Today I would like to share some thoughts about the way we use photography today. In particular, photographing and documenting the lives of our children.
Years back – before the digital era – we ”saved” the use of our cameras for special occasions such as birthday parties and holidays. We did not post our lunch to Instagram, and everyday life with our kids would usually remain undocumented because each single photo had a cost so we couldn’t just shoot away as we can today.
I think it’s safe to say that things have changed. Never before has photography been so available to everyone. Thanks to digital cameras, smartphones, ipads etc. most people have the possibility of taking photos constantly.
There is however a negative side effect to all this. I believe that a lot of us (myself included) have become a little too obsessed with documenting and capturing everything. We have become so scared of missing even just one little Kodak moment. No matter what we do or where we go with our kids we always have our cameras or smartphones with us and as soon as they do something special, cute or funny the first thing we can think of is this: Photo opportunity!
How many times have you stressed yourself because you felt that you should be taking photos of your kid doing one thing or another? Have you ever watched him/her dance/sing/do school plays/blow the candles etc. through the display on your smartphone? I know I have.
When we decide that a certain moment or a certain event is so important to us and our kids that we have to capture it in order to be able to relive it over and over again ironically enough we actually loose a part of the original ”live” moment. We can never be 100% present and attentive in a situation if at the same time we have to concentrate on taking photos or filming it. And I think that our kids notice. They would rather have us concentrate on them and their performance. I have been asked more than once by my daughter to put away the iPhone or the camera. And I can see why. They ask for our attention and we pull out the camera or the smartphone…
All this is of course natural. We want to save every little detail in our kids’ lives, we don’t want to miss a thing. I’m not saying we are bad parents because of this.
However the thing is this: We do actually miss out on something. We miss a part of the present and the funny thing: How many of these photos or films do we actually really use/enjoy/look at afterwards? I mean except for right after the event, where we have to look at them in order to see what was actually going on, because we were too busy filming or photographing it 🙂
I shall be the first one to say that photos are important. Even lots of them. But how many of your photos do you actually print either as a photo book or to hang on the wall? And how many of your photos turn out well? Do you tend to just shoot away, until you get the right photo thus ending up with a lot of useless stuff on your memory card?
I think we need to slow down a bit and start to focus on the quality instead of the quantity. Both in terms of the actual photos but – more importantly – in terms of when we pull out the camera.
Below are a few changes I have applied within my own photography – both on a personal and professional level. I like to refer to them as my ”Slow photography behaviour” 🙂
Take less photos
It’s actually very simple. I know you can take as many photos as you like with your digital camera without spending a penny but I suggest you stop doing that right away. Try to act a bit more as if you were shooting with an old film camera with only 24 or 36 frames. How would you use them?
When you take a photo give it some time. Concentrate as much as you can. Try to ”see” the photo before you take it, make sure the light is good, wait until your kid stops moving in order to avoid unsharp photos. In short: Do your best and only when you believe you have the right photo do you push the shutter. If you are satisfied with the result then stop. You don’t need 10 more photos that look the same.
Delete bad photos
If on the other hand your photo turns out wrong then delete it immediately. No need to fill up your phone or your computer with bad photos. You won’t be using them again. An idea could be to ask yourself the following question: ”Would I pay to have this photo printed?” If the answer is no then I would let it go.
Reduce the number of situations in which you take photos
Once you start to learn how to reduce the quantity of photos you can begin to reduce the number of times you pull out the camera. Think twice: Is this really something I need to photograph? Do we already have photos from similar situations? I already have tons of photos of my daughter having fun at the playground, so that’s a place where I have more or less stopped bringing my camera.
I have also made a decision to limit photography when we are together with other people. When we go to other kids’ birthday parties or similar events I prefer to just participate, relax and hang out with her and the other guests. Sure I won’t have any memories from the day but I enjoy myself so much more and no one gets stressed.
Take your photos – then put the camera away
I am sure we all have some special occasions where we just won’t say no to photos. Our children’s birthdays eg.
What I do is this: I take a few photos in the beginning and then I put the camera away for the rest of the day. Sure I don’t get to document every single minute, but I will still have a few photos from the day and most importantly: I get to live the moment 100%.
Make photography fun
As a photographer I obviously love photos and I do find it very very important to take them on a regular basis. However I prefer to keep things a bit separated. When I take photos I like to be able to concentrate 100% on the photography. Sometimes I will grab my daughter at home and ask if we should do some photos together. She won’t always say yes, but when she does we do these little photo sessions and we have great fun while doing them. Other times I will simply grab my camera and start photographing her while she is drawing or playing or even during breakfast – usually without even interrupting her. This kind of photos often turn out to be the best, they are spontaneous, they are easy to take and they don’t stress any of us.
Print your photos
Ever since my daughter was born I have made an annual photo book with all the best photos from the past year. This is such a great way to actually use the photos. I write a few lines to accompany the photos and I give a copy of the book to her grandparents who obviously love it.
We live in a very digital time but I beg you: Don’t just keep your photos on the computer. Have them printed. That’s what they were meant for. Make photo books or have them framed. There are so many options. A photo is not a real photo until you can feel it between your hands.
So tell me: Do you recognize some of these things from your own life? Or do you already have a balanced relationship with your camera? How do you actually use the photos you take? Do you print them? I would love to hear your experiences and opinions!
Birgitte Brøndsted is a Danish photographer specialized in kids, family and maternity portraits. She lives in Florence with her daughter who is 4 years old. You can see her work on http://birgittebrondsted.com