If you are a parent with a passion for taking good photos of your kids, this guide will walk you through it and help to improve your skills.
Posed vs. Candid Shots
The first thing you might be asking is; “What do you mean by ‘candid’ and how is that going to help me take better photos of the kids?”
A majority of us are more familiar with traditional-style shots. These are where the photographer makes you sit in a particular way, facing the camera. More often than not they ask you to say “Cheese”, and you end up with a very unnatural-looking grin. In this style of posed photograph, the subject is very aware that their photograph is being taken.
The photographer is completely in control of most aspects of the shot and may direct the subject to get the shot they want. In a lot of cases, this way of taking photographs works perfectly well. Especially if it is for a styled shoot like glamour or fashion. A lot of people quite like this style of photography in weddings too, although a lot are now turning towards a more candid style of shooting.
What is Candid Photography?
With candid photography, the photographer has much less control over the shoot. They will have to move around a lot and the subject may not even be aware that they are being photographed.
The pay-off here is that you end up with much more natural moments and expressions. These are often moments that you would never capture if you were going down the traditional, posed route.
In the first photo, I am trying to control all aspects of the shot I was taking, but my daughter wasn’t impressed. In the second photo, I zoom in and take a natural shot of her as she watches the snowflakes fall. Which one do you prefer?
It’s All About Stealth
There is nothing rocket science about this. You don’t have to have a first in child psychology to understand that kids love to play. This is the whole reason for their existence in their own eyes. The best images I’ve seen of children have been of them immersed in play or captured in moments that are natural to them. This might look like mud kitchen chaos, Lego building, making dens, or having a quiet cuddle with Daddy before bedtime. Whichever it is, take the opportunity and get your camera or phone out without making a fuss.
Resist the urge to order smiles from them or to make them face the camera as it will immediately turn them off to the idea. Instead, you will get either prompt grumpy faces and hiding, or silly face pulling. You don’t want either of these. Not only will they then look unnatural, but it will almost certainly mean a lot of waiting until they forget your intentions to capture them without them knowing.
What Equipment Do I Need?
Most phones have brilliant cameras built into them but honestly, for this kind of thing you just can’t beat a DSLR and a longer lens. Using a long lens means that you can be much further from your subject and zoom right in. This means that they are less likely to realize you are taking their picture but it will still look like you are right on top of the action.
One of the biggest secret weapons in candid photography is the use of anticipation. Some of the best photographers I know use this skill so well, they can take a photo at the exact moment that something significant happens time and time again.
I’m talking about the moment in a conversation where everyone bursts into laughter. Or the moment when the baby smiles for the first time. Some of the best photos I’ve managed to get have been when I’ve been watching my children or at a wedding, and there is a ‘moment’ unfolding. Having the skill to predict when these moments happen will serve you well as a candid photographer.
Capture the Character
On the opposite end of the scale, I have complete divas and nutters in my family. I absolutely love encouraging my kids to be themselves as much as possible. So if your child is anything like mine, embrace the mentalness! It’s who they are! Don’t try and overrule them by demanding they stop being silly!
Ultimately you will be denying them their natural behavior, and isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to capture? After all, nine times out of ten, once they’ve done something silly or crazy, there will be a couple of seconds afterward where they are laughing and smiling for REAL. Those are the moments you need to anticipate or predict, and they are when you should press the shutter.
Step It Up
For those of you who are relatively comfortable with these ideas, there are a number of ways you can really up your game and start getting some really lovely, wall-worth pictures. The first one I would suggest is to think about your surroundings. If you are shooting in your house, why not step it up and into the garden on a nice day? Get the kids gardening or digging in the flowerbeds for worms. Maybe try the local playground or the beach or forest. Get out there and make the most of it!
A Rollercoaster of Emotions
One of the things you will hear me banging on about is human connection. That social interaction between humans and those that they love. For many, that can look like people and their loved ones, and for many others, it can look like humans and their pets. All are so important and all are brilliant subjects for your photography.
The emotional side of it is easy, don’t just photograph the smiles. After all, if we are documenting our lives we may want to see all the fun and happy parts, but life is not all happiness. There is also sadness, frustrations, and anger along with everything in-between. Try to capture a broad range if you can but remember to be respectful. A brilliant way to take better photos of your kids is to capture them in all their emotions.
What Are They Looking At?
A really great way of capturing moments is to take photos of your kids or loved ones when they are all looking at the same thing. This is called a ‘shared focus’ and incorporates that thing into the scene, giving a wider view of what is happening. You could even go one step further by using the camera as a point of view in the child’s life.
So you could shoot over your child’s shoulder as they are doing some painting, or zoom in on their fingers as they do up their shoelaces. All of these things help to tell the story of their childhood and will be memories very much cherished at a later date. To take better photos of your kids doesn’t just mean taking photos of their faces!
Don’t be Lazy
As I mentioned before, you will not have a lot of control over your environment or the lighting conditions when you are shooting candidly. The trick is to make sure you get moving! The way the light hits your scene or subject is going to have a big impact on the images you take. Make sure you take advantage of it by checking all the different vantage points available to you. Don’t be afraid to lay on the ground or shoot at different angles to create more interest. It’s the difference between an average photo and an epic one.
Another pointer here would be to take a test shot to check that your exposure is correct. This is especially important if you are shooting into back-lit conditions or if it is particularly dark or light. You can always retake the shot if you need to.
Clear the Decks
Some people like to leave everything as it is and go true documentary style however others like to have a little clean-up before. Whichever way you decide to go, it’s entirely up to you. I tend to make sure any unsightly items are out of view when taking the picture. I’ve seen so many photos ruined because poles are growing out of people’s heads! Keep an eye on the surroundings when you are framing up your shot and decide whether you are happy to keep everything in view. It’s up to your personal sense of style to gauge whether this is how to take better photos of your kids!
Just Take the Shot
A lot of the time you have a split second to take the shot before the moment is lost. If this is the case, make sure you have your camera set up properly for the conditions you’re shooting in. For many, it’s just a quick snap on their phone, but if you are doing this with a DSLR (which I highly recommend you do), make sure that you have the basics down.
Ultimately, photography is all about light and the quality of that light. Make sure you have enough of it to take the shot. If you don’t, make sure you understand how to introduce artificial light or you know how to increase your ISO to allow more light to your sensor. This will allow you to increase your shutter speed so that you can capture things in motion and freeze them (if that is what you are trying to do). Just knowing a couple of these things will increase your photography massively.
Ultimately, the best way to learn is by doing. So just get out there and take the shot!
Or… Hire a Pro
Unfortunately, photography just isn’t for everyone. While I firmly believe that anything can be learned, you may not have the time or the inclination to do so. In situations like this, I fully recommend hiring a professional to do it for you. It is an expense you won’t regret and the images will be cherished for generations.
About the author: Haleana Knights is a former UK photographer specializing in weddings, lifestyle, and portraits. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.