How to take beautiful photos of your children

Mar 26, 2021 | Beginners Photography, Childrens portraits, Family photography

One of the reasons I got into Photography was because when I became a Mum, I wanted to document my baby’s lives, their gorgeous faces and expressions, and every milestone they reached.  Phone cameras weren’t very good then (it was 15 years ago) so I used a Canon camera that my Dad bought me when my first son was born. It wasn’t a DSLR although it did offer the option of changing the settings if you knew what you were doing.  I hadn’t a clue what I was doing though so I kept it on Auto and I did my best, and I took lots and lots ….and lots of photos.

I looked back on these photos recently and I remember all the favourites that I took and were put in frames around the house.  Looking at them now with a more critical eye, I can see all the mistakes I made.  Although I still love the photos of my kids, they are my babies after all.  I know I could have made them soooo much better with just a little more knowledge, so I thought it would be helpful to write a post with a few useful tips on how to take better photos of your kids using whatever camera you have to hand or even your phone!   Most of these photos shared below were taken once I’d started taking Photography more seriously and learned how to use my DSLR Canon Cameras.   Aidan was around the age of 3 and Sean was 5 so the photos are of them from that age upwards.    I won’t go into the technicalities like camera settings etc here as I’m sure not all of you will be interested in that,  but don’t worry, most of these tips will still be helpful, no matter what camera you are using, even when shooting on your phone.

However, If you would really like to learn more about the technical aspects of photography or how to get off Auto mode so you can have more creative control over your images, I am now offering Photography Workshops from Beginner level up to Advanced and you can find out more about what courses are available by clicking here.

But for now, here are my TOP TIPS on How to take beautiful photos of your children!

1. Look for the light!

Whether you are inside or out, look at how the light is hitting your child’s face.  If it’s coming from directly overhead, or from below, move them so the shadows on their faces are more flattering.  If you are indoors, turn off the overhead light and bring them nearer the window.  If you have your back to the window, and they look at you, they will have nice even light across their whole face.   Or if you are sitting with the window to your left or right, ask them to look out of the window and then photograph them and you will see the light hitting their face just beautifully.  If you go outside, the ideal light is when it’s overcast as you get a nice soft diffused light.  But if you are in bright sun, move them to a shady spot just on the edge of the light so that the light on their faces is even but doesn’t look muddy like it would if they were way back in the shade.  It really makes a huge difference!  When I took this photo of Sean, there was bright evening sun so I found a shady spot just under the trees.  I was stood just in the sun and he was in the shade about a foot away from the edge of the light.   I did my best to avoid dappled light hitting him (although you can see a tiny bit on his hat and coat) and you can see he has nice even light on his face, with a little catchlight adding sparkle to his eye.  This also works really well if you place your child just inside a doorway so you are outside photographing them, and they are looking out the door from the shade.

Catchlights are important as they bring the face to life.  Sometimes you can’t see them so get your child to lift their chin or look up and there they are!

2. Think about the background

This one bugs the hell out of me when I look at old photos as I have so much mess behind my kids in their photos.  Toys, plugs, bins, messy dinner plates etc.  Yes, it’s real life, and sometimes capturing the moment is more important.  I get that but it’s still annoying especially as it’s an easy fix.  So if you are planning to take a shot,  think about your frame, and if you see lamp shades or trees growing out of their heads, or other items causing distraction behind them, move the stuff out of the way, or move yourself left or right, up or down or come in closer as it changes your perspective and the mess is hidden behind your subject or cropped out so is no longer visible in the frame.

If you know how to use Portrait mode on your phone or Aperture Priority on your camera, you can blur out the background so it’s not as obvious and I do this all the time in my portrait sessions.   The blurry background also makes the subject you are focused on pop in the photos.   Just make sure to focus on your child’s face or eye though so that they are nice and sharp and move them away from the background a bit as you need a bit of distance to create some depth of field and get the lovely blurriness!

In the photo of Aidan below, I didn’t like the background so I shot down on him and blurred the background as I knew that made the weeds and crops much less distracting than what was behind him and as a result our eye is drawn straight to him in the photo.

Or if you have found an interesting background, like with the graffiti in the image of the boys below, you might not want to blur it out so move your kids close to it so the background is in focus too!  Do still focus on the children’s faces though as they are the most important part of the image.

If you are in a beautiful setting, make the most of it and pull back so that you see more of the environment and get a better sense of where your children were when the photo was taken.  Remember to pay attention to your composition though.  The ‘Rule of thirds’ is a good one to start with. Imagine that your image is divided into 9 equal segments by 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines. The rule of thirds says that you should position the most important elements in your scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect.   In the photo below, the boys are on one vertical line and the castle in the distance is on the other.   What might have made the composition of this image even better is if I’d tilted the camera up a bit to include a bit more sky, bringing the horizon line down to the bottom horizontal line.  But, again this image was just taken in the moment and I still love it as it is.  Always remember to keep your horizon lines straight as nothing makes an image seem off-balance more than if your horizon line is wonky!

By the way, if you are wondering why I didn’t shoot this photo with them facing the camera, it’s because the sunlight was too bright and they would have struggled to look at me without squinting and the shadows wouldn’t have been very flattering on their faces anyway.

 

3. Plan the photos you want to take before you start shooting!

I always think it’s much harder to photograph your own kids because they often will act up for you more than they’d do for someone they don’t know – which is why so many of my clients book me to photograph their kids instead!

So if you want to have a go yourself, it might be best not to make it obvious you want to photograph them. But that depends on your children. Sometimes my boys were willing participants, and other times not so much.

I always find it helps to visualise in your head what you are trying to achieve so you know how you want the photo to look before you even take it.   Think about how you want to frame the image, whether you want a close crop or to stand back and get more of the environment in it.  Think about where the light will be and where it’s coming from, and maybe even style it by putting them in the clothes you want them to wear so they look their best too, and then you can start to maneuver the kids in that direction.   Find the ideal spot to place them either outside in the garden, or inside the house (remembering you want even light and an uncluttered background), then give them something to play with or hold so they get busy looking at that and you can get yourself in position, and ready to shoot.  Sometimes it helps to talk to them, and ask them questions about what you’ve just given them so they look at whatever it is.  Take a few shots zoomed in and from far away so you get those lovely inquisitive expressions and long eyelashes as they look down at the item.

 

Then, when you are ready, just call their name or make a silly noise so they look up, and click!  So you get a beautiful image of them looking directly at the camera.

If they aren’t smiling,  do something you know will make them laugh, like a silly noise, or sing a song in a silly voice.  Or ask them to do something silly! Sometimes a little silliness goes a long way to get the natural smiling shot!

 

4. Capture the action!

Kids are constantly on the move so it’s lovely to capture some of that action when you can.   If you are using a camera think about upping your shutter speed on your camera settings (or choose the running man mode) and that will allow you to freeze the motion or by slowing down the shutter speed, you can capture blurred motion, if that’s what you want.   For running children, it’s easier to capture motion when the subject is running from one side of the frame to the other rather than coming towards you.  In this photo of Aidan, he’s riding the zip line going across the frame. I was just lucky that his face was in great light and smiling at the time I took this photo.   I did focus on him through the whole ride though and was ready to click when I saw this happening in the moment.  It might not be perfectly sharp as he was moving pretty fast but in my book, an expression like this trumps sharpness every time and the photo still made it into a frame and is displayed in our sitting room!

Here is another action shot of Aidan.  We have put this photo on a canvas and it’s up in a prime spot over our fireplace and people always compliment it.  They often wonder if it’s a painting or a photo as there is slight motion blur from Aidan running, which looks like brush strokes and that combined with his reflection in the water and the clouds in the sky gives the impression it’s a painting! If I had zoomed in or cropped this photo more, I think it would have lost that painterly feel!   This was another lucky shot, and taken by chance.  We had been caught in a sudden rainstorm, sheltered under our beach towels and then when the rain stopped, the kids all shouted they were wet anyway, “so let’s go swimming!”  The others are all to my left as they raced into the sea! I barely had time to focus on Aidan as he was running so fast and this was just sharp enough for me to want to keep it and put it on the wall.

If you want to get the kids excited about having some photos taken, action shots are a great way to get them interested.  Tell them what you want them to do, whether it’s cartwheels, running, spinning or jumping off something, remind them to smile and have fun and get them to do it again and again – it’s also a great way to burn some of their endless energy!

I got Sean to jump off these sand dunes lots and lots and I finally got the shot I wanted, and he had tonnes of fun in the process!

The photo below was taken at the very start of my photography journey.   I took it using that old Camera my Dad gave me when Sean was born, so it’s not of as high-quality resolution like my other images taken with my DSLR camera. But of course, I still love this photo.  I was just starting to experiment with the camera settings so took the boys out for some fun.  The boys were splashing in puddles outside and Aidan was at that point where he was learning to jump so he wasn’t getting much height in his jumps like his brother, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying. His expression, obvious happy concentration and clenched little fists makes me smile, and he is fairly sharp in the image, whereas Sean is moving and blurry so you get that sense of movement.   Aidan was just getting over chickenpox so you can see the spots on his face and this was the first day he felt well enough to go outside.  It looks like he was enjoying himself!  Again, it’s not a technically perfect image and if anything the background looks a bit sharper than the boys, but when you are learning Photography, you need to embrace the mistakes as much as the successes, learn from it, and love the moment captured regardless.

 

5. Experiment with your shooting angle to find what you like best

When photographing pets or children I make a point of shooting from close to the ground, so I’m slightly shooting up at them.  This makes them look larger than life and more of a feature in the frame.  It also helps push the horizon line down , pushing your subject’s eye level to the upper third line which makes the composition more balanced and powerful. You also get to see things from their perspective.

If you shoot looking down on them, can cut out some of the messy backgrounds as the footpath or ground becomes the background instead like in this photo of Sean.

 

6. Be Prepared to bring your camera everywhere!

You never know when a great photo opportunity will present itself so bring your camera everywhere just in case! When I was learning and practicing my photography skills, I took my camera to the beach, out in the snow, on holiday, on day trips, on walks! Everywhere!  Yes it was heavy and a bit of a pain to carry around all the time, but if I didn’t I would have missed so many wonderful photos that I cherish to this day!  Here are some of my absolute favourites!

 

7. Don’t forget to make it a fun experience!

One thing I’ve learned over the years when photographing my boys is that they are much more likely to agree to have their photo taken if they have fun and I keep it quick! Recognise when they have had enough (usually when they start to act up, stop following your direction or pull silly faces when you ask them to smile) and resist the urge to get cross or grumpy about it, and just move on.

Sometimes you can get a few more shots from them if you introduce a game, as it distracts them.  Something as simple as giving them a couple of instructions like running around a tree 3 times, then sit down, put your arms around your brother and smile, and if they can do that before you count to 10, they get a small treat.   When they have done that, shoot fast and move on fast – don’t expect perfection but you can sometimes get lucky!  Then ask them to see who can laugh the loudest or who can do the funniest laugh?  They always love a bit of competition and you often capture genuine smiles as they laugh at themselves or their sibling!   Here are some of the results when I did just that! These were taken in their grandparent’s garden one early autumn afternoon and all of these trees have been cut down since then so I’m very happy I took these photos when they were still around as my boys loved playing in this garden when they were small!

So that’s it for now! I hope it’s been helpful and given you some good idea’s or inspiration of things to try with your own children.

 

If this has sparked an interest in Photography for you, making you want to find out more, do get in touch with me as I’ve got lots more information to share with you about how to improve your photography skills.

If you are a complete beginner but you have bought a DSLR camera and you’d love to know how to use it properly.  I do offer both individual or group Photography workshops and it covers the following topics:

 

* Your camera settings, and how Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO affect your images
* Achieving the correct exposure and how to override your camera’s light meter to get the exposure you want.
* Finding the right light. Knowing where to place your subjects to get the most flattering light.  There is lots more to learn on this topic.
* Choosing the correct point of focus in an image.
* Composition – the rules and when to break them.
* What makes a good photo? – Always useful to know so you can create many good photos of your own!
Beginner Photography Workshop Dates for 2021
Friday, May 21st – 10am to 2.30pm
Wednesday,  June 23rd – 10am to 2.30pm
Here is what some of my previous attendee’s had to say about their experience:
“When I heard about Alison’s photography workshop I had to sign myself up straight away, despite not having any knowledge of how to work my husband’s camera. I’m so glad I did as I came away feeling confident about how to work the camera on the manual setting. The course notes are very detailed and are easy to follow. Alison makes the technical aspect of the course understandable and is able to show you examples from her own work. She also offers tips on how to achieve a professional photo like hers, which is invaluable. I will now be practicing on my three children all the time and am very excited about the prospect of being able to achieve a great photo with my new-found knowledge.”
– Shelley Menell
“I had a fantastic time at the Beginners Photography Workshop with Ali today. It was fun and informative. She gave us all some individual time which was most helpful and explained things in a way that was easy to understand. I would definitely recommend this course to people who, like me, are ‘scared’ to come off of Auto!  Thanks so much, Alison McKenny, it refreshed my memory on how to use the manual settings as well as learning lots of new settings. Xx – Becky Waldron
I attended Alison’s Beginners Photography Workshop. I had an amazing day and met some really lovely people.  Not only is Ali’s photography amazing, but she is also an amazing teacher. I was a total novice and had only really used auto mode on my camera. Now I feel so confident to go on to manual mode and actually understand the different settings I need to get the effect I want and how to use light to help enhance my photographs.  A lovely relaxed atmosphere in her beautiful home and farm, she kindly provided us with a delicious lunch and refreshments.  I can’t recommend her and this workshop enough for anyone wanting to learn more about their camera and get off of auto mode! – Amanda Blackmore-Burnell
I am now also offering 1 to 1 lessons for more advanced students, who know how to use their camera but have other things they would like to work on.  It could be studio lighting, posing your clients, styling shoots, editing your images, managing your workflow or how to find more clients.
Prices range from £125 to £450 depending on what your requirements are and you can find out more by clicking here
If you have any questions about any of the training or workshops mentioned above, please email me at alisonmckennyphotography@gmail.com or call me on 07966 468944.   Or feel free to share this blog post with your friends.
Thanks so much!
Alison xx

 

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