With fall portrait season upon us, I'd like to give my friends and family in Columbus and Maryland four tips for taking better photos of your kids. While the best way to take better photos of your kids would be to hire me (mini sessions are available!), I know that your cell phone will take the bulk of your photos. When you're out and about or just at home with your kids, keep these four things in mind when you take their picture:
1. Get Low
Kneel down and take the photo from their level. Being lower will make your photos better because you'll have a new perspective. You always see your kids from five or six feet off of the ground. Your photos shouldn't be what you always see, so get low and see your kids differently. Also, by getting low, your kids won't need to crane their necks up to the camera. They'll be comfortable and more natural. Plus, when you get low, the surroundings will be how your kids see them, not you, so you'll have a photo from their vantage point. Finally, your kids may end up having more fun when you're lower--they might approach the camera and get a little goofy. Take advantage of being on their level and click away.
2. Look at the whole photo
When you take your photo, don't just stare at your kids on the screen. Move your eye quickly around the entire screen. Double-check that there's not something sticking out of someone's head. See if the background can be de-cluttered a bit (simple is better!). Are you leaving too much room around your kids? Should you move a little closer? Photos of people always benefit from getting closer. With your cell phone, be careful, though: if you have people too close to the edge of the screen while you're really close, you might distort them. People near the edges might look wider than people in the middle. It's easy to stare at your kids to make sure they're all looking and smiling. Resist that urge and look at your entire photo. Get closer, simplify the background, and watch the edges.
I love this next photo for almost all of its compositional elements. The fence could have made this photo a real disaster. Instead, the fence leads your eye to look at the family, nothing is too close to the edges of the frame, we are cropped close enough to keep things interesting, the mother is perfectly framed between two fence posts, and everyone is close and happy and smiling. I just wish I had inched a little to the left so that post wasn't coming out of the dad's head. Thankfully everyone is backlit beautifully by the morning sun, so there's good separation between the family and the background.
3. Find a darker background
Nothing ruins a cell phone photo faster than bright windows or sun in the background. Unless you adjust the exposure yourself, you'll end up with an almost-white background and almost-silhouetted kids. While I often tell the people I'm photographing to put their backs to the sun, I also know where to stand and how to set my camera to take advantage of backlight. Your cell phone often can't handle that, so switch places. Put your back to the window or the sun, and have your kids face the light. That way, their faces will be lit. If they end up squinting because it's too bright, shift 90-degrees. Point one shoulder to the sun or window and use some nice side light. Whatever you do, unless you want a silhouette, make sure your kids' faces are naturally brighter than what's behind them. And don't use your cell phone's flash. It's ugly and tiny.
I love this next photo, but the background is too bright. When I exposed the photo for their skin, I lost all detail and color in the background. Granted, that doesn't take away from how great this family looks, but the perfectionist in me wishes the background was darker.
Compare that to this next photo, and you'll see why a darker background can really help:
4. Get everyone touching
Nothing says closeness and togetherness like actually being close and touching together. Put arms around each other, give big hugs, lean heads together (carefully!), scoot hips together (that's the one I always have to say: "Hips touching!"), do whatever you can do to get people closer and touching. The physical bond will translate to a great photo.
If this photo doesn't show brotherly love, then I don't know what does: