I wanna tell you how to take better images of your own children, because taking photos of your own children is hard. So much harder than taking photos of a family you’ve just met. I learned this the hard way. And I didn’t even realize that I was making all the mistakes I never make with clients until I had it pointed out for me by one of my best friends, Michaela during this recent shoot with my own daughters Stella and Mila.
I’m gonna share the story of my shoot with my girls as it was a big eye-opener for me. A real learning curve and by sharing it I hope it’ll give you ideas and an explanation of why you might be failing yourself taking images of your own kids. Cause the blame is not on them, it’s on you.
Now in hindsight I should have known all of this, because I never ever behave this way when shooting my clients. I let them be who they are, I tell the parents to relax and leave their kids to explore on their own. And then I shoot. Play along, get goofy. Lightly lead them into the places and positions I want them to be in. Make the shoot pleasant. Take my time.
Yet, with my own kids, all of that had somehow flown straight out the window.
On a beautiful but cloudy autumn day we went to a park in Laajasalo, Helsinki to take some images of my own kids as their birthdays were coming up, Mila turning one and Stella four. So I had this whole shoot planned, I had actually been planning it for weeks: what they would wear, (for that we went shopping together with Michaela as she helped me match Mila’s clothes to Stella’s) in what kind of a location I’d want them to be, to do and so on. I had a vision in my head of all the images I’d like them to create, not realizing that this shoot would be a big eye-opener for me and a learning curve.
A lesson which I’m now gonna share with you all.
So of we went, kids were fed, Mila had her nap, everything was going great!
As I started to first take images of Stella, I quickly noticed that she wasn't paying attention to me at all and was just running around, excited about the park and all of the fallen leaves from the nearby maple trees.
I knew this was to be expected because the kids are familiar with me and used to me taking their photo on almost a daily basis either with my phone or camera. So, she’s just gonna ignore me as per usual as she doesn’t really understand or can’t tell the difference when you dress them up with pretty outfits you’ve been planning for hours and take them to a location for a special shoot.
After a few minutes into our shoot, Michaela quietly pointed out and said, “Do you realize how many instructions you’re giving her?”
I had no idea. No wonder Stella wasn’t concentrating as I was giving her like a million different directions! That was awful, I felt awful.
After stepping back a bit and addressing the situation to myself, I noticed where I was going wrong the whole time. I’m also familiar with them. Meaning I forgot the side of me that is the professional photographer and act just like a typical parent would behave trying to take images of their own children.
So then I forced myself to relax a bit and remember all those little tricks and ways of making the kids listen and then slowly the shoot started rolling out better.
In the end I now have beautiful images of my kids, acting naturally and looking just like themselves.
Stella looking all curious, witty and playful big sister and Mila being the quiet, observant little one.
Now, I’ve put these tips together for you guys, because I made all the mistakes you shouldn’t make.
Scroll down for two bonus tips!
1. Forget Pinterest
When taking photos of your own kids you need to learn how to let go of your own expectations. Those specific ideas and poses in your head that you might’ve gotten from Pinterest or from your friend’s Instagram post.
You want to make the shoot enjoyable for the kids, an adventure and let’s be honest, them not listening or turning to look at the camera when you call their name dozens of times might, sorry WILL get annoying really quickly.
Don’t get me wrong I love Pinterest, but instead of the poses just soak up the inspiration for the clothing, hairstyles, locations or how the light is coming to the photo.
2. Don’t direct
As I mentioned in the first tip, calling their names and trying to make them look at the camera will just make the situation really frustrating for you and the kids. “Stand up straight”, “Don’t make a grin like that”, “Stay still for a while” etc.
Avoid giving them any directions and instead of that just let them be themselves and explore their surroundings. Kids love to explore nature, touch things and just… have fun.
This way you’ll have a relaxed and fun experience for everyone.
3. Have fun making memories
An easy way to engage your kids and really make them smile and laugh is with a song or a simple game.
What are your kids favorite songs, nursery rhymes? Ask them to sing along or for you.
Many rhymes also have hand gestures and by exaggerating them and being a bit silly yourself, kids will genuinely interact with you and start laughing. This gives you the perfect opportunity to snap those priceless images of your child smiling, authentically.
As one thing you might not realize is that when taking a picture or when having your picture taken you’ll also attach a memory, a feeling to that photo. I’m not meaning the milestone or the reason you’re out there taking photos in the first place, I mean that feeling afterwards when seeing that photo, you’ll always go back to that specific moment and how you were feeling on that exact moment.
Will you remember being annoyed and frustrated because nothing went like you planned? Will you remember the instructions you gave to your kids to look at the camera?
Or will you remember the pure joy and all the fun you had that day? The spontaneous hugs and kisses between the siblings? Those memories you want to create.
See the set of pictures of my two girls above? I had them sit on a blanket and asked my older girl Stella to sing their family nursery rhyme with her little sister. I know that they both love doing this at home, so I was so happy to see that even in front of the camera they were just as giggly and smiling as they’d be in our living room.
When trying to make the child to look at the camera, ask them a silly question like “What color is Mommy’s hair?”, “Can you see Mommy’s eye through the camera?” or “What’s your favorite ice-cream flavor?”
That usually makes them concentrate for a moment (that's usually all you need!)
If you’re trying to take images of more than one kid, try to have them engage in each other like asking “Where’s your sister’s nose?”, “What color are your brother’s eyes?” or “Can you tickle her belly button?”
That will make them interact with each other which usually leads to more giggles and adorable captures.
5. Shoot in the shade
One would think that the easiest light to shoot in is in the sunlight, with clear skies. But a harsh sunlight creates harsh shadows and makes it hard for the kids to not squint.
A guaranteed way to take a great photo of your kids is to have them in the shade. This keeps them from squinting from the bright light and you’ll have a beautiful, even light on them. If you can’t find a shade then just try to have the sun behind them or little to the side.
Scroll down for two bonus tips!
6. BONUS TIP: Ask for help
There’s nothing wrong in asking for help. Whether it’s the other parent, a friend or a relative, help is always welcomed.
Whether you’re taking photos of only one kid, they could keep an eye on her/him while you’re switching lenses or they can do the goofy singing and dialogue while you’re moving around capturing all those little details. Or if you’re shooting more than one kid, they can keep an eye on the other/others having a break from the shoot.
For example during our shoot Michaela kept an eye on Stella and entertained her so that she wouldn't fall into the pond next to us, while I was taking photos of just Mila. She also goofed around and made sure Mila was warm.
Thank you for that, dear!
7. BONUS TIP: Hire a professional
I hope my little tips were useful and will help you make taking photos of your kids a bit easier and a lot more fun for everyone!
The final piece of advice I want to give to you is to hire a professional. These tips were meant to help you create memories you’ll cherish for years to come. But for example once a year instead of being the taking the photos, step in front of the camera. Be IN the photos with your children as a whole family. Not just taking turns between the two of you parents. Forget all those excuses, ifs and buts. Your children won’t care your possible muffin top or whether you’re gonna lose it or not or if your isn’t done. They will think you look perfect as they love you the way you are and your kids will cherish those photos as they grow older as they can see you growing up WITH them.
Let me know in the comments if you found this post helpful and if you’d like me to make more of these types of guides and tutorial!