Learn to Love the Camera

Written by Emily Bartnikowski on December 28th, 2012



family photo

My husband, my kids with…not me. She’s not even a mom!

We’ve all heard the scuttle lately about being a parent and making sure you’re in the picture with your kids. It’s something that I usually keep in the forefront of my mind, but every now and then I fail and never get in front of the camera. The perfect example is the picture at the left. That is my husband (wearing our infant) and our toddler on a recent hike with a dear friend. All of the pictures from that day are similar to this one. There was a picnic, a hike, some soccer, and some general mucking about. Between the three adults there were four cameras (three phones and my DSLR) and yet … not a single picture of me from that day. I was the only one taking pictures. The three of us are certain that the strangers we passed on the trail that day assumed I was hired to take family portraits. Here are some tips to help keep you from making my mistake.

First: Embrace yourself. It’s easier said than done, but if ever there was a time to “Fake It ‘Til You Make It”, this is it. A few extra pounds, a receding hairline, that stubborn zit on your chin, bedhead — all of these things will be irrelevant years from now when your children are flipping through the albums of their childhood. Nostalgia is very forgiving. (Also, that’s what Photoshop is for.) Remember that these photos are not about you. They were never about you. They are about the children who will want to remember these moments in their lives. The play-dough, the baking, the hikes with new siblings — these moments are being deposited in their memory banks, and you are the one writing the slips. Make sure they remember you were there.

photo by son

Taken by my 33-month-old son and edited by me.

Second: Hand over the camera or encourage the use of existing cameras. Within months of each other, I upgraded my “good” camera and my phone — a move that made my point-and-shoot redundant. Considering it’s a “tough” model, I handed it to my son and taught him to keep his finger out of the way and which button to push. Now when I take pictures, he takes pictures. And I am so glad. He got the one at the right. It started out as the boys playing on the movement mat, but when I pulled out my camera, he pulled out his and I edited that particular image to the point that I want to print it. I used a couple of actions (a busy mom’s best friend) and fixed a spot on my chin. I’m clearly recently out of bed (glasses), but I don’t care. My sons will remember the moment — and the cameraman! (Also — the more I encourage him to photograph, the better his images get.)

If you don’t have an extra camera lying around, let your loved ones become familiar with what you do have — phones and DSLRs have apps and automatic modes anyone can understand, and the basics of a photo are always the same: Don’t cover the viewfinder with your finger, keep the light at your back, and keep your subjects in the frame.

Third: Learn how to use your timer, invest in a remote, or both. Almost every camera out there comes with a built-in timer system. That, plus a tripod, sturdy rock, or stack of books means that you can be in the photos with your kids. I suggest you set the scene, confirm that it’s framed the way you like, and step in. Your manual is your best friend, here. If you’re in a situation and find yourself thinking how nice it would be to have paparazzi … that’s a good time to pull out the tripod. It’ll take a few minutes, but once you get into the swing of things, you’ll normalize the presence of the camera and your kids will forget it’s there.

tandem nap

Using my phone and Instagram to capture a rare tandem nap…on me.

Speaking of nostalgia — channel your inner co-ed and extend your arm. The Point and Pray method has resulted in some amusing photos, but also captures some of the great moments and the best faces. In the picture to the left, you can’t see my face, but that is clearly my body on which my boys are napping. No, I couldn’t feel my feet, but I could feel two heartbeats, and I wasn’t at all chilly. These moments are fleeting, and we should capture them, no matter how clumsily we do it.

Lastly: Hire someone. A lot of photographers are adding “Day in the Life” shoots to their offerings. They can either get to the house with the sun, or be there for a few hours in the afternoon, photo-journaling your day.  Plan a baking afternoon, or a craft project — anything you would do on a special day and not normally be in the picture for. Take a shower, put on your cute jeans, and focus on your family while a pro makes sure to catch your good side. If it’s out of your budget, ask around and see if someone who is trying to build business would swap a few hours for the benefit of a portfolio and advertising. Or, if you’ve got a marketable skill, you could always revive the art of bartering.

Technology and confidence (even fake confidence) have given us every reason to document ourselves as part of our children’s lives — now it’s time to brush up on your skills, embrace the wonkiness of being human, and press the shutter release.


Further Reading:

I’ll admit that Ashley Ann writes one of my favorite blogs. She crafts, she parents, she photographs. And this is my favorite post regarding putting yourself in the picture. She also recently posted a quick tutorial on how she got pictures of her youngest daughter learning to walk towards her. It’s such a sweet post. Find it here.

Aleida’s Challenge is a Flickr group inspired by a mother who was vigilant about getting in the picture. Grab a hanky, click over, and read her touching reminder about how these photos are for your children.

A challenge to Embrace the Camera and get yourself in the shot.

The most recent article that has renewed the buzz. You may need that hanky here, too.


Photo Credits: Author

About The Author: Emily Bartnikowski

Emily B emmieb My NPN Posts

Emily is a wife, mother, photographer, and aspiring novelist. She blogs about parenting and life at Embrita Blogging.

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