Photographing your own kids is hard! But if you plan ahead a little and have the right attitude, you can create beautiful portraits of your children.
Look for the light
Unless you have professional studio lighting, your best bet is to get your kids outside and in natural light. Take a look around and see how the light plays off your subject’s face. If your kids are young, you might want to enlist the help of a grownup to do some location scouting first! Look to find the right spot. Are there harsh shadows? Is your subject backlit (so their face is dark and behind them is light)? Is the sunlight too bright, making their eyes squinty?
Your best bet for soft flattering light can be found in open shade. Think of the edge of a porch with your subject in the soft shade. The sun can be just in front of them but not falling on them. This is the easiest type of lighting.
Many photographers love the sweet light just before dusk and it is truly beautiful. However, I find with young kids that timing the sunset isn’t always convenient. So give it a try with your older kids but better to photograph your littles earlier in the day.
Advanced Technique: If you are indoors (since it is winter right now!), try placing your subject near a big picture window -- right up next to it. It can give a bit of shadows to the face if they are sitting with the window light to the side of their face. Classic and pretty portrait.
Take a bit of time to find the right light. It will make a huge difference in your photos.
Watch the background
Before you click the shutter, take a quick scan of what’s behind your subject. Do you have a random sibling photobomber? Or something weird coming from someone’s head? Or maybe the background is just busy. Take the time to adjust your angle to correct for the background.
Advanced Technique: Utilize your camera’s depth of field and blur that background out.
All about the angles
Speaking of angles, most of the time it’s best to photograph a subject at about eye level. With little ones, that means getting low. Really low sometimes. Or moving the subject up higher so you are level.
Or get high! One way to correct an overly busy background is to have your kids sitting on the ground. Photograph them from a standing position slightly over them. Your background will be all ground and they will be peering lovingly up at you. It really is a sweet innocent look to photograph someone from above and offers a different perspective.
OR get really low! With older kids it can show off how big they are if you lay on the ground and let them tower over you. Again, a fun perspective to try.
Young children tend to wiggle and move and not stay still. So after you’ve found your sweet lighting spot, how do you get them to stay put?! You will need to find a way to anchor them. You can try a blanket and some books or favorite toy. No? That won’t keep your child still? Try a small stool that they can climb on themselves. Most toddlers love to play on a small sturdy stool. No? That won’t work either? Try a regular sized chair that’s hard for them to climb off of. No? You say your child is a monkey? How about a container -- basket, metal tub, wooden crate. Sitting inside something can be novel just long enough to snap a few. Or even try a small tent to play peekaboo with. As a last resort you can try a small snack like goldfish or Cheerios to keep them coming back to the place you want but you are likely going to get crumbs and fat cheeks.
And if that doesn’t work...I suggest waiting until they are asleep and photographing them then!
Avoid “Mean Mom”
So, sadly I have to admit, even I turn into Mean Mom when I photograph my own kids. I’m a professional! I’ve had clients call me the Child Whisperer because I get their kiddos to cooperate and create great portraits for them. And it’s still hard for me to get my own kids to do so. Here’s a few things I’ve learned after almost 10 years in business.
First, know your subject... pick the time of day that they are their best. Probably not when they are hungry, tired or over stimulated. Almost everyone is better in the morning.
Avoid bribes -- they almost always backfire. Kids are counting down to the bribe. And then not engaged with you and the camera. Reward afterwards but don’t promise, bribe, threaten or trick. Kids are too smart and it will backfire. If you cave in then you’ll have a lollipop in every shot.
How do you engage your subject? Ask silly questions, get them talking, sing a song, have them tell you a secret, blow bubbles, have them count to 3 (the word “three” is a more natural smile inducing word than cheese). Go with the flow! Maybe your child insists on having their doll photographed -- go for it! Your child will be more likely to cooperate if you cooperate with them.
Do your best to shift your own mentality to “Loving Photographer Mom” because kids FEED off your attitude. Even in my own client sessions I can tell when tension is in the air. When mom is stressed, kids are stressed. Bad photos are the result. So shift your mindset and embrace whatever comes your way.
And finally if the kids are not into it...bail on it and try again another day. You can tell when a kiddo is tired of taking photos. Camera fatigue is a real thing!
Advance Technique: Hire a professional! :) Like I said, it’s hard for us professionals to get our own kids to cooperate so splurge and hire someone to do your photos once in a while. That way YOU get in the photo too!
Know Your Camera
And lastly, it’s helpful to know the ins and outs of your camera. Today’s cameras are amazing and there are so many automatic settings that are really really good. But I still think it’s really valuable to know how to override your camera’s settings and shoot in manual mode. At the very least, you’ll have an understanding of what is going on with your auto settings. Don’t be afraid! Turn that dial and see what happens!
Read the manual, take a class, learn online, ask questions, practice and make mistakes and try again. Feel free to shoot me your questions about your own photos!