Before I became a mom I had already had a lot of practice taking photographs of young kids as a child and family photographer. Let me tell you, photographing kids is not easy! Even now, despite knowing all I know about photography, I get a lot of not-so-great pictures of my very busy two year old daughter (the back of her head, blurry action shots, etc.). I think taking crappy pics of your kids is a sort of right of passage for every mom!
There are a few tips you can keep in mind, however, to try to get better shots of your little ones…and you don’t have to have a fancy camera to do it! I am a huge believer in creating beautiful images with whatever you’ve got handy, whether it’s your iPhone or a fancy DSLR. You can capture great images with the simplest of cameras!
1. Look for the light–one of the most important aspects of capturing beautiful images is your available light: where it is, how it’s used, how bright or how dim, etc. As a general rule, taking pictures inside is going to be more difficult for your camera than doing it outside. I always prefer outdoor pictures anyway! However, if you want to snap some images indoors, try to take them in the brightest room and, if you can manage it, place your subject (i.e., your cute kid) perpendicular to the window (but not in direct sunlight). Your camera will be able to work more efficiently, thus giving you clearer images, when it has lots of available light to work with. If you want to shoot outdoors, the best time of day is about one hour before sunset or one hour after sunrise. These times of day are referred to as “the golden hour” and provide the most flattering, magical light. Obviously, though, sometimes it’s not possible to plan your day around “the golden hour” so if you are outside in the middle of the day and want to take a few shots, just keep in mind that open shade is your friend! Find a big tree that provides a lot of shade or a covered playground and shoot away. Try to avoid direct sunlight; it is the least flattering light and hard to work with.
2. The Rule of Thirds–the rule of thirds is a principle every photographer learns that is based on the theory that everyone’s eye is naturally drawn to the outer thirds of an image instead of directly to the center. Therefore, if you try to take images following that theory, your pictures will be more pleasing to look at. Try to imagine an image broken down into a grid of thirds both horizontally and vertically, making nine parts. If you place the subject of your image at one of the intersecting lines of the grid, according to the rule, you create a more balanced and interesting shot. Sometimes, this type of composition comes naturally to some people; others, not so much, and it requires practice. And it doesn’t mean you should never take a photograph with your kid smack dab in the center of the shot! Just play around with the theory and see how it changes your images.
3. Forget about posing–do not, I repeat, do not try to pose your kids! It never works and oftentimes it leads to a meltdown…for you and the kiddo! Just relax and let your kids do their thing, but have your camera at the ready. More often than not, I will be watching my daughter play literally through my lens. I will walk around holding my camera to my face just waiting for the right moments to pull the trigger. Candid shots are so much more beautiful and real, in my opinion, than anything you could ever capture trying to force your kid to “sit still and smile, darn it!” You’ll also hear me acting and sounding ridiculous toward my daughter, such as making pig sounds or asking if mommy’s feet smell. This is just my way of trying to get a genuine smile or a laughing glance thrown my way so I can grab that moment with my camera. Don’t be afraid to be silly! You’d be amazed at how much more active and happy your kids will be when they see mommy is having a good time playing, too!
4. Get down on their level–almost every image I take of a child I take from either a squatting position or laying flat on my belly. It is amazing how the perspective of the photo (and the story that you’re telling) changes when you make it that of a child’s perspective. You will also be able to capture great facial expressions and gestures that you wouldn’t otherwise get if you were shooting looking down on your kid.
5. Take lots of pictures–don’t be afraid to overshoot! Digital images are easy to take…and easy to delete. If you take 100 pictures of your kid playing at the park, you might get 20 keepers. So what? It’s better than taking 20 images and deciding you don’t like any of them. In my opinion, it’s better to have a billion images of my daughter and then whittle them down to a handful of precious memories than to end up with nothing at all because I was afraid to fill up my memory card. (And in that regard, always keep an extra memory card in your diaper bag!)
So, there you have it. Just a few quick tips to keep in mind when you’re out trying to capture those precious moments with your kids. Remember, above all, to have fun and keep practicing!