photography by danie » personal blog

Masthead header

Meeting Santa Clause!

Welcome to another edition of “How to Survive Photographing Your Own Kids.”

It has to be said: I really don’t enjoy the idea of going to see Santa in a mall.  I’m not anti-consumerism, per se, but the way the kids are rushed through just doesn’t seem quite in keeping with the Christmas spirit.  On a tip from a friend, I decided to go ahead and try the Santa Clause at Mazza Gallerie this year, though –  heard there was no line and parents could take their own pictures!  Camera over my shoulder, lists to Santa in hand, my family set off to check it out Saturday morning.

I think most parents can relate to what happened next.  My kids entered the car perfectly happy, excited even; and after a few hiccups finding a parking spot down in Friendship Heights, this was their general attitude about the whole outing.

My kids, not happy to have their picture taken, as we waited for Mazza GallerieI was in “breathe, and don’t get frustrated or we’ll definitely not get happy pictures” mode.  Breathing a lot.

Breathing stopped a moment when we realized it was only 11:30 am and we hadn’t checked what time Santa would arrive (noon, in case you’re thinking of going!).

More deep breathes — we’d just go and take some fun pictures in front of the Christmas tree to kill time.  Right…

Photos of my child enjoying the presents at the Friendship Heights Christmas TreeMy daughter was actually pretty into it.  Not posing-into-it, but that was okay — she was having so much fun, just awed by the sheer size of the Christmas tree (reminded me of the book Mr. Willoughby’s Christmas Tree).  Her Christmas list was in the rolling teddy-bear bag, and she was holding tight!

Meanwhile, my son’s opinion of waiting to see Santa hadn’t changed much.  I thought he’d be giddy with excitement.  Maybe he was hungry.  Clearly he felt tired!

My son did not want his picture taken

Still I remained undeterred.  We were first in line, after all, and now it was only 5 more minutes (see left pic?) until Santa would be arriving!  [Please, I prayed, let Santa be a punctual sort with no unexpected bathroom breaks for the reindeer....]  We read back through my son’s list, and he was clearly feeling a little more enthusiastic, as a little smile broke out.

Trying to get my son excited again about meeting Santa!

Meanwhile, my daughter was lost in thought again about Santa’s imminent arrival.

Daughter lost in thought as she imagines meeting Santa

Finally, the doors opened, and Santa Clause came out!  Oh my gosh, my son was so excited — Santa put his hand up for a high-five and my son confidently whipped out his Christmas list.

Washington DC Santa photography - Friendship Heights Santa giving my son a "high-five"Meanwhile, things were a little trickier with my daughter.  She might have been in a better mood in line, but she took one look at Santa and burst into hysterical, terrified crying!  Luckily, she let her Daddy hold her so I was able to continue to take pictures, but my hope of a picture of both kids sitting on Santa’s lap didn’t seem likely.  But after watching her brother talk to Santa and even sit in his lap, my daughter eventually agreed (tentatively) to sit there with him, too.

Santa being very patient as daddy tried to show daughter that it was safe to sit with him!Though I’m not sure I’d call her “happy” to be there, she shoved her list in Santa’s face like a pro, while my son looked on with that worried expression he gets when he thinks she’ll cry.

But in the end, the David Madison Photography, the awesome photographer who was letting parents take their own pictures, too!, got this last shot of both of them sitting together with Santa, and I just love it.  No, they’re not smiling, but you know, they didn’t smile sitting with Santa.  They did engage with him and talk about it for the rest of the day, and I think this photo really captures that!

Photo by David Madison Photograpy with Santa at the mallMerry Christmas!


Robin - December 7, 2011 - 5:25 pm

your Mom sent me your visit-great pics and naritave-happy holdays to you all

Danie - December 8, 2011 - 9:06 am

Thanks, Aunt Robin! Glad you enjoyed the post!

[...] think the most memorable part of this Christmas will always be the Purple Potty.  My daughter asked Santa to bring her “Purple.”  Period.  Later she added that she wanted a Purple Potty.  As we are just starting potty [...]

“It’s Camera Wars!”

More accurately, this post could be called “preschooler’s photographing me photographing them taking photos. “  Or, as one child eloquently summed it up, as he prepared to take a picture of me taking a picture of him: “It’s camera wars!”

Teaching my son

I had this amazing idea earlier in the school year to bring in a couple of my cameras and let the kids see what it’s like to use use an SLR camera, while I used my third camera to take pictures of them doing it.

It was an awesome idea, I thought.  Planned it out.  Told the teachers.  Then wondered, would insurance cover two four year olds colliding on the playground, shattering lenses?

But I needn’t have worried.  It was a great time, and I achieved what I considered my main objectives:

  • to give the kids a sense of what it feels like to hold such a heavy camera (even with fixed lenses on there, the Nikon D300 and D700 are heavy cameras)
  • to show the kids how to put their eye right up to the viewfinder and take a moment to see what they were going to be taking a picture of
  • to teach them the proper grip for the camera (aka, left hand wrapped under the lens, bearing the weight, fingers carefully not blocking the lens; right hand, 3rd, 4th and 5th fingers wrapped around the grip, pointer finger on the shutter button)

I’ve seen many adults shoot with a poorer grip than these kids had!

Here’s another look at a great grip (this one’s my son!).  As you can see, the grip was very important, because these kiddos were too little for the strap to be of any use!

Teaching preschool students photography

Aside from a fun time, an unexpected benefit is that I now have dozens of pictures of myself, with camera in hand.

Preschoolers near Bethesda MD took pictures of photographer Danie Smallwood

So, if you ever need pictures of yourself, just grab your nearest preschooler….

A huge hug and thank you to the preschool teachers who facilitated this and so many other fun and new activities for these eager little minds!




celeste - June 5, 2012 - 2:14 pm

Danie, this is adorable! What a great idea and you are too cute!

Clark’s Elioak Farm

For this edition of Friday’s for Family, I present to you another behind-the-scenes look at trying to get a picture of my own kids together.  It is sometimes said that what separates professional photographers from amateurs is the willingness to take enough pictures to make sure you have “the one”.  This is the picture I was trying to get.

My kids finally both looking happily at the camera at Clark

Getting to this picture took a bit of doing.  It started when my son spotted this tree in the Enchanted Forest section of Clark’s Elioak Farm (out in Clarksville, MD).  He climbed right up and started posing for the camera.  We were on a roll, I thought!

My child posing for photos at Clark

Encouraged, I coaxed my daughter up onto the log to join him.  This didn’t go nearly as well (although I actually enjoy the last picture on the right).

Clarkland Farm Enchanted Forest Photos of Siblings

Since the picture I had in mind was clearly not going to happen all by itself, I decided to go into more professional mode.  [Side note:  my daughter is standing next to me yelling, "It's pwetty, it's pwetty!  It's BOTH of us!" Yeah, that's the point, kiddo, you've got it!]  Broke out the water bottle for a quick break.  Tried the “give your sister a hug” trick (distinct no go on daughter’s part).  Upset that his sister didn’t want his hug, big brother starting poking sister in the head.

Siblings in the Enchanted Forest of Clarkland Farm Child PhotographyClearly, it was time to take a different approach.  We took a little break, and by the end my daughter had gone from the sad face on the left, to the happy “Here’s my nose, Mommy!” face on the right.  Yes!  We were back on track!

Helping children relax and turn a frown into a smile is part of being a professional photographerStuck my son back up there, and quickly grabbed the photo you saw at the top.  Whew.  That only took about 20 minutes.  ;)  Good things come to those who wait.  [Another side note:  my daughter just walked up again and announced, "Wow, I so pretty, Mommy!"  And modest, too.]



C. Crowder - October 22, 2011 - 8:12 am

Oh my goodness what sweet children! Love the side story of setting up the stage to get the “right” photo. Children just don’t magically perform. Photographers have skill to create these moments. Great post.

Impromptu Park Shoot

A few months ago, I took advantage of a morning while my son was at camp to take some pictures of a “typical” morning with my daughter.  Then this past weekend, after an awesome shoot with a little one-year-old, I was reminded that my son was very overdue for a little photo shoot of his own.  And off to the park we went!

Mouth wide open in joy at being at the park

It’d been months since I’d taken a series of images of my son at play.  Watching as my daughter struggled to climb the various ladders really drove home the ease with which my four year old can now manipulate that equipment.  (Don’t be fooled by the apparent frown of concentration in the photo on the right — my son was frowning at his sister, who was blocking his path.)

Wood Acres Park images

I went with just one camera and my 28-300mm zoom lens so I could chase my daughter and still get pictures of my son.  I’m not a huge fan of zoom lenses in general — not as sharp, and they make me lazy — but this time it was perfect.  While my daughter clung to my leg, I was still able to get these three different perspectives while moving very little.  I love how just zooming in completely changed the story each image tells.

Images showing three perspectives on the same equipment

By this point, my daughter was driving me nuts, I was sticky from the extreme humidity and, of all the nerve, my son just wanted to play, not look at the camera.  And I started getting a little frustrated.  All the “mommy” things we say — “Hold still!” “Look at the camera!” “Move your hand!” “No, look at me!” were slipping out of my mouth.  I was kind of horrified to realize how differently I was treating my son from how I would treat a client.  But then again, my daughter doesn’t come on photo shoots with me for a reason!

An overcast day in Bethesda and a preschool child "done" with pictures

The above picture is my son telling me he was DONE.  Yeah, all caps.  No more pictures, Mommy!  (horror)

But he was right — I was being annoying, and we were at the park to have fun (or so I tried to convince myself!).  So I took a step back, and let him just play for a while.  Climbing up the slide, swinging in the baby swing (because, yes, I’m insanely overprotective about the swings; and since I’m not usually that kind of mom, I can’t help but wonder what on earth is wrong with me?  But that’s a whole different kind of post.)

Chevy Chase and Bethesda MD playground photography

Then it was “break over” and I followed my kids over to the train.  I love photographing kids on this train — there are so many great angles to work with!

Photos of child at play on the train near Glen Echo MD

One of the things I love about this train is that one year olds can play on it with ten year olds.  It’s pure imagination, and while the little ones play inside the train, the big kids (and apparently four is big) can climb up on top!

And from a photography standpoint, there are lots of opportunities to play with different perspectives.  (I’m crazy in love with the picture in the middle….)

Different images, different perspectives on the train near Washington, DC

But if truth be told, I was getting a little bossy again toward the end of that series, and I think this last image pretty much sums up why I took my camera back to my car shortly afterward. :)

Being patient while taking child photos in Bethesda MDWhen I get that look, I know I’ve overstayed my welcome.  Patience was exhausted on both our parts, and it was time to go back to having fun.

Happy Early Fall!


- Danie Smallwood
Photography by Danie, in Bethesda, Chevy Chase, and Silver Spring, MD

yvonne - October 20, 2011 - 9:34 am

Those pictures were so amazing! Your son is so cute :) Everything looks perfect! Definitely breathtaking :) Love those photos! Thanks for sharing :)

Danie - October 20, 2011 - 11:54 am

Thank you, Yvonne! It means so much to get feedback on photos, especially ones so near and dear to my heart. :)

Mommy Daughter Morning

A few weeks ago, I dropped my 4 year old off for a fun morning of camp (Discovery Creek at Glen Echo Park).  My little 2 year old daughter was devastated that she wasn’t going to be able to stay, so I decided to ignore all the errands I needed to run, and do a fun Mommy-Daughter morning doing things she loves to do, at her pace.

Little sister, just left big brother at Glen Echo

I’d brought my camera with me that morning, armed with my 35 mm wide angle lens, so I could get pictures of the incredible grounds of Discovery Creek.  So I figured, okay, we’ll move at her pace, but the compromise was that I’d finally take the time to get pictures of a typical morning.  You know how you always have pictures of special occasions, but how often do we take the time to intentionally document a typical day-in-the-life of our kids?!

Unfortunately, I’d ONLY brought my 35mm lens, which meant I was going to face distortion big time, and would need to be super careful with angles.  Still, I wasn’t going to let a little detail like that stop me once I had an idea in my head! (Stubborn.  My daughter absolutely gets that from me.)  So, off to the park we went.

The awesome slide equipment at Glen Echo Park


After a while, my daughter announced she was “hungeeeeeeee” (she always is right now, even if she’ll never actually eat anything!), so we started to make our way back to the car.  We got side-tracked at the Carousel, however (and me with no money.  Oooops.)

Pictures of the Carousel at Glen Echo ParkFinally, we made it back to the car and drove to our sometimes favorite restaurant — the newly renovated McDonalds — you know, the only drive-through place nearby?  :)  The one on River Road?  Anyway.  It took us about 10 minutes to get from the car into the McDonalds — 2 year old independence.  But I’d promised myself it was going to be a fun morning for my daughter, so I wouldn’t push her!

It should be noted that my daughter climbed into her high chair by herself for the very first time — while I was paying for the food.  I missed the whole thing. :(

The renovation of River Road McDonalds, bethesda

So we sat and she ate her favorite McDonalds foods — Chocolate Milkshake and French Fries.  Then she put her high chair away, almost by herself!

Milkshakes and french fries at mcDonaldsFinished with our snacks, we went back to the car, where my daughter had to enter through the passenger door, climb into the backseat by herself, and buckle herself in.  Even with the extra time it took since I was taking pictures, it was very patience-trying taking another 15 minutes to get into the car!!!

The "I Can Do It myself" car seat and seat belt stage, in pictures

Though I’d tried to avoid doing errands, I absolutely had to drop off her preschool health forms at the doctor’s office that morning, so off we went, safely buckled into the car.  Once again, though it nearly killed me by this point, I let her move at her own pace, pressing elevator buttons, touching the mirrors (then having hands disinfected), using the handicapped door open button to get back to the parking lot….

Pressing elevator buttons and more at the pediatrician

Finally, we were back at Glen Echo Park to pick up big brother! By this time, little girl was pretty wiped out, so in addition to two-year-old independence, I was facing foot-dragging due to sheer exhaustion.  I was feeling it, too!

Child Photography at Glen Echo ParkStill, we had a great morning together, and I hope these pictures will always remind me how blessed I am to be able to have her with me all day!  Until she starts school next week, anyway….;)

Hope everyone stays safe during Hurricane Irene.

- Danie

ps:  You may recognize some of these pictures from a previous post I did on making the distortion from a 35mm lens work for you, and finding great frames and angles to shoot from, even in “ordinary” locations, like the park or your local McDonalds. :)



Dana - August 27, 2011 - 9:59 pm

LOVE THIS! Patience is a virtue. What a payoff. :)

Danie - August 27, 2011 - 10:52 pm

Thanks, Dana! Next time I do it, though, I’m not going to take over 300 pictures. :)

[...] Mommy Daughter Morning [...]