This is the third time that I've photographed this beautiful family. Yet, in a strange way, this was kind of like the first time I photographed them. See, the first and second times I photographed this family they were in the hospital, trying to keep their little boy alive.
The first time I photographed them was in March 2012. It was the day before Lucas' very first birthday and he was hospitalized. He had just had a closed-heart surgery and was going to be spending his first birthday in a tiny hospital room. His mom had already sent out the birthday party invitations and everything was ready but it just didn't happen, so they settled for one year old pictures in the hospital. After all, their little boy was alive and that was enough for them.
The second time I photographed them was just recently in October 2012. Once again Lucas was at a milestone (just past 18 months) and his mom and I had already planned this great photo shoot - his first photo shoot - outside the hospital. Just as we finished planning, Lucas was hospitalized for another closed-heart surgery and just a couple of days later he had a full-blown, extremely risky open-heart surgery. Just like that. Now, during our first meeting we talked about Lucas' diagnosis (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome) and his course of treatment, so we knew he had at least one more surgery coming up in a year or so (which was not this surgery, this one wasn't planned at all). Michelle wanted me in the OR to take pictures but, unfortunately, Lucas' hospital didn't allow me. But I showed up anyway and I waited with Michelle and Stephen (and Michelle's mom and sister, and Stephen's parents) in the waiting room for Lucas to be done. So right after his surgery I got to take pictures of him. They're graphic, I know, but this is Lucas' life. This is what his life consists of. This is what keeps him alive.
Needless to say, Michelle and I were kind of desperate to do their family session OUTSIDE the hospital. The hospital memories are so very special and they're needed to document Lucas' hard journey, but it's not something that you would print on a huge canvas and hang in your family room to be the first thing seen when guests enter your house. So Michelle and I planned and planned, and a couple weekends ago it finally happened!! I drove up to Santa Barbara (from LAX!) and met up with them and we spent a whole afternoon together. Seriously, I arrived around noon and they took me to several gorgeous places in Santa Barbara and treated me to lunch and I didn't end up leaving their home until around 8pm! We had such a good time and got so many amazing pictures! I still can't believe that this family session finally happened, after planning to do it since Lucas turned a year old. Lucas is now 20 months so it took us 8 months to be able to do this! Between my trip to Europe this summer and Lucas being in and out of the hospital, it took 8 months for this to happen! So I'm so excited to show this sneak peek of this gorgeous family! Without a doubt, the third session was the charm! :-)
You'll remember this beautiful family from their first session. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!
Just look at this beautiful child!
Lucas had been under house arrest after his open-heart surgery in mid-October (to avoid germs and keep him safe after his chest had been split open) so he was so happy and in awe to be outside. The look on his face was wonderful. I love the look of awe and curiosity on a child's face.
Lucas loved the flowers.
And airplanes! Every time one passed he stopped whatever he was doing, pointed to the sky and scram "airplane!"
Gorgeous little boy.
Stephen and Lucas looking at an airplane :-)
Pictures with the beach behind them. Santa Barbara is beautiful!
This is Lucas' "give me my ball back NOW" face :-) I love Stephen's and Michelle's faces as they look at their little boy in awe.
The boys :-)
One for the wall! Michelle - you are beautiful!!
Another for the wall! Love this one Michelle!
This kid was too much! The plan was for Stephen and Michelle to kiss and Lucas to smile and look at me, but he decided to look at his parents and laugh! He was just too much!
Another perfect one! Goodness Michelle, you're going to have a hard time picking which ones to make canvas' and put on your walls!
A totally normal family moment - peek-a-boo!
As we were walking through this gorgeous place, Michelle told me that we were coming up to the place where Stephen proposed and they were engaged. This would be the very first time that Lucas would be to the place where their family officially became a family, so we decided to let Lucas "go to the light" first :-)
Love this kid!
Looking at the water with mommy. Lucas was so excited!
While Stephen did a little crafty job for our next set of pictures, Michelle and I let Lucas run wild. That tongue!
This kid was too much! And Michelle - those little boots are excellent!
Another for the wall! This one looks like it belongs in a GAP Magazine - Holiday Edition.
And here is Stephen's little craft project :-) Here's the back-story: When Michelle and Stephen were in college (UC Santa Barbara) they fell in love (in 2003!) and before they knew it Stephen was proposing (in 2008). This is where Stephen proposed, in this exact same spot, overlooking the gorgeous beach in Santa Barbara. I had the honor of photographing them as a family for the very first time in this spot where their love has brought them to this point. The last 20 months have been a constant battle to keep their son alive. Every moment of everyday has been spent keeping Lucas breathing and alive. So it would be an understatement to say that this picture is beyond special to this amazing family. THIS is their happily ever after. After spending most of the past 20 months locked in a small hospital room, coming to the spot where their journey as a family started almost 5 years ago is their happily ever after. And I couldn't have been more honored to take this shot for them. After almost 10 years of being madly in love with each other, here is their first family portrait (outside the hospital). THIS is their happily ever after.
This one was Stephen's idea, to show how tiny Lucas is under those massive trees. Love it.
This picture is ridiculously symbolic for his family. They've been through storm after storm after storm - and they've been through it together as a family.
As we were leaving, Lucas thought he'd lead his parents out. Love that such a little guy is leading his parents.
This is just a teaser for the pic they will use for their Christmas card (blurry because I cropped it small :-) Michelle and Stephen - you have one gorgeous kid!
After we left this location, we had lunch and then went to the Santa Barbara Courthouse for some more pics.
Lucas had so much fun running through the lawn...
And being thrown in the air! He's still under sternum precautions (since his sternum was split open during his last surgery, he can't be lifted under his arms for a few more weeks) so this is how Stephen throws him into the air. This kid is an adrenaline junkie!
We tried for a couple more family pictures...
But Lucas didn't pay any attention because he was laughing so hard!
Love this kid, food in his mouth and all! :-)
Again - adrenaline junkie!
I then went back with them to their house for a "couple more minutes" (which ended up being over an hour after we got to talking!) and Lucas had so much fun taunting Michelle :-) She kept telling him not to touch the ornaments on the Christmas tree and so this was Lucas' face as he taunted her :-) But seriously guys, it was so nice to see him do what every other toddlers does - what they're told NOT to do :-)
And we ended with a picture in front of the tree! This is also a very special picture. Last year, Michelle and Stephen bought their Christmas tree and brought it home, and before they knew it Lucas got sick and had to go back to the hospital. They spent the whole season hospitalized and when they came home they found a dead Christmas tree. Like Michelle said - it was insult to injury. So this is Lucas' first Christmas tree. We're praying that the little dude stays healthy and can stay home during this season - his first real Christmas. (Plus look at that pose! This kid is TOO.STINKIN'.MUCH!!)
Michelle and Stephen - what can I say? Thank you SO much for taking me around Santa Barbara. It's such a beautiful place and I had so much fun! Seeing you guys outside the hospital was incredible. Seeing Lucas run and play and laugh made my heart so happy. My favorite part must have been our ride home from Starbucks with him laughing nonstop in the backseat and then in the parking structure when we got home. Seeing him laugh like that made my week. Seeing him laugh like that and want to play with me was something so very special. The only times I'd ever seen him before was in the hospital fighting for his life, so to not only see him outside the hospital, but to see him playing and laughing so hard was a joy. Thank you, thank you, thank you for allowing me to be part of that. I know that this was for your family, to FINALLY have some proper family pictures, but I walked away a better person. You guys are so amazing, I admire you so much. Happy Holidays, Bartell's, and I cannot wait to do this again! -Love and hugs, Brenda