How quickly those first twelve months flew by.
Everyone warned me that they would, and I knew it in my heart, too. I tried my best to enjoy every moment and embrace all the challenges, late nights, early mornings, laughter and tears the best I could.
I carried my camera around with me as often as I was able to and did my best to document all the little moments I knew I would want to remember years from now. With every click of the shutter I imagined my daughter looking back on the photographs of her and smiling while asking me the stories behind them.
Perhaps it is more likely that I will be the one looking back and smiling with my husband while we reminisce about how special and fleeting those early days were. Either way, I knew from the start I wanted to document a great deal of my daughter’s life for her and for us.
Now as I sit and browse through all the images I have created and choose which ones to print, I realize what moments meant the most to me.
I’m not concerned as much with documenting the first time she rolled over or started pulling up, although those moments were great. What I enjoy seeing most is her little personality evolving over that first year and the story unfold of who this tiny human being is becoming.
There are far more important details I want to embrace as a mom than all the traditional milestones that are expected of a one year old. I want to remember the size of her tiny fingers in comparison to her dad’s, her trademark crawl that consisted of her right knee never hitting the ground, and the many expressions on her face that would often change within seconds of each other.
During this year long journey, I have learned so much about myself both as a mother and a photographer. Here are some of the lessons I learned along the way and tips to help you on your photographic journey during the first year as well.
They are absolutely key for me. I’ve always known this from a photographer’s perspective, even before my daughter was born.
I was predominately a nature photographer shooting macro most of the time in order to capture all those gorgeous little details that were easy to miss, but I was surprised this carried over into my documentary lifestyle photography at home as well. I found myself continuously trying to capture the shape of my daughters eyes, the little sprout of hair sticking up in the back, those yummy and oh so tiny toes and I realized that these are in fact the details I want to be frozen in time.
Chances are I will always remember when she started crawling or standing or walking, but I’m less likely to remember her crooked little pout while she is sleeping. This realization also helped shape my voice and style in my client work as well so it was a great additional benefit to keeping up my personal project.
2. Reflect and shoot with intention
Take a few minutes to think about what you love most about your child and what moments you want to cherish for years to come.
Often in the beginning I would take my camera out and shoot just to shoot. I didn’t have any particular goal in mind, and I would be disappointed in the outcome. There seemed to be a lack of emotion or story within those images.
After a while I would think to myself about what features I loved most about my daughter and then zone in on those, or I would notice her do something that had become a common part of her personality and knew I wanted to capture it even before picking my camera up.
Once my daughter started becoming more mobile and aware of our dog, they became the closest of friends and great playmates. I noticed them playing one night and made a mental note that it was a moment I wanted to capture on camera in the future, so the next time I noticed them playing I was able to easily achieve my goal.
This also gave me the ability to be more present rather than be behind a camera and potentially missing important moments. I could shoot for a few minutes, accomplish my goal and then enjoy the rest of the moment or event.
3. Don’t get too technical
It can be crippling if you’re not 100% comfortable behind a camera yet, especially when scrolling through all the beautiful images you see on social media. Don’t worry if you’re still learning manual mode or trying to understand light. The important thing is to try your best.
I promise that as long as you pick your camera up, over time you will come to understand all of the technical aspects you might be unsure of now. You can also use this year as inspiration to take a class or watch some tutorials. Just think of it like this; if you pick it up, it will come. Shoot from the heart and the rest will start to follow.
If you’re feeling frustrated, take a break from social media for a while or change your mindset. Just experiment and have fun with your images whether that means trying different angles while shooting or playing around with new ideas in post-processing.
4. Use your smart phone
Sometimes, especially in the beginning, it’s hard to run and grab your camera every time something comes up. Even when you try to keep your camera close, life happens and I always felt it better to have some documentation than nothing.
I loved taking naps with my daughter during those first three months when she would just sleep so peacefully on my chest. Occasionally I would want to take a picture of her sleeping on me, or us lounging together, but getting up to get my camera was not an option. I always had my phone within reach though and smart phones now take really great pictures, so it was a wonderful back up to have.
Of course we all want those gorgeous, sharp images with the creamy bokeh in the background, but smart phones are excellent in a pinch. I ended up taking just as many photos with my phone as my DSLR and decided to make two albums, one for all the smart phone images and one for my DSLR images.
5. Don’t put pressure on yourself to shoot every day
In the beginning, I tried approaching this personal adventure of documenting new motherhood and baby’s first year as a 365 project. I think 365 projects are a wonderful way to challenge yourself and grow as a photographer, but I have a confession to make… every year I try one I fail.
Personally, I find it to be rather overwhelming and I am much more effective in shooting when inspiration strikes and moments happen organically than when trying to make something out of nothing. On top of that, I didn’t want to feel guilty for missing a day here and there so I stopped approaching the first year as a 365 altogether.
Once in a while, if I noticed I hadn’t picked my camera up in a few days, I would make it a point to do so, but otherwise I would only take it out when something worthwhile came up. Whether it be your first baby or your fifth, we are busy enough trying to navigate and adjusting to life with a new little one, so why give yourself added stress?
6. Get in the frame, too!
This is so important! As photographer moms we often get so caught up behind the lens and usually feel uncomfortable in front of it that we forget to get in the frame with our babies.
Look, I get it… you have that extra baby weight, your hair is falling out, you’re sleep deprived, maybe you haven’t showered in a couple of days, but guess what? You’re babies don’t care and they want to see their relationship with you, too! Take a minute, treat yourself and fancy up a bit if you can, and if not that’s okay. I promise that you don’t look nearly as scary as you think you do.
Whether you trade or book a shoot with a photographer friend, pass the camera to someone else for a couple of minutes or you set up the tripod. Please, PLEASE make a point to do this at least a few times during your documentation process. Sometimes it’s a little time consuming and I have to talk myself into going through the motions, but it’s so very worth it in the end.
7. Print your photos!
Remember why you started this journey in the first place. Your images are doing you no good taking up space in your computer. The reason I wanted to document my daughter’s first year at all was to have the tangible memories for both her and I to hold one day.
Choose some pictures to print and display in your home at the very least, but I highly suggest making an album that you can look through in the future. There are so many great options for putting an album together.
Gone are the days of printing countless images and taping them in an album or tediously scrapbooking them. There are many websites that allow you to make your album digitally and will print, bind and send it right to your doorstep. This is a great area to invest your time and money into as these albums will hopefully be carried and viewed by generations to come.
The past year has been an amazing year of growth both personally and creatively and a large part of it I owe to taking on this beautiful task. And the best part is, there are more years to come and you don’t have to wait for a specific milestone to start!
Whether you’re looking to start documenting your child’s life and don’t quite know where to start, or you have already been documenting, but are looking for some fresh inspiration, then we’ve got just the thing for you!
Here is a wonderful list of what we enjoy capturing most from a sentimental standpoint:
- Swaddled at the hospital
- First moments with your partner
- Newborn hair swirl
- Flaky newborn skin
- Nursing or feeding
- Chunky baby rolls
- Favorite physical features
- First/favorite foods
- Snuggled with a favorite or handmade blanket/quilt
- Interactions with other family members
- Interactions with pets
- Funny and unique facial expressions
- Favorite outfits
- Mom and baby (don’t forget to get in the frame too!)
- Everyday messes
- Participating in family/holiday traditions
- Mischievous moments (i.e. playing with the toilet paper roll)
- Quirky obsessions (i.e. following the vacuum)
And of course, the technical must-have shots:
- Monthly size/growth
- First bath
- Umbilical cord
- Newborn yawn
- Time in their crib
- First smile/laugh
- Sucking on fingers and toes
- Tummy time
- The nursery
- First outing