Let me start off by saying, I’m not a professional photographer (Note: Professional photographers: LOOK.AWAY!), but what I am is a mom who loves capturing happy, momentous, goofy, serious, fun, cute, beautiful memories of her children, as I think we all do! But I think that because digital memories are so easily made, we sometimes just shoot from the hip and take our pictures for granted. What we are often left with is a hard drive of photos that are, as the kids say, “Meh.”
While taking pictures “because you can” is fun and has its place, wouldn’t it also be fantastic if you could capture moments on the camera that make people go, “Wow,” and that you will want to keep in a photo album or put up on the wall? You will also be giving your children a great gift of beautiful memories that they can cherish forever!
When we first started our (then) little family, my husband was the sole photographer. He had been given a camera by my grandmother, and he read books (you know, the kind made with paper) about photography, and learned all the ins and outs of professional photography. He even won an international photography contest way back when. Impressive, I know. It’s great having a photographer for a husband, and I’m so glad we have such lovely pictures from when the big kids were the little kids. But here’s the thing: Like most dads, he works a lot of the time, and there were so many moments that I wanted to share with him, so I started asking him questions about cameras and photography, observing, and even reading up on my own, so that I could capture memories as well.
I’m still an amateur, but I think photography is officially my favorite hobby now. I have been inspired by incredible mom photographers such as Katherine Heise and Niki Boon , and learned a lot, mostly by just taking a heap of photos, aka, trial and error. Speaking of inspiration and beginner’s tutorials, you’ll find plenty of that over at Clickin’ Moms.
Some friends have seen some of my photos that I’ve taken of my kids and said that I should write a tutorial, so I figured, well, why not? Whatever I say should be very easily understood since I speak “mom” and not “photographer.” I don’t use reflectors, lights, or even a flash. I have a fairly good camera and 2 lenses.
Today we’re just going to talk about “point and shoot” photography, and I’m not going to use any fancy photography jargon like “aperture,” “depth of field,” “shutter speed,” “ISO,” etc. (Note: If you want to really improve your photography, you should totally learn about all that eventually. Don’t worry, it’s not as scary as it sounds! Here’s a fantastic article on DSLR guide for beginners, as well as an awesome CHEAT SHEET if you want to take a peek.)
Seriously though, when you’ve got kids running and jumping around, usually the best thing to do is just put your camera on automatic , get in position, and shoot a bunch of pictures! Hopefully one or two will turn out. When taking pictures of kids especially, the more the better. Hooray for the digital age!
Before we start talking photography, let’s get one thing out of the way. If you truly want to take better pictures of your kids, you kind of need to get a good camera and lens (es). True, you don’t have to have the best of the best to take great pictures, but a good camera makes a WORLD of difference. Even if you have a phone camera, it still needs to be a fairly good one, otherwise there really is no way that you’re going to get the look, crisp focus, depth of field, mood lighting and vibrant coloring that you see in other pictures that make you look twice. Here’s a great article on how to choose a DSLR camera for beginners.
Side note: What if you can’t get your hands on a good camera right away? I’ve actually taken some fairly decent shots with some not-so-fabulous cameras, namely, phone cameras. If that’s what you’ve got, then by all means, use it! There are a few things you can do that will make your pictures better a) Make sure there is plenty of light b) Get in closer c) Try to avoid strong light from behind Here are a few examples of pictures that I took with my phone camera.1. Use natural light. Nothing inspires me to pull out the camera like gorgeous light. I love natural light–and I especially love what photographers refer to as the “golden hour.” It’s the hour of golden light, which is approximately an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset. If you can plan on a photo shoot outdoors, this is generally the best time to do it. Check out this article for a more thorough explanation and tips for shooting during the golden hour.
Here are some examples of pictures taken during the “GOLDEN HOURS”
Here’s an example of a picture where I couldn’t escape the direct sunlight, but thankfully the sun was behind them and they are looking away from the camera, so it actually has a pretty nice effect. In essence, they are shading their own faces.
If you can find even shade, such as under a tree, this is a lovely option for natural light as well.
P.S. If you’ve got enough light and your picture is in focus, turn off the flash! A picture without the harsh light of a flash is much softer and the colors are richer and less washed out.
Something I’ve been experimenting with more is using shadows in my pictures. It can have a pretty neat effect, I think.
2.Get down on their level. Many times we’re in a bit of a rush and just take photos from where we are, even if we’re standing far away and the child is on the floor. This dwarfs the child and makes them look a bit distorted. Get down on their level. This makes you feel like you are there in the picture with the child and is much more personal and engaging .
Move around! I’ve taken pictures lying down on the floor, standing up on a couch, squatting, hanging out a window–anything to get the right light and angle. Sure, people might look at you sideways (literally!) but you’re the one who’s going to get that amazing photo and you will know that it was worth it! If there are too many shadows, or something is in the way, don’t be afraid to change positions.
3.Get up close I personally love taking focused pictures of my kids’ faces, hands, feet, etc. You get to zoom in on details and it gives you insight into their minds and character that I just absolutely adore! Unless the surroundings are part of the art, they can be distracting and take away from the subject, so cut out all that noise, and get right in their faces.
4.Try a different angle. Sometimes looking at things from a different perspective gives it a whole new feel. Be original. Try something different! From the side? Up above? Down below? You never know! 😉 (Yes, I’ve been told I have cheesy humor. Isn’t it grate? :-))))
5.Use props and actions. Kids love dress up, and they love DOING stuff, not just sitting and smiling at you like a frog on a log. Try giving them some props or new toys to play with and just let the magic happen.
Here are a few ideas: Playing with balloons, throwing streamers, twirling with scarves, holding stuffed animals (or real pets if you’re brave!), jumping, bubbles, hats, playing with or in water, running, at the park, holding flowers, telling each other jokes, using umbrellas, dolls…so many ideas!
6.Don’t say cheese! Looking at the camera and smiling is fine for family portraits, but for capturing real life and candid shots, let your children be free to look and play naturally. Let their own energy and personality shine. Sometimes I will sit them by a window with their toys or books, or ask them to move facing the light, etc., but then I will let them play as they normally would and I will be the one that follows their movements, not the other way around.Be silly and let them be silly. Photographing children laughing and having fun is magnificent!Conversely, if they want to be serious, let them be serious. Some of my best photos are the ones of my children deep in thought.
7.Learn about composition One of the biggest mistakes people make when taking pictures is leaving too much extra space around the subject, and consequently the photo looks boring or vague. The viewer doesn’t really know what to look at, or it’s too far away to see anything clearly. Sometimes you just can’t get in close enough, in which case, you can take to photo editing to crop your picture to the desired size.In photography, like anything else, there are general guidelines. One of the most well known is the rule of thirds. I’m no pro, but here’s something that makes sense to me: If the subject is not in the middle of the frame, try to place it (generally speaking) somewhere near one of the 4 corners of your photo frame. Here’s a fantastic article explaining the rule of thirds in layman’s terms, and here’s another article that talks more in depth about the general composition guidelines for photographers and artists alike.
When studying photography composition, one thing I like to do is look at professional photos and really analyze what it is I like about it. What is the subject? Where is it placed? Where is my eye drawn? Sometimes I will take a few shots of the same thing using different compositions and then ask my husband which one he likes best and why. Practice, analyze, get better. That’s my modus operandi.
8.Be aware of your background. It’s easy to focus on your subject and forget about the background. Many a picture has been ruined by what appears to be a tree coming out of someone’s head, an unsightly garbage can or an untimely photobomber, etc. While we CAN edit some of these things out (usually with a bit of difficulty) sometimes just being aware of the background and moving slightly can improve the photo dramatically.
Here’s a good example of a BAD example 😉9.Use natural framing Look for natural and interesting ways to frame your picture–a doorway, window, an overhanging branch, even hands or arms around a face or each other can make for a fun frame.
10.Post edit I know a lot of people say that modern pictures are ruined by too much editing and that it takes away from the natural feel, etc. What I say is, you can never capture 100% of the raw beauty that you see with your naked eye onto a small, rectangular-shaped flat piece of paper/screen, so if you can fix that up afterwards, go for it! Also, photography to me is like art, and we know that artists use rough drafts, erasers, they sometimes paint over their pictures again and again until they get it just right. As with everything in life, just find a good balance.
The best FREE online photo editing program I’ve found is PicMonkey. I edited these photos in the free version. They also have tons of tutorials for beginners. Picmonkey is very user friendly and easy for a beginner with no editing experience whatsoever. Always remember, especially when taking pictures of children, be patient, give it time, and take plenty of pictures! I don’t always take pictures of my kids, but when I do, I take over a thousand in one day! Heh heh.
Getting good pictures of your kids will take time, patience, and it will take many pictures before you get one that is good enough to put up on the wall.
If your camera has the option, you might want to try “continuous shooting” mode so that you can just click away and choose the best one out of the bunch.
Have fun, take a lot of pictures, and you will get better and better with each shot!