More and more, people are enjoying photography, parents included. Nowadays, it seems that one of the items that comes included with your new bundle of joy is a new baby. Or, maybe the other way around. Either way, new parents and new cameras seem to be a combo deal, and parents spend a lot of time snapping away at their little ones.
Often though, once the pictures are on the computer and sorted through, there can be a bit of disappointment. Yes, they are pictures of the loves of your lives, but maybe they are a bit blurry, or out of focus, or just ‘missing something’. You’d like to improve on them, but aren’t sure where to start. Let’s take a look at some of the things we can do to improve our pictures. In this article, we’ll start with some of the simpler concepts and over time drill down into the details.
1. Get on their level
You’ll always read this in every article about taking pictures of kids – and for good reason! It’s that important. Getting down on your kid’s level does many things all at once that improve a picture:
- Gives a unique perspective
- Lets you see them as they really are, rather than looking down from above
- Makes them more relatable
- They will be more comfortable with you when you are at their level
- More and better interaction
- Expressions are more visible
When we look at kids, often we see them from our level, looking down on them. If we get down on the ground, we are seeing the world from a perspective that we normally don’t use. Immediately, this has the potential to make your photographs more interesting, as it shows us something different than we see every day. When you are on a horizontal plane with your children, you can avoid the lens distortion issues that can happen when their heads are closer to the lens than their bodies, which can affect how your picture looks.
Because you are meeting them on their level, children will see you more relatable than imposing, and be more comfortable with you. This can invite more interaction, which means more opportunities for great pictures. And because they will be looking straight at you rather than up at you, their expressions are more visible.
2. Don’t make them mug for the camera
Everyone loves the shot of a family smiling, looking at the camera as a group. Don’t get me wrong – those photos have their place, but when you’re looking for real expressions, don’t ask them to smile, or even acknowledge the camera. My kids learned quickly that ‘camera=big smile’, and their first reaction is to put on the biggest, goofiest smile they can find. Once they get over that and ignore me and my camera, their real enjoyment shines through and I can capture a range of emotions that they never would be able to produce if they were thinking of having their picture taken. In this shot, my son was intent on exploring the inside of a train at the train museum in Ellicott City, and forgot I was there.
But, of course, sometimes it is fun to let them clown around just for the camera. The key is, just go with the flow and not direct them.
3. The Eyes Have It – most of the time
When taking a picture of someone facing in the direction of the camera, try to focus on the eyes. That’s where people will gravitate towards when looking at a picture, and when the eyes are in focus, it helps to convey their emotions and connect with the viewer.
But the eyes aren’t everything. Don’t forget to take pictures when they’re not even aware of the camera, and involved in their own world. You can capture the emotion through their pose or gesture. One of my favorite pictures of my kids is of them sitting on the dock at Lake Elkhorn. My son sat down to watch the lake, and shortly after my daughter sat down and leaned against him. In my eyes, it’s a wonderful, emotional photo of the two of them, and both are facing away from the camera. Technically, it’s not great – it was shot on very expired and damaged film, it’s super grainy, and the colors are wrong. But it captured the emotion of the moment perfectly.
4. Don’t worry about technical perfection
One of the main things that will cause you to miss shots, especially when using a camera that lets you control the settings, is getting caught up in making sure everything is just right. Dialing in your settings and chimping (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chimping) can be distracting and make you miss the picture you were looking for. Set your camera to something that gives you a decently fast shutter speed (something 1/250th of a second to stop the action) and don’t worry about it. This shot of my daughter is a bit blurry due to her wild dancing, but it still captures the moment and her freedom to be wild and free.
5. Have Fun! (You, and your children)
When kids are really into something, that’s when the magic happens. Make the time fun and interesting for them – have an activity for them to do, a game to play, or something new for them to look at. And make sure that you are putting the camera down to participate and connect with them. Don’t just be a bystander documenting them, be an active participant. Then, when they find that worm, catch the ball, or get surprised by the bug, they will turn to you with their great expressions.
Sometimes though, I just want a picture of them, and they aren’t into it. Recently, I wanted to get a couple of pictures of them with my 4×5 film camera. I went through the work of pulling it out, loading the film, and lugging it down to the swing set in the back yard where they were playing. I wanted the picture, and I had just gone through the prep work of getting ready, but they weren’t into it. It ended up not being fun for either of us, and the pictures were disappointing. In those situations, it’s better to just put the camera down and enjoy your time with them.
Let’s See Those Family Photos
Take these tips out to the playground and share what you come up with. Post them in the comments below or tag @howardcountydads on Instagram and we’ll feature them. Do you have any other tips to capture some great family moments?