Five tricks for better portraits of your kids / by Annemie Tonken

One of the things I gave a lot of thought to as I planned to start blogging was what I had to offer to my readers, other than my view through the lens. What is it about photography that attracts people, anyway? At its most basic, a photograph is merely a representation of a single moment in a single place. It can be so much more, though, and figuring out how to get more out of my photography has become, for me, a daily journey. So perhaps you'd like to take a step or three in the direction of taking better photographs too, hmm? I know you own a camera... if you own a computer with internet access, I'm willing to bet you own some form of technology that will allow you to take digital photos. So when was the last time you changed a setting on your camera? Decided to turn the flash off when it told you the flash should be on? Took two photographs of the same object from completely different angles?

I decided that one of the regular features on the blog would be mini-tutorials to improve your photography - things that you can do with whatever equipment you've got that will take your photos further (though I'll certainly plug some gear from time to time, too!).

Today's tutorial is on one of everyone's favorite photo subjects: kids! (Okay, so maybe not everyone's... but mine, anyway - I've got two of 'em!) For today's purposes, "kids" will be defined loosely as anyone between the ages of mobile & embarrassed (i.e. 1-ish to 7-ish). Everyone ready? Okay!

#1: Take your kids outside! So obviously this isn't always entirely possible - photos of present-opening on Christmas morning might get a bit frosty outside - but whenever it is possible, get outside where the sun can be your main light source.

Though flash allows us to take photographs we wouldn't otherwise be able to take, it should be considered a last resort when you're shooting your kids. The light from a direct flash (that's the little one on the front of your camera) has a tendency to make everything look flat and dull, cast crazy shadows, and give everyone red-eye.

Big difference, right? The problem is that most point and shoot cameras don't do very well with indoor lighting withOUT a flash, sooooo... out you go! Once you're outside, don't immediately run into the sun, though, especially in the bright sunshine, where the sun will create its own crazy shadows. Instead, try to find an area of total shade - like the shade of a porch awning or a fence. Instant elimination of squinting & raccoon eyes!

#2: Bite your tongue!

Saaaaaaaaay cheese!!! Actually, don't. Don't tell your kids to say cheese. Don't tell them to smile, or look at you or stand RIGHTHERE or get mad at them when they don't want to. If you do, you won't be taking photographs of your children... you'll be getting something else entirely. The beauty of children is their curiosity, their activity, their excitement, and their emotion - for better or for worse. The next time you're taking pictures of your kids, try it out: bite your tongue and record what's happening instead of trying to set up some false scenario... you might actually catch some REAL smiles!

#3: Get down on their level. I am five foot five. My four and a half year-old is, um, three feet tall? -ish? (He grows fast... who can keep up?) Anyway, he's a lot shorter than I am. 99% of the time I spend taking his picture, I am squatting, sitting, or lying down. With my 10 month-old, I'm flat on my belly. You see, this is where they live, in the space below us. It's their world. And there is something enchanting about joining them in that world. Go even lower & see what it's like shooting UP at your kids. It's certainly okay to get a shot here and there taken from your perspective - that is, after all, the most common view you have of them - but change it up... you'll like what you see.

#4: Slow them down! Undoubtedly, one of the most challenging aspects of child photography is getting them to sit still for two seconds. If you've got one of those cameras where the shutter doesn't actually open until a full second after you've pressed the button, you REALLY know what I mean, but even with the fastest cameras it's tough to catch a two year-old on the run.

Don't get me wrong: the action shots are priceless. There are whole weeks that go by where as far as I can tell, my kids don't stop moving; so obviously I want some good photos depicting that so that if I ever feel bored in my retirement or something, I can look back at these, lay down in my hammock, and go to sleep for the afternoon. That said, sometimes we want to get photographs of our kids that aren't quite as frenetic. Quick solution? Give them something to do or something to hold. A craft project or a stack of blocks, a big wedge of watermelon or a pretty (all-natural-please-don't-caffeinate-your-kids!) soda bottle with a straw... the great thing about props is that you can choose them, and then choose where you set them up. Scout out a spot with great light, then hand over the goods. Have your camera ready, and shoot!

#5: Invest in a DSLR So perhaps you won't do this tomorrow, but put it on your list if better photographs are something you're really interested in. There are many, many advantages to shooting with a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera instead of a point and shoot or camera phone, but when it comes to kids, perhaps the most important of these advantages is speed. Not only does a DSLR eliminate the shutter lag I mentioned above (where you press the button then wait for your camera to take the picture); the ability to manually adjust your settings and change lenses means that you have control over your shutter speed and can choose to embrace or eliminate the blur around you.

Most of all, better pictures come with practice, so get out there and shoot! If this has been helpful to you, let me know... leave a comment or send me your results!

xox,

Annemie