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Slices of Life...Taking your picture - smile and say cheese

Remember picture day in grade school? They used to hand out little black combs to everyone right before they took your photo. It was exciting - free combs and getting your picture taken! Alas, grade school can't last forever.

Remember picture day in grade school? They used to hand out little black combs to everyone right before they took your photo. It was exciting - free combs and getting your picture taken! Alas, grade school can't last forever.

There comes a time in every person's life when the act of having your photo taken becomes less than a joyous occasion. I have reached this milestone.

As far as cameras go, I am most often on the taking-end - positioned behind the camera, taking the shots. It's where I'm most comfortable.

It hasn't always been this way. In years gone by - grade school and beyond - I approached the front-end of a camera with calmness and composure. I smiled easily and brightly. Words like "cheese," and "limburger" practically tripped off my tongue. When the pictures were developed (as they always were back in the olden days before digital) I looked at them and thought, "Yep, that looks like me."

That was then.

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I recently needed a photo of myself for posting on a writing Web site. Since I am a bit of a photographer, I did what any professional would do. I handed the camera to my 13-year-old son and told them him go for it. He snapped a couple and thought he was done. You've got to love the naïveté of youth.

If I've learned one thing from all my photo shoots, it's this: the secret to taking one good picture is shooting at least 50. (This is a real photography tip. Feel free to put it in your pocket.)

I instructed my son to keep shooting. He did - until his index finger started going numb. I let him quit, figuring we'd have at least one good shot in the bunch.

Then I looked at the photos (on my big, bright computer screen) and thought, "That's not me. My hair doesn't look like that. I don't have those big bags under my eyes - or do I?"

So began my quest for photographic youth. I cut my hair to give it fullness and bounce. I went out and bought some anti-aging, anti-puffy eye-brightening cream.

Then it was time for make-up. Anyone who's ever been to a photo shoot knows it's all about the make-up.

Since I can't afford my own make-up artist, I did the next best thing. I asked my 16-year-old daughter for assistance. She was more than happy to oblige.

The idea was to look natural while blocking out any appearance of bags or wrinkles. She told me that the key to this was making my eyes "pop." Popping my eyes out seemed a little extreme, but she assured me that the popping was only an illusion made possible by mascara, three shades of eye shadow and lots and lots of eyeliner.

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When she finished her work, I was ready for my next photo op. Since my luck with child photographers wasn't running so hot, I decided to bypass the kids and take the pictures myself. I set the camera on the desk in the dining room, sat down on a chair in front of it and snapped away.

It was probably quite a scene. I'd lean forward, press the shutter button and quickly get into place before the digital camera took the picture. I did this again, and again (remember the rule about taking lots of photos). I smiled with teeth and without teeth. I looked serious. I looked content. I put my chin down. I tilted my head. I turned to get my profile. I acted silly. I went back to smiling. And so on.

At the end of it all I'd taken 53 photos; none of them was what I would consider good, especially when blown up bigger-than-life on my computer screen. Although my eyes were definitely popping, I still didn't look like me.

By this time, it was getting late and the excessive make-up was starting to itch. I decided to call it a day, and I sort of put the whole youthful picture thing out of my mind.

I wasn't even thinking about portraits or eyes popping a couple of days later when I visited my parents and sister and we grouped together for a casual family shot. I was wearing hardly any make-up, hadn't used my anti-puffing eye cream or combed my hair since breakfast, so my expectations, if I'd had any, would have been low. I just hugged my mom, smiled and said "cheese."

My daughter snapped a single picture.

And wouldn't you know it, that was the one. After hundreds of photos and prep work, posing and popping of eyes, there in that one impromptu picture where I stood hugging my mom, I finally looked like me.

Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and award winning freelance writer working with graphic designer Nikki Willgohs to provide writing and design and other marketing services to businesses and individuals. You can check out their Web site at http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/ or e-mail Jill at pertmn@qwest.net .

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