Photographing Life Instead of Living: Knowing When to Put the Camera Down

With me being a child and family photographer, you would think that I must have a million photographs of birthdays, holidays, and other milestones.  But, I don't.  One of the hazards of being a photographer is photographing your life instead of living it.   You have to know when to put the camera down.  For me that means not taking a ton of photographs during family events.  You see, every time I put my camera to my eye I am immediately one step removed from the situation.  I am no longer invested so much in the moment as I am invested in making a beautiful photograph.  This is handy when I am photographing difficult situations, but the last thing I want is to let events with my family pass by without participating in them.  

The last thing I want is to let events with my family pass by without participating in them.

I just cannot turn the photographer off when I have a camera in my hands.  But, I don't think that you have to be a photographer to fall victim to the trap of documenting rather than living.  So, with Christmas close at hand, I thought it might be handy to give you a small list of strategies you can employ so that you can get some shots and still live your life. Here are three ideas:

  1. Set a time limit:  this is often what I do on holidays.  I simply place a temporal limit on my photography.  I tell myself I will shoot ten minutes, and I get what I get.  I till my husband about my time limit too (because someone needs to help pry the camera out of my hands).  And mostly I stick to it.  That way, I document a bit of the day, but I mostly just enjoy it.  That's what I did last year on Christmas morning.
  2. Take video:  Yeah, I know.  It isn't quite the same thing.  I don't love video like I love photos.  But sometimes it is nice to not deal with the camera at all.  For my son's second Christmas, we stuck a video camera on a tripod and just let it go.  And that was that.

  3. Tripod and remote:  I think this is the one I am going to use this year.  I haven't tried it yet, but I would simply plop the camera on a tripod, set my aperture to give me a nice wide focal plane, and hold on to a remote.  Then, I can push the button whenever I feel the need.

The fact is, you really don't need 75 or 100 photographs of your child opening gifts or eating cake.  You are never going to print them all (and as always, for me, that is the end goal).  You really just need a handful of shots to document the day.  For me, I'm pleased as punch with just a single fabulous photo.  You just need a reminder of what happened.  Don't fall into the trap of documenting your life instead of living it.