I think we can all relate to the desire to take better photos of our kids. Whether that's so we can frame them on our walls, share them on Instagram, or just have them as keepsakes in our camera roll, taking impressive photos of your kids can be so much fun and so magical! Plus, if you're like me and have a terrible memory, it can also just help you remember things. Like, say, that you went on vacation last year and forgot just how cute and little your toddler was running around on the beach. Or that you were pregnant at that time. 😂#totallyforgotalready
I've laid out six tried and true tips that I use all the time when photographing my two girls on the daily, and I can't wait for you to try them out!
Note: I've used all iPhone photos as my examples below, and am writing this from the perspective that you're also using your phone to photograph your kids. However, all of these tips are helpful no matter what kind of camera you're working with. But I live by the philosophy that the "best camera" is the one that's with you.
1. DECIDE IF IT'S A "MOMENT" OR A "MEMORY"
To me, a moment is something that you want to capture precisely as it is, as quickly as possible. They don’t need to be well lit, or perfectly framed, heck - or even in focus - but instead, it’s all about not missing the moment entirely.
A memory is something that I don’t want to forget. I don’t want to forget how June’s hair would blow in the wind when she was 3. I want to remember how little Sunny would grin and her eyes would sparkle when you talk to her directly. I don’t want to forget the season of life when June played with her horses 24/7.
A memory is often something I might choose to intentionally set up, or seek out, for a photo.
Knowing the difference between the two helps me to quickly prioritize if I should snap the picture fast, or take the time to open the blinds and wipe the avocado off June’s face and clean the sour fuzzies out of Sunny’s hands, before taking the photo. 😂
Example Moment: when June made a paper crown and wore it proudly while making chocolate covered strawberries for her Dad.
Example Memory: June loving her new turban that matches her sisters. Her hair blowing in the wind. Her being worried her dress would blow off in said wind. 😂
Example Moment: When June asked to hold Sunny for the first time!! I just wanted to capture the moment - it's not even in focus. Haha!
Example Memory: June begging to go out into the snow and then barely moving or enjoying it at all. I took my time to get the image I wanted. And she just stood there. Frozen.
Example Moment: When Sunny stretches all long and cute right after she's un-swaddled in the morning.
Example Memory: June playing with her horses, 24/7.
One of the easiest ways to make your photos look cleaner, crisper, and more “professional” is to simplify -- specifically the background. Take away any extra visual clutter so that only the main thing is highlighted.
For babies and little ones, the easiest way to do this is by laying them on a blanket, or by sitting them against a solid background or wall.
You’ll often find me whipping trash cans, extra water bottles, and purses, or let’s be real, loads of dirty laundry out of the frame of my photos.
Let me be clear though; I am not suggesting you do this to make your family, yourself or your home look like something it isn’t. And I am certainly not implying that clean houses and clean kids make the perfect photos. All I’m saying is that one way to make your photos go from “Mayyyybe I’ll text it to my Mom” to “Dannnnng, I’m gonna frame this on my wall!”, is to simplify.
3. NATURAL LIGHT FORRRRRRRREVER!
There is truly nothing better than sunlight. At least not to a photographer! One way to make your images more uniform, bright and beautiful is to rely only on natural light.
When you can, take the extra 30 seconds to open the blinds completely, or open the front door to allow light through the screen, or move your kiddos into a brighter room. On that same train of thought, if your room is already bright and beautiful from the sunlight, take a few seconds to turn off the side table lamp or overhead lights. Having different colored light sources in your photos will make it harder to have the colors in your photos look correct.
Shooting nice and bright photos will also make a difference if you plan to edit them in any way afterward.
4. GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO DO
This is a tried and true method for photographing kids. I mean, after all, your kids probably don’t stand or sit still all day long, so why would they suddenly do that while you’re yelling “HEY KIDS LOOK HERE AND SMILE! GET YOUR HANDS OUT OF YOUR PANTS. STOP MAKING THAT WEIRD FACE!”
Example: June was so pumped up from all the candy she got that I could barely get her to stand still. So I asked her if she'd show me her candy bucket, and then shake it around to hear the noise it would make. And that got her to make the sweetest little face and show me her sugar-coated earnings!
Example: June wanted to take a bath, but just for fun. So I made it a little more fun by hanging a disco ball ornament in the little bit of sunlight that was coming through the window. This gave her something to look at and interact with that didn't involve splashing me and my camera with bubbles. Ha!
Example: I wanted a photo to document the outfit June had chosen for herself this day, but she was not interested in letting me take her picture. So instead, I asked her to clean the back windows, which she loves to do, and that allowed me to get a photo of her little self, cleaning away, in all her sparkly glory.
Even something as simple as holding a toy in their hands, picking a flower, or telling them to jump up and down as high as they can, will often help them relax and have fun. Plus, they'll love that you're having fun with them and not taking things too seriously.
5. LET THEM BE KIDS
Going right along with Tip #5 (Give them something to do), this tip is possibly my favorite. Just let them be kids. Make memories and photographs of them at different ages, to remember things like their prized toy animal collection, running through the sprinkler, crying over their monthly photos, and giggling over late night ice cream.
Let them get messy, let them get wet, let them cry, or laugh or jump or run. I promise you’ll look back on images like these and go “Oh my heart… I remember them at this age. How precious were those seasons.”
6. HAVE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
And last, but certainly not least, have realistic expectations — of both yourself, your camera, and your kids. Even I, as a professional photographer for 10+ years, have moments where I’m like “Grr. This didn’t turn out. Bummer.” Or "Aw crap I missed the moment entirely." But that's okay. It's just a photo.
Example: I had just hung a pink canopy in June's room as a surprise for her. I was hoping (more like expecting) to get a photo of her looking at it, or smiling underneath it... or really anything to do with it. But instead, she wanted to fix her nightlight, jump off her bed and lay on the floor. Oblivious to her new canopy situation. But then I adjusted my expectations and remembered my own advice "Let them be kids." Now, I love these images. They perfectly describe her at that stage of her life --- happy and playful.
The fantastic thing about having a camera on your phone is that you can practice a lot and delete the rest! Or, be like me and forget to remove the rest and have 14,000 photos on your phone.
So there you have it. I hope these help you the next time you take your phone out to photograph your kids. Feel free to tag me (@brookecourtney) or T.J. (@tjmousetis) in your posts or Stories if you use any of these tips!
+ If using an iPhone, I prefer to shoot with “Live Photos” turned off. I think it makes images very blurry and often focuses on the wrong thing. Because it’s technically taking a video (.mov file) and then freezing a single frame as your image, it’s just not as clear as a real photo being taken in the first place! This can be very frustrating when you’re trying to capture something quickly.
+ Make sure the brightness on your phone is turned all the way up. How will you know if your image is too light or too dark if your phone is adjusting the brightness on its own the entire time. Before I snap a photo, if I have the time, and especially before I edit a photo, I always check my brightness. That way I’m at the same starting point each time.
+ Learn how to use the tap exposure slider on your phone. Most times, whatever the camera suggests is great, but sometimes I want to override what it’s choosing to expose for. Learning how to use the tap exposure slider, in addition to the tap focus feature, will help you get the image closer to what you want from the start — which is always the goal.
And lastly, my favorite...
+ Learn how to edit your images. I love the VSCO iPhone app and have used it for years. I (almost) always brighten my images, sharpen them a tiny bit, and adjust the color temperature, in addition to applying a color filter of my choosing. Here are two examples just to show you how much of a difference it can make!
Oh boy, this is fun. Now I need to do a post on editing your images, too!