When I was a kid, my dad had a Pentax K1000 film camera. He chose that specific camera because he was told it was the best to learn on. That wasn’t wrong! It was completely manual except for the light meter, meaning he had to think about and choose all of his settings to get the correct exposure for the shot that he wanted. It worked out great for a number of years. There are photos of my sister and me, our dog, and our family adventures. Then the light meter stopped working. My dad took the camera to be repaired multiple times, but the light meter never worked longer than a few weeks. So he stopped taking pictures. And now there’s a long gap in my (and my siblings’) childhood where we have no photos. Eventually, my dad picked up another identical camera with a working light meter. But the gap already existed. I’m not sure why, but that has always stayed with me. When I was in high school, I started taking photos of my friends with a point-and-shoot camera. I wanted to document all the fun times we were having. I didn’t want any more gaps. And now that I have my own children, I find it even more important to document their lives.
I know that most of us have countless snapshots of our kids on our phones, and those can be a great way to capture the everyday. But wouldn’t it be great to be able to create a photo – or a series of photos – that tells the story of that particular time in your family’s life? You could look back years later and be instantly transported to that day your family took a trip to the beach, went sledding, or even just built a blanket fort in the living room. Let’s dive in and talk about how we create that immersive experience in photos. Keep in mind that while all the photos featured in this post were taken with either my film or mirrorless digital camera, your phone will work just fine for this purpose!
Set the scene
As an example, let’s take a look at a recent trip my family took to Lake Michigan. Things were just starting to warm up and thaw, and we had a free weekend day with nothing planned. It was still a bit chilly and there was snow on the ground, but my kids love exploring a beach no matter the weather. I wanted to tell the story of our day in photos. I took a good number of photos just showing my kids in the environment. I wanted to show the crashing waves, the ice mingled with the sand, and the vastness of the lake. I find that a wide-angle works best for setting the scene.
Immerse yourself in the activity
My kids are five, three, and three which means much of our time is spent just exploring. My son loves picking through all the rocks on the beach, while my daughters love pretending they are in a musical about the ocean. My strategy for documenting the activities of the day is to stand back and let them happen. I take photos as the kids are doing their things, but I don’t interfere. I want to show my kids being kids in their purest form. If I can show them interacting with each other, I’m even happier. My children are amazing as individuals, but when I see their relationships with each other, my heart swells.
Don’t forget the details
Call me nostalgic or sappy, but I’m often thinking about how my children will never be as young as they are right at this moment. They’re constantly growing and learning and evolving into the people they will one day become. I like to step back and see them where they are. What makes them special right now? Maybe it’s their chubby fingers. Maybe it’s the way their hair delicately curls while still being wildly messy. Maybe it’s the sense of wonder they have as they explore the world around them. These are the details I like to capture in close-up photos.
Step back and let it happen
I don’t like to direct my kids in these moments. I let them explore, get messy, and just be themselves. Their choice of activity may not make sense to me, but if I’m trying to capture their joy, I want it to be genuine. That’s why I step back with my camera handy and just document them and their childhood.
Don’t edit kids’ personalities or emotions
Kids experience a range of emotions and their personalities can be big! But that’s what makes them who they are and it’s what makes them kids. I don’t force them to smile or look a certain way. If my daughter is wearing light-up Spiderman boots, I resist the urge to force her to change. She loves them and that’s part of who she is right now. The overarching theme here is that I want to tell the story of my children’s childhood as it happened.
I admit that while I try to let my kids be themselves and I try not to edit their personalities, I will absolutely remove distractions from the environment if I need to. This is usually an issue in my house (where clutter abounds), but for instance, if Rick left his backpack on the ground in my shot when we were exploring the beach, I’d have no issue moving it. Some areas of the beach have more trash than others. I may not take photos with that in view. While those things existed in the scene, they don’t help to enhance the feeling of the moment. Call it artistic license 😉
Above all, don’t stress too much about getting the “perfect” photo to capture the day. Just have fun and keep taking pictures!