What Is a Picture Worth?

The afternoon sun catches my son’s face, his often-serious tone. He’s lost in a thought, about chameleons or frilled lizards or some other scaly beast he yearns for. I snap a photo. He looks up at me. A wave of brown hair covers one hazel eye and he flashes that boyish grin that melts my heart. Snap. Got it.

My daughter chomps ice on the front porch, pretending to ignore me, looking everywhere but at my camera. Quickly she shoots a smile toward me, the ice as her teeth. Snap. She smiles again and crinkles up her freckled nose. She has the best smile, the kind that uses every muscle in her face. Without realizing it, you return the favor. Her smile is contagious. Snap. Snap. Even a photo can’t capture the beauty of it sometimes.

My kids complain that I take too many pictures. For all the moments I capture, there are tons more that I miss. First steps. That stink eye my daughter used to give us before bursting into a fit of giggles.

Do I need a picture of every moment of my kids’ childhoods? No. But I’m a sentimental person. I document in many ways to keep memories alive. Pictures fill in the holes of a memory that fades more each year, like a quilt airing in the sun. Even more, I want my kids to see themselves, to see how I see them.

I don’t have a lot of pictures of my early childhood. Sure, there are plenty of those awkward years that I’d like to forget. But I’d give anything to have more pictures of the good stuff: random shots of my sister and me playing in our rooms, snuggled in bed together every Christmas Eve, playing at the beach where we went every weekend, dressed in any Halloween costume. All of those memories are tucked in my head where I can show them to no one.

I want to see the old house where my grandparents used to live. The kitchen where my grandmother ate ketchup sandwiches and peaches and cream. The room that held the old fridge where I’d squat and decide which flavor of Nehi I wanted that day, or the upstairs bedroom where at age five I’d sit and talk to my great-grandmother in her bed. We’d rub our hands over the patches on her quilt and discuss our favorites. She told me I could have that quilt when she died, and it wasn’t long before I found it on my own bed. I wish I had just one picture of her and me together.


The bottles are smaller but oh, the flavor takes me back.

I wish I had pictures of a lot of things but I don’t. We simply didn’t take a lot of pictures. So I do it for my kids. I want to remember.

I look at pictures of my kids and I’m transported. I hear their voices, their giggles. I remember the moment. I snapped a shot of my daughter tasting sand in the sandbox and her brother giggling at her toddler stupidity. I treasure the image of the two of them snuggled in her crib after her nap. When she woke up, he’d race into her room and jump in with her before I could even stand up. I’d stand in the hall and listen as they giggled, so happy to see each other after two hours. Six years later, those few photos are all I have of those lost moments. Bedhead and sleepy eyes and dimpled grins, my son looking adoringly at his sister. And knowing my memory, fleeting moments like that in childhoods that pass too quickly would soon be forgotten, taken over by the next cute or funny thing.

So to me, ten thousand pictures is not too many. Nor ten thousand more. When you put them together, they’re a reminder of the beautiful life you are living.


I even take pictures of myself from time to time. Usually I’m behind the lens.



Filed under Everyday Life

36 responses to “What Is a Picture Worth?

  1. Wait until you get the new Google Glass. Then you can take pictures of your entire life!

    • I had to Google that. My word. That’s just what I need. Nope, I know my limits. There’s a reason I don’t have a smartphone. I know what I can be addicted to. 😉 (But that thing looks pretty freakin’ cool.)

  2. I feel the same way! I try to take videos but never can capture what I intend…I love looking at them as time passes and when I’m having a bad day.

  3. I love taking pictures too. My kids complain, but I keep right on snapping.

  4. i’m teary just reading. i am such a sap as well. i love to capture every moment, maybe also, because i have about 10 pictures of my childhood. lately though i just put them on the computer and forget to print them out. hopefully, they’ll still be there when i finally get around to making an ‘old time’ photo album like i love. there’s nothing better than pictures to capture time.

    • Yeah, I really wish I had more pictures of myself. Just all those little moments. Photos give so many clues as to what kind of person you were.

      I do have a lot of old family photos though and we’ve hung those in our house. It’s neat to see the family resemblance.

  5. I recently bought a nicer (and more expensive) camera for this exact reason. Children change every day and the cute things they do can be so fleeting. Thank you for putting this into words so eloquently!

    • Yes, of course what we think is cute, they’ll think is embarrassing. Like the bathtub shots or the ones where they’re pouting. Of course now mine just slam the door.

  6. I feel the same way. The other day I was berating myself for not writing more stuff down. Then I realized the zillions of pictures I take each day are a fine substitute. 🙂

    • They are, though I will say it’s not too late to start writing those things down! I do that too and mine are 10 and 7. They still say stuff that cracks me up. I think one day they’ll think it’s hilarious. Plus they love to hear stories about themselves when they were younger.

  7. I love this piece. As the youngest of 5, there are hardly any pictures of me as a kid, and none of me and my favorite cowboy, my brother Fred, playing together. So sad.

    I took tons of pictures of my son up to a certain age, but then I started taking fewer. Puberty is like that! But they are all “organized” in boxes … yikes. It’s on my someday list. But I have the good ones out and framed.

    Love the image of your son in the crib with his sister! But then, I’m partial to big brothers.

    • Yeah, your post about Fred tugged at my heartstrings. I always wanted a big brother and my son is a real good one. That picture of the two of them in the crib together is one of my favorites. He doesn’t smile for the camera often but when he does, it’s often with her. They are a team. I try hard to get lots of them together at every age.

  8. I think as parents, we can all soooooo identify with your longing to just nail down those moments in photos. Photos are so precious and have the ability to register memories quicker and faster than just about anything. (Except smells. Smells have a way of jolting me back to a time in place like nothing else.) I have a Facebook photo album that is devoted only to pictures of C, and I’ve updated it a couple times a month since she was born. Truth be told, I scroll through it at least twice a week before going to bed just so I can watch her grow. It makes me pensive and melancholy to watch her grow up in the space of a few minutes, but it helps remind me to enjoy where she is right now because eventually, the pictures I take today will only indicate a blink of her life.

    • They are so great to have though. Sometimes I feel like I’ve taken so many, yet when I go through them, I feel like I missed an entire era. In January my husband did a slide show with the kids to show them what did during the past year. It was great to look back at how they had grown. And I saw that we needed more pictures of Mom and Dad, so don’t forget those too!

  9. It’s true. Pictures communicate

  10. What a lovely post. I agree. It’s amazing how ‘normal’ taking thousands of photos of your kids becomes with digital photography – even my four year old son has a camera and we can let him snap away to his heart’s content, knowing it won’t cost an arm and a leg to have a reel of 24 photos developped which all turn out to be of his left nostril…

    • Agreed! I love digital photography. So disappointing to have that envelope of photos come back and they’re all blurry or you missed the shot completely.

      It’s interesting, I think somehow our generation, or at least my family and friends, missed the photo era. My husband’s grandparents have tons of slides and it’s so cool to look back at them. One day we’ll make our kids and grandkids do the same.

  11. Love! You’ve inspired me to take more pictures and to include some of myself every now and then. I love to look at old pics of my mom and I don’t have that many of me for my girls to reminisce over when they’re older. I’m off to photograph my kids (who are up too late) right now …

    • Definitely take some of you. I don’t have many of my mom and me together when I was younger either. The ones I have of her later are probably ones I took when I got a camera in high school.

  12. Lisa

    Yes the pain of being the second child. I know the feeling. And why is it the ones I do have from my childhood, I look like a complete dork?

    • There are tons of my sister as a baby, but even later there aren’t much of her either. I’m wondering if we even had a camera for a while. We definitely had one for the dork stage.

  13. I, too, am usually behind the lens. But with the prodding of my daughter, I am (and the fact that I now have an iPhone with a camera that functions facing me or away from me) trying to put me in more photos. Some photos I wish I had: our faces when the social workers told us we could adopt our sons (total surprise, since they’d told us they were being adopted by a family member), baby pictures of our sons and our daughter (since they were all adopted past they age of one), the day I was baptized, the day that my 18-month-old granddaughter said “Love you” (without me saying it first), my Granddaddy Raeford and me (even though we had cameras when I was little, it just wasn’t used except at Christmas and birthdays…and I can’t find a single one of him and me), and the day Kelly gave me my engagement ring — he’d already asked me to marry him and was totally surprised while visiting him at work, where he just whipped out the box because he couldn’t wait any longer). Thanks for making me think of these “undocumented” moments. Sandy

    • I do think there are some moments we’d just like to keep forever. Maybe that’s what we try to do, take pictures of things in hopes that we’ll guess and get some of it right.

  14. This is so lovely! Keep up the photo journalism. They may say “aw, Mom!” but they’ll look back on those captured moments in delight some day.

    Now my kids are grown and all my mental snapshots have grown orange and faded. I’m not sure if it’s dementia or if my brain is just going the way of all Kodak film from the 70s.

    • Now we can take pictures on Instagram to match that faded orange of your mental snapshots. Who knew it’d be the next big thing? I think the kids will be pretty happy with all of their pictures one day too. I just ignore their complaints. 😉

  15. Like you, I LOVE old photographs. I imagine that’s something that one acquires as one grows older, that nostalgia and desire to go back. When my son when to camp with all his buddies, they laughed at me for taking so many pictures of them. “We’ll just delete them,” one boy commented.

    That bummed me out.

    The idea that the pictures could be deleted so easily made me sad. Because, as you noted so eloquently, sometimes it isn’t until later that the photographs become significant.

    • Please. My husband has albums from his camp days. Those boys will be grateful to have photos of themselves together when they are grown and still in touch. They just won’t admit it in front of each other, or in front of Mom.

  16. This just warms my heart! As someone who loves taking photos and the memories that those photos help to preserve, I am all ten thousand photos and more! Your kids will appreciate it 10-15 years from now, when they look at them and laugh at these years. I wish I had more photos from my childhood, those were great times, i remember some of them, but photos would have been better

  17. I lamented for the longest time that past photos of me were lost forever. Then my brother found a box of slides that he digitized and my kids saw me as a baby, toddler and child for the first time ever. Turns out those memories were not just important to me — they are to them too!

    Thank goodness for digital photography, right? It is so easy to compile a photo book, spinning a story short or long in pictures and words (leave some space for hand-journaling) much simpler than the cut-and-mount scrapbooks of my time that required “sessions” to get them complete. I don’t miss scrap-booking one lick.

    Your memories of your great-grandmother and the quilt and Nehi are similar to mine with my elders. But the memory in some ways serves better than photos, vivid re-telling of those memories with children cuddled close even more endearing than a flip through an album. My children treasure these moments as they solidify family connections within their beautiful little minds.

    That doesn’t stop me from snapping away! The Olympus is on one shoulder, my purse on the other most of the time, but I don’t do it for them; I do it for me. Like you, I want to remember every lucious, precious detail for when they’ve moved on. We only get to enjoy them with all of our senses for such a short time.

    Beautiful post, Karen, as all of yours are! You make me want to go hug my kids.

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