So I'll be the first to say that posts about taking better pictures of your kids are quite prevalent on the internet. So many of them have great advice about how to change up your technique and approach for those who know nothing about photography to those who are budding professionals. I've been asked by so many people that wonder how I get the shots that I have of my kid, especially from moms who just want better photos of their kids but don't have the money to pay a professional. Trust me. I totally understand this. When my kiddo was born, we didn't have money to do anything. We barely had the money to pay for photos that they took in the hospital (which weren't great, but it's all we could afford). When we had them done, they were more than sufficient because I knew nothing about photography back then. My knowledge was limited to my experiences of getting studio portraits done at Sears.
First piece of advice is that if you want better photos of your kid, practice and do some research. Second, if you want photos of your family that include YOU, hire someone. I have so many great photos (well, I think they're great) of my kid, but very few include me. I'm always the one behind the camera.
Occasionally, I'll come across a great lighting situation or a concept that I can't stop thinking about. Using a human tripod or a real tripod (with camera set on a timer) are some of the only ways that I'm included in family photos. For example, we were at the beach and I noticed that the light coming through the clouds just as the sun rose was amazing. I put together some outfits, came back, programmed the settings on my camera, handed it to my husband, and gave him instructions about how to compose the shot. I love the result, but it reaffirms how difficult it is to get into family photos when you're always the photographer.
When looking to hire someone, do your research! Hire the person because you like their style. Bear in mind that the photographer posts the pictures that are likely the best of the best of that particular photo session. If you are really unsure about the consistency of their work, ask to see what the pictures of an entire session look like. Ok. I'm done digressing.
If your goal is to just get better photos of your kids, this is for you.
First, change your angle. Get down low, particularly to the eye level of your child. It's so much easier to see the world the way your child does from this angle. When I'm working with toddlers, I'm often sitting on the ground or even laying on it. That said, wear clothes you don't mind getting dirty if you're working with kids outside. Also, feel free to get above the subject. Carefully stand on chairs or counters. Not only will they give you quizzical looks, but you'll have an entirely different look for the photograph. Look at pictures done by other people. Pick out the ones you really like and notice what they have in common. Do you like the story the image tells? What about the placement of the child in the frame? Do they evoke certain emotions?
These are examples of two photographs taken from different angles. During the first, I was squatting on the ground with my subject standing. We were just talking about things that he likes when he glanced over my shoulder. I didn't have my camera up when we were talking. I wanted him to feel like he wasn't in the spotlight. The result is that he looks pensive and thoughtful, which was exactly the mood he was in at that moment. In the second, my kiddo refused to look at me, so I got above her and told her that a silly piece of cereal had jumped onto my camera. She wasn't amused. For me, this captures a big part of her personality because she's not a morning person.
Second, make sure your shutter speed is high enough. Kids are fast. Really fast. And they don't hold still. If you're a novice, this means making sure your camera is in action mode. If you're a little more seasoned with the camera, this could potentially mean sacrificing ISO for shutter speed. I once heard a photographer at a conference suggest that a shutter speed of 1/1600 is a good start, meaning that sacrificing ISO might be necessary. The exception of this is if you are going for a look that shows movement, meaning blurred figures. In this picture, not only was the camera positioned low to the ground to make the hill look bigger, but my subject was running. (Let's be honest. She is very rarely not running).
Third, and maybe most importantly, don't expect a child to pose for you. You'll become very frustrated, very fast. Even worse, the child will become frustrated and uncooperative. If you're working with a photographer, this means that you need to trust that photographer. Don't yell at your kids because they are not doing what you want them to do. Kids need to be engaged. When I work with kids, I have a whole bag of toys and activities for them and their families. We play games, blow bubbles, race in circles, play hide and seek, jump out from behind trees, etc. If you want your kid to sit in a certain spot and look at your camera, make a game out of it. I often dare my kid (because she has a very rebellious nature) NOT to sit on the chair. Not only does she sit on the chair, but she laughs because she thinks that she's getting away with something. Works like a charm. Every time. Plus, no cheesy smiles. That leads me to another point. If you are working with a photographer, don't have your kids practice their "smiles" beforehand or tell them to say "cheese" during the session. I've never seen a kid do a great natural smile on command. Most of the time, they make these really weird faces when asked to smile. The key is to make them laugh or smile naturally. The best way to do this? Just play and get silly. This works for older children, teens, and adults as well. Laugh, jump, twirl, make silly faces, etc. In these two photographs, I dared my kiddo not to pop out of the box and scare me. She thought that was hilarious. In the second, I asked my subject to jump and dance. It really broke the tension and let her loosen up! The third photo features two toddlers who were literally running in different directions. I showed the oldest one how to make a flower headband out of clover flowers. We picked a bunch and sat the family down. Because she had something to do (and her sister thought it was fascinating), we were able to get this picture.
Fourth, notice the details. Yes, we all want better pictures of our kids. But the details can be just as amazing. For example, what about the way that your kid clutches a tiny dandelion in his or her plump little fist? Or the way that his or her toys are arranged? Or what stuffed animals and characters are invited to the tea party? All of these details remind us of what was important to our child in that moment of his or her life.
Fifth, it's OK to stage the photos slightly. I do this all of the time. "Oh, you want to play tea party? That's a fabulous idea! Let's go over to this big window and set up so we have plenty of sunlight for your friends to see!" Or, if it's really bright outside, I'll suggest that the sun is too bright or hot and we would feel cooler if we kicked the ball on the other side of the house in the shade. If I notice wonderful light in a particular area in the house, I'll even pretend that her stuffed animals want to look outside at all of the birds or ask her if any snowflakes have started falling yet. I've already set up my shot and have taken a test picture to make sure that everything was what I needed to be. When she comes over to the window, I'm ready. For example, she had "dressed up" (rather than like a princess, it's always a conglomeration of superhero costumes) and was excited about impending snowfall. I found a good window, set up the shot, and called her over for a snowflake check. She has a natural look of anticipation that you can't get any other way.
While that certainly does not surmise all that there is to capturing better photos of your kids, it's a good start. Although I consider other factors (like composition and light) when taking a photograph, I always incorporate and think about the above information. After you understand the essentials, practice them. Bring your camera everywhere and have fun with it!