I am a detail oriented person by nature, and motherhood has done little to change that. I have a habit of studying my children in snippets—as in, I’ll take an extra moment to notice how my 3-year-old’s eyebrow arches just like mine, instead of noticing the entire expression on his face at once. Part of me feels like if I focus on one thing intently for a few extra seconds, without distraction, I’ll always be able to remember it exactly that way.
Capturing your kids in full portraits is absolutely important. But their faces don’t always tell the story that you’re seeing. You may not be focused on their spaced-out expression while watching a cartoon, but rather, the way the light catches their hair to reveal it to be the exact color of their dad’s. Or, as you tidy up after them, you notice the way they arrange their dolls just so, every time.
Taking time to capture those details in your images is a way to remind yourself of how YOU saw your children at that moment in time. It’s how you immortalize the little things you know may change tomorrow, and want to be able to freeze forever.
Here are a few tips for distilling those details down into images you will cherish:
• Leave your child out of the frame. Do they have a favorite lovey? A habit of precisely lining up their little cars on the windowsill? Then find a way to shoot that, on its own. This is the easiest kind of detail to capture, because your subject stays where you put it. Don’t feel guilty about not being able to capture a scene at the exact moment it happens (as in the case of a doll arrangement, for example), and having to reconstruct it for the photo later. The image will still be meaningful, even if it is a “do-over”.
• Don’t fear the head chop. Sometimes a child’s body language is all you need to capture in order to convey what’s going on, and excluding their faces helps keep the focus on that.
• Composition is still important. Although lifestyle detail shots usually feel more spontaneous than fully staged ones, it’s still important to clear (or crop) clutter and frame your subject thoughtfully.
• Light is also still important. Take the image of my son’s “fauxhawked” hair, for instance. I tried shooting from a few different angles, most of which resulted in flat lighting and obscured the silkiness and fineness of his little strands, the exact features I was trying to capture. I still had to find the light, even for a tiny subject.
So the next time you walk by your child’s room after he’s left for school and you notice that, yet again, the bed is disheveled and there are books strewn everywhere, go grab your camera before you head in to clean up—years from now, the bed will be much bigger and the books may be gone, and you’ll be glad you can look back on it exactly as you saw it today.