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I’m really excited to share with you how to take better pictures of your kids today. I find sometimes it’s easier to take pictures of other peoples kids and then we get to our kids and…we just aren’t getting what we want. OR you are a newer photographer and find taking pictures of your kids frustrating. Whatever your story is for being here…I feel you.
My son hates to get his picture taken sometimes.
He’ll even go so far to tell me ‘No camera, mom!’ and will push the camera away.
So I feel you. I understand. And I’m here to help!
Let’s get started!
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how to improve your photography
Before we dive into how to take better photos of your kids, let’s review how to improve your photography in general, with any subject.
have good gear
I’m a firm believer that you can become a great photographer with whatever gear you have. However, I do recommend having at least a DSLR. Or any camera that allows you to use manual mode.
turn off flash and use manual mode
First things first, turn off your flash, always and forever. Don’t ever use it. If you are still using auto mode, I highly recommend you switching to manual mode.
Learning manual mode was a game changer for me and I got 10 times better photos after learning it! I didn’t get a new camera or lens, I just simply learned how to use my camera and how to get the settings I wanted. Manual mode took time to learn. After learning it, it took a few months of practice for it to finally click and make sense. Keep that in mind. It’s OK to go your pace and to learn it as quickly or slowly as you need, just as long as you learn it!
what to have them wear
So sometimes, I get it, you can’t always get your kids to wear what you want them to wear. But I would recommend simple, plain shirts. I also would stay away from white and black, although sometimes it just can’t be helped. My husband wears those colors all the time and I still love the images I get with him.
Avoid shirts with graphics on them. Again, sometimes it can’t be helped. In those situations I will normally turn an image black and white, avoid the shirt by focusing on their face, or simply embrace the childhood shirts.
type of light
The type of light you use in your photographs are really important. It depends on what type of mood you are going for in your images. But, from now on, I encourage you to use natural light. Using artificial light is very tricky when you are first starting out. So, turn off all lights in your house. Go outside. Avoid artificial lights while you are trying to improve your photography.
When you are first starting out, I would recommend photographing your children on overcast days. I personally love overcast days and find that I love the images I get when I photograph on those days.
If you want sunny images, I recommend photographing an hour before sunset for the best, warmest light. This is often called golden hour light and is the favorite type of light for most photographers. It can be a littler trickier to use than overcast light. I recommend blocking the light with trees or buildings. Let in a little bit of sun for just a little bit of haze. One last tip is to expose for your subject – it’s OK if some of your background is blown out.
how to take better pictures of your kids
Now that we got all of that out of the way, let’s get started on how to take better pictures of your kids! I know that if you implement these tips into your photography, you will start to love the images you get.
Just remember, it takes practice and it takes patience!
1. get on their level
While I’m taking pictures of kids, whether my own or clients, you will often see me squat down to get on their level. This creates a connection with your viewer. They will feel like they are toddler height! It will also give you a different perspective than your own. The image above was achieved by crouching down. If I had been standing at my full height, I wouldn’t have gotten such a nice reflection and you would have mostly seen his head instead of his face.
2. engage with them
And I’m not just talking about saying ‘cheese’. Please don’t tell your children to say cheese! Instead, ask them if they like peanut butter and pickle sandwiches. Ask them to tell you about their favorite super hero or cartoon character. Ask them if they can see a bunny in your lens. Ask them what their favorite ice cream is. Ask them to play peak-a-boo with you.
I find this works for literally any age group. If you want genuine smiles, you can’t just ask them to smile for you. You will get fake, no emotion smiles. But if you engage with them and give them prompts, you will create connection and get those smiles and laughs you so dream of photographing. Doesn’t matter if they’re 2 or 103! This trick works for all ages.
3. ask them if it’s ok to photograph them
This works best for older children, but I’m starting to do this with my son. His answer is usually ‘no’. Ha! But if I ask him and he says no, I respect that. I won’t photograph him. I will instead give him attention and love. If they are older, definitely ask them from time to time if it’s OK to photograph them. Tell them why photography and pictures of them are important to you.
You want to create trust with your children when it comes to photography. You don’t want them to roll their eyes every time you pull out the camera. Respect their space if they tell you they don’t want their picture taken.
Another take on this is to show them the finished projects when they are done! If you take on a project where you turn your kid into a superhero (don’t ask me how to do that, that is some advanced Photoshop voodoo! Haha!) and show them the finished project. You might find your children asking (or begging!) you to do a photoshoot of them. Especially when they see how beautiful or handsome they look.
4. avoid clutter
Or, in other words, clean up your clutter before taking a picture. An image that is clean and free of clutter is usually prettier. There are some rare occasions where you might want to include the clutter as part of the story. But for the most part, I always try to tidy up a bit before taking an image. This helps me focus on just my son and makes the focus point him. I want to draw my viewers straight to my subject: my kid!
Start training your eye on what else is in the frame besides your kids.
5. capture the story
Sometimes there are tears involved. Capture it, embrace it. It’s part of childhood. I want to remember the good and the bad. And right now, my toddler has lots of breakdowns that we have to work through each day. But, that’s OK. He’s learning how to use his emotions. And I know I will want to remember these days in the future.
Aside from capturing all ranges of emotion, you can also focus on a photograph series. This is when you capture a whole scene that tells a story in multiple shots.
6. search for the light
Out of all the tips I’ve given so far, this one might be the most important. Search for the light and use it. I often find that I love to photograph indoors when it’s an overcast day. This brings in nice, soft light into my apartment and makes for some dramatic images that I love.
One exercise I highly recommend you doing is to observe the light in your home. Make a light journal. Put what kind of day it is outside (sunny, cloudy, partly cloudy, rainy, etc) and watch the light throughout the day. Write down certain times and what the light looks like in your home. Use this to find the best light during the day for better images.
7. increase your shutter speed
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: shoot at a higher shutter speed for children. Of all ages, those young children and teenagers can move fast! I typically light to have my shutter speed at around 1/250. But honestly, that is sometimes too slow and will give my son blurry hands! When I’m capturing children, I tend to set my shutter speed around 1/400. This will ensure that the kids are sharp and in focus!
Out of all the settings on your camera, watching your shutter speed when photographing children is the most important. Set that first before you set any other setting.
If you have been having camera shake, you might be using a shutter speed that is even lower than 1/250. BUMP IT UP! Don’t be afraid of having a higher shutter speed. And it’s OK to have a high ISO (which could introduce more grain) as long as you expose properly in camera, you will reduce the amount of grain.