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How To Take Better Photographs of Your Children

Christine Pobke

“My kids just love getting their photo taken – anytime I pull my camera out, they just know what to do and I get natural, gorgeous smiles every.single.time!” Said no parent ever.

As a children’s portrait photographer here in Canberra, I know the challenges of getting kids to smile and laugh authentically.

For the past seven years, I’ve photographed hundreds (if not thousands!) of children using a million and one techniques I’ve learned as an award-winning photographer. I’ll tell you one thing: it’s not just the gear that helps me get those smiles either. I’ve put together a list of the top 10 strategies I use to get the best, most authentic reactions out of kids. And hopefully you’ll be able to use them to get some good snaps too!

Get down at their level

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One of the easiest things you can do is to use those quads, straighten that back, and get down at eye level with your child. Perspective goes a long way! Plus you get a bit of a work out in…winning!

Make the image brighter

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If you’re using your iPhone, click on the darkest spot of your screen, hold for a few seconds until the yellow square appears and says “AE/AF locked”. This means you’re exposing a couple stops higher (if it’s too bright, touch the screen with your finger and drag down until it’s only slightly over exposed). If you’re using a DSLR, go to your settings (usually the “+/-“ button) and dial over two lines or so. Making an image slightly brighter is a great way to make skin tones look nice without having to learn Photoshop!

Look at the surroundings/environment

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Before you shoot, look behind your subject. Is there a tree branch sticking out that’ll make your son look like he has antlers? Is there a light pole behind her? Will it look like it’s going in your daughter’s head? Look at the ground. Is there a bright yellow Happy Meal littered on the ground? Move it out the way or move your subject. Surroundings can make or break an image, so always be on the lookout.

Don’t be afraid to act silly to make them laugh

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Most times with my children (both my own and the ones I get to photograph professionally), I’m telling jokes, chasing them, making fart sounds, anything and everything to get them to smile. The best part is, YOU already know the things that’ll make them fall over laughing. Which means you can pull out all these tricks to make them giggle!

Be in the moment

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About half the shots I get that end up being my favourites are the ones where I’m not looking behind the viewfinder/screen. This means several things. Firstly, I can fully interact with the kids that I’m photographing without hiding my face behind a big black camera. Secondly, it means I’m getting the perfectly imperfect shots, randomly cropped out bits, goofy perspectives, etc.

I’m not saying you should shoot like this all the time, but it mixes things up and let’s you be in the moment. How to do this: set your focus to “all” so that it auto determines what the focal point will be. Then hold the camera at your hip, or above your head, or to the side, or looking up from the ground, and shoot away.

Rapid fire

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Kids are active, bubbly, engaging, lively little people. This means they’re fast, quickly moving from one activity to another (“Oh look a plane! OOOH a butterfly! Can you hear that truck? Wanna see me spin? Now look at me, I’m in a tree!”). Don’t be afraid to overshoot for moments like this!

Take advantage of multiple rapid fire shots and see what comes out of the story. How to: Go to your settings and change the shooting option to “burst” (depending on your camera, it may have different wording but something along those lines. Usually it’s an icon with three rectangle frames one after the other).

Shoot anything, all the time

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It doesn’t have to be a planned out event. Shoot all day, what you think is mundane, the things you may not deem “photo worthy”.

In my experience, parents love those “Wow, I didn’t even know you were shooting us then!” moments more than those posed ones anyway. And you know what, most people love those shots more too – of my 26,000 followers on Instagram, most of them interact with and love the (what I consider) boring, everyday images I take of my two daughters. It’s more real and authentic, and sometimes that means a lot more than you realise.

Let them have a go

Children love making silly faces. They love having opinions. And most of all, they love doing the opposite of what you want. Use this knowledge to make the most of your images! If they want to do silly faces, tell them they can do that – but only for the first few shots. Then it’s your turn and they have to do as you say.

Have they got a brilliant idea for a photo? Great! Let them take the reins and compose an image, and then tell them how artistically talented they are! Are they not listening when you ask them to look at the camera? Tell them not to look at the camera. Tell them not to smile. And then see what happens.

Focus on the eyes

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You know that old adage, that eyes are the windows to the soul? Well in photography (in portraiture anyway), they are. If you have a DSLR, try to set your aperture to the widest it’ll go (mine is a 1.2, but yours might be a 2.8 or a 4.0 or a 5.6), and focus on the eyes. See what happens. Magic! If you’re on an iPhone, not to worry here – most things in decent light will be in focus automatically on an 8.0 aperture or so!

Find the light

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The last thing you want is light (whether natural or not) to cast light from the top of your head downwards. Who wants shadows under their eyes or nose shadows on their chin? Not me. Definitely not flattering. If you’re outside, shoot so that the sun is behind your subject – that way they’re not squinting at the glaring sun. If you’re inside the house, find the room with the best ambient light. Shoot there. The most ambient natural light you can find is the way to guarantee soft skin tones and bright eyes!

Hope some of these tips will help you on your way to taking better happy snaps of your kiddos! But unfortunately, unless you can train your partner with these tips (and my husband has been determinedly stubborn so far – #instagramhusbandfail, anyone?), mum won’t be in these photos.

Because there’s nothing more beautiful than capturing the whole family together, we are pleased to offer HerCanberra readers $50 off a family photography session with award winning photographer Christine Pobke of Pobke Photography. Just mention this article and get in touch with Christine via her contact page on her website www.pobkephotography.com.

Photography by Christine Pobke

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Christine Pobke

Christine Pobke has been photographing children + families since 2009. She has grown her business to include mentoring, a photography retreat, business workshop tours across Australia (and online with The Define School), several international travel assignments, and national speaking invitations. She has won numerous industry awards both nationally and internationally (most notably from the Canon AIPP Print Awards, the WPPI Awards of Excellence, the Moran Contemporary Photographic Prize, and the Canon Creative Asia Awards). She lives in Canberra with her brilliant Aussie economist husband and their fantastically entertaining little girls, Pippa and Elsie. More about the Author

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