I have followed photographer Wendy VonSosen for some time. I came across her blog after her sister, Tatertots & Jello, had linked to her. I love the way that she documents her children’s lives. I often tell our Mamarazzi class about her because we speak from the perspective of having young children and documenting all of the new things that they are doing. I feel like Wendy does a great job of telling the story of who her children are even though they are older. Today, I wanted to do a little interview with her so that she could speak on how she does that.
Name: Wendy VonSosen
Location: Danville, California
Kids & Ages: Maddy 19, Jack 15, Erik 13, Will 9
Favorite Camera Gear: Nikon D800, lenses: Nikon 85 1.4, 35 1.4, 50 1.4
Tell us how you began your photography journey: I started my blog soon after transplanting our family to a tiny Idaho town surrounded by fields and tractors and dirt roads. I had one friend to my name, all of my kids were in school, and I found myself with time on my hands and nothing creative to fill it with. While I amused myself by writing about the oddities of living in the country, I soon recognized that the photos I shot for each post paled in comparison to those of my fellow bloggers. I knew I needed to learn to take a good picture! (Those high school film classes were long gone.) After unearthing my camera manual, I spent the subsequent year living and breathing photography. One thing lead to another and I started a humble business. For the past 5 years I’ve been Creative Director and Head Decision-Maker at my own Bay Area-based portrait photography business Wendy VonSosen Photography where I document newborns, high school seniors, families, and take a whole slew of head shots in my studio in downtown Danville, California.
Often times I come across Moms with older children who are at a loss for how to document their lives. Any tips or tricks you can give them? It’s relatively easy to photograph cute little kids doing cute little things when they’re young and happy to be in front of the camera. It’s a whole different beast when they hit the pre-teen years and the last thing they want is to pose for the camera and end up on Mom’s IG feed being shared with the whole world. How uncool would that be? But documenting your older kids is just as important as documenting them when they’re young. So, once my kids hit a certain age, I had to learn to be stealth with the camera and choose my moments wisely. Sometimes my kids don’t even know that I’m taking a picture of them (my favorite kind of shot). Although I admit to using bribery on the rare occasion that I need a posed shot, I rarely take posed photos of my kids anymore. I look for moments when they’re in beautiful light and I snap them doing whatever they happen to be doing in the moment (which admittedly often involves staring blankly into their phones). I’m usually without my big camera so my iphone is my go-to camera these days for documenting my own family. And I’m OK with that because an iphone photo is better than no photo at all and anytime my big camera comes out, my kids seem to magically disappear. So my advice would be to carefully choose your moment and document it with whatever device is handy. These teen years go by in the blink of an eye and whether or not you realize it in the moment, you’ll cherish these years one day and the photos you’ve taken of these moody, amazing, wonderful teenagers.
What are some of your favorite things to photograph your children doing? Since I’m not very good at journaling, I’m relying on my photos to tell the story of our family. I love photographing the details that make each person unique. I’m not talking about documenting one kid sitting on the couch smiling at the camera, I’m talking about photographing that kid perched on a log at the beach because that’s the way he sits at the breakfast table every morning or on his bed when he reads. I try and include little details that tell who each person is. For instance, I took the picture of my daughter laying on her bed texting not because it’s a “perfect portrait” but because it shows how she wore her hair all senior year piled on top of her head and the initials above her bed that she decoupaged with pictures from Vogue magazine because she loves fashion and the lights that she strung on her headboard because she’s still a little afraid of the dark. The picture of my son sipping milk in the dining room was taken to remember that this was his daily after school routine, to be alone for a few minutes and decompress with a snack and without the chaos of the other kids and Mom in the kitchen. And the photo of my little boys reading on the bed was to document how the older one (who read very early) has been so patient with the younger one who struggles with Dyslexia by reading to him every night and helping him with words he can’t figure out. Over his bed is his “About Me” poster he made in first grade along with Star Wars stickers on his under-the-bed drawers from his Star Wars phase. Most of these images wouldn’t mean anything to other people but they represent our family dynamics and our history.
How have you learned to balance life as a working Mom? This was tough in the beginning and I failed miserably. Now that I’ve had some experience I’ve learned to set “work hours” while the kids are at school and only answer emails during those hours. I try and get all of my work done before they come home from school because I know my time and attention and chauffeuring skills will be needed once those school bells ring. I also try not to schedule more than 2 Saturdays a week with sessions. My husband works long hours and sometimes the only time we have to catch up is on the weekends. I’ve definitely learned to say “no” to the things that are unnecessary and not to take on more than I can reasonably accomplish. I’ve also learned to take time for myself which includes regular time at the gym and a pedicure every now and then. But I’m still a work in progress.