As we were preparing to pack up for the long 8-hour car ride we had ahead to visit family, I looked at my camera bag and groaned.
“It’s so heavy,” I thought. “I’m already packing half of our house. It’s just another bag to load.”
If I’m being honest, as “The Photographer” of the family, I sometimes get tired of hearing, “make sure you bring your camera!” But I knew my husband’s grandparents weren’t getting any younger and since we only get to see them once a year, I would be grateful to have the pictures from our trip. And they would love to have pictures with the boys.
I packed the camera. I’m so thankful I did.
Just weeks after our trip, my husband’s grandmother unexpectedly passed away. When we last saw her she was happy and healthy. My last memory of her was standing in her kitchen saying our “goodbyes”. She hugged me. She held my shoulders with her hands and told me how much she loved me and how proud she was of us. She held my babies and we all smiled for the camera – one quick shot before we left for home.
They aren’t photos that would ever win awards – but they are priceless to my family. I pick up my camera because I know how cherished photographs are to our hearts.
And then there are the times that I take TOO many photos. If we are honest with ourselves, photographing our family is so tricky. Where’s the balance between “capture every moment” and “be present in the present”? It’s an answer I’m still searching for.
Last spring, my preschoolers were taking part in a race that they put on as a fundraiser for the school. For a span of 10 whole seconds, the students race their classmates by running from one end of the school to the other. That’s it. Since my husband couldn’t make the race I was planning to capture every second of our youngest’s cute little legs stiffly running – the way that only 3 year old legs do, arms pumping, his lips pierced and eyebrows furrowed – determined to win. That’s what I had pictured in my head, anyway. I had my d700 ready, my iPhone set to Instagram and even my video camera around my shoulder. I was ready to capture it all. Instead, I missed it. I was so caught up in capturing the memories that while I was fumbling with 3 devices and trying to get to a place where another parent’s head wasn’t blocking my view, I missed it. It gets worse. My 5 year old’s class lined up to race. I did it all again. I missed it all. Again. And the saddest part to me is not the blurry photos that I erased or my video of the grass (obviously, also erased), it’s that I was THERE but I didn’t even experience it. I didn’t cheer for him as he ran by. I didn’t see the look of pride on his face as he crossed the finish line. And I lied to him when he asked, “Mommy did you see me?”
As moms that love photography, and even more, love our babies with every fiber of our being, we want to capture it all. We are a nostalgic bunch that know deep in our hearts that our littles are growing up way too fast, and we can’t wait to capture it before they are grown; before we forget. And that is a good thing! But I want to be careful that their memories of me aren’t just holding a black square over my face, or telling them “Just a minute” while I post another Instagram image.
I want them to look back and remember the mom that let them help cook in the kitchen or that cheered embarrassingly loud because she really did see the race, or the goal, or fill in the blank. She was there. She was present. She took part.
I’m slowly learning to throw on a lens and don’t look back. Capture the moments that need to be caught – the blowing candles out on a birthday cake, the puddle jumping, the everyday moments that will someday seem to have gone by all too quickly. And then set the camera down and join them.
Ann Voskamp, one of my favorite authors, touched on this in a recent blog post. She’s saying what I’m babbling through so much more poetically than I, so I will end with a quote from her blog on the very subject:
And then [I] set the camera aside. Turned the camera off. And there’s no guilt. All the moments a mother never captured on film — isn’t perhaps a failing, but a releasing into fully being in that moment. They say that — that you can tell as much about a life by the photographs that weren’t taken as those that were. There doesn’t have to be fear of missing.
It’s sort of wild to think about: Moments don’t need to be captured as much as they need to simply be enjoyed. There’s ridiculous freedom and glory in a courage like this.
I felt it, there in the woods with the kids: It is good to press the shutter — then set the camera aside and be shuttered up in the wild wonder. In being a partaker of life, not only an observer…