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Tips for taking professional-quality photos of your kids

Children grow up fast. It's important to capture images of your small children today because it seems like tomorrow they are grown. Parents who have already been down this road can attest — it's difficult to get a child dressed and ready for a nice backyard photo shoot. Then, when the camera is ready the child often is not. Instead of the wonderful expressions we all hope to get, we see sour faces and disagreeable attitudes through the lens.

It's frustrating.

As a professional photographer and a father of two daughters, it took me a little while to learn the tricks to taking good pictures of children — and the key is this:
Knowing your kids is more important than knowing photography.

Camera technology has come so far that practically anyone can take a good picture. Automatic focus, light meters and settings have made photography remarkably easy. Getting your child to cooperate? That's still hard. Rather than trying to set up a photo shoot, try some of these methods instead...

  1. Take pictures when your child is already happy — Let your child do the things that make him or her happy. Let them play with their favorite toys, their pets, their mom or dad, their siblings, and then get your camera ready. Now you should be able to capture the smiles and laughter that come from genuine joy instead of the stiff and labored smiles of a child who just wants to "get this over with." If you would like, you can even clean up the area where they like to play and dress them in something you'd like them to wear for the photos. The pictures you take will be "the real deal."
  2. Be sneaky — if you have a decent telephoto lens you can shoot pictures of your child when he or she doesn't even know it. Peek around the corner and get them when they are being the most natural. Hint: Don't try this with teens, they don't like it.
  3. Be ready at all times — Always have your camera ready. How many times has your child done something "cute" and you found yourself wishing the camera were within arm's reach. Well, keep it within arm's reach and you'll get more of those moments.
  4. Photograph the "bad" expressions — Children are very expressive, especially the little ones. Don't be afraid to capture the frowns as well as the smiles.
  5. Zoom in — Frequently we try to include too much in the frame when it is our child's face that we are really interested in photographing. Get in tight. Make the eyes your focal point and start shooting.
  6. Be quick — Check the user's guide that came with your camera. Set your ISO to its highest setting and the shutter speed to its fastest setting. This will make your camera faster and make it possible for you to capture those really quick moments of your children in action.
  7. Don't be afraid to get dirty — If they are on the floor, get down there with ‘em. You have to go where the action is.

As you shoot you will learn what works and what doesn't when taking pictures of your children. Hey, some of the most famous photos in history were captured because the photographer just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Photography techniques can be mastered by anyone, but you know your kids best. Use your knowledge of them to be in the right place at the right time and take photos that only you can take.

Written by Chip, the father of two school-age children who can't escape the camera.

September 2011