When we were expecting Elizabeth I would spend hours researching all of the baby gear we “needed” to get. There were cribs, strollers, car seats, bottles – the list went on and on. A lot of the things on the “must have” list wound up not being so necessary at all, but there was one thing that I used all the time : my camera.
You don’t really understand how fast time can move until you have a baby. You blink once and literally months have gone by. If you’re like me, you’ve taken hundreds of photos in an effort to combat this phenomenon. The thing is that when I looked back on the photos I had taken I was kinda bummed. I mean sure, Elizabeth was in them and she was adorable, but a lot of them were cropped funny, or the angle was unflattering, or the lighting was off. Thousands of photos later, I’ve learned a few tricks and today I’d like to share some with you. Here are my favorite tips for taking better photos of your kids!
Friends, there is literally no better advice I can give you than to find the right light. Even when I’m shooting a session, I always prioritize light first, even above the background!
I always advise using natural light (from the sun) over artificial light (from a light bulb). Most houses have at least one window that will allow great light, you just have to find it. Open your curtains and pay attention to which rooms have light coming in at different times of day. Don’t forget to check the rooms that aren’t used on a daily basis! One of my favorite places to take photos at our old house was in our guestroom, a room that we would otherwise not spend much time in.
Once you’ve found natural light, determine if it is hard or soft. Hard light comes from a small light source and will create harsh shadows. The line between the shadows and highlights is clearly defined (think of a lamp without a shade on it). You’ll often find this light when the sun is shining directly through a window. Not only will it be uncomfortable for your subject to look at, it will also be less flattering, emphasizing things like wrinkles and blemishes.
Soft light, on the other hand, comes from a broad light source and appears more even on the subject. An example of soft light would be light coming in a window a cloudy day, or from a window without the sun directly shining in. Because of the smooth transition between highlights and shadows, soft light can be very flattering and makes for great images.
Once you’ve found a good spot, simply place your subject so that they are nearly facing the light, but not facing it directly. You’ll still want a little bit of shadow to give dimension to the image. I generally have them at a 45 degree angle to the window.
Notice the difference in light between these two images. The one on the right is taken with direct, harsh light shining on Elizabeth’s face. In the image on the left, the light is diffused by curtains and by me pulling her farther away from the window. The result is much softer and more flattering.
Okay, first let me just say that I know what a messy house is. Stop by on any week day and you’re likely to see books, blocks, and stuffed animals all over my living room floor (that’s if you can even get in the door!). But when it comes to taking great images of your children, you want the focus to be on your kids, not on all the things going on around them. So take a few moments, and just shove the stuff aside. Literally, put it all in a corner for five minutes, get your shots, then let it go back to how it was. I am constantly moving laundry and toys off rugs so that they’re not in our photos. Simple backgrounds make for gorgeous images and wont distract from what’s really important – your kids!
Below is a photo of our kitchen table as it normally looks. Papers on the table, school posters and white board on the wall… Overall, it’s very distracting.
But by moving all the papers and plants to the end of the table (which took all of 30 seconds) and by taking down the white board, the images are so much cleaner! By changing perspective and moving some of the extra stuff out of the way, your eye naturally falls on the girls instead of the clutter.
Don’t be afraid to fill the frame with your subject. When photographing my kids, I often fall into the trap of wanting to capture as much as I can in each image. I don’t want to crop the scene at all for fear of missing something. However, I’ve found that it is when I try to capture the whole scene that the small things get missed. That’s why my third tip is to focus on the details. You’d be surprised how much a photograph of tiny baby toes or a little rosebud mouth can make your heart melt. So zoom in, get close! You might discover things you never knew about your child when doing this, simply because you never looked!
As you can see from the bottom right image, these were all taken when the girls were reading in the rocking chair. This quiet moment allowed me to get close-up shots of Abbie’s toddler features, which is special because she changes so quickly! These tiny details fill in the story of what was happening in this moment.