“When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join their chaos.” -L.R. Knost
My son is five, and these words are something I’ve learned to embrace in our parenting and in photography. My son quickly went from being curious about my camera, to putting his hand in front of his face and saying “NO PICTURES!”
I didn’t realize right away where I was going wrong.
I was making the mistake of stopping activities to create my vision for a photo, instead of just letting moments unfold in front of me. I was manufacturing this vision of our life that really wasn’t authentic – it just looked pretty. I was getting frustrated with myself for not creating the perfect images that I saw online. I was putting a lot of pressure on us for absolutely no reason. I don’t blame my son for putting up a fight. Gradually, I’m learning to share my calm, take a step back, and shoot in a more authentic way.
The following tips are the things that helped us through the emotional days, and still help on a daily basis.
1. Remember why you’re shooting
I take photographs not only because I love to, but also to remember moments of my son’s childhood. I don’t want these to be manufactured visions, I want them to be real moments. Think of your weekly rituals (celebrating Fridays with a hot chocolate is one of ours!) and make a point of taking a picture. Capture the moment, and then put the camera away. Stay present.
2. Explain the “why” to your children
Vocalize why it’s important! I try to say “I’m taking a picture so I can remember this day when we’re all grown-ups.” Or “Wow, you’re riding your bike so well! I’m going to take a picture to send to Papa.” Kids are less likely to get frustrated if they can understand your reasoning. And it may even prompt future “Let’s take a picture to show Papa!” moments.
3. Take photo walks together
This is something we do all the time! Grab some fresh air, walk to the beach, or the park, or the store – whatever you’ve got nearby. Let your kids know that you’re taking your camera along. Try not to pose any pictures, just watch for moments to unfold. (You’ll hear lots of “You guys walk ahead – I’ll catch up!” if you’re around me.)
4. Make it a game
Say “I bet I can take a picture of your wiggly toes!” and start snapping. Play Simon Says for some giggles and sneaky posing. Plan a scavenger hunt, and take photos of each “find”. Make it fun instead of a chore, and the photos will be that much more authentic. Just remember to put that camera away at the first sign that they’ve had enough.
5. Capture them while they’re sleeping
Sometimes these quiet moments can be the most beautiful. I want to remember my son with his thumb in his mouth, because I know those nights are fewer and far between.
6. Hand over control
Let your kids take the lead! Ask them what you should take a picture of, and go with it. Explore the house through their eyes. Hand over your camera if you feel comfortable, or dig out that old point and shoot that you never use, and let them go crazy!
7. Get. In. The. Frame.
This is a scary one for me! My first instinct when in front of a camera is to hide, or make a weird face, or generally look awkward. Even if it makes me a bit squirmy, I try to smile and tell my son “I’m so happy we’ll have a picture together!” (Which I really am.)
8. Print your pictures
Make prints and put them in an album. Blow up your favorites and put them on your walls. Make photo books and let your kids look through them any time. I love going through old pictures, and could spend hours flipping through our family albums at my grandma’s house. Seeing the printed photos will connect what you’re doing behind that big black camera with something more tangible.