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Thursday, August 12, 2010

10 Tips and Tricks for Taking Better Pictures of Your Kids | Maris Ehlers Photography

One of the questions I get the most often is "How can I learn to take better pictures of my children?".  It's a great question, because so many people discover a love of photography once they have a little one around to take cute pictures of (whether human or of the animal species).   

I decided to create a list of 10 things you can do to take better pictures of your kids.  This is from my perspective only, and I'm sure some people will think I've excluded something important, but: 

a) it's my list 
b) I limited it to ten items, and 
c) these are all things that made a difference for me 

Enjoy, and if you have any comments or questions after reading the list, be sure to post a comment and I'll respond directly.  

10 Ways to Take Better Pictures of Your Kids:

1.      Grab the kids, grab the camera.

One of the best way to get better pictures of your kids is to shoot more often.  It’s a simple premise, really.  Shoot pictures of anything and everything, everywhere, and you’ll start to find a groove.  Did you take a picture last week that you like?  What were you doing when you took it?  When you see something on your screen that you like, do it again the next time you have your camera out.  Maybe it will be a different subject or location, but try replicating what you DID when you took the picture you liked, and see if you like it even more this time. 

2.      Camera Light – 75% less weight and bulk.

For most families who want to take great pictures of their kids, I’d recommend an AWESOME point and shoot camera over a fancy-schmancy DSLR any day.  Why?  Mostly because of #1 above.  When you have expensive gear or a camera you are afraid of or unsure how to use it, you’re less likely to use it with other people around, especially in locations where you are afraid it might get ruined (grains of sand in your lens joints, anyone?).   Those point and shoots are great for on the go events and activities, so leave the bag of gear at home (or at the camera store) for now. A point and shoot will fit in your purse or soccer bag (or even in your pocket) and after you learn a few tips and tricks you’ll be surprised at what nice pictures you can take!  Even after you’ve graduated to a DSLR (or if you already have one) use the heavier equipment when you aren’t crunched for time and you can practice and learn.  Your daughter’s first Swan Lake performance is not the time to find out that you have no idea how to use the $800 camera you got for Christmas.  Trust me on this. 

3.      Don’t flash me!

This might surprise most of you, but for the most part, when I shoot outside I do not use flash.  Most of the time, I don’t even have one on my camera.  Flash is great when used correctly, don’t get me wrong:  I couldn’t function without it at weddings and receptions.  Flash can also be very beneficial to outdoor shots, but you have to know how and when to use it, and there are lots of other ways to get the light you need to take a great picture without blasting light in everyone’s eyes! 

There is no better light than natural light.  Look for indirect natural light, from open shade from trees, awnings or buildings, or even one diffused from a window.  If I have to choose between an awesome backdrop or great natural light, I'll take the light every time.  In this pic, the boy is actually in front of a garbage dumpster!  It was a funky color and shaded on this side, and I love it.

4.      Step away from the lights, ma’am.

You can’t do everything, and you can’t be the photographer of a scene and be in it as well.  Well, at least not a busy scene filled with kids and activities.  I find that when I’m taking pictures, I’m somewhat removed from the activity around me and I have a bit of tunnel vision. If I can't see it through my lens finder, then I don't notice it.  For example, if I’m taking serious pictures at my son’s karate graduation, I end up missing out on some of the experience.  I’d much rather bring a point and shoot and get some snapshots and still be present in the moment.  I save the portraits of the big day for afterwards. 

5.      Tell me a story, please?

I think most of us would say that a pleasing photograph is one that draws us in, tells us a story.  Some easy ways to do this when taking your own photographs is to:

  • Frame your image with other elements in the picture
  • Try moving your subject out of the center and off to the side one way or another.  This is one of my favorite things to do.  You still want you subject to be in focus, though. 
  • Have your subject looking at something else that is within your shot area. 

The above two pictures definitely draw you in.  First of all, the girl's haircut is super unique and unexpected, so the viewer immediately responds and starts asking questions, like "Why is her hair so short?  What kind of music is she listening to?  Where is she?", etc., etc.  In the first image, I love the idea that while her haircut is so unusual, she's just like every other teen - immersed in her own little world, doing something that teenagers love (listening to music - loudly, no doubt) and totally unaware of the camera.  In the second, you see this glimpse of a teenage girl enjoying a little girl moment in the library with a favorite Dr. Seuss book "Oh, The Places You'll Go!".

6.      You and me, plus she and he.

Adding more than one person to a shot starts to tell a story, to show relationships.  Showing them doing something other than looking at the camera (reading together, talking, laughing) and suddenly your picture has more elements of interest than a posed picture of everyone saying “cheese”! 

In this image, I love that you can tell these kids have been working hard at enjoying their summer day.  The smiles, dog in the background, kool-aid moustaches, wet hair and bodies and especially the thumbs up not only tell me this has been a great day, but it also reminds me of my own kool-aid summers of long ago.  While technically speaking this photo isn't anything great, the story it tells makes it very special, indeed.

7.    Texture-iffic!

Texture is a GREAT way to add depth and interest to a portrait.  Fabric can be a great way to accomplish this – whether it is a patterned bedspread or quilt that a baby is lying on, a beautiful scarf on someone’s neck or head, or even a leather couch behind your subject, texture adds dimension.

8.      Busy bees are happy bees.

While you may want to get some images of your daughter in her Halloween costume, she just might not want to stand still long enough for you to get those portraits you are thinking of.  Relax, you both can be happy!  Instead of making her stand on the front porch like every other kid in America, give her something to do while you snap away.  Take some pictures of her running down your driveway in her costume with her pumpkin bucket!  Get some pics of her ringing the neighbor’s doorbell or even while you’re putting some of her face makeup on.  Children are happiest when they are doing what they do best, which is moving.  Work with them, not against them, and you’ll get better pictures.

9.      Up or down… you choose

So many of us stand at our normal height and several feet away from our kids and snap pictures of them, and then wonder why our images don't look very interesting.  Since our younger kids (and pets) are several feet shorter than we are, honestly, that "angle" that you're using is about the worst one there is.  That's why!  Try this instead: 

Down – get down to their level so that the camera is shooting at their eye level.  You’ll find that it dramatically changes the look of your image (same goes for pets).

Up – If you’re going to stand up and shoot, then get REALLY close so that you’re actually above them and shooting down on them.  This works really well for pictures of individuals.   You’ll be amazed at the perspective change and how it can make their eyes stand out.

10.  Be Sneaky McSneakerson

Sometimes, you just gotta be sneaky.  Don’t walk around with your camera up ready for battle.  Keep it down, be subtle, walk around and let those kiddos relax.  Seriously mom, no one wants to be stalked by a crazy lady with a camera when they are opening up their birthday presents in front of their friends.  Wait until you see them doing something of interest and then just pop that baby up, snap-one-two, and back down you go.  Movin’ on.  They’ll get to where they don’t even notice you, and you’ll get some great candid shots for the scrapbook.

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