A photo is more than a piece of paper or a memory — so much more. It’s a moment in time, a place captured, standing still. It’s the smell of mom’s hair, the warmth of her hand wrapped around yours, or the crispness of dad’s shirt.
Growing up, my Dad always had a beard and wore Aqua Velva. The beard is gone, and he’s traded in his aftershave for something milder (thankfully), but when I look at a photo of him about to push 4-year-old me on the park swing, the feel of his scratchy beard and the strong scent of his aftershave come right back to me. I don’t have many pictures of my Dad and me from my childhood, but when I see this photo, it’s all I need to take me back. Pictures can be powerful.
Today, moms are often missing from photos. Repeatedly. Often purposefully. Many don’t want to be in the picture, or they’re just too busy making sure everyone else is. They’re armed with the camera to ensure every family moment and milestone is captured because they want their kids to have those memories. But what happens when one of the most important people in that child’s life is consistently missing from the photo?
“We really owe it to our kids to be in the picture,” says Veronica Morrissette, a professional photographer and mother of four in Whitinsville. “The picture doesn’t tell the whole story if you’re not in the picture.”
“Kids and families need to see how that Mama loves those kids. Those kids need to see themselves with their Mama, not just looking at her through a lens!” adds Keri Gavin, a North Shore family photographer and mother of two. “Mamas love with everything they have — they deserve to document that too!”
Gavin, who photographs families and children via her business, Keri Jeanne Photography (kerijeanne.com), explains that it’s just as important for moms to have those photos to look back on because, despite our intense desire to forever remember just how our kids were when they were small, the reality is that today’s parents are busy and before they know it, their children will be starting high school. Gavin sums it up poignantly with the title of a blog post she wrote earlier this year, “You think you will, but you won’t.”
“We think we will remember the way their arms feel wrapped around our neck, but in the chaos of day-to-day life we can forget,” she says. “With the glance of a photo, it all comes flooding back. Moms deserve that.”
“It is my personal hope that every Mama has a photo with her child that she is in love with,” she adds.
Photographers agree that moms M.I.A. from pictures is not a new phenomenon, it’s simply more evident due to online sharing of photos today.
“Friends and family are constantly sharing and tagging us in photos from every event, milestone, and candid moment,” says Eli Dagostino, a Martha’s Vineyard photographer and creator of Camera Confident, an online tutorial that offers 10 tricks for people who hate to have their picture taken.
He believes the main reason many people, not only moms, cringe at having their picture taken is simply a lack of confidence.
“Confidence is not something everyone is instilled with,” he says. “Today we’re surrounded by cameras, and when you see a photo of yourself that you don’t like, you’re not confident.”
Morrissette frequently works with moms during senior portrait sessions and says she has found two main reasons why moms don’t want to be in the photos: concern over how they look (lack of confidence) and anxiety over having their picture taken.
“Adults are very self-aware and self-conscious in front of the camera,” she says. “Children don’t feel awkward; they’re more free to be themselves.”
When shooting a senior portrait, Morrissette insists that the mom get in one photo with her senior at the end of the session. She says many moms protest, feeling unprepared and concerned about how they look, yet when Morrissette prevails and gets that shot, it ends up being their favorite photo of the shoot.
“You’re going to see yourselves together and that’s going to tug at your heart. You look at [the picture] as a whole, not just yourself,” she adds.
Advice from the pros
Dagostino shares two tips, which he says go a long way towards feeling more confident and comfortable in front of the camera lens.
“When taking a picture, first push your chin out, and then down,” he advises. Admittedly, this feels awkward, but this simple manipulation of your body helps to define bone structure in your neck and clavicle and takes five years off your age, he says.
“It’s simple, but makes a huge difference,” he adds.
For those who feel stunned or tend to freeze up when the lens angles towards them, Dagostino says addressing what goes through your mind at that moment can make a huge difference.
“Have a fantastic visualization available in your head to access that just makes you beam,” he says. “It could be a moment, a person, or thing.” Dagostino explains oftentimes people want to be joyful for a picture, but there are times when that’s difficult. In those moments, a visualization or joyful memory to pull from can be very helpful.
Dagostino, who specializes in weddings and portraits, developed the idea for Camera Confident after hearing the same comment over and over from clients: “I hate the way I look in photos.” The course teaches people how to be instantly photogenic and love the way they look in photos and selfies, simply by focusing on ways to manipulate the mind, body, or face when having a picture taken, he says. (A free preview can be found at elidagphoto.com.)
If taking part in a planned family portrait, Morrissette (veronicamorrissettephotography.com) recommends going all out to help address any anxiety or shaky confidence. Visit the hair salon, purchase a new outfit — whatever it is that makes you feel more comfortable.
“It makes you feel more confident when you know you look put together,” she says.
She also suggests choosing a photographer who has a relaxed style to help make the session more fun and enjoyable for all involved.
And when all else fails, get a selfie stick! Morrissette says this is a fun, goofy, yet inexpensive way to capture family moments — mom and/or dad included. Don’t worry if everyone doesn’t look at the camera at the right time. Pictures don’t need to be posed. All of the pros agreed that candid photos can sometimes be the best of the lot.
“We have to be OK with Johnny not looking at the camera,” Morrissette says. “Let’s get him how he is at that point in time, because they change so much.”
For moms out there still feeling apprehensive, remember that your children are going to look back on these photos someday (because hopefully you’ve printed them) and they’re going to wonder where mom was. Seeing mom in the photo, as well as dad, cements those shared memories of time spent together. No child cares about how their mom’s hair looked or how much she weighed at any given point in time.
All that matters is that she was there. Because, as Morrissette reminds us: “Your family loves you, exactly how you look today.”