As a mama who said no to screentime of any sort for my baby, I was initially self-conscious about how it might look for me to take a lot of pictures with my phone. I wanted to be present in every moment rather than viewing my life through an electronic device and I certainly didn’t want my daughter Petra thinking of cell phones as the most important audience to engage with. So, it might seem incongruous that only did I end up taking (and still do take) a photo per day of my child since birth but that each one is posted on her own Instagram account, @petrascloset. And what’s more is that I think you, too, should be taking out that cell phone and snapping photos and video left and right. Let me tell you why.
“It goes so quickly,” people say about time and babydom, but nothing prepares you for the reality. I find it surreal to imagine the time Petra couldn’t talk or walk or eat real food… but now and then when I'm laying beside her, Petra's eyes closed but she's not quite asleep, I take out my phone, scroll back through my saved moments to a candid of her in my husband’s arms with her head being held for support, and I am transported back. There she is, looking at me just off camera, and the phone is not in the way. It’s an extra set of eyes that aren’t always perfectly focused or straight because I’m looking at Petra and not at the screen.
Petra’s Instagram focuses on what she’s wearing because I’m a stylist and thought it would be funny, but oh, how I’ve come to treasure seeing her in those tiny pieces of clothing she wore: some of it gifted, other pieces made by my grandma for me when I was a baby, and some bought on outings where Petra and I explored colour, pattern, and texture together. And now that Petra is involved in her own outfitting, I love to watch the evolution of her personal style—the very character she wants the world to see. Professional photography sessions are important to me for family pictures we might send to loved ones or hang on the wall, but no one could have captured Petra’s sense of self unfolding in the form of fashion but me.
Apart from my own desire to capture moments as time flies by, the pictures I post daily on Instagram also help my extended family to feel more connected with my daughter. Of course, Petra brings a lot of joy to her great-grandma in person but with classes and other commitments, she only ends up seeing her about once a week, so those photos keep Petra's little sun shining until the next visit. And although you may not want to post yours for the world to see, sharing Petra’s love for life that’s evident in her photos has been a rewarding experience for me as a mom, connecting me with far-away friends, other parents, and local businesses.
I've learned a lot along the way as to what makes a photo shine. Here are some tips to help you capture your children better using nothing more than your phone:
Use natural light, turning other lights and your flash off. North- or south-facing window light is ideal as indirect is best. Outdoors, the ambient light of sunrise and sunset is ideal and overcast wins over direct sun which is harsh and can wash out details.
Knowing the classic "rule of thirds" is helpful. Imagine a 9-square grid of 2 horizontal and 2 vertical lines. Then align your horizon line to a focal point like a horizon line or your kiddo's little face to the top line, and/or, especially in a landscape format, capture your subject along one of the two vertical lines. I find the rule of thirds especially helpful when you want to show a complete scene or as a guideline to where eyes should be placed within a frame.
Play with angles and framing, going wide so your child's small size is evident in a frame full or shooting close and centering them, letting your child feel like a commanding force. Unlike framing them to the side a la the example I used above for the rule of thirds which encompasses a whole scene, centering your child makes them the focus.
Get out and explore! Not only is it fun but you'll discover new backdrops and expressions. This peacock feather mural is near the Komodo Dragon exhibit at the Saskatoon Zoo in an area with many other fun photo ops my daughter loves. ;)
Let your child's style shine, adding layers, hats, or other pieces that add interest and make them feel extra special. If they want a magic wand or a necklace, let it happen!
Keep it real. That clutter and chaos is all part of your life with a child.
Get down to their level rather than tilting down, making the photo feel more personal since it captures your child's point of view.
Use burst mode for action shots. Without, jumping shots are pretty tough-- and if your child's like mine, they wanna jump!
Fake that DSLR look for stills. Your phone probably has something called Lens Blur, Selective Focus, or Portrait Mode that lets you focus on your subject while blurring the background. Try it out and trust me, you'll get better at using it! The Google Pixel is far and away the winner with this feature so if you're in the market for a new phone, heads up that they've got a new version coming out this year.
Edit in VSCO or Instagram, boosting brightness, upping the contrast a bit, and playing with warmth depending on lighting. To save an Instagram picture without posting it, set your Instagram photos to save to your device, send it directly to yourself and bam, it'll be in a folder for you.
Play rather than pose. Have fun with your child and the photos will let that happiness radiate. They don't need to say "cheese". When I say things like "I love you THIS much" and then stick out my tongue, Petra gives a big, natural grin and for her sweetest smile, I delight her by singing her favourite Disney song of the moment. For a more candid photo, I set the scene for fun and wait to catch a moment (this phone call from Nana made Petra light right up). Find what works for you and your kiddo!
And... get in those photos. Capturing all the little moments of exploration your child experiences is 100% worthwhile, but the ones your child will cherish most will have you in the photos with them. If no one is offering to take your picture, ASK. You deserve more than selfies, mama.