Lately I've been frustrated trying to find a photography course for my elementary-aged kids that doesn't underestimate their abilities or introduce concepts at a high-school or college level. So this summer I sat down and wrote the intro photography course I wish I could have taken as a kid when I got my first camera at age 7.
I'm thrilled to share this course with you now. It's called: "Documenting Your World Through Photography: An Introductory Course for Elementary and Middle Schoolers." You can purchase the 85-page downloadable PDF here. (Use code SNAP15 to get 15% off through 8/15/18.)
But first let me explain why this class should be an important feature of your curriculum.
HOW DOES PHOTOGRAPHY BENEFIT THE DEVELOPING MIND?
As a photographer and writer, I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to the joy and pain in others’ lives, to the beautiful and mundane in this world.
To quiet your body and mind, to observe what is in front of you, to learn how to find the thread of a story, to document it from a unique perspective, to transform it into something extraordinary—these are some of the most essential life skills we can teach our children.
Why? Because effective storytelling is what propels us through life. It doesn’t matter what particular careers we pursue; college essays, job applications, grant proposals, social media marketing—they all force us to weave engaging stories to convince our audience to feel a certain way.
Storytelling matters. While I hope your children grow to enjoy photography as an artistic expression, I’ll tell you right now: they don’t need to become professional photographers to benefit greatly from learning how to look closely, to document life, and to communicate more effectively. The basic photography skills your children will gain from working through this course are the building blocks of an artist, but they are also transferrable to other forms of storytelling the world will expect your children to master along the way.
Your children don’t have to wait to learn photography fundamentals until they can handle a high school or college photography course that requires thousands of dollars of equipment and the ability to understand the relationships between shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Meet them at their level and help them get started with this course. They can start building their foundational skills now.
Now for some details about the course.
Students will first familiarize themselves with the camera they'll be using, then learn some basics about light, composition, and perspective before moving on to experiment with a few genres of photography. Next they'll learn about storytelling through photography. They'll wrap up the course by creating their own photo series.
You do NOT need a fancy DSLR camera to take this course; you just need a mobile phone camera or a basic point-and-shoot.
You do NOT need photography experience to teach this course. (And even if you are a professional photographer, the course will help you break down concepts into digestible bits for your kids in ways you may not have considered.)
Ready to get started? You can purchase the course here. (Use code SNAP15 to get 15% off through 8/15/18.)
Questions? Jot me an email.
I'm still wrapping my head around the fact that Nora turned 6 a couple weeks ago. The last year has been one incredible growth for her; she's learned to read, swim, ride a bike, ride a horse, write hilarious stories and tie her shoes. The transformation that happens during kindergarten is mind blowing, isn't it?
Nora continues to be a thoughtful, loving sister and a nurturer of animals. She still dreams of becoming a vet and is getting good practice caring for our dog, Finn, and her new baby hedgehog, Thistle. She has perfected a vicious lion roar, and today she added a spot-on chickadee call to her repertoire. She had chickadees peeking out of their nests and calling back to her!
Just this morning, Nora handed me a poem she had secretly written, inspired by an Emily Dickinson poem we read. It included these lines:
"I heard the sounds of nature.
I have heard the wildlife's voices.
I have listened to the wild.
All creatures big and small,
I am thankful for them."
I had to breathe deeply and pause a few times to finish reading her words without tears. My little observer. My sensitive soul. My grown-up 6-year-old.
We were heading to Topsail Island the week of Nora's birthday, so I planned to take her annual portraits at the beach—a throw-back to the portraits of her 3-year-old self collecting shells at Carolina Beach. My vision involved a blue-sky sunrise session filled with golden light, and the forecast was perfect for it.
But we woke up to thick fog. For a moment, my heart sunk. And then I realized Mother Nature's plan was so much better than my own.
Nora loves nothing more than being alone and deep in thought. When she falls into this state, you can always tell, because she unknowingly hums or sings to herself. If you look closely at some of these photos, you'll find she was singing her heart out to the ocean. Then she started to collect shells. And, finally, she started to find bits of washed-up fan coral. The fog served to isolate Nora in her own world, allowing the portraits to capture her to the core—wild haired, free spirited and lost in the utter peace of solitude.
Want to know two secrets to photographing toddlers? 1) Acceptance that they, not you, are going to dictate the session; and 2) a fast shutter speed to capture constant motion.
I didn't have a plan for Piper's 2-year-old session other than trying to convince her to hang out on the front porch with me. She took care of the rest in a way that turned out so much better than I ever could have orchestrated myself. These photos capture her in her element. They place her in the context both of her birth month (spring blooms) and our beloved home.
None of us has accepted that our tiny newborn Piper is already 2. She is joy. She is spunk. She is humor. She is mischief. She is an incredible communicator. Here is a sample of things that have come out of her mouth within the last 24 hours (no exaggerations, I swear):
In reference to the caterpillars we're raising on the kitchen counter, "Look, the caterpillars [pronounced abby-pillars] are in their chrysalides."
She spins the globe, places her finger on Asia and says without prompting, "This is Asia."
Her jokes are the best: "Woof, woof! I'm a chicken!"
I have so many favorite aspects of this parenting journey so far (and, of course, plenty moments I'd rather forget), but one of the most rewarding parts has been the bond Jeff, Cricket, Nora and I share of just loving on Piper and being in constant awe of her together. The big girls are just as sad about Piper growing up too fast as Jeff and I are. She is the perfect little exclamation point at the end of our family.
Back in November, my oldest daughter, Cricket, had the nerve to go and turn 7. It was only fitting that her annual portraits reflect what so much of the year revolved around: her newfound passion for riding. In addition to weekly riding lessons, she has amassed horse-related book and toy collections that are bursting from every shelf in the house. Horses have become a central part of her life, and by extension, ours. During her 7th year, equine literature took our minds all over the country and across the world to Europe, Africa and Australia. We're in deep.
What a momentous milestone it is to watch your child develop a talent that surpasses your own. This year, the skills Cricket has honed in riding, art and so many other creative and physical pursuits humbled us and showed us what she is truly made of. Each new interest and talent reminded us that she is not a carbon copy of either of her parents, but her own person finding her way in this world. We're learning that our role as her parents is shifting; instead of the constant care we provided during her earliest years, we now need to provide her with the tools and support to follow her dreams—and then step back and watch her soar (or fumble, which of course, is part of the deal too).
For her birthday, she picked out new riding clothes and wore them proudly in her portraits (some in our backwoods and some at the stable). I think this lesson was the last time she rode Red, the gentle old pony who taught her the basics. Now she's moved on to working with several other horses, but I want to remember sweet Red and the place he'll always hold in her heart. He's become a good buddy of all of ours.
As I finish this post, Cricket and I are packing up for our first just-the-two-of-us, mother-daughter, cross-country adventure since she was an infant. In some ways, I regret that it's been so long; in other ways, I'm proud of how much of a family unit we are—never feeling much desire to divide and conquer. I've always expected too much of this first child of mine, and yet she's always risen to the occasion. She deserves some time to just be my big girl instead of playing the constant role of big sister. Wheels up on this trip and year 8!
I've been documenting the world around me in writing and photographs since I was 6 years old without understanding exactly why I feel this need. But it's so intensely rooted that I've never shaken it or even tried. Over time I've learned there is something profound in simply bearing witness, in allowing your actions and work to say, "'I am here, and I see you."
Along the way, I've witnessed perhaps some of the deepest pain and the greatest joys life can offer, as well as all that good stuff caught in between that makes up daily existence. If we are living well, we are continually bearing witness to those around us in various ways. But when clients specifically ask me to serve as witness to a moment or phase or milestone? It's nothing short of an honor.
I've been honored to photograph this family, these friends, on four occasions now. (You can find their previous sessions here, here and here.) Last year was truly one of new beginnings for them. Their new house represents just a small portion of these beginnings, but I wanted to make sure it figured prominently in the images as their base camp. Beyond the obvious beauty of this home and the love this family has for one another, a stunning element I witnessed during this session was one they'll never take for granted: restored energy.
To view more lifestyle portraits, click here.
My niece, Holly, turns 1 today. Way back in April, we all flew out to meet her then-3-month-old self, and I got to do a session with her and Big Sister Iris in their beautifully renovated home in the Berkeley Hills. In honor of Holly's first year, I'm finally posting their session. (My goal was to find time to post it before she graduated from high school, so I'm doing pretty well, if I do say so myself.) Holly has grown and changed so much since these photos, but I'm smiling revisiting the sweet memories of our first meeting. One of the funniest things about Holly is that she has already been busy teaching the great life lesson that what goes around comes around; she started to walk at 9 months, just like her mama did. My parents had a deservedly good laugh over the one skill you don't want your child to master early.
Happy 1st Birthday, Holly B!
I couldn't help taking Iris out to to her iris garden for a few snaps.
To view more of my lifestyle portraits, click here.
A thrill of hope. Could any line better describe what the holiday season is supposed to be about?
As this year winds to a close, and we anticipate the awakening of the next, I wish you this: that you allow yourself the stillness and space to seek and experience a thrill of hope.
And a few favorite outtakes.
Suddenly my phone was lighting up with texts from the airline saying my flights the next day were likely to be canceled due to a winter storm and I should change my travel dates. There was no room for error with this trip; I had sandwiched it between two other cross-country trips and had planned to be gone just 12 hours total to get home to my own nursing baby. And now a winter storm threatened to derail the whole thing. I had to get to New York City to photograph the newborn son of my best friend, Rachel!
So I scrambled and pushed the flights back by a day. And when that day arrived, the storm had passed and the sky was a bright, brilliant blue—perfect for a natural light session. I hopped a sunrise flight up the coast, made it to the apartment by mid-morning, did the session, grabbed lunch, took a short stroll in Central Park and was on the ground in Chapel Hill by early evening. Despite the weather hiccup, it couldn't have gone more smoothly.
One of the best parts of being a newborn photographer is having the honor of witnessing some of the earliest moments of a baby's life. Of course I would have made a trip up to meet Max anyway, though it probably wouldn't have been when he was just a few days old. And getting to catch a glimpse of some of Rachel and Ben's first moments of parenthood—the joy and love and fear and everything else that goes along with this humbling transformation? Well, let's just say there were some tears on my flight home.
Above and below: Front and back of birth announcement
Below: More black and white favorites from Max's session.
To view more newborn and maternity lifestyle portraits, click here.
So what if it took me 3.5 months to post these 1-year shots of Piper? I met my goal of taking portraits each month for the first year. Maybe by the time she graduates from college, I'll print them in a baby book for her? Maybe.
Good thing I wrote a few words on her birthday, because now it's a blur, like everything else from the first year:
"And just like that, she turned 1. She has been a dreamy baby—exuberant, energetic, affectionate—and has brought so much joy to our family. Now I'm sitting here watching her feed herself Cheerios, drink from a cup and wreak silly havoc all over the house. So this is what it feels like to look in the rearview mirror and see our family's babyhood phase. We're leaving it behind quite tearfully (on my part), but oh how excited I am to see what the next year brings. Happy Birthday, sweet Piper Skye!"
A week after her birthday, she took her first steps. And then she started to run. And, oh my word, it's wild around here. I've completely lost track of when she started to say specific words, but a few of my favorites from real time as I'm writing are “turtle,” “yogurt,” “thank you” and “good girls.” Also “toot.”
Piper loves to be helpful. For example, when I fold the laundry and dole out the big girls' piles for them to put away, she demands to put away her own laundry, as well. This process entails her dragging me by the hand to the stairs while practically smothering herself with her pile of clothing, dropping every item so many times while trying to navigate the stairs that she eventually abandons them all, arriving at the top of the stairs and making a break for her sisters' Legos, then finally reaching her room, riding her rocking horse with a nervous smile plastered across her face, banging on her dresser drawer until I open it, standing on her tiptoes and shoving the laundry in. Then making another break for her sisters' rooms in an attempt to eat a crayon.
She adores Finn, our yellow lab. She flaps her hands and yells, "Buh-buh!" when she sees a butterfly. She shrieks "neighhh" at every horse she comes across. She climbs up on our lowest sofa by herself, where she "reads" book after book. Then she runs over and shoves a book at me, turns around, backs up and sits on me, even if I have not yet sat down to read. (Repeat, for hours.)
There is something else she does regularly, which I hesitate to put into writing. It's something we are quite unfamiliar with. It's something we never experienced with our first two kids. She sleeps! (Let's pretend she sleeps because of something we did, shall we?)
One of the neatest things about having a baby who is almost 4 and 5.5 years younger than her sisters is that we are all in awe of her, together. It's something we have in common—the adoration of this little creature. I was worried that since Cricket and Nora are inseparable and think of themselves as twins, Piper might be the odd one out being so much younger. But as it happens, she is this little twinkling star we find ourselves huddled around, just ooing and ahhing at her sweet and silly antics, taking in everything about her perfectly chubby baby self, together.
Our lives would be so much less ridiculous without you, Piper. We couldn't stand it! Happy Much-Belated 1st Birthday!
This spring I embarked on "Newborn Tour 2017." The tour involved crisscrossing the country—Minneapolis to New York to Berkeley—to meet and photo three babies—two nieces and my best friend's son—in a span of three weeks. Yes, it was exhausting, but it was the good kind of tired. I'll always remember those three weeks, because it was such an honor to be a part of some of the early moments of these three lives.
I spent April into May editing hundreds of photos and designing two birth announcements. And then, you know, life happened, and I'm just getting around to blogging some of my favorite images. I'm posting in the order of the trips and am excited to share the photos and birth announcement of my niece, Gwen, with you today.
(You might remember the session and birth announcement I did for her big brother, Theo, two years ago.)
If you follow my work, you know I feel strongly about creating portraits with meaningful context. Well, this time and place is one my sister and her family will never forget; I knew I had to capture it in these photos. Last winter, they were smack in the middle of a cross-country move. They had landed at my parents' house and, after a few houses they were pursuing fell through (we know all about that...), they were still staying at my parents' when Gwen made her debut. It certainly wasn't the plan, but it was kind of funny. And, of course, it was very comfortable and they were able to get plenty of help with the kids when the time came to move a few weeks later.
Often lifestyle portraits are taken in the parents' bedroom. But in this case, they were taken in the grandparents'! Their bedroom feels like it's in a treehouse, with a large bank of windows and window seat. As soon as I realized we'd be taking the photos at my parents' place, I knew those windows and window seat had to be involved. (You can see them on the front and back of the birth announcement.)
Above/below: Front/back of birth announcement
Below are a few images I loved but didn't make it onto the the birth announcement.
If you've ever participated in a newborn session with a 2-year-old sibling, you know the outtakes are pure gold. Let's be clear: my nephew is ridiculous. And I mean that in the best way ever.
Let's end with the moment when I asked him if I could take some photos of his gorgeous blue eyes. He happily agreed, scrambled up on the bed and did this:
I'm Julia Soplop. I've spent my life documenting the world around me in writing and photography. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.