For many years as I got my business going, I just did my thing. I figured out what worked for me, for my clients, and I just did it. What I did was a little different from what others were doing, (no weddings, just babies, children, families) so rather than letting the fact that I was doing it differently get me all tied in knots, I just put my head down and did my work. A decade or so went by, I peeked my head up, I made some friends, I looked around at what others were doing in the industry, and I just put my head back down and kept on working.
All good, just moving right along over here.
Friday the 20th I noticed my college friend Cara Soulia was on the news for a fun project she'd started during the Coronavirus pandemic. She was going around her town photographing people on their front steps and getting them to donate to her local town council as their "payment" for the session. So sweet. What a nice thing to do for her town.
All my regular in home family photoshoots had rescheduled for that weekend - even though the official Stay at Home Advisory hadn't happened yet, so I texted her - Hey, want other people in other towns to do this, too? And she said "Sure, it's really taking off! Lots of people are asking!" and she sent me along some info.
So I went for it. At 90 miles an hour. For 3 days. Saturday, March 21st, Sunday, March 22nd and Monday, March 23rd. It was intense, a complete marathon, and I truly and completely adored it. For those three days, I felt like I was on the Amazing Race.
I zipped from family to family, smiling on their front steps to smiling on their front steps to smiling on their front steps, and I did my thing. I put my head down and I went for it, because what's more fun than doing what I love, for free, for happy people, all day long?
Nothing. To me, nothing is more fun than days like that.
Blue sky, gray sky, snow... whatever we had, we worked with it, and we got the pictures.
It was absolutely, burstingly perfect.
Fast-forward these whirlwind three days and I'd photographed 44 families in our town, rushing to finish the last handful in Monday the 23rd's snowstorm, quick before the Governor's Stay at Home Advisory went into effect on Tuesday at noon.
We'd raised $1600 for the Milton Art Center here in town and then I worked an intense week getting free, downloadable galleries into the hands of all these families.
And, now, to be completely transparent about it, thinking about what this project is doing to my industry and how it's going to impact family photographers for the entire next year makes me feel pretty sick to my stomach.
Because, we family photographers? We love love. We love squeezes. We love when the family's fine with coming out in the snow for their photos.
We love when something beautiful happens at the same time as a family showing their love... and art and family come together, and you get something really cool.
We don't, as a group, really like thinking about "the competition". I like offering what I offer, and doing my very best for the people who choose to work with me.
And that's what this little "Free Family Photos for anyone fast enough to get an email in my inbox within like an hour of me posting on Facebook" thing did for me.
Honestly, it was a little selfish. I took it on as a little challenge to myself. How much money can I raise? How many families can I photograph in just a few days? I was already distressed by my clients needing to reschedule their family photo sessions with me since COVID-19, and this felt like a way I could get my creative juices flowing again.
And I adored it. It was so much fun. I got to see people, I got to make them happy.
It meant I got to go, drive around my town (for the last few days before our Governor advised us all to stay home and closed all non-essential businesses), and see the faces of these incredible Milton residents (and their dogs), albeit from 10 feet away, with my zoom lens.
But now? Now I made my bed, y'all, along with photographers all over the country, and now I (and all my family photographer friends) have to lie in it.
Because guess what also happened?
While I was out there, racing a mile a minute to go from family to family to family... this same thing was happening all over, in towns all over.
And beautiful, memorable, adorable family photos were happening.
But, and maybe you can tell where I'm going with this... guess what this also means?
It means lots of these thousands of families will feel that they don't need to pay for another family photo this year.
They'll skip it, and that'll hurt a lot of us.
And that's why I feel sick to my stomach.
I did it because I love love and I love families and I love squeezing and when there's this little seed of an idea and it sounds so great and it's a fundraiser and it's just such a feel-good thing, it's hard to see the forest for the trees.
I'm sorry that what I did for three days last week will negatively impact our industry all year.
But the fact is, we're all hurting. Not just the artists. Everybody. We're all taking pay cuts. We're all struggling. This new normal isn't normal, so lots of the rules from before just don't apply. We have to make every decision about our businesses on a case by case basis, and then just go for it.
Because you know what? A lot of families would have skipped their family photoshoot this year anyway. This year is not going to be a normal year. And for now, I'll take the simple side of the (very heated, in the online photographer forums) discussion and say I'm really glad so many families got a great family photo out of #thefrontstepsproject.
I adored seeing these Milton faces from afar. And I'm really truly so glad we raised over $1600 for the Milton Art Center. The GoFundMe is still active if anyone else would like to add their support here.
Thank you to everyone who took part. And to those families who wanted a session and I couldn't get to you in those three days, I'm really sorry. Governor Baker announced in a press conference that he issued a Stay at Home Advisory that started Tuesday the 24th at noon, and requested that "residents are advised to stay home and avoid unnecessary travel and other unnecessary activities". So the end of the day on Monday the 23rd was my last day of shooting these since photoshoots fit into this category. If anything changes, I'll be contacting families who've signed up at this link.
And now, life continues, and I go back to my new normal - these days I'm spending my time doing one-on-one FaceTime tutorials teaching parents to take their own pictures of their children at home with their iPhones - because I can't be there. They're actually really fun. Want one? More info is here.
I’m also excitedly scheduling tween empowerment sessions for this June at a discounted $75 instead of the usual $175... would love to tell you all about those “Who I Am Project” sessions for 10-12 year old girls. All that info is here.
Be safe, guys. I send love and squeezes and hugs and can't WAIT to be able to get going with photos again.
I'm Jessica McDaniel, and May 2021 will mark my 18th anniversary photographing babies and their families all around Boston.
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