When I was a teenager, I used to love poring over our family’s photo archives.

My mom had an entire shelf dedicated to her photo album sets that opened up like books and had rows of prints contained in plastic coverings you would flip up to view each one.

It was one of my favorite pastimes to pull them all out, spread them across my green living room carpet and ask her to tell me the stories behind the photos.

If it was a picture from before I was born, she would tell me about the event and who the characters were in the picture. Other times, the photo would spur a memory from that season of her life and she’d tell me a story that wasn’t even captured in the image.

But my favorite was hearing stories about ME.

I’d look at a photo of myself as a toddler, and she’d tell me about how much she loved our adventures to the library together. I’d find one from my first school years . . . and she’d share how that mark on my face was a result of me insisting on wearing roller skates in the house, which one day resulted in me tumbling down the basement stairs. 

It didn’t matter if the picture was blurry, or if someone wasn’t looking at the camera, or if someone’s hair was messy or clothes weren’t perfect.

In fact . . . those photos were the ones with the best stories.

To me, that’s what photographs were: story-starters . . . and I was fascinated with, and inspired by, the power packed into their tiny frames.

My love of photographs eventually turned in a career as a family photographer in which I have the honor of helping families create THEIR story-starters 

But it didn’t take me long to observe that while all of my families wanted these pictures for their own family archives, there were times when a hidden element of pressure for their pictures to be perfect would show.

Because in a world where we are looking through our phones for the best picture to post to social media or text to a friend . . . pictures have become something that are just as much for other people as they are to document the moments for own archives.

In addition to going into baby books to share with our children one day, they have become cover photos for our closest friends, family and kind-of acquaintances to see on social media.

In addition to hanging on our walls in our homes … they are pictures to post online with the most flattering filter.

They are what we use to portray whatever version of ourselves we want to share with the world… which is usually the more positive one.

So the pressure to get “the” picture is subliminally there.

And I get it.

Because I’ve been on the other end of the lens with my own family . . . and I’ve felt that influence of the need of perfection, too.

When my then-two-year-old son refused to even look toward the camera for the majority of the session because he was enthralled with throwing rocks into the lake we were photographing by . . . I felt frustrated that we weren’t going to get “the” picture.

All I could see is what we weren’t getting, instead of seeing what we WERE getting, which was a set of images that documented a time when our little man was coming into his personality. He did things his own way. He was a little defiant. He had just discovered his love for sports… and throwing rocks was an extension of his love for baseball. 

And, as for the rest of our family, we never sat still or had things in order with three kids under age four . . . so why was I trying to have a picture to document that?

But because that photographer kept shooting, when he pulls out the pictures from that session on our living room floor 10 years from now and asks me about them, I’ll be able to tell him all about his personality when he was little, and all about that time in our family’s life . . . just like my mom used to do for me.

That’s what pictures are for.

They are not about being Pinterest-perfect.

They are about being our perfectly imperfect selves.

Because one day, the social media dynamic will change. The comments and likes will be long gone. The filters won’t matter. The Instagram feeds will fade.

But what will remain are those imperfect images; the ones that will be pulled off the shelves when we are lounging around after a holiday dinner with everyone home from college. 

Those images that will be our story-starters.

And I don’t want them to tell any other story than the one that is authentically ours.


You may also like: 

You Should Be In the Picture Too, Mom

How Pictures Of Our Struggles Can Help Us Appreciate the Victories

The Reason My Husband Cropped Me Out of This Picture Broke My Heart

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Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, speaker and photographer who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. Through her work, she aims to empower people to overcome their fears and insecurities and live their truth. She and her husband raise their three children in Pittsburgh, PA.