When my boys were younger I did five back-to-back 365 Photography Projects, which means for 5 years I took a photo every single day.  Each year I chose a different theme and the process was one of the best things I ever did for my skills as a photographer but also as a mom.  Taking a photo every day is hard: when you’re exhausted or stuck at home it feels like a stretch to create a beautiful photograph out of the mundane things you do day in and day out.  But what each project taught me was to slow down and really look around: to pay attention to the small details of our life and to try and find beautiful moments amidst the chaos.  

For the last two months I’ve drafted at least 10 different project ideas and rejected every single one.  Of course, like many people, I gave myself a starting date of January 1st but New Years came and went and still I was left without an inspiring idea.

Looking back at the photos from my previous projects reminded me that the little things aren’t so little after all.  That our lives are a collection of moments and not just big events:  that what I want to remember are those moments.  We rarely forget big trips or special occasions but those 100s of things that weave together to make up the fabric of our daily lives are often forgotten.  As my boys get older I’ve realized that the pace of life never slows down and that it’s up to me to help us focus on what’s most important.  

I realized I was over-thinking the project and that rather than a big, inspiring theme, what I needed was to “think small”.  Rather than a grandiose photography project starting with celebration on January 1st, what I ended up with was a commitment to myself, and my family, to undertake a 52 week project that focuses on all the moments that make up our life: our traditions, routines, our favourite games and outings.  

As I go I’ll share tips and strategies for taking your own photos as well as some of the stories about what makes these moments so precious to us.  And outtakes, lots of outtakes.  

Week 1: The snowstorm 
All 3 of my boys were born with gloriously long lashes that are perfect for catching snow flakes.  They all also love to play outside in the snow, and strangely enough, to shovel.  There are never enough shovels in our house to go around nor is the lawn big enough for the snow forts they have planned.  

When you’re taking photos outside in the falling snow make sure that you take several photos of your subject before moving on.  Your camera may accidentally focus on the falling snow rather than your intended subject, which is why it’s helpful to have several photos of the same scene to avoid having an important image out of focus.  

Week 2: Mer Bleue

We’ve been taking the boys to Mer Bleue since my eldest was a baby and still being worn in a baby carrier.  Whenever we need to get outside and burn off steam or explore, it’s the first place we’ll visit. I love the boardwalk in the Spring and Fall and exploring the birch and pine groves in every season.  They love adding to the shelters that have been built by visitors to the area, feeding the chickadees, blowing milkweed seeds, and hiding from each other in the forest.

One of my favourite times of day to visit is sunrise and sunset because of how the light hits all the different foliage, plants and long grasses.  Some of my favourite photos of the boys have been taken at Mer Bleue and I love that its become one of our favourite and most regular outings.

When you’re taking photos outdoors and your subject is moving quickly, make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough to ‘freeze’ their movement.  Your shutter speed serves two purposes: the first is that it helps control how much light enters your camera and the second is that it determines whether the movement in your photo is blurry or frozen.  On a bright sunny day you won’t have any issues ensuring your photos are crisp but if it’s overcast or you move into the forest, your camera will slow your shutter speed to ensure it has enough light and you may end up with blurry subjects.  Moving into brighter light or adjusting your other settings (ISO and aperture) can help correct this.

Week 3: Wicket

We picked her up from a farm and she spent the whole drive home sitting in my son’s lap meowing.  I’m not sure if it was that hour long car ride that resulted in the bond the two of them have but I’ve never seen anything like the relationship my middle son has with his cat.

She does not sit in our laps and isn’t particularly interested in letting us rub her head or spend time with her.  But when it comes to my son, she’s constantly trying to get his attention. She lets him carry her in the crook of his arm like a baby and spends hours curled up in his lap.  Everyday about 45 minutes before school lets out she starts to meow and pace around the house: she’s waiting for him to come home and pick her up. On Mondays she sits on the table and stares out the door after he leaves because she’s had all weekend with him and seems to be waiting for him to turn around and come back.  She goes to bed with him every night in a pile of stuffed animals and just a few nights ago I came in to find her fast asleep with her paw on his cheek.

One of the reasons it’s important to learn to manipulate your exposure triangle (shutter speed, ISO, and aperture) is so that in situations where there are vastly different colours or light (e.g., a black dog on a white snow or someone in a light dress against a dark backdrop), you can make sure to adjust your settings so that your subject is properly exposed and not too bright or too dark.  In the photos I took of my son and his cat, when I left the camera in auto mode, the photos were too dark and you couldn’t see the details of our cats face.

Week 4: Jay Peak

This was our second year in a row visiting Jay Peak in Vermont.  We were all excited to return and the boys were especially excited to be visiting the mountain when they were supposed to be at school.

Last year I made the decision to focus on my health and I lost 100 pounds. Weight loss is hard to talk about. It’s a quagmire of complications: shame, judgement, the weight loss industry, feminism, body positivity, self acceptance. As a former counsellor, I find it hard to strike a balance between being open about my experience but also respecting what a triggering and difficult topic this is to navigate for so many people.  

I don’t begrudge the pounds I lost last year because every pound I gained to get me where I started this path to self-focus was necessary.  But I needed to occupy less physical space in the universe to live the life I wanted to. My weight was stopping me from doing many things and I needed to ease the burden on my back and joints; to improve my sleep; but also to parent the way I wanted to parent.

The goals I had when I started weren’t numbers or measurements but functional goals: keep up with my kids when we play sports, hike without getting tired, learn to kayak,  and, after standing on the sidelines for five years, learn how to ski and join my family on the slopes.

Our trip to Jay Peak last week was my first time on skis in over 30 years.  I surprised myself, and my boys, by ‘not sucking’ (thanks kids!). I initially set up this shot to take advantage of the beautiful background and to get a photo of my boys in their gear.  Then I decided to hand over my camera to my husband and actually be in the photo with my kids. As we were getting set up a very kind woman stopped and offered to take a photo of all of us together, which is rarity for us unless it’s part of a photo session.  

Thanks to her we have a photo of all of us in our gear on what turned out to be a very momentous trip.  It was also a wonderful reminder to hand over my camera and to ask the people in my life to include me in as many photos as possible with my boys.

I want my boys to remember that I was brave and did something that scared me.  I also want to look back and see myself in photos. I challenge you this week to hand over your phone and your camera to your family members and friends and ask them to include you in a photo.  To ask them to remind you to get on the other side of the camera and even if you don’t want to, to remember that these memories are for your family to look back on and not necessarily for you, which is why it’s so important to put aside the 1000 reasons not to be in the photo and give your family the gift of your presence in your family history.  

Sara McConnell, her husband and her three sons standing at the bottom of a ski hill