I don't know when it became a thing. Did parents always take annual pictures of their children at the pumpkin patch or did the practice spread like wildfire since the advent of social media? Whatever the case, I've succumbed; I have to commemorate the October Pumpkin Patch Trip and I have since my oldest daughter was a baby. Which is to say that I'm very familiar with this fall torture ritual. Here's how I've learned to survive. And, more importantly, to not completely ruin my children's fun.
1) Take more than one trip. The pumpkin patch we go to is right down the street, so we can go as many times as we want. Knowing that we can go back takes the pressure off to achieve a perfect "photo shoot." This year, we went on a weekday evening (during the golden hour, which was also a big plus), when the crowds were thin, to take our pictures. We'll go back on Saturday for the bouncy house and the pony rides. The kids knew that so they were more cooperative.
2) Put the camera away. Start the trip off with enjoying each other. This puts everyone in a good mood! It helps me lighten up and it makes the kids feel cared for. They'll likely be more compliant for posed shots and just all around in a better mood for candids (in a better mood than if they were cajoled into fake smiles and a million poses and subjected to a frustrated mother who couldn't get all the children to look at the camera at the same time).
3) Give the camera to someone else. Wouldn't it be great to have some pictures of the experience, of you with the children rather than of them looking at you through the camera lens? Pass the camera off to dad or mom or whoever else is with you and get to picking pumpkins! Capture the real moments of you together doing.
4) "Bad" pictures of your kids are okay. After a few years of "no good pictures," I've learned to appreciate the grumpy faces, the forced smiles, and even the screams (hello, cranky two-year-old) that are captured as we aim for that picture-perfect shot. Only my little D can make a grumpy face so ridiculous that it makes us all (including him) laugh. And as much as I want a snapshot of the genuine, sparkling laughter that exudes the innocence and splendor of childhood, my daughter's fake smile is part of who she is right now, and, frankly, also shows her sweet willingness to cooperate with something she knows is important to her mother.
5) You only need one. We all know how many hundreds of pictures we tend to end up with, especially when pursuing the holy grail of fall pictures. But, really, I'm very happy with just one that's good, just one that tells a story, whatever that story is. This year I was lucky to get a good one of each of my children: My daughter perched on a pumpkin and looking pensively into the distance, my middle son with a large-to-him pumpkin hoisted on his shoulder and a determined look on his face, and my not-quite-a-baby-anymore baby placing pumpkins with gentle chubby hands in a red wagon. The thing these favorites have in common? None of them were posed, and none of them depict the children looking at the camera. They did their thing and I got to save a moment in time. And that, to me, is what the picture-taking is all about.