Where were you? Tips For Self Portraits with Your Children

When I first began to travel on my photography journey, I was fueled initially by my desire to take better pictures, especially of my children.  I didn't want to miss a thing but what I quickly found, I was missing a lot of things!  In the beginning I was missing focus, lighting opportunities, creativity...the list goes on.  There were seasons where I struggled with all I didn't know but with time and the mentoring of some amazing and encouraging photographers, I began to see it all as an incredible journey, one that for me personally, often reflected my motherhood journey.  As I've grown I've become more confident and peaceful.  I accept that I am learning, that mistakes will happen, and that with failure, often comes thriving.  

Mother cradeling baby by the window.  Getting into the frame with your children.

Some point along my journey I began to use Instagram as a source of inspiration and a place to share my own work.  Scrolling through photographer feeds and motherhood hubs I began to notice how many mamas were getting in the image with their babes.  I adored these images and frankly was a bit jealous of their talent and ability to capture such raw moments themselves!  How???  I so longed to be seen by my children through images as they grew into adulthood.  I also wanted to find ways to capture how I felt, to have something tangible to look back on that would evoke the emotions of my heart.  I wanted images that I could FEEL.   Again, several photographers with strong hearts for community, answered my questions and encouraged my attempts to get in the frame.  

Mother and children laughing and playing in bed.  Getting into the frame with your children.

I continue to be inspired by amazing photographers, most more talented and creative than myself.  Their ability to continue to produce incredible work is awe inspiring but what has most touched me is their willingness to teach and pass along their knowledge.  So whether a photographer, hobbyist, or a mama with a dslr who desperately wants to be on the other side of the camera with her child, here are some tips that have helped me along the way.  

(these tips are written with knowledge of shooting manual or at least not on auto mode in mind)

Self Portrait of a Mother and children playing in bed.   Getting into the frame with your children.

Motherhood Self Portrait Tips

  • The self timer or wireless remote are your friends!  I have a remote but honestly I'm ALWAYS losing it so I most often just use my camera's self timer mode. 
  • Find the light.  This took me such a long time to learn but knowing and understanding light is crucial to photography.  When I first started trying self portraits with my children I was so frustrated with my struggle to obtain images that were in focus.  I quickly learned that I wasn't setting myself up for success based on the lighting situations I was choosing.  I love moody lighting but have found that the focus in my images vastly improves when I either have nice even lighting or a strong, direct light source.  
  • Use a tripod.  The tripod is my friend, I love my tripod!  However, if you're serious about photography, invest in a heavy duty one!  I picked up a cheap, $30 dollar tripod and while it has served its purpose, it's flimsy and struggles to support the weight of my camera and lenses when tilted down.  My camera currently has a giant hole in the top of it due to a tripod disaster!
  • Letting go of focus. Yes the goal is to have in focus images but sometimes rules are meant to be broken and achieving tack sharp images all the time can be maddening.  Often times my favorite images are soft and sometimes even a bit blurry.  For me it's about how the image makes me feel, not all about how technically correct it is.  The one tip that has helped me the most in achieving focus is by standing where I want us, the subjects to be.  I then take my camera and focus on my tripod.  As long as you keep the distance between where you focused your camera and the tripod the same, your images should mostly be in focus.  Learning this was life changing for me!
  • Have fun and bribing your children is okay!  I try to use opportunities that are already part of our routines or play for self portraits.  This helps to create more natural emotions so it doesn't feel as stiff or contrived.  
Self portrait of a Baby hugging her mama.  Getting into the frame with your children. 
Self portrait of a Baby hugging her mama.  Tips for getting in the frame with your children.

Above all else, get in the frame and try it!  If you're on instagram, tag me in your images, I want to see them!  

Motherhood, The Buzz Word and the State of Mind it Brings

It's kind of the "in" thing right now isn't it?  This word Motherhood.  There are so many articles, blog posts, tweets, snapchats, ig stories and such about what motherhood is, what it isn't, what it should be, how to be a mother...The list goes on.  I've read so much the past couple of years that has resonated deep within my soul, the kind of stuff that when you read it, you think "Yes, yes YES!  This person has spoken what my heart feels and head thinks."  And I've read things that bring up such guilt and feelings of worthlessness brought on by my own insecurities and comparison tendencies that I tread feelings of hopelessness in how my children will ever grow up to be the kind, compassionate and loving people I pray they will be.  

Motherhood, the buzz word.  Photography that tells your story. 

But in times of greater clarity I'm able to pause, and put aside the noise that cloaks me and listen to their noise.  The tears cry loud and the joy abounds with energy.  We are living a life now, daily our story is unfolding.  Perhaps on the hard days I will be a better mother tomorrow or next week, but I am their mother today.  I am the one they need and they are the ones I need.  In the moment the words are sometimes more harsh than I wish, the patience short, and the energy to do it all waning.  Guilt is the quick follower, whispering its lies and deceit.  The irony of ironies is that it is the dark that brings most of my clarity.  When the light fades and the casted shadows grow long, I am most often reminded of grace and forgiveness.  Perhaps it is the time to ponder and reflect or perhaps it is as a good friend said recently to describe my work, "You use dark to highlight light and soft and gentle things..."  Maybe it is that at the end of the day, the intersection of light and dark, that the soft and gentle things are made known and seen.  I can leave the day behind knowing that I mothered, I was there, I rose and I fell, I angered and I forgave, and above all we journeyed and learned together.  Isn't that what motherhood is about?   The journey and the story you are creating for your family?  As I think about 2017 and what I hope and desire it to hold, I dream about photographing mothers.  From swollen bellies to nurseries filled, to arms filled and arms letting go, you journeyed, you showed up each day and you loved.  And at the intersection of light and dark you learned together.  

A Denver Newborn Hospital Session

Hands down, of all the session types, newborns are my fav.  It's really no secret.  If you need further proof just check out my instagram, www.instagram.com/amymelissaphoto and you'll see my obsession with teeny tiny feet.  Gimmee all the heart eye emojis because in my mind there is nothing better to shoot than the newest of babes.  This Denver hospital session is an oldie but a goodie.  This mama is a dear friend of mine and having someone to walk the hard and joyous journey of motherhood has done more for my soul than I'm able to find words to say.  Motherhood is a place of juxtaposition, beautiful but hard, tiring but life giving, lonely but never alone, refining but blessed.