The setting could not have been more perfect. A back yard overlooking Illinois River bluffs on a sunny fall afternoon. But there was always something not quite right. First, it was the way Lorrie Leuchtold sat next to husband, Neil. Had to be changed to put Neil in more flattering light. Then it was the way daughter, Jessica, sat. She looked like a rag doll. Rearrange an arm here, a stance there, now a leg here and a body there, and just when the photographer thinks she might be ready to start photographing, a cell phone rings. Lorrie Leuchtold's father, Norman Johnson, walks out of the carefully arranged scene to take the call.
The setting could not have been more perfect. A back yard overlooking Illinois River bluffs on a sunny fall afternoon. But there was always something not quite right.
First, it was the way Lorrie Leuchtold sat next to husband, Neil. Had to be changed to put Neil in more flattering light.
Then it was the way daughter, Jessica, sat. She looked like a rag doll.
Rearrange an arm here, a stance there, now a leg here and a body there, and just when the photographer thinks she might be ready to start photographing, a cell phone rings. Lorrie Leuchtold's father, Norman Johnson, walks out of the carefully arranged scene to take the call.
Johnson returns shortly and the wisecracking, arranging, rearranging confab begins again.
Finally, portrait photographer Delayne Spain steps back and surveys three generations of a family she's come to know.
"Aren't they perfect," Spain coos.
"It only took an hour," jokes Brittany, the youngest of Lorrie and Neil Leuchtold's three daughters, the youngest of Brenda and Norman Johnson's three granddaughters and therefore the youngest subject in a long span of Johnson family portraits.
If it only took an hour to get little details right for a snuggle-close family portrait, it took a lot more to get seven people, including three college-student daughters, in the same place at the same time.
The family portrait sitting may be the least heralded of all holiday traditions. It's not chestnuts roasting on an open fire or Jack Frost nipping at the door. It's more like herding cats - coordinating busy schedules and conflicting sweaters - to get everyone under the same roof, eyes open in front of the same photographer, all at the same time.
In the end, it's not the sitting that's memorable -- it's the portrait.
"This is the time of year people want family portraits for holiday cards, but their main goal is for something to be a keepsake, an heirloom," says Vickie Taufer of V Gallery in Morton.
Sitting for the family photo should herald the real beginning of the holiday season. Professional photographers are already in the midst of their busiest season. Taufer has large family sessions scheduled the day before Thanksgiving and the Saturday after. Color Classics has several large families, including one with nearly 60 people, scheduled the day after Thanksgiving and another scheduled on the holiday.
Spain, whose studio is in Peoria Heights, says the day after Thanksgiving has remained a stellar family-portrait appointment day for the 30 years she's been in business.
"It's one of the times families are all together," Spain says.
The advent of digital photography and other photo technology has changed how families take photos and how professional photographers do business, but not the desire to get the whole family together in one shot.
"Getting a large group, with maybe 10 kids under four, that's always interesting," Taufer says.
Families no longer have to reschedule an appointment if a sister can't make it, or worse, forgets. The photographer can simply insert a photo of the missing party with the wizardry of Photoshop. Photographer Corbin Parker of Visual Arts Studio in Peoria won't forget the family who asked him to include the beloved family pet in the family portrait.
"It was a German shepherd," Parker recalls. "He would have been there to take the picture, too, but he had just passed."
With or without technology, professional photographers get pulled into the family dynamics of every family portrait.
Lynn and Steve Roeschley, of Morton, for instance, are known for sending fabulous Christmas cards. Taufer was the photographic accomplice in last year's - a shot of the entire Roeschley family - parents, children, in-laws, and grandchildren, nine in all - jumping into a lake in their Sunday best.
"That's one of my most memorable requests," Taufer says.
Spain has seen families so close she could feel the love during photo sessions. She's also seen families at each other's throats, "usually the kids," she says.
Parker remembers one particular father who was clearly reluctant about taking family pictures. By the time it was over, he had had so much fun he was planning reasons for more photo sessions.
"I'm an observer, a fly on the wall, an entertainer and a best friend for at least an hour," Parker says. In that role, he's had an opportunity to witness great parenting skills, some of which he's used with his two sons.
While he's gathering parenting tips from families he photographs, he's also becoming an unassuming part of a family's tradition, if only for an hour.
"That's my legacy," he says. "Long after I'm gone, my pictures will still be hanging in someone's home, in someone's photo album."
Pam Adams can be reached at email@example.com.