Monday 14 September 2015


The other day my two-year-old wanted to put her socks on before we headed out to a school fundraising event. I was dressed and waiting for her, handbag in hand. She insisted on putting the socks on herself, and so I waited. Just then she put them on her hands - which she used to do all the time about 12 months ago - and started waving them around. It was a cute moment and instantly I grabbed my phone and took a photo. She moved against the wall and did it again. While part of me was excited that I had a chance to capture this moment a little better, another part of me was saddened that she instinctively moved to a better spot.

I am not going to lie and say that I don't art direct family snaps a little - asking the children - or anyone else in shot! - to move slightly more one way or the other to get a better angle or crop out something not relevant or unsightly for the photo. (It's somewhat of an occupational hangover from working as an interiors and lifestyle stylist.) And while I also share photos on Instagram that are genuinely candid, I'm fairly confident that I'm not alone in playing the role of the art director for my own snaps. It's apparent that most people who post photos on social media art direct too.  

But what effect is our constant photographing and art directing having on our children?

After all, it has never been easier to photograph little ones. Many of us have phones within reach most of the time. And the quality of imagery has never been better. But does that mean that we should always be documenting their lives?

Are we placing too much focus on photography and creating a self-awareness... in looks, appearance and other outward expressions of self?

Are we asking our children to perform like child actors or chimpanzees?

And are we not living in the moment enough?

There are some tell-tale signs. Have you ever heard a child say, "let me see, let me see", after a photo was taken? Do they become transfixed with your phone? Perhaps a sign that you are using it too much anyway. Or does your child art direct you or others in photos?

All of these things have happened to me. And when they did, it made me wince. This is usually a sign that something is not quite right.

Self-awareness in moderation should not be something to worry about. It can be healthy, and important for a person interacting with others in society. But judging your worth based on a photo, or others' perception of you in that image can not be good.

And then there are other factors to keep in mind with our generation's rampant photo mania - including issues of downloading images, filing, archiving and printing.

I have tens of thousands of photos of my children and don't have a single album. It is something I am trying to rectify, but it's a lot quicker to take a photo than it is to get a hard copy of it. And that kills me a little too - that I have this mass archive of photos, but in its current state no one wants to look at them - including me! - because it's just too hard. 

Fewer photos but more printed would be a better scenario.

And something else that I have noticed - when I take lots of photos, I spend less time writing notes about my children. Over the years I have tried to keep journals - writing observations about them and their lives and developmental milestones. In some ways, I think this might be more interesting to them than tens of thousands of photos - because it expresses a feeling and a connection - rather than a momentary performance. Of course, sometimes a photo can do this as well - yet these snaps are the exception and not the rule.

And then there is the issue of parents being in photos. I don't take selfies with my children - I don't feel comfortable being so self-aware or, dare I say, self-involved - and I don't want them to feel this way either - but it does mean that there aren't many photos of myself, certainly not with them. I've made a little more of an effort this year, but it's never easy. And while there are only about three of these photos, I have a feeling that they might be the ones that the children cherish the most.

Generally, these photos have captured a special time - a wedding, a holiday or a Christmas celebration. These are true captures - they are not just about the smiling faces, but the occasion too - the memories. And even though every detail of that time isn't contained in that one photo, what's important is often recalled. I know that's true when looking through my own (single) childhood photo album.

Increasingly I am tucking my phone away, leaving it at the other end of the house, and trying to live in the moment and not just record it. I'm also more conscious of capturing special family moments - for all of us to enjoy. These types of photos are definitely not about increasing self-awareness, but rather placing importance on the beauty and sanctity of our unit and lives together.

Please share your thoughts on photographing children. Are we doing it too much? Are your children self-aware? Do you archive and/or print photos? And, if so, what system works best for you? Would love to hear about your experiences. Thank you!

image the indigo crew


  1. A very interesting read. For me, I'm trying to be sensitive about the fact that my children are beginning to notice how important/significant something is by whether or not I capture it. My eldest has started noticing when I use my phone vs. my dslr or film cameras, and notices when I take more photos of her brother and sister than I take of her. Sometimes she asks "mom, don't you want to take a photo?" Or "mom, put this on Instagram" When she creates something she loves or when she dresses up with her sister, etc. I don't want to create a self awareness that means my approval or joy is measured by whether or not I take a photograph.

    1. Thanks Lesley for taking the time to share your experience. I think children are becoming very aware of the way their parents are taking photos of them, and why. I can see how it's quite possible to turn into a Pavlov's dog scenario too. They shouldn't have to feel validated because a camera or phone comes out, but maybe this is happening. My son doesn't like having photos taken and I respect that, and ask him if it's okay if I share the ones that I do. The younger ones have no idea what Instagram is - it seems like a bit of a strange thing to explain to a child. I don't show them Instagram - or anything on my phone for that matter. Thanks again.