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Making Important Things Urgent. Right Now.

I’ve re-learned a few things this week.

That the most important things are rarely urgent.

That they don’t bang down your door and demand immediate attention the way bills, taxes, and errands do.

But it’s important to make important things urgent.

You have to do this yourself.  No one will do it for you.

A few years ago, I was home for Christmas break, and I wanted to take some photos of my grandmother.  But life happened.  The holiday got busy, the photos got neglected, and truth be told she wasn’t really on board with the idea of having photos taken anyway, so there was nothing pushing me to make them happen.

But one afternoon I bit the bullet.  I put my gear on my back and walked to her house, a quiet place that sits on a big piece of land just up the road from my childhood home.  I’d ridden my pink bike along that stretch of sidewalk as a kid many times, usually returning home with a bag slung over my handlebars, a grocery sack full of fresh tomatoes or raspberries or whatever was in season in her garden.

I walked into her house and found her in the living room, sitting as she often did by the window.  I took several photos of her, surrounded by a few beloved possessions – her spinning wheel, her books, her scriptures, a photo from her wedding.  The images weren’t perfect, I didn’t have “the right gear” with me, and I was in a hurry.

But these images still brought tears to our eyes as we celebrated her life at her funeral this past weekend.  

Even in their imperfection, even though she hadn’t liked the way her hair looked, even though I had been flustered and rushed when I took them, feeling guilty each time I pressed the shutter that I didn’t have the time to “do it right.”  None of that mattered – I have the images now, and as far as I’m concerned, they are perfect.  And I can guarantee you, whatever it was that I rushed off to after that photoshoot was not nearly as significant or memorable, no matter how urgent it seemed at the time.  I couldn’t even tell you now what it was.

Most of all, I can’t describe to you how grateful I was this past weekend that I TOOK TIME to take these photos two years ago.  It was like discovering a big fat savings account I forgot I had, one that had been sitting there gathering interest and gaining value the whole time.  Or teetering on a tightrope and suddenly remembering – oh yeah, I took the time to set up a net beneath it, so everything’s going to be okay.

Pick your metaphor – I was just glad the photos were there when I craved these memories the most.

I blogged about this photoshoot shortly after it happened over on my photography blog.  Here’s part of what I wrote:

We don’t have to pull out the camera every single day, or call long-lost friends every single day, or blog, or bake, or write postcards, or any other good thing every single day.  The point is, rather, that we need to take time to do such things.  “Take” implies that it’s intentional, you’re doing it on purpose, not just “waiting until you have the time” or seeing if life leads you around to doing it.  The urgent will always crowd out the important, and unfortunately, urgent things aren’t usually scrapbookable….

Urgent stuff doesn’t care about what you’ll want in five years, it cares about NOW.  Urgent things bully us into neglecting friendships, foregoing happy afternoons, not creating something that will be best enjoyed later.  Urgent things convince us that because we didn’t have time to do that important thing yesterday, there’s no sense in bothering with it today, either.  Meanwhile, important things wait, but eventually slip away.  Some stories we only get one chance to write.

Making Important Things Urgent. Right Now.


Today, I ask you:

If there’s someone in your life that you’ve been meaning to take photos of – a grandparent, an aging aunt, a dear friend, or even your spouse – please take time to do it this weekend.  Yes, THIS weekend.

And I’ll even make it urgent for you:  The first person to do this, blog about it, and post a link to their blog post in the comments on this post, will get a 30-min one-on-one Skype session with me.  (I’ll want to hear all about it).

But I hope that even if someone “beats you to it,” you’ll recognize that the urgency is still there.  Even if your world or calendar won’t crumble immediately if it doesn’t happen, it’s still there, and it’s still pressingly important.  It’s up to you to make that important thing urgent.  Some stories we only have a short window to write.  If you can’t take the actual photos this weekend, sit down with them or call them and make an appointment you both know you will honor.  Whatever it is, do it this weekend.

Hugs from my hometown (Boise, Idaho!!),


P.S.  Please share this post with fellow photographers.  Because we all need reminders to take pictures of our own family and document our own lives.  We can’t expect clients to act like photos are critically important if we habitually neglect them ourselves.  This week, let’s practice what we believe.

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  1. Tracy Meisch on March 21, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Wow. This is exactly the passion I feel for taking photos–now, before the moment (or person) is gone. How special it is to have these photos, & the memories that go with them. Good for you…excellent post!

  2. Sara Fierce on March 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    Excellent post! Not sure if this qualifies as I actually took her photo last weekend, but this has been so important to me for quite some time. My grandmother is turning 90 next month and has colon cancer. Knowing that we don’t have that much time left has made me really want a photo shoot with her. The only way she agreed to do this was for her birthday announcement. I will also be taking photos at the birthday party and can’t wait! Here is my short and sweet post:
    Very sorry to hear of your grandmother’s passing, Jenika. I hope your post inspires many more to do the same.

  3. Stella Reynoso on March 21, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this article. It’s so easy to tell our clients to do this, but not so easy for us. We are burnt out. We are too busy filling orders. We have taxes to do, demanding babies to feed, husbands to fill in for when they are away. But even just a few minutes can make a difference, and after our recent session this week, my daughter excitedly talks about what she is going to wear, and where we are going to go for the next one. She is dreaming about spending time together with me, and that is what it’s all about. Those memories. Those bonds. This time that we have so little of. It’s now so much better because of one little photo shoot where she felt so important because it was just her, me, and my camera. <3

  4. Diane on March 21, 2013 at 10:12 pm

    I love this post. It really spoke to me. I had the honor of photographing my grandparents 60th anniversary in August and those formal portraits they wanted with each other and my mother and sibilings are going to be extra special. Especially now that her health is fading. This is too true, and one that I feel is overlooked all too often. Thank you again for sharing this…

  5. Jeana Jones on March 21, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    Last weekend we had our family picture taken. The first one ever for our family of five. My oldest is six and my youngest turns two tomorrow. We had this planned for last year at this time and it just never got done. Once we did it I felt SO much better. As a photographer I just couldn’t get myself in front of the camera with my family. Our pictures turned out great and they are going up in a huge gallery wall. 🙂 Thank you for reminding us of the urgent and important.

  6. Owen Protheroe on March 21, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    What an excellent and poignant post. You have my sympathies. I couldn’t help but think of my Grandpa, who passed a couple of years ago. I’m not much of a photographer, but I wanted to get his portrait. I didn’t express this until it was literally too late, he was on his way to the car after a visit and went to shake my hand as I took the shot.

    The last photo I ever took of him.

    • Staci on March 22, 2013 at 8:00 pm

      Oh wow… what an amazing last picture. I don’t even know your grandpa and this speaks to me.

  7. Ausra on March 21, 2013 at 11:12 pm

    Thank you for this reminder. I can share your experience and I would like to have better photos of my grandmother… But now I still have possibility to take better photos of my parents. Thank you ones again!

  8. msn on March 22, 2013 at 2:16 am

    Oh, Jenika. So sorry for your loss. Would that our precious grandmothers could stay with us for all time. Your images will be a treasure for everyone who loved her, no question. Sending you my best, warmest thoughts.

    And, yes, there’s that session I have been meaning to do with a friend’s aging mother. I guess I better make a phone call…. Thank you for the prompt. <3

  9. Jennie B. on March 22, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Thank you for this heartfelt post. It surely resonated with me and reaffirms why I do what I do–to capture a multitude of emotions in a single image for generations to come.

  10. Becky V on March 22, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Hi Jenika,

    I’m so sorry for your loss. What an excellent and beautiful reminder to all of us. Thank you for blogging about this. My grandma lives far from me, but think I’ll give her a call this evening. I’m long overdue.

    Hugs to you.


  11. Heather Bunt on March 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Great post! I’m so sorry for your loss. This one totally hit home with me and is a beautiful reminder that I should take more photos of my family. I sometimes struggle with the fact that because I work as a photographer, during my spare time when my family gets together, I don’t want to spend it behind a lens and miss being apart of the experience. However, having those great photos and memories is one of the reasons why I wanted to become a photographer in the first place. So thank you for reminding me of what’s important 🙂

  12. Staci on March 22, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I recently had a similar reminder… I took some pictures three years ago for a 50th wedding anniversary/vow renewal. I was just starting out and the pictures aren’t up to my standards at all. But I made a Shutterfly book out of them for the family. The wife had Alzheimer’s and just passed away a week ago and I was asked for another copy of the book because she looked through hers so much it was falling apart. Some of my “worst work” (in my opinion) has been some of my most treasured work… funny how that happens. Gives me goosebumps really.

    Your blog post inspired a photo session with my girls today. I blogged it here: Thank you!

  13. Judith on March 22, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Even though my daughter’s birthday was two weeks ago, I finally found motivation to get her photos done, and they’re just as amazing as I would make them for any other client <3

  14. Megan on March 23, 2013 at 5:18 am

    I’m very sorry for your loss. What a beautiful message you have here. My Grandmother would bring her camera to a funeral just to get pictures of friends and family together that normally were too busy to congregate. Perhaps Mum gave me the strength to take photos when the subjects are not always “in the mood” but in the right place. I only wish my strength had developed before she passed . Come to think of it; I have boxes of disposable camera pictures I took in my youth. I haven’t gone through them in years and…I bet you she’s in there. Thank you for reminding of this. Best wishes to you.

  15. Rosie Suerdieck on March 23, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    This brought tears to my eyes. This past year, I lost both of my grandmother, and I was so grateful for the images that I have of them (coincidentally, two years before her passing away) to show to my children.
    This past December, I was hired to do a stock photography session with “baby boomers”. I thought it would be fun to have my son act as a “grandson” to one of our friend who we met through our local YMCA. That hour we spent together was full of joy and laughter, and I will never forget the genuine thank you that I received from our friend when we wrapped. He loved it, and appreciated the extra images I gave to him.
    A little less than two weeks ago, we found out that he passed away unexpectedly.
    I will always cherish those images. We adored that man, and now I will make it a point to photograph my kids with those they appreciate and love, whether they are related or not. 🙂 Life is too short.
    I’m sorry about your loss. Your post will inspire many.

  16. Alexander John on March 24, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Wow, I love your passion. It really shows threw your photos of her!

    Very sad but inspiring story.

  17. Alyssa Campbell on March 25, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Sorry for your loss Jenika. No matter who it is, losses are hard, but photos make the pain a little more bearable, in my experience. I wish so much that I had done this when my brother unexpectedly passed away last January, and we would do anything to have just one more photo of him. We have some, but never enough, which seems to be the case with any loss. I’m so glad that you took that time and hope others do it as well! I have our first family session scheduled for April since our loss and first “real” family photos since my brother and I were children. It’s a hard thing but one that needs to be done. Using the excuse “oh I’ll do that when I lose more weight” or anything you can come up with is no excuse because you never know what may happen. Not to be morbid but it’s important.

    Take care,

  18. James Dekker on March 25, 2013 at 2:15 pm

    Very good reading.

  19. Does it matter on March 28, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    That was a beautiful read. Your family is very proud of you I’m sure. What’s sad is all the photgraphers out there who’s families are also very proud of them. Photographers who will share this read making themselves appear to be the same type of caring people, when in fact, they themselves choose to ignore their immediate families. Maybe one day we will be reading from another photographers site how they should have taken this weekend you so eloquently speak of. Let’s all hope those who needed to take note of such a powerful read have done so.

  20. Melissa Smith on March 29, 2013 at 6:50 am

    I sent you an email before, but I failed to say, I do love these pictures you took of your grandmother. Particularly the one of her hands holding what appears to be a Bible as she reads- it looks so real and meaningful as I’m guessing that was one of her favorite things to do. I love it!

    I wrote in my email about how I have been meaning to take pictures of my parents for some time and it never happened because my dad wasn’t the most cooperative subject and how all the pieces happened to fall together for me to take them last weekend. I had determined to do so just before seeing this post. I was able to take them (however, my father was probably the most difficult subject I have ever worked with!:) and I am very glad I did. I have been so swamped that I have only had time to finalize one, but I thought I would share anyway, per your request. My website is under construction, but you can see the picture on my Facebook page here:

    I have some great ones of them laughing together which I think will be my favorites. Hopefully I will have time to get them edited soon! Life gets hectic with two kids under two! 😀

    Thanks again for this post!

    • Jenika on April 2, 2013 at 1:33 am

      What a gorgeous picture, Lissa. Thank you so much for sharing it, and sharing your story. I bet there are so many people who will treasure that photo – now and for years to come. Your parents look like beautiful people and I love LOVE your mom’s expression. Well done!

  21. Christopher on March 30, 2013 at 4:20 am

    This is why i got in to photography. To save those moments because that is really all. Is the memories we create. I’m sorry for your loss.

  22. kerrie on June 18, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    Thank you for sharing this. I wish I could put into words things like you do. This past year has been hard on my family and we are facing yet another trial. About a week ago it hit me, and hard, that things that really matter are always cluttered up by the everyday things in our lives that we make to be important, when really they are not important at all. When a tragedy happens that is when we can usually see the really important things clearly. And all those other “things” that take consume our minds are small and mean nothing. I am trying to live the rest of my life with this in mind. Maybe I will find new joys and happiness in life that was once covered by the clutter.

  23. Jenn on July 11, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I have a similar photo that I had to “force” my family into doing! It was probably the first time we had all been in the same place for something other than a wedding and I really wanted to capture everybody in that moment. So I put the camera on a tripod and got a few shots. There was great resistance from some in my family as they weren’t “perfect” or “camera ready”. It is the last big family photo with my grandfather. He passed away a couple of months later and now everybody has that photo hanging on their wall! Sometimes you must just take the time to do it, kind of like hide and seek! Ready or not here I come!

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