Thoughtful Thursday: Photographic Intention

March 29, 2012

Thoughtful ThursdayBased on a recent suggestion from Strongblonde in a comment on my post about blank pages in my mother’s photo album, today we’ll be thinking about photographic intention.

Why do you take the photos you do? What do you hope to get out of it?

Historically, a lot of my photographic intention was a combination of aesthetics and capturing moments. One big feature of my travel photography is that I take very few photos just of sights; I always work DH into the shot (or, I set up the shot for him and switch places, or I balance the camera on a post and set the timer).

A friend of mine couldn’t be more opposite. He has been everywhere (seriously, everywhere — 7 continents, and most of the countries on most of those continents). He takes brilliant photos wherever he goes. He will send me 400 photos (culled from several thousand) of a trip, and he will be in 3 of them. Instead, he takes not only the typical wide shots of monuments, but photos of those same monuments from unusual, artistic angles; detailed macros of architectural details; slice-of-life photos of locals. Once he and I went to a historical site; we each walked away with over a hundred of photos, with literally zero overlap in the shots we’d taken.

With Burrito and Tamale, my main goal is comprehensive documentation. That, and the hope of capturing their cuteness.

When they were infants, we went on a little boat ride with my friend and her kids. Burrito and Tamale were too little to know they were on a boat. My friend commented that her goal for the ride (and most activities) was her kids’ subjective experience, often leading her to end up with no photos, whereas my goal was clearly to end up with photos of the babies on the boat. It’s not that I ignore children’s experiences; it’s just that I also want to have a nearly exhaustive record of these years.

At this age, if I don’t take photos, it will exist only in my memory, since they won’t remember this age long-term. By documenting everything, they can relive their old experiences. Here’s one of your many hayrides last fall. Here you are on an airplane. Here you are with your cousin. Here you are with your late grandmother. Some photos help them prep for the next similar experience. Other photos document something that will never happen again in their lives — and the photo will be all they have.

What is your photographic intention?

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17 Responses to “Thoughtful Thursday: Photographic Intention”

  1. sarauckelman Says:

    I take photos in a couple of different ways.

    When I’m traveling, I take photos primarily of things — mostly architecture — either for aesthetic value or for snob value (“look at all the cool places I get to go see!”). When traveling with my husband, I like to get pictures that include him in action; neither of us are a big fan of posed pictures. I’ll also occasionally take a few self-portraits just to prove that I was there.

    With my daughter, I take pictures because she is so darned cute, because I want to capture as many “firsts” as I can, and because all of her family is an ocean away and they haunt her flickr site daily to see more pictures of her. (Even so, I post only a fraction of what I take!). I’ve also found, now that she’s in daycare, that I take some comfort in going to the site myself and seeing pictures of her throughout the day, and seeing the comments friends and family have posted on them (nothing like having other people tell you your baby is cute!).

    Since joining FB, I’ve noticed that my picture taking at group events has changed somewhat; I think more in terms of photos to post and to tag people in, knowing that I have some friends that are just as excited (narcissistic?) as I am to see photos of themselves that other people took.

  2. jjiraffe Says:

    Great question! For a while we were so overwhelmed it was hard to take good photos of the twins. Then we hired a fancy, expensive photographer and the photos are awful. I actually regret them: my kids look like blobs and my husband and I look really bloated and weird looking: like, no one looked like themselves. That sucked.

    Which leaves school photos and activity photos.

    I look at blogs like NieNie’s and wonder how on early she’s able to take such beautiful photos of her kids.

    Thanks for raising this question: it brings up this as an action item, which it needs to be.

  3. Sam Says:

    For me my intention depends on the situation.

    When I travel I take pictures of the landscape, buildings etc, but hardly ever take pics of myself in my surrounds. When it comes to K, cos I’m not sure if I’ll ever have this experiece again, I just want to document his cuteness and his “time of life” to the maximum so that I can remember what he and I was like as his mother in this point of time.

    I’m a big photo taker – but am much more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it.

    xxx

  4. St. Elsewhere Says:

    Having records for memory! Documentation, as you have declared.

    I am not a photographer for photography’s sake. I have a pretty Plain Jane Camera that I use to capture moments, people, scenes.

    While travelling or on a vacation, the aim is to take photographs that can keep the whole trip alive for us.

    When spending time with family, especially around the holidays, the purpose is to capture the scenes of togetherness, take family pics, that sort of thing.

    Photographs are powerful keepsakes – the limited pics of CBub.

    For/With F, I want to record as much as I can about her through my pictures.

    And I love going through old pictures, albums and all that…I have to keep feeding that passion too. :-)

  5. Mel Says:

    I take photos for the same reason I construct to-do lists: I generally remember everything on my list anyway without writing it down, but writing it down is the net below the experience. So are photos. They’re the just-in-case-I-don’t-remember-this-one-day item.

    But also to be able to show other people what we have experienced. I take a lot of photos of the twins because they won’t remember how they looked at various ages. And to send the pictures along to other people who want to see how they’re aging.

  6. a Says:

    I usually take photos because I find something entertaining or beautiful. My daughter is both, to me, so I have a ton of photos of her. I like to document experiences too, but if there’s nothing that strikes me, I don’t take photos.

    I also use photos to keep my husband up on what’s going on around our house when he’s away at work. Or if (for some weird reason) I’m away. I send him pictures of people I’m having lunch with or what I’m eating or what crazy outfit our daughter has picked.

    I don’t like to be in photos at all, though.

  7. strongblonde Says:

    :) B used to drive me crazy because he would take a million pictures with no one in them. A few landscapes/mountains/monuments/whatever? Fine. But I like having some context for the photos. By having someone IN them, it helps frame them later when we’re trying to figure out when/where/point in our life, etc. Oh, I had short hair? This was obviously taken my 3rd year in undergrad! As a parent, I want to take a lot of pictures to be able to document what daily life looked like for the kids, people and places they were able to experience, significant life events, and also to try to capture their budding personality and relationship. Not every photo is pretty. But it is meaningful. Sometimes it is hard to remember to get the camera out, but I try to take pictures every week. I also try to avoid pictures on my phone if I can help it. Those always just seem to stay there and never end up anywhere that can be backed up or kept forever.

    And OMG I bet I would be a MUCH different photographer if I had to do this all on film!! The digital age is so nice! I love being able to delete pictures that a blurry/bad/not right.

    I’ve also created hard photo books for each year that the kids have been alive. I try to chose several representative photos of each month of M and T and I get a book for us and the grandparents.

  8. Esperanza Says:

    I take photos for two reasons. One is to document an event of the different stages of my life (and now my daughter’s life). If I go somewhere and don’t have my camera I go crazy (of course now I always have my phone so I’m always set, which is AWESOME!) I also just take pictures to capture beautiful things. I’m actually starting a new blog dedicated much more to photography. I got a new macro lens and am having way too much fun with it. ;)

  9. Ana Says:

    Mostly for memories/documenation. I love looking at artistic photography but I’ve got no talent in that department so I don’t even bother.
    I have been terrible recently with photographing my toddler (he never sits still so all the photos are so so blurry) & tend to take more of the baby…I’ve been taking tons of videos of the 2 year old on my phone because he is talking up a storm and a lot of it is hilarious, I want to document every song he sings & joke he tells…
    I am also not good at DOING anything with all the digital photographs I have. I need to take a week off to sit down, go through them, archive them appropriately & print out a ton. Then put in albums or frames. Yup. Atleast a week. Or two.


  10. My husband takes the kind of photos your friend does. Plus gorgeous ones of our sons. I hardly taken any photos, mainly because I can’t compete with DH. I do take a bit more with my phone though, sometimes it even results in a good photo! But it’s stupid, because I should make photos of DH with the kids…

    I guess my photographic intention is mainly documentation – and sharing with family. Just a few days ago I was looking at photos of my toddler from when he was just a few months old, and I had to admit that I didn’t remember he looked like that, so I was glad we have those photos, and of him with my mom, even when she was sick. Those are special.

  11. clumsykisses Says:

    I take both types – for the record and for the enjoyment of taking photos

  12. Lavender Luz Says:

    I wonder how many of these Thoughtful Thursdays I begin with, “I am like you”?

    I am a documentarian. Primarily with words (both of my kids have a journal that I’ve written in each day of their lives) but also with images. I love to take beautiful travel photos but now that we have kids I also love to take memory photos.

    I’m glad you’ll be able to show the babies pix of them with their grandmother. And that’s not just the documentarian in me speaking.

  13. babysmiling Says:

    Don’t let that experience deter you. There are professional photographers out there that will make you all look great. It also doesn’t have to be crazy expensive. The one we had for the 2-year portraits charged a $100 sitting fee (and ended coming back again as part of the same fee since we didn’t get any good shots of the twins together the first time) and it would have been $20 for digital rights to each photo we wanted but I wanted so many that she did a $300 flat fee, so $400 total. The previous photographer (maternity, newborn, 1 month, and 1 year) was also in that ballpark, $350 for sitting and full-res digital copies of all of the photo.

    While searching for photographers I’ve seen lots of awful shots, though — and it’s even more telling when the photographer chooses a yucky shot to put into their portfolio! If they think that’s some of their best work, they really have no eye (or they’ve never taken a shot worth keeping!). Another deal-breaker: I vastly prefer to have the photos done at my house rather than a studio, though maybe your twins are old enough or have a different enough temperament from mine that they can look comfortable in unfamiliar settings. As with anything, there are good ones and bad ones and it requires either legwork or wise referrals to get a good one.

    I try really hard to take good photos myself and spend a lot of effort and time (looking at the folders for recent months: I took 490 in Feb, 712 Jan, 439 Dec, 529 Nov, 948 Oct, and so on, all not counting the videos), but there’s no substitute for good professional portraits. For starters, it’s almost impossible to get shots of the 4 of us without a photographer. A really good camera and knowledge of lighting makes more difference than you can imagine, too. My rationale for spending the money is that they will never be this age again, so it’s now or never.

    For photos you take, the biggest key is taking tons of shots. Typically on an average day I’ll take 5-10 of each shot (so today at the playground, 5 of my son coming down the slide, 8 of my daughter on the swing, etc.). Sometimes, it takes more: I think my record was for their first Rosh Hashanah at 11 months old, I took 134 shots in 2 sittings to end up with 3 keepers.

  14. emk808 Says:

    I usually take photos so I can have a lasting, photographic memory of something that happened. Sometimes it’s because my kids are doing something incredibly funny and other times it’s a special occasion, like when family comes to visit.

  15. emk808 Says:

    (This is Elana from Elana’s Musings…)

  16. Tara (TIMO) Says:

    I have a terrible memory so I take pictures for documentation and memory keeping mostly. We just got back from a trip to Washington DC and the photos are ~75% the boys with a famous landmark and ~25% just the landmark itself. We have no photos of people that do not include Alex and Benjamin, so none of just Nav and I. They are our focus for pictures because they won’t necessarily remember their adventures at such a young age. Though that’s starting to change and they do recall our trip to NYC almost 6-months ago without looking at pictures.

    With all of our family and friends being so far away, the photos are also to share with them how Alex and Benjamin are growing and changing and what their interests are. Benjamin wearing his Thomas the Tank Engine shirt 3-days in a row, yup! because that’s what he loves at age 2. We also do yearly photobooks so we have something to look back on in one place. The boys love looking at their books.


  17. My own photographic intentions stem purely from wanting to pass the photo on to someone else — usually a family member or a close friend. I usually take them and text them in the same few motions. Every so once in a while, I take one to illustrate a blog. When I upload them to a hard drive, I have to remind myself to leave a few on the phone to show people if they ask.

    However, I often ask my husband to take nice photos with his superior eye and camera to document certain events and occasions. If it’s important enough to document, then it’s important enough to ask the photographer to handle it with the “good camera.”

    Lately, I’ve really enjoyed putting stuff in our flickr account, which is connected to our TV screensaver. Our daughter can look at pictures of not only her earlier years, but also pics from my mother’s early year and my own younger years. It’s like a history stream. Last month my cousin and uncle came to visit with her kids, and my 60+ uncle got such a hoot from seeing a picture of him and his sisters at his high school graduation. He made a big deal of pointing it out to his own grandkids. He had forgotten all about that picture and in a way we gave it back to him. It made me realize how important it is to not just document memories but also find ways to stream them.


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