How to Take Better Photographs of Your Kids
I often have parents tell me before a session that their kids are bad a photographs or that they just can’t get a good photograph of their kids. Well here are 10 ways to take better photographs of your kids. You may not realize this about me, but I’ve had quite a few photography jobs. I’ve photographed everything from bowling tournaments to the 747 the space shuttle was strapped to. Even with all the different photography experience I’ve had, photographing a 1 year old with no interest in me is still very challenging. They move, they squirm, they’re covered in dirt and sometimes just screaming bloody murder. I mean – at least the space shuttle was stationary! There are a few things I have learned during my time as a family photographer – especially during Family Photojournalism style shoots. (This kind of shoot is when I refrain from posing and just document a family’s day) I figured I could share these with you for those moments when you have your phone out and you’re trying to get a good shot of your little ones doing something adorable.
1. Stop Yelling at Them to Smile
During one of my aforementioned photography jobs, I took photos for yearbooks. The absolute worst photographs I ever took were of adorable little kindergarteners whose parents insisted on standing behind me to tell their kids to “smile better” and “look more natural.” These words of encouragement did nothing for the kid’s expressions. Mostly the just froze in a plastered on fake smile with wide eyes searching for their parent’s approval. All kids go through a “fake smile” phase — and mostly it’s freaking adorable. So if you’re taking photos of your children and they aren’t smiling up to your standards, keep it to yourself! Yelling at them or telling them to smile nice is only going to confuse them further. If you’re dead set on trying to get a real smile out of them, try making them laugh instead. Make that funny face they love, or tell them they look like a butt face. That usually gets them giggly and makes for a great natural expression.
2. Play Dress Up
I love doing this! Little kids always like to play dress up. Boys and girls alike have a fascination with putting on Mom and Dad’s shoes, or pretending to be a fire fighter or playing doctor. When you drag out that box of dress up clothes, they transform into a whole new kid. This is a great time to have the camera at the ready. They take direction easily because they want to show off their sweet new persona. I love suggesting this idea with kids during a Photojournalism shoot if it’s rainy and terrible outside. Park them next to a big window with good lighting and let them go nuts! The kids will have fun playing pretend and you will get some great photographs that will make for good blackmail when they’re in high school. 🙂
3. Don’t Stop Taking Pictures if They are Fussy
Most parents think that the perfect photograph is when their little ones are looking directly at the camera with a perfect grin on their face. I’m not saying those aren’t good pictures, but sometimes the best photograph comes from a crabby face because of a poopy diaper, or a temper tantrum thrown at a hilarious moment. All parents know, kids can be absolutely ridiculous. They say things that are outrageous and do things that you just couldn’t make up — So that being said, don’t put your camera down just because they are getting fussy. During my Day In The Life Sessions, I only stop photographing if someone is going to get hurt. With that exception – nothing is off limits!
4. Focus on Interaction
This one relates to number 1 on our list — rather then try to get your kids to smile by saying “SMILE!” give them instructions like “hug your sister”, “Show me how that toy works”, or in the case of the picture below “Catch!”. This accomplishes two things: It keeps them interested in what you have to say (because you’re not just repeating the same word over and over) and it gives your photograph a little more context. You’ll look back on these pictures one day and your child will remember that particular toy because it was their favorite, or they’ll laugh at how excited they were about hugging a sibling when the sibling wasn’t excited about it at all. The best photographs usually focus on some kind of interaction – whether it’s with another person, an animal or even the surroundings.
5. Don’t Forget to include your pets!
This is a biggie! As much as I talk about taking photos of your kids because they won’t be this way forever – Pets are just as important. Whenever I’ve looked through old photo albums with family or friends, the pictures that get pointed out always include the family pet. Sadly, they won’t be around forever and that is why including them in any family photographs is so important! Also, they help kids to interact and give them something to focus on while you work on getting the perfect shot. Down the road, they will greatly appreciate that image of them clinging onto fluffy to show the camera their adorable little furry friend.
6. Find Good Lighting and stick with it
I know it’s hard, but good lighting is literally everything in photography! With digital photography today, it is a much quicker process then you might think. Some tips for “Finding good lighting” are if you’re inside put the kids next to a big window. Window lighting can be absolutely amazing — it deletes the hard shadows on people’s faces and makes them look soft. If you’re outside, try to find nice even shade to avoid those squinty eyes and big dark nose shadows. Then, once you find the good lighting, try your damnedest to keep the kids there! Its harder then it sounds, but I know you can do it!
7. Put them in motion
I love this trick – it has yielded some of my favorite family photographs! When you’re trying to get the kids to stand still for a photograph it can be damn near impossible. They want to play with things and wander out of the frame and just totally don’t pay attention to you at all. This is when I tell the kids to stand together in a line, I take a few images of them there, then I tell them to race towards me and I’ll photograph who wins the race. Don’t stop photographing while they are running through! These pictures are the big smiles and best images. Then, when they go back to the starting line, they know exactly what to do in order to race again. I also love to put on some music and let them dance! Kids loooooove to dance and unlike us adults — they could care less about their picture being taken. It really makes for some great images because they’re laughing and giggling and totally in their element!
8. Be Patient
Much easier said then done, eh? Sometimes you can do everything right. You’ve got the perfect lighting with the perfect outfit and you just want to get that one little photograph but no one is doing what they should be doing to make it happen. This one is why I am not super strict on how much time I spend photographing a family session. You have to be patient in order to get that awesome photograph. When I do Day In The Life sessions I will literally camp with my camera all set up and pointed at the good lighting and wait for the image to happen. Sometimes I may abandon my post because the kids have moved on, but mostly they will wander into my frame and do something weird and kid like that makes for a great image. You just have to be patient and not force it!
9. Take more pictures less often
I can’t tell you how many kids are trained for cameras now-a-days. They see a camera and instantly ham it up. That’s totally fine, it’s just part of the world we live in now. But I want to remind parents to BE PRESENT! So this means, when you do take photographs don’t be afraid to rapid fire and then put the camera away. If junior is covered in spaghetti and licking the cat take a second to whip out your camera phone and fire off 30-40 frames the. Pick one that is good and print it out. If your kid is on stage doing a recital, take 10 frames of them and put the camera away to enjoy this moment. They want to look up and see your smiling face, not eyebrows and a camera phone. If it is their big 10th birthday, hire a photographer to take photos of the whole day so you can participate and BE IN THE PICTURES! It’s important to live the moment AND get a photograph of it so don’t forget to put the camera away sometimes.
10. PRINT THEM OUT
THIS IS SO IMPORTANT!!!!!!!!!! I don’t care how you do it. Every photographer knows that we can get the best prints. Walgreens is not calibrated to our screens like the professional print labs are. They have not been tested. They cannot do the beautiful textures like our labs can. But I don’t give a damn if it’s a grainy terrible color that would make every professional photographer cringe, I’d rather you print a terrible photo out and hang it off your fridge then these photos die with your iPhone. A few ways to EASILY print those images off your phone include the app Printicular. You can select images right off your phone and get them printed in an hour at your local Walgreens, or have them sent to your house. Piece of cake! Another easy option that I absolutely adore is Fuji’s Instax line of cameras — Essentially they are polaroids — So they print instantly. These are great because kids love them and there is no thinking about printing them. It just happens automatically. Either way, do yourself a favor and PRINT your photographs. Hang them in your house, put them in a book, keep them in a shoe box for a rainy day. It is absolutely one of the best investments you can make.
But obviously, when in doubt — hire a professional. 🙂 You can even book online right this very second!