As we welcome a brand New Year and plan for the future, we cannot help but also reminisce about the past. Are you a mom, like me, who has photos of your kiddos from nearly every day? Have you looked back at the highlight reel of 2015 and wish you would’ve snapped even more? As a mom and professional photographer I, Melissa Click, take a lot of photos of children. Despite the quantity I treasure of my own children, it never fails that I look back and wish I would’ve captured more “keepers”. Based on experience with my own two children and interacting those of my clients, here I’m happy to share my best tips for capturing quality portraits of your children. Cheers to documenting your fresh new year successfully!
To put it simply, photos preserve memories. Precious moments in time, emotions, quirks, personalities, fleeting details of our growing babies. Not just exactly what’s inside the four corners, but much more. You probably know that there are many factors involved in making a good photo. Photography is an art, whether you’re using a fancy, big-girl camera or an iPhone. Aside from the mechanics, lighting and all that jazz, interacting with your subject to capture an image of quality is just as important.
In my opinion, the best portrait of a person is one that captures their true essence. My favorite photos of my own children are the ones in which they’re truly being themselves. Expressing their authentic personalities. I prefer candid, natural shots over more posed or forced images. With young children, it’s nearly impossible to get them to follow direction, sit still, smile and pose for the camera anyway. With older children, they’re likely trained to do so and their smiles are not genuine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve overheard a parent ask their child, posing for the camera, “where’s your real smile?” I find that question to be confusing and somewhat negative.
If one of your 2016 resolutions is to capture better photos of your children and document your year in a quality way, here are my top tips for interacting with them to do so:
- Don’t make a big scene or fuss about using the camera. It builds too much pressure and anxiety. Compare it to not reacting excitedly or abruptly when they fall down. If you stay calm and collected, generally they will too, right? The more often you use your camera, the more comfortable it will become to shoot randomly and in a more candid way. It won’t interfere with you being truly present, but rather become an extension of the way you live.
2. Peek out from behind the camera and interact with your subject often. You are more engaging than a piece of equipment. Children respond to you and your energy, not the lens.
3. Let them get their wiggles out first. If you’re planning to photograph your kiddos somewhere away from home, like the pumpkin patch or park, allow them a little time to play and explore before shooting. Trust me, they’ll be more cooperative.
4. Be silly. Laugh, have fun, wave your arms around and make funny noises. If you’re hoping for a smile, you’ll get more genuine facial expressions naturally drawing one out than if you just plain ask.
5. Give them an activity to do or something to focus on. For example: if you’re at the playground, snap a few photos of them sliding down the slide or swinging. If you’re at home, take photos of them doing everyday activities like eating a snack or coloring with crayons. These are the fun things you’ll want to remember anyway. This is more natural than simply demanding, “stand still and let me take your picture.” If they want to run, shoot a few frames of them on the go. It might just surprise you and turn out beautifully. If your kiddos are anything like mine, they’re more often than not in motion anyway. Don’t toss an image simply because it’s blurry.
6. Go with the flow and be patient. Let them go at their own pace and just be a gentle guiding presence. Don’t get frustrated if they’re not doing exactly what you’re hoping. It won’t help, they’ll just resist and avoid the camera more so. I do have a precious photo of my youngest son crying. It’s raw and endearing… albeit funny. Life is full of emotional moments. Don’t be afraid to capture them all.
7. Coach a little. For example: if you’re outside, you might say things like, “show me how high you can jump” or “give your brother a nice hug”. If they have something in their hands ask them to show you. Again, avoid being a drill sergeant.
8. Engage to help them relax. With older children, I find it helpful to ask questions and chat. I’ll ask if they know any good jokes or things like, “what did you do at school today?” or “what’s your favorite color?” This will take their mind off flashing a cheesy smile while helping them to loosen up and be themselves.
9. Think outside the box when it comes to angle and composition. It’s a great opportunity to try this when your child is acting bashful (that’s a nice way of saying resistant). He’s looking away? Snap anyway. He’s looking down? Snap anyway. He’s “over it?” Then, take a photo of his feet in his cute worn shoes or his hand holding a beloved toy. As a mom, I appreciate a child’s profile or an image with the focal point being just his/her hair. Some people may not feel anything when they see what I like to call a “detail shot” of one of my kids. I do and that’s what matters. Don’t forget to capture your child’s favorite things. It may feel odd to take a photo of a toy by itself now, but won’t you be happy you have it later?
10. If all else fails, go for the bribe. I’m not above negotiating. Small rations of mini m&m’s and smarties work for my toddlers.
Happy New Year, friends! Best of luck documenting the lives of your precious littles in an genuine way!