5 Tips for Taking Great Candids of Childhood

Great, candid photos of childhood are priceless. They're little heirlooms, little visual memories of an important time of life for them and for us. 

I probably spend an hour every week looking back at the little stories I have captured through the first three years of my son's life. How can all this time have passed?! 

Digital photography makes it easier than ever to take lots of photos but getting great shots takes a little bit of practice. Are you hoping to improve your technique this summer?  

I've put together a little list of 5 tips to help you take great shots that you'll be proud to print. 

Ready to start? OK! 

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#5 Don't ask them to say "CHEESE!"

Since what seems like the beginning of time, we've been teaching people to stare right at the camera and say CHEESE! But I promise you, going the other way - and not teaching your kids to do anything at all for the camera - pays off. 

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Real, genuine moments - the ones that come naturally - they're a lot easier to catch when your kid doesn't become an actor when the camera comes out. And the little vignettes that unfold? They will tell you so much more about your child later on than CHEESE! ever could. 

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PRO TIP: There will always be a time and place for "look right at the camera" photos. Instead of teaching your child to cheese, use funny noises and faces to get their attention. It will not only surprise them and get them to look your way, but it will often get a REAL, GENUINE smile or laugh, too. 


#4 Get on their level. 

If one single thing from this list sticks with you, please let it be this: the best place to be when photographing your child is down on her level. 

Adults are a lot taller than kids and babies. That means you need to get comfortable with squatting, bending and kneeling to be on eye level. (I spend a lot of time on my belly when I'm working with babies!) 

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Standing above something and shooting downward makes it look smaller and less important. When you get on your child's eye level, you will get a more intimate and connected photograph, a better background and more interesting story. I was kneeling on the ground for the image above. Can you imagine if I stood above him instead? Imagine what would be missed. That face.  His little hands clenched in the cold, clutching the toy of the moment. The adorable little flannel shirt peeking out the bottom of the jacket. Snowflakes falling around him as he walks down the street in front of his Grandma and Grandpa's house in Minneapolis. 

 Getting lots of love from puppies! 

Getting lots of love from puppies! 

PRO TIP: It can be harder to keep the camera steady when you're leaning, kneeling or laying. Make sure to take a deep breath and let it out to stabilize your core if you're worried you might shake a little too much. 


#3 Learn your camera and keep it close (your phone, too)

  A beautiful summer rain started falling during sunset, and I had mere seconds to race in to the house, get my camera (which is almost always on my desk in the living room with lens attached) and capture this. It is one of my favorite images ever taken of my son. 

A beautiful summer rain started falling during sunset, and I had mere seconds to race in to the house, get my camera (which is almost always on my desk in the living room with lens attached) and capture this. It is one of my favorite images ever taken of my son. 

The moments that you are hoping to catch of childhood and life happen in split seconds and you can miss them if you're digging around for your camera because it's put away somewhere.   And by camera, I mean, whatever camera you have - whether it's a DSLR, your iPhone, or a combination. 

I know, I know - cameras are expensive and they are safer in the bag or the case away from little hands. But if you've got a DSLR or other dedicated camera that you want to be using, you're going to have to stop putting it away. Find a place it can be somewhat safe and grabbed quick when the moment comes. 

On that same note, you're going to miss shots if you are fumbling around with camera settings. Take the time to learn the camera you're using. You don't have to become a pro, but you should be able to grab it and get yourself a shot quickly. If you can't do that now, it's time to study up. If you aren't going to learn to use your DSLR or mirrorless manual camera, then why have it in the first place? 
 

  In a hotel in St. Cloud, MN. Shot and edited on iPhone 6s.

In a hotel in St. Cloud, MN. Shot and edited on iPhone 6s.

Cell phones have incredible cameras these days. If it's what you have with you, use it - and use it well. Learn its limitations and its strengths so that when it's the camera in your hand, you can make a great photograph. 

The above image was taken with my iPhone 6s a couple of years ago while we visited Minnesota for a family wedding. I walked in to the hotel room my family was staying at and saw this happening. I had no time to go grab my DSLR - I just stopped right in my tracks and captured it, because the light and the moment was pure magic.  What if I had stopped to dig around for my DSLR or chose to skip it because all I had was my phone?! 

Learn your camera(s) and keep them close. You can't take photos if you aren't prepared to take them. No excuses. 

PRO TIP: Keep an all-purpose zoom lens connected to your camera at all times so that you can grab it and adjust quickly. 


#2 Tell the Story and Fill the Frame

The key to a great candid photo is a great story. 

 My son playing the drums at age 1. Standing to the right of the camera is his Papa, and my son's face tells you everything you need to know about how he feels right in that second. 

My son playing the drums at age 1. Standing to the right of the camera is his Papa, and my son's face tells you everything you need to know about how he feels right in that second. 

Watch your kids. 
See the way they experience life and interact with the world around them. 

Capture the action.
Jumping in puddles. Running through the grass. Holding someone they love. Sharing a toy.

Be patient and wait for the genuine moment. 
Human connection requires patience. Wait for it. It will come. 

  Capturing connection takes patience. Get in position and wait for it. It will come. 

Capturing connection takes patience. Get in position and wait for it. It will come. 

While you're at it, chasing the action and being patient, too - I want to remind you that a great photograph is well-composed and to the point. Don't leave a lot of extra space that doesn't contribute to the story. Zoom or move closer if needed to get rid of stuff that is distracting or unnecessary to the photo. Fill the frame. 

  About to jump in to the puddle! 

About to jump in to the puddle! 


#1 Follow the light. 

Photography is and always will be about light. 

 Early morning sun at Stinson Beach. 

Early morning sun at Stinson Beach. 

Sometimes even the slightest adjustment - like turning left or right or moving one direction or another - will put your subject in better light and therefore, a better photograph will be the result. 

Even the most accomplished professionals spend their entire career learning to read, respect, and harness light. It is an incredible thing that changes in infinite ways based on infinite different conditions. 

But the more that you follow it, see it and respect it, the more you will learn. 

The sun is just one gigantic constant light being moved around the sky through the day completely out of your control.  Be mindful of how it's path affects what you see. How do the windows in your home throw sun in to the room? Do you see weird shadows sometimes, or super hot patches that look bad when they fall on your subject? What does the sunlight look like in your backyard, at different places, at different times of the day? 

Don't settle for a subpar photograph if you can help it. Gently move your subjects, or your own self to get in a better position with more pleasing light. This is a skill that pays off immediately and can change your photos from meh to magic, fast. 

  Orange-filtered sun created by terrible wildfires just north of us created an incredible, dramatic spotlight that fell directly on to my son. While playing on the floor it happened and I had to capture it - room a mess and all. We had been inside for several days due to bad air quality and the story this image tells will remind me of the time and place. 

Orange-filtered sun created by terrible wildfires just north of us created an incredible, dramatic spotlight that fell directly on to my son. While playing on the floor it happened and I had to capture it - room a mess and all. We had been inside for several days due to bad air quality and the story this image tells will remind me of the time and place. 


Enjoy these tips?
Next week I'll discuss printing your candids - how, where, and what.