I’ve loved photography as far back as I can remember. Now that most people own smartphones with great cameras and fantastic apps for making the most of your shots, practically everyone can take amazing photos of their loved ones, as a way to preserving those memories. I use a smartphone when I’m posting pictures on Instagram and other social media because it’s easy, and I also love using a good-quality DSLR camera for every day moments too.
Because I share so many photographs of my little world in my personal blog, I tend to take a lot of photographs. I started using a little point and shoot camera a decade ago, then upgraded to an affordable DSLR (Canon Rebel with the kit lens that it came with) for several years. I actually wore the shutter out on it and over time saved up enough to upgrade once more to the camera I use now, which is a Canon 7D. (For those of you who enjoy technical points, I primarily use a 50mm lens when shooting photos of my kiddos, but use a 28-75 zoom on occasion.) As an amateur photographer, I’ve learned some photography tips through many trial and error moments of motherhood. Today I’m sharing a few of my favorite practical tips with you. These aren’t in any particular order but they have all been relevant in attempting to photograph my own children over the years in various stages of cooperation. (And if you’ve ever tried to get that perfect holiday shot, or birthday moment with a melting down toddler you know what I’m talking about.)
1) Turn off your flash! Take your photos in the most natural lighting you can find and you’ll be amazed how that vastly improves your photos right off the bat. Obviously, you won’t be able to do that all the time, as real life happens 24-7, but even in a well-lit room a flash can have drastic effects on a photo and normally, it’s not for the better. Turn yours off and see what you get.
2) Find good light. We could talk about light all day long but we don’t have enough time or space to really do that so we’ll just touch on it. Regardless of what kind of camera you are shooting with, lighting matters and can make even a photograph taken with a crummy camera look decent. A photograph taken under soft shade in natural light, will be a thousand times better than a photograph with someone squinting into the sun or standing under direct sunlight with shadows all over the place. The time of day can make or break a photo too, and if you’re planning an outing that you know you’ll want to photograph, mornings and early evenings can be your best bet for softer lighting, or even a slightly overcast day. We love going on trail hikes or walks on overcast days (which are fairly easy to come by in the Pacific NW) and I’ll often bring my camera along and return home with lovely shots.
3) Focus on the eyes. Most cameras have a focus point in the center of the lens or view screen that you can place over the subject you’re shooting as you’re setting up your shot. If you’re using a DSLR, you’ve probably got a button that moves your focus point in a few different directions. By centering your focus point on the eyes of your child you will get a great photo by paying attention to that one small thing for a split second. (Assuming they are sitting or standing still.) (And I’ll get to what to do if they aren’t, in my next point.)
4) Roll with it. Most parents would call this Documentary style photography. It’s real life moments, because sometimes you want the birthday candle being blown out but you get sugar high melt downs instead. Embrace the chaos of the moment. One of our most memorable shots of our daughter was when she was a year old. This was before I had gotten lost in photography and had taken her to a studio to get her one-year photo taken. I had dressed her all in pink and she had little soft angel wings on the back of her dress and she was the cutest thing you’d ever seen. Everything was fine until I set her down on the table, because she was a true mama’s girl and wanted to be in my arms all the time at that stage of life. (Somebody relates to this.) Well, I bet you can guess what happened next. Tears. Huge, alligator tears. She was sobbing and reaching her tiny hands out to me in the most heart-wrenching way, and the photographer snapped the shot right before I swept her up in my arms to comfort her. She calmed down and we tried again. And again. And again. I finally gave up because that was the stage we were in with her but I did take my free photo home with me that day. Every time I see it, I smile. That was how life was back then and now I’ve got it on film, preserved. It’s not the most amazing photograph but it was certainly a memorable season in our life. You get what you get sometimes. This also kind of applies to the ‘cheesy smile phase.’ At the time you think, ‘Oh for goodness sake, just smile normally already!’ The truth is, that’s a memory. You’ll always look back and get a chuckle out of their pasted-on, fake smiles in years to come and chances are they will too! Just snap the picture and remember they won’t always do these things for every picture for the rest of their life. (Hopefully.) Ha!
5) Get out there! It’s the first snow of the year and your kid has shoveled snow into a huge pile and is sitting on it proudly. Take that photo and capture the exuberance of the moment even if it’s cold outside and you’d rather just watch from the window. Engage those kiddos in whatever they are absorbed in. Often, I find that the shot I walk outside to capture isn’t the one I fall in love with… It’s the five I take following that one that suddenly land me with some truly beautiful pictures of the moment. It’s all about being present and if a camera just happens to capture a bit of that, all the better.
6) Photograph more than faces. I used to walk my kids in a double jogger stroller every morning. We’d walk and they would munch goldfish crackers and jabber at the cars passing and I’d often look down at their little feet and think, ‘They won’t be little like this forever.’ One summer morning, I brought my camera along and snapped a photograph of those itty-bitty bare toes, side by side in a jogger stroller. I took it from right where I was standing, behind them, and have cherished that photo for years! Every time I see it I am lurched backward in time and my heart melts all over again. Don’t forget to take those photographs of more than cheesy-smiles and little faces. Capture all the pieces of your children you never want to forget because as time passes… you might. Photograph their toes, their fingers, a view of their long eyelashes or profiles, etc. You will always look back and be pleased you did.
7) Get the daily moments. This goes hand-in-hand with several of my previous tips. Take photos of them when they are doing regular things such as getting lost in a book, blowing bubbles, setting a table, playing with toys and such. Don’t worry about the surroundings just capture the moment. So often you are able to capture expressions that are dear to your heart as you watch for those every day moments because nobody knows your child like you do.
8) Don’t be afraid to get on your belly. I have contorted myself into the weirdest angles to capture a shot time and time again. Your perspective changes if you move up or down or beside something and can really do wonders for snapping sweet photos of your children. Some of my favorite photos have been of them playing instruments or jumping off the bleachers at a baseball game, etc and most of the time I’ve been on a chair, crouched down beside them, or even under their level looking up. Give it a try!
9) Shoot, look, delete. I did a 365 project for two straight years, where I took one photograph every day. When I was finished I put them all into (online) photo books and had them printed up. What amazed me is how it forced me to learn my camera but also how to appreciate the small things in life. Some days I photographed something random like the end of a banana in a bowl, but it taught me how to use my camera backward and forward in ways that reading the manual couldn’t. Nothing beats practice. (Though reading your manual sure won’t hurt.) I learned a ton about light and how to use it, and overall it helped me take much better photographs of my kids.
10) Print your photographs. (I realize this isn’t really about how to take better pictures but it’s certainly of a part of enjoying them.) Canvases, frames, photo books, posters- it’s so easy to choose an easy option to get your photos out and in print. Don’t keep them locked up in your phone or computer, (or a shoebox) enjoy them! It seems like every birthday we pull out an album and look at the days each child was born, and they ask questions about the kind of babies they were and how much I loved them at first sight and on and on as we look through page after page. They aren’t anything fancy, they are just a simple album with clear pockets and photos tucked inside. But there is huge joy in looking back at our vacations and fun events and memories together.