This week, I’ve been sharing tips and advice that I’ve discovered or learned over my years of practicing photography to help you take better pictures of your children. I’m not a professional, but I do enjoy getting the best possible photos I can of my family, and I’m always practicing and studying to get better.
Today is all about FRAMING YOUR PICTURE.
We’re not talking about getting your prints up on the walls, although that’s important. This “framing” is all about composing your shot, thinking about what the focus of the picture is, where you place your child or other subject in the image, and what you include or don’t include along with your subject.
#1. Don’t Kill Your Story, But Sometimes FILL THE FRAME
Each picture that means something to us generally has a story behind it, and sometimes that story is visible in the picture.
The photo from your 4-year-old’s birthday party wouldn’t be quite the same without the cake in the frame when he’s blowing out the candles. Sometimes you need the extra details or space around your subject to really capture the feeling or moment.
However, sometimes zooming in and filling up the whole picture with your child can bring you “into” the story even better. You capture the details and expressions more clearly without any distractions.
Using your zoom, moving in closer physically, or even cropping the picture later, you can fill your picture with your subject and bring interest to the shot.
Note: When photographing people, whether you are up close or far away, you want to FOCUS ON THEIR EYES. Most cameras have a grid or red squares in the view finder to show you exactly what’s in focus. So for most of your pictures, you want to make sure their eyes are in focus, or if they are farther away, at least their face is your focus. Their eyes will tell the story better than any other part of them.
#2. APPLY THE “RULE OF THIRDS”
This is probably the most basic composition technique that photographers use, and it is super simple to apply. However, the resulting images will be immediately more well-balanced and more interesting.
As the name implies, this rule has you mentally splitting your photo into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. This gives you nine sections on a grid, and four lines that intersect at four points in your picture.
By setting up your picture with your child or the important parts of your picture (such as your child’s eye, if you’re close up) on one of the intersecting points, you create a more pleasing and interesting picture (people have done studies and everything about this).
So rather than centering your child smack-dab in the middle of your picture, move them to the left or right a bit, and suddenly your picture looks better. Sounds crazy, maybe, but it’s true.
Now you don’t have to always do this, especially in taking portraits or group shots. It’s really more of a technique or “more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.” (Thank you, Captain Barbossa) 🙂
#3. KEEP SNAPPING, and know when to stop
I’ve watched people taking pictures of their kids go through all the fuss of setting up a nice shot – lighting is good, kids are smiling and interacting, their down low to get a better angle – and they take shots VERY, VERY SLOWLY, then pause to check each picture on the camera after taking each shot.
PLEASE don’t do this. You will miss great photo opportunities if you take too long and especially if you look away constantly. If you have a digital camera, and your kids are being cooperative, KEEP SHOOTING. Move around, talk to them to keep them focused, but KEEP SHOOTING. This is definitely important when you are trying to take pictures of tiny little ones that move constantly, or bigger little ones who will only sit still for so long.
Will you get some bad pictures doing this? Yes! I guarantee it. There will be half-blinks, complete blinks, ones where the child turns their head at JUST the last second (Josiah is good at that), and some where they aren’t all looking in the same direction.
That’s okay. There is a magic button on the camera or on your computer that will allow those to all go away – DELETE THEM. Because mixed in with some of those not-so-stellar shots will be great ones, beautiful ones, funny (but in a good way) ones.
Kids move quickly. You need to keep up.
Plus your children will only be content to be photographed for so long, especially if they have to sit still, but even if you are just capturing candids while they play. So snap a ton, then know when to back off and stop.
You don’t want your children to hate the sight of you with a camera because they fear the torture of having to pose for you or because you aren’t interacting with them as they play – you’re just taking pictures the whole time.
Sometimes, you need to put the camera down for their sake and yours.
Get your pictures, then go play.
If you do that, you’ll have no trouble with #4.
#4 GET INTO THE PICTURES
I know from personal experience that the person who always takes the pictures is the one who is in the fewest pictures. We’re busy capturing the moments for everyone, but when you look back at the day, it looks as though you weren’t even there. I mean, we KNOW we were, but what did we look like when our baby started walking?
So many moms are okay with NOT being in the pictures because we’re worried about how tired we look or our messy hair or our smudgy make-up or our weight or whatever our insecurity is. But here’s the thing: We have to stop and remember that someday, our kids are going to want pictures of us, no matter what we looked like at the moment. They want to see us enjoying the memories we made together.
My Grandma Charlotte hated to have her picture taken, and she was good at avoiding the camera. So, stubborn girl that I am, I made it a point to capture her as often as I could. I got good at stealthy shots and worked toward making her more comfortable with the camera. I’m so glad that I was persistent because since her death a couple of years ago, those few good pictures of her are priceless and any – yes, ANY – picture of her is treasured.
Learn how to use your camera’s timer and set it up on a tripod. Hand your camera off to someone who’s at least decent at using one. If all else fails, sure – take a selfie with your crew. But get in a shot or two!
Even if they aren’t perfectly composed, wonderfully lit, or amazingly flattering, your family will love every picture with you in it!
BONUS: Make it a point to get good, professional pictures at least once a year (or as often as you can). People think that I take professional-quality pictures, but I still contact my sister-in-law (Picture Bliss Photography) every so often and make an appointment for family pictures.
I know my limits. Using a tripod and timer for family pictures works fine at family functions and Christmas, but when I want really, really nice pictures, I call her. I understand that it can feel expensive, but if you want truly fabulous photos, you need someone with experience, better equipment, and more skill, and it’s worth it. Plus, you can always watch for specials, such as seasonal mini-sessions, or go in with your siblings on a full family shoot.
To review today: know when to zoom out and when to move in close to fill the frame; keep snapping, focusing on the eyes; try out that “Rule of Thirds” thing; and don’t be missing from the pictures.
Tomorrow I’m finishing up this series with a few more bits of advice, including dipping my toe into explaining “manual” mode!
Top feature picture (the “taking a picture” picture) courtesy of Picture Bliss Photography.