Friday, December 4, 2009

Our Little Holiday Photo Shoot: Featuring Ten Tips For Photographing Your Own Kids

My mom lives in Minneapolis, a three hour flight and one and a half hour drive from the airport from us. Due to Andre's job, which is busier in the winter, we always stay put for the holidays. My mom likes to send photo Christmas cards to friends and family and as soon as she started having grandchildren they became the stars of her cards. She now has four granddaughters so this year she is creating a collage card. Here is where I come in. Since we are so far away, I need to take the up-to-date image of my girls. A couple of days ago I dressed the girls up in holidays clothing sent by grandma and we had a little photo shoot, something that is a bit common around here. Having a mom as a professional photographer comes with some obligation to pose when called upon to do so. I always try to make sure my kiddos are have fun with it so that we can enjoy having shoots for years to come...

Here are my tips for a better Christmas card photo shoot...

Some Things To Keep in Mind To Help Photograph Kids Without Pain

1) Cut yourself and your kids some slack. It can be difficult to photograph your own kids. I have been photographing children professionally for 11 years and I still find it difficult to photograph my own. This is in part because your kids are used to you and they may or may not feel like cooperating. When a stranger is asking them to do something, they may be in awe of the situation or at least curious so they just follow along. It is different when Mom is asking, especially if Mom has a camera pointed at them all the time and they are desensitized to it. Don't push the issue. You may have to try more than once.
2) Make sure your kids are well rested, well fed, and in a good mood. Explain what you are after while at the same time making it sound fun. If you want to use bribery, it is up to you. I don't like to flat out bribe, but I do set things up in such a way that the kiddos know that once we have done our job of getting the photos we can then move on to baking cookies and making hot chocolate. Try to get the images you want within 30 minutes. Professionally, I have worked with kids for up to one and a half hours, but these were exceptional kiddos. Also, keep in mind that at different ages kids do different things. For example, it can be hard to get a very young baby to smile, then many two and three year olds ham it up and can't smile "right", and the more kids of different ages in the mix, the more difficult it can be to have everyone smiling, looking at the camera, keeping their hands off their faces, etc, etc, etc. For that matter, the more kids of the SAME ages, the more difficult it can be. I once had two Christmas photo shoots on the same day, one was with quintuplets, the other with twins. I earned my keep that day.

Some Things To Consider Before Getting Started

3) Use natural light. I feel it provides the best results with kids, much better than on-camera flash, especially the built in flash on a point and shoot camera. Pick a room that is well lit with window light. You do not want strong, direct sunlight to fall on your kids because it will cause squinting. You want soft, even light and for these photos you probably want it to fall directly on your kids faces, so position them facing the window and yourself with your back to the window. This does limit where you can move around to... For more options, go outside and have the kids sit in an evenly light place that is not in direct sunlight. We live where it was -22 C on the day of our shoot, so we set ourselves up in the living room, in front of the sliding glass door at a time of day when the most indirect light was coming in.
4) Select an uncluttered background. Keeping in mind which one has the best natural light. If you do need to use an on-camera flash do not position your kids directly against the background, as you will get a strong shadow against it from the flash, especially when taking a vertical photo. To minimize this, move your kids away from the wall, try to have some natural light coming in to also illuminate the kids, and take the image horizontally, then crop out extra background on the computer.
5) Have some poses in mind. You can put the kids on a couch, chair, bench, or on the floor. In my case, I have a three year old and a 6 month old. The 6 month old doesn't sit on her own. Her sister loves to hold her but because she is only three, it makes the baby (and me) a bit nervous. For my session I decided to have them on the ground, on a white shag rug. It was neutral but comfortable so they could lay on it for several photos.
6) Have a chair or sturdy step stool that you can climb up on so you can photograph your kids from above. It is not only flattering for subjects to look up at the camera (especially older people as it lengthens the neck and gets rid of double chins) but it also helps you to screen out all of the visual clutter. When you are above something, you only see the floor, bed, chair, that the child is sitting on, not the background. Where you stand when taking an image is called vantage point. Think about yours. Get up and down, and move around.
7) Do not have your kids say "cheese". This always makes them look unnatural. In fact, it is pretty easy to tell just by looking at a photograph that a child is saying "cheese". Let the true personalities of your kids show through. This is not always easy to capture, especially when kids are strictly posed by an adult. Kids are kids and I never strive for perfection in this kind of a shoot. I would rather get the true essence of the kids. If you want something very formal and you are not a photographer, maybe you should consider scheduling a session with a pro. For holiday cards, most people will be happy to receive cute photos of your adorable kids being, well, kids.

Start Snapping Away
8) Take lots of pictures in lots of different poses. Mixing things up is a good way to keep your kids from getting bored and it gives you lots to chose from while avoiding having to do the whole thing over again.
9) Let your kids decide on some of the ways they want to pose. Including them in decision making does wonders for cooperation.
10) Try to get what you want, without pushing it. Once kids have gone over the edge they rarely come back. Keep that half an hour in mind and be sure you have gotten the images that you want to work with, because unless you enjoy fix problems with imaging software, it is much simpler to get what you need in camera at the shoot then to edit the images.

If you have any questions or additional advice please feel free to leave me a comment.


kimbuktu said...

What great tips Tiffany. I tweeted your blog.

Tiffany Teske said...

Thanks, Kym! Can you teach how to Twitter?

Serena said...

Thanks for sharing your tips! I love the pics of Q&E ♥ they look so sweet sitting together :)

Tiffany Teske said...

Thanks, Serena! I will post a few holiday pics from yesterday here soon...