Finding the Joy
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10 Tips for Authentic Pro-Quality Photos of Your Kids
Tested in real life to help save your sanity!
We hear all too often that our kids grow up too fast! It is true and that is why I don’t judge you for wanting five million pictures of your kids ( No matter the age!) However, I am sure you know that what may be started as a cute idea can turn into a nightmare when kids are… well…kids! They want to roll, mess their clothes up, frown, and make silly faces, and you just want ONE nice picture to prove things aren’t nearly as crazy as they seem! That is where I enter. I have been photographing kids for 7 years. From school kids to teens and I have learned some things about getting photos that not only look good but capture the personality and growth of your children. To me, the purpose of photography is to remember. To enjoy what life has for today because tomorrow always brings change. Hopefully, you find these pro tips helpful and learn to enjoy capturing memories of your kids!
1. Change Your Expectations
Was my 6 month old gonna sit longer than three seconds for a picture? No. The world is way too interesting to sit and not investigate! When you take pictures of your kids, lower the goal. A three-year-old may sit still but might struggle to look at the camera. Meet the kid where they are at. For example, I like to get my phone or camera out before even mentioning I want a picture. I usually snap before trying to get their attention to see if I want a better background or lighting. I focus more on taking as many pics as possible after making the kid laugh rather than waiting for them to give me a great smile. I usually can get ONE shot of them smiling. If they are running I have them run at me. If they want to play I have the parent engage and snap while he is having fun. The goal is to keep them happy long enough to get a good shot. Sitting perfectly still while posing is the opposite of fun and nothing ruins a picture like a grumpy-faced kid who is genuinely not enjoying himself!
2. DON’T SAY CHEESE
Here is a pro tip. Don’t have your kid say “CHEESE!” This results in the kid looking terrified! The best smile is a real smile and having them yell something silly works better. A tip I picked up from my friend Rebekah who is a rock star with kids, is to have them call you a silly name. It goes something like this. “Hey, Sarah say “Cookies!” when she enthusiastically says ” Cookies!” Make a funny face and say “HEY, did you call me a COOKIE!?” Usually, the kid laughs and says no or continues to call you a cookie the whole day. Meanwhile, start taking pics like crazy those giggles are priceless! For really little kids you can pretend they are invisible and ask where they are. I promise they think you are a goofball for it, but it works! I have had many a 3-year-old laugh when I pretended they disappeared!
3. Let Them Play
Another way to get smiles is to involve play. Try challenging them to do a handstand or climb a fence. These pics are cute and fun for your child. Even in a studio wooden blocks are neutral but a great way to keep little hands busy. Blowing bubbles or even taking pictures of their siblings are all fun ways to get smiles going.
4. Get down on their level.
One of the most important keys to really catching authentic portraits is to get eye level with the kids. We don’t usually look at kids on their level. When you do you just see more into their personality. It is a great way to reconnect. You would be amazed at how much a face changes when you shoot at eye level instead of looking down. Use the moment to encourage your kid and remind them they are seen and they matter.
5. Don’t Force It.
Kids experience many emotions and it’s not ever at a convenient time. I cannot count the number of times kids have decided that this photo session was the moment to start crying. I can also not count the number of subconscious adults who have refused to pose for the camera because they aren’t in the mood. Long story short- it is an everyone problem. Forcing a child or teen who doesn’t want to take a photo rarely works out in the end. They usually look upset and sad, the opposite of how we want photos to look. Sometimes offering to take a picture with the child helps. Maybe they want a toy or need a break. Photos can wait, offer what they need at the moment. I have sometimes been able to reengage kids for photos by having them hug or kiss mom or dad. Other times I sit and play and have them show me what they are doing. I also try involving the kids by having them pose how they want to. With teenagers, they may feel subconscious about their looks or what other people may think. Allowing them to be in control of their look and pose is helpful. Sometimes they may be ok with a further back pose or partially covering that pimple with a strategic hand! You know your kid best, if you want authenticity then you have to make room for the very real moments that kids have. If you force your kid to smile or pose the picture will show it, you can’t fake genuine smiles!
6. Take Selfies Together
Mom’s this is for you! Often times we like to take photos but refuse to be IN the photos. Maybe you haven’t met your weight loss goal or hate your hair. Maybe you are like me and have dark circles under your eyes because you were up at 4 am with a very hungry baby. I get it because I go through it. Hear me out. Your kids copy you. They notice when you try and hide because there is something you are insecure about. For the sake of your memories, your kids and your spouse take pictures with your kids anyway! Not only will you appreciate these fleeting moments years later but you are telling yourself you are worth more. Your value is not in looking like the perfect mom. Your value is not in your weight. You are worthy to be seen, without you those kids wouldn’t be. Be involved and you will find your own kids learning that they don’t have to be perfect to make memories. You also will get your kids used to having fun on camera, it is a win all around!
7. Get Close
If you are feeling adventurous and want truly artistic photos of your kids change up the distance you take pictures from. Get right up in that face or focus just on the toes. All those details that you love make great collages over the years. For babies, I always love the hands, feet, and face. Not gonna lie capturing those details is easier said than done.
8. Think Neutral
I am a Zillenial mom lol. That means I love my IG-worthy photos and neutrals. While yes it is a trend right now there is good logic to incorporating neutral colors and backgrounds into your photos. As a photographer, I choose neutrals because they are timeless. Black, white, beige, and other natural colors are kind to multiple skin tones and elevate the design of an image. Additionally, neutral colors help to keep the focus where it belongs, on the facial expressions of your kiddos. Of course, this is completely subjective to your taste but it may help if you want to build collections of images across time.
As a photographer, I spend a lot of time thinking about lighting. I am in fact a light (photo) writer (grapher.) Even without a fancy camera knowing a little about lighting makes that average selfie look amazing! During the day try and photograph your kids facing or standing sideways to a window. Light is flattering and diffused and soft. If you are outdoors and it’s super sunny try to find shade. The harsh shadows usually just make us squint. At night play with a single source and solid background like a lamp or light from a doorway.
10. Be the Observer
I know, I know I just said to get involved! Take selfies! I just want to add another technique to your arsenal. I have watched a lot of parents fuss over kids and siblings to get them to take the perfect photo. This sort of works but I think that sibling and family dynamics are unique and sometimes you can catch them if you watch. I see this a lot in older siblings reaching out to fix their little sister’s hair. Sometimes sitting back and observing the way your kids are can create some great moments that you will cherish forever. Maybe you catch your kids hanging upside down or building a tent let that be the backdrop! Kids are creative, lean into seeing who they are and you will see that reflected in their photos.
Those are my top tips for taking authentic family photos of your kids with a little bit of a professional edge. Have you heard of these tips before? Have others to add? I would love to know! I truly love what I do. I enjoy watching kids just be their chaotic selves. It’s easy to forget what being carefree felt like and I hope while you are taking all those photos you are getting involved. At the end of the day, it is about making memories of our families. After all, they really do grow up so fast!