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We’ve all seen those “perfect” children’s photos, spotlessly clean little cherubs beaming placidly into the lens from a bower of roses, and most definitely not screaming bloody murder while flinging props at the photographer.
What is it that makes the difference between those gorgeous shots in magazines and our own albums full of blurred, tear-and-cupcake-frosting-streaked faces? Here are five simple tips that can have you photographing your kids like a professional.
Remember when you were little, how your favourite thing was to be stuck in a stiff chair and made to sit absolutely still and silent? Of course you don’t! Kids hate sitting still and being quiet. If you encourage them to move around the environment, whether it’s an indoor studio or an outdoor playground, there will be a time when they’ll find something that intrigues them, and they’ll naturally pause to investigate it up close.
That’s your moment to shoot. Even if your kids are having one of those raucous days when you lose hope that they’re ever going to stop running from post to post, you can still get a beautiful shot by using a faster shutter speed. Most digital cameras have a high-speed “sports mode” setting that’s specifically calibrated to capture a peak moment of action.
If you think of the photographs of children that have really moved you, chances are it wasn’t some crazy costume or fancy dress that made the photo special. A child who’s suffering in itchy tights, painful new shoes and a dozen layers of taffeta is not likely to shine for the camera. You’re going to get a more meaningful shot by dressing your subjects in neutral, comfortable clothing.
Unless it’s Halloween or the school pageant, skip the over-bright colours and trendy themes that only distract from the person wearing them. When you’re looking back over the photos years from now, you’ll want the focus of the shot to be about your child, not some long-forgotten cartoon character.
A sterile, empty photography studio is not likely to inspire much response from your subjects. If you’re working indoors, stock the set with toys, pillows, boxes, picture books, anything that might spark their imagination and help them forget to be camera-shy. The outdoors is full of wonderful settings for your shoot. Kids are in their element sharing a porch swing, exploring a botanical garden, finding shells on a beach or feeding giraffes at the zoo. If you have pets (and patience), letting them be part of the picture can create immediate spontaneity and bring out your kids natural playfulness and affection.
If kids come to think of a photo shoot as something adults are doing “to” them, with a bunch of complicated equipment they’re not allowed to touch or examine, it can be about as appealing as a visit to the dentist. Make it a team effort from the beginning. Explain the cameras to them and let them ask questions. Give older kids responsibilities appropriate to their age, such as setting up a tripod or helping to entertain the younger ones.
Encourage everyone’s input in choosing creative settings. Your school-age kids may have serious fears of being embarrassed if the pictures end up on parents social media walls, where their peers might see them in a goofy, “uncool” pose. Assure them that their privacy will be respected, and consider giving them veto power to delete any picture of them that really makes them cringe.
As a photographer-parent, you have the luxury of around-the-clock access to your favourite models. Kids who grow up accustomed to having Mom and Dad snapping away in day-to-day life will be relaxed and un-self conscious about being photographed. Keep the camera handy as they’re rough-housing in the yard, playing their guitars or cuddling on the sofa for movie night, and you can wind up with photos that express your family’s uniqueness more perfectly than anything you could set up and pose. Of course, you’ll still want to plan special-occasion family photos as well as the everyday candid shots, and with these, there are bound to be frustrations.
You’ll spend hours getting ready, you’ll already be visualizing your meticulously crafted result, and then, there’s that drenching thunderstorm the weatherman forgot to mention, or your two youngest are suddenly at war with each other, or the dog gets so excited about all the attention that he abandons his house-training.
If you lose your head and vent your annoyance, you’ll just have a troupe of nervous, upset kids who’ll be reluctant to show up for the re-shoot. Keep your calm and your sense of humour, and they’ll keep theirs too. And keep shooting! It won’t be the flawless tableau you were planning, but it just might be the serendipitous shot that turns a calamitous day into a favourite family photo that provides warm laughter and treasured memories for years to come.