What do you want to remember?
Whether we’re photographers or parents, the most important question you can ask yourself when it comes to taking family photos, is not, What things do I want photographed? It’s about asking yourself What do I really want to remember about this time right now? These questions might seem quite similar but the second question will help you to find and document things that are so much more meaningful.
This month, as part of my Print Your Family Photos project, I started making the first family photo album of my own I’ve made for years, made from some of the photos that mean the most to me, from a very special shoot last summer.
Last July I finally took my own advice, stepped right out of my comfort zone onto the other side of the lens and, for the second time ever, and first time in years, had some photos taken of me and my kids. It was an eye-opening experience to have a taste of my own medicine and if I’m being honest, I was terrified. My good friend Adam Riley took them for us so I didn’t even have the excuse of worrying about a stranger coming into my home… But still I found myself worrying about it feeling awkward, worrying about tidying the house, worrying if the kids would hate it and worrying that I felt so frazzled and tired and that I should have picked a better time.
Initially I chose to do it in July because so many things were about to change. Huey was about to start school in September, at 14 Joe was rapidly turning into a man and we were due to move house a couple of months later. It meant so much to me to capture Huey while he was still my ‘little lad’, Joe before he couldn’t stand to be within 10 feet of me and our old house in which we’d shared so many happy times over the previous 10 years.
What I didn’t realise until I started to mentally prepare myself for the shoot was that I’d been mainly thinking about capturing things in terms of big changes to appearances – Huey while he was still tiny, Joe before became bigger and hairier, the house before it changed altogether. Of course all of these are important and worth remembering, but I often take pictures of the boys and the house myself so I do have pictures like this… And although I wanted to be in pictures with my boys too, this prospect didn’t fill me with glee, so I guess that’s why I hadn’t rushed to get someone else to take them before and only sorted this out last minute right before all the big changes happened.
But as soon as I started to think about having the shoot, I started to pay much more attention to the little things in our everyday lives, and it hit me that the appearances (wanting to capture the boys and house before they change) were only a small part of what I wanted to remember. It was actually all about habits, behaviours and routine. THESE were the things that actually meant the most to me, THESE were the things that I desperately didn’t want to forget, THESE were the things that I realised I just couldn’t capture myself, because it turns out I’m actually part of most of them…
What things did I really want to remember?
The way the three of us like to cook and bake together, with Huey on his stool, me propping him up and Joe fetching ingredients…
Huey’s love of dressing up and how funny I find it when Joe lets him dress him up too…
Huey’s ‘baby dragon’ habit of ‘hatching’ out of his bath-towel and making me run away from him after his bath…
The little glances Joe and I share when Huey’s saying something daft…
The way Huey makes me lay out stories on the bed for him to choose before bed…
How gentle and loving Joe is with his little brother…
The garden picnics the three of us share whenever the sun pops out…
How Huey stands bolt upright when I brush his teeth…
Joe enjoying reading to Huey and how much I love to watch them do this…
The way Huey curls up into a ball on my lap and fits just right under my arm…
There were so many of these things, some of which I thought of before the shoot, others that I only truly noticed during the shoot while they were happening because I was paying attention… The crazy thing is that already, only 6 months later, some of these things don’t even happen any more (sadly the ‘baby dragon’ habit is no more and now that we read chapters of ‘big boy books’, we don’t often lay stories out on the bed like this now), and I’m SO grateful to have them captured like this so we won’t forget they ever did.
Needless to say, the photos made my heart burst into little bits – they are one of the most precious things I own and I can’t thank Adam enough for giving our family something so beautiful and valuable. Seeing the way we look at each other makes my heart leap too – you just don’t really see things like this when you’re ‘in it’. Making this album this month and looking back through them all has been an absolute joy and I know we’ll all get so much from these photos in the years to come. I can’t wait to show the album to Joe and Huey’s kids!
The process has made me so much more aware of the little precious things that make up our family existence, and so much more determined to make sure they’re documented from now on. I know that so many of these things are everyday… and then suddenly, they’re not. Right now I don’t worry about forgetting them, but who’s to say I’d remember them in 5 years’ time otherwise? Now I make sure it’s something I ask all my family clients before their shoots, What do you really want to remember about your family at this point in time?
I’m so grateful and glad that we had these family photos taken – I knew I wanted and needed them, I just didn’t realise how much. Initially I thought this was something that just needed doing at this watershed time in our lives. Now it’s something I want to try to get someone else to do every year and something I’ll try to do myself every day. I just wish I’d done this sooner, and more often.
So, I guess, the whole point of this article is… Don’t ask yourself when is the right time to take family photos, just ask yourself what specific things do you want to remember about right now? Spend a day taking time to notice all the little habits, behaviours, routines that your family enjoys. Write them all down, remember them, document them, photograph them, whether you do it yourself or get someone else to do it. You’ll be so glad you did.
What things do you want to remember about your family right now?
Below are a few of my favourite images from the shoot, and you can see a slideshow of more images here if you want to, courtesy of the amazing Adam Riley Photography.
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