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December 06, 2006

Say Cheese, Dammit!

Anas_picture_for_post Don't you secretly love it when someone tells you that your children ought to be ad models?   When this happens, I smile modestly and thank them for the compliment, while deep inside, I think smugly (as all parents must do) that yes, my kids could be Gap or Gymboree models.  If were to take them to my home country, the Philippines, where anyone with a even hint of Caucasian features is considered gorgeous, my half-English kids could probably land a contract within a week of arriving in Manila.  But however gorgeous I think my kids are, I know they would never make it through a proper talent audition, because none of my kids pose well for the camera. 

My kids don't like to smile when told, and when they do smile it is likely to be a fake, cheesy grin.  Genuine smiles usually only accompany laughter, which accompanies movement, leading to blurred photos.  Normally, it doesn't bother me.  Let them run around if they want, I like the candid, photojournalistic style anyway.  But their inability to sit still for the camera causes me a lot of grief when it comes time for our Christmas card photos. 

Getting the perfect Christmas photo of one kid?  Difficult.  Two kids?  Excruciating.  Three?  Impossible.  I've tried going to studios like Sears Portraits and The Picture People.  If anything, the process becomes even more stressful, because then I have to drag them to the mall during the busiest time of the year and wait for ages till our turn comes.  By this time, their patience has worn thin, and they are antsy and squirming.  Then I have to get them to smile in front of strangers, keep them in the studio and away from all the tempting props.  And the group pictures don't turn out any better than the ones we take ourselves.

So for the past two years I have taken our Christmas pictures myself.  This year I chose the Stanford Shopping Center for a backdrop.   I shamelessly told them that we would go see Santa, and he would really be happy if he saw them dressed in their Christmas best.  Throw in one more bribe (candy canes) and they were ready to cooperate.  Of course, despite their best intentions, bless their little hearts, it was still tough.  Lining them up, getting them to look up and smile, waiting ages for my pokey little digital camera to get ready for the next shot... NOT fun.   I wonder what shopkeepers and passers-by thought dwhen they hear me shouting at my kids in my fake singsong voice to get their attention:

"Okay kids, say Cheeeeeessse.... No?  Okay, say Meeeeerrry Christmas!!!"

"Mama, he's kicking me!"

"Stop pushing me!"

"STOP THAT.   Okay, let's try one more time.... Smile!!!!  No, look at me!  Look at me!  LOOK HERE, Philip!  Now smile......  Aarrrgh, no flash!  No, sit still, camera's not ready.... just a little longer.... hold him, Natalie....   smiiiiile!!"

"Where's Santa?  I want to see Santa!"

"Want more candy cane, mama..."

"Natalie, I said hold him, not strangle him!!"

And on it went.  After some time, I felt obligated to make good on my Santa promise, so I put my camera away and we joined the Santa queue.  Wouldn't you know it, my little angels sat still and smiled the sweetest of smiles.   But it cost $19.99 for two 5x7's, and I wasn't brazen enough to take my own photo when Santa's elves weren't looking.  With over 50 cards to send, I bought Santa photos for the grandparents and figured the rest of our family and friends would have to make do with whatever I had in my camera.

For the past two years, I have not been able to take a shot where all three of my kids look good.  At least one child is always looking away, crying, with or caught with eyes half-closed or mouth half-open (and very likely with candy cane in his mouth).  So for the past two years, I have had to resort to Photoshop to cut out the offending child from one photo and paste in a better version of him from another photo.  How else am I going to get all three of them to smile in the same picture?  It's a well-known secret in my family, and I enjoy challenging them to find the "seams" where the two photos join (they never do).  This year, however, I think I lucked out.  After taking, viewing and rejecting many poses, I managed to find a shot of my three kids looking happy and relaxed, with a beautiful fir tree behind them.  Other than a bit of cropping, no digital editing.  The perfect Christmas photo!   OK, maybe not perfect, but as good as it gets.   And IMBO (In My Biased Opinion), just as good as any fancy-schmacy Gap ad.

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