We’re snap-happy! Our digital cameras let us take tons of photos of our favorite subjects (our children, who else?) almost anytime, anywhere. But sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to getting memorable shots of our tots.
Shooting everything can spoil a moment and drain the spontaneity out of a picture, says National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore, author of Photographing Your Family. He explains that a camera can act as a barrier. “I shot my first child’s birth and missed the whole thing,” he says. “I didn’t experience it.” Sartore left the camera home for number two and “cried like a baby.”
You don’t have to be a pro to get pro pictures. Sartore suggests thinking about what is most significant about your child to you. Does he imagine himself a superhero? Are stuffed animals part of her rich fantasy world? Try to capture a visual representation of those things. Here, Sartore shares his family photos and tips to help you create your own classy family photo album.
Fill the frame.
Many of us shoot from the same distance when we try to capture our kids at an event. Sartore suggests moving closer so that your child fills the entire frame before shooting. Then back up until your subject appears tiny in the frame and shoot again. “An old newspaper trick is to think about the wide shot, the medium shot, and the tight shot when you’re telling a story,” says Sartore. “It’s more of a complete job that way.”
Go flash free.
Most cameras allow you to override automatic settings. And most do very well in low light. That’s good, especially when it comes to the flash, which can make photos look harsh. For interiors, dare to go flash free — most of Sartore’s favorite photos were taken without one. When outside, shoot in indirect light, Sartore suggests; early morning and late afternoon are prime times.
Try high and low.
Changing your angle on the subject can dramatically improve your photos. Since kids start out low to the ground, it’s a good idea to get down on their level when taking pictures. Try a whole bunch of different angles: worm’s eye view, bird’s eye view, 360 degrees. You can also try turning the camera from horizontal to vertical for more variety.
Be aware of background.
Cluttered and busy backgrounds wreck pictures because they draw your eye away from the subject. Sartore often sets up his pictures from the rear forward. “If I can’t make the background look good, I move on.” He insists that taking just 30 seconds to consider how best to photograph your subjects will yield better pictures. Get into the habit of looking at the surroundings before you shoot and either minimizing them (if they’re a distraction) or incorporating them into the photo’s composition.
Snap spontaneous portraits.
To get a great shot, look for moments when your kids are sitting still, preoccupied with something else — like a puzzle or the computer. The spontaneity will yield more natural results. You may also want to think beyond the obvious. One of Sartore’s most poignant and unique “portraits” depicts the underside of feet — those of his baby son and wife.
Say something new.
Sartore suggests leaving clichés behind when you’re about to shoot. Instead of “Hold still” or “Say cheese,” try, “Show me what you’ve got in your hand.” You never know what will happen, but be ready to capture whatever comes your way.
Find your focus.
Some cameras let you get very close to your subject, which allows you to blur out other elements in the photograph and lead the viewer’s eye directly to what’s important. Sartore suggests using this technique when photographing your child’s hands or feet. “Focus on just a few toes or fingers — or that freshly pulled tooth — while keeping an eye on what’s in the background so it’s not distracting.”
Don’t shoot for perfection.
Take the time to make mistakes and experiment. Professional photographers like Sartore will take dozens of shots of every scene. “It’s amazing how a similar photo can have a completely different feel with a small adjustment of angle or slightly different timing,” he says.