My children spend a good part of their day with a camera aimed in their direction. Most of the time they are completely unaware of the fact. I feel that the best photos of my kids result when I manage to capture them in the “moment” (I actually don’t like this term “moment”, but more on this in a minute). Asking a child to look at the camera, pose and smile is like asking a cat to fetch, sit, and play dead. I have yet to meet a human being that can smile genuinely when prompted to. Actors (good actors) take years of practice to fake a really good smile, so why should we expect our children to master this skill?
I’ve been meaning to write an informative/how-to post for a while and I think I’ve found the perfect topic. I’d like to share with you some tips on how to photograph your kids. I hope that you not only find it informative but also encouraging and inspiring.
So my first rule of photographing kids is do not tell your children to smile. Just don’t. If you want your child to smile, tell them a joke, conversate with them, or photograph them when they are having fun and are filled with joy; kids typically smile when they are happy, right? Maybe ask them to look in your direction, or tell them to stand/play somewhere where the background lends to better photos, but that’s it. Just let them be, even if they want to hide behind a spoon.
Kids do things. Always. Their eyes are always observing and their hands and feet are always in something (not always something good). You’ve seen your children doing this. So where’s the camera? If your child is doing something, document it.
“Oh, but their hair isn’t done”, “but the house is a mess!”…then get up close and focus on their hands or feet! Compose shots that remove distracting objects from the frame, such as garbage cans at the playground or potential photobombers.
Waiting for “the moment”…I feel as if waiting for the moment is just another excuse to not to have your camera at the ready. With kids, the moment is ALWAYS. Always Be Capturing…even if they’re not looking!
Without getting technical, the only composition rule you should really try to follow when photographing kids is to shoot from their eye level, especially when using smartphones. It is safe to say that pretty much everyone has a smartphone on them or near them. These little gems come equipped with very capable cameras that are typically fitted with wide-angle lenses. While these lenses let you cram more of a scene into a shot, they can also cause unflattering distortions when used incorrectly. Composition is a matter of taste, but…shooting kids from above as most people do results in a child with a head slightly larger than it is. It also results in a photo that looks more like what this owl would see when approaching this little mouse, rather than the portrait you envisioned. In short, leave the top-down shots for Instagram posts of your food and bring your camera down. Again, this is all a matter of taste and opinion, but you can trust me on this one.
Holding the camera at your kids’ eye level also lets you capture background elements that put the photo/moment into context. Below you’ll see a child that appears lost in someone’s yard (not a bad photo). If I step back and bring the camera to her height, the photo becomes that of my daughter playing under the sprinkler in my yard. See? No swooping birds of prey here. And she’s smiling because she loves water! And her hair is messy! And she’s not even looking at the camera!
Photographing kids really depends on actually doing it. Photos of your children will not grow on trees or magically appear on your phone, hanging from your walls, or sitting on your desk at work. It really does depend on you to document your child’s life (or “make memories” as they say). I’ve spent hours sitting with my wife looking at photos and watching videos of our girls. The oldest one is only seven, but I can easily find a photo of her at ANY point in her life. They’re not always the best, but I have them.
I leave you with this. Forget what I said. Go find your kids, sit on the floor with them, play with them, and sneak that photo in.