Take better photos

You love taking photos of your kids. But the results? You’re not alone if you find them frustrating.

I know what it’s like to page through photo after photo and feel nothing but disappointment. Blur. Forced smiles. Strange lighting.

But the thought of “learning photography” can be overwhelming - the last thing you need is another “role” to add to the long list of job descriptions you are already covering inside and outside the home.

Not to mention that you just don’t feel like you have an “artist’s” or “photographer’s eye.” The whole process can be intimidating.

You are not alone. So many parents I hear from feel this way. You don’t want to become a professional photographer. You just want to be able to better capture the moments with your kids that you want to remember.

Fortunately, getting the kinds of photographs you’d like is easier than it seems.

I’ve recently started going to yoga class again, and the other day I heard:

"It's how it feels, not how it looks."

And I thought, "Wow! That's it!"

It sounds counterintuitive for something as visual as photography, but when you focus on how it feels, not how it looks, photographing your kids becomes so much more rewarding.

Your awareness of the moments that are worth capturing expands. You start noticing the moments more. You start to realize you have more of these moments than you thought. You start to focus on what was good about the day - and not what went wrong.

When you focus on how it feels, not how it looks, you can find confidence and joy daily through photographing your kids.

My older son, Liam, just turned seven, so I've been reminiscing about all the years since I became a mom.

From those crazy and intense and difficult and amazing first few weeks with a newborn, through toddlerhood and preschool, a baby brother, kindergarten, and now first grade. So many moments. So many feelings. So many experiences.

Wow, what a journey it has been.

Although I've been interested in photography since I was a child, it wasn’t until I became a mom that my photography truly found a purpose.

At first, that purpose was the same as any other new mom's - to document the moments of my child's life.

But what I quickly found was that it wasn't just about capturing the fleeting moments as my son grew up. Instead, I realized how meaningful and rewarding to my parenting experience it was to document those moments, even if it was just on my iPhone. In fact, the photos I took on my iPhone were in many ways more rewarding, as that was the camera that I had with me the most and therefore used the most to capture the moments that would unexpectedly end up meaning the most.

I can still remember some of those moments now, even without looking back at my photos.

There was the first time I made it out of the house by myself with my newborn. I drove all the way to Target (this is about a five minute drive!) and I triumphantly photographed my week-old baby in the aisles of baby clothes and sent it to my husband.

Judging by Liam’s face, he was not as thrilled to make it to Target as I was.

Or the first time I took a twenty minute walk with the baby all the way to Prospect Park. I remember the feeling of freedom, of my world opening up again, of being able to breathe and have space, having been housebound for several days after having a c-section and barely being able to walk.

I remember the first time we went out for brunch, baby in tow, some vague semblance of “normal” creeping into our lives for a few moments as we enjoyed some French toast while the baby slept.

I even remember photographing Liam at six weeks at the library, and then again at six months at almost the same spot, recalling the previous photo and marveling at how much he had grown, how much we had gone through in the months that had passed.

All of these moments I experienced more vividly and remember more clearly because I photographed them.

All of these moments, the kinds of milestones you never read about in the baby books, became touchstones for me - proof that I was doing it, I was surviving and even thriving as a mother.

I found that my camera brought me closer to my child and allowed me to be more present in the crazy experience of new motherhood. It gave me the means to process and express what I was going through, both good and bad. Plus, it gave me the means to find my voice as a mother, and in sharing those moments, connect not only myself but my husband and kids to our friends and family from all over the world and all parts of our lives.

In focusing on how it feels, not how it looks, I found that I was a mother first and a photographer second, and that the purpose of photographing my kids was ultimately to get more out of my experience as a parent.

I love being a mother. It feels like a calling, one I am so grateful to be experiencing. For me, becoming a mother has been the vehicle and the catalyst for discovering and becoming the truest and best version of myself.

That doesn't mean I have enjoyed every moment, or that it hasn't at times brought out the worst in me. The adjustments have been sometimes brutal, certainly almost never graceful.

But through it all, the experience of photographing my children has kept me focused on all that is good and beautiful and filled with love and joy in parenting. It has kept me focused on gratitude and wonder and yes, the silly little everyday things that otherwise get overlooked in what can, let's face it, be a lot of day-to-day drudgery.

So, the next time you look through your photos, ask yourself: Are you focusing on how it feels or how it looks?

Today's tip: Shift your perspective about how you approach photographing your kids. Think about how it feels, not how it looks. Take note of when you feel an emotion that you want to remember. Maybe it’s pride when your child tells you about their day. Joy as you watch them playing with a friend. Amusement as they chatter to a sibling. Awe as you watch them master a new task.

Feel that feeling, and then take a photograph of the moment that triggered that emotion. After you try this, let me know how it went in the comments below.

Stay tuned - in my next blog post, I'll go into more detail on how this works, as well as share some of the unexpected benefits.