Do your photos of your kids suck? Tell them their bum stinks.
It Aint Film
I always wonder why people take one or two photos at a time. We live in a digital age, so unless you really ARE shooting film, take a LOT of snaps. Fire that shutter fifty times if you have to, and keep going after you think you have the shot. One of those fifty is sure to be close to gold. Don’t wait for a particular moment or you’ll miss it.
Sunsets & Dolphins
We do go on about it, but photographers shoot at sunrise and sunset for a reason. Your portraits will improve tenfold simply by shooting at these times. You know when it gets all sticky and delicious outside? Drag the kids out and take some snaps. Golden hour is commonly reported as the hour before sunset. If you reside in a flat, coastal area like I do, it can still be quite bright up until 30 minutes before, so take that timing with a pinch of salt. Where I live, the 20-minute window either side of sunset is usually my ideal outdoor shooting time, when everything is soft, flattering and even, and the strong colours are in the sky and not projected on your skin. Be prepared for huge swings in this timing, depending on your location. It can be hours later in summer.
Oh isn’t it tempting to have everyone face you with the brightly lit ocean or river in the background? Most phones will adjust for exposure and give you a reasonable result, but you won’t ever sigh “ohhh” at the human beauty of the picture it produces. To capture freckles, flecked irises and sun kissed cheeks, always have your subject at least partially facing the strongest light source. Indoors, avoid shooting with backs against a window if it’s bright outside, unless you’re seeking that hint of silhouette. When facing away from light, use the backlight deliberately, a little flare between a kiss, a glint of sunlight in golden hair.
To the Window, To the Wall
Unless you live on a boat or are captive in a castle, we all have them. Sit or stand your child at a 45-degree angle to the window. Ask them to look outside or touch the glass. Ask them to turn back and smile over their shoulder. Pay attention to the discrepancy between the window light and the indoor light. Too harsh? Turn on an artificial light in the room or close the sheer curtains and observe the difference in your shot. Move the subject closer and further away from the glass, noting the change in facial shadows and strength. Time of day plays a big factor here.
Shut the Front Door
For some reason, the light barely inside and outside your front door can usually be relied upon for a beautiful portrait. Experiment at different times of day, remembering that one step forward or backward can make all the difference. Shut the door and see what happens, then open it slightly and play with positioning. This is my number one spot for back-to-school portraits. It makes sense contextually, and gives a clear, even image.
Clean Up, Frame Up
Get your crap out of the frame. Kicking one water bottle to the side or choosing a plain t-shirt over a cartoon t-shirt will make all the difference. Find natural frames in doors, bedheads, trees reaching together. Avoid bins, neon dishcloths, cars and other visual noise in the background that will distract from the subject.
Your job is not just to take photo but to incite the emotion you want captured. If you want your kid to smile, don’t say smile or cheese. Say “your bum stinks” or even better "Dad's bum stinks". For a really tough crowd, you may need to go with "my bum stinks". If you want a serious or neutral face, ask them to exhale and look at their shoes. Ask them what they want for dinner or what 495 minus 132 is. The best photo is often an "in between" moment, where the face falls naturally, is contemplative or just beginning or ending a smile. If you really want that grin, sometimes just smiling as you take the photo will inspire your subject to smile naturally.
Zoom with your feet, crouch down, stand on something. Remaining still and having your subject stationery will result in one type of picture, but there are variations of that photo you’re not getting, and they’re probably better than what you’re capturing with your feet cemented to the floor. Little people love it when you get on their level, or ask them to dance, climb something, jump or race. If you're in one pose for too long everything will get stale and you'll lose the momentum of joy in your snaps.
Use a simple phone-based editing app to tinker with the pictures you love. You can always revert to the original, but playing with the sliders will help you understand the elements of the photos and how to improve, even if you never publish the results. Hottest tip I can give you: If you know you have a great photo but something is off, make it black & white.
Taking photos is fun. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s the worst, most excruciatingly frustrating thing you can possibly do with your time. It's not worth tears, tantrums, high noons or any other stand-off just to get one photo. Too much direction can be very boring for your family, so go into stealth mode and shoot candid, less traditional photos. Ask seldom, snap often. If your family is not in the mood, or if there is some other factor at play, let it go for the day and revisit it later. Torturing someone with a camera is the fastest way to make future shoots virtually impossible.
This should be self explanatory. If not, I suggest Timezone, sherbet sticks, and cold hard cash.
Taya Reid is a writer + photographer on Whadjuk Noongar Boodja
She is currently running Winter Headshots and Spring Minis in Fremantle during July and September
For these and all other bookings, say hello.