Perhaps you are sitting with your morning cup of coffee right now. Your are scrolling through your Instagram feed seeing all the pictures of kids doing all the cute things. They are hosting lemonade stands, crawling around in diapers, and twirling in the golden hour sun. And if you are like me you are left wondering, “What do we do when these little muses start growing and having opinions of their own?”
I didn’t start pursuing photography as a hobby until my kids were ten years old. This forced me to adapt my style to capture a stage of life that often falls outside of what is considered to be “cute.” I wanted to capture this in between. I aimed to photograph both the people they were and people they were becoming. And like every mother-photographer, I kept busy documenting our days and adventures while the kept busy growing up.
But I faced a great challenge in that there isn’t a lot of inspiration for photographing this age group honestly. I don’t want to make them cuter or littler than they are. And I certainly don’t want to make them look older or mature than they are. I want to capture them AS THEY ARE. But how?
I found the key to photographing my tween kids was to accept this stage for what it is. Expectations were thrown out the window. Instead, I allowed moments to unfold in front of me. I worked to observe my kids and searched for ways to document their lives honestly.
Working WITH them to get the shot you want
Kids respond well to positive reinforcement and boundaries and older kids are no exception. When convincing them to participate in a shot, I have to ensure that we are on the same team.
I must clearly communicate what to expect. No kid is going to be happy if they think you are going to have the camera out for ten minutes only to have you snap away for an hour!
Likewise, I find that it is highly beneficial to let your kids voice their opinions and set their own boundaries. This opens the door for negotiation and makes them part of the process rather than just being bossed around.
Get all of your gear set-up in advance
I don’t know a single kid at any age who wants to wait around while mom fiddles with her camera settings. By getting all of my gear ready to go before asking my kids to let me photograph them, I buy myself more time to actually take pictures. This allows me to work quickly to capture fast moving action and fleeting moments.
In the shot above, I kept seeing a circular water pattern happen in my daughter’s water show. By encouraging her to do it again, she was happy to oblige…but she told me I had 5 shots or less to capture it. We did it in three as I prepared by setting my camera to continuous mode before asking her to do her thing!
Capture the details
My daughter has had “Georgie” since she was born. He is irreplaceable and has travelled the world! I love that he has been part of her adventures through all of her stages of life. That said, I know that his days of joining her out in the world are numbered, so I am intentional in capturing him often.
Over the years my photographs have shown Georgie in his many roles. From friend to comfort object to sentimental relic, capturing this detail allows me to tell the honest story of my daughter.
Growth is a detail that is largely overlooked with older children. The changes are not as rapid as they were in those early years, but they are still a significant part of the story.
At the doctor’s office I was shocked to see how much my son had grown. Like any good mom-photographer, I pulled out my camera and took a shot to document the moment. Ideally, I would have loved to be able to allow more space in the image but I was already pushed up against a wall. Don’t be afraid to allow the moment to win over perfection.
Elevate the everyday
This is my third year of completing a 365 project. It challenges me to see our daily life in a way that is worth capturing. I am always on the lookout for unique perspectives!
I love to capture my children doing chores (even if they don’t love doing them!).
Shopping is a pretty big part of a preteen girl’s life. You can capture their budding fashion sense and their growing independence as they navigate the store.
Define who they are now
Look towards interests and hobbies to capture your older child’s personality. My daughter loves dancing, singing, and anything involving theater. At thirteen, I know her dress-up days are numbered. Therefore I made it a priority to capture her in this activity as the opportunity arose. Identify the fleeting interests of your kids and seek ways to document them.
While we loathe editing neon-colored clothing and obnoxious logos, we need to embrace trends from time to time and document them for our memory books. And really, what would our own childhood photos be without big poofy bangs and My Little Pony t-shirts?!
With tablets, gaming systems, and phones seeming to invade our older children’s lives at every turn, it can be hard to take photos of our kids without technology in the frame! In my opinion, we can either fight it or embrace it. I choose the latter most of the time. This is a part of their story much like records and the Walkman were to ours. Challenge yourself to find ways that you can artfully include technology when capturing your older kids.
Use the time to practice new techniques by not directing them, they won’t care about how many shots you take. In fact, they likely will not notice you photographing them at all!
Seek moments of humor telling to help tell the story. Our 50-pound Labradoodle thinks he is a lap dog and my iPad-loving daughter is happy to use him as a shelf.
Sometimes it even works to let the technology be the focus of the frame rather than just a peripheral element.
I am an explorer at heart. I love to travel and learn about new places, but I am most happy when I can adventure with my family. When documenting my kids as they explore, I tend to take the “fly on the wall” approach. Teens crave freedom and by allowing them to explore freely, you will see natural moments unfold right in front of you.
I always have my camera in hand, but quietly taking pictures from the sidelines allows them forget the camera is there.
The environment can be just as important as the characters in storytelling images. While my kids are an important part of this image, the landscape is what makes the photo meaningful.
Take your time to think about adding layers and textures within the frame. For this shot, I was already planning on shooting the landscape. However, I knew my favorite shot would be when I allowed them to meander into the frame. I simply set-up my landscape shot and waited for them to land in the spot I wanted them.
I want to pretend this was a hard-earned shot…but that would be a lie! A window washer plus two kids looking up equals magic!
As we head out on our adventures, I do my best to predict my settings in advance so I can capture moments on the fly. While sometimes you get multiple chances to capture a moment, that is not always the case. Authentic moments happen fast and you need to be ready to capture them quickly.
I tend to shoot with an aperture of f/3.2 and a slightly higher ISO than I need so my shutter speed is all I need to adjust to get a proper exposure.
Planning adventures allows you to create new “firsts” for your older children. You can be just as excited to capture their first time on a pedal boat without an adult as you were about their first steps! These moments may happen a little less frequently but are just as definitive in their stories.
As my kids age, it is important to document our family life and our evolving interactions. I love how close my kids are. Being twins has created a special bond between them. When photographing them together, I aim to show that they are not just related but also friends.
Let’s not forget including mom and dad! Over the years, I have learned to let go of the stress of perfection. Being comfortable with imperfect selfies of our family, everyone is more willing to participate and it shows that I was part of their story, too.
Don’t forget the furry family members! Pets are a huge part of your children’s story. Our Buster is a loyal friend and the best comforter.
Navigating social media and respecting boundaries
With Facebook, Instagram, and an ever-changing social media landscape, it is important to talk about respecting our children’s boundaries and rights. My kids do not have Instagram but most of their friends do. Almost all of those friends “follow” me.
I have to be extremely careful that I only post pictures and comments that are respectful of my kids. Our older children have the right to know what we are posting on the internet, what we are saying, and voice their concerns and protestations.
Even more, the internet can be a scary place. You can never really know who will be seeing your photos. Exercise extreme caution with regards to nudity, overly suggestive poses, and the words you write. What we may find witty, funny or sarcastic, can be hurtful to our kids.
Photographing older children can seem overwhelming at times. Teens crave freedom, boundaries, and respect which can be intimidating to the photographer who is used to having free reign artistically. By respecting this age and stage, older kids will be happy to participate in your hobby. Stop directing and starting looking and you might find that you have infinite photo-worthy moments right in front of you!
So go back to looking at your Instagram feed and smile knowing that after lemonade stands, you have the opportunity to create new kinds of memories showing the amazing people your children are becoming.