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11 Tips for Getting Better Photos of Big Kids

IT’S SATURDAY!

Kids figure out from an early age what a camera is and what you as a parent want them to do when it is held up in front of them. My baby is only 10 months old but when her dad holds his phone up to her face she turns into a giant smiling and winking goofball. Addie humored me for a long time with genuine smiles and poses, but somewhere in the last two years she became an uncooperative ham and getting a natural photo of her (sometimes even a photo of her at all) has proved to be my greatest challenge.

When parents hire me to capture their families, generally their biggest request is a nice photo of their kids looking normal. Now that may sound harsh, but I know first hand that kids act differently for other people, especially photographers. If I can build up a rapport with a client’s child, pull them off to the side and exercise a few tried and true tricks I’ve learned and developed over the years I can usually give the parents exactly what they were hoping for.

But let’s be honest, we don’t all have the hundreds of dollars it takes to hire a photographer to follow us everyday to capture our kids at their very best, that’s our job as the parents behind the camera. If you can learn to think about how to get a really good photo before it even comes time to take one? You’re two steps ahead of your child who refuses to say cheese, pizza or any other request you make of them. There’s less rebellion from your kids, less missed or messed up shots by you and more quality photos with less effort.

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  • Assess the situation 1 of 11
    Assess the situation
    What's the lighting like? Where's the best light coming from? Can you position yourself towards the good light (like a window seat in a restaurant?) The more you take pictures the more natural it becomes to put yourself in the best position to get the best light and the best shot. As soon as you've found your spot, figure out your settings. Do you want a lot of background blur? Do you want close shots or wide? Do you need to change your white balance?
  • Catchlight 2 of 11
    Catchlight
    One of the most important things you can get in a portrait is a catchlight in your child's eyes. This is where assessing the situation is so important, figure out how you can get light into your child's eyes. Is it a window behind you? A light? Last resort is a flash. Without the catchlight you can end up with completely lifeless and dark eyes, no child I know is lifeless and dark.
  • Set a timer 3 of 11
    Set a timer
    If your kid hates having their picture taken, set a timer. If they're wearing a particular outfit or it's a particularly beautiful day or Grandma Lola sent a sweater that you need evidence of tell them they only have to accommodate the camera for 10 minutes. When the timer goes off they're off the hook and hopefully you have the shot. Be sure you have your settings and light right before you begin or you'll be wasting part of your 10 minutes futzing with your camera.
  • You don’t have to get their face 4 of 11
    You don't have to get their face
    Can you tell Addie is making a horribly grumpy face in this photo? Neither can I. But it's one of my favorites, it's hanging on my wall. Even though it doesn't have her face in it, it encompasses everything about her at the very moment it was taken. Ruby slippers and chipped fingernails...that's 2009 in a nutshell.
  • Take your head out from behind the camera 5 of 11
    Take your head out from behind the camera
    Staring at a camera in front of someones face is either A) boring or B) terrifying. Frame up your shot and focus, then get your face out from behind the camera. Talk to your kids, make them laugh, get them to talk to you, it's the best way to get a natural looking photo of them and keep them comfortable.
  • Be sneaky 6 of 11
    Be sneaky
    If your kids are playing on the floor put your camera in your lap or right in front of you and snap at random. Sometimes you can get really interesting angles, points of focus or facial expressions by accident.
  • Can you see my eye? 7 of 11
    Can you see my eye?
    If you have a DSLR and you're able to get close with it, ask your child if they can see your eye through the lens. This little trick won't work so well with a 50mm but it works great with a lot of other lenses that can focus up close. It works better on younger kids and you'll get less mileage out of it with older kids but it's worth a try if they won't give you the time of day. If you need a good hearty laugh out of an adult? This works fantastically well.
  • 1, 2, 3, open! 8 of 11
    1, 2, 3, open!
    This trick works if you're in the bright sunlight and everyone is squinty or if you need eyes wide open with a natural smile. Ask your child to close their eyes and think of something wonderful. Tell them to keep thinking of that wonderful thing and on the count of three you want them to open their eyes. This one works really well for teens who are nervous about cameras as well.
  • What’s coming out of your head? 9 of 11
    What's coming out of your head?
    Pay attention to the background. Do you have a pole, branch or other strange object (like a pink and yellow ball) jutting out the top of your kids head? You may not notice anything right away but when you see that your child has antlers in a favorite family photo, you'll be wishing you would have seen it sooner and had them take a little step to the side.
  • Go long 10 of 11
    Go long
    If you have a zoom lens stay back from the action, especially outside, and zoom in. You'll be unobtrusive and chances are your child will act far more natural if they don't know they have a camera pointed at them.
  • Take a break 11 of 11
    Take a break
    You don't have to have your camera up in front of you all the time, nor do you have to take a photo of your kids at every zoo exhibit. Pick the ones with the best light and the best surroundings and your day will be documented. Just because we have digital cameras that can take 2,000 photos doesn't mean we should. Some of the wisest words I heard on this (and that changed the way I shoot) were from Me Rah Koh "Imagine you only have two rolls of film, 70 exposures, what would be most important for you to capture?" It only takes one really good shot (either planned out or lucky) to remember a day or moment forever.

Find more Casey on her blog, twitter, Pinterest, Flickr and facebook.

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