I am a photographer and I am a mamma, and I do both full-time, so my life is a little bit like this: change diaper, reply to email; wipe up spilt milk, edit photos; peel banana, package photo prints, and on and on it goes. My son’s nap time is my work time and driving to shoots is my alone time; it’s often crazy and I stay up until the early hours of the morning to deliver a session, but I always, always love it.
I am a lifestyle family photographer, which basically means that I get to photograph your child picking their nose. KIDDING! (Actually, not kidding. It happens. I have photographic evidence). But in all seriousness, this is what I strive to photograph: the intersection of beauty and real moments; capturing the ordinary to save it forever. I would love to share with you some things I’ve discovered when photographing kids.
1. Let’s Talk About Light
First, let’s talk about the pretty light. I am convinced that beautiful light is 90% of what makes a photograph stand out and noticing where the light falls and putting your subject inside it, or near it, is incredibly important. In our corner-lot home, the living room is brightest in the morning, and the kitchen has a late-afternoon glow. So, whenever I want to photograph our little guy inside, I watch for the light. In the photo below, he had just woken up from his afternoon nap and was devouring a bowl of cereal. I moved him over a few feet to sit in the patch of sunlight next to the fridge, and in doing that, created a much stronger photograph. When I’m photographing outside, on the other hand, I am careful to choose times when the sun is lower in the sky (usually first thing in the morning or just before sunset). If that’s not possible and I need to photograph a session around noon, I try to find a location that has lots of open shade, to filter that harsh overhead light. Sometimes, of course, it’s also really fun to embrace that hot driving sun and to capture photographs full of contrast and shadow in the middle of the day; but, in those cases, I often avoid face-on portraits, since they will have squinty eyes and face shadows, and instead I take candids of the children making sand castles or running through a meadow.
2. Catch Them In the Moment
Another thing I notice when photographing kids is how a photograph comes alive when they’re enjoying themselves. My favorite thing is to hear their genuine laughter as they chase each other in a circle or tickle their parents; their fascination while we discuss the flower they’ve just discovered; their glee as a wave splashes their boots. I want them to be having so much fun they see me as a part of it and try to share it with me. The other day, after an early-morning session, the mom sent me a little voice message. In it, her daughter was lisping, “I love you, Emmy!” and not only did her words make my week, but they also showed in the photographs- she wasn’t afraid to laugh into the camera or to show me her robot dance, and I think that connection is a part of what lit up their session. The photo below was taken on a frosty winter day and I asked this little boy to blow the icy air at his mom, which he thought was hilarious of course. I try to discover children’s interests early on and I use them to create an environment they will want to play in. Kids won’t fake real joy and joy is what I love to capture.
3. Get Them Moving
This leads directly into a third thing- movement. I love it, love it, love it, and most of my clients discover this immediately. But the problem is that asking kids to do a certain movement rarely works, you need to create an incentive. So saying something like “I bet you can’t beat your sister to that tree over there!” is incredibly effective in getting running shots and, asking my toddler to splash Daddy with water will definitely do the trick if you want water movement. (sorry, honey). In the photograph below, I called this little girl’s name and she spun around to face me, which created that swoosh-y hair movement I adore. Just a heads up- this whole movement thing usually means that you also need to keep moving and I’ve spent more sessions than I can count running the whole time, just so I don’t miss the action shots. This is the reason I don’t need a gym membership (Right? RIGHT?!).
4. Close Ups
At nearly every session, I try to get one close-up of the child looking straight at me. I stand directly above them, poised to run beside them at any moment, and ask about something that interests them (tip: talking about Elsa or Thomas the Train often does the trick). Sometimes, I ask a question like, “Is there a butterfly on my ear?” or “Is there a frog on my nose?” Really, anything that will make them glance up at me, no matter how briefly, and occasionally giggles. Other times, I hold a candy above my camera (bribes, anyone?), and often I play a game of peek-a-boo from behind my camera too. The key to this is being entirely trigger-ready, and taking five shots of the child blinking or looking down to get the one photo of their eyes staring straight at me. Parents always, always treasure these, and I understand, because I would too.
5. Did Somebody Say Candid?
Lifestyle photography is, I think, a lot about leaving space for candid moments to happen. The best part is that the only thing you need is children playing in the pretty light, having completely forgotten that you’re there. Even exploring at the beach with an old yogurt container (my son’s personal favorite, no matter how many new beach toys he receives) can look beautiful if your child is absorbed in it and has a halo of sun flares. I often initiate candid shots at sessions by discussing our surroundings; kids are instinctively curious, and if I point out the dead tree branch lying in a ray of sunlight across the pathway, they rush over to it and are trying to lift it within seconds. As they play, I blend into the background; I lie down at a distance to get some shots at ground level, or hide behind some foliage to create a soft green blur in the foreground. I love capturing these moments because they are so real, so ordinary, and so beautiful.
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