Within minutes of meeting any Mom, I usually hear something to the effect of “You’re so lucky you are a photographer! I bet you just get fantastic pictures of your kids all the time! I wish I could get better photos of my children.” I’ll put aside the whole shoemaker’s kids don’t have shoes thing (usually the last thing I want to touch at home is my camera), and reply “No, we have horrible days too and girl, my iPhone pics are HORRENDOUS!” In truth, you can be the best technical photographer in the world, but if you don’t know how to connect with kids, it’s a slow and painful train wreck for everyone involved. Anyone can get better photos of their children if they simply change their perspective from “I want this photo” to “My kids are making an awesome memory.” Here are 10 tips to get better photos of your children and make the experience more enjoyable for everyone.
1. Seek out great light. If your kids are anything like my kids, they move faster than seems scientifically possible and they are on the go from the second their eyes open until they jump their last trampoline jump in their beds before sleep. In order to keep up with their speed with my camera, I need to give it a helping hand by taking pictures in great light. The better the available light, the faster the camera’s shutter speed can move and the closer I get to keeping up with the crazy. Great light can be anything from a room with bright sunlight streaming in, to the comfy shade under a big tree. Direct sun provides a ton of light, but it causes squinty eyes and with kids, general frowns and discontent. Great light is friendly light where your kids can play comfortably without any notice of the sun.
2. Meet them where they are. Great photos of your children all depend on mood. Before I pick up the camera, I have to ask myself “Am I about to pull them away from something fun for my own benefit or am I seeking to make a memory of what we are doing?” Try to make sure you are entering and engaging with them where they are at instead of pulling them aside to say “Stand still! (Translation: Stop having fun!) Mommy wants a picture!” Instead I usually ask “Hey there! Are you having an awesome time?!” and am usually greeted with a huge grin, bright eyes and a “Yeah!!!!!” and CLICK. Great picture.
3. Get down to their level. This is the next step to meeting them where they are. As adults, we so often overlook the good stuff in life. As we tower over our kids, we struggle to capture the moment in its true form. I always try to “get low” when taking pictures of my kids. I want those pictures to reflect the world as they saw it. It’s a great reminder to see how captivated they are with tiny ants, how big the world feels to them, and how focused they are on experiencing every aspect of life. I don’t want my photos to look down on them. I want my photos to be them. Know what I mean?
4. Start with silly faces. The camera can feel overwhelming to children. Mommy has just put a big giant piece of machinery on top of her face, I can no longer see her eyes, and it beeps and clicks and flashes and she wants me to sit still and smile, when I really just want to run for the hills. Or just have my Mommy back. You have to teach children that the camera is fun and not something to fear. The best way to do that is to start silly. A soft voice that encourages them to show off their best funny faces can loosen the mood and let them know that this is play time, not work. We take pictures because we love to capture our family having fun! I always make silly noises and silly mouth faces or stick out my tongue to encourage them that Mommy is playing too and is still there behind the camera.
5. Show them the back of the camera. Kids are totally vain, self-centered little animals. They love nothing more than to see themselves projected on the camera viewing screen. This amazing surprise of seeing themselves on the camera can often prompt sillier faces, greater engagement and a committed effort on their part to help you get great photos. Don’t be afraid to take the time to ooh and ahh over their latest frame and boost their egos a bit with how awesome their pictures look.
6. Let them play. We already talked about not interfering with the fun that is happening, but if you’re dying for better photos and need to “create” the play environment, than go for it! When I want some updated pictures of my kids, I usually take them somewhere new to play or break out an awesome art project. I want to see my kids happy and in action, doing what they love best! Things like board games, painting, even watering flowers or trying to fold laundry…These little moments are divine. I promise you’ll be happier with these images than the ones from when you told them to freeze and stand still by the stairs so you could snap a picture, grumpy smiles, begrudging shoulder sags and all.
7. Kid chat. If they are tapping out and getting quickly distracted, often times you can bring them back to “center” by engaging them on their favorite topics. I love to chit chat with my kids while I shoot. “Is your favorite color blue?” “Who is your best friend?” “Is your Mommy the best Mommy in the whole wide world?” (Naturally that last one always brings a big smile to their faces…ha) Engage them and let them show off what they know and tell you their preferences. When you have their genuine interest, you get better photos every time.
8. Act quickly. The best thing you can do to get better photos is to know your camera. Whether you take a class, read the manual or hit up YouTube, make sure you’re comfortable with its basic functionality BEFORE you try to wrangle the kids for pictures. You surely know that any hesitation on your part means they’re off and running. Be ready and engage, quickly! Don’t aim for marathon sessions. Shoot for short bursts to avoid them feeling antsy or trapped. The more you know about your camera, the faster you can be in and out when it comes to capturing better photos without their annoyance.
9. Avoid pictures before excitement. My mom used to always make us stop at the bottom of the stairs before Christmas so she could get a picture of our eyes closed before we saw all of our presents. One word. Torture. Be mindful of what your kid is thinking before you stop them for a picture. If they’re en route to a pile of presents, or excited to ride the school bus for the first time, the last thing they probably want is to stop and smile for the camera. You have now become a roadblock on their path to awesome, and they will surely let you know it. Instead, take a picture the night BEFORE Christmas, when they are excited for Santa to come and know bed time is coming and are willing to extend their excitement just a little bit longer. Dress them in their school clothes the week before school for a little model walk photo shoot so they can be energized by the excitement that comes with knowing that school starts in a few days. Choose your timing wisely.
10. Don’t force it. Know when to walk away. The minute you hear the first whine, your time behind the camera is limited. Instead of trying to force it and squeeze every possible frame that you can as moods sour and attitudes bristle, know when the timing is wrong and to put the camera down for a few minutes until things pick back up. It might feel frustrating at first, but you’ll be happier in the end (as will they). As you work the steps above more frequently, you’ll find that you don’t need to force it at all, and those days when they’re just not into it, you’ll be more than happy to put the camera down, knowing that you’ll get better photos later.
If you’re struggling with your camera or feel frustrated enough to just give up trying altogether, shoot me an email (blevins-dot-katy-at-gmail-dot-com)! I love to teach one-on-one photography skills to new camera owners and offer private and group lessons. Don’t give up!!! You can get better photos of your children and I’m happy to help. I can’t wait to help you capture those special memories for years to come.