Motherhood, insanity and everyday life.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Real Mom's Guide to Photographing Your Children

This is addressed to newer parents. No, you don’t have to be young. You just have to have very young children. I’m here to do you a favor – to help you avoid the mistakes that I’ve made. I’m here to tell you how NOT to take photos of your children.

Let me first explain that I’m not a professional photographer, nor do I play one on TV. Although I will say that I have taken one college photography class. Yes, folks, my best photo from that class was the hands of a bum pushing change over a bar for a pint bottle of alcohol. Gritty photojournalism? Perhaps. Relevant to photographing children? Absolutely not. So, I’m here as an amateur just like most of you.

However, I feel that I’m uniquely qualified to counsel you on this topic because my youngest child is 14 and my oldest is 19. Yes, I’ve had 19 years to get it all wrong and I can either beat myself over the head for my nearly two decades of stupidity or I can save you all from yourselves.

This all came about because my daughter is preparing to graduate from 8th grade. One of the end-of-the-year graduation projects is a DVD/Video that features photos of all of the kids from the past 8+ years. It’s actually a really cool thing that makes everybody cry. Except the 8th grade boys. They don’t cry at anything. The 8th grade girls cry almost as much as the moms. It’s kind of pathetic.

Anyway, I needed to search for photos of my child for this project. So I hauled out my shoeboxes. OK, now those of you that are confused right now and wondering why I didn’t haul out my photo albums, well you can leave right now. This is not going to be one of those “Craft Corner” tip thingys where I tell you how cute it is to glue little ticket stubs and programs to a page featuring your child’s first musical performance. That is not me and your are at the wrong blog. OK, now that those photo snobs have left, we can get down to business.

The first thing I want to say addresses vacation photos. No matter how elaborate or simple your vacation was, the one thing you must do is only take a photo that includes a person, preferably your child. I’m sure the view from the top of Mt. Low Oxygen Level was great, but you can buy a book or go online to see something like that. It will mean nothing to you, unless there is a person in the photo. Years from now, the nice view will be just that, a nice view and definitely NOT a memory. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you should put a person in every photo. Yes, that’s what those other tourists are standing around for – to take a photo of your family. Just ask, they won’t bite. Unless they look like felons and are wearing orange prison jumpsuits, they probably won’t run off with your Kodak Funshare Camera. Trust me on this. Oh, but maybe you should make sure they speak English.

OK, the next thing is that when you are photographing your child, make sure that you can actually see them without using a magnifying glass. If you can’t, only take one photo. I said ONE. Yeah, I know it’s the biggest game of your kid’s sports life, then for God’s sake, watch the game! Years from now, you will NOT be looking at these photos saying: “Oh look honey, here’s the entire first quarter.” The same thing applies to when you photograph your child in front of a scenic overlook or historical monument. Do NOT walk across the street to get the entire mountain range in the photo. Nobody will care. Simply enjoy the scenery and make a mental note of the majestic beauty. Now move on.

Absolutely DO take photos of your child in ridiculous costumes and embarrassing situations. Well, within reason, of course. (I’m not that mean!) Anyway, these are the photos that people want to look at 20 years later. The Halloween where you convinced your child that wearing a spray-painted silver bucket on his head would definitely make him resemble a Y2K bug or the sack race at the family reunion when Billy and Uncle Bob paired up after Uncle Bob had entered the beer-chugging contest. Really, these are the things that make interesting photos.

Do not, under any circumstances, take more than five photos during any one event where the scene, uniform, event, game or situation does not look different. Unless you change lenses on your camera, all five of these photos will look exactly alike. Remember, you are not documenting a crime scene, you are creating a memory of an event.

Do try, whenever and wherever possible, to take close-up photos of your child. This is how you mark time and create memories. The point here isn’t really what they’re doing, but more what they look like. Because, and I know this is hard for those of you with adorable toddlers, your child will grow and change. No matter how hard you try, your child will not be cute forever. (Alright fine, the Olsen Twins are the lone exception to this, but at the age of 20, now cute is turning into creepy.)

Take loads of photos of your child with his or her friends, classmates, teammates, “camp-mates,” castmates, teachers and coaches. Outside of you and your immediate family, these are the most important people in your child’s life and whether you can’t stand them or not, they will be the subject of dinner conversations for years to come. Why not have a record of what they look like?

One final caution: Do not, under any circumstances, allow your teenage children (especially girls) to “edit” your photos. Young teens can be extremely sensitive to photographic evidence of their less than stellar appearance. One day, they’ll be able to look back without cringing, but in the meantime, keep the photos away from them. If necessary, keep them under lock and key. Just make sure that they do not throw away any photos...ever! They’ll hate you for it forever! Actually, they’ll hate you quite often along the way, but there’s no need to give them extra ammunition.


At 10:43 AM , Anonymous Maryanne said...

Hi I'm visiting from Michele's today but I do come ocassionally on my own, I like your blog. My question is how did you get a hold of my photo box? You described all the pictures in it so well. Your advise is right on, hope everyone takes notes.

At 12:03 PM , Blogger Timmybomb said...

Hey, I just stumbled upon this blog. Thank you for the advice. I just got a new camera, and I'm taking the same pictures of the kids all the time. I need more dicipline! I will learn. Thank you for the reminder.

At 1:10 PM , Blogger Linda said...

great rules...can't follow most of them, though. I'm one of those "photo snobs"...also known as totally addicted scrapbookers, lol.

But thank GOD for the digital camera...I click away, load them up, THEN ask: What the heck was I THINKING???? and delete a bunch. At least I didn't waste money on developing!!!

You always have such GREAT insights...LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this blog!

At 2:21 PM , Blogger Jolie said...

shoeboxes? uh no, that would be way to mom taught me and I know it has to be old ice cream buckets!! One of these days I will separate all of the photos and put them in the nice six-album sets that I bought for each child (different color schemes, etc.) of these days. you give great advice. Of course it is a few years too late as I have all of those NOT pictures myself! I mean really, did I really need 36 pictures of my youngest's first football game??

At 4:35 PM , Blogger Star said...

I saw myself in each one of theose descriptions. Here's a helpful idea. Send one child to school for a degree in photography. I did. ANd you should see the pictures of my grandson!

At 11:34 PM , Blogger Juliabohemian said...

I am a photosnob actually, a photo major. But, all this is good advice for the normal person who takes normal pictures of their kids. I am always blown away by the crappy pictures people SAVE.

I have helped people sort out their pictures before and organize them and I can tell you this much:
If it is blurry, under or overdeveloped, out of focus, the person has their back turned (unless for artistic purposes) or you can't tell what the photo is supposed to be of -it goes in the trash. I keep only the best photos.

My kids are so photographed that they are used to me having my camera at all times. I am sure that I annoy people by doing so, because I always have my camera ready to document someone else's embarassment.

My sister, who is 16 -almost 17, USED to be one of my best subjects. From about age 14 until now there is a big drop in the number of pictures I have of her. They have to be taken either with a zoom or while I am hiding in the bushes with camoflage gear. The only exception being her prom. Of course she just picked apart every picture anyway.

check out my pictures by going to the flickr icon on my blog.

At 6:02 AM , Blogger Linda said... again...still wishing I could follow your rules! Michele sent me today!

At 7:17 AM , Blogger kenju said...

Michele sent me this time, Karen. This is very good advice about photos. I was guilty of a lot of the things you say not to do, when my kids were small.

At 8:37 AM , Blogger emaleejayne said...

Vacation pictures are always of me, me and something in the background, me next to something, me standing on something etc, etc etc. (Its my boyfriend thats behind the camera!) People have always laughed at how there is a person in every photo, but I love it (No, not because I like to look at myself) because its a real memory, not just a scenery shot!

Great advice!

Visiting from Michele's today!

At 2:34 PM , Anonymous Cyndy said...

Hi!! Michele sent me in a round about way. Great post on the vintage clothes..And if you can take a 14 y/o daughter shopping....WOW

At 9:11 AM , Blogger kristal said...

Great post! I take pictures of my kids every single day and your advice is great. My kids range from 2 to 15, but I am already looking back and wishing I had more 'evidence' of the older kids.

Michele sent me!

At 3:32 PM , Blogger Carmi said...

I love this entry - OK, I lied...I love ALL of your entries. But this one stands out because of my own photographic bent. I'm going to keep this one folded up in the back of my camera bag. I may even leave an extra copy surreptitiously behind at my in-laws' place.


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