Let's face it, if you're a parent you're going to take a bunch of photos of your kiddos. If you find yourself getting frustrated with the quality of your photos or just want to be able to confidently capture those moments every time then my fantastic kids portraits guide for parents is for you! These 10 tips are part of my larger photography for parent's class. I have an in person parent's photography class coming up on June 4th in Pittsburgh so sign up today!
10 Tips for parents to take fantastic kids portraits
Here are my top 10 tips for parents to take fantastic kids portraits. Read on below to see more information about each tip.
- Candid portraits are more memorable
- Position yourself for a great photo
- Shoot from their perspective
- Understand your camera, its abilities, and its limitations
- Mind everyone's moods
- Pay attention to the entire frame
- Know when to call their attention to the camera
- Take their photo at unexpected times
- Let them take photos too
- Share the love of photography and portraiture with them
Candids are more memorable
Candid photos of your kids are more memorable. Photographing them acting natural and enjoying what they're doing can make for the most treasured pictures in your collection. Candid portraits capture them being themselves and doing something in the moment. They tell a story of who they are as a growing person. Good candid kids portraits are works of art.
Challenges: the challenges when it comes to shooting fantastic candid kids portraits mostly come down to understanding how to get the right exposure, focus, and positioning to make sure the photos look fabulous and not like a disappointing disaster. This might seem daunting but don't despair. Keep it simple, overcast days have more even lighting, less busy backgrounds are less distracting, and giving your kiddo something they're really interested in will give you lots of opportunities for success.
Position yourself for a great photo
When you position yourself correctly you will end up with a lot of great photos. One trick to great positioning is to get down on their level. Photos from their perspective are more interesting for everyone. Another trick is to place your kid in a brighter, better lit place than the background. This doesn't necessarily mean in direct sunlight but the important thing is that the background is darker than they are draws our attention to them.
Challenges: to correctly position yourself for a great photo you've got to anticipating where your child is going to be looking, what the background looks like, what area the lighting is best captured from, and maybe a dozen other things. This can seem overwhelming but if we're conscious of the challenges and we keep it simple we can overcome these things.
Shoot from their perspective
As I mentioned above, shoot from their perspective. Get on their level and see the world from their point of view. This automatically changes the way we see the world. Objects around them look very different than we're used to seeing them which makes these photos all the more interesting. Looking up at them also places them in a power position where we're seeing them as they see the world and not as the "little ones" that we typically think of them as.
Challenges: The biggest challenge is our own mobility. While having kids keeps us young not everyone is able to easily get up and down from the floor or ground. Taking your kids portraits from their level is great but if your knees or back won't allow it try holding your camera lower or sitting in a chair and holding in down.
Even if you're just using a phone you can do this, you just won't be able to see the screen but taking a number of photos should lead to some successful photos. In fact a smartphone can be a really beneficial camera for such photos. If we turn it upside down so our lens is nearly on the ground we can exaggerate that perspective even more and create really cool photos.
Understand your camera, its abilities, and its limitations
Understand your camera, its abilities, and its limitations. Every camera has limitations, from the angle that the lens is capturing to the amount of light it needs to freeze motion. Too your camera is probably capable of doing a lot more than you realize, even just your phone's camera.
Challenges: learning what your camera can do and how to make it do what you need it to can be a frustrating experience. Taking a photography class, like those I offer, can help you learn about your camera more quickly. There's nothing wrong with taking all of your photos on automatic settings but it's good to understand when and how to make subtle changes to your exposure in order to have success more often.
Mind everyone's moods
This one might seem silly but it may be the most important tip on this list - mind everyone's moods. If you or your kids are not in the best mood you may not get fantastic portraits. I'm a proponent of radical consent. I believe that everyone including children have the right to say no. If they say no to being photographed I strongly encourage you to respect that in the same way you would if they were adults. Doing so without question, coercion, or disagreement helps your kids to feel more confident in their decisions and will pay off a lot more than a photo of an unhappy child.
The same is true for you. If you're not in a good mood you're not likely to create great photos. Putting your camera down and doing some self-care is okay. Extend yourself the same warmth, caring, and empathy that you extend to your kiddos.
Challenges: not snapping a photo of an upset child can be genuinely hard for some people. We see their little pouty face and we want to capture that cute bottom lip stuck out and the tiny tears but the truth is that reads as rude and unsympathetic no matter what age you are. Showing your kids that you're putting their needs and feelings front and center is more important that capturing what is undoubtedly a precious photo. No matter how precious it is, it's not worth leaving your child feeling uncared for in that situation.
Pay attention to the entire frame
Make sure you pay attention to the entire frame. This one is harder than it sounds. You're trying to capture a wild toddler running and jumping all around. You're watching their expression, trying to get them in focus, you're thinking about ten other things, looking at the stuff beyond the child you're taking a portrait of can seem impossible and if first it will be hard to do. Once you learn to see the background in relation to your child, to understand how the lighting looks, and have made sure that your thumb or anything else that shouldn't be there isn't you'll find your photos turning out so much better.
Challenges: The challenge with this tip is trying to do so when there is already a lot else going on. To make things easier I highly recommend trying to take the tips on this list in small steps. It's fine if there's something distracting in the background now because you got on your kids level. Take all of these tips one at a time and keep improving over time. It's really the only way to do it and it will help you do it faster than trying to remember and execute them all each time you're trying to take fantastic photos of your kids.
Know when to call their attention to the camera
It's good to know when to call their attention to the camera for either a candid or posed shot. Kids don't have that long of attention spans and repeatedly calling their name has diminishing returns, as I'm sure you're aware. Get everything else set including anyone else in the photo and yourself. Just before you're ready to press the shutter button get their attention.
Challenges: I can't tell you how many times there have been relatives and other people around who call out a kids name when I'm doing family or group photos. That takes their attention all around and can get them excited or even agitated. When you give them something else, something they enjoy, to focus on it gives you time to get everything else ready. Once you are ready a quick little call to them from you, the photographer, and nobody else, should get their attention. Make sure to smile at them so they smile back at you.
Take their photo at unexpected times
Make sure to take their photo at unexpected times. If your parents took a lot of family photos then they're likely on vacation, during holiday get-togethers, or at other milestones like the first day of school. There is nothing wrong with that and those photos are very important. We have the benefit of digital photography. This allows us to take portraits of our kids during quiet times, when they're reading, playing, sitting with their beloved pet, and other "ordinary times" that pass by us so quickly and quietly. Capturing those times are a present to our future selves and to the kids as well.
Challenges: there are two challenges with these photos. Getting your child or children used to being photographed no matter what they're doing can be difficult. If they say they don't want their photo taken you really should respect that. The other challenge is capturing a real unexpected moment without them knowing you're doing so. Think about it - when you know you're being photographed you react differently, less naturally. Kids do the same when they're being photographed especially if they've witnessed you doing so! The more relaxed you are in front of the camera the more relaxed and natural they will be. If you're lucky they eventually may not even pay attention to it.
Let them take photos too
Make sure you let them take photos too - including pictures of you. If you want your kids to feel safe and comfortable with you taking their picture it helps if you feel the same way. Teaching them how to take photos has a bunch of added bonuses too. When we teach others we reinforce what we've learned. If you teach them that yours and their bodies are picture-worthy no matter what they looks like then they are at a lower risk for developing body related self-confidence issues. Talking about consent when it comes to how and when to be photographed is a great lesson for them on all types of consent. If they feel they can say no to be photographed it means they will feel confident saying no if they don't consent to anything in the future.
Challenges: The biggest challenge here with letting them take photos can be to your camera or phone. It's easy for us to overlook the fact that kids don't have the best fine motor-control. Allowing your kid(s) to take photos means setting good boundaries in terms of what cameras they can use and where they can use them (in the grass or on plush carpet) to avoid having our camera accidentally dropped.
Share the love of photography and portraiture with them
Share the love of photography and portraiture with them. Don't get frustrated when a photo doesn't turn out. Look at it later and analyze what went wrong. If you can't figure it out ask a photographer what you can do to improve the photo. Show your kids that photography is fun and a great way to record the important moments that we want to save. Include them in the process. Even if you're taking candid portraits show them what you took later.
Challenges: one big challenge with sharing the love is time and attention. If your kids are not interested in seeing their photos that's completely okay. When they're not interested in being photographed that is okay too. Nobody should have to associate having their picture taken with something traumatic or otherwise unpleasant. That said, a lot of people DO associate being photographed with unpleasant things. If taking photos of your kids is important to you recognizing how important it will be for them to see photos of you with them or of you at the age you are now will be when they're older. It can be really hard to have our photo taken, especially if we've been traumatized or if we are self-conscious about our looks. This is especially true for moms who may have gone through a lot body changes after being a mom. I wish I could make all of that go away but I don't have the power to do so. All I can say is that the more you become relaxed and allow your photo to be taken the easier it will be for your kids to do the same. They look to you to know how to be. If you can teach them to love themselves no matter what they see in the mirror you'll have taught them something really special. Too, if you allow yourself to be photographed not only will they feel better but they will have their own special treasure to look back on years from now.
This isn't the most technical guide to taking fantastic portraits of your kids. I do offer photography classes including one for parents here in Pittsburgh. Those classes get more into technical methods. That being said, I strongly believe that each one of these 10 tips for parent's perfect photos are important. They will help you to create fantastic kids portraits. If you have any questions please reach out via my contact form.