They grow up so fast and pictures are the only proof left behind that they were so tiny once. Those memorable pictures are so important because they can capture that smile and twinkle in your eyes forever. How else we can preserve that carefree laugh. Plus you need to show off your beautiful children in their happiest moments with friends and family and share the moments you cherish most with them. But how do you take good professional portraits when they are running around all the time, and moving. Sure you can make them sit and smile for the camera but those forced smiles are nothing like their genuinely happy grins that go from ear to ear and sparkle from their eyes. Natural-looking photos are best and have more sentimental value but how do we capture them? Don’t worry, I am going to share some tips with you that will help you take professional portraits of your children.
Before I get into professional-level tips let me share some common sense first. Your child should be well-rested and not just woken from sleep or too tired to play. In these circumstances, children are in bad mood and it’s almost impossible to take good professional portraits with them. Another common mistake is that parents often shoot pictures from their own eye level whereas professional portraits are taken when you are at the eye level of the subject. Bend over, kneel on your knee or lay flat on your tummy even if you have to, but get at the eye level of your child (FYI this is how you should make communication with your children too – at their eye level, not towering over them).
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Camera Settings and Gears
The reason you need a good quality camera is that kids are fast and active, they are mostly moving, and if your camera does not have the required settings your pictures will always be blurry and out of focus. But don’t worry you don’t need to buy a very expensive professional camera for taking great professional portraits. You can take equally great photos with a good quality camera smartphone. However, results will improve even further if you can invest in a DSLR camera. Here is a helpful guide for buying your first DSLR camera. A DSLR is better because it is faster, has higher resolution with changeable lenses, and a lot of different functions. Some of these functions are now also available in cameras of new smartphones
Focus on the eyes
Eyes are the most detailed feature on the face and they express the emotions most that is why they say eyes are the window to the soul. If you want to capture real emotions in your photographs you need to focus on the eyes. It is best if you chose the settings that will let you manually drag the focus point to the eyes. For this select area focus mode called single-point and drag the red dot to the subject’s eye closest to the camera.
You need a faster shutter speed for the reason we discussed earlier that kids are quick and active and if you have slower shutter speed pictures will be blurry and disappointing. For capturing normal movement photos shutter speed of 1/125s is good enough but when photographing young children and toddlers you need to have a minimum of 1/300s shutter speed. This will help you make sure that even if your kid is moving like an octopus in distress you still get a good photo.
This takes several photos at once and then you can later choose the best one from them, one with the best angles, posture, and least blur. This will also help you get the best-timed photo.
Blurring the background
Blurring out the background brings focus towards the subject and replicates the effect of selective perception our brain uses when looking at things in real-time. Selective perception is the ability of the brain to focus on the object of interest and ignore or blur out the remaining stimuli. To this in your photos set your aperture settings aka f-stop to around f=3.
Outdoor pictures offer you great lighting exposure and rich background. If you are at the beach or the park try taking maximum advantage of the scenery by including as many of the natural elements as possible. Avoid taking irrelevant people or items in the picture. If you will let them have fun on their own you will be able to get more interactive images. Interactive images are those where a child is actually interacting with the surroundings like making a sandcastle on the beach or climbing the tree. These also make great images outdoors.
Being indoors can rob you of natural light exposure but it can give you control of circumstances, i.e; less chances of accidental photo bombing. If you are taking pictures indoor make sure you de-clutter the background for professional portraits and the safety of children.
The Props for Professional Portraits
Do not buy new props or try to insert ‘pretty’ props forcefully. Use whatever your child is already comfortable with. Do they have a favorite chair, a blanket, or a doll? Use that as a prop! Do they love to paint or swim? Catch them in action doing just that! This will not only make your child feel more comfortable while being photographed, but it will also bring back a lot of memories when you will look at them years later. Golden Slumber Photos recommend using candy/lollipops, pets, and parents as props and I think these are some great ideas to make kids feel comfortable and look natural.
Pose and Smile
As I have mentioned earlier catching them in their natural action will create the best images. Similarly more natural poses will create better and livelier images. Get creative and have fun with them to get them in a happier mood. Say something that will make them laugh and capture those sincere carefree giggles. Chase them around playfully to make their eyes genuinely sparkle with joy. The props you are using can also help get great natural-looking pictures.
When you see professional indoor photoshoots there is heavy artificial light equipment mounted over the subject and even in some outdoor professional shoots, you see them using tools to throw light in desired angles. This is so important because good or bad lighting can make all the difference in professional photography. Lighting is actually one of the biggest key factors in taking ‘wow’ pictures.
Use Natural Light
It’s best if you take pictures outdoor for those that come out with the best lighting results. Most professional photographers will agree that best time for outdoor photography is the sweet hour. It is the time with best lighting when the sun is either coming out or going down. Even if you miss the sweet hour or just can’t get your kids out in those hours don’t worry we still have other tricks up our sleeves.
When shooting outdoors, avoid taking pictures when they are in direct sunlight as it can result in high contrast, sharp shadows, and squinted eyes. Instead, take them under a natural open shade. An open shade is an area where you have a good mix of soft light and shade with the subject looking towards the sky, offering you low contrast and nearly no shadow in the shade. It is just about as good as the ‘sweet hour’ of photography.
Mark Laurie, a professional photographer recommends that you should watch out for any speckling in your open shade which can supply a harsh streak of light running the picture. According to him any direct light falling on your children will ‘burn’ them out in the image (honestly sounds like they are vampires or something). He further recommends to open up the exposure while shooting in shadow for professional portraits as this will give your subject’s skin tones a wonderful glow. Mark suggests you should also increase your camera ISO (Light Sensitivity) since you are shooting in shadow. For added control of light, he advises using a reflector (according to him you can use even a white sweater or sheet) which will gently bounce the light on the subject, creating a soft glow and highlighting their best features.
Even when taking pictures indoors you can take advantage of sunlight by opening up curtains and placing your children near the window. If they look outside standing near the window it will replicate the effects of open shadow. You can create the catch light effect for that extra sparkle in their eyes by using flash and reflectors.
Editing Professional Portraits
You cannot achieve the professional finish of the pictures without editing no matter how great the lighting or camera was. SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) images are no match for edited images and there is no arguing it, period. Just a couple of simple edits can drastically improve the overall look of the image. You do not have to be a pro editor to do simple editing on the editing software. Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, Adobe Photoshop CC, and Carol PaintShop are all great software for beginners