A morning with the Bolton family, Atlanta Family Photographer

On breathing

A father holds an oxygen tube near his son's face

When Colleen and Derek’s twins were born, I offered to come photograph their family whenever they were ready. I spent a morning with them soon after Dylan got to come home, and I am still breathing in the gratitude and love that I got to experience in their home that day. I’m always amazed by the families I photograph, and this family taught me more than they will know. One of the first things I noticed when I was hanging out in the kitchen was the Mommy Sticker Chart hanging on the fridge that serves as a reminder to take a deep breath. It reminded me of these words Colleen had recently shared.

“Two hundred seventy-one days is a long time to hold your breath. If you do the math that’s June 19th. I tried to hit the brakes but it was too late. My water, Dylan’s protection and lifeline, broke. A stupid, minor, avoidable collision that changed the course of my life and almost took my sons from me. For days I was inconsolable. Then I felt God tell me to chill out. Literally, what I heard in my heart was “chill out.” So I did. But I held my breath. People would say, “Twins!! Are you excited?” How do you answer that? I can’t explain to every person who asks about my pregnancy that I have no idea if I will ever get to brings these boys home. So I smiled and said, “I’m so excited!” And I held my breath.

September 26 I went into labor. My body, my boys, had held on as long as we could. Dylan had been growing without amniotic fluid for 3 months. They pulled Dylan out first. He made no sound. He couldn’t breathe. The doctor resuscitated him and got him on a ventilator. The ventilator was breathing for him but his lungs were so fragile that one of them tore. Can you imagine? Your lungs being so fragile that just inhaling air rips a hole in one of them. They switched him to an oscillator which allowed him to take fast shallow breaths. On the oscillator his body wasn’t getting rid of the CO2. His lungs collapsed multiple times. Somehow, the doctors, nurses, and respiratory therapists found the right combination of support to allow his fragile, tiny lungs to do the job they were created to do and to keep my son alive. But I still held my breath.

I do not understand prayer. My village prayed, fasted and negotiated with God to let my sons live. I begged Him not to take my boys from me. Did we pray harder or more faithfully than anyone else would have under similar circumstances? Certainly not. I do not know why God chose to let my boys live. But I do know the choice was His. The grace was His. The mercy, the healing- His.

Today, for the first time in a very long time, I can breathe. And with every breath I will be grateful. With every breath I will work to extend the grace and mercy that was bestowed on me. With every inhale and exhale I will love. I will love.

When I think about how close to death Dylan came and how close to unimaginable grief I came I have to remind myself to breathe. But I can breathe. Today, I can hold my son in my arms with his dad and siblings nearby. And I can breathe.” —Colleen Bolton

Click on the slideshow to see images from the session or scroll down for more.

papers hanging on a fridge from a documentary family photography session
a mother puts a bow in her daughter's hair and the girl has her mouth open in a painful expression
a man with scars on his knees sits on a bed near his twin boys
twin babies lie down on a bed one is looking at the other
a father and his older daughter care for a baby boy
A girl plays on a changing table in between two cribs
a toddler puts her hand on her baby brother's head as he is being fed a bottle by his mother
A mother and father feed their twin sons in their nursery while their daughters play in the boys' cribs
a girl sits on a bed looking at her baby brother
A mother holds her baby son and looks at him
A mother puts her hand on her son's face as he looks at the camera
A mother holds her infant son in the corner of a living room as her two daughters play on their own
two girls climb on a fence
A father embraces his daughter and smiles
a father holds open a grill and a mother sits on a chair as they watch their daughters play in their backyard
a couple embraces in their backyard
a father holds his daughter who is reaching out and pointing to her smiling mother in a playful way
An infant boy looks up at his mom who has her hand on him
a girl wearing a shirt that says sister squad leans back against a table and smiles
a family lounges on a couch in their living room
A father holds his arms up ready to catch his daughter who is walking towards him on the couch
A mother holds her twin baby as a father holds a drink while being crawled on by his daughters
A mother and father hold their twin sons
A baby sits in a rocker and looks up at the camera
A girl stands on an ottoman in front of a dinosaur poster with a dinosaur toy in her mouth

An afternoon at home with Vijay and her granddaughters, Atlanta family photographer

A swim, a snack, and a sweep

Grandmother spraying her granddaughter with a hose while another girl walks towards them

When I walk into the home of a family I have never photographed before, I always get a little nervous that they will be expecting a portrait session, that their daily life will have stopped and they will be sitting there waiting for me to pose them. Of course I always communicate what to expect, but it's a fear I still always have. So, when I walked into Vijay's house and the kids were out back swimming in the pool, I was immediately relieved.

As I relaxed and started snapping, I got to hear stories about how Vijay's daughter and her twin brother used to swim in that same pool, and she would watch them just like she was watching her granddaughters. As I spoke with Vijay and her daughter Deepti about the kids playing at the house, I started to realize why I love extended family sessions so much. They make more evident how family photos document the present in a way that connects us to the past and creates a bridge to the future. This is easily seen when there is an environment that gets shared between generations. I feel it every time I take my kids back to the farm where I grew up. Seeing them play in the spaces where I grew up playing takes me immediately back to my childhood, and the photos help tie it all together from one generation to the next.

When we moved inside the home, the pictures on the wall told more history, and I loved hearing the details of medical school and a twin brother and personalities being passed down from mother to daughter. The girls sat with their grandma and stroked her hair, and I couldn't help but realize how special of a moment I was witnessing as Vijay will soon be undergoing chemotherapy and losing her hair. I was so excited to be able to do this session through Magic Hour, an organization that matches photographers with people who are fighting cancer for photography sessions. Vijay is so clearly loved by all. I am glad she will have these images to keep her company as she battles cancer.

Mother holding a swimming noodle with her daughter in a pool while another daughter watches
Child getting in the pool while mother and sister sit on the edge of the pool
Young girl in the pool peering over the edge
Picture from behind a young girl who is jumping into a pool where her sister is already swimming
Girl with goggles jumping into the pool
Picture of man and woman smiling on a deck
Grandmother spraying granddaughters with the hose
Children playing in the hose while grandmother sprays them and mother walks towards them
Mother takes goggles out of daughter's hair while grandmother sprays children with hose
Grandma sprays grandchild with the hose as another girl covers her face
Grandmother with arms around two girls wrapped in towels
Girl wrapped in towel after swimming looking at camera
Girl walking with arms inside shirt
Picture from above of girls having a snack, or grandparents watching, and of mother peeling an apple
young girl eating a cracker with cheese on it with mother's arms behind her
Woman sitting in chair looking at a young girl with another young girl sitting behind her
Woman smiling while two young girls play with her hair
Picture from above of girls playing with woman's hair
Family on a dock, man and child sweeping
Man and woman sitting next to each other on the dock
Image of woman looking at man while two children goof off in the background
A mother standing behind her daughter holding her hands
grandmother bending down to kiss granddaughter on the forehead
Mother holding and looking at daughter while grandmother holds her arm
Daughter reaching up and holding mother as grandma holds child's head
Portrait of a young girl, mom and grandma look down on her smiling

An evening at home with the Schroeder Family, Atlanta Family Photographer

Songs, swings, and so much JOY!

Girl sitting on mother's lap while other children bounce on the trampoline

You can imagine my excitement when I found out I was going to be able to photograph a family with a 5 year old and 3 1/2 year old triplets. I love chaos, and big families, and lots of activity, and I knew it was going to be so much fun! While it was all those things, it was so, so much more. Each child was their own perfectly distinct personality that complimented the family dynamic. Of course there was a lot of activity, but as I watched Mom and Dad pushing the children on the swings, the kids were all singing, and it was completely calm. The swings would occasionally all sync up as the kids belted the melodies. The swings themselves were like the strings of an instrument, chords made of individual notes gently strummed by Mom and Dad. Okay, maybe that's a cheesy metaphor, but I really could have listened to this family sing and swing all night. I'm never not amazed by the families I photograph.

I know it's not easy to open your home up to have your daily life photographed. It's also not easy to get into the frame with your children. But, when you do, you give your kids the gift of being able to see how you jumped with them on the trampoline and how you wrestled with them on the couch. They get to see the ways you loved them with snuggles, and books, and color coordinated cups, and they will be able to see the joy they had through it all.

child with hand on window looking out of house
siblings hugging with child looking up and smiling
girl smiling and holding brother who is crawling
children in bedroom standing on bed looking at art on the walls
child smiling and jumping off a trunk
father snuggling child who is smiling
boy in pretending to kick another boy who is smiling
Boy dancing on the trampoline
Mom and Dad pushing four children on swings
Boy on a swing singing
image from above of mom pushing two children on swings
Image of girl smiling while swinging
Mom and dad pushing four children on swings who are all going at different times
Daughter and mother looking at each other while sitting with family
Mother and daughter jumping together on a trampoline
Girl jumping on the trampoline with her mom
Boy on his hands with his legs in the air on the trampoline
Two girls jumping on a trampoline
environmental portrait of girl lying on a trampoline
Boy and girl shutting screen sliding door
Triplets drinking out of cups
Triplets eating pizza
Family at a dinner table mom picking up cup that had spilled
Girl looks at herself in the mirror and makes fishy lips
mother reading book to four children on the couch
Girl snuggles with mom as she reads a book to kids
Kids drinking out of cups with straws in a kitchen
A family sitting on the couch with kids laughing and goofing
Dad massages child's back while girl climbs on couch and boy in front dances
Dad kisses son who is smiling and girl in background holds onto another kid's legs