Sometimes I take for granted the fact that my adorable kiddos have grown up mugging for the camera.
I’m biased of course. Being the typical proud mom and part time professional photographer, I think my children are adorable and photogenic. All kids are photogenic, and really, all parents can take professional looking photos of their rugrats. You don’t even need a fancy or expensive camera.
But there are some tricks.
Take your camera everywhere – One reason why my kids always look relaxed in photos without the awkward squinty-eyed overly dramatized smile is because they are used to me shooting photos of them. ALL THE TIME. I wear a camera like jewelry, and consider it a part of my outfit.
When you are just getting started, tell yourself you don’t even care about any of the photos you take during maybe, the first three days you are clicking away… just get comfortable with your camera and learn about what it can do while your children get comfortable in front of it.
Camera angle – I am always surprised at how many people stand too far away from their subject, making it a small focal point in the middle of a lot of distracting scenery. Get down to your child’s level. Kneel, or sit at the table with them. If you start taking a lot of photos, they’ll get used to you sooner or later and go about their business while you get the perfect portrait.
The right lighting – whenever possible, I try to use natural light. Soft, pastel light indoors is flattering and realistic, and the grey and overcast Portland weather is actually ideal for taking photos inside near a window. Soft grey light streaming in through the windows in the early part of the day is perfect and acts like a natural soft box. If the light is too dim and your lens is not quite fast enough, try to steady yourself as much as possible to avoid camera shake. Sit down, or even lie down on the floor near your child as they play in the window light and click away. If you happen to have an on camera flash, turn it off and test out a few shots without it. If they are too blurry, turn it back on for sharper images. Another trick with on camera flash that I love is to use it in its full glory when you are outside in the sunshine. It freezes the actions, sharpens the picture, fills in shadows and makes bright colors pop!
Interesting props—don’t try to ‘pose’ your child… let them rifle through the dress up pile and create their own outfit. Buy a photogenic oversized red ball or fill a clear clean plastic cup with bubble solution in the summer and let them simply play. One of my favorite portraits of a brother and sister was a photo I took of them sitting together on a patchwork blanket with their teddy bears and tea-cups, having a party. In the fall, think about buying bright yellow rain slickers and boots, and let them do a little puddle stomping while you shoot photos(turn the flash on to capture the splash suspended in mid air!).
The key here is, make it fun.
Have a relaxed attitude – with the practice of taking photos every day, you’ll become more acquainted with your camera and you won’t feel the pressure of getting ‘just the right shot’ on Holidays and during those milestones we want to freeze forever in the family album. Kids seem to sense the pressure of posed photos and seem to either melt down or misbehave more than usual, making it almost impossible to get a good picture. As the photographer, make them comfortable by smiling yourself, resisting the urge to pose them or bark orders at them, like photos are a chore. Let them be themselves. My favorite photos of kids are when they are simply being themselves and don't feel the pressure to perform. I catch the best expressions when my kids are not even smiling.
My last piece of advice is to stretch the boundaries of your creativity. Think about new angles to shoot from, like lying on your back on the ground looking up at your child, swing next to them as you video tape on the swing set while playing in the park. Take photos of the bits and pieces of your child’s world… their pudgy toes, focus on their hand holding a crayon, or have them hold out a favorite toy for you to shoot with them looking like a bit of a blur in the background.
Sometimes, let them make a face...
These kinds of photos can be immensely emotionally satisfying and convey much more than the sum of their parts. These are the photos of real life.