Perfect portrait recipe

December 24, 2006|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,sun reporter

A couple of years ago, Vernise Bolden took her son, Cameron, to get his portrait taken.

After getting him dressed and trying to make him smile, Bolden ended up buying photos she didn't like "because we went through all that trouble." She knew she didn't want to do that again.

But last week, Bolden threw caution to the wind and trekked to the Columbia JC Penney portrait studio. Four-year-old Cameron squirmed, and 2-month-old Jaelyn cried. Their dad, Wallace, behaved.

"We know this is our last child," Vernise said, "and I wanted a nice family photo."

Thousands of families every year want a professional photo in which everyone is clean, well-dressed, sitting up straight and looking happy. But it takes more than a "cheese" and a flash to accomplish the mission.

Parents in particular can undertake days of planning, haircuts, shopping, bathing, dressing and primping before they get to the studio, where they try to keep kids unwrinkled and babies drool-free long enough to make a lasting image.

The effort is especially common at holiday time, said Ann Monteith, chairman of the board of the Professional Photographers of America, because people need greeting cards and gifts and are in a memory-making mood.

November and December are "definitely the busiest time of the year for portrait photographers," she said, including those at department stores and shopping centers and those with independent studios.

Manager Vicki Felus said her studio at the Columbia JC Penney does 60 percent of its annual business in the two months before Christmas. "Some days, it's wall-to-wall," she said.

"I guess it's really a tradition thing," said Julie Mason of Columbia. "It's something we do every year, just to watch their growth."

She said her mother encouraged her to do it, too. "That's all she wanted for Christmas was her grandkids' pictures."

So Mason brought her 8-month-old daughter, Maia, while Mason's sister, Jennifer Kohler of Parkville, got 5-year-old Noah and 3-year-old Everly into their dressy clothes and promised them cookies if they behaved.

Everly seemed to enjoy getting dressed up and curling her hair, Mason said. Noah proved to be a good subject in front of the camera, but as soon as he was done, he started to pull his suit off in the studio's waiting area.

Mason said the photographer, Michael Worrell, did a good job putting the kids at ease.

"He was really great with them, and he was really active and involved," she said. "He was making them laugh. It went really smooth."

"I'm very spontaneous," said Worrell, who has worked with several studios over 12 years. "When I'm in here, it's always like showtime. ... I just want to have fun with the kids."

He said parents can help, but he needs to control the shoot, and occasionally that means getting family members to stop distracting the subjects.

He also learned not to wear a white shirt after a little boy saw it, yelled "doctor," and set off a round of wailing in the waiting room.

Worrell drew a smile easily out of 3-year-old Maddie DelFavero of Columbia by gently tickling her with a fuzzy pink ball on the end of a stick.

Soon she was demanding he tickle Mommy and Daddy, declaring, "I'm having a great time."

"How much do you charge for baby-sitting?" asked her father, Glenn.

Glenn DelFavero said it was a nice change from the previous year, when another studio was not as successful in charming its young subject.

"We almost didn't come back to get a family picture done," he said.

"It is difficult getting her to sit still," Kari DelFavero said. "You need a photographer that can work with her."

Worrell also had some luck with Tyler Rosenberger, 10, and his brother Eric, 9, who were slow to get into the photo-taking mood.

He finally got them to laugh by asking them to say, "We hate this."

Although it is hard to get her sons to dress up and smile, the boys' mother, Jeanette Rosenberger, said the Columbia family usually has Christmas photos taken.

Some of the Rosenbergers' relatives are elderly or live far away, and they like the photos, she said. Her husband, Rob, added, "They say they don't need anything [for a gift], but they like this."

As they waited for their turn, Wallace Bolden played with an energetic Cameron while Vernise Bolden rocked Jaelyn and adjusted her embroidered headband.

"I'm just hoping she stays awake and happy, and doesn't drool on herself," she said.

Finally, the family gathered together on stools and Jaelyn was propped up on her mother's lap. Worrell said "one, two, three smile," wiggled his fingers at the baby and, with a flash, caught everyone looking cheerful together.

"They don't know what goes into that one snapshot," Vernise said, "that one frozen second."

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