Photo Tips

how to stay present
while taking photos

By: Katie Day

Hi, friends! Katie Day (@ohkatieday) here. As we enter the holidays, there are two thoughts on my mind.

  1. Holidays!!!
  2. And—How do I get ALL the photos I want without torturing my family?

I constantly find myself torn between two opposing thoughts: “This moment feels so precious that I want to remember it forever and share it with everyone I know!” And “I feel so much pressure to capture this precious moment that I… just… kind of… ruined it for myself.”

Was I actually in the moment if I was clutching my iPhone worried that the battery was looking a little low, thinking about the angle, or if the lighting was good? And worse, did I steal the moment from my family? Is Nora gonna remember building the sandcastle, or is she gonna remember me yelling “Nora!! Show me the sandcastle! Look at mommy! NORA!! LOOK! SMILE!!!!”

The struggle is real: Can we actually capture our lives and still be present in the moment we’re capturing? After much thought—YES, I think we can. And here are some quick tips.


Take the pressure off

Let’s begin by reframing our mindset. Do I actually need to record every single thing? Is this personal moment being used for a magazine editorial? For most of us… probably not. Remember when your grandparents ended up with one photo album of their ENTIRE life? Every photo in it feels special. Now we fire off 40 only-slightly-different-photos of our kid and some of us do that almost every day. Take a deep breath, and trust that you’re going to remember your life. You will.


Consider the final use of the photos

Where will I use these photos? To post on social media? To print and show the kids 20 years from now? Do I need a set of 60 photos for them to remember it well, or can it be less? Make it a photo-challenge. Can I capture Christmas in 4 meaningful photos? Example:
1. A group shot.
2. Mom’s gorgeous elaborate crisscrossed pie crust.
3. The kids wide-eyed while holding the Christmas Eve service candles.
4. Their reaction to the big gift. (Not every gift. The big one. Wait for it.)

That one photo will mean more to you than going through your iPhone of 600 other just-OK ones. Less really is more in this case. And to think you could spend 20 hours at family Christmases, and only spend 4 minutes of it with a phone in your hand!


Don’t pose them! (OK, fine. You get one!)

You get one posed photo that you make people stop for. I get it. You went to the trouble to get the clothes. You’d love one posed photo where everyone is looking and smiling at you. Or say it’s a date night! You’d love a photo where you and your boo are both in it together staring at the camera. Great. Get it right at the beginning where everyone is still clean and the festivities haven’t really started yet. Then be done with that.


Become a Photojournalist

There’s no need for you to stop or direct anyone’s actions the rest of the time. (Read: the rest of the holidays. The rest of the entire vacation!) You don’t need a posed photo every day of a 7-day trip. Or at every new tourist spot. I’m talking one posed photo. Total. Because you aren’t gonna use 47 posed photos. The point here is to document what’s actually happening. Is great grandma teaching your daughter how to make her famous peanut butter balls? Capture that, of course! But do you really need them to be looking at the camera for that photo to be precious to you? I might even argue it’s more precious to capture them in the wild.


Try a DSLR on an ordinary day

There is something about shooting with my big camera that I actually believe has the power to make me more present. (Woah. Hot Take! How Controversial!) One of my favorite times of day is when my kids get off of the school bus and we take a minute to have hot cocoa and do homework and talk about their day. If I decide to photograph that moment, I can actually feel “my eyes turning on”. I can “see” them in such detail. When did Sadie’s eyelashes get so long? Look at the way she looks up to her big siblings! And a bonus: The lens quite literally blurs the background. It blurs away the pile of laundry I haven’t put away. I literally can’t see that as clearly as my kids in that moment, so I am being forced into a state of presence.

Challenge: Pick an ordinary, no-pressure moment, and elevate it to art!

You might find that you cherish these photos later more than any forced, posed, over-hyped holiday or vacation photo. And it will help you to learn your camera better so that during your special moments you’re not worried about camera mechanics, you’re thinking about the moment at hand. (And if you want to make those moments even more artful, play around with the 700+ filters available in A Color Story).

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