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Just Say Cheese : The Trials and Tribulations of Snapping the Family Portrait

June 04, 1992| Maureen Brown | Maureen Brown is a writer and mother of four.

If your children adore being photographed, behave in an exemplary manner when in photography studios and have furnished you with prize-winning results, I applaud you. If, however, the proofs of your children's most recent journey to the photographer moved some friends and relatives to tears (from laughter), consider your family not unique.

The proofs of our most recent attempt at a family portrait detail an afternoon when only two out of our four children responded positively to the idea. We never fault the photographer, for on previous occasions he has produced glowing photographs of these same "darlings."

"Let's do it again," says the photographer.

"Was she not feeling well?" queries one grandmother, questioning the pained expression on the 12-year-old's face while examining the proofs.

"Why isn't that one smiling?" says my husband, pointing to the 18-year-old. "We have an investment in his teeth. I'll get him to smile."

My children, underestimating my tenacious spirit, believe that I will eventually give up on these family portraits. However, using my well-worn adage, I remind them that this is the first time in my life I have ever been a mother of four children. If my insistence on good manners, brushing their teeth, practicing their instruments and having photographs taken in any way damages their well-being, I shall personally accompany them to therapy sessions when they are middle-aged.

There is an art to producing good portraits of children. A patient photographer and an understanding parent are prerequisites. Moreover, one must be reminded that the difficulty of capturing a perfect photograph of one child increases logarithmically as additional children or individuals are added to the photograph.

There are numerous methods of having a child photographed, and the price varies with each option. Prices, including sitting and processing fees, number of poses, consideration of a change from the studio to home, park or beach, vary greatly and should be addressed beforehand. Photography studios are eager to answer as many questions as possible before the sitting.

One studio, Custom Kids in Solana Beach, makes this claim in its phone book advertisement: "Specializing in Children--Family Portraits--Problem Kids? No Problem!" Charlotte Harper, office manager for photographer Ron Burgis, maintains he "is able to get inside of children--he can capture something special inside each child."

Harper's definition of a "problem child" is "one who doesn't like to be photographed and doesn't like to cooperate" . . . like her own son. "My son refused to have a picture taken in his junior year in high school for the annual. In his senior year, I insisted on a picture."

Harper makes numerous suggestions regarding a portrait. "First decide if you want a formal or outdoor setting. If you decide against a studio photograph and want one in your home, decide on a favorite spot in your home--perhaps the fireplace in the living room or the patio. Sometimes a child's room can be a perfect setting for a child's picture."

As for clothing, Harper advises to avoid short sleeves and to wear darker colors. "Some of the new darker greens work quite nicely," she adds. "For a group photo, consider sweaters and jackets that all tie in or are the same color. Stay away from white shirts. The eye has a tendency to go there first."

"If you have questions about what goes together, lay the outfits on the back of a couch or on a bed--someplace you will walk by. If anything reaches out and grabs you--replace it. You have to be comfortable with what works well together."

Olan Mills Portrait Studios, which has offices in Mira Mesa and Oceanside, offers several packages to consumers, including a "Watch Me Grow Program" coupon-book program for babies up to toddlers. The plan is paralleled to a growth chart, but with pictures.

"Parents get caught up in their personal lives and sometimes forget about arranging for portraits," said Sheila Rocks, portrait consultant at the Mira Mesa studio. "With our programs, we have a schedule where we call parents to remind them of their next scheduled picture."

Life-Touch Portrait Studios operates a variety of studios, including Kinderfoto in Escondido and Mira Mesa and the JC Penney Portrait Studio in Fashion Valley.

Reyes Thompson, manager of the Penney studio, advises parents to consider their children's coloring in determining backdrops and clothing. "If you have a dark-tone baby, dress the baby in white or pastels, like blue and pink. For a fairer-skin baby, a bright color is best, like red or blue. They bring out the color tones of the child."

For a group photograph, Thompson advises color-coordinating clothing and avoiding a scenic backdrop.

Coordinating outfits can add to the price of the photographs if it is necessary to purchase items that will work well together. Dressing in casual clothing can produce interesting photographs as well as help keep everyone comfortable.

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