What’s the most fascinating thing about your child? At first, blush that might seem like a riddle. After all, there are probably many fascinating things. How, you ask, is it even possible to talk about just a single thing?
But it’s not a riddle, and there is an answer. The most fascinating thing about your child is his or her unique story. It’s the story of playing with the dog in the front yard, inviting friends over for a birthday party, and of visiting Disneyland for the first time. And it’s the story of your child learning to ride a bike or winning a science award or joining the little league or getting dolled up for the prom.
Fortunately, as a photographer, there is something you can do about the vagaries of memory and the vicissitudes of time. You can develop a photo story for them (and for yourself) by becoming a superb photographer, by cultivating an instinct for capturing the moment, by taking a thematic approach, and by noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Become a Superb Photographer
Anyone can take a picture, but only a few people can take a good picture, one that has an evocative quality to it. Take classes on how to operate single lens reflex cameras. Read an Afterlight review to get a sense for the pros and cons of photo editing done via smartphone. Research the ideal time of the day to capture the light. Master the rule of thirds. Through study and application, through the art of deliberate practice, you can take increasingly better photographs.
Cultivate an Instinct for Capturing the Moment
Most family pictures fail the authenticity test. Smiles are disingenuous; postures stiff and formal; backgrounds contrived.
If you’re on a quest to capture your child’s story, you want to capture their delight when they experience something fascinating for the first time, like say watching the Panda from China or the tiger from Sumatra who has been loaned to your local zoo for the summer.
Your mission is to capture moments that matter. Shun amateur photography. Imagine yourself a seasoned photographer even if you can’t explain an F-stop.
What makes someone a crack photographer? It’s the same skill sets epitomized by big game hunters–stealth, speed, and a second-sense. Naturally, armed with just a camera, your intentions will be benign.
Take a Thematic Approach
While it’s possible for a picture to tell a thousand words, a series of thematic photographs can spell out a whole chapter.
For instance, suppose your family goes to Paris on a vacation. Your intention should not be to take a picture of the wonders of the Louvre but to capture your child’s expression as your family walks along the bank of the Seine and marvels at the archaeology and architecture. A single picture will not do justice, nor will random pictures, but pictures taken with a theme in mind will tell the story of your child’s visit to the grandest museum in the world.
Notice the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
In retrospect, the biggest gaps in your photo story, the missing chapters, will arise when you fail to appreciate the ordinary and only focus on peak experiences.
Think of how jaded you feel when watching a movie that only has closely-packed peak experiences. For instance, in a Sherlock Holmes movie, those quieter moments when the great detective puffs on his pipe with a faraway look in his eyes are as relevant to the ploy as his rapid-fire revelations to Dr. Watson on the clue that led to the murderer’s identity. So, take pictures of little events, too, like a day in the park enjoying the swing.
In conclusion, regardless of the age of your child, there is a story, and the older your child the more detailed and multi-layered it will be. Unfortunately, most of this fascinating story of childhood is something everyone will forget over the course of time. By early adulthood, much of it will be lost in the mists of yesteryear and by the time your child is an adult and settles down and has kids most of the details will be a blur. Like old wine, your photos will become more valuable with age.