Against my better judgment, I bought soccer portraits. I knew the set would be staged, the expressions would be forced, and the pictures would in no way capture the energy and personalities of my two little boys. But I couldn’t resist the “buddy pic”- a photo of both of them in their soccer shirts, back to back, looking like best buds. The photo is ok. They are smiling, and cute. But it doesn’t look like them.
With digital cameras, it is easier than ever to get great photos of your kids- photos that capture them doing the things they love, looking natural and having a good time. You don’t need expensive equipment or editing software- just a camera, soft natural light, and a bit of patience. Here are eight tips to help you capture a portrait you’ll love.
1. Set your camera to “burst” mode– Also known as continuous high speed, this function allows you to capture several images in rapid succession. Children are in constant motion. This allows you to capture that split second reaction that encompasses a lifetime- such as two brothers running together on a fall day.
2. Follow them as they play– When I photograph a child, I try not to put them in posed situations. I like to follow them as they play, build a rapport, and then take pictures. It requires a little patience, but I think the results are worth it. You can look at the three photos below, and see the walls coming down between me and the boy as I talked to him and gained his trust. As I photographed him, I never said “smile” or “say cheese” (has anyone ever got a natural looking photo that way?).
3. Turn the sound off on your camera– If you are trying to catch a child in his natural element, the “beep” of a camera signaling his photo is being taken is going to completely shatter that moment.
4. Take turns using the camera– This is probably my best trick for connecting with a child and getting him on board with having his picture taken. No child can resist playing with a gadget- especially a gadget they are not usually allowed to touch. I tell kids if they let me take a picture of them, I will let them take a picture of me. If you are nervous about the prospect of a child touching your camera, there are several ways to ensure the safety of your camera. I have a couple of older cameras I let them use that I am not concerned with them breaking. Also, when a camera is mounted to a tripod, or placed in a steady position on a table, all the child needs to do is push the button to take a photo. Here are a couple of shots from such a scenario- one of my subject that I took, and one taken of me.
5. Let them move/plan an activity for stillness– Kids do not want to stand still and pose. When they are asked to do this, the pictures usually look stiff, lifeless, and without joy. Let them move! With that burst setting, you can capture some really fun shots. If you’d like them to sit still, give them something to do- read a book, play with a puzzle, draw a picture. Be patient and wait for special moments. Either back away and quietly shoot from afar, or engage them in a talk about what they are doing- not about being photographed.
6. Use an element of surprise– Find a small fancy box, and place a little treasure inside of it. As they examine and open the box, you are sure to get a cute pic or two.
7. Embrace imperfection– sure, we all want the ideal photo with perfect hair, no stains on clothes, smiles on faces, and expert lighting. They are kids! They are going to get messy. Their clothes are going to get dirty. Their hair is going to fussed up. That usually means they are having fun.
8. Stop photographing them– I know, this is hard. And I’m not just saying that- my oldest son asked me to stop taking so many pictures of him. They are adorable. We want to capture every moment, and technology has made it so we can. The less you photograph them, the more they will cooperate when it is important.