Two Christmas Surprises

It was supposed to start on a cold December 15th day: a portrait session with one of the bubbliest mothers I know and her young toddler. I called Amy to make sure she didn’t have any questions and she told me that she felt it was too cold for her daughter to be out taking pictures at Liberty University’s outdoor Christmas Tree. With a high temperature of 37 degrees and a bitter wind I had to agree. I tried to convince her to have it indoors with my portable studio – and I got to admit I was anxious to try out my new studio lights – but she insisted that she wanted her daughter’s portraits taken with the LU Christmas Tree. We both happened to be free the next day and the high was 48 degrees – a lot warmer.

So the sun set on December 16, 2017 and Jack Frost was being a pill. I drove through the campus over and over again looking for a parking space but to no avail due to the basketball game. Fifteen minutes later the Parking Guard finished his post and I finally got a space. It was far from the Christmas Tree, but I was still fifteen minutes early so I put together my 6D Mark II and fled to the Christmas Tree. Ten minutes to spare.

Then it hit me. I had preprogrammed my camera for a pitch black scene with only the Christmas Tree lights illuminating the background… the actual scene was quite different with its very luminescent street lights that made the area bright. So my camera settings, especially my white balance, was completely wrong. Then Surprise Number One happened. I saw a mother and daughter walk quickly to the tree and try to take a selfie with a phone. Ugh. A beautiful scene being recorded by a camera-want-to-be. But I could clearly hear the Lord tell me to ask them if they’d like their photograph taken. My client was driving in – she had the last parking space near the Christmas Tree which was a great thing because she had her toddler with her. Surely I didn’t have time to recalculate my camera for this scene. I asked her anyways and she looked surprised and I could hear the excitement in her voice when she said yes. Then her husband and other daughter came on scene. I gave them my business card and told them I would post the photograph online for them, which is actually the point of this blog. But I was out of time. My client was preparing her toddler daughter and the temperature had dropped significantly as Jack Frost prepared to play. So, my camera settings are all jacked: it was designed to capture a purely dark scene with 1-2 subjects at the same height (mom would be holding her daughter) and now I have a very bright scene and four subjects of different heights. And the icing on the cake was that I had the tripod set up for a toddler’s height! Amy, my client, was walking across the parking lot with her already frozen daughter. Quickly I snapped four pictures and the family of four scurried away into the cold.

But my client and I had fun while Jack Frost worked his magic. The little princess did a great job posing in the freezing temperatures, and even posed when her eyes began watering down her face in protest to the cold temperature. The poor thing couldn’t even smile! We wrapped up our session with very few exposures and I wasn’t very excited about how the session went, although I was very thankful and proud of Amy’s daughter for being such a champ. I never did get to tweak my camera to peak performance under this condition because I didn’t want my clients to freeze (nor freeze myself).

I got home and edited the photographs… cue Surprise Two: one of Amy and her daughter looking at the tree is an absolute all-time favorite. I have never printed a client’s photograph for my own home, but I think I’ll get this one in a Slate Canvas. And your know what? Amy’s session turned out great overall.

So I started working on the family of four’s pictures. They turned out horrible. As I frantically tried to spruce up two very bad photographs (the other two weren’t even usable) I received the following email from them:

Hi Mr. Haefer, We [met] Saturday night at [the] Christmas Tree on Liberty’s campus. You took a picture of my family while you were waiting on a client. Thank you so much for taking the photo for us. You asked me to email you so you could send me a link to the picture.  Thank you for taking you time and taking our picture.  What you didn’t know is that we bring our girls to look at the lights and allow them to run up and down the boulevard. This is our last Christmas is Lynchburg, we are actually moving at the end of January. So thank you for commentating our last tree picture at Liberty! Merry Christmas!

I’ll be. This is truly the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Neither photograph turned out – at least not to a professional standard. Ironically enough they remind me of a cell phone pic. But the family of four is there together, together for their last Christmas in Lynchburg, together closing a family tradition and being exciting to start new ones in a new home. What better Christmas present can I have then to be part of that? Merry Christmas y’all!


2017 December 17