I Chose My Biggest Indulgence Over My Children’s College Funds
I am not the kind of person who wears designer clothing, drives a flashy car, or flaunts a status handbag. I’m the kind of person who brings my lunch to work every day (back when I used to go to the office) and happily shops for clothes and shoes at Costco or the outlets (back when I used to shop in person and wear full outfits and shoes, not “Zoom shirts” with joggers and flip-flops).
I’m also not the kind of person who loves to be photographed. For years, I took photos of my husband and kids but declined to let him take photos of me with them. I didn’t like photos of myself as I was often wearing stained clothing, had messy hair, bags under my eyes, and extra weight on my hips. But after I read Allison Tate’s viral 2012 essay, The Mom Stays in the Picture, I made a huge effort to swallow my pride and get in the frame, too.
I didn’t want my kids to wonder why I wasn’t in any of their childhood photos. I also started to make an effort to ensure my hair, makeup, and clothing looked good at least once per year and hired a professional photographer to capture that moment. I have no qualms at all when I indulge in professional photography because I love the opportunity to preserve a memory of my family when we’re all looking good.
The first time I ever met a professional photographer (other than the people who took our school photos!) was when I was in middle school. My parents brought us to an Olan Mills photography studio for family photos. Those in-studio portraits all looked very unnatural and formal, set against oddly colored backdrops. Plus it didn’t help that I was in an awkward phase in middle school, growing out a tight spiral perm. Yet I chuckle every time I see those photos, still on display at my parents’ home. And no, I’m not sharing them here.
By high school, I learned that all the older kids went to a local independent photographer for prom and winter formal photos: Arthur Mintz Photography (RIP, Mr. Mintz.). He always had beautifully composed backdrops, far nicer than the backdrop at the dance itself. Many of us then had him shoot our senior photos, too. Mine turned out amazing and I was disappointed I couldn’t use his senior photo of me in the yearbook. I learned then that good photography is an investment.
Once I graduated high school, I didn’t work with a professional photographer again for years, unless you count the photographers who snapped a photo on the stage when I graduated from college and law school. Once I was engaged, I did find fantastic wedding photographers and was thrilled with the results. But then years passed without thinking about photography at all. Thus, I was caught by surprise when my brother and sister-in-law generously gifted us a photography session with their wedding photographer (who also does family shoots).
I knew there were photojournalist family photographers but had been so focused on juggling work and motherhood that I hadn’t researched it. Plus, to be perfectly candid, I never got my “pre-baby” body back and was feeling too self-conscious for a photo session. That gift card sat in my desk for a year before I decided to finally let go of my hang-ups and make sure I had some photos of all 4 of us together.
I picked out cute outfits for the entire family (spending way too much time stressing about them and how they complemented each other but weren’t too matchy-matchy), picked a location for the outdoor shoot, had my hair and make-up done, and then we had fun and laughed throughout the session.
When I saw the final photos, I was hooked. There is something about seeing all four of us in a photo that makes me feel warm and gooey. I also love that our photographers make sure to get photos of subsets of us, like just my husband and me, each individual daughter, and the girls together. Ever since that first family photo session, I have booked annual sessions with a professional photographer, often while on vacations as a way to preserve vacation memories, too.
I sometimes wince a little when I think about how much I’ve spent on photography over the past 10 years. We could have done something else more practical with that money, like invest it into the girls’ college funds. However, then I remind myself that capturing photos of my growing girls and getting so many precious photos with all four of us in the frame is priceless. I can’t go back in time and take photos of my growing girls when I eventually have more discretionary money. Instead, I’ve made pragmatic decisions to save money in other areas so I can afford this indulgence with less guilt.
I also know that there is no item that gives me the same joy as memories of my family. We always have a good time and laugh a lot at our sessions. I also make sure we go out for a delicious meal afterward as a reward, too. I still recall the incredible multi-course kaiseki meal we had in Tokyo after our session!
I already have a photo session planned for later this year once my kids are vaccinated. We booked Christine from California Love Stories to shoot my family again, but we’re adding my parents and my brother’s family, too. My parents are getting older and I know they’d love to have a photo of them with all their grandkids far more than another trinket or gadget. I hope the photos bring as much joy to them as they do to me.
The photographers whose work was shared above are:
Augie Chang Photography (2012 and 2013)
Maui Creative Photography (2014 and 2015)
California Love Stories (2017 and planned for 2021)
Dolce Italia Photography (2018)
Flytographer* (2019 and early 2020, before the pandemic!)
*Note that I used my personal referral link for Flytographer. You save $25 and I earn a $25 credit if you book a session with them. Browse the portfolios of the local photographers in each city to get a sense of their approach before booking.