All images by Andrea O'Reilly.

Mobile phones have introduced children to photography in a new and intimate way.

Today a child is brought into a world of globally connected touch screens filled with interactive content, while more traditional screens become extinct through lack of attention. We’ve moved from an era of passive screens to interactive ones, from TV to tablets.

A more mobile world

Today most children will explore photographs through an interactive mobile device. Previously, the dominant form of visual information was received via a one-way media channel, such as a television program. I can contrast today’s reality to my childhood when photographs from around the world came in the form of the latest National Geographic magazine.

Now our imagery is interactive, cross-platform and on demand. Children expect that a digital device will be both interactive and connected. They intuitively anticipate access to content and images through a touch screen.  

The future of photography will be shaped by the formative experiences of children today -- children who will face a mobile phone camera before they’re even opened their eyes. The miracle of childbirth is shared quickly with the mobile phone, connecting family and friends to the joy and elation felt by parents in real time.

The mobile phone camera has become this generation's first and most powerful experience with photography. When Annie Liebovitz said in November 2011 that the iPhone 4S was “the snapshot camera of today,” she was simply stating the obvious.

A shift in family photography

As a child of the ‘90s, I grew up with family photographs carefully selected and collected in albums. Photography was film, with each shot carefully considered. On my pre-digital family trips I’d load my only roll of film into my camera and I would have to ration each exposure, hoping that my approach would have me prepared for the potential photograph around the next bend in the road.

The impact of the mobile phone camera on family photography is huge. The mobile phone camera is the definitive family camera of our time, as it’s always there and everyone in the family knows how to use it.

While a mobile phone camera certainly isn’t a professional photographer’s preferred choice, parents everywhere have already accepted it as the best photographic device for recording and sharing moments of innocence and beauty of childhood. Proof is found in the sheer volume of photographs of children shot and shared by parents with a mobile device. And despite all perceived technical limitations of the mobile phone camera, parents are taking incredible photographs of their children.

One photographer's perspective on children's photography

I’ve been following the mobile phone photography by Andrea O'Reilly (@dappledowl on Instagram) for some time now. Her images of her children are simply beautiful. They stand out because of the quality of the image, always a beautiful composition and fantastic use of light. I’ve asked O'Reilly to share her experiences and images for this very reason.

 Andrea O'Reilly (@dappledowl) intermixes more adult-themed street photography with portraits of her own children on her Instagram feed.

Andrea, you shoot amazing street photography, why do you also take images of your children?

Documenting their fleeting childhood is my primary motivation for photographing the children, and usually they are never far from my side. In addition to the memories, I find children as subjects have huge range of emotions, (not always easy to capture) and they're often up for anything. Hanging out is fun, they're lateral thinkers and have captivating creativity.

Does sharing images of your children worry you? What is your advice for sharing personal images?

I share a portion of my photographs online to engage in the mobile photography community. It's enjoyable and enriching. I don't geotag or use names on images with children, unless it is a private account between family and friends.

Photographing children isn’t easy, what tips can you give to take great photos of your children?

I'm always looking for more advice for photographing children as they are unpredictable little creatures. Sometimes this can aid the process! My tips would be to roll with what they are doing and join in. Engagement can produce great results, but sometimes if you step back and try to be invisible, the unmasked emotions are priceless.

Do you encourage your son to take photos with your mobile phone? What sort of photography does he take?

My son takes some photographs with a mobile phone, as far as he is concerned that's just another way to take photographs. No distinction between the DSLR and the phone. At the moment any photography is predominately for communication between friends. They will photograph or video themselves and then share the images via email or text. He is captivated by the social aspect, but I limit this to private accounts between people we know. I think it's important for him to learn this aspect in a controlled manner, to help arm him for the online world of his future.

Maintaining privacy

O'Reilly shares images via the Instagram app, which has only two settings: Private or Public. If your images are set to Public, your images are viewable by anyone, anywhere. But even when sharing your images publically, you can maintain a level of privacy.

When the Facebook acquisition of Instagram was announced earlier this year I read several media articles announcing that user privacy would be in peril, and that privacy settings needed close scrutiny. But Instagram already had only two privacy options (Public or Private) so the issue of privacy was already clear. Then the inclusion of the Photo Map on each profile page revealed that many Instagram users had already posted images with geo-tag information, despite not intending to do so at the time. Thankfully this privacy issue could also be quickly resolved, as users can remove any geo-tag information from a picture at the time they upload it, or at any time after an image is shared.

If you are a parent, you should review the geo-tag information recorded on both your own account, and that of your child. The information can be easily removed from existing images in the application. Of course there are other photo sharing applications that you or your child may be using, so check out those privacy settings too and adjust them accordingly.

The public sharing of real time personal images is an incredible shift in photography. Certainly there’s an argument that such activity is narcissistic, and to some people the idea of placing a private photograph online for public viewing may be deemed over-sharing, but it is often simply an expression of the joy felt by a proud parent.

I believe that today, sharing real time images is an increasingly accepted part of life. I also believe that you can control what you choose to see online, so if you’re seeing way too many baby photos on Instagram or Facebook, either simply un-follow the person, or change your viewing settings. Please, don’t throw the baby out with the Internet.

Protecting how your child shares images

Of course the issue of oversharing is a significant concern as children grow and potentially receive their own mobile phone, tablet or similar “connected camera” that allows you to shoot and share from the same single device. Such connected devices will potentially expose a child to social influences via text messaging and email, as well as various forms of social media, be it Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other of the preferred mobile platforms. These platforms intrinsically reward participation (more traditional media will simply rewards a user’s attention).

So how should a parent control the use of the camera on their child’s device? That will be a personal decision for each parent to make. The changing role of mobile technology and social media in the life of a child is a key concern for parents everywhere.

For example, Instagram (like Facebook) is rated 13+ in an effort to prevent minors from being exposed to questionable or inappropriate content. You can set a child’s social media accounts to private to help maintain privacy, however, such a setting is not a guarantee.

Some parents have simply placed a ban on social media for their children. This can mitigate the risks, but also potentially ostracises a child from experiences in online social interaction, now an inherent part of the lives of most young people.

Parents need to be made aware of the implications of a connected camera device, which allows them to share photographs online in real time.  In recent years there have been numerous cases in which teens who shared photographs of a sexual nature have been subsequently registered as sex offenders because of the existing legislation intended to protect children from such exposure.

If you’re a parent, you need to consider the risks that a connected camera poses to your child, and make sure that your child understands the implications of their decisions for sharing images online.

Of course it’s not all bad news and privacy warnings. A connected camera has the potential to teach your child about photography in a way that no other device can. Children can take photos and access hundreds of photographic resources from the same device. They can record life as they see it, and feel the joy of sharing their images with parents, extended family and friends. They can post their photographs to social circles and learn the social value of photography, both good and bad.

Top tips for parents

Some advice for parents whose children use mobile phone cameras and share images online:

  1. Children love photography with a mobile phone, but be aware the camera function can quickly chew up battery life.
  2. Children should be made aware that sharing an image online is like giving everyone in the world a copy of that image. Don’t assume because it is shared privately or between friends that it is private.
  3. Find how to turn off location services or GPS data, or how to remove location data from photos that are shared.
  4. Limit your child’s access to social networks and review any privacy setting available. Even with accounts set to private you should review the “followers” to determine if they are appropriate.
  5. Teach your child when it is appropriate to use names or specific locations in the image caption when sharing online. 

Oliver Lang's (@oggsie) mobile phone images have been show in exhibitions and press both locally and in Europe. He currently teaches mobile photography courses at the Australian Centre for Photography. He is exploring the growth of participatory photography and the innovations that the connected culture of mobile photography is driving.