Welcome to the first post in my new blog series called “The Everyday Photographer”! I will be sharing some easy, non-technical tips and tricks with you to help you learn to take better ‘everyday’ snapshots of your kids and your life. I hope you enjoy, if you have any questions or comments on how I can improve this series, please let me know!
Photographing children is a tricky business. They’re often difficult subjects because depending on their age, they don’t follow directions all that well, and they are always on the move! If you’re a mom, it may seem impossible to get any ‘good’ photos of your own children. A ‘good’ photo doesn’t have to be one that is taken in a department store or when your child is all dressed up, though; sometimes the ‘everyday’ shots at home are the ones you end up treasuring the most! And because children seem to grow up in the blink of an eye, it’s important to document their lives as much as possible before they move on to the next stage!
Here are a few tips for photographing your children at home (this post will cover indoors, I will write another post for capturing them outside in the future).
1. Get down on their level. This is probably my biggest tip for photographing children in general. When I’m on a shoot with kids, I spent at least 80% of my time crouched, or even lying down. Why? Because getting down on your child’s level brings a whole new feeling to the photograph. I read recently that ‘shooting up gives power, and shooting down takes it away’. What that means is that if you are standing above your child, taking the photo looking down on them, it doesn’t really tell the story of what they are doing, since it is taken from an adult’s point of view. Getting down on their level captures a better feeling for what they are doing and how they are doing it. The world seems so much bigger when you are smaller (and lower to the ground), so shooting at the same height as your children can really show that off.
This photo of my daughter Violet on the stairs was taken with me crouching down in front of her. I could have taken it standing up, looking down on her, but that wouldn’t have shown the height of the stair she climbed (quite a feat for a 7 month old!), and it also allowed for her to look at me with a more natural expression, versus her looking up at me and taking her out of the moment.
2. Use windows, lamps, etc as your light source (aka avoid flash!) Most cameras have a built in flash that will pop up automatically if the camera thinks that there isn’t enough light to take the photo. The problem is, sometimes the camera is wrong! Windows, lamps, even TV/computer screens can provide just enough light to take a photo of your kids without a flash. If you know how, try turning the flash off on your camera, since most flashes are, well…terrible. The colours become all washed out, they only light up certain parts of the scene, and they usually cause ‘demon’ eyes if the kids are looking directly at the camera. Instead of using flash, try setting your kids up in front of a large window or other ‘natural’ light source instead. Cloudy days are particularly good for this since the light is really bright, white, and even (this tip is especially helpful in the long, gray winter months!)
The photo of my son below baking was taken in front of a large window in our kitchen. It was cloudy that morning and you can see that even though it’s darker in the background, the window put just enough light on his face that I didn’t have to use a flash. I set him up on this countertop in particular because I knew that I wanted to get a photo of him. (Sometimes you have to think ahead a little bit, but the results are worth it!)
(One thing to keep in mind about turning off your flash is that the photos might end up being a bit blurrier if your kids are moving a lot, since flashes are sometimes used to ‘freeze’ the action. This tip is best for quieter activities like reading a book, doing puzzles or playing with dolls.)
3. Capture the details. Many times parents will take photos of their children’s entire face or of them doing something in particular (like playing with their toys), but when was the last time you took a photo of just their hands playing with a toy, or just their lips as they slept? Capturing these little details is equally important as the ‘big picture’ images, since they focus on things about your kids that change so quickly. Also, isn’t it fun to look back on old photos and see what toys, clothes, etc were popular ‘back then’? Your kids will appreciate seeing how life was when they were young, so make sure to document the little things as well!
This series of photos was taken on my iPhone with an App called Instagram, and although the quality isn’t perfect by any means, I love Violet’s little newborn lips, fingers and hands.
4. Take a series of photos to tell the story. Sometimes it takes more than one picture to really show what was happening in a particular moment, especially with children since they are so expressive and move around a lot! So instead of just taking one photo and then putting the camera down, hold it up a bit longer and take a series of 2-3 photos one right after the other. Once you see them all together you can almost ‘watch’ the moment happening.
This series of photos was taken one evening while my son was ‘helping’ bathe his little sister. He was splashing her and thought it was really funny. By taking three shots in a row like this you can see him go from smiling to full out laughing. One photo would have been ok, but having all three of them together like this makes it that much cuter 🙂 (This is also another example of not using a flash; even though the photos aren’t quite as sharp, the photos still seem more natural than if I had used a flash.)
5. Use ‘natural frames’ to bring focus to the child. This is probably one of my favourite techniques for taking pictures of my kids at home. A ‘natural frame’ is simply using the environment around you to frame your child so that the focus is just on them. It’s a bit tricky to explain so I’ll show you a few examples:
In this shot of my son, I purposely took the photo of him peeking through his footboard so that only his eyes and nose would be visible. The bed and the wood are ‘framing’ his face so that it brings attention right to him.
In this photo of my daughter looking at her brother, she is ‘framed’ on both sides by the refrigerator and her brother’s arm; this forces your eye to look at her.
If you child sleeps in a crib it is really easy to do this trick, just take a photo of them sleeping through the bars instead of looking down into the crib (this is also an example of getting down on their level.)
6. Sneak up on them. Capturing your child playing without interrupting can result in some really special photos. Instead of telling them to look at you, just snap away and see what you get. I love this shot of my son playing with his cars in my grandmother’s hallway. He was in his own little world and I didn’t want to interrupt the moment.
7. Keep backgrounds clean/clutter free (or blur the background). This tip is sometimes a bit tricky when photographing kids inside since most of us live with a lot of ‘stuff’, but keeping your backgrounds as clutter free as possible with improve your photographs enormously. It can be as simple as switching the angle you are shooting to hide all the stuff, or moving closer in to your child. If you are a bit more camera savvy, blurring the background by using a smaller aperture can also hide a lot of background distractions.
In this photo of my son using my iPhone on the coffee table (naughty!), I purposely didn’t take a photo of the floor (filled with toys and needing to be swept), and also chose to put the window behind him instead of the couch on the right or the computer on the left. That way the background was fairly ‘clean’ and it allowed the focus to stay on him (I also blurred the background quite a bit).
8. Take a mix of close-up and environmental shots. This might sound like I’m contradicting tip #7, but in certain cases getting a shot of the entire room in a photo can really help set the context for what your child is doing. Playing in their room, taking a bath, watching a TV show, it’s sometimes nice to show the whole picture instead of just a close-up (the same goes the other way though, it’s also nice to have close-ups of your child’s face and other details, like I mentioned in tip #4).
Here is a (slightly embarrassing) example of my daughter sleeping on her playmat. I took a shot of her close up, then ‘pulled back’ to take a shot showing the entire room…which was quite messy, but hey, I was taking care of a newborn and 19 month old, it’s real life!
Capturing beautiful, natural images of your children takes a lot of patience and practice…luckily, there are plenty of opportunities to snap away! Try taking out your camera on an ordinary day at home with your children and see what results you can acheive. You won’t regret it!
I hope that this has been helpful! If you have any questions please ask them in the comments or shoot me an email using the contact form above. Also, if you want to share your images using these tips with me, leave your link in the comments, I would love to see them!
Have fun and snap away!
[Technical disclosure: These photos were all taken with a DSLR camera (Canon 5D), mostly with a portrait lens (50mm). They were edited in Photoshop for brightness and sharpness; however, most of them were not cropped from their original image…these tips are applicable to all camera users, even those with point and shoot or camera phones.]