“There is only one sun. We can’t all claim to only have one way to use the light, but we can REDEFINE how we choose to express it. ”
Why are you passionate about this topic?
That’s an easy one – because I have so many of them (teenagers, I mean). Honestly, there’s such a negative connotation associated with having teenagers, but I think they’re great! I’ll never forget a conversation I had with an older friend back when my kids were all still very young and her kids were grown and gone. She told me how much she had loved when her kids were teenagers and she reflected on the many benefits of having older kids. I made a conscious decision at the time to reject the idea that having teenagers would be terrible. Instead, we’ve tried to raise them with the expectation that adolescence was something to look forward to – hoping we could learn to embrace this stage of life. Now with a house full of teenagers, I can honestly say I love it! A consequence for my photography has been that I have developed a passion for trying to capture the essence of their teenager-hood and to truly portray the spirit that drives them.
When did you first learn this technique? Or, when did you first realize you liked this topic?
It has been a natural progression as my photography has grown and matured right along with my kids. We photograph what we love right? For me, that’s especially true with my kids – who just so happen to be teenagers. Photographing them has become something I appreciate more and more as my time with them becomes increasingly limited.
What are the tips you would share with anyone trying to achieve this technique?
First, I would eco the wisdom of my friend and say teenagers are great! There are many benefits to photographing older kids (i.e. slower subjects = easier focus, lots of activities = interesting photo ops etc.). Capitalize on that! You can avoid a lot of contention simply by trying to keep a positive attitude and by sharing with them how much you enjoy their teenage-ness.
Second, let your photography evolve with your kids. When I first developed an understanding of the technical side of photography, my artistic instincts flew out the window. I tried to create pictures of what I thought would look best and my images always fell short of what I had envisioned. Over the years, I have learned to stop forcing my ideas about what photographing my teens should be and instead tried to “listen” to what it IS. It wasn’t until I let go of trying to achieve perfection and began photographing my kids authentically that my photography became beautiful to me. I started to see THEM in the pictures I was taking. Of course, we all want our photography to be worthy of a gallery exhibit – to capture images that will resonate with a larger audience, but we should never lose sight of the reason we take pictures and whom we take them for.
Third, appreciate WHO they are. I have six kids and that means six distinctly different personalities and six different approaches to photographing them. For example, I have a daughter who is quiet and more introverted. I have found photographing her from a distance and including more of the environment or using a telephoto lens is the best way to capture her naturally. The pictures that really capture her essence are usually those I take of her engaged in some quiet activity or those when she is not camera-aware. By contrast, another daughter is somewhat extroverted and more spirited. She usually loves to have her picture taken and is willing to let me photograph her without worrying about how she looks. I can get natural expressions from her when she is camera-aware and even when she is looking directly at the camera. Neither of these approaches is necessarily better then the other except when used as a means of capturing the essence of each daughter. In addition adolescence brings with it a lot of change so a once awkward and self-conscious 14-year-old can become a confident 17-year-old. Photographing them at 16 is often completely different than when they were 13.
Fourth, let them take the lead. As with most things, teenagers are more willing to be photographed if you allow them to have some control. Letting go of the urge to direct them allows them to feel like they are part of the process and they will value your art more as a result. By listening to their ideas and respecting their boundaries I have established trust with my kids. They know I won’t compromise their wishes when it comes to how I photograph them and how I share the pictures I take. As a result they are more cooperative when I pull out my camera and they’re more willing to participate with my ideas. Teenagers are also full of their own ideas and their creativity leads to photographs I would have never thought of taking.
Finally, as Brazilian author Paulo Coelho has written, “The two hardest tests on the spiritual road are the patience to wait for the right moment and the courage not to be disappointed with what we encounter.” Like most things in life, patience in photography is a virtue – especially when it comes to photographing teenagers. We must be observant and patiently wait as moments unfold – allowing our teens to feel comfortable and valued for who they are. We need to have patience when they simply aren’t feeling up to being photographed or when their expression and/or behavior aren’t what we had hoped. Some of my favorite photographs are those of my kids when they weren’t doing or acting the way I wanted. I remember feeling frustration at the time, but looking back I so appreciate the authentic memory I captured – even in a simple portrait. It’s an almost tangible reminder of their sometimes-bumpy and colorful road to adulthood.
What were the challenges for you in the beginning?
Honestly, one of the biggest challenges for me was not getting discouraged that my kids were older once I became serious about photography. It took me a while to let go of the fact that I had missed capturing so many fun and playful moments of their childhood in an artistic way and welcome the time I still had left to photograph them.
About the photographer:
Piper is a lifestyle & documentary photographer recently relocated from Colorado to the Katy, Texas area. She is lucky enough to be called mom by 6 pretty fantastic kids and they are the chief inspiration behind her passion for photography. Her goal is to capture authentic connections and document everyday moments in a beautiful, honest & artistic way.