Seeing the World through the Lens of a Three-Year-old Photographer
You’ll know my daughter when you see her around town — she’s the three-year-old with a Fujifilm Instax around her neck, framing up her shot like a seasoned pro.
I wish I could say I taught my daughter everything she knows about photography, but putting a camera in her hands was not a big stretch — her generation is truly digital native.
For better or worse, she has known how to navigate an iPhone since she was about a year old. The first words she ever cobbled together into a sentence were, “Alexa, play music.”
My three-year-old daughter is in that fun discovery stage that children go through as they move from being toddlers to pre-schoolers — no longer babies, but still not quite ready to be left alone for more than a minute. And, of course, as doting and dutiful parents, my wife and I are doing our best to expose her to a slew of activities to help her figure out what she likes and, perhaps, what she’s good at.
Ballet? She loves it. She wakes up during the week and asks if it’s ballet class day. Soccer? To my chagrin, the jury is still out. She doesn’t like the running but puts up with it to get to the juice boxes and snacks.
Now, we’ve added photography to the mix. And so far, so good.
She took all the images on this page with her Instax. And like a proud papa, I post them to an Instagram account that I created to curate these precious memories.
I realize it’s too early to tell whether she’s a natural but watching her bring a camera to her eye and line up a shot makes my heart flutter.
I realize that, like ballet and soccer, and the piano lessons around the corner, putting a camera in her hand is much more about my wish fulfillment, than hers. What parent doesn’t dream that their progeny will be a prodigy, especially at something that the parent has a passion for?
I’d be thrilled for my daughter to grow up to be the next Alex Morgan or follow in the footsteps of Misty Copeland. Now, add Sally Mann to the list.
But I’ve pledged not to be one of those parents who pushes their child to excel in youth activities at all cost. The bottom line is that if she‘s not enjoying it, we’ll drop it.
With photography, I tell her to take photos of “interesting things” but I leave the shot selection up to her. I offer some coaching on holding still while she presses the shutter but, otherwise, I’m mostly hands off.
The camera choice — an instant film camera — was deliberate. It would have been easier and cheaper to let her use an old camera phone but I like the idea of the Instax because it requires her to use a viewfinder, as opposed to an LCD. It also relieves me the temptation to crop or edit a digital image.
At this point, I’m much more excited about seeing the images develop than she is. It’s thrilling to see what caught her eye — what she was thinking about when she was looking through the viewfinder.
I’m also often amazed at her composition — I’m still unsure if it’s accidental or just innate.
Who knows if she’ll still be as excited about taking photos by the time she turns four. Maybe she’ll just lose interest.
I’ll be okay with that. But for now, I’m enjoying watching her vision and creativity blossom with every press of the shutter.
Joe is a writer, photographer and media strategist in Washington, D.C. He is the executive director at Focus on the Story and is on Instagram as @cosmicsmudge. His daughter can be found at @sofia_shoots_insta