When I first starting my photography business a few years ago, I swore off family photography. I think part of it was I was still learning so much about my camera and how to use it, and none of my images were coming out the way I wanted them to. Another reason was that photographing kids is not easy. They are constantly moving and emotions can change in an instant!
Of course, my sentiments toward family photography changed the minute I became a parent myself. I finally understood why parents take so many photos of their children! :) Not only are our children adorable, but we have a great desire as a parent to document all the moments we can because we know they are fleeting. Kids grow up so fast, and snapping photos is one of the best ways we can preserve the memories before they are gone.
These days you can take a photo with just about anything: cell phone, tablet, point-and-shoot camera, mirrorless camera or a DSLR (camera with interchangeable lenses). It doesn’t matter what kind of medium you use, having a good understanding of what can make an image go from good to great can have a huge impact on how you take photos. Even though I said I would never do family photography again, I have come full circle and it has become my primary source of business (along with weddings). I have learned a few tips and tricks over the years that have helped me capture some awesome moments with my clients as well as my own children. As we head into summer break and, fingers crossed, better weather, I thought I would share a few pointers on how to up your photography game.
Find the light
Lighting is by far the most important factor when taking photos. Wherever your kids are in relation to the light source (natural light, sun, shade, lamp, etc.) dictates the overall vibe of an image. As parents, we are usually snapping a quick photo of our kids in the middle of doing something special. In these spur-of-the-moment situations, it can be easy to forget about the lighting and just take the picture. It is only after the moment has passed and we am looking through the photos that we realize they either over or underexposed (too bright or too dark).
I am no expert on light and still make a ton of mistakes, but if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the best way to get better at reading light is to practice taking photos in all sorts of lighting situations. The more you practice, the better you will become. One way to challenge yourself is always think of the light source first when you enter a room or go outside. Pay attention to the light even when you have no plan on snapping a picture at all. Where is the sun? How high is it in the sky? This will affect how many shadows are on your kid’s faces, and how squinty their eyes will be if you are having them look at the camera. Are there any lights on in the house? If so, you might notice your images are coming out a little more orange or yellow. That small mental shift of checking the light no matter where you are will completely change how you view a room. I’m not exactly sure when it happened for me, but recently I have been far more aware of the light in my house. As a result, I have noticed a pretty distinct change in how I photograph my girls while we are inside.
I could honestly dedicate another blog post just on reading light, but there are a few more non-light tips I want to share with you today. SO, before moving on, here some quick thoughts about using light to your advantage when taking a photo:
- If you are taking a photo indoors, place yourself in front of a window and have your kids face you (rather than having the window behind them). Windows are the best source of natural light in your home and will help you achieve great even lighting on your kiddos’ faces. I love using window light to create a more dramatic contrast as well. You can check out B’s helmet image below as an example.
- Take note of when the sun is directly coming through the windows. Personally, the front of our house gets a crazy amount of sun until about 10am and then the back of our house is flooded with light by 3pm. Usually you can get some great flare and fun shadows, but you’ll also need to be aware of how bright this can make your images since you’re basically shooting in full sun.
- If you are playing outside during the day with the sun high (10am-4pm), shooting in direct sunlight can make everything super shadowy and contrasted. I used to shy away from this but since having kids, I realized sometimes it is unavoidable. If you are trying to take a posed photo or are avoiding shadows, find some shade under a tree.
- You have probably heard the term “golden” or “magic” hour before. This occurs 1-2 hours before sunset, when the sun is low in the sky and creates this amazing orange glow. I love golden hour because you can also shoot with your lens looking into the sun without completely blowing out your photo or having your subject be super dark. Golden hour is usually the perfect time to take your kids outside for some photos but, realistically, this doesn’t happen often for parents of young kids because it’s either dinner time, bath time, bed time, or meld down time. :) Alternatively, you can get a similar effect when photographing early in the morning. I know getting up at sunrise during the summer is not ideal (what, you’re not ready at 5am?); however, if your kids are anything like mine, you are probably up and moving pretty soon after. On a sunny morning, you should be able to get some really pretty light filtering through the trees before the sun gets too high (9 or 10am).
Anticipate the moment
Why do we take photos beyond the “smile at the camera!” pose? Usually because our kids are doing something awesome and we want to remember it later on. In the age of everything digital, it is super easy to press the shutter an unlimited amount of times. At first that seems great because you can take as many photos as you like! It’s okay if one is blurry because you have fifty more! And then it hits you, you literally have fifty photos of your kids doing the same dang thing. Am I right or am I right? I know I’m not the only one who has done this, folks. ;)
If you want to take photos of your kids that will last forever, I encourage you to be intentional with your photographing. This requires us as parents to slow down, live in the moment and observe your child(ren) intently. Fire the shutter when you know they are going to squeal because someone sprayed them with a water hose, or when they’re going down a slide for the first time. Be with them and live through the moment intentionally.
I’ll be honest here, as someone who is able to anticipate moments regularly with my photography clients, this is really hard for me to do with my own children. I think part of the reason I have trouble is that I have a million things going through my head when watching my kids. The thought of taking a picture in the moment when I have a feeling that M is going to snatch a toy out of B’s hand is pretty far down on the priority list. I think that is why many of my personal photos are of my kids looking at me. We rarely get past the “hug your sister and smile” stage when it comes to photographing. I have to be super sneaky if I want to take a photo of them doing something that doesn’t require a pose. I know that the more I practice taking photos in the moment and anticipating what is coming, this will become easier.
Get down on their level
This was something I learned early on when I was researching how to photograph children. Now that I have kids of my own, I am also realizing this is pretty much how I parent in general. Kneeling down to a child’s level creates a level of intimacy and builds trust. We are not intimidating or out of reach when we are looking at our children eye-to-eye. This also creates some of the best imagery for your photos, too. You can really see the child for who they are and witness what life is like on their level.
One, two, three, you’re done
Every parent wants a photo of their kids smiling at the camera. Even though I specialize in lifestyle and documentary photography, I find that I still want a photo or two of my own kids looking at the camera and smiling. With younger children, though, snapping a pic of them smiling (like a genuine smile) and looking at the camera is nearly impossible. You know what? That is okay. It is always worth a shot. However, if they start squirming or are just flat-out not interested, it is not worth the struggle to try and force the issue. It is natural for children to want to play and explore. Chances are you are going to get far more genuine smiles if you follow them around while they are playing than if you try to get them to pose for the camera. With that being said, give yourself three chances to get the posed shot you want and then move on!
Let go of being perfect
Sharing our photos on social media is pretty common these days. It is a great way to share with family and friends just how big your kids are growing and how proud you are of them! Social media is also a really great place for that fun comparison monster to make an appearance. If your Facebook or Instagram feed is constantly filled with photos of other people’s children (whether taken professionally or not) it can be easy to start comparing your photos to everyone else’s. One of my favorite bloggers ever (Lara Casey) has said that comparison isn’t the thief of joy, it’s the thief of everything. Isn’t that the truth?! Really, that can be said for just about anything, not just photography. As parents, we are constantly evaluating (and re-evaluating) our parenting style as our children continue to grow and mature. If you are not careful, you can easily get caught up in comparing how your parenting holds up against other parents and man, that is a black hole that no one needs to go down.
Do not worry about the mistakes you make when photographing your children, because everyone does it. If your kids are smiling or doing something special, it does notmatter if you managed to snap a perfectly exposed photo or not. What matters is that you had the wherewithal to take a photo in the first place. Now it is your job to make sure that memory you just preserved does not disappear. Print it, share it, talk about it often. Be intentional and unapologetic about the photographs you take. Your photos will naturally improve with practice and you will never regret creating the opportunity to share and remember special moments with your kiddos for years to come.
Hopefully you find these tips helpful! Do you have any other tips to share with fellow parents? Leave us a comment below so we can all learn together!
P.S. If you ever have any questions about improving your photography, don’t hesitate to contact me! I love talking about it and would so enjoy the conversation. I also offer one-on-one mentor sessions if you are looking for more in-depth learning! Shoot me a message and let’s get to talking.
Have a great rest of the week, friends!