Thursday, October 27, 2011

Tips for Taking Photos of Kids

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I got so much great feedback about this post that I knew I just had to do a follow-up. Time flies because I first shared my tips for photographing babies when my girl was 10 months old! She is now a whopping 16 months young and she is a full-fledged big girl.  To me she will forever be my baby and I'm in no rush for her to grow up but it's amazing how fast time flies and this is scary and exciting (but mostly scary) at the same time.

If you have kids and you're like me then you probably feel like you want to record every single moment. I never want to forget how much Lucia loves her little plastic animals, the face she makes when she's focusing on something, her confident run even though she just learned how to walk and the countless other things that make up her enormous personality. So I try to record it all with my camera and along the way I noticed a few things that make all the photo-taking fun for her and for me and importantly for everyone, simple.


So here are some tips for taking better photos of toddlers and big kids...

1.  Use your stories to get great photos

If you are a parent and someone asked you what you do all day with your child I'm sure you'd have a long list of the various activities that you create to entertain him or her.  I'm adding "professional fun-times creator and inventor" to my growing list of titles!  We have a lot of playtime and down time around here.

We can spend an entire afternoon talking to our animal friends, figuring out puzzles, reading books, running back and forth in the living room, doing the laundry (and by doing the laundry I mean knocking down the bag of clothes in her room that needs to be washed, taking everything out, putting everything back in, hiding our toys under big piles)...the list is endless.  Lucia is fascinated by the simple act of taking whatever random things she can find from her magnets to her spoons and hiding them and finding them all over our apartment.  I've also started showing her crayons and how to scribble with the different colors and she's really into it and we've been playing with stamps and stickers too.  These are the quiet (or not so quiet!), every day moments that are the stories of your life!   Get your camera and photograph them.

Playing with our friends.

Running for running's sake.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman
We love apple juice.

2.  Give direction

If you have a big kid or a toddler who is good at listening then you can try to set up a shot that you want to get.  Lucia is a great listener when she feels like it but most days lately she looks right at me and gives me a coy smile when she knows she is about to do something that I prefer she wouldn't.

This can also mean indirect direction.  huh?  For example with a baby or toddler you can set up some toys in front of a window so that you have access to the great light or you can give her a new toy to play with and see what happens.  You can also hand your baby a favorite toy and record her reaction when she sees it.

Along the same lines, you can distract a kid or try to entertain them so you can get your shot.  How many times have I belted out a fun rendition of Old MacDonald or Twinkle, Twinkle  or YMCA or Rolling in the Deep because I knew it would make her laugh or dance? 

3.  Don't give direction

Just let your kid be a kid and marvelous things happen.  I have lost count of the number of times I have caught myself just staring at my baby in amazement.  It's like I'm momentarily lost in my own thoughts of sheer amazement.  It is fascinating to me that she talks to her animals and tries to make their noises to imitate her dad and me, or that she flips through her books and reads to herself and then figures out that the book is actually upside down but who cares we're having fun!

I love so many things about this picture.  The way she lined up her toys, that her back is to me but she still knows I'm there, the dimples in her tiny hand.  I want to cry just thinking about it because this is every afternoon and one unique moment all at the same time. To anyone else looking at it it might be just a "nice moment" but to me, her mom, it's everything about our life.

I've definitely snuck up on her and taken photos of her doing all of these little things when she least expected it.


Copyright Monica L. Shulman

4.  Fix (and learn) your camera settings

So you have this fancy camera and you're shooting on auto all the time.  Yes kids move quickly so sometimes auto is best, but if you take the time to learn about such things as speed and exposure, you can really take your photos to the next level and spend more time thinking about how to take photos that are unique and that really capture moments rather than just mindlessly hitting the shutter and hoping for the best.  Often times, when you don't think about all of the elements that go into preparing to take photos, you can end up frustrated that the shots are either blurry or blown out, or too yellow or not yellow enough or just not right.

Perfectly imperfect is the best way that I can describe my life with my family and it's something that I want to achieve in a lot of the photos that I take.  Perfection is not something that you can measure or even define since it means different things to different people.  And, you don't have to obsess about your settings but nowadays there are a million resources out there that can help you to learn how best to use your camera (your manual is your friend) and experts who can teach you the basics about settings.  Ultimately, this will help you to become a better photographer.  Some great places to start are digital photography school, clickin moms and pixiq.

A bit blurry but this photo shows my daughter how she is...playing to her tune and having fun no matter who is watching.

Precisely because things move so quickly with kid photography is why you have to learn your camera and be on your toes (um, like being a parent!)  I know what it's like to put the camera down and chase after a baby - I spend the majority of my day running after her and sometimes I have the camera and sometimes I just can't.  Remember to be safe and obviously not put yourself in a situation that you can't immediately get to your baby.


5.  Think, observe and see

One of my favorite child photographers, Rachel Devine, who incidentally has a new e-book out on this very topic, has said this before and I'm borrowing it from her.  I'm paraphrasing but basically the conventional wisdom in digital photography seems to be to go out and shoot as much as you want because hey it's free and why not keep shooting so you don't miss anything.  Well, while it might not cost you cash to do this, it does cost you time.

Basically, you could miss out on countless other moments by obsessing with just one.  At the same time, you could miss out on learning what it is that makes a truly great photo.  I have totally been guilty of this and like Rachel says, while my camera might not have been on automode, my creativity was.  Do you really need 20 photos of your babe doing the exact same thing?  And then how do you even choose which photo to keep when they all look the same except for a small difference that only you can see?  Think of all that time spent on your computer that you can spend doing something else.  Wow.  Now that I think of it I've done this so many times and in fact, it was my mantra, at least when it comes to photographing kids and families, to just shoot and shoot and think later.  I know now that it's a big mistake but it's a lesson that I've had to learn the hard way.

If you're too busy shooting away at one little thing in particular, you will miss out on so many other moments because you didn't take the time to really observe.  You know your child best and I'm sure you've gotten lost staring at them, like me, so every once in a while, take your camera and capture that moment and along the way, take the time to think of other ideas for capturing your kids.  In photography, like in life, it's important to think before you speak, or in this case, shoot.

This was meant to be.  We were at the park, she was running and wearing this little striped dress against this striped background.   I saw it in black and white right away.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman She looks so grown-up here.  I always wonder what she must be thinking about when she looks at me and she seems so serious and deep in thought.

Apparently Mommy's lens cap also lives in barn.

 Do you have any tips for taking pictures of kids?


Silliness in the afternoon light.

Seriously, what is it about Elmo?  We're getting a new table for our television and we're bolting it to the wall because the fascination with the tv, even when it's off which is more often than not, is too much for my blood pressure and nerves when she gets so close to it.

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman

Copyright Monica L. Shulman