If you’re anything like me, you took a bazillion photographs of your children as babies and toddlers. And those super cute years when they lost their front teeth? Adorable! Later, when they are getting ready to graduate high-school and move on to higher learning, many of us mark the passing of time with senior photos. But what about the time in-between?
The years we have come to refer to as the ‘tween years are often under-represented in our family photo albums. Not least because our children have likely shut the doors to their rooms and held up in there for hours on end, coming out only to eat and moodily shrug answers to our ridiculous questions. (How was your day? Do you have any homework? Have you lost your voice?) They’re not exactly happy to have their photos taken or willing to invite you into their sanctuary. And, the way I understand the psychology of these years, that’s all okay. They’re supposed to be moving away from needing us to be their “everything”, and dipping their toes into the waters of independence. It’s not always pretty (mood swings much?) but it is all part of the slow march toward adulthood.
They’re such complicated beings that ‘tweens actually make wonderfully compelling and expressive subjects – if you can get them to oblige for a few minutes. Here are some things I’ve learned, both as the mother of a teenager (who came out the other side of the ‘tween years) and as a family photographer who has had the great privilege of photographing my fair share of these not-tiny/not-yet-full-grown humans.Allow them to be themselves. Asking a twelve year old girl to wear clothes or do her hair in some way that makes her uncomfortable isn’t going to end well. I promise. Ask your daughter to wear something that feels good to her. Or even better, don’t even mention clothing. Just let her know that you’d like access to her world for a few quick photos. Tell her she doesn’t even have to stop what she was doing. And then keep your word and only take a few.
Do it on her turf. The details of a young person’s room will tell the story of who they were at that point in time. Your inclination may be to straighten up, but one day you’ll look back at the things she hung on her wall, or the books and other personal items hastily stowed under her bed, and you’ll remember what she was like in that moment.
Ask questions. What is his favorite book? Place? Food? And then photograph him with it. Remember that details can often make or break a photograph. Sometimes it’s all about the expression on his face and other times he doesn’t even have to be facing the camera to have the photograph be poignant.
Try to remember what it felt like to be there. Uncomfortable in your own skin, and not particularly interested in anything other than whatever your friends are talking about. While respecting your subject’s feelings is always a crucial piece of the photographer/subject relationship, I suggest that it’s probably never as important as with this age group. Don’t ask for a smile. Sometimes he’ll feel like smiling and you’ll consider yourself lucky. Other times her serious gaze will tell the story even better.Lastly, don’t push. Set up a day/time if you have to (as opposed to just popping in to their room and saying “I’m going to take some photos now”). But if it’s not going well, don’t push. Back out of the room slowly and try again another time.