10 Tips for Documenting Your Life in Pictures

Photographs are some of our most precious possessions.  If our house were to catch fire, the first thing I would be concerned about saving (besides my family, of course) would be our pictures. They are all precious reminders of the blessed lives we have lived.

Seeing that photographs are so important, we should work to be the best photographers we can be. I can't teach you a thing about lighting or making technical adjustments on your camera, but I would like to challenge you to think about the subjects of your photographs.

As we go through life snapping pictures here and there, we do not always realize the overall effect. What we are actually doing is recording history--a history we may want to relive through pictures some day or a history we may want to hand down to future generations. There are sometimes too many pictures of people who were not a big part of our lives and too few pictures of those who were.   I'm talking about documenting someone's life rather than just recording what someone looks like. With a little thought, we can record a more accurate version of history that will be greatly appreciated many years from now.

Here are some suggestions for recording your life in pictures.

1. Do not make your subjects look into the sun.
I realize you need light on their faces, but it is very difficult to hold your eyes open while looking directly into the sun. They end up looking like chipmunks. I have a picture of our extended family looking into the sun on my wedding day--a whole family of well-dressed chipmunks.

2. Be sure everyone gets documented at a gathering.
Have you ever seen pictures from a party and realized there were no pictures of so-and-so?  They managed to purposely or accidentally get out of the shot every time.  If they were there, it should show in the pictures. There is usually a family member who is very good about taking pictures.  Unfortunately, there are usually very few pictures of that person who is always behind the camera. It would be tragically ironic if the very one so astute about recording others' happy moments did not have his own happy moments recorded.

3. Take pictures of people doing their thing.
It seems only right to have a picture of someone doing their signature thing. Can brother stand on his head? Better document that. Grandma spent countless hours ironing for the family? Need a picture of that. Dad loved his car. Get his picture with it. Gramps had a little dog that he loved? Be sure to get their picture together.  I have a picture of my Daddy laughing.  When he would get tickled (as we say in the South) he would laugh so hard that he had to bend down to catch his breath.  I can hear him laughing when I see that picture.  It's only a memory now.  Memories are strengthened when you have a picture of them. 

4. Be sure to photograph the important elements of your life.
You should have a picture of every house where you lived, every church where you were a member, every pet you had, your favorite teachers, every car you owned, and every place you worked. Before my parents moved out of the house where I grew up, I went around and photographed every room.  I wanted to be able to see those familiar places and be able to go back in my mind to those days. There is value in photographing empty rooms.  One day you may want to show your daughter the wallpaper you and your mother put up in your room or to show that you had that cedar chest when you were her age.

5. On trips, take pictures of people, not just things.
I have seen pictures from vacations that had no people in them. I'm sure there are identical photo albums in homes all over the country of prominent monuments. I could have pulled up stock images of the monuments and architecture but what made it a special trip was the people who were there. 

6. Don't be silly in every picture.
Yes, it is fun to be the drama queen, but you need some pictures that are just of you looking like you look. Plus, you wouldn't want history to record the impression that you did not know how to be serious.

7. Be sure to get Mom's picture when she looks nice.
Especially when the children are little, the camera seems to come out when Mom is not prepared to be photographed. I have pictures of me holding sick babies in my pajamas, breakfast in bed on Mother's Day, and looking like a drowned rat at the lake. Take it upon yourself to snap a picture of your family members right after they get dressed, while they are fresh and put together. You will be Mom's favorite.

8. Capture sweet moments.
This needs to happen when your subjects do not realize they are being photographed. Don't get their attention and ask them to look at you. Capture life as it happens. Now that I am old enough to look back to long ago, I realize how very special those pictures are that captured everyday moments of our lives.  Yes, I love all the selfies and the formal family portraits, the school pictures and the smile-for-the-camera shots; but I really enjoy those that let me relive things that happened in our lives and to see people interacting with each other.

"I'm proud of you."

If I had said, "Hey, Guys, look at me and smile," these moments would have been lost forever.

9. Be sensitive to some people's self-consciousness.
Some people never show their teeth when they smile for pictures.  Those people tend to cover their mouths when they laugh, too.  There can also be a coming-to-terms with reality for people as they age or gain weight.  For someone to photograph what you look like means coming face to face with the truth. Facing a camera means facing reality when we imagine our 18-year-old selves and then see the 48-year-old truth.  For me, taking a selfie is not an act of pride but of humility. It says, "This is the current me. It is what it is" but that's the beauty of every age: accepting where you are in life. There are people with scars, a lazy eye, a bald spot, a hearing aid--things they do not want showcased.  All that to say that not everyone is happy about having his picture made.  It needs to happen occasionally to record history but remember that some may have issues that may need some compassion on the part of the photographer.

10. Gussy up your subjects before taking the picture.
We have had our family picture made years ago by several professional photographers who snapped the pictures without telling us what to do. Our positioning was out of balance, my son was in the process of putting his hand in his pocket, I had to ask what to do with my hands. It seems to me that, if they wanted me to buy the picture, they would see to it that it looked good.  Be sure the lady's necklace is centered, there's not a lock of hair hanging on a forehead, that his collar is not tucked in on one side, and that everyone is looking at the same spot.  Whatever is obviously out of place will be the place the eye goes first.  With all the work it takes to schedule and prepare for formal portraits, it does not make sense to be haphazard with the details when it is time to take the picture.

In this digital age, we have a lot more pictures than anyone in the past. Selfies are great but let's be sure to capture moments. We can forget what happy lives we have lived unless we record them. The joy those pictures will bring in our old age will be immeasurable.