As a professional photographer, I am often asked for tips on how to take better family photographs. Whilst not everyone wants to lug around a big SLR there are simple things that can help you take better photos, even with the simplest camera.
See the light
You take beautiful portraits you need to ‘see the light’. You are looking for a soft even light. Avoid harsh midday sun and aim to shoot morning or evening for softer, more flattering lighting. If you can’t avoid the midday sun, look for a shaded area with no ‘spots’ of light. A doorway or some form of overhead cover is a good way to get a perfect lighting situation.
Shooting into the light can give you a beautiful soft lighting that works well in some portraits. Keeping the sun behind your subject avoids squinting and awkward faces.
If you are shooting indoors try to use window light. Avoid flash where possible. You can push your ISO up on the camera to help with this.
Try to take a variety of different compositions rather than firing off lots of shots of the same thing. Zoom in and out and also move around the child. Filling the frame with the child’s face will really emphasise their features.
Focus on the child’s eyes and look for catch-lights in their eyes – this makes them sparkle & will really bring the shot to life. Try taking shots from above the child with them looking up at you as this will make their eyes appear larger and can give you a stunning portrait.
A lot of people talk about the rule of thirds in photography and yes that can give an aesthetically pleasing shot (basically the subject is slightly off centre). However, rules are made to be broken so experiment with what you like not what you think you should like.
Get down on the child’s level and see the world through their eyes, this angle will also really make your images stand out.
Think about the background
Although you often have to be quick & spontaneous with children, by moving yourself or the child one can dramatically improve a shot.
When you look through the lens make sure that there is nothing distracting in the background and if there is either move the child or change your angle to avoid the clutter. Try moving the subject as far as you can from the background to that the distractions are well out of focus and therefore less obvious.
If it is possible, scan the area for interesting backgrounds that you think will look nice in the photo & direct the child there. Look for things with texture such as concrete, wooden fencing, an old door or something with an interesting colour.
Don’t say cheese
It is very tempting to say ‘cheese’ or ask a child to smile – this just leads to unnatural forced images. Try using a longer lens and observing the child at play or chat to your child and say silly things so that they forget they are being photographed.
Try to also keep the clothing simple so no obvious logos or anything that will date the photos.
Make it fun
Photographing your own children can be really tricky – they behave much better for other people! Get them used to the camera so that it’s not a big deal and if it becomes fraught then stop & try another time. Take them on an adventure such a collecting autumn leaves or conkers & they will soon forget that you are taking photos of them. The best shots are often the ones when a child is completely engrossed in something else.
Our children’s childhoods are precious and fleeting, any photo is better than no photo at all. Take as many shots as you can to record these magical times in your children’s lives.