As I write this post summer is well and truly here, the kids are off school and the next few weeks stretch out before us with thoughts of days spent playing at the park, building sand-castles on the beach and eating enormous quantities of ice cream. It’s lovely to have a record of these fun-filled days that you and your children can look back on. You don’t need a top of the range camera to get great results – even camera phones can produce incredible results when used well. The best camera is the one you have with you.
In the years I’ve been photographing families I’ve found that the key to capturing successful photographs of kids is for it to be fun. So being prepared with the camera whilst your children are playing is perfect – they’re unaware of what you’re up to!
Practice beforehand to make sure you know how to adjust the exposure on your phone – situations like the beach, where there are large, light areas in a picture, can confuse the camera’s light meter. The great thing about camera phones is you can see straight away if you have got it right, and you can always take another if the exposure is awry. I recommend looking for shade where you can, as this produces beautiful light. If your children are playing together in direct sunlight, move them under a tree – they will continue their game within seconds, forgetting you have moved them and you will have lovely, soft, flattering light to work with. If you would like to take a group photo of your children, sitting them in the shade of a tree looking out towards the sunlight will give you lovely soft light on their faces and beautiful catch-lights in their eyes. Do watch out for mottled light, though, as this can create contrast problems with areas of your picture bleached out.
When photographing children, I try to get down to their eye level and sitting on the floor playing with the kids and taking pictures as you chat works really well for this. You can also look for interesting angles – for example, a photograph of the children playing football in the garden taken from an upstairs window will give you an interesting perspective on a daily activity.
When composing your pictures, try to think about all the different elements that will end up in the photo. If you are planning a simple portrait, fill the frame with your subject so that distracting elements in the background are minimised. Or, think about using the surrounding environment for a really lovely photograph that has an element of story telling; a child sitting on their bed could be a close-up portrait lit by a window, or an environmental portrait showing your child’s room with their favorite toys, posters on the wall and all the details that make them who they are at this time. These elements change so much as children grow and it’s amazing how much a picture of a much-loved toy or favourite duvet cover will transport you back in years to come.
The time of day will make a big difference to your pictures, too. As photographers, we talk of ‘the magic hour’ at sunrise and sunset when there is an amazing quality of light, but when working with children, practicalities take over. In my experience, the hour just before sunset is time best spent with the children well-fed, bathed and snuggled up with a story before a good night’s sleep, rather than running around having their portraits taken – certainly if you want co-operation from your subjects. I find that first thing in the morning, straight after breakfast, is the ideal time if you want your children to pose for you – everyone is full of energy, full of toast, and ready to take on the day. This is a great moment for an impromptu photo shoot and if you are in the park early, you can be sure you will have the pick of all the best spots before anyone else arrives.
When taking group shots of your children, I suggest trying to make them laugh but don’t ask them to smile; goofing about, singing silly songs and, if you are lucky enough to have someone else around, then getting them to leap around behind you is a surefire way to capture wonderful expressions.
Also, make sure that you’re in some of the photographs yourself, particularly if you are the parent who is always behind the camera – either ask a friend to take some of you, use a self timer, or even hire a professional. These pictures, which include parents and loved ones, are those your children will treasure most as they grow up.
Most of all, make sure that you have fun and do the activities that your children enjoy – a laughing child on a swing, a look of joy as they are sprayed by a hose, or a quiet moment with book will always make a great photograph, and the natural moments that capture your child’s personality will touch your heart. Photographs are a precious thing to have and a joy to take; I hope these tips will encourage you to get out and about with your camera (or phone) this summer.