I'm going to go out on a limb here and bet that the number one reason a non-professional photographer (professional as in that's their ONLY job and they make lots o' money) buys a fancy camera is kids. (and I'm applying this to nieces, nephews, grandkids, immediate offspring, furry kinds, etc.) They're important to us. We want to document them and the many cute things they do. One problem. It can be REALLY REALLY hard.
Why? Because they're uncooperative. They won't sit still. They look frozen or awkward in the frame. They're fast little buggers. They're just plain weird.
I'm going to make a confession right here, right now. I should never, ever photograph my own children. They make me crazy when I'm not trying to capture their "absolute adorableness" - throwing us together with the express purpose of making sure I get semi-professional looking results that are not blurry, rife with screaming and tears or full of chewed up bribery candy is like asking a fish to fly. Can't be done.
However, I do think I've learned a few things over the course of several "photo shoots" (because I'm a glutton for punishment, didn't you know? So of course I keep planning them) and I want to pass them on to you.
In no particular order, here are 10 tips for shooting your kids (photographically speaking):
1. Chill out. Seriously. I need to remind myself of this one all the time. Sometimes you want your kid to do this:
And they just want to do this:
And no amount of screaming or cajoling or threatening or sighing from you will alter their attitude. In fact, it'll make it worse. The best thing you can do when your kids are at their worst for you is stop. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself that they aren't monsters, they really are cute, you really do love them and photos are meant to capture them as they REALLY are. So. If something's really stressing you out, just leave it. Do a different pose. Snap some shots of flowers or grass. Recheck your light meter. Let your kid play for a second. And this brings me directly to my second tip.
2. Give yourself plenty of time. Planning a photoshoot 10 minutes before you have to be at a birthday party is only going to end badly. Take my word on this. PLENTY of time. And the amount of time is going to vary for everyone. Read your kids, know your kids and adjust accordingly. I just got done doing my baby's 6 month shots, with some of all three kiddos thrown in. Know how long plenty of time was with them? Two afternoons. Yep. I couldn't even get it done in one sitting. BUT the point is I knew that might happen and I planned for it.
3. Expect the unexpected. Speaking of planning... remember that old saying? The best laid plans of mice and men, etc etc? Yeah. You can plan your head off and things'll still go wrong. Try really hard to roll with the punches. Your kid stains his shirt? Great! You've got an extra in your purse! The kids don't want to play with the "prop" toys you picked? Fine. Let them pick something they like. This particular "pose" isn't working? Ok. Tell them to get silly. Sometimes the best photos are ones that happen in those UNplanned moments. In fact, I'd be willing to bet the majority of really LOVED family and kid photos are completely random and candid. And for that very reason,
4. Don't force it. Try giving your kids general directions. "Here's the spot I want you to stay in. Try not to look right at the ground" instead of "Stand here, 3/4 profile with your hand directly on your hip. Look up but not too much, with a slight tilt of your head and SMILE!" Seriously. Don't pose them. Make compromises. "I need you to be here, but you can sit anyway you want." Try to loosen them up by letting them play with favorite toys or telling them a funny joke or using an inside joke. Embrace the candid and playful. You won't regret it. If you force it, you will be able to tell. In this same vein, never, ever, ever, ever say, "Say cheese!" Unless of course, you want the cheesiest photos around (pun intended). Don't say "SMILE!" Just don't do it. Your kids' photos should look natural. Tell them to smile, and you'll end up with a grimace. For reals:
(He could not be MORE thrilled.)
So, as I mentioned, a joke is good, an inside joke or phrase is better (When I want my kids to laugh I just say "Goober tubers!!" Works every time), and usually, for kids anyway, a ridiculous sound is best yet. So don't be afraid to get silly. Make weird noises and faces. Kids love that stuff. Also, enlist helpers. When I'm taking photos of just one kid, I'll ask the others to help. My 4 yr old daughter told a silly joke right before this shot:
Worked like a charm. It helps if they are standing behind you or behind you, but just off to the side, so that when the subject of the photo looks at them, they also look at you.
5. Move it. Really, I'm serious, move it. Kids are on the go. That's just they way it is. If you want some really fun, happy, candid kid photos you'll have to move with them - or at least be prepared to capture their movement! You can try a few different things. Turn your shutter speed somewhat low and capture some of their blur. You may have to use a tripod for that. Or turn your shutter speed really high to capture more detail - like their smile - and no movement. You'll likely have to adjust your aperture or ISO or possibly both for that. One thing I always make sure to do is turn on my continuous shot mode. Many cameras (even P&S cameras) have this feature. When it's functioning, you just hold your shutter button down and the camera will take several shots per second - some will keep snapping until you release the button. This is a great way to make sure you get at least ONE photo of a moving child that you actually like!
(We canned the poses and I let them jump in puddles. Now THOSE photos I like!)
6. Perfection isn't always... perfect. Sometimes, there are tiny little issues with a photo that just drive you crazy, but in reality they're pretty much NON issues. Sometimes, when we see something we don't like at the time, we're actually glad we caught it later on. For instance, this baby drool.
Gross. I totally thought about photoshopping that out. But then I realized this baby is only going to drool like this for a very limited time. Pretty soon he'll be borrowing money and messing up the car and I'll wish he'd go back to drooling. I mean, as a baby. Not as a teen. That would be weird. Or this. Know what drives me crazy about this pic?
That dark streak on the ball. What the heck is that?? But is that REALLY important? When people see this they're going to see that cute bub. They're not going to see the ball. If there's a photo you love but one of the kids has their eyes closed, or isn't looking right at you, don't worry about it. What you're capturing are MOMENTS. And moments are real. They are living and breathing. Most of the time, they AREN'T perfect. So that makes the imperfections in your photo perfect representations.
(I'll forgive them for not looking at me, because I actually got to capture a moment when they look like they love each other...)
7. Take a million photos. Really, a million. For real. Finally got them all in one area? QUICK! Hold your finger down on that button! Keep taking photos all during the shoot. Even in between the photos you thought you were there to take. Those in between moments, those thousands of photos, will almost guarantee one of each kid and probably several, that you all like! And if you end up with a thousand that you like? Well, awesome! I've never once heard someone say "Gee, I wish I hadn't taken so many photos!" No. That's ridiculous. Get yourself a huge memory card and don't worry about overdoing it. When you're taking photos of your kids, there's no such thing.
8. Go towards the light. Ok, so this is more of a general portrait taking tip, not just for kids, but it's a good one to remember. You know natural light is key in taking great photos, but did you know there's an optimum time of day? Yep. It's early in the morning OR in the late afternoon/early evening. Basically, you don't want the sun directly overhead. You want the light in front of your subject, so if you're taking photos outside - especially in a specific location, plan the time accordingly! If you can't avoid a particularly sunny time of day, look for some shade. It'll help your subjects refrain from squinting and the softer light is much more flattering. Also, you will want your kids to look toward the light source as much as possible. Try steering their eyes in that direction by calling out to them as they are playing, or using a toy that makes noise above your camera. Or making weird silly sounds as addressed above - two birds, one stone. (smiling AND looking toward the light.) Eyes look more alive when the light shines on them.
Looking towards the light:
Not looking towards the light:
See the difference?
9. Don't pretend you're above bribery. Come on. We all know a little bribery goes a long way when we want results with our kids. For me, I always offer a treat that they can have AFTER photos IF they aren't crabby and cooperate. For us, it's got to be something tangible and immediate. Like cookies they can see sitting right there next to me. That way, the reward is never far from their minds. BUT, other things might work better for different kids. You could try small, simple treats (that aren't too messy) that they can have throughout the shoot (I suppose kind of like rewarding a dog for a new trick...) I tried that with jelly beans and had moderate success. Or you could offer a trip to the dollar store to pick out one thing or stopping at their favorite ice cream place on the way home. You know what works for your kids (don't pretend you don't...)
And if you don't want to call it bribery, let's just say it's positive reinforcement.
10. Pay attention to details. Now, by this I don't mean to look for every little thing that's wrong - we already talked about that. Forget "perfection." What I mean is that you should pay attention to all of the little things you know you'll want to remember. That tiny hand that won't be tiny for long. Your daughter's favorite shirt. The heirloom blanket your child sleeps with. That handmade gift they love. Their freckles. All of that. You want your photos to evoke feelings, thoughts, memories, smells, sounds. You want to be able to look at them 20 years from now and recall, "I remember the sound of that laugh!"
These long eyelashes:
These grabby hands:
Her funny wrinkled nose:
Hopefully I'll be able to remember these tips myself the next time I'm "shooting" my kids and I start to feel like strangling them...
You can come see some more of my photo-taking journey over on bugaboo, mini, mr & me.
What are your best tips for taking pics of kids?