Photographing your own children can be a daunting task. They are seldom cooperative at any age and learning which camera settings to use offers even more of a challenge. How does one navigate these waters and arrive on the other side with images that capture their personality and those every day moments that will be gone before you know it?
Here are 10 tips to help any parent take better images of your children regardless of their age or the type of camera.
1. Be Patient
Let’s be honest, very few of us enjoy having our photos taken as adults. It’s even more intimidating for the little ones and for teenagers who are struggling to be confident of who they are in the world. Exercising a little patience will go a long way. It costs us nothing to try again tomorrow if it doesn’t work out today, so don’t stress. Children can sense the tension and it makes the experience that much more difficult.
I find that when children don’t behave the way we want them to, a battle of the wills ensues and trying to have a photo session then is usually unsuccessful. Instead, let them know that while you are photographing them that they can be free to behave as they want; silly, goofy, sulky, whatever. Have the mindset that they can do no wrong.
When photographing my nephew, we began with the image on the left. My brother-in-law had a hard time holding his tongue but because he allowed me to do what I do best and just play with Colin, we eventually got the image on the right. Exercising the same strategy when photographing your own little ones (and even those hormonal teens) will go a long way, I promise.
2. Stand Poised
Always have your camera ready. When my children were younger I would just leave my camera ready and available on the kitchen counter because I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture a single memory that I would want to tuck away for later. The most amazing camera in the world is no good to you if you can’t get to it in time or the batteries are dead, so always have it ready to go and close by.
3. Learn to Capture the Details
Your children are here today and gone tomorrow. Take the time to capture EVERY. LITTLE. DETAIL.
4. Get Down on Their Level
This applies in several different ways. First of all, physically get down on their level. Shooting eye to eye with them instead of standing above them will create a composition that is more compelling. It’s also easier to be more engaging with them, for example, if your son is in to Curious George, then show an interest in Curious George. If your daughter loves the Little Mermaid, now is a great time to have a discussion about the Little Mermaid. Doing so helps put your child at ease and helps them open up letting you capture more than just a moment but make a memory that is irreplaceable.
5. There’s More to Life Than a Smile
It isn’t always about the smile, I find that an image without a smile draws me in far quicker than one that has a smile. Sometimes the smile can take away from the eyes and compete for the viewer’s attention.
Try to capture the real deal. I would rather have a genuine facial expression than a “cheesy” smile so erase the word “cheese” from your vocabulary. Instead, try to engage them in a conversation or activity that elicits a true smile or natural expression.
6. Choose Continuous Shooting and Continuous Focus Modes
It is tough to capture those kiddos in motion and have them in focus. Choosing the auto focus tracking mode and continuous shooting drive mode on your camera will give you better opportunities to capture those fast paced moments when they happen.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Bump up the ISO
While it is true that a sharper image can be achieved if you keep the ISO lower, sometimes worrying so much about that little detail can leave you with blurry images. Don’t be afraid to bump up the ISO so you can capture those lively movements in your child’s life. Higher ISOs let you work with faster shutter speeds which is what is needed when our children are active.
8. Be Silly. Be Sensitive. Be Sneaky
Unleash your inner five year old. Honestly, just be a goofball, your children will love it. Quote Dr. Seuss to them or make up your own rhymes. If all else fails it was entirely worth the giggle. And while you are at it let them be silly, too! This doesn’t just apply to little ones but to teenagers too. Make those moments fun and your images will reflect it.
Be sensitive to their needs. In the end the reason you want to capture your children is to remember those little details because you love them so much. Love them enough to be sensitive to their hunger, their fatigue, and their needs for space. Sometimes that means being sensitive enough to put the camera down.
Learn to be sneaky! A little bit of candy as a surprise goes a long way. Below are two images that I shot of children employing one such tactic. The Christmas gift box contained a flash unit along with some Christmas goodies and I was able to capture their delight in finding them as they opened it. In the image of the fairies, we snuck some skittles into the bottom of the lantern, posed our fairies in the field and then called to them, “What’s in the bottom of the lantern?” When you surprise your children, through whatever method, you will almost always get a genuine facial expression.
9. Look for the Light
Photography is, by definition, all about capturing the light and as photographers we are always looking for the best light. When shooting portraits, look for the best light and then position your children just a step or so outside of it. Sometimes it is an overhang, sometimes it is in the shadow of a building and sometimes it is just beside a window or through sheer curtains that diffuse the sunlight. Learn to look for the light and the shadows in the world around you.
10. Embrace the Moment
Sometimes it just is what it is. Just go with it. I have found over the years that my favorite memories were not the “Kodak” moments anyway. They were the images that reminded me what that little lip looked like turned out or how she looked when she was sleeping. How he held his teddy when he sucked his thumb. Loosen up and lose your expectations and learn to just go with what your child is offering you in the moment. It may just end up being a precious memory that you will cherish for years to come.