Motherhood drives me to photography.

My memory is a sieve, and I pick up my camera to document each milestone, each expression, each phase and cling to these moments. My goal is to create images that one day will bring these memories flooding back, not just for myself, but for my girls as well.

To make images that recall to their minds these days of childhood, here are a few tips for photographing the way our children see the world.

1.  Shoot from behind your child or over their shoulder.

Create a sense of empathy and a shared viewing experience by photographing kids looking out at a special setting or doing a project.

Capture them surveying the scene. When we shoot this way, our viewers are carried through the frame as they “see” through the eyes of the subject.

photo of young girl looking at horses by Sarah Carlson
girl sitting in a box and coloring it by Sarah Carlson
girls making heart shaped cookies by Sarah Carlson
girl standing in window and looking at the skyline by Sarah Carlson

2. Follow their gaze.

While traditional “looking at the camera” portraits certainly have their place, consider capturing your child looking elsewhere for a more authentic image.

Who or what are they looking at? What’s important to them? By following your subject’s gaze, you create a stronger storytelling image.

mom and daughter cooking by Sarah Carlson
girl giving baby a pacifier by Sarah Carlson

3. Get down on their level.

By getting down low and shooting straight at your subject, you capture the low vantage point of small children. You’ll notice details you yourself don’t usually see from a 5 foot-something stature – things like the undersides of tables or just people’s feet and legs rather than the whole body.

Shoot from that low position and angle the camera up for another unique view – the way your child (or fur-child in the example below!) sees as they look up.

kid in a laundry basket by Sarah Carlson
girl dressed up by Sarah Carlson
dog watching kid eat in highchair by Sarah Carlson

4. Focus on their reactions.

The way children see the world includes their unique experience of it. Capture those expressions of carefree joy or careful hesitancy, wonder, exhilaration, or disappointment.

Sometimes this may be a facial expression while other times it may shine through the subject’s body language.

big sister holding little sister in the hospital by Sarah Carlson
girl stepping into the swimming pool by Sarah Carlson

5. Tell the story by a show of hands.

I love to show what’s important to my girls by taking pictures of their busy hands. Their hobbies, interactions, explorations, and love can be portrayed when you focus on what those little hands are doing.

girls having a tea party by Sarah Carlson
girl zipping her sweatshirt by Sarah Carlson
girl coloring donald duck by Sarah Carlson
baby holding her toes by Sarah Carlson

6. Shoot the story unfolding.

If your aim is to capture the way kids see the world, avoid calling the shots.

This one can be a toughie for control freaks such as myself. Instead of shuffling them this way and that or directing them to give you eye contact or a smile, let go of control and perfection, and snap their beautiful reality.

For me, this often means that I pick up my camera even though my kids are still in their mismatched PJs, have crazy hair, and the house is a wreck. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for shooting with vision, but don’t mistake your idea of the story for what they truly experience.

girl getting clothes out of her dresser by Sarah Carlson
kids taking a bath by Sarah Carlson
sisters playing on the floor by Sarah Carlson
girls rolling outside on a big ball by Sarah Carlson

7. Include family in the frame.

YOU are their world! The relationship between parents, siblings, grandparents, and pets should be documented for your children.

It’s not easy to haul out the tripod to include yourself in the shots, but even if they end up poorly composed and out of focus (Can you tell selfies are hard for me?), the memory is kept. The faces, embraces, and expressions of love that make up their entire world are there in your photographs.

grandpa and granddaughter by Sarah Carlson
sisters playing by Sarah Carlson
mom holding daughter by Sarah Carlson

Your photography passion is for you, but it’s also for your kids. Someday they’ll rely on your images to recall these magical days. Many years from now, your photos will be a gift to them, a reminder of the way they saw the world.