Why We’re Opting Out of Family Portraits


It’s peak foliage season here in Vermont. The leaves are a brilliant rainbow of warm tones, apples are ripe for the picking, and folks are flocking to pumpkin patches. It’s time for mulled cider, harvest festivals, and wool socks (okay, maybe not today because it’s 75 degrees). It’s also family portrait season.

two children sitting in a pile of leaves giving a peck on the nose

What I’m about to say next might surprise you. It might even shock you when you hear that I used to be a professional wedding and portrait photographer.

This year, we are opting out of family portraits.

Why is that so hard to say? Why do I feel a familiar mix of guilt and the fear of missing out?

Growing up, our family did not have professional portraits made, save one time around my first Christmas. It used to be that you hauled the kids in their matching green velveteen outfits to Sears or K-Mart for a posed image against a stock blue background. But our family didn’t do that, so it wasn’t that I was feeling some type of generational pressure.

If I am completely honest, part of my desire for family portraits is to keep up with the Joneses. It’s because seemingly everyone I’m friends with on social media posts them each year, so I should too, right? Plus, everyone looks so beautiful and so happy.

I found myself stressing out over making the schedule work in order to actually be together for a family portrait. My husband and I work opposite shifts, childcare is an ever-evolving puzzle, and we rarely have time where both the adults are off from work and the kids are home from school and daycare. We also can’t dip into nap or mealtime or else we might as well call it a tantrum portrait session. Finding the time felt impossible.

Then there’s the matter of making sure our outfits are coordinated, but not too matchy. And getting the kids to actually wear the clothing that I painstakingly selected for them after far too many hours of online shopping. Followed by the grand finale, getting everyone to actually appear like they’re having a great time in the images.

Professional family portraits are also a privilege. The cost is out of reach for many families. Our family just made a rather large purchase, and if I’m being honest, spending hundreds of dollars for a few photos to put on holiday cards is not in the budget.

Also, the photographer we use is a wonderful woman that I like being around. We’re both moms to autistic kiddos and she “gets us” in a way many photographers don’t. She gives our daughter the space to be herself, to not make eye contact with the camera. I like her, and I didn’t want to upset her by canceling.

Yesterday, as we were playing outside in a leaf pile, I snapped a photo of our two girls playing together. I looked at it after and decided right then I was stressing myself out about something that truly was a non-issue. When the girls look back at their childhood, will they be angry that I didn’t have family portraits taken in 2021? Probably not. When I’m on my deathbed, will my final whisper be “oh, I wish we’d had more professional photographs taken”? I don’t think so.

a child throwing leaves in the air

I realized then, looking at the photo on my phone, that portraits aren’t what we will remember. It’s playing in the leaf pile.

Also, even without a formal family portrait session, I could still have holiday cards with cute images of the kids. I had the tool I needed right in my hand. I snapped a few more, this time with just a touch of intention.

Their outfits were not coordinated. Hair was unbrushed. Their faces were stained with popsicles. But dang, those photographs really captured the happiness of that moment.

That afternoon, I canceled our family portrait session.

Not because I think there’s anything inherently wrong with portraits. I think they are a beautiful way to capture a family looking their finest. I canceled my family’s portrait session because it was causing me far more stress than the joy I would receive from it. I decided against the portraits because my “why” for taking them was off balance.

I wanted us to look beautiful and happy, too.

a baby throwing leaves into the air

Playing in the leaf pile, surrounded by the belly laughs of my daughters and falling leaves, I saw that we already are beautiful and happy. For our family, a manufactured moment could never capture that perfectly.

Maybe next year I’ll sign us up for family portraits again. But this year, I’m saying no to things that feel unmanageable, including family photos. I don’t need to keep up with the unrealistic pressures to appear perfect. I don’t need to force us into something that feels like far too much in this season.

To be clear, I am in no way encouraging folks to boycott family portraits. If you enjoy the process and the images make your heart sing, by all means, go for it! Please, support the makers and creators of this world, whose businesses have been greatly impacted during the pandemic. But, if like me, you find yourself stressing to make it happen, give yourself the option to bow out.

Why We're Opting Out of Family Portraits


  1. I agree that there is just too much pressure on family portraits. Honestly, it has been almost 4 years since this photographer’s family has hired someone to take our own. But I did cringe a bit when you said you cancelled your portrait session – meaning a photographer took time from their calendar FOR you, potentially turned away other customers for that time slot, and most likely already had a plan for that monetary income. I might argue if you are on the fence to not make an appointment at all… that would be showing respect and a better way to “support the makers and creators of this world”. I think a great follow up to this piece might be on the importance of getting those photos off our devices. Print.Those.Memories! Sure, it is great you can take your own Christmas Card picture on your phone, but in 20 years when your kids want an “old photo” of the family will you be able to find it? We do an annual printed album, a glorified photo dump of the year, and have a wall of frames that gets updated and added to *maybe* once a year. I think it’s most important to make those special memories, but a very close second for me is passing those memories on to the next generations.

    • Hey Jamie, thanks so much for taking the time to respond to this. She’d already been paid for the session, and I didn’t follow up for a refund. Like I said, I’m a retired photographer myself, and I know how much they depend on income from this season to make it through the winter.

      And I totally agree! Print all the photos! I’m a big fan of books and gallery walls that get updated regularly.

  2. Beautiful. I’m with you, mom, and there are many of us! (Although Facebook would lead you to believe otherwise). I’ve wondered many times over the years whether portraits are something I’m “supposed to be” doing, and concluded I just don’t have a good reason to spend the money on something that I’ll really *love* for about a month and then rarely look at again. Our kids are by no means lost to the photographic record, and the pictures I really love are the ones that aren’t posed and airbrushed, while they’re just living life (not pretending to look like an idealized version of it).

    That said, for the parents who truly enjoy doing their portraits and treasure them, that’s great too! It’s just not us.


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