five simple tips

***disclaimer:  i am NOT a professional photographer***

i've been getting a lot of questions about my camera gear and my photography so i decided to write a post on how to take better pictures of your kids.  
these are just a few things i learned that have improved my picture taking ability as a parent.  three years ago, i was your typical new mom that obsessively tried to capture every single moment of my baby on camera without knowing a single thing about photography.   today, i still obsessively take pictures of my two kids but my pictures look much better than when i first started.

first things first, lower your expectations.  low expectations = high success rate. if you have a certain photo opp in mind, make sure your kids are well fed and rested.  if they just aren't cooperating put the camera down, give them a snack, and play with them before attempting it again. if all else fails, try again another day.  if you have a one year old and three year old like me, don't expect miracles. relax and play with your kids.  happy kids = the best pictures.  those are the pictures that you will cherish the most.

      [not a happy camper.  snack lightened his mood but not completely so i settled for a back image.]

i have spent countless hours researching online and reading my camera's manual (yes, you should do that too.  in fact, your camera manual is the best place to start learning photography).  there's no technical jargon in this post.  we'll save that for another day.  today, i will share five very simple tips that have helped improved my photography.

1. Turn off flash and find natural light!
there is a time and place for flash and it's NOT indoors or at night time. if you're a newbie at taking pictures, please turn off your flash - at all times.  it's unflattering and produces a deer-in-the-headlights expression on little ones (and adults, too.) 

if you turn off flash, where can you find light?  well, try to go outdoors. but avoid anytime near noon where the sun is directly above you.  there is a pretty big misconception that a bright sunshine-y day is best for pictures. absolutely not.  unless you know what you are doing, that will most likely result in unflattering pictures.   the direct sunlight creates very ugly shadows across the face and the bright light usually leads to squinted eyes.  not pretty.  if it's a hot sunny day, wait until the last hour of sunlight.  The sun will be low enough that it will not create harsh shadows and you will get the softest, most beautiful golden light - trust me, you won't regret it. 

[flash on.  not flattering.]                                                                                    [flash off.  much better.]

if going outside is not an option, open up as many windows as possible or direct your kids toward a window.  it's usually best to have to the light source behind you (the picture-taker) so that the subject is well lit.

another very important point when taking pictures indoors or in low light settings is to make sure you hold your camera steady.  the slightest movement of your hand creates a very blurry picture.  if possible, set your camera down on a table or prop it up on something like a book, a chair, or even better, a tripod.

2. Vary your perspective
try to think outside the box. instead of getting another portrait head shot of your kid, get down on the ground or up on a chair.  it'll make the picture much more interesting.  pictures taken while standing can get boring.  change it up!  i frequently get down on my belly to capture a shot of my kiddos.

[on my knees taking this shot]

 [on my belly with the camera resting on the floor to keep the shot steady]

along the same lines, occasionally step away from the natural tendency to only take pictures of your child's face.   yes, they are absolutely cute but it's okay to move away from their face and get creative.  

[no face = interesting new perspective]

3. Avoid the center
when you're just starting out, it's tempting to put your kids smack in the center of the frame.  however, this can produce rather static and boring images.  one of the ways to counteract this is what is called "the rule of thirds."  basically, you split the image into thirds (3x3), both horizontally and vertically, and you try to place your subject on one of the imaginary points of intersections.  so for example, in the picture below, my daughter's head is on an imaginary point of intersection instead of directly in the middle of the entire frame.   do i always follow this rule?  absolutely not.  but it's a great way to make your pictures look more interesting.

4. Clear clutter or background noise
sometimes you want to capture real life - the mess, the chaos, the clutter.

 [deliberately showing the mess in this shot]

but most of the time you want a clean, simple image without all that background noise.  before taking a picture, take a moment to scan the area and move all the clutter and mess away from the frame.  no, you don't have to have a clean house to take nice pictures.  if that were the case, i'd be in trouble.   just simply move toys, trash, laundry to the side before snapping away.  in the same light, be aware of people in the background that you don't want in the picture.  wait until they are out of the frame or move a few feet to the left or right so you only have your child and not some stranger in the image.  in other words, be aware of your surroundings.

            [too much background noise!]                                       [wait for people to move.  much better.]

5. Focus on the eyes
unless you are deliberately focusing elsewhere - on a toy or baby's itty bitty toes, always focus on the subject's eyes.

 [deliberately focused on blocks]

[accidentally focused on his right hand]                                        [focused on his eyes]

in the left image above, the subject does not really stand out.   his face is out of focus and the only thing in focus is his right hand.  that draws attention to his finger which is not what i want.    in the right image, you are automatically drawn to his eyes which makes his entire face stand out.

but how do you get your camera to focus specifically on the eyes?  well, in short, you need to understand your camera's Autofocus Points. autofocus points are those little dots or squares that you see when you look through your camera's viewfinder. when you press the shutter halfway, the points being used [the area is it focusing on] will light up briefly.  basically, you need to use those dots to focus the picture on the eyes.   but that's another topic for another day.

so in review, my mommy photography tips are: 1. turn off flash and find natural light, 2. vary your perspective, 3. avoid the center, 4. clear clutter or background noise, and 5. focus on the eyes.  the only way to get better is to practice, practice, practice!  luckily in this day of digital photography there's nothing to lose with taking lots of pictures.  unlike film, you can just delete all those horrible practice shots and just keep the good ones. so go out there and snap away.  children grow so fast, all we really are left with are pictures.


what camera/lens do you use? 
i use a Canon Rebel XS and alternate between the kit lens and a 50mm f1.4 lens. i would really love to upgrade my body to a Canon 5D Mark III, but alas, it's way out of my budget.

what software/editing programs do you use?
i use Adobe Lightroom to edit my pictures.  i love Lightroom but it is a bit pricey and takes some time to learn to use the program. if you do not have the time or money to invest in editing software, i highly recommend Picmonkey.  it's a free photo editing website and has tons of great features.