A Dad’s Guide to Photographing Your Own Kids

Everyone knows that photographing small children is extremely challenging. But you haven’t lived until you’ve attempted to photograph your kids.

And let’s face it, photographers use their kids like test dummies, so you might as well get some decent photos while trying out that new Joe McNally Ezybox (it’s awesome, by the way). Heck, I think some of us photographers had kids for the sole purpose of testing out new gear. By the way, have you ever asked a seven-year-old to hold a softbox in place for you while you attempt to photograph their five-year-old sibling? You don’t know what you’re missing.

Anyway, not all hope is lost, and it is possible to take pictures of your kids (and other fantastic people’s kids too if you so desire). In this article, I will give you some simple tips that have helped me create better photos of my little angels.

Don’t Waste Your Time Trying To Pose Them

One of the biggest mistakes we make when photographing kids is thinking that we have any amount of control over the situation at all. We use phrases like, “smile,” or “turn your head this way,” assuming that we will be listened to in any logical way. Have you ever told a five-year-old to smile? If you do, the face they will often resemble Gollum staring at his precious ring. It ain’t pretty. The same goes for posing them. Tell a seven-year-old to move their arm, face the camera, move a foot, or whatever, and they will contort themselves like a gymnast going for gold, often ending up in the completely wrong direction. So, my advice is to ditch completely or at least scale way back on attempting to pose them.

Instead, it’s much better to let them play and be themselves and become a part of their current crazy adventure. If you want them to smile, say or do something funny. This is usually not hard to do with little kids, and you will get much more realistic and pleasing results. Don’t be afraid to get down to their level – literally. Capture them from their sightline, not yours. And while you’re at it, you might as well brush up on your Cookie Monster voice and start stretching too because you are going to be squatting on the ground with your camera for a while they engage in an epic battle of Autobots versus Decepticons .

Shamelessly Bribe Theme

We took our Christmas photos a few years back at the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, which is located in Oyster Bay, one of the prettiest areas on Long Island. It is the former home of Teddy Roosevelt and a popular haunt for photographers, especially in the fall. Our kids were five and three at the time, so we knew it would be a challenge to get any good images. But my wife and I decided to give it a try instead of just doing the sane thing and hiring a photographer.

Anyway, the sun was setting on this idyllic spot beyond the hill, and although we had already got some good shots, I had a spark of inspiration to photograph them holding hands with the sun setting behind them. After about 10 minutes of them half-ignoring me, staring at me with vacant eyes, and wandering around in circles picking up leaves, I was running out of time and patience. I finally said: “If you let daddy take these photos of you, when we get home, I will give you all the candy you want!” My wife was not happy, of course, but you gotta do what you gotta do to get the shot, am I right? And because of this, I was able to get a good three minutes of cooperation out of them. I know better nowadays and always carry a bag of treats with me, since bribbing them in real-time works much better than promising something later.

Bring Extra Memory: You’re Gonna Need It

Did you take enough pictures of them? The answer is always no. Because no matter how many pictures you take of kids, most of them will get trashed, especially if you are capturing a group of them together. Someone in the group will invariably be looking away, picking their nose, caked in dirt or goo, or blinking. Even if it’s just my two kids together, one of them will manage to make a weird face, look away, stick a hand out, or strangle the other one in about 99.8% of the photos. So, I suggest you get a camera with a fast burst mode (preferably one built for extreme sports), set that sucker to continuous high, and buy some stock in Sandisk while you’re at it because you are going to be wading through 200 versions of the same photo to find one good one to send to Grandma.

Don’t Let Them Break Your Spirit

It’s amazing how perceptive kids are. They are certainly much more perceptive than adults, and at this point, I’m almost positive that my kids can smell fear and feed off of rising levels of anxiety. The minute you begin to get stressed, anxious, or angry, they will start to slap you around like a cat that just found a mouse in the backyard. And the last thing you want to do is show them that you are losing control of the situation because it will be impossible to get any good photos once they realize they’ve broken you. Above all, you must keep your cool, and stay calm. This is not so hard to do when photographing someone else’s kids, but we parents know that it becomes exponentially more difficult when dealing with our children. So, before the shoot, you might want to meditate, or do some yoga or something, because you’re going to need the patience that your wife exhibits daily with them to get any passable photos.

Take a Ton of Photos Before They Realize You and Your Camera Are Lame

When your kids are little, everything is fun. My seven-year-old son just absolutely loves vacuuming the kitchen and taking out the garbage. The day I realized that he could take out the garbage by himself, without any assistance from me, I cried a little. But this window of opportunity is very small and needs to be exploited. Just the other day, for instance, I told my kids that we were going in the yard and I needed their help with “something,” to which my son replied: “Ugh, this isn’t another camera thing, is it?! ” See? My window is already closing.

One way to postpone the inevitable is by using reverse psychology. For instance, my five-year-old daughter already often ignores me and my camera, so if she doesn’t respond when I ask for a picture, I just say something like: “Don’t worry, I will just take some portraits of your brother. You can go play!” This always works, because as much as they don’t want to be photographed, the very thought of the other kid getting special attention always trumps their desire to be left alone. This method works better than bribes and has become my go-to move when I want to test out the bokeh on my new lens or just tweaked the continuous autofocus settings in my camera.

Another technique is to take the camera everywhere, which, let’s face it, you are already doing. Do the kids want to go for a bike ride? Great! I will get the camera! Now, ride towards me from the other end of that path while I test the AF tracking in this bad boy! Do it like 20 more times. This is fun! Playing in the snow? Awesome! Start building that snowman while I try every single exposure simulation mode to compare them. Eating dinner? No problem, I’m just going to video you as you chew. Lying on the couch watching TV? Perfect! Don’t mind me while I invade your personal space to take some more portraits of you staring blankly at the television screen! Gotta zoom in and see how sharp this new lens is!

So, don’t be shy, and make sure you’ve got your camera with you at all times before they become completely embarrassed by you and run from you in public spaces.

A Final Word of Advice

I love my kids more than anything in the world. But I also love my Canon EOS R5. (I mean, have you ever shot with one of those things? It’s life-changing!)

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah, kids and photos. Here’s the way I see it. Taking tons of photos of my kids is a win-win. Sure, the time will come when I will have to bribe them with money instead of candy, and sure, I’m the dad who is always nerding out with a camera at family events, vacations, the zoo, the dentist’s office, etc. , but eventually, my family and I will look back on those 300 or 400 terabytes of photos (once we’ve sorted through them) and treasure the moments in time we captured together while they were still young and cute.

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