Take Better Photos of Your Children: Change Your Perspective

Published on: November 07, 2020

Taking great photos may seem impossible when you have an active toddler running around. Ian Taylor shares his quick tips to improve your photos in the first of a series of articles. First up, he explains the ‘light, frame and moment’ approach so you can start to see a difference in your photos!  

By Ian Taylor

I take a simple approach to photographing kids. I look at three key elements for an effective shot, namely the light, the composition, and the moment. If you look for nice light and frame up your shot hopefully your subject will give you a special moment to capture.

For this short lesson, I’m going to give a couple of tips on ‘the frame’, (or ‘composition’), specifically your vantage point when photographing kids.

Light, Frame & Moment  

Get Low!

The easiest thing to immediately improve photos of your kids is to get down on the ground. I know it sounds obvious but I see very few parents really getting down to their kid’s level when photographing. It’s usually the parent aiming their camera straight down while the kid stares up into the lens.

Instead, get down at eye level with the kids. Or better yet, even lower so you are looking up at them. I know, as we get older, knees and hips might complain a bit, but it’s worth it!

A bunch of things happen when you get low. Firstly your photos immediately look different than 99% of the kid’s photos you see every day.

Secondly, this vantage point in some ways makes you a kid. Natural expressions come more easily, as kids aren’t used to seeing mom and dad take photos from this angle. Be prepared for some great reactions as soon as you get low.

Overall try and minimize the ground in your photos. Make the sky or trees the backdrop. Isolate your subject against solid colors in the background, using ‘negative space’ as much as possible.

Utilize a wide aperture on your lens, or ‘portrait mode’ on your phone camera, to blur the background. This is an easy way to create that 3D effect you see in a lot of portrait photography.

Eye level or lower is the best quick advice I can give. Your children’s photos will be much better when you are covered in just as much dirt as they are.  

Get away from this:

And try this:

Back up!

Another framing tip is to mix up your distances. Sometimes I meet parents who have excellent technical photo skills but take the same shot over and over again, all from the same distance. Lots of pro photographers do this as well and call it “my style”. 

As an exercise, create some distance and have your kids as small figures in the shot. I’m talking a long way back! This works best when you have an interesting location, whether a park, beach or an urban jungle.

I tend to think of these types of images as landscape shots with kids in them. Don’t worry about having the kids smile and look at you. When you’re that far away, they’ll forget you are even there. These scenery type shots are perfect to print as art for your walls. 

Obviously, there are plenty more angles to work, but those are two good ones that will get you out of the standard shots.

Basic Camera Skills 

It’s important to remind yourself that photography is just about “seeing”, so don’t let all the technical gobbledygook get in the way. A decent camera and lens is all that you need. That said, learning the basic functions of your camera will help your photography immensely. Spend ten minutes to watch the introductory YouTube video about your camera’s five essential numbers – Lens Focal Length, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO and Exposure Compensation. Once you have the fundamentals down you can move on to capturing what you are seeing.

Just as you need to know what the steering wheel, brakes and gas pedals do when you learn to drive, this basic technical knowledge is essential in becoming a competent photographer. You can learn everything you need to know in a couple of weeks if you set your mind to it. You have in-house models to practice on!

By learning your camera you can make snap decisions to capture those fleeting moments. Kids photography requires a quick reaction time, as they can give you ten great shots in ten seconds. You can’t tell them to “do that again!” It’s there, and then it’s gone.

The most important thing in photographing kids is to keep it fun and keep it moving. Don’t order them to “smile!” or “say cheese!” as this rarely gives natural results. Just let them do their thing and capture their personalities. Those are the images that last for generations. 

Photos courtesy of Ian Taylor Photography.

About the Author

Ian Taylor is a Bangkok-based Canadian photographer working worldwide since 2005. Since starting his Asian career at The Cambodia Daily newspaper in the mid-’90s, he (normally!) travels for much of the year to photograph families, schools and NGOs. In his spare time he plays music and kayaks the Andaman. Visit www.iantaylor.ca , facebook.com/IanTaylorPhotography. For more tips see facebook.com/groups/learnkidsphotography.

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