Invest in the naturalMost people are aware that the best child photographs are those ' natural' ones when you catch your child in a situation without them knowing you are taking a photograph. To encourage these circumstances have your camera around you a lot so that your children get used to it being part of the furniture. Put it in a safe (high) place where little children can easily see it but can't touch. This will also mean that it’s always nearby when a situation presents for a great shot. To encourage the natural shot further, sit around for a while with the camera around your neck while doing something else, (eg) reading a magazine, watching TV etc. This will allow your child to begin to forget about you and focus on other things. Help them get their mind off “mummy's going to take a photo of me”.
After a while they will have forgotten about the camera around your neck and begin to be themselves. Position yourself so that they know you are near but they can't see fully what you are doing. This will allow you to get your camera ready out of sight when a great shot presents itself, and will avoid drawing them away from their focused activity. It is worth spending a good amount of time on this 'setting the stage' so that your child is unaware that they are about to be photographed.
Another aid to help create great natural shots for children is a good size zoom lens. This will allow you to be a long way away from your child (for both inside and outside photos) and therefore not drawing attention to yourself. But the bigger the zoom lens you have, the more careful you need to be to avoid camera shake (this is when the camera is moved slightly while the picture is being taken). To avoid this brace yourself against a solid object (tree, table, wall etc) or better still use a tripod.
A focused little mind equals great photo opportunities
Keeping kids in one place long enough to take their photo can sometimes prove to be impossible.This is where props come in. Keeping little hands and minds busy while taking their photo can help you achieve more interesting and natural photos. Instead of making them look straight to the camera, let them play with their toys and you work around them. And don’t be afraid to get in close! (see below) What can be more captivating than a child’s face trying to blow bubbles through a bubble wand.Here are some ideas for props to help keep your child’s mind focused on something other than you:• Blowing bubbles• Playing dress up• Colouring in• A favourite toy.• Balloons and streamers• An ice cream cone.
Always be on the lookout for a unique angle
Always be on the lookout for a new creative angle to shoot from. Don't take all your shots as a five foot adult pointing the lens down towards your two foot high child. Lie on the grass or the floor, climb a tree, stand on a chair or table or the bonnet of a car. Put them up a tree (get someone to hold them from behind but out of view), stand on the kitchen bench or try a shot from an upstairs window or from the top of the staircase.
Try getting in much closer. Either physically move closer or use a zoom lens but get in close and pick out just a section of the bigger shot. These close in shots offer a great visual alternative to the “must get everything in” shot. When you do go in close, don’t be afraid to become uncompromising with what you cut out. Digital photos don’t cost you anything so you can afford a bit of trial and error.
Great equipment equals great photos
The right gear can make a huge difference to your photographs. For example one problem with a lot (although not all, of compact digital cameras is shutter lag. This means that you push your shutter and sometime between half a second or even up to two seconds later the shutter goes off. This is no good for those shots where you need that shutter to click 'right now'. You have a fantastic moment in your sight only to find your shutter is too slow to capture it. Digital S-L-R (single lens reflex) cameras have little or no shutter lag. Though they are more expensive, they have some very fundamental benefits like this over cheaper digital cameras.
Another great benefit of 'digital SLR is the ability to interchange lenses. This greatly enhances your opportunity for great photos. Two lenses I've used a lot are a wider angle lens and a large zoom lens. The benefits of a zoom lens were discussed above. A wide angle lens is great for capturing the whole environment and is particularly useful indoors when photographing children when you wished the room was bigger. This can allow you can get further away from your subject, maybe to capture more of the background or maybe to give a better feel for the wider environment. A wide angle lens is one of my favourite. It provides a great opportunity to create a variety of unusual shots that can produce a photo which is just that much more eye catching.
One of the hallmarks of any great photo is that it is a little different from the norm. Whether that's because you've managed to manipulate a quirky angle or capture some unique natural lighting on your child or produce an unusually close up image (perhaps with a close up lens) or maybe you've managed to capture that precious moment where your child is displaying his/her typical personality traits. The very best shots of course usually incorporate more than one of these features. So if you can afford it, seriously consider some of these additions to your camera bag.
Natural lighting is best
Although great photos certainly can be produced with artificial lighting, the average person will always find it easier to use natural lighting to create a great shot. Always try to entice your child into a location with good natural lighting when planning some photos. If indoors, try to get your child near a window or other natural light source. If outdoors, try to avoid direct sunlight. Shady areas or cloudy days almost always produce better photographs. There are some exceptions to this. If you can’t avoid the sun, then remember that most photos will look better with the sun at your back. It is very difficult to get a great shot with the sun beaming straight into your lens.
Your child doesn't need to be (in fact probably shouldn't be) in the centre of your photo.
Sometimes we feel that the focal point of the photo (our child) needs to be in the centre of our photo. Most shots work best when your point of interest is off centre. This much underutilized practice will usually produce a photograph with much greater appeal than having your child in the middle of your photograph.
There is a rule known as the Rule of Thirds that is used by professional photographers. Picture your photo divided into nine equal squares, three squares across by three squares down. The Rule of Thirds says that you will create an eye-catching natural balance when you position your subject on any one of the imaginary intersecting lines in the nine square grid (i.e) ● 1/3 in from the left of the photo or ● 1/3 in from the right of the photo or ● 1/3 up from the bottom of the photo or ● 1/3 down from the top of the photo.
This rule is not set in concrete and it is created to be broken once you have played around with it a bit, but it acts as a great guide to help break the habit of having your subject in the middle of the photo all the time. Try taking a photo with your subject in the centre and then the same photo applying the Rule of Third and compare the difference.
Photographing kids outdoors
Outdoor play can create some great opportunities for memorable shots. A wonderful accessory that can add a nice little string to your photographic bow and one that is not too expensive ($50+) is a Polarising Filter. What does a polarising filter do? It will significantly enhance most colours in your photo, especially the sky. It will also cut out glare and reflections– particularly effective with glare from water and other shiny objects. It will allow you to see right into the water in most cases adding a unique aspect to any shots around swimming pools, lakes etc.
A polarising filter will add a real edge to most outdoor photos and is one accessory that will make you wonder why you never got one sooner. A great little trick if you want to experiment a little without going to the expense of purchasing a filter is to put a good quality pair of sunglasses in front of your lens to act as a polarising filter. Not quite as good as a real filter but it will usually do a pretty good job.
Bonus: How come mum’s not in the photo?As a professional who helps families create eye-catching photo albums, one thing that I notice in many family albums is the lack of photographs that have both mum and child featured. The reason for this is that most of the time it’s mum who is the photographer. We see plenty of Dad and the kids but not many of mum and the kids. And this is unfortunate. Any time I raise this issue with mothers they reply with something like “The kids photos are the most important thing for now; I don’t need photos of me”. But what this well intentioned mum could be doing is depriving her kids of great photographic memories for her children. Your kids when they are grown will want photos of you and them together. Kids alone don’t make a complete family; you need to be in their photos too! The answer to this dilemma is simple; your camera’s self timer.
Almost all cameras have a self timer these days and they are nearly always easy to operate. We find that most people are aware that their camera has a self-timer but they infrequently use it, often they have never bothered to figure out how it works or just aren’t very motivated for being in the photo....remember your kids when you are gone. Another potential barrier for using the self timer is that you need to have some solid object to put your camera on and feel confident it is not going to fall off. You can improvise with objects on hand but this is where a lightweight portable tripod is invaluable. There are tripods these days that fold up to fit in your pocket, so they don’t have to be a burdensome piece of equipment to lug around. They are a great investment and not too expensive.