Z Life: More Cheese Please!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Gratitude, togetherness, and annual traditions resurface in spectacular ways across the country. At Chez Mertel, nothing screams holiday quite like my once-a-year proclamation, “OH COME ALL YE FAITHFUL my darling family!” I announce on a random fall day, eliciting a familiar shift of energy in our home. For my brood knows the meaning behind my festive decree; it’s go time people— time for the annual Mertel holiday photo session! What happens next is like Groundhog Day. Almost immediately a kid scatters and I overhear someone mutter, “OH JOY.” The rest of our traditional family scenario plays out like this: there’s a grumble or two about itchy sweaters; some bemoaning over having to smile for an extended period of time.  And the topper is usually a quippish Q+A go-round, courtesy of my eldest.  But then this happens— ALL IS CALM, ALL IS BRIGHT. I win! It’s the same drill year after year and the masochist in me likes it. A lot.


2016 marks the 13th holiday photo session for my party of five.  The first few years were eeeeasy! All eyes were on our only child at the time, styling was a piece of fruit cake, and grandpa served as a good-enough photog.

As our tribe grew, so did the effort to capture that perfect snap. By kid number two, my vision became more grand and thanks to a photo pro here and there, we nailed it each time.  When my littlest love completed our family, I immediately booked a fabulous photographer and we took to the streets to accomplish my picture perfect, on-location goal. After an impressive diaper blow out, change of wardrobe, and marathon feeding/snack/potty break, all was MERRY and BRIGHT. HALLELUJAH! We did it again!holiday photography

Fast forward to lucky number 13 with a teen, an almost tween, and a spunky five-year-old—let’s just say, I’ve upped my game to keep our tradition alive. I have my demands. Itchy sweaters are non-negotiable as is my desire for perfection. So, how do I do it? One beautiful word. Bribery. It works. Not on my husband or teenager— they’ve just recently outgrown the practice, but with my boys? Oh yeah, a new video game and Lego set are considered fair trade from my perspective.

So, why bother with this seemingly needless nonsense year after year? And, what exactly do I do with all these photos? I cherish them. I compare them. I cry bittersweet tears over them—deeply thankful that my family is flourishing.

I sit in quiet gratitude and recall the chubby kissable cheeks, missing teeth, and loads of personality staring at me from a piece of photo paper in my emotion filled hands. To me, photos are beyond priceless—and my family gets it. As do the talented photographers who understand photo lovers like me, and fulfill our obsession with every click of their lens.

I share my passionate tale of photography with you, my dear readers, as an encouraging pat on the back should you soon about to embark on a session with your loved ones. After all, ‘TIS THE SEASON for jolly holiday cards, right? (yes, another fascination of mine). You may be feeling a bit anxious (to be expected) but don’t fret; I gathered some tips from the pros to keep the cheesy, forced smiles on point and complaints about the itchy sweaters to a minimum.  Whether you are playing amateur photog this year or hiring a professional, read on for expert advice. And, don’t forget my tried and true tactic: Bribery. It works like a glittery charm.

pic4Professional photographer, Blaire Hawes says regardless of camera (smart phone or DSLR) don’t get caught up in the “stuff.” The newest lens isn’t necessary however, a keen eye to capture your subject for who they are is key. Basically, let kids be kids. If your child is active and bouncy, let him stand and move. Hawes says that’s when the magic happens—and it’s organically spectacular when it does.

What to wear? What NOT to wear? Hawes says rule of thumb: yellow makes people look larger and green does the opposite. It has nothing to do with weight rather, how light reflects off the lens. She calls it prism power. Hawes says to also wear what makes you feel good. You will shine brighter. As for my house, itchy sweaters are here to stay. Says the masochist.

Hawes recommends VSCO as an editing tool for smart phones. She says it’s user friendly and can make any image look polished with just a few minor adjustments. The app is free for Android and IPhone and also serves as an online gallery.

Some additional, obvious, expert tips: don’t launch into a photo session with hungry, tired kids. Pack non-messy snacks for lengthy sessions, and fill kids in on what to expect/how the day is going to roll.

This last bit of expert advice comes from moi, (why yes, I am an expert. Thirteen years, remember?) get silly with it. At the end of each segment (pose) of a shoot, my fam goes a little cray. Funny faces galore, cross-eyes, duck lips—we let it rip this year in particular, and you can see my fave outtake on Insta @zenobia.mertel.

Pics are priceless, preserved memories in my opinion. I say, don’t overthink it, find a photographer you click with, and make the effort. The expert in me promises your photos will bring much COMFORT and JOY for years to come.

CHEESE! download

Photos provided by:

Images By Blaire Catherine
Sandra Tenuto Photography