It has become a tradition of sorts eleven or so years running, at around this magical time of the year, for my fabulous sister, Donna, and her amazing husband, Ed, together with their beautiful and beloved children, William and Samantha, to share their personalized Christmas card with family and friends.
Many families now do this of course, but we’d like to think that this gesture is particularly meaningful to our family because, simply put, it has become one of the special ways my sister connect with loved ones, separated by distance and time zones, all across the globe.
Year after year, we've all come to look forward to receiving my sister’s family Christmas cards through the mail. I’ve collected them all, and they are all on full, year-round display at the refrigerator wall in our kitchen. Looking at all of the cards every now and then, I can’t help but smile and feel wistful seeing how my sister’s beautiful family, especially my nephew and niece, have changed and grown through the years. And yes, I get flooded with incredibly beautiful memories of all Christmases past, and many, many other occasions—birthdays in particular—that we joyfully celebrate month every month.
Coming up with the Christmas cards is pretty much a full-on production of an undertaking. From photo shoot to printing to distribution, my sister carefully plans the whole process and executes it flawlessly, and in perfect timing! She would pick out and hire a professional photographer from Atlanta to do their family shoot, she would scout for the perfect location, set the right date and time of day’s shoot. And when the pictures are ready, she’d pick the right card design, get the pictures all laid out just right, get it printed on the best card stock. And then, off to its destination each of these lovingly crafted Christmas cards go!
This year, my sister’s family Christmas card happens to be somewhat extra-special. I know this because, for the first time, she asked me to take pictures of her family for their card.
From the very first year that my sister started coming out with these holiday-themed cards, she has always hired some other professional photographer to do the shoot, despite the fact that she clearly knows, and everyone in the family knows, that her brother (meaning, me) is himself a professional photographer. Don’t get me wrong--of course, I love the pictures that all the other photographers delivered year in and year out, even if I wasn't the one who shot them. In a way, I’m happy to see how the images look like. But at the back of my mind, I’ve always wondered why she never “hired” me for this particular job, and more importantly, when will she ever “hire” me to do it for them. It's not as if she's never asked me to take pictures of her kids and the family! I've even set up a photo studio at their house one time to take portraits of William and Samantha! Year after year I waited, and year after year, she’d get someone else. Of course, I never brought it up with her. I didn’t want to put her in a spot where she’d be forced to get me. I want her to get me because she wanted to or she needs to, not because I wanted to or I need to.
I can only guess why she never got me as their official family Christmas card photographer: as a family member, she didn't want to impose a job on me knowing that being a photographer is my profession, she just wanted me to enjoy my nephew and niece without my visits being associated or tied to work situations, and since I'm officially on vacation whenever I see her family she simply didn't want me to "go to work."
Well, my patience for not asking finally paid off—on the 11th year!
My sister finally ask me to do their family pictures, with my "professional camera." I was so thrilled to be asked, I said yes right away, and was immediately swept up in the production process of making her family’s Christmas card.
So, off to a nearby park we went one bright and sunny morning, and with my "professional" DSLR camera and lens system, a sturdy tripod and a giant circular reflector, we made some pictures.
In the middle of the shoot, while we were walking from one spot to another, my not-so-shy and very vocal nephew, William, from out of nowhere, said that he was having so much fun, and declared the on-location session their “best photo shoot—ever.” And to make his point come across more emphatically, he unabashedly declared me, his uncle, as “the best photographer—ever” that they had a photo shoot with! Samantha, his sister two years younger, naturally chimed in and wholeheartedly agreed with his brother’s wise assessment.
Of course, I know why William said what he said, and why his sister agreed with him. For starters, they’ve known me their whole lives, and they’re very comfortable being around me. That gave me decided advantage over the other professional photographers! Throughout the shoot, I’ve allowed them to so much flexibility such as picking out their own scene spots and to do their own poses while adapting to make sure their choices worked photographically, instead of merely imposing and barking out my own creative directions on them. I got them involved and invested in the process. And, we kept the whole thing quite informal. It felt more like a family having fun strolling through the park rather than a bunch of people on a “professional” photo session.
I never asked my sister why it took her more than a decade before she finally decided to “hire” me as their family’s photographer. I’ll probably never know her reasons why. The important thing is, she finally did, and I finally got to photograph her family for a Christmas card. And based on the success of the photo session (at least, according to William and Samantha—whose assessment and judgment we take very seriously), and all the beautiful photos that came out, it seems likely that I’ll get hired again to do the all-important job next year.
I’m keeping my fingers crossed!