Being a parent means a lot of things, like giving up the likelihood that you'll have privacy in the shower, that you may start to sound eerily like your own mom or dad, and that you'll probably find yourself playing the role of paparazzi for your kids. We're like moths to a flame; they do something cute/funny/crazy/brand-new and we're there in flash, snapping away like mad — desperately trying to preserve the moment forever.
So what's the secret to taking photos of your children that not just grab scene but really capture the feeling and the movement? Keep these tips in mind.
1. Don't be afraid to mess up
Digital cameras = snap away with zero guilt. Each shot costs nothing, and you can always take another if you don't like how one turns out. For the photo above, it took several shots to capture the motion of the subject dancing around. Out of about 50 snaps, only a couple were good enough to use. And really, it just takes one.
You don't need to shoot in RAW or on manual. Leave that to the pros. Yes, I just told you not to worry about shooting on manual or in RAW. If you don't have a clue what that even means, don't worry about it! The bottom line is that shooting in jpegs lets you store more images on your memory card, and will also "pre-process" your images so you don't need to Photoshop them.
2. Catch your child's attention
My photos come out best when I allow my children to just be themselves. Meaning, let them get into a comfortable flow before trying to take a photo. Then without notice, I'll say her name. That moment — that's when I snap the image. In the image above, I let her explore her surroundings, then suddenly, I shouted out her name and captured her right as she looked at me. You can even see the annoyance in her face from me distracting her as she was getting into her zone.
Another trick is to give your child something to play with, that way you can photograph them playing with it or — if it's something totally new to them — watch them try to figure it out.
3. Do away with "say cheese"
Trust me on this one: nixing the tired old "Say cheese!" prompt will get rid of fake smiles. Instead, tell a joke! Little ones will probably giggle about anything, but with older kids who've heard a lot of zingers already (so young, yet so jaded!), it may help to pick up a joke book and have it on hand.
Another sure thing with most kids is a "fart" app on my phone. Name a kid who doesn't find fart sounds endlessly amusing. (Let's be honest, many adults do too.)
Elicit true smiles by asking a small child if they knew the moon was made out of cheese or if they knew cats and dogs wear roller skates at night. These will give you real laughs, which are always better than the forced, fake — and dare I say, cheesy!? — ones.
In the photo above, I asked my daughter to jump as high as she could. It was her birthday and she wanted to jump right into the balloons. After several jumps she just began to laugh from pure joy.
4. Ask your child to tell you a story
Sometimes, I'll give my daughter a prompt and ask her to finish the story. You can also have your child grab their favorite toys and use them to tell a story. For example, my daughter wanted to play with a fox mask. She saw our cat outside and zoomed into her own imaginative world, playing with a toy that someday I am sure she'll toss to the side.
5. Be a stealth stalker!
If you've ever tried to lay a baby down and tip-toe out of the room (this can require ninja-level skill), you've got the same sneaky instincts you need to capture candid moments.
When one of my children is sitting quietly (or even getting very excited during a video game or a project), I'll sneak up to quietly snap a photograph. Below is my favorite "ninja" image. They are far from perfect, but they capture everyday moments as they happened.
At the end of the day, you really can't go wrong photographing your kids. The more you practice, the better you will get. Some of the best images are the ones we didn't plan to take but came out just right.