The advent of digital photography has sparked a creative revolution where women are creating works of art out of the simple desire to photograph their children in a meaningful way. For many of us, the love of photography is born out of a desire to document our children, from the first moments of life to the day they leave for college.
So, what’s next for the photographer mom? How can we continue our own creative growth as photographers when our children leave home?
Did you learn photography for your kids?
When we are beginning our photography journeys, our kids are our “why,” our reason for wanting to learn how to take better pictures. They are also our greatest source of joy and of pride, and we invest our whole hearts into raising them. It is no surprise that we want to photograph all of those fleeting moments. They are truly precious, as is the short span of time that is their childhood.
What starts innocently enough as wanting to document our fast-growing children can morph into an all-consuming obsession. It is so inspiring to see how photography has affected so many women. I see the most beautiful photographs of children made by hobbyists that I could only have dreamt of when my boys were little.
But we preach to our children to have diversity in their lives, to not obsess over the latest video game app or to try a variety of sports, and we should lead by example.
Children grow up.
At some point, even the most prolific photographer mom will find herself without her favorite subjects. They say life imitates art. The shift away from photographing our children is symbolic of our transitioning role as a mother.
Motherhood is the most important job in the world and so much of our self-worth and sense of identity comes from being mothers. When our children resist being in front of the camera, we feel like not only is the camera being pushed away, but we are too. There is a sense of rejection that we know is all part of a child’s growing need for autonomy.
Pay attention to your own interests and needs.
This transitional stage is a great time to reevaluate what photography means to us. I have heard women say that all they photograph is their children, but my fear for them is that once their children have had enough of being in front of the camera, they will put away their camera forever other than to take family pictures on special occasions. All of the time that we have invested into a creative pursuit is worth something and we need to find a new muse or two.
One of the hardest things for mothers to do is to put their needs ahead of their children. While I admittedly have done more than my fair share of the household management and parenting duties over the years, I have always thought it was important to have interests outside of my role as mom. Not only is having outside interests important for our own sense of self and well-being, it teaches our kids to pursue what makes them happy.
Look for other inspiration right now.
So where am I going with this? It’s important to circle back to the word “journey” in all of this. The paths we take as mothers and photographers cross for a period of time, but at some point, the paths will lead us in different directions. We will always be mothers, but our role will inevitably change as our children grow. The change will happen with our photography, but I encourage you to look for inspiration outside of your children sooner rather than later.
Introspection and self discovery can take your photography beyond photographing your own children. While creativity is intuitive for some people, I believe you have to create from a place in your soul, and I want you all to believe that your children don’t occupy that entire space. When you open your mind to the vast beauty in the world, you have exposed yourself to a myriad of photographic possibilities.
Use photography as a therapeutic tool.
My photography journey is probably quite different from yours. Although I have taken hundreds of photographs of my children – not thousands, as my boys were little before the digital era – when it came time to finally committing to learn how to work my camera and take good pictures, I needed to have a reason.
I guess my initial reason – my why – was to simply be able to take beautiful pictures, but without willing models to sit for me patiently while I learned, I would take pictures of anything and everything. I used mugs of steaming coffee to practice metering, depth of field and light; rain falling in puddles to practice the effects of shutter speed; and flowers in the garden to learn about composition.
One thing I discovered while doing this was that it felt very therapeutic. That time alone with my camera allowed me to reflect on what gave me pleasure at a time when my children were approaching adulthood. Slowing down to create is like mindful meditation, allowing you to let go of your worries and concerns and focus your attention on your subject. If I was worried about something, I could let go of that worry and be present.
This approach has helped me to ride the waves of creative highs and lows which I find closely parallel how I’m feeling in my personal life.
What else do you love?
So, what do you photograph if it isn’t your kids? I could list all the genres that I shoot from macro to street photography, but I think the process isn’t as simple as experimenting. Experimentation and trying new genres and techniques is so important, but I believe it’s more important for your growth as a person and as a photographer to take a more introspective approach.
We often lose sight of our personal identity when we get married and have kids. We are wives and mothers, but we are also individuals. We cannot forget who we are or what we cared about before meeting our partners and becoming a family unit. I encourage you to examine who you were before. What were your interests? What inspired you? How did you look at the world? Understanding what made you tick in the past can help you find yourself now. Also realize that you have grown and evolved in this chapter of your life and I’m sure you have new interests that can help you find your path.
Tap into your own emotions to create connection.
You have a deep and emotional bond with your loved ones, so it’s easy to photograph them and to feel a connection. If you tap into your emotions and experiences, you can translate that into your photography regardless of what you decide to photograph. When you are passionate about something, your viewers will know it and it will resonate with them.
Photography is a visual language and it’s your job as a photographer, whether you are capturing a joyful toddler or a somber street scene, to be able to communicate your story and vision. There will be times when you are so drawn to a scene that you feel compelled to photograph it. The light and shadow play on your kitchen counter, the beauty of the rain softly falling on the ground, or the joyful exuberance of a dog running through the grass. When you feel connected to a subject it’s worth exploring that connection through your lens.
It is a very emotional time transitioning out of an active role as mother. I personally have separation issues that make this especially challenging, but being able to look within myself and be able to connect with the world around me has helped me to find purpose beyond the bubble that was our family unit. I sincerely hope that your photography journey transitions with you. There is so much value in having a creative passion. Your voice needs to be heard.
5 Tips for continuing your photography journey after your kids are grown:
- Explore your other interests.
- Look for other inspiration sooner rather than later.
- Use photography as therapy.
- Remember what you loved before you had kids.
- Create connections with your own emotions.
Photos by Susan Watson Bahen