Over the years, I have posted some fantastic pictures of my family and my children. Under each one, you see a credit to Sweet Pea Photography. The photographer there happens to be my little sister Elizabeth. This arrangement has worked out quite nicely for me. I experience an important life event, like a vacation or having a baby, and I don’t have to bring my camera or worry about snapping a single photo. My sister follows me around like the paparazzi, works her tail off, and snaps amazing shots of my family. I even tell her when I need more photos of a specific child. But I’m not completely lazy, when it comes time for family shots, I stand behind her and dance to make all the kids laugh (think Elaine on Seinfeld). The dancing can be really hard work.
About 15 months ago my sister had another baby and got a few other jobs, and suddenly I realized that I had gone months without capturing any memories in pictures. I got out my camera and played around a little, immediately realizing how little I know about taking pictures. And then MaryAlice asked for my sister to write a guest photography post, because, well, she likes to take photos and she doesn’t have a sister that follows her around like she’s a movie star. Elizabeth kindly agreed. So for all the moms and dads out there hoping to improve their family picture taking skills, read and enjoy!
Photography Tips for Moms by Elizabeth at Sweet Pea Photography
First the Practical ~
- Accept that taking photos is an important part of your mom job. There is sentiment, emotions, and excitement wrapped up in most of the children’s milestones no matter how large or small. While it can be difficult to capture these moments on camera with a baby strapped to you, another child running in the opposite direction, and a third dumping cheerios on the floor, remember that it is part of your job to try. Trying is over half the battle.
- Say goodbye to perfection. Capturing your family memories should be fun, not overwhelming or stressful. Look back and think about what memories you enjoy through photos, and strive to just start there when taking your camera out. Every family hike doesn’t need to be documented. Think about what you would want to see in a family book in 5,10, or 15 years and bring your camera along for those occasions. If it is strictly scenery, remember you can always purchase postcards for the scrapbook if it is a tourist area, so don’t bog yourself down by trying to take the perfect landscape photo. Focus on the people and details that are unique to your experience of the memory.
- Get over the “Look at mommy and say cheese” mentality. Photos of smiling kids can be great. And if you are taking a family photo they definitely have their place. For most of life, however, this style can produce less than authentic smiles from our kids. Children swinging on tire swings, sliding down slides, or wrestling with each other, all produce amazing and memorable photos. Don’t rule out the sometimes serious face photos as well, as they tell the story of childhood just as much as those smiles.
- Remember your audience. Not every photo goes up on facebook or is sent to grandma. My son loves looking at the photo books from when he was little, and it is really neat to hear him talk about different things he remembers as he is looking through them. Keep in mind that more often than not, your audience is your child. And they want to see what their life was really like at that point in time.
- Let your older kids take photos. You will be surprised with how well some of these shots turn out…and you get the advantage of truly seeing life through their eyes.
And now for the Technical
- Lighting, lighting, and more lighting. This is a make it, or break it moment for most professional photographers, and aspiring photographers. As a general rule of thumb, you want to shoot either an hour before sunset or sunrise, and if you are attempting a posed family photo plan to do it at this time. These two times will give you a golden light that doesn’t produce shadowy faces or dark eyes, and you can even shoot into the sun during this time of day. And now for the reality of working with kids…As much as we would all love to take our photos in perfect lighting, this just isn’t possible 99% of the time. Part of capturing life is working with what you have when it is happening. If you have a nicer camera you can utilize the different settings to get a good exposure (lower iso, wide open aperture, and fast shutter speed all of which produce a brighter, slightly “blown out,” image with little to no shadows. Or low iso, smaller aperture, and slower shutter speed to capture larger scale shots that would vividly include surrounding scenery) even in the middle of the day.
- Shoot outside in the shade. Regardless of your camera, another great option for middle of the day shots is to search for shade. Imagine a tree in a field, casting a shadow on the ground. Place your child(ren) near the edge of the tree shade, so they are still in the shade but close to the edge, and you will stand in the sun shooting back at them in the shade (see diagram here). Or get creative, a perfectly placed beach chair, or your spouses legs provide just enough shade that you can get the perfect capture for your memory. And when there are just no good shade options, shoot the best you can, utilizing the following composition tricks to overcome less than ideal lighting.
- Proximity to subjects. In general the closer you can get the better. Ensure you are keeping your whole subject(s) in play so you aren’t missing feet or hands, although the quicker moving the subject the harder this can be. The advantage of getting closer is that you are drawing the attention of the photo and focusing it on what you want to remember. Framing memories will be easier if you can clearly see what the memory was.
- Stay ahead of your kids. Anticipate their next move. If you are trying to capture them in action…be ready to move your feet.
- High and low. For most of us, we are taller than our kids. Get down on their level…or even lower. Sometimes the best photos for kids can be shot looking up at them. Crawling around on your knees, or lying on your belly are all par for the course with littles. As the kids get older…shooting from straight above can be beneficial too! Be prepared to play with the height of your camera.
- Work with angles. Shooting your subject smack dab in the center of the frames gets boring. Try placing them slightly to your left or right, or slightly higher or lower in the frame and capture the texture and lighting changes from the different viewpoints. Imagine a tic tac toe board in your camera viewfinder and work to put the subjects of interest where the lines cross each other.
- More is better with movement. Take at least 3 photos of moving subjects. This will help you make sure you get one that has a clear picture, and decent framing. With nicer cameras experiment with the “Al Servo” setting, which will allow you to move your camera with the subject and the focus will be constantly adjusting with their movement.
Thanks Elizabeth for these great tips! Sounds like it is time to experiment and have fun! If you have specific questions, my sister will answer them in the comments. And please do take a moment to check out Elizabeth’s photography website. And if you live in the Philadelphia area, give her a call to schedule a shoot!