Over the 18 years that I’ve been a parent, I’ve opted to take annual photos of my kids instead of going to a studio or hiring a professional. In the beginning, there were a few times I did go to the in-store photo studios, but the photos always turned out too formal and lacked appeal….never capturing my kids’ personalities. Your local city park, home and yard certainly can be a more meaningful background setting than a swirly studio backdrop with worn out props.
I’ve been a graphic designer and art director for over 25 years, so I do have experience with setting up a good layout. But, I’m here to tell you that you can do this too, even with no experience. Even with no professional experience, I know that you can take great pics. No fancy cameras or equipment required.
Don’t worry. Relax. Use your smart phone at the highest resolution setting for photos. Follow my simple list of advice and you will have great results. Afterall, there’s nothing better to take pictures of than your children. Most of all, have fun and enjoy the experience. Remember, stressed parents don’t make for relaxed happy photos.
15 TIPS for taking GREAT KID PHOTOS that look more natural and capture their personalities.
1. GENERAL GUIDELINES:
Start with well-rested, bathed and happy children. Don’t take pics right after a fresh haircut. Bribery of treats for after the photo session may be a necessity…but hey, it’s a great reward for them and for you.
2. Coordinate what kids are wearing.
The goal is to focus on them and not what they are wearing. Coordinated and simple color schemes are the best. They can wear similar clothes in varying colors or all the same color family. Solid colors work well, but you can also use patterned clothing as long as it’s not too busy. You can have mixed stripes, geometric and solids. It works if they are all in one similar color tone. Speaking of color, choose darker, vibrant colors. All white is beautiful, but difficult to pull off if you’re an amateur.
3. Take pics with natural lighting.
Lighting is the most important factor when photographing.We have a window in our kitchen at home that is perfect for photos. There’s plenty of light, but no direct sunrays coming in. I always know I can get a great photo in this location because of the natural soft light. I don’t use a flash which tends to look artificial. Pros know how to use flashes properly and have fancy gadgets for doing so. I’ve always liked the shadows it creates when only one side of the face is lighted.
4. Take pics early morning or dusk.
If taking photos outside, please DON’T do it in the middle of the day! You’ll get squinty eyes and harsh sunlight that washes out the subject. Early morning or sunset produces the best long shadows, drama, soft light and natural setting. And if you live in Texas like me, the temperatures will be more pleasant too. If it happens to be midday, then find a shady spot under a tree.
5. Take along something to sit on.
Especially for outdoors, like bluebonnet fields, take along a bench, chair or blanket. If the outside location you are using doesn’t have rocks to sit on, or benches or railings to lean on, take something with you. A blanket on a patch of wildflowers will certainly help with the itchy grass and comfort for your kids. It will also make the scene even more personal. If taking shots indoors, I always liked using kid-sized chairs or beds for sessions.
6. Take pics the same month every year.
With babies, take at the first each month, at 18 months and then every year. Taking annual photos on or close to their birthday is certainly easy to remember. I always take photos in late May or early June since that’s when my kids’ ages are exactly two years apart (easy for me to remember). Mark it on your calendar and always make sure to take them then every year. You’ll be glad in 18 years that you kept it consistent.
7. Take goofy pics too.
This will make it fun for the kids. Silly faces or hands raised in the air will work wonders for their enjoyment in the session. They don’t always have to be super funny…it can be just holding each others outstretched hands. Or sisters laying a suprise kiss on brother’s cheek. Be willing to try new ideas. We don’t want stiff poses. We’re not dealing with models here, but to get your kids to relax, have them make silly faces….but be ready because…best smiles come from laughter.
8. Best smiles are from laughing.
…right after a goofy face or pose…you’re going to capture the best smile. The true joy that shows from laughter make the best and most natural smiles.
9. Keep their heads or bodies close together.
Professionals can set up great poses, but I find that the one rule you should follow is to keep heads close together, or at least in the same plane/on the same line, and/or bodies close together.
10. Have them relax by hugging and playing.
To keep them close, it’s okay if they hug. Taking photos at a playground or in your home backyard or playroom can also offer some personal settings and unique smiles. Be sure to pay attention to the background (see tip 12 below).
11. Take pics of their backs or looking away from camera.
I had to start taking photos of their backs when I had fussy babies in a field of bluebonnet flowers. With a backside view, you don’t have to worry about everyone smiling or having eyes open. I made it a tradition of showing their backs as a way to document how much they grew over the years. Also, showing a profile view can be much more interesting than a straight view. You may capture a bit of their personality more with a side or overhead view.
12. Keep backgrounds simple.
We want to see the kids and not the background. I’ll hang up a sheet or a blanket by a window so that I can hide a pile of dirty laundry that might be in the background. For baby portraits, laying them on a solid color blanket works great for this. Phone app editing that allows for blurring the background edges can be an excellent fix for simplifying a busy background.
13. Get closeup.
You can probably tell by now, that I love zooming in very close to my kids’ faces. This is crucial if you’re taking photos of a baby. If you’re not closeup, then the baby gets lost in the background. Faces show the most about a person, so get up in their face and you’ll be glad you did. I like to take lots of headshots and then print them as a photo grid collage.
14. Don’t overdo retouch.
Keep it natural! I’ve got excellent Photoshop skills and today most phone apps offer editing and retouching that is very good. But please, oh please, don’t make your children look like plastic skin dolls. A little soft blur can come across as artificial in my opinion. Use blur for busy edges and backgrounds. I’ve got teenagers and yes, they have pimples and red complexions. I would agree that a little touch up is okay for just making sure we’re focusing on the kid and not the bumps on their face. Here’s an example of how I retouched my 13-year old’s face for making prints. It still very much looks like her, there are still some notes of teenage complexion, but most importantly…it still looks like her, like a real sweet, lovable person!
15. BONUS TIP: TAKING SAME POSE 10 YEARS APART
A cool benefit to taking photos in the same place in your home each year is taking the same pose again, ten years later! I have to admit that this happened purely by accident with my oldest child. I loved it, so when the opportunity came with my other two children, I made sure to do the same with them.
I hope that my little tips will inspire you to take your kids’ pics with a refreshed attitude. Gone are the days when we had to worry about the cost of film…you can take hundreds of shots to get a great one and it doesn’t cost any extra! Let me know what you think of these ideas, comment with some of your own and let me know how it goes.