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HEATHER HUYBREGTS: How to take the perfect photo, family-style

How hard is it to get a picture-perfect family photo? Pretty hard, but don't let that stop you from enjoying the not-so-perfect results of these candid, chaotic moments, Heather Huybregts writes.
How hard is it to get a picture-perfect family photo? Pretty hard, but don't let that stop you from enjoying the not-so-perfect results of these candid, chaotic moments, Heather Huybregts writes. - 123RF Stock Photo

It’s Father’s Day. So, like on any special occasion (graduation, new pants, a perfect sunset, “sold” sign just went up, three drinks happened and you suddenly think you look just like Meghan Markle, etc.), you’re likely recruiting the best amateur photographers amongst you to capture that perfect photo. 

I enjoyed that process while at my sister’s house for Father’s Day brunch. We nailed it. And, beloved readers, in just eight easy steps, you, too, can achieve photographic perfection. I will give you specific examples from Father’s Day, but these can be extrapolated to suit any occasion that calls for digital evidence (and profound self-loathing):

1. You and your sister must stand on either side of your father/guest of honour. Realize, as you pose for no one, that the photo idea was a spontaneous one and everyone else is in another room; it’s just the three of you. Set aside nine to 12 minutes for three grown-ass adults to figure out the self-timer function on your phone camera. Realize that propping the phone for a timed selfie requires that it be set on the counter (ideally, on top of a dirty dish and angled precisely with a stack of napkins). The counter shot requires you to look down into the camera. Once the shot has been taken, clamour toward the camera to view the finished product. Realize that you should never look down for a photo unless you are 12 and this is your hip-hop album cover. Comment liberally about your amorphous jowls and uncanny resemblance to Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson.

2. Try again. Put the jug on top of the thing and the juice (wine) glass on top of the jug. This is your tripod. Listen to your sister reiterate that this won’t do either because her right arm is the one she lovingly refers to as her “kielbasa” arm, and the world, apparently, is not ready for the kielbasa arm. Switch sides with her reluctantly, even though now you’re showing your chimple (chin pimple) side. Reiterate this fact throughout the remainder of the fun-filled session; your dad/guest of honour will love it!

3. Your six-year-old has wandered into the room. Perfect! Reverse the photo direction and hand him the phone. Ensure that he takes the majority of the shots as you’re walking back to re-assume your pose. If you can get your eyes to roll back into your head as you do a last-minute once-over of your teeth with your tongue, that can be the one and only shot your child takes where his finger isn’t in front of the lens. He should then run away, ignoring your pleas to try again. His job is done.

4. Finally, another grown-up enters: your husband, who, on his special day, would love nothing more than to follow orders barked at him through clenched, faux-smiling teeth by two high-maintenance arseholes. He should then, without even looking at the phone, snap 200 identical photos with the enthusiasm of a teenager in science class learning about the pupal phase of dung beetles. Relish the fact that only he can freeze-in-time, effortlessly, your sophisticated sideburns as well as the taut, hulk-like tendons of your neck as you strain to keep smiling. Every time. Momentarily question what he sees in you then re-group; remember that you, your jaunty Elvis-burns and your neck vigor are fabulous and are, likely, what drew him to you in the first place.

5. Face the window - “the natural light will give us all a gentle softness that will - wait, why am I squinting, are you guys squinting? I can’t not squint. OK, let’s close our eyes and then one, two, three open! Nope, I’m still squinting and even that burns now. My eyes won’t stop watering...”  At this point, it is imperative that you wipe your eyes, so that not only do your eyes look swollen shut, but also it looks like you’re coming off a three-day heroin bender. Continue smiling maniacally with your mouth only; your eyes must continue to convey your looming defeat. 

6. Try again with the windows behind you. Take time to really scrutinize this shot afterwards. Appreciate how the new shadows deepen and accentuate your creases and adult-onset acne scars. Savour the realization that you are the primitive man from the evolution posters, with only slightly better posture and an ironic cardigan.

7. Next up: your sister’s husband gets a crack at the ol’ sword-in-the-stone that is this glorious tradition (all in the name of preserved memory and suffocating insecurity)! It is crucial, here, that you stare, desperately, into the tiny lens, willing it to make you pretty. This will create the most captivating, asymmetrical, crazy eyes that will implore your grateful descendants to ask, “...what the hell was wrong with her?”

8. Now for the final step of this fool-proof plan.  All other members of your gathering have given up on the photography process at this point. You, the models, should have, by now, tossed aside any attempts at discretion and self-respect. Re-employ your original think-tank of tech enthusiasts to figure out, once again, how to set the self-timer. This should only take seven to nine minutes. Throw caution to the wind and attempt a sitting shot. Immediately sit on the floor, right where you are, with no thought given to lighting or angles. Your guest of honour (Dad) may be in the background for this one, as you’ve completely forgotten the purpose of the occasion and are now, conclusively, an ego-centric lunatic. 

As the timer counts down from 10, realize how absolutely absurd this is. Throw your head back and laugh from your belly - your eyes squinting or closed, your mouth wide open, crooked tooth on display. And, with Dad grinning in the background (the way he patiently has been this whole time), it will be perfect. You will be unable to look at this photo without smiling. 

And that should be the point. 

Candid photos are the way to go. And, some days, we might even skip the photos altogether and, instead, look at each other’s actual faces or have conversations. Being present is far easier - and more memorable - than navigating photo-timers and staring at ourselves.

Heather Huybregts is a mother, physiotherapist, blogger, wine advocate and puffin whisperer from Corner Brook, N.L. Her column appears biweekly.

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