Dear Parent Hitting the Refresh Button (again) to View Camp Photos

Camp PhotosDear Parent Hitting the Refresh Button (again) to View Camp Photos,

I know your pain. I’m on your side of the computer this week, waiting for a glimpse of one of my children at his camp. So far, I’ve seen only one blurry, side-view of my son in the far background of a picture of another child. That’s it. Posting photos is clearly not a priority at the camp my sons are attending, and I have to be okay with that.

I’ve been an avid photographer and photo consumer my whole life. I took photography classes in high school and college, and vigorously documented every event of my high school and college years. My oldest children’s baby and toddlerhoods are archived nicely in albums and shoe boxes, and my family digital library is so huge I had to move it to an external hard drive. I love photos, so when the digital conversion started, we were among the first camps to post photos online.

The first summer we posted photos for parents at home – back in 2000 – the quality was horrible. We couldn’t get digital action shots, because the digital cameras didn’t have a zoom or an ability to adjust shutter speed. Posted photos were pixelated, blurry, and all-around awful. Nobody would ever want to get a print of one of those things. We continued taking “real” photos with our film cameras to use for our brochures, slide shows, and yearbooks. A few parents may have clicked through the photos, but I don’t remember it being a big deal.

Back in those early digital days, my husband or I—or one of our office staff—took a few pictures of some pairs and groups of kids, and we posted them. We probably posted about 25 pictures a day. Our “real” photographer (one person) continued using slide film to capture the action shots and fun of camp for posterity.

Camp Photos
Camp Photo Gallery Online

Fast-forward 16 years, and we find ourselves in a whole new photo world. A world, I must say, that’s gone just a teeny bit crazy. At the end of the session, when I’m shuttling parents to the parking lot in our camp van, many report that while their kids were having fun at camp for two weeks, they spent the majority of each day sitting at their computer, hitting the refresh button and waiting to see more photos of their child.

We, too, have gotten caught up in the craze. The one photographer we used to have has morphed into a team of eight who require an entire office, a fleet of computers, and a supervisor to keep them scheduled and on track. Their 40-page photo manual includes an article I wrote for Campminder Magazine called “WOWing Parents with Your Camp’s Photos,” as well as guidelines for using our digital SLR cameras in various lighting and action situations, the appropriate poses for cabin group photos, and how to capture good portraits.

But after all these years, and a whole lot of effort and hard work creating a fabulous photography department and refining our practices, I can confidently say that—even with our highly organized, massive team of photographers and a talented supervisor who works extremely long hours sorting and managing the photo uploads—we still won’t make you happy with the photos we post this summer.

I’m sorry.

We’ve really tried. We’ve tried hard. Harder than most camps, I think, based on my experience seeing photos at other camps my children have attended.

But this photo posting gig is a losing proposition. No matter how many photos we shoot or how much time we spend sorting, editing, labeling, and tracking how many pictures we’ve taken of your camper and their cabin group, you will never see enough photos of your child.

Because, as you scroll through the photos we have taken (even the breath-takingly beautiful scenic ones), you may not be looking at the “big picture” of the fun that’s going on at camp, our awesome views, or the smiles on the faces of campers and counselors. Likely, and understandably, you are single-mindedly searching for one thing: your precious child’s face.

When you find that rare treasure—the photo of your child—you add it to your “favorites,” enlarge it on your screen, and then the real scrutiny begins:

Is that the same shirt he was wearing yesterday?

Is that a real or forced smile?

Why is he not standing closer to the friend he went to camp with? Are they not getting along?

What is that mark on his cheek? Is it dirt or a rash?

Is that a storm cloud in the distance?

Why is he wearing one blue sock and one white sock?

What is that bandage covering?

Has his hair been washed AT ALL since he got to camp?

His lip looks cracked. Is he using his lip balm?

The counselor is standing on the other side in the group photo. Does he not like my child?

And that’s when you call me to check on that “gut feeling” you have after viewing the photo. “Can you just check on my child?” you ask. “I can tell by the photo that something’s not right.”

After three decades as a camp director who has witnessed camp photo posting morph into something beyond crazy, I have a few gentle reminders for you to consider as you scroll through our picture library:

Please don’t count how many pictures there are of your child compared to your friend’s child and send me an email with your tally.

Please don’t call if you don’t see a photo of your child today (when you saw one every day before that).

Please know that despite your confirmed belief that we are purposefully avoiding taking a photo of your child, we are doing our very best.

Please know that it is painful to miss some of your child’s amazing camp moments. You will not be there to witness goals conquered and fears overcome. Our photographers will miss most of those moments, too, but your child will not. Nor will he forget the feeling he had in that memorable moment, and when he gets home, he will tell you the whole story. Despite how the world makes us feel as if we’re supposed to be recording every moment rather than living it, experiencing things as they are—without digital documentation—is special.

Please know that if we were to stick a camera in front of your kid at every moment and every activity at camp, he would feel like he was at a school awards assembly.

Please know that our camp staff’s top priority is providing your child with a fun, positive experience at camp. Recording some of the experience through photos and videos is a side project we do primarily to try and keep you happy (and away from camp).

Finally,

Please step away from your computer, unplug, and go outside.

That’s what your kids are doing at camp, and it will be good for you, too.

Thank you for understanding,

Signed,

Your camp director (and her photo team)

There are about a billion different ways you could have spent the last five minutes, and you spent them reading my post. Thank you! If you like Sunshine Parenting, please subscribe to get an email update each time I post (use box in right column). Follow me on FacebookPinterest, or Twitter for links to articles and ideas about camp and parenting. Have a happy day!

Resources/Related:
The Dark Side of Looking at Camp Pictures Online, Huffington Post (Dr. G)
Parents Scrutinize Online Camp Photos to Check on Kids, Wall Street Journal
Summer Camp Online Photos, The Jewish Week

Sunshine

I'm blessed to have five great kids (ages 13-23) call me “Mom.” As a summer camp director for the past 30 years, I've also had the privilege of working with thousands of kids, college-age counselors, and parents. I follow the latest research and trends on parenting, education, and children’s development and love to share what I learn!

6 Comments
  1. Dear Sunshine,

    Thanks for your awesome post. I will be that camp auntie next week and you just reminded me how important it is to unplug while my nephew will be unplugged and enjoying all the gifts that the GAC experience will give him.

    In Gratitude,

    Tqoe

  2. Love the camp pictures!! So fun to see everything going on while hunting for my kids. Keep it up! Catherine Brackey

  3. Thanks for the behind the scenes insight into the camp photos. I have had between 1-4 campers/CIT at GAC over the past 12 years and love seeing the photos. While I will admit when the kids were in there first year or two, it was a huge relief to see that first smiling photo and I confess to hitting the refresh button once or twice!! Now, I have as much fun seeing pictures of all the kids enjoying themselves. I love being able to download and purchase prints at the end of the session (or months later…)to have for photo albums and my GAC alumni kids love to reminisce and see their previous counselors and other GAC staff year after year in action.

    Before reading your article, I hadn’t even considered the time and effort it takes to get those photos taken, catalogued, uploaded etc so that parents/family can enjoy, download, and purchase them. I have a new appreciation for the hard work that goes into preparing for, welcoming, and providing an incredibly awesome experience for your campers and their families. Unfortunately, no matter how much time and how many staff members work tirelessly and constantly to improve the experience each year, you can’t make it perfect for everyone.

    THANK YOU to the photographers, organizers, uploaders and all those making it possible and so simple for us to view, enjoy, and purchase the photos. They are truly enjoyed in the present and will continue to be enjoyed for years to come.

    Thanks GAC for another great year!

  4. I have read other posts here that are super helpful but not this one, it is almost contrary. My daughter is a 13 year old with a ton of social anxiety and fits the statement you wrote elsewhere that just going to camp is a victory. In fact, just going to school is a victory for her. Many of the camp photos of her that I have seen are the required one photo taken to give me a lifeline. There is no number of single poses that will appease me and I will keep clicking to see her in a group photo or participating in an activity. When I see that, that is when I walk away from the computer and unplug. All kids are not the same and categorizing parents as tallyers lumps us and the please don’t call me mantra doesn’t consider that most kids in this internet generation have some variation of social awkwardness. If you are taking photos, you should aim to make your best better and do it in a satisfying way. That would be a better use of time than discouraging parents to contact you because you know our kids better than we do.

  5. Dear Sunshine,

    Your post resonated with me more than you can imagine. I own a school and this year we took our daily agendas online. We found an amazing, interactive, live communication program. This program generated more work for our staff however it has mostly improved our interactions with parents. It has connected parents with their children and our team and made the families more loyal to our school. However, what was once more imaginative and trust-building communication coming from a paper notebook, has turned some of our parents into Parentzillas (similar to Bridezillas).

    Most of our interactions and critiques have now come from the desire for MORE:
    *More daily photos (10 is apparently not enough while we are trying to keep 1 year olds safe in a classroom together)
    *More specific details about what their child ate (one mom even asked if we could take a picture of the spoon size and tell her how many exactly went into her son’s mouth)
    *More details on exact eye-closing at the start of nap time (she rightfully wanted more “12:07:32” details because a rough estimate while napping 24 children, in the dark, while some still have not slept yet, was not enough)
    ETC…

    I started to wonder…is all of this direct communication and interactiveness helpful or are we enabling helicopter parents? Where is the trust and respect for the art of teaching? Are we helping parents stay connected to their children or are we making them internet addicts and forcing them to be connected when they should be focusing on WORKING (you think the Pokemon Go craze is bad, you could probably see our parents, with mobiles out, wandering around the city, checking for the last time their children washed hands)? Do they realize that before, they were lucky to catch a glimpse inside of the classroom on Fridays when we updated the Intranet with weekly photos and a newsletter? Finally..I wondered…DO THESE PARENTS UNDERSTAND HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO TAKE CARE OF TODDLERS, MAINTAIN RATIOS, KEEP EVERYONE SAFE, PROVIDE STIMULATING ACTIVITIES AND INTERACT WITH CHILDREN WHILE LOGGING IN EVERY DIAPER CHANGE AND SENDING A PHOTO WITH A CAPTION?

    I am not sure how to solve the pandoras box that we opened with this digital age. I think there needs to be more of a balance between educators desire to connect families and parent appreciation for our efforts to do so. How we find that balance is through blog posts like these!

    Thank you Sunshine for opening up our eyes to your efforts to keep us parents happy while providing a memorable experience for our children. We know how special GAC is and we keep coming back because of your team’s attention to details!

    Best,

    Jill

    P.S. Olivia’s eyes were closed in her last photo on the deck near the water. Was it the reflection or is she not getting enough sleep? hehehe

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