• May 8, 2015

Moments of Motherhood Portrayed by Six National Geographic Photographers

Jessie Wender

How does motherhood shape photographers? On this Mother’s Day, I asked six National Geographic photographers, who are also moms, to share images of their own children and write about their experiences balancing motherhood and their photographic careers. They shared intimate images and beautiful stories of love, adventure, ritual, and reunion. Happy Mother’s Day!


“Lukas in the Park” (April 2015)
“Lukas in the Park” (April 2015)
Photograph by Lynsey Addario

For so much of my life, I have associated photography with work, so ironically, I don’t photograph my own family very much. My husband takes most of our family photographs, and when I do shoot at home, it’s with my iPhone. So, this image is one of a handful of times when I have actually photographed Lukas with my professional 35mm Nikon camera. I shot it across the street from our house in London after Lukas came home from a birthday party at Sophie and Clara’s house. The life of a photojournalist doesn’t easily lend itself to a stable personal life, and for years, I told people who asked whether I had children that my Nikons were my kids, and my home was where my base was—Turkey, India, Mexico, or New York. For me, having children is really about building a home—not a physical structure of a home, but a base, a family, a life. Having Lukas has changed everything—my home is where my family is, and at the end of every assignment, I know where I need to be. Lukas is 3, and I’ve missed every Mother’s Day, but I like to pretend every day I am with him is my own special Mother’s Day. —Lynsey Addario

“Pauhlo in Beaska, Guovdageaidnu” (2015)
“Pauhlo in Beaska, Guovdageaidnu” (2015)
Photograph by Erika Larsen

This image of my son Pauhlo was taken in Kautokeino, Norway. Kautokeino is a Sami village where I lived and worked with a family of reindeer herders for many years. The family has become as close to me as my own. When I visited this year I brought Pauhlo. I wanted to share with him the beauty and magic of the Arctic landscape and the Sami people that I have been so fortunate to experience. During his time there he got to see the reindeer, walk in the snow, attend a wedding, eat reindeer meat, stay in a lavvo, watch the northern lights, and be immersed in Sami language.

I am a photographer because I am a storyteller. I must live my stories to be able to tell them. As my son grows up, I hope to be able to bring him into situations where his own stories can be created, giving him memories and a wealth of experiences that reflect the world’s diversity. I also imagine that he will lead me to new frontiers and my work and life will become a reflection of those exposures. —Erika Larsen

“Rituals inside the Chaos” (April 1993)
“Rituals Inside the Chaos” (April 1993)
Photograph by Karen Kasmauski

Just before our son was born, we moved to a house with a beautiful cherry tree in the backyard. In spring, when he was just four months old, we put him on the freshly fallen cherry blossoms where I photographed him. That begin a tradition that we followed for each of the ten springs we lived in that house, photographing Will, who was soon joined by his sister Katie, lying on the soft pink petals.

Those rituals were important to our family. At the time, I was working almost nonstop for [National Geographic] magazine. But at the start of every trip, we’d all go to the airport together, so our children could see that I was leaving. When I came home, my husband would bring them to the airport so they could see I returned. That evening we’d have a little celebration. Those consistent rituals, where our children knew that I would leave yet always return, anchored all of our lives in the midst of my crazy career. My husband and I worked hard to give them stability and consistency—birthday parties and Boy Scouts, summer camps and soccer games. My life was nuts, but my children didn’t need to share in that chaos.

Motherhood added unexpected levels of stress to my life, arranging for child care when our babysitter abruptly returned to her home country or last-minute carpooling just as a deadline came due. Yet all that made me appreciate how much those without my resources must struggle to raise their families. Motherhood also made me more aware of what our actions are doing to our community and planet. I want to work harder to make this a better place. It’s not just a cliche for me but a reality that could affect my children, their children, and all the others I’ve met in the course of my work. —Karen Kasmauski

Almost asleep
“Almost Asleep” (April 2015)
Photograph by Rena Effendi

The truth is, it’s very difficult to be a mother and a photographer at the same time. I work with medium-format film, and while going through meters of negatives from both assignment and personal work, of images taken around the world and often of strangers’ children, I realized that I haven’t spent a single frame on my own daughter. Looking at this photograph of her, I have feelings of tenderness and guilt that I often experience as a mother in this profession, being away for long periods of time doing the job I love. I took this iPhone picture of my daughter, Runi, as she was about to doze off. She waited for me, much past her bedtime, to come back from a month-long assignment in India. I walked in and saw her on the couch; she was excited to see me, and quickly fell asleep ten minutes later. —Rena Effendi

"Life with Nahuel” (March 2015)
“Life With Nahuel” (March 2015)
Photograph by Karla Gachet, Panos

Having my boy changed a lot of things for me. Life slowed down, and it forced me to look at the bigger picture. Breast-feeding time means he and I lie down in bed to share our gift. We touch, we play, we look at each other and wrap ourselves in our love. No one can take this from us, and nothing is more important. Being a mother has helped me prioritize in my work. I only shoot stories that truly matter to me, and I take my time to understand things better. I also feel it has given me a deeper understanding of who I am as an individual and of how resilient I can be. Being a mother is the hardest and most rewarding thing that has ever happened to me. —Karla Gachet

“Daughter” (October 2014)
“Daughter” (October 2014)
Photograph by Becky Hale

My children tolerate me. As their mother, they love me in a “I can’t ever ever get enough of you all the time and I must tell you this entire story two inches from your face as I hug you and hang on you and squeeze you!” But as the person who relentlessly documents their lives, they tolerate me. They have no qualms about telling me to put my camera down. Often, I should.

Photographing the people you love can be challenging. I sometimes feel like I’m never really able to convey the joy I see in their lives, or the moments that authentically represent their world. This motivates me to keep shooting them, seeking out those quiet in-between times when they take a break from their soccer game to rest against the fence, or press their faces against a window to see what’s happening on our street. This is what our lives really are. It’s not the special events that interest me as a photographer—it’s the day-to-day of who we are together that I want to capture. I think this is what I’ll miss most when they’re no longer little.

The image I chose isn’t just of my children, it’s of me. When I looked at the image later, I saw in my expression just what I was feeling at that moment—quiet love between mother and daughter. When I look at it now, I can almost feel her little arm tight around me. —Becky Hale 

There are 24 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Andrea
    May 17, 2015

    Absolutely, completely beautiful. The last one brought tears.

  2. mrgunman1
    May 13, 2015

    Children are a gift from GOD Thank you And God bless.

  3. Ging Tarucan
    May 11, 2015

    real life` real life people, heartwarming stories, powerful

  4. Sunitha Panchanathan
    May 11, 2015

    The art of Capturing moments and emotions in a frame so beautifully – Wow!

  5. reburiano, maria eloisa
    May 11, 2015

    the unconditional love of a mother to a child

  6. Sheila Ian Dela Pena
    May 10, 2015

    These photographs really moves beyond what our naked senses reveal….Kudos to all the photographers.

  7. Admirer
    May 10, 2015

    This is truly beautiful along with all their individual stories. It’s makes me as a young woman think about how motherhood could one day affect me and I’m hoping that one day I will be so blessed to love and be loved by my own beautiful children like these women are.

    To all you photographers, I hope you and your family are happy and healthy.

  8. Joy Gardner
    May 10, 2015

    These captures go straight to the Heart!

  9. Fatih Uğurlu
    May 10, 2015

    Wonderful shots

  10. adriana
    May 10, 2015

    Fotos de momentos únicos e irrepetibles

  11. Mia Orr
    May 10, 2015

    My fantasy has always been to be a National Geographic photographer. I have been photographing my family since I was a young girl. In my profession as an archaeologist I photograph the people I interview and the places they talk about. It is great to see that you women live my fantasy.

  12. seotember jane
    May 10, 2015

    Motherhood is a way of God showing His love to His children… Amzing pictures and heart-touching stories.

  13. Deborah Kashinsky
    May 10, 2015

    Wow. I’m really glad I took the time to read and view this article. It’s good there was a kleenex box near by.

  14. Tawana
    May 10, 2015


    May 10, 2015

    Really awesome pics. Actually for a mother a mother’s day is when she gets a baby in her arms, that day is the most happiest day of a mother’s life. HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY TO ALL THE MUMMAS…..:->

  16. Esma Demiryürek
    May 10, 2015

    These photographs purely represent the love of mothers for their children, all beautiful. I wish all mothers a happy Mothers’ Day!

  17. M.V. Bhaskaran
    May 9, 2015

    Greetings from Nepal. Beautiful….

  18. jade
    May 9, 2015

    Every picture here depicts beauty

  19. Veeralcsh shah
    May 9, 2015

    Obviously, nobody can judge these all images. And this is something out of exploration and netgeo.
    Good bless all children.

  20. Ahmed Muhammed Bahid
    May 8, 2015

    That is fine piece of work

  21. Gini Gachet
    May 8, 2015

    There are no words to describe the beauty that were captured in these pictures. A love that is so pure.

  22. adejoke aj
    May 8, 2015

    Mothers are special. I am greatful to God for the gift of motherhood. Having my three boys is the best thing ever. I could read these stories over a hundred times all so beautifuly told. Thank you for sharing and happy mothers day.

  23. Andy Howard
    May 8, 2015

    absolutely beautiful. the essence of love

  24. Christopher kitchen
    May 8, 2015

    first i would like to say you capture some beautiful moments in life and time…!!! and i just wanted to know how you was traveling with no money ? I read you freelanced while doing so and also who and where did you sell your photos to while traveling and how can I do the same to pay for my travels so I can also work while traveling ???? PLEASE RESPOND THANKS

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