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How to: take beautiful candid photos of your children

This is the first in a series of monthly articles in which professional photographer, Sharron Goodyear promises to teach us how to capture beautiful images of our family. Her first workshop discusses how to take candid or documentary-style photos…

Jake and teddy 1

Jake and Teddy 2

I think it’s safe to say that in every home of every parent there is a camera. It might be on your phone, a compact camera that sits in your drawer or for the more enthusiastic owners, an SLR sat to the side, waiting to record that special moment.

It is no secret that as a professional photographer, I am in love with documentary photography. Of course, posed photos have their place, but to me, the power is not in the pose but in the story of the unposed image. This is where you can find the beauty in the everyday and these are the images that when your children are grown, you will truly cherish, because you have captured ‘the moment’ in its rawest, truest form. This is the simple story of their young lives.

When we become parents, many of us become enthusiastic photographers to our children at the same time. Many of these images are likely to be carefully posed, happy, smiley little reminders of how our children looked at that point in time but here’s the thing…why not bring some life to your photos and start shooting candids as well? Often the best images of people are taken when they don’t even know they are being photographed. You don’t need to be a professional photographer to capture a moment. All you need is a camera, a little patience and an appreciation of the moment you’re witnessing…

Here are my top tips for taking beautiful candid photos of your children: 

  • Have your camera within easy reach at all times. Spontaneity is key when it comes to documenting your children. There are likely to be many opportunities throughout the day to take a candid photo but first you have to open your eyes and see them for yourself, then you have to seize the moment as it is likely to pass very quickly!
  • The aim of shooting documentary style is not to attract the attention of your subject in the first instance. Remember, you are the fly on the wall. Don’t see the moment and then start calling their name. Once you’ve done this, the moment is lost.
  • Try shooting continuously. For this you will need a camera that with the push of a button will take multiple frames in a second. To get the best results when taking candid photos, you really need a camera that can shoot quickly to capture the moment. Some “point and shoot” cameras will struggle as they are slow to respond once you’ve pressed the shutter and what you’ve seen will be lost. If you’re serious about taking candid shots and willing to upgrade your equipment, have a look at this advice on choosing the right camera.
  • Learn how to use your camera if you don’t know already. Read your instruction manual. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing an image in your mind but the camera tells a different story.
  • Lighting: When it comes to lighting, unless you have a good SLR camera that can cope with low light conditions, you are better photographing in a naturally well lit room where the light falls directly onto the subject. Side lighting can be harsh and uneven so if you don’t know how to work with more complicated lighting situations, my advice is stick to the basics.
  • Turn the flash off.  Flash is likely to kill the moment and will certainly attract the attention of your children! If you do have a camera that can handle low light situations, adjust it to a higher ISO setting or use your camera’s preset modes to open up your aperture. (Go back to your manual to find out how to do this!)
  • Composition: Some people are lucky and have a natural eye for composition. For others this is something that will come with practice and awareness in the subject. I will write a blog piece on composition in more detail in a future post but in its most basic form, think about how you are framing your subject in the camera’s viewfinder. Don’t crop too tightly to begin with (you can always zoom in for the next shot), however stay close enough so that you are focussed on the ‘story’. Be aware of anything distracting in the background, consider your angle, change your angle if necessary, decide whether you want to shoot portrait or landscape..
  • Shoot sequences…Below are some images I grabbed one morning this week. I had sat Jake on the bed with Pooh bear while I was getting ready for the day ahead. Grace woke up, came into the room and started interacting with him. It was so lovely to watch them, I felt compelled to grab my camera and start shooting.

Jake and Grace

The window to the room is opposite the bed meaning the light fell evenly on the scene, making it easy to photograph. I shot from a low position at the side for the first three images so as not to intrude on the moment or to block the light from the window.

Jake and Grace 2

  • Shoot black and white. I LOVE black and white photography. It’s classic, timeless and as it’s stripped of any potentially distracting or overly busy colour it means you focus purely on the story. Many cameras can be programmed to photograph in black and white. However, I prefer to shoot everything in colour and then convert to black and white in post production. (I use Silver Effex Pro 2  in Aperture.)

Jake B&W

Josh and Grace

  • To make your photography more interesting, try using different perspectives as shown here:
Jake in cot

Trampolining

  • Try shooting with something in the foreground to create depth in an image:

Grandad and children

Below I used an aperture of F4.0 and shot through a bush in our garden to create the feeling of depth and to frame the children in the picture. Focus on the subject and the foreground will naturally blur.

Playing in the garden

  • Sit, observe, be patient….see it, shoot it!
  • Finally…shoot for fun!

Image 13

Next month: How to take great portraits of your children…

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About Sharron Goodyear

Sharron Goodyear
Sharron Goodyear is our Wife columnist. She's married, she has three children and she has a lot of things to say about relationships and current affairs of a wifely nature. We think you're going to fall in love with her... To find out more about our contributors, visit our Community page.

14 comments

  1. I have just picked up all these comments – thanks everyone who took the time to write in. Is great to know that you’ve all enjoyed the post. Next one will be coming up very soon…watch this space! :)

  2. Totes gorg photies!! Well done you xxo

  3. This is full of so many useful tips – thanks for the ideas. I’ll give them a go during the school holidays I think.

  4. Your baby is unbelievably cute! You should get him in to baby modelling. xx :)

  5. I might even be able to do some of these ideas. I don’t often leave comments but this is a really sensible and useful guide and I’m looking forward to your next post already. When is it due?

  6. Love your ideas. Are you a pro-photographer? Could you write some more about composition? Ive never really got that but everyone says its important. Thanks!!

    • Hi Velma,

      Yes I am a pro-photographer and have been for about 7 years now. Thanks for your comments. I am happy to do a piece on composition in the next few months. Watch this space!

  7. Practical ideas I think I might be able to achieve. Great! Thanks a lot. Keep up the writing.

  8. Hi Sharon,

    Wonderful to read you here, an I love the article very informative thank you!

    Suzi

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