Monday, November 12, 2012

How to Take Better Family Photos

It's time for a guest post! This comes from Danielle over at Tiny Toes Portraits with some advice on how to improve your own family photography.
It’s that time of year again!! The time of year that you get the kids dressed up in their fanciest clothes (or maybe their cutest pajamas) and drag them to the local photo studio. Of course everybody else is dragging their kids there too and the studios are scheduling everybody 5 minutes apart and it’s a mad house. You wait for approximately one hour past your session time, your kids are whining (you might be whining a little too), the people who work there couldn’t care less that you’re unhappy (cause they are too), the baby has spit up on himself, and you can’t find your other kid among all the craziness.

Sound familiar??

But it’s the holidays and you need to get your pictures taken, right?? Of course as a professional photographer I’m going to tell you that you should certainly get your pictures taken and you should do it by calling ME … but I also know that it’s not in the budget for everybody. I mean WHY ELSE would you go those chain studios? I honestly can’t think of a single reason.

So what’s a family to do? Take your own! Will they look as good as the ones I would take? Most likely not.  :-)  Although they might look better than what you’ll get at Walmart! So using these wonderful little tips, you’ll be well on your way to having a decent picture for those cards.

1. Get down on their level

Artistic angles aside, portraits just look better when they’re taken from the level of the subject. So when you’re photographing your toddlers, get down on toddler level! Yes that might mean kneeling in the snow. Or you could work on your squatting abilities.

2. Relax!! Sometimes the best pictures aren't the posed ones.

Most of my customers know before they hire me that I’m not the posey-posey type. I’d rather let a child run free and photograph him having a blast, occasionally attempting to capture his attention, than to make him sit still and give me a stiff boring smile. That’s easier with only one kid. But if you’ve got more than one you can plop them all down together and have them sing a funny song, play games, or anything that will make them crack up laughing. They might not be looking at the camera, and they might not be perfectly posed, but you can’t beat genuine moments!

3. Sunrise, sunset.

There are two times of day that are best for photography. Sunrise and sunset. I typically schedule my sessions for an hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset. You can find the exact times that this happens in your city by googling it. The light at these times is less harsh and has a golden quality to it. Beautiful. But if these times just don’t work for you then find some shade! That’s the next best alternative. Right on the edge of the shade, but still in it.
This was taken about an hour after sunrise.
4. Pay attention to sun spots

Right along with the theme of lighting … pay attention to your sun spots. That is those little spots of light that are bright on your subject when the rest of your subject is dark. They stand out like a sore thumb, especially when they’re on your subject’s face. It’s most common when your little subjects are in the shade of a not-so-leafy tree. So just move them around until they’re in solid shade and then take the picture.

5. The evils of flash

I personally hate on-camera flash. That is the flash that comes built into your camera. I’m not sure I’ve EVER used mine. It simply is not flattering. So if you can avoid it at all, don’t use it! This means that usually your outdoor portraits will be better than your indoor ones. So bundle up and go out!

6. Never put the light directly in front of your subject.

I see people do this ALL the time and it drives me nuts. Pet peeve I guess. But never put the sun directly in front of your subject! Off to the side or behind (although DIRECTLY behind at sunrise/sunset will give you a silhouette). Otherwise you’re going to have a bunch of very bright squinty kids!

The sun is to her right. This is also taken right around sunset so the light isn't harsh.
7. Have an assistant and glue them to your head

That might sound a little silly. But if you have somebody who’s willing to come and dance around like a fool to make your kids laugh, then take them on … but make sure they are either RIGHT next to you (glued to your head) or directly behind you. You don’t want the kids looking far to your left or right. You want it to appear they’re looking at you even if they’re not.

8. How to focus with a point and shoot camera

I’ve heard this so many times. “My camera is so slow! By the time the camera is ready to take the picture, my kid is gone!” So true. I can’t say I use a point and shoot camera all that often but before I became a professional I used one ALL THE TIME and I had a trick. In fact I was an expert at it so I’m hoping this will still work with the modern day point and shoot cameras. As far as I’m aware, all cameras have the focus lock option. That is you push the shutter button half way down and it locks your focus. Most point and shoots don’t exactly have stellar depth of field abilities so even if the kids are moving around a bit it shouldn’t make things blurry. So what I always did was to lock my focus and wait. And wait. And wait for that moment. And the SECOND it happened, I pushed the shutter all the way and the picture takes immediately. You see it’s the focus that takes so long. Give it a try!

9.  Fill the frame

Fill that frame!! Something I see a lot in non-professional photography is that people want to center their subject’s head right in the middle of the frame … that means leaving the top half of the picture well … empty. Fill it up! Zoom in! Don’t be afraid to chop off the top of their little heads! Seriously the most important aspect of a beautiful portrait are the EYES. And the more you zoom in, the more you can see them. Fill that frame!

Look at those eyes!!
10. Turn the camera

Last but not least, don’t forget to turn the camera! This is so simple. But don’t forget your camera takes both vertical and horizontal images. And while there may be a crazy fad for crooked pictures right now (you’ve seen them … taken on an angle) don’t go nuts over it. It’s nice for a few but really … they don’t frame well. Picture it on your wall. You want a crooked kid on your wall? So yes, be creative, but think about that end result.

Wow that was a lot of advice!! I hope it makes you a better photographer. But if it doesn’t … call me! My name is Danielle and I own Tiny Toes Portraits which is an on-location studio here in Pittsburgh (that means I come to you). You can find me on facebook too!

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