Last March, I made a special trip up to New York City to take newborn portraits of my best friend Rachel's second baby. (You can see the photos and birth announcement I created for her first baby here.) What a treat!
Unlike during a typical newborn session, we had the luxury of spending a full day together, so there was no rush to get the perfect shot in a short time frame. Baby Hannah ate and slept and ate and slept. Big Brother Max ran off steam at the playground while I captured some quiet moments with Rachel and Hannah. And I got to spend some quality time with Max throughout the day too. Rachel and I even had a takeout dinner date together after the kids went to sleep (and before they woke up numerous times, of course).
When I started photographing newborns as a new mom of one, I found it less stressful to photograph first babies. There were no toddlers bustling around, acting unpredictably and making the newborns cry. But now that I have three kids of my own, I prefer sessions that include older siblings. Now I see that nothing could be sweeter than watching a brand-new sibling relationship emerge.
I'll say it until I'm blue in the face: it's such an honor to bear witness to the earliest days of a new life and all the changes that baby brings to a family.
My portrait work always includes context, meaning I try to capture a sense of place. When a family looks at newborn portraits later, I want them to remember not just the tiny toes, but the place they called home when those tiny toes arrived.
When I walked into Rachel's New York apartment, I knew right away the large windows in the living room needed to figure prominently into some of the photos, as did the gallery wall behind the sofa and the bold blue rug in the bedroom. I wanted her family to remember what this space felt like when Hannah became a part of it. And I'm so glad these elements made it into the images, because a few weeks later, Rachel found out they needed to move out of their apartment.
I found the transition from one child to two the most challenging part of parenting so far. It was hard to say goodbye and hop back on the plane knowing what Rachel and her little family were up against—the juggling act of managing a baby and a toddler, the exhaustion that would settle in, the demanding careers to return to. But I left hoping that whatever awaited them, these portraits would always serve as reminders of the pure joy of this moment.
Above: Front of birth announcement. Below: Back of birth announcement.
I'm kicking off the year in a big way: my photography course for kids has been published in paperback and is now available for purchase on Amazon!
The course can be incorporated into homeschools, co-ops, classrooms, and families looking to supplement traditional education. It can work with any school schedule, whether traditional, year-round, or piecemeal as you have time. You can learn more about the curriculum here.
I decided to offer a paperback version to make the course that much easier to implement. The 121-page paperback is 8x10 inches, making it easily portable for field trips and travel. The content is the same as the digital download, but you no longer have to take the time and money to print it. Plus shipping is free.
To celebrate the paperback publication, I'm discounting both versions of the curriculum right now. (More power to you if you've gone paperless.) You can head to my curriculum page to order the digital download, or straight to Amazon to purchase the paperback.
If you order the paperback and enjoy the course with your kids, I would love for you to consider writing a review on Amazon. More positive reviews will make the course more searchable and help get it into the hands of more students.
I'm going to try to post more of my girls' photography over on my Instagram feed throughout the spring and summer and talk about how we're working our way through the lessons. I hope you'll start sharing work over there from this course with the tag #documentyourworld . Happy snapping!
Exchanging holiday cards is one of my favorite parts of December. As a lifestyle photographer, I always aim to take portraits that show the girls authentically in a place that has been a special part of our lives that year. We took these photos on the stone wall we had built in the front yard with rocks from our property. "Seek wonder" felt like the perfect wish for the year, since my underlying goal as a parent and home educator is not to extinguish the girls' natural sense of wonder with the drudgery of formal education, but to provide natural opportunities for it to continue to grow.
I hope you'll enjoy the card and outtakes. Happy Holidays to you and yours!
Front of card:
Back of card:
Now for the outtakes. The first one below is probably my favorite, though it's hard to say. It looks like Piper is placing a spell on her sisters, when actually she is throwing pine straw all over them in an effort to foil my attempts at capturing one civilized photo. (Portraits with 2-year-olds are always a trip, aren't they?)
Remember that time long ago (in May) when Design Mom featured my home tour? I'm still pinching myself in disbelief that it ever happened. And I'm still getting a lot of questions about the frames lining our upstairs hallway from one of the photos that appeared in the post.
So I'm going to let you in on a little secret, which isn't actually a secret if you know me: I'm a cheapskate. I don't care about brands. I don't buy an expensive version of something when I can buy an inexpensive version. And I don't mind rolling up my sleeves and making something if it means it will fit my budget now instead of two years from now.
This long hallway wall sat empty for a long time before I finally decided what to do with it. It doesn't get a lot of light, so I knew the art needed to be bright and reflective. I also wanted a simple, sharp, clean feel that drew the eye down the hall to the colorful piece that local artist Jenn Potter painted for that space.
Eventually I decided small black and white prints with large white mats (plenty of negative space) checked off all my requirements. Designers often work in odd numbers, but I just couldn't figure out how to make the wall work with three or five frames, so I settled on four. (If you have a choice, go odd.) When I looked into custom framing four small prints with 24x36-inch mats, it was going to cost me in the neighborhood of $1,000.
No, ma'am. I frame way too much in a given year to spend $1,000 on one wall. So I headed to a hobby store and went to work trying to create the same look for a fraction of the cost. I ended up framing all four prints for around $120 total.
Here's how I did it.
Poster frames with thin black borders (24x36)—$12.99 each
White mat board for each frame at least 24x36 inches (uncut)—$7.99 each
Prints (11x14)—$5.00 each
Spray mount adhesive—$5.99
Scissors or crafting knife
Measuring tape or yard stick
I bought the inexpensive poster frames and uncut mat board at A.C. Moore (which doesn't list their inventory online). You can find similar supplies at other hobby stores, such as Michael's.
The mat board was larger than 24x36, so I carefully measured and cut the outer edges to size to fit the frames.
Instead of cutting windows in the mat board (which is difficult and frustrating without good supplies), I glued the photos on top of them. Guests to my home haven't noticed this shortcut, even upon close inspection! To do this, I measured and marked in pencil (and double and triple and quadruple checked) where I wanted to place the photos: 6.5 inches from the top and 6.5 inches from each side.
Next I set up a place to spray the adhesive on the backs of the photos (in a well-ventilated area), sprayed them, then placed the photos extremely carefully onto the mat board where I had marked. There is a lot of room for error here, so you may want to purchase an additional mat board in case you make a measuring or gluing mistake.
I assembled the frames. Normally I hang frames about two inches apart. But to continue the theme of negative space and keep the eye moving down the hallway, I spaced the frames 13 inches apart.
Voila. You've got yourself a series of art for a fraction of the cost of custom framing.
In other news, check out my new photography class!
“Documenting Your World Through Photography: An Introductory Course for Elementary and Middle Schoolers”is an 85-page downloadable PDF packed with lessons and photo examples from my own portfolio.
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 may receive a small commission from the Amazon affiliated link on this page at no additional cost to you.
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.
I'm Julia Soplop, writer and photographer. 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.