6 Tips for photographing real memories of your family

Last Christmas I was searching through old photos of my mom and I. I wanted to restore and frame them to give to her as a gift.

And boy did I find some real gems! There were pictures of her in college. Photos of me as a chubby baby roaming through the house. Laughs and smiles and memories.

I could have sat there for hours reminiscing. As my mom looked through those photos, I wanted to soak-up every word as she recounted the stories behind the pictures.

One of my favorites is a shot of my mom and I when I was about a year old. She’s laying down trying to get me to take a nap. And in true 1-year-old fashion, it is clear I am not interested in sleep at all. I am crawling over her and waving to my dad behind the camera.

What I love the most about this particular photo is the way that she is looking at me. I am sure she would have preferred me to be sleeping, but there is still love in her eyes. And she at least had enough of a sense of humor to know that the camera should be out for my 1-year-old shenanigans!

This all got me thinking about my own photographs. What do I want my kids to see when they look through the photos I take of them?

I want them to have little moments frozen in time. I want them to have emotion-filled images that bring back our favorite memories. They should have the same experience of joy that I have when I look back at that photo of my mom and me!

And I want you to have the same kinds of photos of your family! Here are a few helpful tips for creating photos that are filled with emotion.

Forget the cheese

We’ve all fallen in the “Say CHEESE!” trap. It is natural for us to want to see those big beautiful smiles that we love so much. However, this can lead to fake, painful smiles that are anything but the expressions we love.

Instead of telling your child to “Say CHEESE!” consider having a conversation with her. Ask him about his day. Chat about school. Sing a favorite song. Talk about things that naturally make her smile.

Doing this will help your child to become comfortable in front of the camera. And then when a moment to smile presents itself, your child will be relaxed and natural, allowing to you capture the expressions you really love.

Get on their level

Our children do not see the world from the same perspective that we do. Getting on their level helps you capture memories the way that they experience them!

Tummy time and toddling are infinitely more impactful when captured from the floor. Crouching or laying on the floor to get the shot can make a shot that “captures the moment” into a shot that immerses you into the memory.

Pro tip: For this shot, I was laying on my stomach in the kitchen (yep, I totally do that sometimes!) while my son was playing with his toy truck. This allowed me to capture details that I otherwise would have missed from my usual overhead perspective.

Make time for fun

Capturing your kids should not be a stressful endeavor! If you sense that your kids are over it, take a break.

Consider creating fun activities to help make photo time more enticing. A messy baking session, some play time outside, a dance party, or any number of activities can be totally photo-worthy.

The key here is to make sure that the memories behind the photos are as fun as the photos themselves. No one wants to have the kids look back at the pictures someday and only have stressful memories tied to them.

Pro tip: Don’t worry about the mess. Painting and baking and play time are not tidy activities. Instead, embrace the fun your kids are having, encourage them to dive into it, and snap away!

Stay true to your kids’ personalities

You know your children better than anyone. That means that you are set for success when photographing who they truly are. Embrace that!

If you have a shy girl, there is no reason to try to make her look like a bouncy social butterfly! Instead, capture her in her perfectly quiet way.

If you have a boy who is a tornado of activity, photograph that! No need to make him sit still and pose when his natural tendency is to jump and run and play.

By letting them be who they are and working to photograph that, you will be more likely to capture the emotions they are feeling. You know them better than any photographer you could hire, so use that knowledge to help you capture them best.

Pro tip: Don’t force moments. Instead, just let moments happen. Sometimes the moments in between the “perfect” ones are the photographs we end-up loving the most.

Remember the details

Emotion is not just shown on a face. Sometimes a baby’s chubby little hands can bring back just as many memories as a smile!

Details are easy to forget as our children grow and change…but they are so important! Take time to document little curls, tiny toes, and favorite stuffed animals. One day all of those things will be part of the past and you will be glad to have the memories saved.

Pro tip: Take a day to focus on only photographing details. Instead of looking for eye contact and smiles, look for the little things that might change about your family in the future. 

Take pictures in important places

The places that will be important in your memories are not necessarily the “big event” places. Instead, the important places are those where all of the memories happen. Our backyards, bedrooms, kitchens, and living spaces are the ones that will take up the most real estate in our hearts.

Be sure that you don’t limit yourself to the “pretty” places in your home. Messy bedrooms and lived-in homes are worth capturing just as much as perfectly decorated nurseries.

Pro tip: Good light can make any space photo-worthy. Look for windows that your kids can sit next to or try bouncing a flash in a darker space. You can even get creative by looking for alternative light sources like refrigerator lights, iPad screens, or anything else that can illuminate a face. The key is to include the spaces where your memories happen because they are important parts of the story, too!

Your photos will be treasures to your kids someday just like photos from my childhood are treasures to me. Use these tips to help you capture the memories that will take you all back and share in the comments how you get the real moments in your photos!

About the Author:

Kathleen is a wife, mother, and storyteller. She is a natural light photographer in love with telling compelling stories of life's beautiful chaos. Her passion is photographing families authentically and is inspired by window light and genuine emotion.

6 Comments

  1. Katherine Rourke Jan 05 2019 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    I love articles like this. Thank you! It would be so helpful to have articles that provide tips and inspiration to mothers of teenagers. There’s so little out there for those of us in this season of motherhood…

    • Kathleen White Jan 06 2019 at 11:03 pm - Reply

      Thank you so much Katherine! I know photographing teenagers can definitely be challenging! I can even see my daughter slowly starting to not like being in front of the camera as much and she’s only 8. I feel like most of these tips can apply to teens, especially when it comes to staying true to their personality and not forcing the moment. Any photos we can manage of our children in their own element are treasures for sure!

  2. Christopher Hall Jan 06 2019 at 1:39 am - Reply

    So agree with this article. So many parents just want ‘say cheese’ smiles and look at the camera. There is so much more that can be done with a photograph that shows the real life behind the camera.

    • Kathleen White Jan 06 2019 at 11:07 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your kind words Christopher! I used to be that parent until I realized how important those real moments are.

  3. Jeff Jan 10 2019 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    Fantastic article! Well thought out and on the mark! Can’t wait for the next one!

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