Hi there, I’m Helen Schryver (it’s pronounced ‘Scriver’ but you can just call me Helen!) and I’m a creative family photographer.
Read on for my ten top tips for taking photos of your children. These are super easy to apply from the very next time you pick up a camera, whether it’s a snazzy DSLR, a basic ‘point and shoot’ camera or your trusty iPhone…
1) Get down low
Probably my number one tip for instantly improving your photographs of younger kids is to get down on their level. Rather than shooting down on them from above, crouch down so you’re at an equal height and snap away. As a general rule, the same applies for babies who are sitting up, or even younger babies who enjoy tummy time (yep, that means you lying down on your tummy too!).
2) Don’t say “cheese”
Ask a child around age 3 and up to “say cheese” and they’ll likely produce an especially fake and well… “cheesy” grin reserved especially for when they’re asked to smile on cue! Aim for natural smiles – try capturing them running towards you for a hug, being tickled or enjoying an ice-cream.
Forget sprucing up for family shots and capture your kids at their scruffiest! Sometimes it’s lovely to embrace the ‘realness’ of your family, just as you are. It’s far more often the subject’s expression and awesome light that make a beautiful photo, rather than neat and tidy hair and a pristine outfit.
4) When shooting indoors, use natural light where possible
The flashes on mobile phones, point and shoot camera and even the pop-up flashes on expensive DSLR cameras produce light so unflattering you’d honestly be better off not using them! Take your flash setting off ‘Auto’ (just switch it off instead) and use natural light wherever possible. That means turning the indoor lights off too, as long as there’s some daylight coming into the room.
The most flattering light is window light. The first thing I do on an indoor family or newborn photo shoot is to take a good peek around the client’s home to find the best spots to use for the shoot, which will always be near a large window or patio doors. As a general rule, worry less about what the surroundings look like, and more about the quality of available light.
5) Get out and about
Outside, you have plenty of options. If it’s a sunny day, try seeking ‘open shade’ (this is the outer edge of the shade you’ll find under trees, a bridge or a porch) rather than taking photos in harsh sunlight. If you can hold out until an hour or so before sunset (termed ‘the golden hour’ for good reason!) then get out of the shade and snap away – you’ll find stunning golden sunlight that’s all kinds of pretty. Position your subjects in front of the sun, which will be really low in the sky, to get a beautiful backlit effect. If it’s a cloudy day, then great. The clouds diffuse that harsh sunlight so it’s ultra flattering – plus there’s no squinting!
6) Tell a story by shooting the details
It’s great to get snaps of those gorgeous smiling faces, but don’t forget to photograph the details too. My aim is always to tell a story with my photographs, and one of the best ways to do this is to ensure you include some detail shots. Your child’s hand clasped around a beloved teddy bear, your newborn’s teeny feet or a pair of freshly-muddied wellies all contribute as much to the story as the people pics.
7) Snap the bigger picture (the opposite of no.6!)
Sometimes it pays to take a few steps back in order to capture more of the surrounding environment in your photograph. Imagine you’re looking back at your photographs in ten or twenty years time – will you necessarily remember where they were taken?! I love looking back at old childhood photographs and it’s often the shots that show more of the home environment (the hideous eighties fabric on the armchair, our dodgy old kitchen or the books lining the shelves) that evoke the fondest memories. Of course you shouldn’t forget to do the same in more scenic locations too! Wider angle shots that include some of the surrounding landscape work particularly well printed large and hung on the wall.
8) Get creative
There are no rights or wrongs here – if you like the way something looks, go with it. The best thing about digital photography and smartphones is the scope for experimentation. You’re not paying for film or to get your photographs processed, so snap away to your heart’s content! Try including lots of negative space (e.g. empty sky), taking photos at a slight angle or from different viewpoints (e.g. from behind). You can also experiment with different filters and editing apps. Less is usually more here, but useful and fun apps for your phone include A Beautiful Mess (add words and symbols to your pictures), VSCOcam (gorgeous filters), Snapseed (for more advanced photo editing controls) and Instasize (allows you to post non-square photos on Instagram).
9) Get yourself in the picture!
Mums (myself included!) are particularly guilty of spending all their time behind the camera and none in front of it. I know, you hate having your photo taken. Pretty much everyone does.. but don’t you cherish those old snaps of you as a child with your parents? A selfie with the kids will do – just remember that when they’re older your children will love to look back on old photographs of you, double chin and all! You’re perfect in their eyes.
10) Know when to use a professional
Ok, so I’m biased, but I truly believe there are times that you need to hire a professional to capture photographs of the family. Aside from anything else, you’re never going to get a gorgeous family shot of all of you together if one of you is always taking the photo! A great professional photographer will make the effort to get to know your family and will work to capture your true personalities in their images. Even more importantly, they’ll strive to capture the love between you, and the way you interact with each other. They should also have the skills to enhance your photographs in Photoshop or similar to get them looking beautiful. Have a think beforehand about what you might like to do with your finished images and let your photographer know! Whether it’s a beautiful bespoke photo book, an entire wall display of framed photos or a big canvas to hang above the sofa; they should be able to advise you on what would work best and show you plenty of options.
Helen is a creative wedding, family and newborn photographer based in Folkestone, Kent but working UK-wide and internationally. She also offers one-to-one training sessions in family photography, editing skills and finding your way around your new DSLR.
For further information on Helen’s family photography or to book her for a shoot, visit the website.