3 Tips to Taking more interesting photos of kids (or anything, really)

Have you seen those iPhone ads that are billboard-tall and usually pretty simple, graphic, and compelling? It’s a striking image that says “taken on the iPhone”. It tells the story that the camera is so advanced that it can take even that image. It’s true – these little cameras phones are pretty powerful. But what that ad isn’t saying, but is even more true, is that how you see light and where you position your camera are the most important decisions you can make. Those two things are what have made those images what they are. The camera is just a tool – it is not the artist. So, use the camera that you have with you, and let’s face it, that’s usually our phones. Learn a little about how to see light and position yourself, and your images will dramatically improve.

Now, kids present a unique challenge in that they move quickly and are often camera adverse. But with practice and understanding the basics of lighting, you can get better images of the little moments.

Lesson 1 – Let Them Be

When moments worth capturing with kids are happening, it can feel like they are so fast, so fleeting. But usually, if you give a child some alone time, some space, and some freedom, what they choose to do on their own is quite beautiful. The surefire way to get an unnatural photo is to tell them what to do – to pose, to smile, to be a certain way. Just let them do what they want to do. In the time that they are settling in and forgetting about you and the camera, straighten the setting. Neaten up loose toys, arrange pillows, calm the space.

Letting her be in her play room for ten minutes, without context and without a little brother, she set to work finding she wanted to do for quiet time. I spent a few minutes straightening up before picking up my camera, to let the energy of “being on” diminish, and to allow a more authentic image to occur.

Lesson 2: Allow The Light to Tell the Story

Light is the photograph. The subject is not. The way in which the light reflects off of surfaces, or gets absorbed or blocked by them, is what we’re capturing. So understanding how light moves is your first job key understanding. Practice using indirect light coming in through a window. Watch how, depending on what else is around, your image changes.

For instance, in this example the sunlight coming in through the window is reflecting off of the changing table (a white surface) and back onto the face and body of the subject. If your subject is dark but the rest of your image is light, try putting a white or light colored object underneath or in front of them to bounce light back onto them. This can be a book, a sheet, a person in a white shirt, anything you have around.

Reflected window light

In the image below, I stood to the side of my subject, and held the dark brown curtain to control the light. The light that remained flowing into the window was directed only to the little girl watching the doggies walk by on the sidewalk. Subtracting light by using dark colored surfaces can be very effective in creating dramatic shapes and scenes.

Subtractive lighting

Tip 3: Pick One Point of Focus

Direct your viewers’ eye by focusing on one object. Eliminate all other distractions through your crop, composition and depth of field, so that their eye gets drawn to what you want them to see first. This really takes practice. Our brain is amazingly adept at filtering out lots of distractions from the world around us – but if we photograph all that we see in a scene – it becomes a jumbled mess in which the point is not made. So help your viewer by going in close. Move your body. Change your depth of field. Ask people to move, or to move objects. Edit, edit, edit until your subject is the most interesting thing in the frame.

We were taking a group shot with the whole family, but the story was really between the sisters here. So I chose a crop that eliminated all but the protective hand of a parent, and focused in on the face to face connection.
Moving behind a tree and shooting through the branches both gave the subjects a bit of distance from my camera, and allowed the leaves to create a natural vignette, reducing the distraction of the house behind them.
Remove all distractions and keep your eye on your subject (in this case, the child) until their expression is what you want it to be. To remove distractions here, I positioned my body to balance the dark green trees on both sides of my subject, providing balance, and lowered my depth of field to blur the path in the background, which would have led your eye straight out of the frame had it been sharp.

There are so many more tips to learn to take better photos. Hit me up in the comments if this was helpful, and what other questions you might have. And of course….practice, practice, practice!

Happy Shooting!


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