As a mother of a growing boy and my own small army of nieces and nephews, I always felt natural photographing children. There was something inherently free and joyful about it.
With zero inhibitions and a healthy dose of ego, kids can be delightful in front of a camera. My son was no exception to this rule.
The challenges of capturing my son grew significantly as he got older each year. While kids often have a mind of their own, teens grow more conscious of how they fit into a complex, growing world around them.
They become acutely self-aware in these evolving teen years. Their “what will people think” meter as well as their “I don’t have time for you” gauge become altered dramatically as their age increases – both seemingly exponential.
As the little ones often don’t mind you having a camera in their faces 24/7 to try to get those sweet, lasting memories, it becomes a little more invasive to take a photo of your sweet, sleeping teenager.
Privacy and trust become the forefront of conversation as doors literally close that were once open. Things that didn’t matter so much when they were young suddenly become a big invasion of privacy, despite their own oversharing on their social media platforms (that Snapchat is gonna be the death of him).
It’s no longer on your terms to bribe them with candy, treats or a trip to the toy store. At this age, their reward is their privacy.
As my son grew past that sweet, squishy little boy phase that didn’t mind my camera in his face into a child who cringed at the mere sight of a camera in my hand, I knew I wanted a way to capture who he still was without losing any of these special moments.
The more he grew, the more he seemed to slip away, like water through my cupped hands. The memories seemed to be disappearing with a fevered pitch.
So I devised a plan that would allow me to get a photo and him to not spend so much time in front of the camera.
Now, as his birthday rolls around each year, I take a few minutes to write some thoughts about him on my blog. I write about where he is. I ponder about where he is headed in life. I wax poetic about how I feel about being a mother – being HIS mother. I do it to record him a little more deeply. I do it to tell his ever evolving story from my perspective.
Blogging a birthday post about him becomes something that I do every year now. I imagine I will do it for as long as I can, as long as it feels right and not too invasive.
At fifteen, I am not sure what that means anymore. But that’s okay because as I have found, life is an evolution. It’s a series of stories woven together by words and captured memories.
My posts about him are as varied as he is. Some punch a wallop of emotions for what we have been through that year. Others are lighthearted and free, like his summer birthday. And some are just reflective and simple.
Each year is different. The words are as different as the variety of photos I seem to get of him.
Photographing him feels a little like stolen time now. He hesitates, but still cooperates.
I am lucky though. It seems that the older he gets, the more he understands how important this is to me.
While I try to keep things brief when I do get him in front of my camera, I always manage to capture something authentic and sweet. It feels comfortable, like the old jeans I love to pull on at the end of a long week. It feels like him. Like home.
There are a few ways to get what you want from your private teenager. Here are a few of my best tips.
One of the most important factors I find works best is trust. If I promise not to share something on social media, I better not go back on my word.
Their privacy is important to them. And, just as you feel in your daily life, your trust with them should not be broken.
Whether you are setting out expectations (Let’s go outside and grab a few photos. I won’t take more than 10 shots) or just shooting the breeze about new bands, a favorite hobby, or what their weekend plans are, I find a good communication is key in both loosening them up and setting expectations.
If you plan on sharing this on social media, have a conversation abut that. They need to know where they are going.
You are going to get a lot further with them if you remember what it was like to BE them. Trust me on this.
The quicker you can get the shot, the better your chances of continuing this process. So set it up without them. Check the light. Get in and get it done.
Maybe conversation isn’t enough. Take a portrait of them doing what they love. Playing guitar. Playing their sport. Or playing video games. If that is what they are into, meet them on their level.
Treat them as you would be treated. Leave your preconceived notions at the door and stop complaining about their hair/skin/clothes. That closes doors for them to feel good about themselves.