real family photos | fort worth lifestyle family photography

The other day, I opened up an old journal, and a print-out from The Velveteen Rabbit fell out. It’s this one:

I love it. I’ve always loved it. Real has long become the goal for me - in my personal and professional life. In fact, I really can’t compartmentalize my life like that at all. I’m sitting writing this at the dining room table where I wrap up print orders and create my most creative ideas. It’s the same table that tells stories of our holiday meals and birthday celebrations. I’ve got my boy’s baby monitor on one side and the cameras I used for today’s session on the other. I’m wearing the blouse I ironed this morning and pajama pants. 

Real talk. Real entrepreneurial talk. No boundaries. Just like motherhood. 

Sure, I strive to be present with my son while we’re together. I work only when he’s at school or asleep. And when I’m working, I strive not to worry about him, but that’s easier said than done. I asked a friend a while back whose kids are grown: What was easier for you - working while your kids were young or staying home with them? She’d mentioned she’d done it all over the course of their lives: full-time stay at home (which let’s be honest is also ‘working’) mom, full-time work-outside-the-home-mom, part-time worker / part-time mom. 

I remember she paused to think about it. Her eyes glancing up at a diagonal. And, how she answered is not important because it’s not the point here, but I vividly remember she said it was because she felt like she could be the most present. 

If you’re a mom and you’re reading this, I’d imagine that each morning when you wake you feel pulled in a number of directions. And, each night when you go to sleep, you wonder if these were the “right” directions and if you let yourself be pulled equally and enough. I hear it all the time from my clients. And, over the past 2 years, I’ve experienced it myself. I have but one child. And a doting partner. So it’s two on one most of the time here. I learn so much from the moms who have more longevity in their motherhood careers. 

I’ve photographed this particular family for a number of years. There are six of them now, and I think when I began documenting them, there were 3. I typically ask parents to come dressed for some photos. I’m interested in interaction and connection, and I believe with all my heart that your children will want to see you someday. I say this as a 36-year-old woman who can find few photographs of her own aging mother whose camera trauma is so complex that she will not allow me to photograph her. Camera trauma is a topic for another day. 

With four children, this mom didn’t make any promises about coming ready. How does one leave the house with four children? Upon the arrival of the third child, the defensive strategy must shift from man to man to zone. 

She told her kids they were going on a play date to the Kimbell. And, that’s exactly what it was. This is a fabulous idea, Parents. Would you rather go “take photos” or “go on a play date?” If you have a husband or photo-reluctant spouse, this works for them, too. The girls insisted on wearing dresses that were not what Mom wanted. Brothers’ shirts kinda clashed. The girls were adamant about no bows. It was at least 90 degrees outside because Texas. Summer. Mom was like “I think I wore this same blouse to the last one-year-old shoot 2 years ago. It’s a beautiful white blouse with scalloped sleeves, so I’ll allow it. But, the irony is not lost on me that kids get a new wardrobe every three months while we alternate the same three outfits for years. I looked up at her sunglasses, and as if she was reading my mind, she said, “Can I just leave them on?” Sunglasses on her head are for her, the motherhood equivalent of a security blanket. Sure. Let’s be real.

I realized about 5 minutes before the family arrived that I’d forgotten a memory card for my digital camera. This is normally one of the things I’d omit from sharing publicly, but let’s keep it real even with a decade of experience as a photographer: I’m a human. I forget things. I make mistakes. But, I had tons of film in tow, and it was nearly high noon because 4 kids’ schedules are not always conducive to golden hour, so film is and was actually the logical choice because of the way it handles light. My assistant asked me if I wanted her to go to my home to get a memory card, and I thought about it.


There are times in my commercial work where digital is the correct tool for the job. And with four unpredictable fast kids, perhaps digital is indeed the more likely choice, too.

But, I love film. So, I said no. And, because I’ve known Mom for 15 years or so, I knew a do-over second play-date at the Kimbell would be possible in the worst case scenario. 

What I found though was that not having the back of the screen to view expanded my capacity to see and attend to what was happening in front of me in real time. I don’t really believe everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that there are no coincidences. I think forgetting the card was just the Universe’s way of moving me to create a more authentic, less contrived story of family. 

I’m tired of seeing perfect family photos. I yawn and scroll on. I’m tired of trying to get everyone to smile. Have you seen what happens when you ask a toddler to smile? 

It’s downright horrifying. Stop it. Stop asking your kids to smile all the time especially when they’re not happy. Let’s teach our kids to be real. Real with their emotions, real about who they are. Whew, I’m getting fired up here. I spend a bunch of time with families, and the one in which I was raised was ripe with disruption, which is the clinical term for chaos. 

I won’t lie that when I mailed the film to Richard Photo Lab, I was a little worried. With all of the moving parts, I just wasn’t sure what the results would be.  

But, I wept when I saw these film scans. My client did, too. This is them. The REAL them. True. Beautiful. 

“I bet there were some funny outtakes, too,” she said. And, I came clean about not taking any digital photos. 

These are the outtakes. I left nothing on the cutting room floor - in this case beneath my dining room table. I shot 3.5 rolls of medium format film. 4 images were blurry. I delivered 56 real, true photos of a beautiful, loving family. 

I’d love to tell a real story of your family, too. What’s real can’t be ugly except to people who can’t understand.


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