As a mother to three little ones, I can say without any doubt nor a moment’s hesitation, that my kids are my most difficult subject – ever. My usual tips and tricks with other families, simply do not work with my own kids, and I have to employ new strategies along with controlling my own emotions. So yes, I do fully understand, despite my profession, the despair and frustration many of you parents go through when capturing photos of your very own children.
But, fear not! Below are my top five tips for taking the stress out of photographing your own children.
1. Prepare yourself mentally
Keep your expectations realistic so that even if only one photo comes out decent, you can consider the shoot a success!
2. Plan the photoshoot
Plan the shoot in advance – a long way in advance. The first step in planning is visualizing the photoshoot. Schedule the shoot in your diary. Do mental and physical preparations weeks before; raid the wardrobes to see what clothes the kids can wear, accessories they can use, what might you need to buy to add to the clothes if necessary. Decide which areas of your home you want to use for the shoot, and choose well-lit one, or if you are going to the local park plan the spot ahead of time. What toys and props, if any, can they play with that goes with the tone and colour of the shoot – for example favourite teddy, lego, craft sets, etc?
3. Talk about it with your kids – also way in advance
Chat informally to your kids about it far in advance, so they know it is happening at some point, and will not be taken by surprise. Slip it in conversation casually like it’s no big deal (of course it’s a huge deal) and that you are going to have some fun during the photoshoot.
4. On the day of the shoot
Leverage novelty and adventure.
If doing the shoot in your garden or patio set it up nicely so it’s a novelty. Keep it a surprise too, so you can capture their excitement. Use a tent for example or some buntings or teepee. Or better yet, take them to your local park for a little adventure or picnic. The important thing is to make the photoshoot a special experience for them.
De-clutter if doing the shoot in your home
Clear and prepare the areas you want them to sit in so they are free of clutter, and other objects you don’t want to be in the photos. Choose a spot with ample natural light, somewhere next to a window for example. Put some favourite toys in a bag nearby. Get your camera settings ready and put your camera to one side. Make a clear space where you want your child to sit, and a clear space for yourself as well. Take out one toy from the bag you have already prepared, and put it in the space for your child. Invite your child to play with it.
Look towards the light
Make sure your child is either facing the light, or that at least half of their face is in the light. Whatever camera you use, especially if you are not using manual mode, the more light there is – the less the chance of getting blurry photos. If you shoot in semi-automatic mode (such as Aperture or Shutter Priority), just make sure you set a minimum to your speed so that it’s fast enough, at 1/125th or higher to avoid blurry photos. You can also bump up your ISO to make your camera more sensitive to light. If you can change your aperture, change it to a low number (larger opening) such as f/3.5 or lower, so you let in more light and also get the blurry background effect.
It’s always nice to have a mixture of candid shots, and portraits, and your child need not smile at all. Steer clear of making them say “cheese”, as that almost always gets a fake-looking smile. Trying to get a genuine smile or laughter captured on camera isn’t always easy.
With younger children five and under, singing their favourite tunes and rhymes work well. If you have someone with you, get them to do silly things like crazy dancing, making bunny ears with their fingers behind your head, playing peek-a-boo and making toys dance behind you to some silly singing. The noisier, the sillier, the crazier – the better.
With older kids, talking about things they find hilarious is the key. Get in close so you can capture those expressions, the gappy teeth, the precious look in your child’s eyes. Ask them about their favourite activities and things that they LOVE, and you see those eyes begin to sparkle as they start talking candidly.
Use flash or a reflector if shooting backlit
If you want to shoot with a backlit effect so that your child is facing away from the light, you will need to use a flash or a reflector, otherwise you will end up with a silhouette. If there is some clear profile of the face or outline, a silhouette could be a very nice photo too.
Direct your flash
If there is not much light available, turn your camera’s flash on, but stick a card around the flash so that it directs the flash somewhat sideways, rather than firing the flash straight on which flattens the face and creates harsh shadows under the chin and jawline. Directing the flash provides light and shade. Bouncing the flash upwards or backwards gives you a natural look, as you are just using the flash as a little fill-light.
Take time to play
Play a little game with your child, talk, cuddle, create a relaxed atmosphere. Take some photos while your child is playing with the toys you have prepared. Interact with your child so you get photos of your child looking at you, as well as looking away, which are great candid shots.
Top tip: give your child an activity and make your child laugh. Be mindful of your child’s attention span.
The younger your child is, the shorter the attention span. Don’t offer all the toys at once. Stick to one area for a quick photoshoot, or if your child gets bored take the adventure into another spot nearby, and start fresh but keep that quick too.
If your child has had enough, it’s probably better to stop and continue another day. In my experience, the ages between one and three years are the most difficult time to get clear, sharp, and good photos of your own children. But don’t forget to take a snap or two of those pouts and long faces – the images may come in handy at their wedding reception many years down the line, as well as being a special memory.
Have some snacks and little treats ready so you can celebrate afterwards. Even if you only manage to get ONE decent photo, it’s always good to celebrate. It makes the photoshoot a positive experience and will work in your favour at your next photoshoot. If you ended up with nothing, still celebrate that you had some play, snuggle, and cuddle moments together.
If the shoot does not go well at all, well there is always a next time…
Do you have any photos of your kids, or some other tips and tricks that have worked well for you? Please share in the comments below.