How to photograph your children naturally and beautifully, just as they are
I have this thing about photographing my children, and it goes against a lot of insta 'rules'
My kids aren't always looking towards the camera, are pretty much always wearing mismatched clothes with loud colours and un-insta-friendly designs - because that's what THEY like. When I photograph my kids I don't like telling them what to do or where to look. There is often mess in the background and surprisingly many are shot on my phone (since that's what I have to hand). ESPECIALLY in the summer.
AND YET - they are my favourite photos. I can smell the sun cream and strawberries when I look through them and I can't help but smile. They capture the sparkle of the moment, the little mundane stuff, the genuine joy and fun.
But it took me a while to work out how to let go of that control and how to balance my desire for beautiful photos and their need to just be themselves and play, be dirty and push boundaries.
So now I have 3 principles I stick to when I capture my children. They help me see what's important, get ready for it and capture the story.
1. Make sure you take photos ABOUT your children and not OF them.
I know this sounds a bit wooly, but it is actually the most powerful thing you can ever change about your photos. Let me explain. Anyone can take a photo OF something or someone. I can stop my child from playing and make them look at me and smile for the camera and in All probability I will have just taken a photo OF my child. What they look like. Possibly even what they look like annoyed now that I stopped them doing what they were enjoying and made them look at a stupid black box with a lens in it. But it's not really a photo ABOUT my child. It doesn'y;t tell me much about them.
But if instead I really pay attention to what they are doing, to how they are, to the thing that their little hands are doing or the way they stick out their tongue when concentrating and I capture that, the whole story, messy as it may be - then I have a photo ABOUT my child.
This is a photo OF my kids - they're in there, they look like themselves, but it doesn't really tell anyone anything ABOUT them!
This is a photo ABOUT my kids - they're doing their thing and I can capture the way they concentrate, their body language and more. Much better!
2. Expression before Perfection
( I believe in it so much I turned it into a T-shirt)
What it means is that I want you to concentrate on what you're photographing and why! To really see those key moments, emotions, to tell those stories. To not be paralysed before the photo might not turn out quite right. To take those photos even if you don't have the 'right' camera to hand or if the light is not what you would have wanted. To give yourself space to experiment.
What it doesn't mean - is that I'm going to have you just snap away. You have been doing this on your own time, I'm going to make sure you're a bit more thoughtful about it. Which mean's you are going to thing ahead, plan and anticipate and then photograph.
3. Prepare for what you know - shoot what you see
If you’re relatively new to photography getting somewhere new with a goal of capturing some photos of your kids there can be overwhelming. I have seen even confident photographers, reduced to faffing about, panicking, and forgetting half of the things that they knew about photography, when faced with kids who have their own ideas and an unfamiliar location. What helps in situations like that is taking a little time to prepare yourself and your camera for what’s to come so that some of that overwhelm can be quickly tackled.
Of course we cannot predict every situation out there but there are certain things that we can foresee, be ready for, and have a shorthand 'what if' script. And it doesn’t need to be anything very extensive.
capturing kids at a Pick-your-own strawberry farm
For me, being ready for it comes down to answering these 3 questions:
1. What do I know about the location
- I know that we will be in an open field with little shelter.
- I know that the day will be sunny/ cloudy / overcast etc
- I know we'll be picking out own so we ( or at least the kids) will be getting dirty.
2. What challenges I may face there
- With an open field, there will be no shade so I need to prepare for being out in the open sun with no shelter - this means I need to think about my camera settings ( if photographing in manual or semi-manual modes)
- I need to consider how I'm going to handle the light ; strong sunlight in the middle of the day will be harsh, so could I go early or late instead? And if not, how should I position myself to avoid sun in the kids eyes ( who doesn't love a squinty photo)
- I need to think about making the kids comfortable - sun cream, sun hats etc. Unhappy children = grumpy photos.
3. What are the absolute MUST CAPTURE situations that are likely to take place there?
- I know I want to capture my kids with the wider view of the field so I can place the images.
- I know I want to capture their little hands picking the strawberries.
- I want the mucky faces, all covered in strawberry juices
- And I want a shot of the fruit in the baskets
These are my basics and as long as I capture those, everything else will be a bonus.
But what if The kids don;t play ball, the weather misbehaves, the location isn't as you expected. So be it. You prepared for what you could, and at least some of the bases will be covered even if things changed.
BTW, this is exactly the process we follow in our topical photography guides - we take an activity and we consider it from 4 sides, giving you advice and ideas on what to shoot, how to prepare for it, how to compose your shots and any specific camera advice you may need to the location. Check them out below!
The Ultimate Summer Photo Guides
The guide you NEED with you on the go to get fantastic photos of your kids this summer!