Eye Contact Smiles and More [What I Learned from Shooting with Film: Part 5]

Eye Contact Smiles and More [What I Learned from Shooting with Film: Part 5]


In this post Rachel Devine (author of our kids photography eBook Click and our new Natural Light Photography eBook) ends her series on reasons learning photography on film cameras made her the digital photographer that she is today.

Also Read previous posts on Shooting with Burst Mode, Natural vs Artificial Light, Embracing the Grain and Taking Cameras Everywhere.

One last thought to wrap up this little series of blog posts. With film, the shoots always had a limit. I needed to get my shots in a certain number of frames so I had to be pretty organized. I went in with a game plan. I would always try to get the sitting still and smiling at the camera shots first and out of the way for no other reason than I wanted to have as much film left over as possible to capture the real photos. Everyone asks for those eye contact / natural smile shots, so I do my best to get a great one, but for me, that is not what kid photography is about.


Especially if the children I am shooting are pensive or active or anything other than prone to sitting still and looking at the camera. I want to document the real childhood of that child.

Looking back on my own family photos from childhood, there are very few where we are all lined up and smiling for the camera. About one of those semi-formal posed ones a year. Usually it was shot in the summer outside the beach house with my dad’s camera on a tripod and with the self timer.

It is neat to watch the family grow up through those photos, but they are not the ones I hunger for digging through all the old slide albums. I am looking for more moments to spark a memory other than my father yelling for us to all smile and look at the camera while he did the mad dash back from pushing the shutter to join us in the line.


I want to find the images that tell a story within the confines of that little paper Kodak frame. Those images that as soon as I hold up the slide to the light suck me right back in time through those locked doors of fading memories.

And I want to leave those little future keys for my children to find in the images I am making of them as they grow. So I occasionally get the eye contact and the smiles, but often I get so much more.

The photos in this post are of my daughter were taken just a few days apart on this trip back to Virginia to visit family. I am thrilled to have the smiling shot and I will probably frame it, but the other two show how she really is on this journey. She is more pensive than the big grin would have you think.


Gemma has always been a great traveler. She has been many places in the world with us and always up for an adventure. The last time we came to the states she did not waste a minute of her thoughts on Australia. I will always remember this trip back to the states as the first one where she had been in Australia long enough to start missing her home and friends. I can see it in her face in the other photos and it is one little thing that I will remember about her growing up…a milestone captured.  

For more on the topic of Kids Photogrpahy – Check out Rachel’s eBook Click! How to Take Gorgeous Photos of Your Kids. Also check out her brand new Life in Natural Light eBook (which currently comes with some great bonuses for early birds).

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Some Older Comments

  • rmd October 8, 2011 12:09 pm

    what settings and lens did u use for those two beautiful last shots of Gemma? btw, that is a beautiful classic name. haven't seen it in many many years.

  • ajel October 7, 2011 10:48 pm

    can you give more picture abt. this series

  • Camilla October 6, 2011 03:10 am

    Great series, thanks so much for taking the time to write it!

  • ccting October 3, 2011 12:02 pm

    Great article and shooting. But i dislike the second picture as the bokeh is a bit distracting for me.. Hmm, may be it is because of the len.. I don't know i am a noob.

  • Dewan Demmer October 1, 2011 08:12 pm

    Eye contact is really a great way to create interest, if done the right way you have the persons looking into the eyes of the person in the photo almost like a conversation ...
    I am finding it a great help with people shots, making a otherwise standard photo suddenly personal, regardless of whether you kow the person/s in the photo or not.
    It works for me in a similar fashion if the person is purposefully looking away, helps to create interest in where the person is looking. The eyes and the focus of those eyes really can dictate the attention of a photo and ultimately is interest value.
    These are some of my examples off the top of my head:

  • Scottc October 1, 2011 08:36 am

    Smiles! or lack thereof.... Agre with your thoughts on the old family slides, and leaving the same for the future.


  • Jonathan Steen October 1, 2011 05:46 am

    This is a wonderful series. I actually just purchased a Canon AE1 Program because of this series. Thanks for the info.

  • Derrve October 1, 2011 01:50 am

    Just wanted to say thanks for this series. They have been a great help to someone who is still very much a beginner
    Thank you.

  • Jean-Pierre October 1, 2011 01:48 am

    Like every great movie... The worst part about this series is that it hand to end. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

  • Erik Kerstenbeck October 1, 2011 12:39 am


    I am loving this entire series! Having great eye contact connects the subject to the observer and gives a sense of their personality! Here is one of a skate boarder, looks serious but you can sense a deep playfulness!