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On Family Portraiture & Psychology

Have you ever stopped to think that having family portraits, especially when framed and placed around your home, can actually positively affect your children as they grow up?.

I was inspired to write this post after a recent conversation with a friend about my family portraiture work. We were talking about the families I work with and the average age of their kids. And he asked me a couple of questions I had really never considered before:

“Do you think it is spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically beneficial in some way for kids to grow up seeing pictures of positive and happy times with their loving families? Times that they very likely will not have conscious memory of as they grow up?”

He was convinced that it must be great for them to grow up seeing these timeless images of their younger selves captured in such rapture with their loving families. I didn’t doubt it. But to be honest, I had never thought about it from this particular perspective.

The question started spinning the gears in my head. I always knew that parents love family photos. They are any family’s most precious keepsakes. And I always imagined that kids would appreciate them when they were much older. Everyone loves a lil’ nostalgia looking at their baby pics!

But I had never imagined that my photography might be having a significant positive impact on the early childhood development of kids, and by extension, their families.

So I decided to look online to see if any research had ever been done on the topic. I thought if there was any evidence to prove his theory, good ol’ Google would help me find it. And to my amazement, I came across some interesting stuff! In fact, experts believe and evidence suggests that, yes…

…displaying family photographs in your home can increase your child’s self-esteem and sense of belonging.

I’ve read through a few articles on the topic and have put together some of my favourite parts and quotes below on this page. All sourced articles can be found at the end of each section.


A research conducted in the UK in 2009 surveyed 1000 parents and came up with interesting results.

First, it revealed that the UK is a nation obsessed with keeping loved ones close, with 78 per cent of families keeping between one and fifteen family pictures around the home.

However, it also showed that “those who have grown up without photos in their home are less likely to go on to display any of their own children presently” - and this, as argued by a couple of professors from the University of Manchester, could in fact be damaging to the children’s image of self as they mature.

Professor Geoff Beattie, Head of School and Dean of Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester argued:

“We cannot underestimate the power of photographs to keep us feeling linked to others and belonging. They cement us into our networks. For children in particular, looking at photographs is part of the socializing process; learning who you are and where you fit into the family. By displaying photographs of our children at different stages of their lives, we are making a very public statement that we are proud of them.”

The majority of parents surveyed had a favourite photo and of those, 58 per cent said it was taken with family, a partner or another loved one, and 45 per cent said it reminded them of a happy time.

Professor Beattie adds: ‘It’s very significant that the two reasons people give for loving a particular photograph is that it reminds them of a happy time taken with family. These things are so important to us.’

Towards the end of the article, Richard Mayfield, Director of Photography of Venture New Generation Portraits, adds: 

‘Our research shows how important it is to find the time to capture the real essence of a family. In today’s time-pressured world it is becoming increasingly difficult to spend good quality family time, however when we look at photographs, we remember how we felt when that picture was taken. When children grow up surrounded by photographs, it gives them a richer understanding of where they come from, which helps with confidence. Until recently, people often thought of photographs as almost trivial, but actually they are an incredibly important way of connecting with our sense of self, with each other and with times gone by.’


Previous research has also found that 71 per cent of parents thought that having pictures displayed around the home boosts a child’s self-image and self-esteem, with 90 per cent stating that they believe children to be more aware of their own image than 10 years ago..

Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1117243/Family-photographs-help-develop-childs-positive-self-image.html#ixzz3lkQKqAoQ 

Another article I came across during my online search was of a fellow American photographer who recently conducted interviews with psychology and photography experts and posed the following questions to them:

In 2015, what potential, if any, does family photography have to help boost a child’s self-esteem?

Among the experts interviewed there was a clear consensus that family portraits are a positive for helping children develop self-esteem.

David Krauss, a licensed psychologist from Cleveland, Ohio, replied:

“It’s as important if not more important. I think it is important to show a family as a family unit. It is so helpful for children to see themselves as a valued and important part of that family unit. A photographer’s job is to create and make the image look like a safe holding space for kids where they are safe and protected. Kids get it on a really simple level.”

Krauss is one of the earliest pioneers in using people’s personal photography and family albums to assist in mental health counseling and therapy. He co-authored a book with Fryrear titled “Photo Therapy and Mental Health” in 1983 that is considered a founding text for the use of photography in therapy.

Judy Weiser, a licensed psychologist working in the US, also gave her opinion:

“Family photography lets children learn who they are and where they fit. They learn their genealogy and the the uniqueness of their own family and its story. When a child sees a family portrait with them included in the photograph they say to themselves: ‘These people have me as part of what they are, that’s why I belong here. This is where I come from.’”

During this interview, the experts were also asked:

When it comes to having the greatest positive impact for your child, which is better, digital images or paper prints?

Psychologist David Krauss replied:

“My bias is very simple. I think family photographs should be on the wall. I am very conservative about self-esteem and I think placing a family photo someplace in the home where the child can notice it every day without having to turn on a device or click around on a computer to find it really hits home for that child this sense of reassurance and comfort. They have a certainty about them and a protecting quality that nurtures a child. It let’s them know where they are in the pecking order and that they are loved and cared for.”

In other words, simply posting your favourite portraits on your Facebook page and not choosing to print, frame, and hang any of them around your home is simply not taking full advantage of the psychological and emotional benefits that your portraits can provide to your family and to your little ones as they grow! 

“Naturally, family photography of your child isn’t a magic wand for your child’s self-esteem. “It doesn’t win the battle but it gives you useful ammunition in the battle of creating self-esteem and identity,” Krauss says..

> Source: http://www.glowimagery.com/family-photo-benefits-childrens-self-esteem/

In yet another great article found online, I came across an interview with Dr. David Walsh, founder and director of Mind Positive Parenting, who shared some fascinating brain science facts about why portrait photography plays such an important role.

According to Walsh, photographs of children — be they school, team or family photographs — help children establish a deep and unshakable sense of belonging. He says:

“One of the reasons that photography is so powerful is that we’re a very visual species. We have, of course, five senses but we have more brain cells dedicated to vision than all of the other senses combined.” For that reason, Walsh says, printed images are particularly powerful in reinforcing one’s sense of belonging. 

You know the magic of family photos, the magic of team or class pictures. “We celebrate the birthdays. We memorialize the family holiday celebrations. We remember being on that softball team.” Describing the scene that is played out every time a child brings home their school yearbook, Walsh says, “The first thing they look for is to see where they show up in that book.” Those printed images become a point of reference in their other relationships, too, bringing to mind a typical scene between a child and a loved one. “Here’s where I am in that class picture, Grandma.”

We are also reminded that it’s not just children who get a boost of self-esteem from photography. Portraits serve as important markers of milestones in everyone’s lives. 

“When we see photographs of ourselves at celebrations or family events, they reinforce belonging, which is so critical to all of us, not just our children.”

As the article continues to explain:

“Photographs are an important part of a family history. When choosing a photographer, keep in mind that the photographer plays two important and powerful roles: “One is the technical part, the lighting, the printing, the framing, all of those things that I don’t know much about as a psychologist,” Walsh admits, “but what I do know is the importance of putting children at ease, making them feel welcome.” .

Of course, we want our kids to look their best for their photographs, perhaps dressed up a bit and hair combed. But, more importantly, we want them to look happy. We want to see them smile. Walsh says to remember the power of those mirror neurons. “Children are like sponges. They absorb the behaviors they see around them. They have this radar for emotions. If we’re fussing excessively over appearances, or are uptight about getting big smiles, we’re very likely to get the opposite reaction. Relax,” Walsh reminds us, “and so will the kids. And the smile will take care of itself.”

> Source: http://lifetouch.com/photography-builds-self-esteem/ 

As a photographer, I have always been aware of the importance of capturing special moments and eternalizing them through photographs. But now, knowing that portraits that are framed and placed around a family’s home can actually help children develop a deeper sense of belonging and self-esteem, I’m even more passionate about the work that I do!

Love & light, Cami Mendes


Cami Mendes from Bellatrix Photography is a professional family, wedding & lifestyle photographer. Cami is based in Toronto and works in all of the GTA such as Oakville, Mississauga, Burlington, Milton, Vaughn, Richmond Hill as well as in cottage country such as Collingwood, Muskoka, and the Niagara Falls region, including Niagara-on-the-Lake. Outside of Canada, Cami also photographs in Brazil, in & around São Paulo, Ilhabela and Rio de Janeiro, and in Oslo, Norway. For more information, visit bellatrixphotography.com.

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