Expectations vs. Reality: The Family Photo Session


The afternoon was picaresque, one of those gorgeous fall afternoons that you wish you could bottle up somehow. For weeks, I’d had high hopes of the ideal family photography experience, taking place this very lovely afternoon. I even snuck in a pre-photos yoga session.

Things were going according to plan, until they weren’t.

Everyone Wanted a Piece of Those Fall Colors! 

When we arrived on the scene, not only was there a wedding taking place in the very spot we’d planned for our photos, but the park was also abuzz with local high schoolers en-route to their homecoming dance. It seemed that every other cute little family in the area shared our idea for a photo locale. Photographers zigged and zagged to claim the best fall-color-laden spots.

I felt like I had entered a pumpkin-spice flavored zoo of Americana.

To top it off, my toddler’s teething pain kicked into high gear the moment we arrived.  Then, I realized I had left the infants’ Tylenol at home.

A Big Flop? 

Now, I’m a big experiences person. Experiences matter to me – especially experiences with people I care about. And for the most part, I like my experiences to be enjoyable. I did not want to look back on this family photo experience and remember it as a big flop. I’m generally pretty good at framing situations in a positive light, so why did I feel like the beautiful afternoon was on its way to family memory ruins?

I think the answer fits in one, very loaded word: expectations. By Google’s definition, an expectation is “a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future, or a belief that someone will or should achieve something.” It seems that the words expectation and assumption may be related. Expectations aren’t all bad, but when they’re wrapped up in the motive of controlling any given scenario, watch out.

It dawned on me. I had built up an expectation of the perfect fall family photo outing — one that would capture our love and silliness as a family. And in my mind, that the experience would be fun. But circumstances beyond my control both derailed this expectation and tempted me to assume (there’s that word again) a victim-mentality that dictated I react according to those circumstances.

Letting Go of Expectations

After some rapid-fire reflection, I made a choice. I let go of my expectation.

Our photographer ended up discovering a unique little patch of trees, off the path and away from the crowds, bathed in golden sunlight. And even though the fussiness persisted, my toddler found a bunch of sticks to transform into toys (jackpot for him). The sticks made their way into our photos, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. After a million shots, we finally ended up with a couple where he actually looked at the camera. And by the end of the session, the stunning light surrounding us lifted our spirits.

I like it when the stuff of the daily serves up more than I bargained for. An almost-flopped family photo experience — turned glorious fall afternoon — reminded me that letting go of expectations allows room for something much greater. When I let go of expectations, life in all its fullness takes their place. Life in the reality of the present moment. I want to intentionally grasp the fullness that is right in front of me, receiving and rising above.

On the drive home, my husband pacified my toddler with French fries and we made jokes with each other. The experience turned out quite alright indeed.

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Tonia is a Colorado native who is very inspired by beauty, especially when it is captured in writing, dance, nature or relationships. After studying communications, Spanish, and dance at Colorado State University, she moved to Colorado Springs with her husband, Daniel. Tonia is a mama to one son, Logan (born 2016), who keeps her on her toes daily! In addition to keeping up with her energetic little guy, Tonia also works from home providing website and social media management for a local nonprofit. She is also passionate about using the arts to help individuals reach their full potential in life, and she teaches and dances with an arts-based social advocacy nonprofit. In all she does, faith is the heartbeat of Tonia’s life, and she genuinely enjoys approaching life with a blend of creativity, compassion and a dry sense of humor. Outside of work, Tonia enjoys spending time outdoors, reading and writing in a great coffee shop and sweating it out in a ballet class.