Last month we covered how to take beautiful candid photos of your children and now I’d like to share with you some of my experience on how to take great portraits of your children… an entirely different way of photographing and one that requires quite a lot more thought!
For me, taking candids is a lot easier than capturing a great portrait for the simple reason you are able to step back and observe your children naturally. My children are used to having a camera pointed at them and have become masters of ignoring me which gives me the luxury of shooting them in their own little worlds without too much fuss.
However, when it comes to taking a more structured portrait, life gets a lot more interesting… and usually ends up with a squinty eyed, scrunched nose, chin jutting grimace that is so amusingly typical of a young child when you ask them to ‘smile for the camera’… sound familiar?!
Of course, we should hang on to those photos too as they are part of a child’s self expression and at the very least will be worthy of a good chuckle in years to come!
If though, you would like to learn the basics on how to capture your child in a more ‘pleasing’(!) manner then you may like to follow some of the tips below. With a little practice, you’ll be taking great portraits in no time!
Use bold colours
This is not of course a ‘must’ but working with bright, bold colours in portraiture can really add that extra impact to your images. Bold backdrops can be right on your doorstep such as an old garage (as shown above) or door (great for a more urban look) or a brightly painted wall in your house.
However, if you are going to work with a colourful background, it is important that you make sure your child and their backdrop work together. Where very dominant colours are present it is important that the subject does not get overpowered by their backdrop. To help overcome this, dress your child in equally vibrant colours so they stand out from their background. Bright contrasting colours such as in the image above also work really well but make sure that whatever colours you do choose compliment the colours you’re working with.
Finally, make sure the subject does not get lost in the frame and fills at least a third of the image.
Capture their smiles naturally
I have yet to meet a parent who has not pointed their camera at their child and said ‘say cheese’ or ‘smile!’. I am one of those parents! As I mentioned in my introduction though, this may lead to all sort of interesting faces particularly in younger children! So, if possible, try and make your child smile or laugh naturally instead.
This is where another adult or family member can come in useful. I have spent many a photo shoot pulling silly faces at young children while their parents danced around behind me much to the child’s amusement. Dads can be great at this! If you are going to get someone to help and still want the child to look at the camera, make sure the helper stays close to you and at the same height so the subject still looks in your direction.
Older children are likely to be more responsive and capable of giving a more natural smile but talking to them about something funny that has happened in the past may also bring a smile to their face.
Get down to their level
You will spend much of your time seeing your growing children from above simply due to the fact they are smaller than you. So instead of photographing them from this height, see what the world looks like from their point of view by dropping down to their level or even lower to get a better perspective. When photographing children, I spend most of my time crawling around on my tummy or kneeling down!
Focus on the eyes
Finding a strong focal point in an image is key to its success and strong eye contact where the subject looks directly into the lens will help you achieve this. Although not essential in portraiture, it is a good way of making sure the viewer is engaged by what they see.
In the two images above, I have emphasised the eyes by shooting from a higher viewpoint while the children look directly into the lens. I have cropped in tightly and focussed my camera firmly on the eyes to keep them sharp. If the eyes are soft the image will lose its impact.
Props are a great way of creating some fun in your images and as the subject becomes more focussed on playing, so a more natural portrait maybe achieved. Bubbles are a great way of engaging your children and ensuring some great natural smiles. I never go to a children’s shoot without them! Also try using a child’s favourite toy, a ball, or teddy bear to interact with or get another adult to wave a prop at a child out of shot to ensure you get the best reaction. Peekaboo with teddy always seems to work well!
Work with natural light
Light is everything when it comes to photography. If you get it wrong, no matter how good your composition, you are likely to spoil your shot. When the sun is out and at its strongest, it can cast harsh, unflattering shadows across your subject’s face (as shown in image number 2 above).
As a photographer I much prefer working with natural light but you need to learn how to work with it effectively. My advice, therefore, is keep things as straightforward as possible. I positioned the subjects in the first image in the shade where the light was softer and more diffused and fell evenly on the the girls’ faces. This will prove to be much more flattering and doesn’t distract from their expressions. The light in image 2 was stronger and harsher casting downward shadows over the eyes of the subjects.
Another advantage of shooting in a shadier spot is that your subjects will not be squinting! Where the natural light is soft, make sure your children are turned with their faces into it.
Shoot off centre
Place the subject off-center – just a little…
When photographing a subject in landscape format, I will quite often shoot slightly off centre to create a more interesting and dynamic composition. As you will see in the image above, the subject has her face turned towards the ‘dead space’ next to her, giving the composition more impact than if, for example, her head were turned in the opposite direction.
Shooting off centre requires some practice so here are some tips on how to do it (ideally you will be using an SLR camera with a good lens).
1. Look through the viewfinder and position its focus point on the most important part of the scene —
your main subject. In effect, you centre that subject.
2. Press the shutter button halfway down, until the focus-OK lamp in the viewfinder eyepiece glows
3. Whilst keeping the shutter button held halfway down, reorient the camera so that your desired
composition appears in the viewfinder.
4. Press the shutter button all the way down to take the picture.
Use the rule of thirds
In the image above the viewer will naturally be drawn to the child’s eyes before travelling down the rest of the image and viewing it as a whole.
The rule of thirds is a way of describing where to place focal points in a photograph.
Focal points are the areas of interest in a photograph. If you are taking a portrait, the obvious area of interest is the person’s eyes as these will likely be the focal point of the image. If you are taking a landscape it could be a tree in the foreground.
When shooting a portrait, you will normally find that placing the eyes in the top third of the image produces the strongest results. If you look at the front cover of any glossy magazine you will find the subject is generally photographed in this way.
I have seen many photographs taken however, where there is a lot of dead space above the subject’s head and the subject’s head is placed right in the centre of the frame, resulting in a very unattractive composition. Stick to the simple rule of thirds and your composition will immediately improve.
For more detailed information on ‘the rule of thirds’ click here.
Watch the hands…
In the first image the subject has positioned her right hand beautifully under her chin but her left hand spoils the shot as her fingers appear to be missing. By simply asking her to uncurl her fingers, the image is immediately transformed.
When photographing a portrait you are more than likely focussing your attention on the face of your subject and their expression. It has taken me a lot of practice to really remember that badly posed hands can really let the photograph down. As a rule, even with children you need to try and remember to make their hands look as elegant as possible (although realistically you may struggle on this with a very young child). A flat hand straight to camera rarely looks good, so instead, try to get your subject to make an elegant shape with a slightly curved hand (as shown above). Outstretched fingers are also more pleasing to the eye as long as they are not too spread, making the hand look artificially larger than it is.
You will probably find this a lot easier to remember if working with only one child. Any more than that and you are likely to struggle, because as soon as you’ve fixed one child, the other will have moved out of position. In this situation you are best just to try and capture the moment, as children will not sit obediently posed for long!
Blur the background
Blurring the background is a simple technique which really works in making your subject stand out from their surroundings. The simplest way to do this is to shoot in ‘aperture priority’ and select a wide aperture such as F4.0 to create a shallow depth of field. Okay so I may now have confused you all completely, but if you do have an SLR camera then it really is worth reading your manual to work out how to do this! Understanding the basics will really help advance your photography skills. If you are only working off a compact camera, make sure you have it set to ‘portraiture’ mode and this will hopefully do the job for you. Click here to get a better understanding of ‘depth of field‘.
Try something edgy…
Beautiful portraits of your children don’t always have to be ones that require a huge smile. In fact, I often love the opposite. For an edgier portrait and where your child is of an age that they can take direction, ask them to simply look at the camera but not to smile. In some cases you may find that they start to frown instead, so ask them to relax their faces and just look directly into the lens.
Remember the tips from above on how to frame your subjects too!
Remember that photo shoots with children can sometimes be hard work and do not always start well (as proven in these outtakes below)! If your children aren’t co-operating (which is highly possible!) then try not to allow your own frustration to show too much and instead try and keep things as fun as possible.
If it just isn’t happening, try again another time when your children are in the right frame of mind. You don’t want to be looking at an image you’ve taken of your child all the while remembering it nearly killed you to get it!
If all else fails, bribe with sweets… it generally works for me!
Check back to DiamondsandDaisychains.com next month for more of Sharron’s brilliant photography tips and ideas. In the meantime you can check out her photography website Goodyear Photography, or read her blog, Lollipops and Little Ones to find out what else is going on in her busy life!