Are Parents Taking Too Many Pictures of Their Kids These Days?

Digital and mobile phone photography have made it easy for parents to document every waking (and non-waking) moment of a child’s life, but what effect is this constant picture-taking having on kids? David Zweig has written up an article over at the New York Times arguing that our culture of photography is intruding on the preciousness of youth, and that parents should take fewer photographs of their children.

Zweig writes,

Our children’s lives are being documented to a degree never done before. My parents have one photo album for every year or two of our family’s history, with four pictures on each page, carefully placed under the cellophane. By contrast, I often have over 100 new pictures per month added to iPhoto on my computer. Like adults, kids often act differently when they know the camera is on […] The very act of documentation, ironically, affects the moment it is trying to document

[…] both components of our photography obsession — the experience of parents and others regularly clicking away, and the regular viewing of the results of this relentless documentation — are making our children increasingly self-aware. And this is a shame because a lack of self-awareness is part of what makes youth so precious.

Not everyone agrees with Zweig’s points. While some parents commenting on the piece are thanking him for being “spot on”, others are calling his argument “utter nonsense.”

Why We Should Take Fewer Pictures of Our Children [New York Times via Reddit]

Image credit: The photographer by Lokacid

  • El_Fez

    I found this over on slashdot (originally from the New York Times) many years ago – more or less the same thinking:

    baby pictures just kept coming. At least once a month Suzanne Weber
    opened her e-mail to find the same friend had sent a link to as many as
    50 pictures, often including multiple shots of the same child at the
    same moment at slightly different angles. Finally Ms. Weber, who enjoys
    the occasional digital baby snapshot as much as anyone, stopped
    responding, and the friend, taking the hint, stopped sending.

    Weber’s e-mail, however, is by no means picture-free. Like many regular
    Internet users, she estimates that she will view more than 1,000 (why
    stop? it’s free) digital pictures this year of friends, family and their
    assorted offspring. And she has some unequivocal advice for snap-happy
    e-mail correspondents everywhere.

    “Edit your pictures, people,”
    said Ms. Weber, a writer in Brooklyn whose pen name is Anita Liberty.
    She suggests no more than three pictures by e-mail, no more than 12 to
    an online “album,” no albums more than twice a year. (Exceptions may
    apply for grandparents and best friends.)

    Ms. Weber is not alone
    in her plea for restraint. At a time when this country is indulging in
    an unparalleled binge of personal picture taking, and some digital
    photographers find themselves drowning in the product of their
    enthusiasm, the notion is dawning that even in a digital realm less may
    still be more.

    Some critics warn that a great photograph’s
    singular power to trigger memory may be at risk. For many people a
    photograph they have seen a thousand times itself becomes the memory.
    With digital pictures it is rare for a single photograph to achieve that
    kind of status.

    “When you have hundreds of pictures where you
    used to have one, people are less likely to ever go back to look at any
    of them,” said Nancy Van House, a professor in the school of information
    management and systems at the University of California, Berkeley, who
    studies the social use of photography. “A lot of people are getting to
    the point in their digital photography now where it’s becoming a

    Tinamarie Fronsdale, who is the keeper of her extended
    family’s photo albums, shot more than 300 pictures after getting her
    first digital camera last year. She saved some on CD’s and printed
    others. But she has not used the camera in months.

    “It’s too
    much,” said Ms. Fronsdale, 47, a special education teacher in Berkeley.
    “Looking back at our family pictures from our childhood, I see it isn’t
    important to have so many pictures. We do not need to record every

    The idea of passing on hundreds of CD’s filled with
    pictures to her nephews was wholly unappealing, Ms. Fronsdale said, when
    she realized they would never casually pull them out the way she did
    with an old-fashioned photo album when she and her mother were recently
    reminiscing about a family friend.

    AMERICA’S amateur
    photographers produced 28 billion digital pictures last year, 6 billion
    more than they shot on film, even though only half as many own a digital
    camera, according to the market research firm InfoTrends. That does not
    count pictures deleted before being printed or transferred for storage.

    are not just switching formats. They are taking more pictures, 13
    billion more last year on film and digital combined than in 2000, when
    the price of digital cameras began to decline. The number of albums
    compiled using Kodak’s popular Ofoto software (now called EasyShare
    Gallery) jumped nearly 90 percent in 2004.

    In an era when no
    moment passes that is not a photo opportunity, pet owners compile vast
    photo archives of their cats and dogs, teenagers wielding cellphone
    cameras take pictures of one another to fight boredom, and it is not
    uncommon to receive dozens of pictures documenting a baby’s first few
    hours of life.

    Many new photographers – and the newly prolific –
    extol a new category they call ephemera. It might include a picture of
    an interesting glove on the sidewalk. Seen through the lens of a camera
    that never requires its owner to pay for film, the mundane takes on new

    The digital shooting spree is only expected to
    accelerate as a growing number of camera-phone shutterbugs join the
    ranks of those reveling in pictures immediately available and easily
    shared. Many digital picture enthusiasts say the medium has taken on a
    new currency as a running document of everyday life. Others say that
    even if they never look at a picture, just the experience of taking it
    engages them with a scene in a more interesting way.

    Most people
    save all of their pictures, no matter how blurry or unremarkable. Many
    store them with the file names automatically assigned by their cameras,
    like “DSC31.jpg.” Others develop complex classification to take the
    place of shoeboxes or an envelope with “Grand Canyon, 2003″ scrawled
    across it.

    Van Swearingen, an avid gar-dener in Greenwich
    Village, has sorted the 6,000 flower pictures he has amassed in three
    years into seasonal subfolders on his computer. Within them are folders
    labeled with the date and within those are other folders of the pictures
    he has cropped and color-corrected to his liking.

    But when he
    was looking for a particular image of a lotus the other day, it took him
    half an hour sifting through computer files. And the hundreds of
    pictures he exchanges daily with other garden hobbyists has made him
    look at his own with a jaundiced eye.

    “The constant stream of
    images somewhat cheapens the medium for me,” Mr. Swearingen, 43, said.
    “It becomes almost too immediate.”

    It is partly the pleasure of
    that immediacy that propels people to take all those pictures. Many
    digital photographers, including Mr. Swearingen, describe the immediate
    gratification as addictive.

    But Jim Lewis, a novelist who wrote
    an opinion article for Wired magazine titled “Memory Overload,” suggests
    it is the hollowness of the gratification that fuels the addiction.

    take the picture to capture the memory of being there, but if you take
    the picture, you aren’t really there,” Mr. Lewis said by telephone.
    “You’re trying to satisfy a hunger which is actually being created by
    the activity.”

    In his article Mr. Lewis compared mushrooming
    digital photography to a map of the world that grows in detail “until
    every point in reality has a counterpoint on paper, the twist being that
    such a map is at once ideally accurate and entirely useless, since it’s
    the same size as the thing it’s meant to represent.”

    KUKER, 31, does not see a problem with that. He has deposited 9,946
    images on his hard drive since buying a digital camera two years ago.
    The no-risk nature of the technology, he said, has emboldened him to
    express himself. He shot 200 pictures of a bridge in Redding, Calif.,
    and saved them all.

    “Once it hits my computer, it stays, even if I
    don’t like it,” Mr. Kuker said. “In a historical context, 20 to 30
    years down the road, someone else might find it interesting.”

    even tomorrow. Like many protophotographers, Mr. Kuker has been inspired
    to take more pictures to attract an audience online. He is a member of
    Flickr, a photography Web site (, where half a million people have plunked 8.2 million pictures since it opened for business last summer.

    Fake, Flickr’s founder, argues that people just have to get used to a
    new way of interacting with photographs. The digital deluge may make it
    harder for single images to stand out of the dense crowd, but it also
    offers greater intimacy with friends and family and a new means of
    communication among strangers.

    “The nature of photography now is
    it’s in motion,” said Ms. Fake. “It doesn’t stop time anymore, and maybe
    that’s a loss. But there’s a kind of beauty to that, too.”

    Adam Seifer, the founder of another photo-sharing site,,
    said the glut of pictures is a problem only when they are channeled to
    the wrong audience. Mr. Seifer, who takes a picture of every meal he
    eats, concedes that his mother-in-law might not be interested in those
    pictures. “It becomes sort of the new spam,” he said.

    But Mr.
    Seifer’s food log receives 15,000 visits a week from people who are
    apparently interested. If photographers save the baby pictures for their
    mothers-in-law, Mr. Seifer argues, and store the rest in a central
    location where others can choose to view them or not, no one would
    suffer from overload.

    Still, even in the enthusiast bastion of online photo sharers, there are signs of paring down.

    thinking of going on an image diet,” Frederick Redden, 52, of Stuart,
    Fla., wrote on a Flickr discussion board. His plan to delete some of the
    250 pictures he had put up, based on unpopularity, was met with cries
    of disapproval.

    One respondent wrote, “If I did that, I’d have to delete all of my pictures!”

  • fast eddie

    I take lots of photos of my son, his birth is the reason I got delved further into photography, instead of just casually taking photos a few times a year. Now, I am a professional photographer. Thanks, boy!

    I tasked myself with a project to create a photo book for every year of his life, as long as he lets me. Once he begins to object, I’ll stop. I’m currently working on year 2.

    I do not have a facebook account, and I don’t let anyone post photos of him online. I email a few family members and friends, mostly those that live over 100 miles away, 3-4 times per year with a link to a new album on my website, with the access code to view and download what they want.

    My son is hardly aware of the camera, he just acts like himself.

  • Daniel Austin Hoherd
  • Michael Zhang

    We’ve replaced the copy-and-pasted article with a link to the original. Thanks for sharing.

  • JD929

    If you’ve acclimated the child to the camera, I imagine it makes little difference, though there is a point where you might be taking away from the moment just be keeping your face behind a camera.

  • eeed

    I grew up with momerazzi and as an adult who grew up in an over-documented environment i can say it’s really not the documentation but rather how its done. Taking pictures is not as intrusive as the parent disturbing the moment to asking the kids to ‘smile for the camera!’ Paents can also curb their need to show the kid every photo taken.

  • derp

    By all means take pictures of your kids, but keep them off the likes of FB, Instagram and Flickr, no one cares about seeing pictures of your kids

  • eddjames

    Spot on!

  • Trey Campbell

    I think he makes a decent point but on the flip side, my frequent little mini-photo sessions with my 1 year old daughter are special bonding experiences. There’s no tv going with loud commericals, no ipad games, etc. Instead it’s one-on-one time watching my baby study a blade of grass or a leaf or an acorn. And snapping a few pics here and there. You can’t buy times like those. I think I’m going to have to risk her being a little more self-aware than otherwise.

  • Jeremy Madore

    I think this is the biggest point to be made, and one that is absent from the article. I haven’t read the original article, so I don’t know if the author touches upon that.

    As a parent, simply appreciating and observing the moment does so much more for the relationship with your child than snapping a photo you are pleased with and want to show the world. My wife used to be snap-happy with our kids, until I pointed out that she completely missed these pinnacle moments. She slowed down a lot after that, and began enjoying more sunsets and ‘first’ moments.

    My motto: observe and appreciate first, document on the next round. Or hire a photographer to do it for you.

  • harumph

    Nobody except your friends and family. If you have facebook “friends” who annoy you with pictures of their kids, then they probably aren’t real life friends, and they probably aren’t posting them for you anyway.

  • Wallerus

    Agreed, FB is the main way I keep up with family these days. They are all over, and they love to see pics. I never get tired of seeing my friend’s pics, they have some cute kids!!

  • Wallerus

    I think another major issue is taking a ton of pics, and not printing them for an album, photo book , or whatever.

  • brandon

    agree. posting ur kids’ pics on FB every day is obnoxious and vain and even family gets tired of it. We get it, you have a kid. Stop shoving it in my face, the grown ups are having a conversation.

  • darylcheshire

    years ago, many digital camera ads featured kids with food on their face.

  • Larissa

    All these children will suffer from Smiling Camera Syndrome. It’s a serious disease that I suffer from as well. Any time I see a camera, even from far away, I automatically smile. There are very few candid shots of me. DAMN YOU, CONDITIONING!