Photography Tips for Moms

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 ~

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

    Unposed

  4. 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.

    Unposed, shooting from a low angle

  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Stay ahead of your kids.  Anticipate their next move.  If you are trying to capture them in action…be ready to move your feet.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

    Subject on an angle, shot from above

  7. 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.

    Capturing movement, unposed, subject not in the center, middle of the day

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!

  • Kat0427

    Elizabeth, these are very helpful tips, thank you so much for sharing! Your children are adorable :)
    I’m wondering whether you have a favorite site to develop photos in terms of quality of the photo. Also, do you have a favorite method of cataloguing your memories? Photo books from online, traditional albums, etc.? This seems to be the major sticking point for me. We have lots of pictures but they are stuck somewhere in cyber-space! :)

  • Annie

    What an interesting post, Elizabeth, thanks for all of these pointers! Do you have recommendations for a best entry level DSLR camera? I just have a point and shoot that I have had for years and it seems like it is slow and I end up with a lot of blurry shots. I’d like to upgrade but I don’t know where to start….

  • Elizabeth Maul Raduns

    @Kat0427:disqus, I personally use Miller’s Labs. Unfortunately you have to be a professional photographer for them.. But I have found that MPIX has amazing color and quality for their printed images, and their prices pretty reasonable. I would definitely recommend them over any “mart” style store..

    Cataloging memories: I prefer using digitally bound books. I know of many photographers, however, who love to print out and old school book it for their memories. I have been tempted to do this many times. I think if you can commit to printing them every 2 months, and putting them in the book right away, this method works well. I cannot commit.. There are lots of really neat sleeves and book options too for traditional photos.. Etsy is filled with good ideas for that!
    Onto the digital books..
    BEST PRICE and QUALITY BOOK: I think I have printed a book from almost all available companies (okay, not all but a whole, whole lot) and I have found that for affordability and quality, I really like MY PUBLISHER. I love that they offer layflat pages, photo finishing for the pages, and can house up to 100 pages in one book. They run amazing promos ( don’t buy without a promo code!) I print one book a year… I try to layout my pages slowly…but sometimes I lay them all out in a month, and then print it… Usually in Time for the new year arrival. If you are really lazy, you could always opt for the auto layout, and it lays your photos out for you..

    TOP QUALITY: If you are more into top quality and price isn’t a problem you could have a professional lay one out for you… but in all seriousness the best consumer available company is PHOTOBOOK WORLDWIDE. Their printing is superior and is on par with the professional books I have done.

    HIGH VOLUME BOOKS WITH GOOD QUALITY: BLURB wins in this category. They offer up to 200 pages, I believe, and their quality is completely respectable. They are better than SNAPFISH/LULU/SHUTTERFLY.. ETC. But they are priced cheaply if you have lots of pages to fill in your book. Their software isn’t as user friendly as the other 2 options, but it will get the job done.
    HTH

    Annie: Any DSLR camera is a great place to start. It doesn’t need to be one of the newer models, any model will do. They will offer you the ability to learn the skill and terminology of all the camera settings. In someways, a less sophisticated camera is easier to learn on, than the brand new DSLR consumer models. As far as brand. I personally have a Canon (and I love it,) but I find for most photography, I think Nikons are easier to start on, and they offer more focal points in the “cheaper” models than Canons do (they also tend to be more affordable) I personally would chose either a nikon or canon as they are easy to expand on if you want to take your photography to the next level :) Good luck!

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com/ Kellie

    Regarding Elizabeth’s lighting tips– following her advice and taking my photos in the shade has made my photos MUCH better. Also, getting closer to my kids, down on their level and more in their face, has helped my photos be much better as well. These small things (and I know nothing about photo terms like aperture), have greatly improved my very elementary photo taking skills.

  • Mary Alice

    Thanks for these!

    In addition to taking pictures in the shade, I have also been pumping up the light on my photos after the fact on the computer, and I have found that this makes for much better prints. It doesn’t have the golden light that Elizabeth gets, but at least you can really see people, because if you print what looks good on the monitor, I find it prints too dark, you need something that looks a little too bright on the monitor.

    I do not have a good eye, naturally, so I try to look at professional sights and copy their compositions. For example, when doing a group shot, getting everyone to scrunch in close or get on different levels, rather than just lining up, means that you can shoot closer and see more faces.

    I print a family album once a year on Shutterfly, I get it all laid out and then wait ofr a coupon.

    Elizabeth, any tips on photo storage (digital)? I don’t like that my picasa account is now linked to google+

  • Elizabeth Maul Raduns

    @MARY ALICE: Post Processing can be great for “brightening” photos. You could also try using “spot metering” on your camera. This will allow you to adjust your setting based on the focal point…which naturally allows you better exposure on your subjects, instead of equal exposure or center weighted exposure which is more of an average and can leave your subjects dully lit. Try it out :)

    As far as seeing on screen vs. printing in books or prints. This is completely contingent on the lab you are using to print. IN general I find the consumer sites for books to be the worst offenders of dark photos. When I print a book through My publisher, I over brighten all my photos for the book. But when I print standard prints, I don’t need to do this as my monitor is callibrated for the lab I use. I would advise sticking with the same “producer” for your printing solutions, to allow you editing consistency. :)

    Online photo storage. I love ZENFOLIO. They offer a “free” account, it just has limited storage. But it plugs into Aperature, and lightroom nicely, and you can always upload folders from you computer without plugins. It allows ordering of prints through the site, and you can share easily, or keep everything private. I know I was shocked that my picassa photos defaulted to public when google plus took over… If you decide to go the zenfolio route, please use my referral code:
    PW8-NMV-Q2G


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