Images of your children are probably THE most important images you will ever make, even if it doesn’t feel like it. But for the longest time what I did was make very superficial images of my kids, until I started applying a few of the tips below. Follow along to get more intimate and expressive images of your children too.
1 – Ditch your portrait lens
The first thing to do, weirdly enough, if you have a go-to portrait lens that you use to photograph your family – is to ditch it. The reason is simple. Most of the time when we think of images of our children, we immediately think portraits.
I have nothing against portraits (there are a few on this page), but there’s more to your child than their portraits. At the end of the day, it’s really not about portraits, posing, making them pretty/handsome in the image, it’s about capturing snippets your child’s life as a whole.
2 – Have a camera with you always
Life goes on whether you are ready to shoot it or not. One of the things I recommend is to get a small pocket camera that goes everywhere with you. Photographs present themselves
Photographs present themselves whether you have one with you or not, so having a small camera makes you ready for any situation. And let’s face it when you have enough bags (diapers, snacks, etc.) as-is you REALLY don’t want to be lugging around your DSLR.
Great images can be made while going to the grocery store, at the wee hours of the morning, or just going to the park. In other words, when you least expect them. Like one time we had to call 911, my camera was with me. That is one of the times when you NEED your camera, it allows you to be present in the moment and yet detached enough not to lose your mind.
But besides those stressful times, the best images of my kids have been made when I least expected them.
3 – Think in terms of LIFE
In order to make more intimate photographs of your kids, you need a mindset for it. Here is the question to ask yourself: “What are the images that only I could make?”
Imagine you just hired someone for a family shoot, what are the types of images that the hired photographer can’t get? If you think about it, these are the most intimate moments. Ones that can only be made in the process of living life itself.
Photos of the kids sleeping peacefully, or that time where one was crying their eyeballs out…or when they finally scored a goal. It’s all about trying to find the majesty in the mundane parts of life when there are no special vacations planned, just plain old LIFE. Here are a few ideas to get your mind working:
- Kids while playing
- Kids recovering from sickness
- When they are sad
- When they are happy
- While they are sleeping
- What they look like right after waking up
- Unwrapping a toy
- Them being amazed at something
It’s all about photographing them while they are living their life. Capturing moments of intimacy that only YOU could capture because no one else is capable of getting that close to them.
The other part of the equation is to photograph your kids in this way as if you are doing a fine art project. That will help your mind find images that are not only intimate to you but also have inherent artistic value to them. Make art out of your family images.
Why? Because between you and me, great photography outside of the home starts inside the home. So give your family photography the star treatment, and trust me, at the end of the day these images will have more value and be more meaningful to you than any other photographs you have created.
I would know, I once completely lost my hard drive. I was on the bed, tripped on the wire and BAM! Lost everything. I believed my best images were those of my street photography, that simply was not the case. I didn’t care at all about those images, all I wanted was to get my son’s birth pictures back. The hard drive is somewhere in storage, but I don’t know if I can ever recover the images.
4 – Shoot for your eyes only
One way to make more personal images of your kids is to make photos that you will never show anyone. Images of their first shower, on the potty by themselves, you get the point. Of course, you will NEVER show them to anyone else ever, but it starts training your mind that not every image needs to be shared or have external thumbs up to be meaningful to you.
So start making the kinds of images you know will never be seen by any other set of eyes, maybe theirs when they grow up. If they are nice that is!
5 – How to get them to be REAL
Let’s face it, when you deal with kids and children, they have already been spoiled rotten by the camera. You just point your camera towards them and you will hear “chhhhhheeeeeeese” with a fake smile to boot. That will only lead to uncomfortable looking kids in your images. So what do you do? Simple – you fake it.
Kids are themselves right before and right after you take the photo. So you either have to be quick and take the image BEFORE they start putting on their picture face. Or you have to do so after.
If your camera makes a CLICK sound, just wait for it, and say “Okay, done!” and about half a second later take another image. That one is always better because that’s when the kids let their guard down.
Also sometimes it’s better to do two images, one for you and one more for them. For example, I like dark, moody, pensive images. My first son is all about smiles, fun, and giggles.
So sometimes what I do is direct him to make the image I have in my mind. Then once I have done that, I just tell him to do whatever he wants, and I usually end up with a grimace and shoot that. The first image would be more of a reflection of me and the second is more of a reflection of him. It’s win-win in my book.
6 – Give them the greatest gift ever
Imagine this: Your son (or daughter) is getting married. It’s your turn to make a speech. You can’t contain your emotions, and you want to cry. Yet you muster up the courage to give the speech and all of a sudden you take hold of the remote control and start a slideshow for everyone to see. It’s your son, his baby pictures, that time he was 6 and lost his tooth, times of sadness, happiness, and more.
Make a photo project out of your children’s lives. And when it’s time…give them a book with the best images you’ve ever made of them. I think the greatest gift you can give them – besides the basics, like character – is an album of their life.
How important is this? Very! I can’t show my kids any photos of myself growing up. All of those images were lost to an earthquake that happened in Haiti a few years back. I can’t show them when I was sleeping with some spaghetti in my mouth, or my first tooth falling out.
I think it makes it easier for our kids to relate to us when we can show them we were kids too. My kids? I’ll make sure each one gets an album of their life when the time is right…if they don’t make me lose my mind first that is!
Your most important work as a photographer is family work. It may not feel like it now, but don’t wait until a hard drive crash to figure it out. Always have your camera at the ready and photograph their life as it happens.
When it’s time you will have a collection of impactful images you can give them and they, in turn, can share with their family. Be yourself, stay focused and keep on shooting.