, owner of The Crystal Image, has witnessed the making of hundreds of those memories. McWhirt has shot family portraits for more than 40 families just this season. She said because of the high demand toward the end of the year, her studio stops taking requests mid-November.

“We get people asking if they can do it in a week, and I’m sure we’ll get random requests last-minute, but that’s not possible,” McWhirt said. “It’s been a really good holiday season, better than previous years.”

McWhirt said she has seen it all. From siblings bickering and toddlers biting to angry dads and stressed moms, each family is different.

“It’s always interesting to see how the family works as a whole or as a unit and to see their different personalities show through the image,” McWhirt said.

However, some things don’t change.

“They are usually always running late, stressed, not happy with something, whether it’s their hair or nails, siblings never want to touch each other and the younger children are unpredictable,” McWhirt said.

To combat those problems, Loraine McCall, owner of Mojica Photography, has her customers pose outside. McCall tries to take a balance of traditional, serious sit-down pictures mixed with fun and goofy shots.

She said getting the children to have fun is the key to a good shot.

“People are stressed because they want the pictures to turn out perfect and make sure everyone is smiling, so if the kids are happy, the parents are happy, and the pictures are going to come out a lot better,” McCall said.

Rather than dreading the experience, Allison Burgess and her brother Blake actually enjoy the family photo shoot. Allison, a ninth-grader at West Junior High, said it was fun figuring out where everyone in the family was going to stand or sit and how they should pose. She said the “jazz hands” pose was her favorite. Her brother Blake, a sixth-grader at Deerfield, chose the “jumping” pose as his favorite.

“It was fun to see my grandparents actually get into it,” Blake said. “My Uncle Jerry would always say something really funny and we would all laugh.”

In the end, all of that behind-the-lens drama is hidden, and families not only take away the memory of the experience, but a lasting record as well. Maggie Kruger, who photographed the Burgess family, said she thinks it is important to have pictures in print.

“If a computer crashes, digital photos could be lost, but in print, families can save those memories for the future,” Kruger said. “Taking family portraits is a great way to save memories.”