Part 1 – You were there too! How to make yourself be in the photos

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We covered a lot in this mini course, but there is one thing missing from all the photos we have been considering. And that's you. Yes, you the lady with the snack bag, the spare clothes, with the face hidden behind the camera. 

Hands up if after every trip you come back from somewhere, when you look through the photos it looks like you were never there? You're missing. But not this summer. Not on my watch, oh no. 

I am a woman with a mission. 

My mission is to get more of us - Mums and Dads behind the cameras - to be present in the images for our kids. 

Please don't run! 

I have the very same reaction, I promise, but we owe it to ourselves and to them, to be visible in their lives, in their adventures and in their growing up. 

I get it. I hate how I look in my photos. I look at myself like I'm a sum of body parts. The hips that are too wide, the stomach that never 'bounced back', and oh my God, how many chins?  But that's not how our children see us. They just see see their Mum, the person they love and that loves them. Not some ideal, retouched version of you, but simply you, with your kids. 

You were there. You were a part of their world, not just an observer. I would often have dozens and dozens of photos from our trips but feature in none and it hadn't occurred to me till my daughter asked when flicking through a photo album - 'Where was Mummy when we went on that holiday?'

So today, I want to give you some tips on how to be more present in your images, and how to make this whole Self portrait business much less painful. Because it CAN be fun! 

And just to prove I am not just preaching, here is a photo I took of myself : 

When I look at that image with a critical eye, I see all the mess and the unflattering jumper covered in flour. I'm not even fully sharp there, but I AM there! And I also have a memory of the fun we were having! How differently all 3 of us understood the 'next add the liquid ingredient' line in the recipe... 😉 

I also took these other two this month. In one I wanted to capture the day I spent cuddled under blankets with an ill child, and in the other one I felt compelled to being a bit mischevious towards Andy Warhal ( I feel he would have approved)

So this summer, I want you get into the photo too. Don't let your kids forget you were there!  Do it, it's not as scary as you think! 

But what kind of portraits?

  • The straightforward family portrait

Just you and your family facing the camera. Couldn't be easier. Find somewhere you can all fit comfortably, get nice and close to one another, set the camera up so that nobody's heads or feet are being chopped off, and take the photo. It will be timeless, it will be the perfect thing to frame, somebody will inevitably look away or have their eyes closed, and it will be ok. 

  • All loved up

If sitting still and stiff is not your thing, go for 'all loved up' get the kids to cuddle, kiss, ickle in a little love buddle just as the photo is being taken. The photo itself may not be perfect because it's hard to control that kind of thing, but it will be all the more perfect that way. 

Photo by Kate Ainger

  • Inject humour

I know that it can feel very stiff and serious and self conscious at the other end of that lens. So why not try and inject humour to counter it? 

Photo by Ronni Evans

  • Real life

As an alternative to posed and 'into the camera' photos, why not try capturing your family doing your normal family things in a place that you are all comfortable with? 

Photo by Karen Arnold

  • A theme

Give your portrait a theme - recreate a work of art, use a prop that ties you all together, wear similar colour or dress up as superheroes - the sky is the limit! 

Photos by Laura Quinn

How do you 'trigger' the photo? 

With most cameras, and indeed, even the phone cameras, you'll have at least one of the following options. 

Self timer 

Most cameras and phone have this option these days so you have NO excuse. You can often choose to have a shorter or a longer lead time, and sometimes you can also choose whether the camera should trigger once or multiple times. 

PRO TIP for your phone: Set up a way to trigger the photo using your voice control settings. That way rather than pressing the button and running to get into position, you can simply say your chosen phrase ( you pick what you want it to be - you could make it something that will make your kids smile like - smelly bottom, or cheese etc.) and then the phone just takes photo. As far as I'm aware, it's available on most androids and iphones though the way you set it up will different from brand to brand so best to google your specific model. You will need to go deeper into your camera controls to get to it, but it's worth it.

If you pair it with self timer, you can tell the camera to take photo and then still have time to close your mouth or look away or whatever you want to do. 

Remote trigger for your camera


Some years ago I spent £5 on ebay and bough myself a super simple, uncomplicated clicker remote for my camera. It is the size of a lighter, attached to my key ring and paired with my camera via infrared connection which meant that I could just set my camera up and then trigger it discreetly when I feel the moment is right. The kids loved using it too! You could of course get a fancier one that helps you focus and set the camera settings (mine just sets of the shutter)  etc, but honestly, I think for this kind of purpose, my clicker did its job rather admirably! I no longer use it since I changed my camera because I can now do the same thing via my phone. 

Remote Trigger for your camera as an app on your phone

While I still have my little clicker, my newer camera allows me to use my phone to trigger it remotely and it comes with the added bonus of letting me see the live preview of the image as if I was looking through my camera visor, adjust all my settings and even adjust focus remotely. Many of the newer wifi enabled cameras will have that option too so if you haven't explored it yet, it's worth checking. 

Interval shooting 

Available on some cameras and some phones . You set the camera up, and then tell your camera to take a photo once every so often - you define the duration, so this could be once every 30 seconds or 3 minutes or anything else really. It's great when you don't want to perform for the camera but simply want it to capture the fun as it's going on. It will inevitably involve lots and lots of pretty bad photos due to people wondering off the frame, focus missed etc, but usually it'll have a couple of gems as well.

Pass it on

Admittedly the most low tech solution and it comes with both its benefits and drawbacks. The benefits being that there will be a human at the back of it so you're less likely to end up with your head chopped off. Then again, there may be an unskilled human at the back of it and they'll chop your head off regardless... well, no solution is perfect.

The problem with shooting blind..

... is that of course you can't see where you're pointing your camera in real time!  And this can make getting sharp photos hard. We have a few tips: 

How do you keep yourself and everybody else in Focus : 

If you have a group, where do you focus?

And the answer is, right in the middle of you. The thing with focus is that objects which are within the same distance from the camera will be equally sharp. So if you have 5 people in a line, and focus on the one in the middle, the people next to them will be sharp too. 

I would add to that a narrower aperture than you're used to. The aperture helps regulate the size of the area of sharp focus, and while wide apertures help us get that soft blurry background, they also make the size of the area of sharp focus smaller. So bump that aperture value to at least f5.6 and keep the focal length ( aka Zoom) relatively short ( in plain English - try not to zoom in too much) to maximise your chances of keeping yourself and everyone with you sharp. 

How do you focus?

Ideally, if you have a shutter release method that allows you to adjust the focus - use that. Many of the apps which allow you to trigger the big camera using a phone will let you adjust the focus which is the best thing you can do because you will be in control. 

To make your life even easier, I would recommend activating the face recognition or eye tracking option so that you have even more chance of getting it right. 

If you can't see what you're capturing, I would recommend prefocusing - if you know roughly where the action is going to take place, pre focus there, and possibly even leave the camera on manual focus so it doesn't try to hunt focus afterwards and send it to the wrong place. I sometimes will place to toy or a more compliant of my children to use them as the pre-focus target and make a mark on the ground so I know where I'll be. 

Positioning :

Ideally, you want to place your camera at the same height as the median of your heads - this will make it look most natural, with no distortion. How do you do that so that it's safe for the camera? (it won't enjoy falling down from a height.)

  • Tripod - and a sturdy tripod at that - is the best, but if you don't have one, a pile of books/boxes/ boardgames etc will do the trick. If I don't have a tripod, I like to place a bag of rice, loosely filled, on top of that so you can nest your camera onto that surface, angle it slightly if need be, and reduce the likelihood of it slipping down.

If possible, stagger the height of your family and you - it's better to have everyone close together with kids being a bit lower and adults higher, rather than everybody in a single line. 

Don't look for excuses 

Trust me, I've been there, I know them all.

How to help with a cringe factor: 

The worst thing you can do in front of the camera is just to stand there and look at it. Action and interaction is KEY!

Have a concept of what you want to be happening - maybe you'll just be having a tickle fight on the sofa, maybe you'll get your kids to race towards you and try to topple you over, maybe you'll be jumping up or dancing like a lunatic. Maybe you'll be having a quiet cuddle with your baby.

If a photo is about that action, it ceases to be JUST about you and it makes it about the memories. 

Make it easy on yourself with light - pick a location for your photos which has good light - ideally outdoors as you'll find it easiest, but if you'd rather be indoors, make it close to a large source of light and avoid shooting against the light

Photo by Michaela Strivens

Let go of perfection

This is the biggest obstacle for many a photographer - if it's not perfect, it's worthless. WRONG. Perfection is not something that's often achievable with remote triggered photos so if you get yourself in a mindset of accepting that this will be a imperfectly composed, imperfectly focused, imperfectly posed photo and that these things will be its strength - you just let go. 

Day 5 Challenge

Today I'm giving you a challenge for the weekend, and that challenge being - capture a summer portrait that includes you. Make it you by yourself or your family with you, or just a part of your family with you - but YOU must bein it.

And it doesn't have to be boring! If your kids are up for it, let them help set it up, come up with a theme or even press the shutter.