News |The Nightmare before Christmas

The Nightmare before Christmas


In the first of a new series, a friend of Camera Jabber who happens to be a successful professional photographer, will share her unique insights into the highs and lows and interesting experiences one has as a jobbing pro…

Christmas comes but once a year and, for many of us professional photographerss, that’s a blessing in disguise. From October onwards photographers approach their email and phones with trepidation, dreading the arrival of clients asking for ‘Christmas’ shoots.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas and many of the photography opportunities it gives. The twinkle of fairy lights, the crisp winter mornings – there are a multitude of pretty photographs to grab when the festive season is in full swing. Of course, these aren’t the shoots that most of us get asked to do.

What most of us get asked to do is the classic ‘Christmas Family Photo Shoot’. And, as we all know, nowhere is photography more fraught with situations likely to cause trouble, bafflement and a distinct desire to burst out in snorting fits of giggles every few minutes.

For starters, family photo shoots often involve not only children, but pets as well. ‘Never work with animals or children’ they say. ‘They’ obviously didn’t choose to become photographers. Herding children is, in my humble opinion, often harder than herding the cats.

And, of course, at Christmas it’s not just the trials and tribulations of photographing these two notoriously challenging subjects. No, at this time of year we must also take account of the need for Christmas outfits.

Wrestling small children into Christmas jumpers and onesies requires skills usually only seen in WWF, but wrestling a cat into an outfit takes things a step further.

Don’t forget to charge extra for the Photoshop work that will be needed to remove the scratches covering the owner’s arms and face, and keep a large supply of bandages handy to prevent an unnecessary hospital visit.

It doesn’t matter how good a photographer you are – at some point your shots are going to include a child in tears because they don’t like their outfit, a cat’s tail disappearing at speed out of a shot and, if you’re really lucky, a dog having an accident because it’s so traumatised by being dressed up as a reindeer. It’s all fun and games till someone dresses the pug up as the baby Jesus.

Of course, as a studio photographer I actually consider myself quite lucky. Things could be much worse. Imagine, if you will, the joys of being a press photographer for the local paper at Christmas time.

This job will necessitate covering the local primary school’s nativity plays. And, if they’re anything like mine was, the photographer is in for a demanding day out.

Reaching back through the misty annals of time, my primary school’s nativity was fraught with issues. As the children stepped on stage, Joseph accidentally trod on Mary’s foot, meaning that she spent the entire performance in floods of tears.

The Angel Gabriel (chosen because she was the tallest girl in class) was slightly ‘heavy set’ and broke the frankly flimsy cupboards the angels were perched on. Second angel to the right (yours truly) was furious because she wasn’t quite tall enough to be Gabriel. In addition, she had a stinking cold and spent the show wiping her nose with her hand.

The shepherds’ head gear was cunningly constructed from their mothers’ tea towels, and a punch-up nearly ensued between Joseph and the Innkeeper who DID NOT GET ON.

Nowadays, with classes getting bigger, you’ll find more creative casting going on. My nephew has played a donkey for the last two years, but this is nothing to a child who was photographed this year playing ‘grass’ (a part which required him to lie very still at the edge of the stage). Method acting at its finest.

If you can manage to get a shot with only half the children in floods of tears, consider it a success. And that’s if you can even manage to get a photograph through the sea of iPhones blocking your view.

But, hey, as I said at the beginning of the article, it’s only once a year. And the time of year means you won’t need an excuse to indulge in a bottle or two at the end of the day.


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