Sun, sand, Santa: It’s Christ­mas card sea­son

Pho­tog­ra­phers make living shoot­ing fam­ily por­traits on beach

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Amy S. Rosenberg

AVALON, N.J. — De­spite what may have stared back at you from a hun­dred hol­i­day cards over the years, beach pho­tog­ra­phers plead: Don’t all wear white shirts and khaki bot­toms or jeans to your beach shoot.

“It makes me feel like I’m in the 90s,” says beach pho­tog­ra­pher Andy Macpherson, work­ing a dou­ble this day (sun­rise and sun­set). “I can’t stand it.”

“Over­done,” says Erin McDe­vitt, a Vent­nor pho­tog­ra­pher, whose ad­vice is let Mom fig­ure out what she wants to wear first and go from there. McDe­vitt’s got 50 beach por­traits sched­uled this sum­mer.

Yes, the sea­son has ar­rived on Jersey beaches: Christ­mas card photo sea­son.

Take a walk along the beach at dusk these wan­ing days of sum­mer, and a re­gion’s fu­ture hol­i­day cards are amass­ing be­fore your very eyes: Fam­i­lies hud­dled at the dunes, or in the life­guard boats, on the life­guard stand, or at wa­ter’s edge, even if that re­quires a pre­car­i­ous shin-deep trek through a tidal pool with 7-year-old twins ea­ger to just play soc­cer.

“No soc­cer till later,” says Mon­ica Lester of Saratoga Springs, New York, eye­ing her

three boys, with so-far dry clothes, hair in place, bounc­ing on the sand, never mind the lit­tle dustup just be­fore they left their beach rental house.

“We all look nice for the next five sec­onds,” she says gamely.

Nah. The Lester boys, Elliot, 10, and twins Sam and Ezra, gave their best cam­era-ready smiles for an­other hour, obey­ing ev­ery minute com­mand, hand in pocket, turn slightly, in the boat, legs folded, legs un­folded, out of the boat, through the tide pool, don’t touch that soc­cer ball, un­til Macpherson gave them a slightly im­pre­cise di­rec­tion: Run to the birds.

The boys took off run­ning. And didn’t stop. What a fun game!

Dad, Tom Lester, had to run af­ter them to get them to turn around. But wow the joy! A Christ­mas card keeper no doubt, never mind Elliot’s wet shorts from returning a horse­shoe crab to the ocean.

A day ear­lier, the Ko­vachick fam­ily of Mend­ham, New Jersey, tempted fate an hour be­fore a storm rolled in, winds howl­ing.

When Macpherson had them set­tle onto the sand in front of the dunes, ev­ery­one looked just right, and an­other hol­i­day card was born.

“I’ve had kids throw up, seag­ulls poop on kids. Some fall in the wa­ter. Or the storms com­ing in, get the shoot done. I bring bug spray.”

— Andy Macpherson, beach pho­tog­ra­pher

“I don’t care about the wind­blown look as long as I don’t look like an idiot,” said mom, Liz.

McDe­vitt re­lies on a tides app, a weather app and daily knowl­edge of sun­rise and sun­set times to make it all work. She says get­ting children to co­op­er­ate on the beach can be a challenge.

“It can be slightly stress­ful for par­ents,” she said. “’My child’s not go­ing to be­have.’ We’re used to it. You put a child on the beach, where it’s supposed to be play­time, and try to make them be­have.”

McDe­vitt will of­fer the typ­i­cal boat and stand shots but is happy not to do those.

“As far as my aes­thetic, the boat and the stand aren’t a ne­ces­sity,” she said. “I will ask the fam­ily, are they in­ter­ested. A lot of times they will say yes be­cause they are on va­ca­tion and it says, ‘Ocean City,’ etc.” And into the boat they go! No fewer than five groups were out the other night be­fore sun­set on Sea Spray Av­enue in Ocean City, a north-end beach with many things pho­tog­ra­phers like: a pic­turesque en­trance with lush dunes, a life­guard boat, a jetty, even a view of Atlantic City.

And many pho­tog­ra­phers gather nightly this time of year, jock­ey­ing for po­si­tion. Typ­i­cal beach por­trait haz­ards: flies, wind, children who haven’t eaten yet, ap­proach­ing storms (though Macpherson said he’s rarely had to can­cel a shoot al­to­gether).

One fam­ily in Vent­nor, po­si­tioned just right with their dog still, the children wran­gled, had to grit their teeth while a dog run­ning on the beach (the magic hour of just be­fore sun­set is also a dog-friendly time on Vent­nor’s beaches) ap­proached, threat­en­ing to up­end every­thing with a doggy pho­to­bomb. Luck­ily the dog moved on, and the shoot con­tin­ued.

On Mon­day at Sea Spray Av­enue, McDe­vitt cor­ralled the Yea­ger fam­ily of Man­hat­tan (in var­i­ous hues of blue) on the rocks, even as Sarah from Len­non Drop Pho­tog­ra­phy ar­ranged the Schray and Splain ex­tended fam­ily from Al­len­town (in blue and white) by the dunes. Yet an­other fam­ily in pink and checks sought out a dif­fer­ent jetty, and two other smaller groups ar­ranged themselves.

It was the Schray and Splain fam­ily’s first beach por­trait with all four grand­par­ents present. A lovely thing.

Donna Splain’s daugh­ter de­cided on the color scheme. “She came into all our clos­ets and picked out the clothes,” Splain said.

And as long as an­other dog doesn’t pho­to­bomb your well­coiffed por­trait sit­ting, the hol­i­day card should be just fine.

McDe­vitt says she’s not sure how the white-polo-and-jeans or khakis matchy-matchy look be­came so ubiq­ui­tous for beach por­traits. Macpherson doesn’t even think white looks good on the beach.

But af­ter a while, with the same-look­ing photo pil­ing up in peo­ple’s mail­boxes, it fi­nally is losing its ap­peal.

“It be­came, ‘This looks just like the Johnsons, which looks just like the Howards,’ ” McDe­vitt said. “That be­came dated. That is the big­gest ques­tion I get — what should we wear?”

The beach pho­tog­ra­phers are very busy. At $400 a ses­sion plus print­ing costs, Macpherson’s work in the sum­mer car­ries him for the rest of the year, he says. Wed­dings are much harder, longer and ev­ery­one’s way more stressed. With beach pho­tos, a fam­ily is usu­ally pretty re­laxed. The main is­sue is the weather.

Or din­ner. “I can tell when fam­i­lies haven’t gone to din­ner yet,” he says.

He’s had a child fall out of a life­guard boat and end up with a bloody nose. One fam­ily showed up in Ocean City, Mary­land, while he was wait­ing in Ocean City, New Jersey.

“I’ve had kids throw up, seag­ulls poop on kids,” he said. “Some fall in the wa­ter. Or the storms com­ing in, get the shoot done. I bring bug spray.”

The pho­tos inevitably end up as hol­i­day cards, or en­larged on the wall.

McDe­vitt said one fam­ily turned their beach photo into a cover for a 50-inch flat-screen tele­vi­sion on their fire­place man­tel, clos­ing off nightly view­ing with their most idyl­lic selves.

While Macpherson takes an “any beach will do” ap­proach — “the beaches in New Jersey are all fake, they all look lit­er­ally the same, pumped up in the win­ter” — McDe­vitt has her fa­vorites.

Sea Spray Av­enue in Ocean City, in the hour be­fore dusk, is ob­vi­ously the fa­vorite of a lot of beach pho­tog­ra­phers. “That’s why there’s five pho­tog­ra­phers here,” she said. “Just your aver­age Mon­day in the sum­mer.”


A life­guard ex­er­cises atop a row­boat as peo­ple walk on the beach in Ocean City, N.J. Ocean City is one of New Jersey’s most pop­u­lar beaches.

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