Picture Perfect: 8 Tips for Great Baby and Child Photos
Pretty as a Picture
Children are naturally photogenic—so why do parents have a hard time getting great pictures of their little ones? Whether you’re taking snapshots with your camera or splurging on a professional portrait, you’ll get better results with these tips from award-winning portrait photographers.
Timing Is Everything
When scheduling a professional portrait session for a child, consider your child’s nap times and down times. “There are three times to photograph children: morning, morning and morning,” laughs Bob Horton of Creative Image Associates in Newark, Delaware. Horton, who’s been photographing children for 25 years, explains that while little ones can be photographed later in the day, it is much more difficult to capture good expressions with tired tots, especially in an unfamiliar place like a portrait studio. While it’s not a guarantee that your baby or child will be happy in the morning, it’s more likely that you’ll capture that sweet smile.
At home, grab the camera when your baby is sleeping. “Consider it an opportune time to take photographs,” says Megan Steffen, a professional photographer in San Francisco, California. “They are at their most peaceful and that will be conveyed in the picture.”
Dress for Success
Bright colors and large patterns draw attention away from the face; instead choose simple, solid-colored clothing. All children, from infancy, look classic in white, dark blue, or green, says Steve Theis, a Seaford, Delaware, photographer. Known as receding colors, these hues will make your child’s face the focus of the picture.
If you’re going to a studio, take several outfits in case a child has messes from leaky sippy cups, blow-out diapers, or spit up. If you’re planning a family photo, pack an extra set of clothes for Mom and Dad too, in case the accident includes your blouse or suit jacket.
Don’t be afraid to get involved in the portrait-taking process, says Joseph Korona, a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, photographer who’s had his own studio since 1982. “Talk to your photographer about the child’s interests and bring props from home,” suggests Korona. (A well-loved item from home can help children feel safe in an unfamiliar studio setting.)
“I can’t take credit for all the portraits I’ve taken that have been fantastic,” adds Theis. “It’s a team effort. I work with the parents to get what it is that they want in the portrait.”
If you’d like to try a different pose or elicit a certain expression, just ask. Horton agrees with Theis that parents should brainstorm for ideas with the photographer. “My goal is to give people what they really want, not what I think they want,” Horton says. As the customer and one who will hang the portrait in your home for years to come, you have the right to be involved in the shot. “If you don’t like something, just say so,” advises Korona.
Capture All Emotions
Your baby or child isn’t always happy and grinning from ear to ear. “It’s great to see smiley faces, but make sure to capture photos of the child in more serious moods, like when they’re occupied by a toy or book,” says Korona. Capture all of your child’s emotions—from silly to sad, grouchy to mischievous. You and your child will love to see those expressions later.
“I think that parents take the same types of photographs of their children too often,” says Steffen. “Mix it up! Find photos you love online or in books and try to recreate them. If you are in love with how your baby’s little fingers wrap around yours, capture it. Do you melt when you see your little one’s big blue eyes? Zoom in and start shooting.”
Keep It Simple
The most timeless portraits, whether candid or posed, are those that capture the essence of the child. In other words, all the other things in the picture should contribute to the subject. For example, a plain background is better than busy wallpaper. A baby holding a simple rattle photographs better than one surrounded by dozens of stuffed animals. “Be aware of your surroundings,” advises Steffen, suggesting that parents look around the child for garbage cans, wires, or tree branches in odd places before taking photos.
If you use a prop, it should be understated. “You want the subject to be primary,” Horton says. For example, if you dress your baby in a pink dress and she sits against a white background, don’t use a dark teddy bear as a prop. Instead, go with a white or a pastel bear.
Join the Photo
Some parents get so caught up in capturing cute ages and stages of their kids’ lives that they don’t have pictures that include themselves. Your children will enjoy photos of you holding them and interacting with them. Family photos are a great way to show kids how much they are loved.
Photograph others with the child, too. Have a big sister feed the baby, ask Grandpa to dance with his granddaughter, or capture a father and son playing ball together. As often as possible, get the whole family together for a portrait or offer to take a few pictures of your spouse with the kids. Including other people doing things with your child will help capture the child’s essence and personality, adds Korona.
Play with Perspective
Instead of taking all your pictures in the same format, think in terms of filling your image area with meaning, recommends Horton. “If the child is standing up, turn the camera. And move closer. Fill the viewfinder with meaningful content.” Steffen agrees, adding that parents shouldn’t be afraid to zoom in. “You know you love their little feet—so capture them,” she says.
Consider perspective, as well. For example, if the child is lying down, get at his or her level. “It makes the image more appealing,” Horton explains. Another fun technique is to place your child off-center in the frame, suggests Steffen.
Whenever possible, use lots of natural light when photographing. If it’s not necessary to use the flash, don’t, says Theis. Instead, move to another place, like outside or to a room with lots of windows, so that natural light will fill the picture. When Theis takes photos of his grandchildren, he moves everyone into a sunroom so that the natural light illuminates the pictures, giving the photographs a softer look.
But be careful, admonishes Korona. A big mistake people make is photographing a person in front of bright window. “You’ll get an underexposed photo and won’t be able to see the person’s face,” he says, recommending that parents instead position the subject against a medium-toned background.
When you look back at your kids’ childhoods, you don’t want to remember funny times, important days, and milestones and regret not capturing those moments with photographs. Keep a camera where it’s easily accessible—on top of the refrigerator or in the family room are good places. “Just be ready,” Theis says. “Have your camera nearby, and when the child starts doing something cute, just be able to grab it and snap it—and don’t worry about all this other stuff.”
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