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Photographing Your Family, Part 1: Why Take Pictures?

Published on: December 30, 2013

Editor's note: When we noticed that our editorial intern, Rory Graves, had posted a terrific series on photographing your family by photographer Kim Barlow, we asked Rory and Kim if we could post it for our readers, too. This is the first installment. See also Part 2, on composition.

I’m Kim Barlow and I take pictures. I’m married and I have three children ages 19, 17 and 9. I have loved almost every minute of raising these wonderful people. They have inspired my photography but they are only part of that journey.

When I was a little girl, we would go visit my grandmother who lived half an hour away in Santa Barbara. I loved going to visit her. She always had candy and her cookie jar was always full.  (I so wish I had pictures of the candy dish and the cookie jar.) We would walk to parks and beaches, museums and missions. Grandma's house was a magical place. From time to time, we would be in between activities, and I loved to look through her photo albums. Each of her children's family had an album. Some families albums were full, others not so much. My family's album was of the less-full variety. At the time, I didn't realize that she had fewer pictures of us because my parents didn't send her any. I thought it was because she didn't love our family as much.

As I got older, my mother and I didn't get along. I don’t remember too much except for my dislike of her. You may, at this point, be wondering what kind of person I am, or what kind of person my mother is. My mother is wonderful. I just wasn't able to see that until later.  I did grow up. I got married and started a life with my husband. We had a few kids and moved from Provo, Utah to Seattle, Washington. Jeff, my husband, moved to Seattle first to find us a place to live.  I got to spend six lovely weeks with my folks while we were in that transition.

I discovered during my stay that my mother had precious photographs in boxes and in bad photo albums. I love pictures, I always have, so I took it upon myself to go through the albums. We had a hundred years of photos to go through. It was an amazing experience.

I refuse to think of myself as a negative person, but I do have a negative side. My memories of growing up were all pretty cranky. When I went through the photos, I found pictures of a birthday party my mother put on for me. She went all out with an ice skating party for 15 girls and food and princess hats and the works. I didn't remember that and was surprised that she’d expended that much effort and expense on my behalf. I also found another princess party she put on for me when I was a little girl. It was a wonderfully fancy party that every girl dreams of. I was honored that she'd done that for me.

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I also found a really horrible picture of the family dancing around the living room laughing. It has become one of my favorite family pictures. I didn't remember ever having that kind of fun together. Seeing these images made a difference in how I viewed my life and my childhood. I wish I had seen those photos growing up. I knew my parents were wonderful people all along, but I felt more loved and more valued as I realized the efforts that my parents put into my life. It began to dawn on me that perhaps my childhood perception of things had been wrong all along.

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Perhaps some of your children are like me and only remember the bad things even when there are a lot of good things. Today, with my own family, I have taken pictures because I want to influence the things my children remember. I want them to think about the good things and the good times, and through these images help them to know how much their parents love them.

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I remember staring at photographs of my grandparents. Every time I looked at the portrait I would think, “Wow, those two really love each other.” It occurred to me later that portraits can totally influence not only what my kids remember from their childhood, but also how they feel about family relationships.

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For years I would print the pictures and tuck them away in an album. Now, I have the pictures all over the house. I want them to see us having fun together every day. I want them to remember what we did for them and how valued they are. I want them to see how very beautiful they are.

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Not to brag but my daughters have an amazing sense of who they are. Okay, maybe I’m bragging a little. I really am surprised at their confidence and self acceptance. Part of that is simply who they are, but I like to think that part of that is seeing their beauty every day up on the wall and knowing they’re valued and loved.

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I do have one tip I will share with you here. Photo sessions should be fun. Why? Because they’ll remember that you were yelling at them every time they look at the pictures from that day.

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Bottom line? Pictures are important. Take posed portraits of your family, but don't forget the candid pictures the pictures of you having fun with your kids or interacting with them. Also, take pictures of them doing what they love to do or what you love to do as a family. Take pictures of the family moments that bring you joy. Take pictures so they can see they're beautiful. These images will not only be helpful to look back and remember but they can help to shape the future impressions your kids will have of themselves and their family.

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See also:

Photographing Your Family, Part 2: Composition

11 tips on taking iPhone photos

Kim BarlowAbout the author: Kim is one of those lucky women who was able to be a stay-at-home mom for most of her motherhood career. She loved almost every minute of raising kids. She has three of them. The 9 year old is still at home being raised. She got into Photography when she was 8 years old but really didn't do anything with it until she had kids of her own. She loves taking pictures and would love to adopt every family she takes pictures of. She loves to draw and paint and spend time with her husband of 22 years. She also loves walking the dog no matter what the weather. Her perfect day is a toss-up between a beautiful day for picture taking or taking the time to read a good library book. See more of Kim Barlow's photography at

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