If you're a parent then you probably take snaps of your little ones all the time, mostly on your phone. It's so easy to grab it quickly and click away and they do a great job. But they do have their limitations and it can be really frustrating if it doesn't focus straight away and you miss what you were hoping to photograph!
Do you ever think 'I'd love to get some better photos, that really capture them well?'
They grow up so fast that it's really important to document those moments in their lives with something more than just a 'snap'.
These days lots of people have a DSLR or other good quality camera but perhaps it's gathering dust at the back of a cupboard somewhere, the instruction manual never read and the shutter barely clicked
My advice would be to dig it out, dust it off and have a go.
A better quality camera gives you advantages over a mobile phone with things like control of depth of field, faster focusing and a choice of lenses. But there is also a skill to getting good photographs of children, even if you've got a good camera. Here are some of my tips
1) Get down to their level
I'm 6' 3" and the world looks very different from my perspective than from that of a child. So when I'm out on a photoshoot I'll spend a lot of the time crouching down, getting to their eye-level. The world looks very different from this point of view and you get photographs that feel much more part of the child's world
2) Birds eye view
So, having just given you a rule I'm now telling you to break it!! Well, I think all good rules are there to broken and there are times when a shoot looking down from above can create a wonderful image
This is one of our our eldest daughter and I think that in this situation, looking directly down at her, it feels as though you get this wonderful glimpse into her world
3) Let them play
I think the biggest compliment anyone can pay me about my family photography is when they say 'Oh, you've really captured their personality'. For me, this comes from letting them be themselves and encouraging them to play. You might be there with your camera but if children are playing they tend to be much more relaxed and after a few minutes they forget about the camera. This gives you a wonderful opportunity to get totally natural shots of them doing the things they love
In this second shot the girl and her brother were running around in their grandparents garden and then she decided she wanted to do some jumps. Sometimes you have to be patient but I think it's worth it in the end!
4) No 'Cheeeeese'!!!
One of the greatest traditions of photography is looking at the camera and saying 'cheese'. I've no idea where it came from but I really wish it would go back there again!
If you've looking for natural smiles of people then asking them to say cheese is very unlikely to be successful. In fact, with young children, it often leads to them closing their eyes and gritting their teeth, perhaps not the look you were going for!
So, how do you get natural smiles?
Well, tip no 3 is a big part of it. Let them play, let them have fun and be patient.
In some ways it can be harder for me on a photoshoot because often the children are slightly vary of me, wondering why their parents have got them dressed up, taken them out somewhere with this man with the camera and why can't they stay at home and watch Paw Patrol?!?!
I always say to the parents 'have fun and play'. The more you do that the more everyone forgets about the camera and when you get smiles they're of the natural variety. You can apply the same approach to photographing your own children
Thinking about the composition of your photographs can elevate them from a nice photo to a great photo and there are a few things to think about here
One of the classic rules of photographic composition is the rule of thirds. If you imagine your viewfinder divided into three columns and three rows then where these lines meet you have 4 points of intersection. Trying to get the subject of the photo on one of these points puts them on 'the third' (as in the photograph above)
This tends to make for a more interesting shot and give the impression of someone either coming into or out of the shot.
Have a play around with the subject dead centre in your frame or to one side and see which you prefer
6) Focus on the eyes
There are sayings about the eyes being the gateway to the soul and certainly, in a photograph, you have a much better sense of connection with the subject if the eyes are in focus
The aperture and lens that you're using will determine how much more of the subject (and photo) is in focus. But as the person viewing the image your eye is drawn to their eye and it really makes the photograph
7) Depth of field and shutter speed
If you're using something like a DSLR camera then you have a lot more control over the image then you do with a mobile phone.
When kids are running around then it's easy to get blurred photographs so this is where using a fast shutter speed can help, probably at least 1/250th of a second
The aperture that you use will effect the depth of field, i.e how much of it is in focus. A wider aperture gives you a shallow depth of field with often gives the background a blurred look. By limiting just some of what is in focus the eye is drawn to the subject matter and it makes a much more pleasing photo
In this photograph the girl in the centre of the frame is in focus but the bluebells behind here aren't. You still get the contrast between her yellow coat and the colour of the flowers but it's her that you look at
Just going back to the rule of thirds, you might be thinking 'but she's in the middle of the image?!' You'd be right, she is horizontally but it also works vertically and her eyes are about a third of the way down which has the same effect of giving a more balanced composition
On a beautiful sunny day it's lovely to get outside and have some fun with the kids, but for great photographs too much sun can be a bad thing. You can get really harsh shadows in full sun and people tend to squint a lot. The eyebrows also do a wonderful job of shading the eyes on a sunny day making it hard to pick out in a photograph
Now this doesn't mean you shouldn't take photos on a sunny day but it's best to look for open shade. This means that the subject isn't directly in the sun but is looking out of the shade towards the open sky
Using a wider aperture will help to avoid the background being too distracting but you can also use it to enhance the photograph.
In this example, although the background is blurred because of the shallow depth of field it still gives a wonderful wash of colour with compliments what the little girl is wearing
10) Be in the photograph too!!
Now, for this you maybe need to enlist some help(!) but I think the best photographs are the ones that show Mum & Dad too.
If you're both confident with the camera then you can take it in turns but I also think it's a great idea to get someone else to take some of all of you (perhaps a photographer!!)
It's lovely to get great photographs of your children, but it's even better to get great photographs of the whole family
I hope these hints and tips have been useful
If you'd like to see some more of my family photography then please take a look at my galleries for location shoots and at home shoots