As my boys transitioned out of boyhood and into their tween and teen years, I quickly realized that I needed a different approach to photographing them.
I mean, they have a social life now and all!
So I went on a mission to start capturing them in a more intentional and creative, yet unobtrusive, way. One that would represent them and who they are while satisfying my need to be creative and artistic.
Along the way, I’ve found some things that have made this mission a little easier and a little more fun. I hope these little discoveries will encourage you to keep picking that camera up and photographing your older boys, too.
There is so much to love about this age, and I’ve found that it is really so fun to connect with them and capture this time in their lives – I promise it is so worth it!
1. Observe and show interest
When my boys were younger, I was almost always actively engaged in the playtime or activity happening in front of my camera. As they’ve become older and more independent, I’ve tried to respect their space and their time with friends, so I’ve become much more of an observer with my photography.
I observe and wait for the right moment.
However, I cannot rely solely on observation to get good images. I have to be involved and show interest, too. Otherwise, I just feel like I’m spying on them – ha! Believe me, if they know you are interested in what they are doing, they will happily engage with you and will likely let you photograph them as much as you want.
For example, I was able to capture this image because I could hear my boys playing ping pong downstairs with their friends. We had just set the table up, and I knew I wanted to get an image of them playing, so I went down with my camera and started asking them about the game.
After a few minutes, I said I was going try to get some pictures of them. If I had started shooting without talking to them first, they may have felt like I was trying to be sneaky and would have been uncomfortable. Because I showed that I was interested first, I was able to capture a very natural moment.
2. Turn photography sessions into mother-son date nights
Make photography fun for both of you, and carve out some time to have some one-on-one conversation with your son while capturing great images at the same time.
Choose a couple of locations that you think might be interesting to your son. I feel like urban-like settings with lots of lines and color are great for this age. Natural settings can work, too, especially if your son loves the outdoors. Whichever type of location you choose, make sure it has plenty of opportunities for interaction and exploring.
Let your son help you choose where to go, and enjoy the outing. Afterward, have a fun dinner or dessert somewhere. They love the attention, and, let’s face it, we don’t get much time alone with them anymore. Plus you’ll have awesome photos to remember it.
I knew this location would be great for getting good images of the boys with all of the lines and colors, so when we were in Florida last year, we decided to make it a fun family evening. The bonus for them was that they got to see a live alligator, too!
3. Be respectful of their feelings and concerns
Be respectful of anything that boys this age might be struggling with about themselves – acne, braces, glasses, their height/weight, etc. I know it seems like boys don’t really care about these things, but I assure you that at least some of them do and may not be comfortable talking about it.
So, even if it doesn’t seem to me like it should bother them, if they’ve told me that it does, then I either shoot in a way that makes them feel more comfortable, agree not to share it anywhere, or just put the camera down.
When my son first got his braces and was getting used to them, he preferred to smile without showing his teeth. Because he had told me this, I never pushed him to do otherwise.
He is used to them now, and it doesn’t bother him anymore. But if I had pushed the issue, implying that I didn’t respect his feelings, he would have been way less likely to have let me photograph him, and I would not have this image of him that I love.
4. Make a list of images you would like to capture
To help me focus on this project, I wrote out a list of images that I wanted to get during this stage in their lives. I have a lot of that list memorized now, but I do look back at it often as well. This list has been so helpful in deciding if I even want to get the camera out. It also gives me something to shoot when I’m feeling uninspired.
Make a list of images that you would like to capture for your own boys during these years. Some ideas might be your boys’ interests/hobbies/sports, images that convey their unique personalities, and connections/relationships with friends and family.
Think about all of the ideas on your list and how you can photograph them in a unique or creative way.
My 14-year-old plays several different instruments, with guitar being one of his favorites. On my list was the idea to capture his concentration and devotion to learning guitar this year, so when I saw that he was practicing in some fun light, I asked if I could sit with him.
I listened for a while and then started photographing him until I found this perspective. It satisfied my idea to capture not just the guitar, but the concentration and devotion as well.
5. Embrace their personalities and emotions
From my own experience and from chatting with other parents, it seems pretty common that boys in this age group can be goofy, loud, and energetic in one moment and quiet, pensive and reserved in the next. I personally find that there is more of the goofy, loud and energetic end of the spectrum at our house – I mean, seriously, what is so funny???
But there are definitely days when the mood is more somber.
Instead of only picking up the camera when there are smiles and laughter, try to embrace whatever personality and temperament is present at the time.
This speaks truth about my boys and their relationship with each other. They are full of so much energy!! They are always goofy, always teasing, always laughing. And, just like here, my oldest is often completely annoyed about something his little brother has done.
It seems like my 12-year-old lives to be social. He wants to be around others all the time. My 14-year-old is more like me and is perfectly content being alone sometimes. He can definitely be loud and full of energy, too, but I wanted to be sure to capture the reserved side of him, also.
6. Be cautious in sharing online
This may be the most important thing to remember about photographing these in-between years for your boys. These years are a roller coaster of ups and downs for them in many ways.
On top of that, social media is typically a huge part of their lives, and, unfortunately, also one of the most difficult things for them to learn to navigate. One questionable photo, even if it doesn’t seem questionable to you, could provide some mean-spirited kids (or adults) with ammunition to make your boys’ middle and high school lives fairly miserable.
Before I share any images on any social media outlet, I always ask my boys for their permission.
If they don’t like an image for any reason, I just don’t share it. I want them to know that I respect them and that they can trust me. I will still keep the image for myself and print it for our personal books, but it doesn’t get shared anywhere online.
The awesome part of this process is that sometimes the boys will really love one of the photos. Then they not only allow me to share it, but they want me to send it to them so that they can share it, too. Love, love, love when they are proud of one of their images!
I’m constantly reminded of the limited time we have before these boys will be on their own, so more than anything, I hope that you can just have fun photographing these crazy years with your boys!