Photography

Marion Meakem

DC/VA/MD Metro 

April 21, 2020

7 Pro Tips on how to take better pictures of your kids/ McLean Family Photographer/ McLean Senior Photographer

I have been missing my Families and High School seniors SO MUCH this spring. Still hoping that I can schedule photo sessions starting in June. I am so ready. In the meantime I thought that some of you might like to try your hands on some portraiture yourselves. After all, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are coming, pandemic or not. And no nicer gift for the grandparents than some beautiful pictures of the grands. Right? So I compiled some tips to bring your kids’ photos to the next level. Hope it helps. (As with everything, please be safe when you go out to take photos. A lot of parks are closed, and trails get to be populated on nice weather days. Please stay close to home if you can).

(1) Find good light. Light is the essence of photography, so you want to put some effort into this. For traditional portraiture, soft, even light is best. Avoid overhead sun, mottled light, and sharp contrasts between light and shade. Instead, go out within two hours of sunrise or sunset and look for areas of open shade or filtered light (through clouds or trees, for example). If shooting indoors, find a large window that lets in lots of daylight and turn off your lamps.

(2) Put your subjects between yourself and the light source – you never want your subjects to face the sun – (unless, of course, you like squinty eyes with raccoon shadows around them :). If facing the sun creates haze in your camera, try to shield your lens with your hand or position yourself such that a tree (or another environmental object) blocks the sun from entering your lens directly.

In this shot, the late afternoon sun is filtered through the trees and puts a glow on my client’s hair. I was able to keep direct sunlight from entering my lens by positioning myself just enough to the left for the building to block the rays.

(3) Avoid dark, heavy backdrops. I often observe a tendency to pose right in front of a tree trunk, a brick wall or a dark bush. Try positioning your subjects next to the tree trunk, or better yet, next to and in front of it (so you get the benefit of light from above). If you want to pose in front of a wall, have your subject step out a couple of feet to create a separation between them and the backdrop, or position them perpendicularly to the wall to create more depth. Similarly with your blooming azalea bush – move your kids out a bit so the blooms don’t compete with their faces.

These two girls are positioned in front and to the side of the tree as well as at an angle to the fence.

This little girl is positioned to the side and in front of the tree trunk, so she gets light from above and the tree does not compete for attention.

I posed these three High School Seniors at an angle to the wall to create visual interest and (in the first one) open up the background.

(4) With little kids, get down on their level. While shooting down on a subject can be fun in a bed of leaves or petals, I generally recommend to get down on the kids’ eye level and shoot straight on, with an open, airy background. This is what creates those creamy and blurry backdrops. (It also makes the kids laugh when you army crawl on your stomach). 

For these, I was flat on my stomach. (The kids still laughed at the shenanigans their parents were making behind my back). In the photo on the left, both foreground and background are blurry and the eye is drawn to the subjects.)

(5)   If your kids are willing, have them dress in soft, light colors and be somewhat coordinated. Avoid clothing with large patterns or logos as well as neon colors. Polo shirts, small patterns or stripes, khakis, flow-y skirts or dresses, simple accessories are all great. Don’t worry about shoes – kids look great in bare feet.

Imagine what these would look like if the subject were wearing jeans or black shirts. Also note how there is a separation between the blooms and the subjects. On the right, the blooms are layered in both fore- and background.

(6) Be careful with grass. Grass that gets hit by the sun reflects back and tends to cause an unflattering greenish skin tone which can ruin an otherwise beautiful portrait. You can avoid this by having your subjects pose on a walkway next to the grass or by using a light colored blanket to sit or stand on.

I positioned these subjects on light colored walkways to avoid color casts from the surrounding greens. In the photo above, the baby is sitting on a white blanket on the grass.

(7) If you’re using your phone, use portrait mode – it helps with the separation of subject from background. If you have a camera and you’re not comfortable with manual mode, try playing with aperture priority. The smaller your aperture number, the blurrier the backdrop. With one subject you can go as low as 2.0 (even lower depending on what lens you have). With multiple subjects it will depend on how they are positioned. If you can get their faces to be on the same focal plane (right next to each other) you can stay on the low side. If they are staggered, you need to increase your aperture number (i.e., increase your depth of field) to keep everyone in focus. (With aperture priority, the camera will automatically adjust the other settings so your images are well exposed.) Always focus on the eyes of the subject closest to the camera.

This is what the aperture priority setting looks like on my Canon.
I shot this at f2.2. Because the girls’ eyes are on the same focal plane, they are tack sharp.


The image on the left is taken at f3.5. When baby cousin entered I quickly cranked up to 6.3 to make sure everyone stayed in focus since the baby is not on the same focal plane. You can see the difference in definition of the tree in the background with the increased depth of field.

As with everything, making good portraits takes practice. I still learn every day. I hope these tips help a little bit to bring yours to a new level. Let me know if there is something you struggle with, I am happy to help.

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