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Finding the Balance

Jay and I have six kids between us. Four are mine, and two are his. They range in age from 8- 14. Here’s a shot of the six of them from a recent trip to West Virginia. Betcha can’t guess which three are adopted… or maybe you can. 😉 (Don’t worry – they’re proud of the distinction.)

We are always busy – homework, school programs, soccer games, martial arts classes, show choir, and all the other things that are part of having kids. It’s great fun – but it’s also hard to find time for the things WE love to do. Lots of you have kids, too – and one of the questions we hear a lot is this:

“How do you balance family and a photographic career?”

Well, it’s not easy. We work a lot in the evenings and on weekends – and we try hard to make sure that the kids have our attention when they need it most. That means that family time is usually more important than getting those photos from our latest trip processed.

Fitting travel into a busy schedule takes creativity and lots of advance planning. We travel about once a month (if possible), and in most cases, our children stay at home with a trusted adult. Most of our trips last for just a few days – we generally travel over a long weekend – so we try hard to put ourselves in the best possible location at the right time. Research and flexibility are essential.

Before we leave home, we do some serious research. We’re looking for sunrise and sunset times, weather patterns, tide charts, topographical maps, various shooting locations, and the advice of park rangers, local residents, and other photographers. We make sure we know a lot about a variety of potential shooting locations.

Even with good information, we never decide exactly where we’ll shoot until we’re on location. We may plan a trip months in advance, but we wait until we’re there to decide where to shoot. We’re watching weather patterns to make sure we have the best possible conditions… and we’re willing to drive long distances to reach the best destinations. Our plans are constantly changing based upon cloud cover, humidity levels, and the angle of the sun.

If the weather is bad or the light isn’t right for shooting, we explore the area. We look for locations with interesting foreground and background – and we note the topography of the area for future reference. We’ll return to choice spots when conditions are right – maybe a day or two later, and maybe on another trip. We try not to waste any of our travel time, so that future trips might be more fruitful.

Although most of our trips are child-free, the kids do travel with us about once a year. This year, they joined us for a trip to West Virginia, and in past years we’ve taken them to Olympic National Park, Lake Michigan, Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, and The Everglades. We’ve also been to Florida and Colorado with the kids. Those trips are generally geared towards the children rather than photography – so we’re less likely to shoot for our portfolios when the kids are with us. However, if the skies are fantastic, they can listen to an audio book in the car or play nearby while we shoot. These shots were taken from the side of the road in Yellowstone National Park – the kids were listening to a music CD while we photographed the storm clouds at sunset. 🙂

When the children are with us we choose locations that are child-friendly (no 2000 foot cliffs!), and we looked for daytime lighting conditions that accent the location. Waterfalls, for example, are just beautiful in overcast conditions – and children love the falling water.

When we travel with the kids, we’re also concerned about bed-times… so that means late sunset and early sunrise photography are not going to happen. If you can manage it, why not travel with the kids during the winter months? Our kids are all in school now, so winter travel is difficult, but younger families can take advantage of off-season hotel rates and enjoy parks without the crowds that tourist-season brings. Why not take the family to Death Valley in January or February? (Jay and I have been there many times, but not yet with the kids.) Summer weather in the Mojave Desert is remarkably unpleasant – unless you like scorching heat and bone-dry weather – but the winter months are wonderful. Death Valley is nice and warm in winter, and passing storm-fronts make for wonderful skies. When children are along, shorter winter days mean you can shoot both sunrise and sunset while your child is awake.

And best of all, a playing child makes a perfect “point of interest” for those wide angle nature shots. Although they aren’t part of my public collection, some of the photos I’ve taken of my kids are my favorite shots.

So, get out there and shoot! No excuses! 🙂 And have fun – because that’s what having kids is all about!

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.

  • I loved reading this, Varina and Jay. Having 2 (very) young kids myself, we made it a point to start taking them to our favourite wilderness areas from very young. Our daughter as 6 months old when we went to the Kruger Park with her for the first time, and 9 months old when we tackled the Kalahari. As they grow older (and we possibly have more kids) I’d like to make them as passionate about the bush as we are…but always planning the trips with their safety and enjoyment in mind too.

    Thanks for the inspiration and ideas (boy do we already love being able to travel in off-peak seasons!).

    Cheers
    Morkel

    • It’s great to hear that there are other people out there teaching their kids to love the outdoors, Morkel! I can tell you that your efforts really will pay off. Even as they enter their teens, our children really look forward to outdoor activities. It’s great to be outdoors with them, watching them learn to love the same things we do. And I have no doubt that they will pass that on to their own children eventually. Have fun out there! And be safe!

  • Thanks so much for the peek inside and point of view, Varina. As a mother of 5 (3-18) and one who is now more intentional with photography and struggling to balance it all- this gives me hope! 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment, Pamela. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever have a moment of peace again – but it’s a whole lot of fun, isn’t it? I hope that you find simple ways to balance your own needs with those of your children and the entire family. And make sure you remember to breathe! 😉

  • Paola Baldo

    Dear Varina &Jay
    love the photos of your gorgeous family, often think about you and the lovely time we spent together.
    paola

    • Great to hear from you, Paola! We had a wonderful time with all of you, too. I hope we’ll get to do it again sometime!

  • You have a beautiful family! I enjoyed ready this. I bet photographers with children will find this very helpful! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • One word: Admirable. Admirable and astonishing. (Ok, that’s two). 🙂

    • Thanks Melli. 🙂 We are so lucky to have such great kids!

  • Deise Lemos de Almeida

    Tens um bom grupo aí! Família linda!

    • Thank you so much, Deise! They are amazing fun!

  • Thanks for this one, Varina! we’re expecting our first within a month or so, and encouragement is definitely welcome!

    • You are more than welcome, Jackson! Congratulations on your first child! This will change your life – for the better. Good luck in the upcoming months!

  • Hey Varina!!!
    Though am neither a parent nor professional photographer but i have loads n loads of interest in photography. just want some of your help. i am studying right now and my age is 19.
    please do help me out…!!!
    Regards – Touqeer

    • Hello Touqueer – Photography is a difficult career choice… but if you are motivated and willing to learn, there’s no reason why you can’t get into the business. I’d recommend reading everything you can on the subject – the internet is an excellent resource! Learn everything you can, join a critique site and exchange critiques with others who are also working to improve their photography, and take lots of photos. Good luck!

  • I just loved reading this! Right now, we have a fairly young family – ages 2-8 and it can be quite interesting trying to get the photos I want and still balance our home life.

    • Oh yes, Tamara – the littler they are, the harder it is! 🙂 I remember those days… and it really wasn’t very long ago! They are so much fun when they are little, aren’t they?

  • Hi Varina,

    Thanks for this post. I am new to photography and new at being a dad so it is great to know that it is still possible to do both well. Thanks for all the inspiration!

    -Christian

    • Congratulations, Christian! It’s a balancing act – but it’s well worth it! 🙂

  • Carlo Didier

    Thanks for sharing this. Though I’m not a professional photographer, I have similar problems, only with two kids (one mostly out of house already) and two dogs.

    • It’s a wonderful problem to have, I think. 😉 The kids keep me feeling young… right up until they make me feel really OLD!