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Time Out With Tanya

5 Creative Ways to Exist in Photographs Today

By Tanya Goodall Smith on May 1st 2015

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera, and you can come along if you’d like. Sign up for my weekly email here, so you’ll never miss a Time Out.

A friend of mine recently lost her mother to cancer. Just a few days after her passing she lamented on Facebook that they couldn’t find any photos of her mom. They just didn’t exist. This really bothered me and got me to thinking, if I died tomorrow would my kids have a photo of me they would cherish? Would they have proof I existed and participated in their life?

As the mother of three children, and long before, actually, I’ve always been the one taking the photographs. I’m the photo documentarian at family events, birthday parties, trips to the zoo and even during everyday life. Usually, this is simply because I like to take the photos, so everyone else leaves it up to me. Other times, though, it’s because I’m “too fat” or don’t have my hair and make-up done or I don’t trust whoever is taking the photos to create a flattering photo of me.

A couple years ago, I nearly lost my own mother to a seemingly untreatable infection after a surgery gone wrong. After that experience, all those excuses about why I chose not to exist in photographs didn’t seem to matter anymore. I started to tell myself “So, you just had your third baby, and you’ve never been fatter, puffier or more sleep deprived. Get over it and get in the picture!”

You are valuable. You should be remembered. Your loved ones deserve to have a visual record of your face. In our modern world of endless selfies and crappy cell phone pics, I’m determined to leave a halfway decent visual legacy of my existence. Here are five creative ways to exist in photographs today (and most of them don’t even cost money!)

1. Hire a Professional

Sue Bryce’s #existinphotos campaign has been making the rounds on social media, encouraging women everywhere to treat themselves to a professional portrait session to document the different stages of their lives. After their wedding (if they even marry), most women never have a professional portrait taken of themselves, ever. Why not? Perhaps because having a photo taken is so ordinary, not to mention free, these days. Maybe we don’t feel it’s a necessity or priority. It’s probably because of all the excuses I already mentioned above (too fat, ugly, etc.)

As a portrait photographer myself, I see the value in hiring someone to take my photo. I want a skilled artist to create a portrait for me. I want someone I can trust to show me in my best light and at my best angle. I could have a million snapshots taken of myself for free, but a portrait experience I paid a dear price for would be highly valued.

I had such an experience when I was expecting my third baby. I honestly have never been so large in my life and wasn’t super excited about documenting that fact, but looking back I’m so glad I went and had my portrait taken. Aside from having the photos themselves, the experience of having a hair and make-up artist pamper me during a time I didn’t really feel very pretty, was a nice boost. It was something to look forward to and a break from the stresses of my everyday. I’ll most likely never be pregnant again, and I’m so glad I have those photos to look back on. I hope my kids will appreciate them in years to come.

If you’ve never hired a photographer who’s work you love and admire to create a stunning portrait of you, I highly recommend it. Now, when I’m finished losing all that baby weight, it’s on my bucket list to actually have Sue Bryce photograph me (seriously, Sue, I’m saving my money and literally working my butt off!) In the meantime, I’m probably going to have to go with one of the following more economical options for existing in photographs.

2. Ask a Family Member

I’m very active in the SLR Lounge Facebook community (if you haven’t joined our group, come hang out with us. Click here to check it out) and noticed that one of our members, Catherine Lacey Dodd, frequently posts photos of her that were taken by her six-year-old son. This is something I’ve done on occasion, but they are usually on a whim and not really photos I would consider sharing.

Setting a scene, dialing in your settings and then asking a family member to click the shutter isn’t a bad idea. I’m going to have to give this a try more often. As previously mentioned, I clearly have trust issues (therapy anyone?) but if it gets me in front of the camera, I suppose I’ll try it. My Canon 5D Mark III with 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens weighs almost as much as each of my children, so I think I’ll have to give them something lighter to use. Have you ever handed your gear over to a family member to take your picture? How did it turn out?

P.S.I love the glowing, warm look of Catherine’s work. She edits her photos with the SLR Lounge Preset System. Click here to view more details.

3. Trade with a Friend

5 creative ways to exist in photographs

I’m guessing 50% of my friends are photographers. Many are very, very talented. Why not trade with one of them for family or personal portraiture? Trading can be a sensitive topic for many creatives, especially if they make their living as a photographer, so be careful who you ask to trade with you. I would stick to a close friend whose skill and availability match your own.

I recently traded family photo sessions with a friend, and it worked out great! We both have our family photos for the season, which we are each actually included in (yay!) and didn’t have to spend a dime. You could trade for head shots, behind the scenes photos, even promotional video (hey, any Spokane photogs want to trade videography???? I’m in!)

4. Visit a Photo Booth


This sounds a little corny, but I love photo booths. For some reason, inhibitions cease to exist the moment you put two or more people in a private booth with an awful flash and automatic camera. When I was a kid, finding a photo booth was a rare treat. Now they’re offered as free entertainment at events, and I say, take advantage! My husband hates to have his photo taken, so I love, love, love that I have these fun candid images of the two of us together. I’m going to go paste them in my scrapbook right now.

5. Create a Self-Portrait

Photo Credit: Clara Wilson, Smoke and Mirrors Photography

Photo Credit: Clara Wilson, Smoke and Mirrors Photography

Now, I’m not talking about a cell phone selfie via selfie stick here, although I have been known to take about 50 selfies before I get one that’s at just the right angle to make me look skinny enough to post to Instagram. I mean really create a self-portrait. Think about how you want to portray yourself.

Do you want to remember how exhausted and awful you felt as a new mom? Why not document it? Your daughter might appreciate the realness of that image in 20 years. Do you want to celebrate a milestone? Show that in your self-portrait. Or maybe you just want to practice some new lighting techniques while shooting your own head shot. Try it! Do it! You could get really creative here.

Learn more about how you could use on-camera lighting to create a self-portrait in our Lighting 101 Foundation and Light Shaping Workshop DVD.


However you choose to exist in photos, I challenge you to do it more often and with more intention. Which of these ideas will you try today?

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Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Fran Roman

    I’m a solitary person. My kids are finally grown and living their lives in other states. My friends are precious but few. So I bought me a Canon RC-1 Wireless Remote Control so that I could take my own pictures and share something special for my kids. Each year I do something sort of funny if I can come up with it. I love Photoshop more than taking pictures now. Hurts my back less. This past Christmas my photo theme was Dr. Who. I dressed up like the 10th doctor. Got some pictures from the web of the doctor and a Dalek, bought me a sonic screw driver and a cardboard Tardis and shot away. The scene has me with my foot on a downed Dalek and the doctor behind me. Mom asked me why I was dressed like a man because she did not understand, but my geeky friends on FB had a great laugh and my kids will always have that image of their geeky mom doing what she loves best. So yes, there is no excuse. I’m a cancer survivor and I know my kids appreciate the memories to celebrate that we still have each other no matter the miles between us all.

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  2. Lauren Leith

    well that was inspiring. I’m just about to move and I’ve been thinking lately how I don’t have enough pictures with my closest friends let alone great pictures with my husband. This was a good encouragement for me to get going on that and not let it slip out of my hands before it is to late. Thank you!

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  3. Catherine Lacey Dodd

    Thanks so much for the feature and highlighting the importance of being present and existing in photos. Perfect timing too for Mother’s Day! Keep up the great work Tanya and SLR Lounge, Catherine

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  4. Thomas Horton

    I much prefer being on the other side of the lens. :)

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  5. Ralph Hightower

    Thanks for the reminder. I should take more pictures of my wife and our dogs. I have a photo of Paula with the first dog that adopted us taken in 1979.
    July 9, 2011, I handed two strangers my camera at Kennedy Space Center to take a photo of me against the congratulatory wall. The first guy didn’t know how to use a manual focus film camera, but his friend did. The date is significant since I checked off a 30 year old bucket list item the day before.
    We need to capture memories of family and friends.

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  6. Ed Rhodes

    just be sure to print some out. I’m always worried that future generations may not use the same digital formats that we have now

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    • Tanya Goodall Smith

      Good point!

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    • Ralph Hightower

      Or shoot film!

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    • Thomas Horton

      I would not worry about that. As long as the data files are not compromised, there will be ways to display them. Graphic data formats are mostly evolutionary. As the data formats change, you or your family will have plenty of time to change over.

      The key is making sure the data files are not compromised.

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    • Dave Haynie

      I’m not really concerned about data format rot. After all, Photoshop (at least as of CS6) still supports the Amiga IFF/ILBM format… that’s nearly 30 years old, and hasn’t been in common use for nearly 20 years. And if you didn’t find it in Photoshop, chances are it would been in some other photo program, allowing a conversion possibility.

      On the other hand, some things are likely to be a problem. Media format rot has been one of big ones, along with media rot itself (eg, the format doesn’t exist in new hardware vs. the old discs or tapes you have are not good anymore). So keeping your archives moving to new media, over time, solves both of those problems. And choosing wisely. It would be really hard to read an Amiga floppy disc these days without having a working Amiga computer. On the other hand, any computer should read an ISO9660 CD from the early 1990s, assuming its still readable.

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