Capturing Kids Creatively
Photographer Tammy Howell likes to capture students such as Gabe Lawrence, pictured here,
in photos themed after the activities they enjoy.
Parenthood’s days are long, but its years are short. These days, both seem shorter than ever. Today’s families juggle so much that weeks — even years — can slip past in a blur of playdates, soccer games, and school events, says Family Coach Susan Smith Kuczmarski, author of Becoming a Happy Family. With our brains in a near-constant state of information overload, sweet moments you want to remember — kids running down the stairs on Christmas morning, a child’s pride after a stellar piano recital — can quickly become buried in a landslide of emails, updates, and social media posts.
We can’t stop time, of course. But modern parents can be intentional about creating and preserving family memories, not only for themselves, but for their children, even future grandchildren. Make capturing memories part of your everyday routine, and your future self will thank you.
EARLY YEARS 0-5
Long-term memory of events and scenes develops later in childhood, around age 7 or beyond, according to researchers from Emory University. While babies are building those brain cells, help build a stockpile of treasured memories — one that won’t get lost in your social media photo feed. To capture the remarkable growth in the early weeks of life, try taking a photo in the same spot each day for a month, then creating a collage or video with your phone’s editing software.
Or consider giving your phone camera a break and hiring a pro. Unlike phone photos, professional photographs come to you edited, perfected, and ready to save or share, no additional work required. Since newborn babies change so quickly, capturing the itty-bitty stage means scheduling photos in the first two weeks of life. That means the best time to schedule a photo session is during pregnancy, says Becca Robinson, a newborn and family photographer in Raleigh, North Carolina. But if you never got around to scheduling, check with local photographers for last-minute availability. Most newborn photographers love brand-new babies (no big surprise!) and will often try to fit yours in.
When Mallory Cheng (5) was a toddler, her aggressive way of eating became a source of amusement for her parents, Kerri and Eric. “We thought it was just a phase, but when it continued on, we decided to start documenting it,” Kerri says. Knowing that relatives are often inundated with family photos, the Chengs opted to create a “Mallory Eats” calendar, which highlights the best (and funniest) photos each year. “At first we just did it for family, but it’s so entertaining that now we are getting requests from others!” Photo coordination and captions by Bobbe Crouch. Photo by Kerri Richardson-Cheng.
ELEMENTARY YEARS 6-12
Photos aren’t the only meaningful mementos from childhood. Letters, cards, and school assignments can help capture kids’ written words, providing a treasured window into their developing personalities. Hand-written letters are trending as families rediscover written letters to stay connected.
Favorite characters or fictional icons make great pen pals, too. Asking kids to post letters to fabled characters like the Tooth Fairy or Santa — which caregivers can then spirit away for storage — captures kids’ earliest wishes and wonderings on paper. And encouraging a habit of regular journaling, whether in a spiral-bound sketch pad or a locked diary, helps kids learn to preserve their own memories for their own enjoyment and recollection. Setting aside around 15 minutes a few times each week for “reflections” lets kids preserve the small daily moments from their own unique perspective.
Jaime Brown of J.A. Brown Studios in Simpsonville, Kentucky, says, “A project such as a family session is always a collaboration between photographer and client. In this case, Esther Foster wanted something new, so she made all three of her girls these adorable white outfits. After we talked about location ideas, we made it come to life. I think the biggest tip I can give when wanting creative photos is communication. Be thorough in communicating your ideas and your vision with your photographer.”
TEEN YEARS 13-18
Your teen’s phone is probably full of selfies, but what about keepsakes of a more artistic variety? Teens’ budding sense of self-expression can fuel a surge of creativity that begs to be captured in the form of tangible artwork. Spend an hour or two at a local pottery painting store creating colorful, useful pieces you’ll keep for years. Or pick up a large blank canvas or two along with inexpensive acrylic paint and brushes at a local art supply store and ask your teen to create some new artwork for the family room or dining room.
For family fun with beautiful (or at least, amusing) results, give the popular “paint and sip” parties a family-style makeover: appoint the most creative family member as the instructor, tasked with leading the rest of the family in creating individual masterpieces step-by-step while “sipping” hot chocolate or cider. Soak in the memories as the creativity flows — and snap a few photos for posterity.
Tammy Howell of Tammy Howell Seniors offers a package called “Rep Team,” where she provides multiple photo sessions and themes throughout a student’s senior year.“This gives a really nice cross reference of the entire senior year,” Tammy says. “I incorporate more traditional photos in addition to the aspirations and activities the student wants to focus on.”
For his senior session, Noah Ruzanka wanted to showcase his personality through a unique skill not many have seen or share. He lake surfs. “For this photo, we went out to the lake and I photographed him from the boat,” says Photographer Tammy Howell. “Having him wear the suit added yet another creative element!”
Malia Jacobson is a health and parenting journalist and mom of three.